Historical Backdrop of Yeshayahu 1


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An Undated Prophecy

The opening verse of Sefer Yeshayahu teaches that Yeshayahu prophesied during the reigns of Uzziyahu, Yotam, Achaz and Chizkiyahu. However, most of the individual prophecies in the book are not dated, leaving the historical background of each uncertain. Chapter 1 is a case in point. Which of the four kings was the intended audience of this rebuke? Does the fact that the prophecy opens the book suggest that it was the first prophecy received, and therefore should be dated to the reign of Uzziyahu, or might the book be achronological? What clues does the chapter provide which might allow one to reconstruct the era of which it speaks? Do the sins described fit one king's reign more than another?  What about Yeshayahu's descriptions of destruction?

The Kings: An Overview

To determine which era best corresponds to Yeshayahu's rebuke, a brief overview of the spiritual and political state during each reign might be helpful:

Sins Against Man and God

Yeshayahu rebukes the people on multiple levels:

Based on the above, though it is clear that the people addressed by Yeshayhau sinned in the interpersonal realm, it is not clear where they stood on the religious plane.  Were they worshiping Hashem or idols?  How can the contrasting portraits in the chapter be reconciled?  Finally, under whose reign did the nation sin in the manner described?6

Destruction: Past or Future?

Yeshayahu's words depict a desolate and destroyed country.  However, as the various descriptions are formulated at times in the present or past tense, and at other times in the future tense, it is hard to know if Yeshayahu is pointing to punishment already received, or warning the nation about the devastation destined to come in the future. 
Given this vacillation between past and future tense, how is one to know during and about whose reign Yeshayahu is prophesying?  Might some of these terms be reinterpreted, thereby casting the entire description in one tense or the other? Which can grammatically be read in another way?