Ministry longevity is something to be valued. Unfortunately, fewer pastors boast decades of ministry in the pulpit, much less to a single church. I consider those I studied with in Bible college and seminary and very few of them still pastor (though many are still involved in ministry in some form).
In my sermon on Isaiah 1:1-9, I mentioned that—at the very least—Isaiah ministered faithfully for 58 years. Nearly six decades of ministry!
Where did that number come from? There are several places in Isaiah that give a notice of time or locate the prophecy to a specific king or datable event. The earliest of these dates is Isaiah 6:1, which takes place “in the year that King Uzziah died” (all verses in ESV). Many scholars believe that, though Isaiah 1–5 comes first in the organization of the book, Isaiah 6 comes first chronologically. Isaiah 6 relates the commissioning of the prophet, which presumably began his formal ministry. The first five chapters then work as an introduction or prologue to this official commission.
Either way, most scholars date Uzziah’s death around 739 BC (he is called Azariah in Kings and Chronicles). The last datable event in the book is mentioned in 37:37-38, the death of King Sennacherib of Assyria. Most scholars date his death in 681 BC. This gives Isaiah at least 58 years of ministry represented in the book.
Now, two things should be noted. First, I am coming at this with the assumption that Isaiah wrote all of Isaiah (see the beginning of my sermon to hear why I hold to this conviction). Second, it should be noted that these 58 years represent a minimum of ministry time for the prophet. Isaiah 1–5 may indeed represent oracles that took place before chapter 6, and if so, it could mean his ministry began even earlier than the year of Uzziah’s death. And there is a good chance that some of the other prophecies of Isaiah took place after the last clearly-datable event in chapter 37. If Isaiah was killed by Manasseh early in Manasseh’s reign (as tradition says), this could push the end date of his ministry even further. It’s safe to say the prophet had six full decades of ministry under his belt before his martyrdom.
I pray for more pastors, missionaries and faithful church members to enjoy that kind of legacy!