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The bible doesn't seem to give much information for who "the prophetess" in Isaiah 8:3 is. Who is she? Many seem to assert that she is his wife, but cite no evidence to support this.

The word הַנְּבִיאָ֜ה (the prophetess) occurs 5 times in the bible.

  1. Exodus 15:20
  2. 2 Kings 22:14
  3. 2 Chronicles 34:22
  4. Nehemiah 6:14
  5. Isaiah 8:3

I'm not sure of the time in which Isaiah lived, but I think he was alive in 2 and 3. Could it be that he committed adultery with Shallum's wife? If so, is it in the nature of God to incorporate sin in his revelation?

Is there evidence that she is his wife?

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Hi Stephen and welcome to Biblical Hermeneutics! Intriguing question and I'm curious now too. – Jon Ericson Nov 29 '12 at 19:05
Could the prophetess revealed here be a future prophecy? One that is to take place? Given this book "if" inspired by God and perhaps written "outside of time" ....could some of these writings still be yet to be? – user890 Dec 3 '12 at 9:35
up vote 5 down vote accepted

That is a good question, Stephen. Isaiah does not give many details, but he also does not claim that God told him to go in to this woman. He only claims that God provided the name for the child.

There are a few things to consider:

  1. Isaiah was told to take his son with him in the previous chapter (Isaiah 7:3), which should indicate that he did have a wife.

    Isaiah 7:3 (ESV)
    And the Lord said to Isaiah, “Go out to meet Ahaz, you and Shear-jashub your son, at the end of the conduit of the upper pool on the highway to the Washer's Field.

  2. Isaiah was not rebuked for committing adultery, while other high-level people had been. Such happenings are poor examples for all of those who look to these individuals, and God typically dealt with them. If you remember Psalm 51, David was afraid that God's spirit would be removed from him in the same way that God's spirit had been removed from the previous king.

  3. If Isaiah had committed adultery, the passage containing Isaiah 57:3 would ring hollow since it would have come from an adulterer.

    Isaiah 57:3 (ESV)
    But you, draw near, sons of the sorceress, offspring of the adulterer and the loose woman.

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Hi and welcome to the site! Those are great points. And that seems the most natural reading to me. It seems a bit like people who have pseudonyms (say, "The Prophet") and refer to their wives as Mrs. pseudonym ("Mrs. Prophet" or "prophetess"). I don't know if that would be historically accurate, however. – Jon Ericson Nov 30 '12 at 18:57
Thanks, Jon! There is some historical merit for your point (regardless of whether "Prophetess" can be proven). The wife of the King always had a corresponding title. – Peg Leg 3941 Nov 30 '12 at 19:23
It's odd to me that he's referring to her in such a distant way: "the prophetess". It doesn't imply a relationship at all. He could have said "the love of my life" or "my wife" or something like that instead. – Stephen Dec 2 '12 at 21:53
@Stephen though you'd have to know Hebrew idiom to know whether it would be impersonal or not. Perhaps it is a question of emphasis: by using this title Isaiah is emphasising her role rather than her relationship to himself, for narrative effect? – Jack Douglas Dec 6 '12 at 10:26
That makes sense to me now, because it shows credibility of both parents – Stephen Dec 20 '12 at 16:37

Is it remarkable to suppose that someone in the 6,000 year history of mankind had the same question? It is worth looking then for some commentators who are experts in hermeneutics, Hebrew and Greek to see if they may have already addressed this question.

For example, in his Exposition of the Bible, John Gill (1697 – 1771) notes of Isaiah 8:3 :

And I went unto the prophetess

His wife, so called; not because she prophesied, but because she was the wife of a prophet; and besides, the birth of her son later mentioned, and his name, had in them the nature of a prophecy. The phrase of going unto her is an euphemism, a modest way of expressing the conjugal debt: and she conceived and bare a son;

The Geneva Divines states:

  1. Meaning, to his wife, and this was done in a vision.
  2. Or, make speed to the spoil: haste to the prey.

Matthew Henry's commentary (1662-1714) records the following:

He must take a great roll, which would contain those five chapters fairly written in words at length; and he must write in it all that he had foretold concerning the king of Assyria’s invading the country; he must write it with a man’s pen, in the usual way and style of writing, so as that it might be legible and intelligible by all. See Hab. 2:2 , Write the vision, and make it plain. Those that speak and write of the things of God should avoid obscurity, and study to speak and write so as to be understood, 1 Co. 14:19 . Those that write for men should write with a man’s pen, and not covet the pen or tongue of angels. And forasmuch as it is usual to put some short, but significant comprehensive title before books that are published, the prophet is directed to call his book Maher-shalal-hash-baz—Make speed to the spoil, hasten to the prey, intimating that the Assyrian army should come upon them with great speed and make great spoil. By this title the substance and meaning of the book would be enquired after by those that heard of it, and remembered by those that had read it or heard it read. It is sometimes a good help to memory to put much matter in few words, which serve as handles by which we take hold of more.II. The care of the prophet to get this record well attested (v. 2): I took unto me faithful witnesses to record; he wrote the prophecy in their sight and presence, and made them subscribe their names to it, that they might be ready, if afterwards there should be occasion, to make oath of it, that the prophet had so long before foretold the descent which the Assyrians made upon that country. He names his witnesses for the greater certainty, that they might be appealed to by any. They were two in number (for out of the mouth of two witnesses shall every word be established ); one was Uriah the priest; he is mentioned in the story of Ahaz, but for none of his good deeds, for he humoured Ahaz with an idolatrous altar (2 Ki. 16:10, 2 Ki. 16:11 ); however, at this time, no exception lay against him, being a faithful witness. See what full satisfaction the prophets took care to give to all persons concerned of the sincerity of their intentions, that we might know with a full assurance the certainty of the things wherein we have been instructed, and that we have not followed cunningly-devised fables. III. The making of the title of his book the name of his child, that it might be the more taken notice of and the more effectually perpetuated, v. 3. His wife (because the wife of a prophet) is called the prophetess; she conceived and bore a son, another son, who must carry a sermon in his name, as the former had done ch. 7:3 ), but with this difference, that spoke mercy, Shear-jashub—The remnant shall return; but, that being slighted, this speaks judgment, Maher-shalal-hash-baz—In making speed to the spoil he shall hasten, or he has hastened, to the prey. The prophecy is doubled, even in this one name, for the thing was certain. I will hasten my word, Jer. 1:12 . Every time the child was called by his name, or any part of it, it would serve as a memorandum of the judgments approaching. Note, It is good for us often to put ourselves in mind of the changes and troubles we are liable to in this world, and which perhaps are at the door. When we look with pleasure on our children it should be with the allay of this thought, We know not what they are yet reserved for.IV. The prophecy itself, which explains this mystical name.1. That Syria and Israel, who were now in confederJohn Gillacy against Judah, should in a very little time become an easy prey to the king of Assyria and his victorious army.

And finally, Adam Clarke shares these thoughts in his commentary:


Prediction respecting the conquest of Syria and Israel by the Assyrians, 1-4. Israel, for rejecting the gentle stream of Shiloah, near Jerusalem, is threatened to be overflowed by the great river of Assyria, manifestly alluding by this strong figure to the conquests of Tiglath-pileser and Shalmaneser over that kingdom, 5-7. The invasion of the kingdom of Judah by the Assyrians under Sennacherib foretold, 8. The prophet assures the Israelites and Syrians that their hostile attempts against Judah shall be frustrated, 9, 10. Exhortation not to be afraid of the wrath of man, but to fear the displeasure of God, 11-13. Judgments which shall overtake those who put no confidence in Jehovah, 14, 15.

The prophet proceeds to warn his countrymen against idolatry, divination, and the like sinful practices, exhorting them to seek direction from the word of God, professing in a beautiful apostrophe that this was his own pious resolution. And to enforce this counsel, and strengthen their faith, he points to his children, whose symbolic names were signs or pledges of the Divine promises, 16-20. Judgments of God against the finally impenitent, 21, 22.

The prophecy of the foregoing chapter relates directly to the kingdom of Judah only: the first part of it promises them deliverance from the united invasion of the Israelites and Syrians; the latter part, from Isa 8:17, denounces the desolation to be brought upon the kingdom of Judah by the Assyrians. The sixth, seventh, and eighth verses of this chapter seem to take in both the kingdoms of Israel and Judah. "This people that refuseth the waters of Shiloah," may be meant of both: the Israelites despised the kingdom of Judah, which they had deserted, and now attempted to destroy; the people of Judah, from a consideration of their own weakness, and a distrust of God's promises, being reduced to despair, applied to the Assyrians for assistance against the two confederate kings. But how could it be said of Judah, that they rejoiced in Rezin, and the son of Remaliah, the enemies confederated against them? If some of the people were inclined to revolt to the enemy, (which however does not clearly appear from any part of the history or the prophecy,) yet there was nothing like a tendency to a general defection. This, therefore, must be understood of Israel. The prophet denounces the Assyrian invasion, which should overwhelm the whole kingdom of Israel under Tiglath-pileser, and Shalmaneser; and the subsequent invasion of Judah by the same power under Sennacherib, which would bring them into the most imminent danger, like a flood reaching to the neck, in which a man can but just keep his head above water. The two next verses, 9 and 10, Isa 8:9, 10, are addressed by the prophet, as a subject of the kingdom of Judah, to the Israelites and Syrians, and perhaps to all the enemies of God's people; assuring them that their attempts against that kingdom shall be fruitless; for that the promised Immanuel, to whom he alludes by using his name to express the signification of it, for God is with us, shall be the defence of the house of David, and deliver the kingdom of Judah out of their hands. He then proceeds to warn the people of Judah against idolatry, divination, and the like forbidden practices; to which they were much inclined, and which would soon bring down God's judgments upon Israel. The prophecy concludes at the sixth verse of Isa 9:6 with promises of blessings in future times by the coming of the great deliverer already pointed out by the name of Immanuel, whose person and character is set forth in terms the most ample and magnificent.

And here it may be observed that it is almost the constant practice of the prophet to connect in like manner deliverances temporal with spiritual. Thus the eleventh chapter, setting forth the kingdom of Messiah, is closely connected with the tenth, which foretells the destruction of Sennacherib. So likewise the destruction of nations, enemies to God, in the thirty-fourth chapter, introduces the flourishing state of the kingdom of Christ in the thirty-fifth. And thus the chapters from xl. to xlix. inclusive, plainly relating to the deliverance from the captivity of Babylon, do in some parts plainly relate to the greater deliverance by Christ.


Verse 1. Take thee a great roll-"Take unto thee a large mirror"] The word gillayon is not regularly formed from galal, to roll, but from galah, as pidyon from padah, killayon from , calah, nikkayon from nakah, elyon from alah, yod supplying the place of the radical he. galah signifies to show, to reveal; properly, as Schroederus says, (De Vestitu Mulier. Hebr. p. 294,) to render clear and bright by rubbing; to polish. gillayon, therefore, according to this derivation, is not a roll or volume: but may very well signify a polished tablet of metal, such as was anciently used for a mirror. The Chaldee paraphrast renders it by luach, a tablet, and the same word, though somewhat differently pointed, the Chaldee paraphrast and the rabbins render a mirror, Isa 3:23. The mirrors of the Israelitish women were made of brass finely polished, Ex 38:8, from which place it likewise appears that what they used were little hand mirrors which they carried with them even when they assembled at the door of the tabernacle. I have a metalline mirror found in Herculaneum, which is not above three inches square. The prophet is commanded to take a mirror, or brazen polished tablet, not like these little hand mirrors, but a large one; large enough for him to engrave upon it in deep and lasting characters, becheret enosh, with a workman's graving tool, the prophecy which he was to deliver. cheret in this place certainly signifies an instrument to write or engrave with: but charit, the same word, only differing a little in the form, means something belonging to a lady's dress, Isa 3:22, (where however five MSS. leave out the yod, whereby only it differs from the word in this place,) either a crisping-pin, which might be not unlike a graving tool, as some will have it, or a purse, as others infer from 2Ki 5:23. It may therefore be called here cheret enosh, a workman's instrument, to distinguish it from cheret ishshah, an instrument of the same name, used by the women. In this manner he was to record the prophecy of the destruction of Damascus and Samaria by the Assyrians; the subject and sum of which prophecy is here expressed with great brevity in four words, maher shalal hash baz; i.e., to hasten the spoil, to take quickly the prey; which are afterwards applied as the name of the prophet's son, who was made a sign of the speedy completion of it; Maher-shalal-hash-baz; Haste-to-the-spoil, Quick-to-the-prey. And that it might be done with the greater solemnity, and to preclude all doubt of the real delivery of the prophecy before the event, he calls witnesses to attest the recording of it.

The prophet is commanded to take a great roll, and yet four words only are to be written in it, maher shalal hash baz, Make haste to the spoil; fall upon the prey. The great volume points out the land of Judea; and the few words the small number of inhabitants, after the ten tribes were carried into captivity.

The words were to be written with a man's pen; i.e., though the prophecy be given in the visions of God, yet the writing must be real; the words must be transcribed on the great roll, that they may be read and publicly consulted. Or, cherot enosh, the pen or graver of the weak miserable man, may refer to the already condemned Assyrians, who though they should be the instruments of chastening Damascus and Samaria, should themselves shortly be overthrown. The four words may be considered as the commission given to the Assyrians to destroy and spoil the cities.

Make haste to the spoil; Fall upon the prey.

So you see, for those interested, there is a plethora of scholarly work available.

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The Bible Uses the Word Prophetess 8 times Exodus 15:20 - Mariam Judges4:4 - Deborah 2 Kings 22:14 - Huldah 2 Chronicles 34:22 - Huldah Nehemiah 6:14 - Noadiah Isaiah 8:3 - ? Luke 2:36 - Ana Revelation 2:20 - Jezebel > False Prophetess

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