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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
Isaiah 35

 

 

Introduction

Chapter 35 God’s Future Blessing on His People.

This chapter possibly completes the first half of the book (but see note at the end of chapter 33) prior to entering the corridor that leads into the second half of the book, that is chapter 36-39 which deal with historical events that carry us from the first to the second, and illuminate both halves. It thus deals with the final triumph of the people of God through redemption.

The chapter is in huge and deliberate contrast with the previous one. There the dreadful doom of Esau was pronounced, but here the huge blessing of Jacob. In the end all will be as God had determined, but in the case of Jacob/Israel not as they deserved. Their destiny is of God’s grace as revealed to the remnant, just as Edom’s is of God’s wrath (Malachi 1:2-4). For in contrast to the steaming pitch and brimstone on Edom, the desert of Israel will blossom like a rose (or ‘crocus’), and in contrast to the everlasting emptiness of Eden, the remnant of the people of God will enjoy their land in everlasting joy. The land will then flourish in such a way that it will be evident that the curse is over. There will be no more curse (Revelation 22:3).

The result will be that the redeemed will walk in it in total safety. Gladness and joy will abound and there will be no more sorrow or sighing. The two chapters illustrate well the words of Jesus, ‘these (like Edom) will go into eternal punishment, but the righteous (the true Israel) into life eternal’ (Matthew 25:46).

Again we must note the prophetic method. The whole future is seen as one. We, looking back on the gradual unfolding of it, can see its many facets, but what mattered to the prophet was the idea as a whole, the final redemption and glorifying of God’s people.


Verse 1-2

The Desert Will Blossom Like A Rose And Reveal The Glory of Yahweh (Isaiah 35:1-2).

In direct contrast with the barrenness and emptiness of Edom, all the barren places of Israel will flourish, and they will blossom with all the glory of a rose in its splendour, and will be filled with joy and singing, for they will see the excellency and glory of God. The picture is one of total blessing and rejoicing.

Analysis.

a The wilderness and the solitary place will be glad, and the desert will rejoice and blossom (Isaiah 35:1).

b Like a rose it will blossom abundantly, and rejoice even with joy and singing (Isaiah 35:2 a).

b The glory of Lebanon will be given to it, the excellency of Carmel and Sharon (Isaiah 35:2 b).

a They will see the glory of Yahweh, the excellency of our God (Isaiah 35:2 c).

In ‘a’ the wilderness and desert will blossom abundantly, and in the parallel it will reveal the glory of Yahweh and His excellence. In ‘b’ it will blossom abundantly like a rose, and in the parallel will receive the excellency of Carmel and Sharon.

Isaiah 35:1-2

‘The wilderness and the solitary place will be glad,

And the desert will rejoice and blossom,

Like a rose it will blossom abundantly,

And rejoice even with joy and singing.

The glory of Lebanon will be given to it,

The excellency of Carmel and Sharon,

They will see the glory of Yahweh,

The excellency of our God.’

As a result of God’s judgment on them large parts of the lands of Judah and Israel would become like a wilderness and a desert, but it is not God’s intention that this should be for ever. For eventually His people will return and the land will blossom like a rose or like the autumn crocus, and there will be great joy and singing. It will become fruitful like Lebanon, Carmel and Sharon proverbially were (see also Isaiah 33:9), and through it the glory of Yahweh and the excellency of their God will be revealed.

The picture is of a new miracle of growth. Even the most barren parts of the land will be as the most fruitful. There will be fruitfulness everywhere. It is the agricultural nation’s idea of heaven.

That this to some extent occurred literally is testified to by history. Once Israel/Judah were again established in the land, the land did become fruitful and blossom. But there was still the problem of the curse, and the people lost their way, although a remnant ever remained faithful. It found a spiritual fulfilment in the ministry of Jesus and what followed, for John the Baptiser and Jesus both depicted the spiritual blessing that they had brought in terms of harvest, and of trees, and of fruitfulness (Matthew 3:7-12; Matthew 13:3-43 and often). In the words of Jesus, the fields were white for harvest, and they blossomed abundantly (John 4:35). But its greater fulfilment awaits the new heaven and the new earth which are the final result of all that Isaiah looked forward to (Isaiah 65:17; Isaiah 66:22). There will then be such a blossoming as has never been known before, the curse will finally be removed and the river of life will sustain God’s people for ever (Revelation 22:1-5).


Verse 3-4

God’s People Are To Prepare Themselves For Deliverance (Isaiah 35:3-7).

But those who would participate in the blessing must also prepare themselves, and Isaiah calls on the people to become strong in faith and in looking to God.

Analysis.

a ‘Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees (Isaiah 35:3).

b To those who are of fearful heart, “Be strong, do not be afraid” (Isaiah 35:4 a).

b “Behold your God will come with vengeance” (Isaiah 35:4 b).

a “With the recompense of God, He will come and save you” (Isaiah 35:4 c).

In ‘a’ they are called on to strengthen their hands and knees, ready in the parallel for the coming of the recompense and salvation of God. And in ‘b’ they are to seek to encourage their own hearts and be strong and unafraid, recognising that in the parallel their God will come with vengeance.

Isaiah 35:3-4

‘Strengthen the weak hands,

And make firm the feeble knees,

Say to those who are of fearful heart,

“Be strong, do not be afraid.

Behold your God will come with vengeance,

With the recompense of God,

He will come and save you.”’

In the midst of their adversities all thoughts are to be turned on what God will do. The people are to encourage each other with thoughts of what is to happen. Those who are weak at the knees, and those whose hands are weak, are to be strengthened by those who are stronger. They are to make each other strong, looking forward in faith and encouraging the weak in faith to be strong and unafraid on the basis of the promises of God. For His promise is that He will come with vengeance on their enemies, recompensing them for their sinfulness, and with salvation for those who are His, because He will come and deliver them (compare the time of recompense and vengeance in Isaiah 34:8).

Note that these words are spoken to people still very much under constraint, for they require rescuing from oppressors. But in their oppression they are to endure in expectation of God’s coming blessing.

This is ever to be true of God’s people throughout history, for throughout that history, prior to the final fulfilment of the hope, there will be times of great distress for all His people (Acts 14:22), as there would be for ancient Israel. And in this they are to sustain each other. But in the end God’s true people have this certainty, that after trial (assumed by the need to keep strong), the everlasting kingdom will one day be enjoyed in the revealed presence of God.


Verses 5-7

The Days of Blessing Will Surely Come (Isaiah 35:5-7).

For those who are His the day of blessing is guaranteed. And in that day all will be put right. All disability will be removed to be replaced by rivers of living water (John 4:10-14; John 7:37-39), which will endure for ever (Revelation 22:1-5).

Analysis.

a Then the eyes of the blind will be opened, and the ears of the deaf will be unstopped, then will the lame man leap as a hart, and the tongue of the dumb will sing (Isaiah 35:5-6 a).

b For in the wilderness will waters break out, and streams in the desert (Isaiah 35:6 b).

b And the burning sand (or ‘mirage’) will become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water.

a In the haunt of jackals where they rested, will be grass, with reeds and rushes (Isaiah 35:7).

Note that in ‘a’ what is marred will be made whole, and in the parallel the place which was only fit for jackals will flourish. In ‘b’ and its parallel the dry places will become water sources.

So once God’s Day of vengeance and recompense comes, wonderful things will happen. For Edom it would mean slaughter and desolation (Isaiah 34:8). But for God’s people it will mean restoration of sight and hearing both physically and spiritually, healing of all faculties of body and soul, and the restoration of the ability to speak, and of joy, and of a desire to sing. For in God’s kingdom imperfections cannot survive. All will be made complete.

And the whole land will be restored to blessing. The wilderness and desert will have plentiful water, mirages will become the reality that they promise, the dry ground will abound with springs, and in the wasted areas where jackals had their lairs grass would spring up, with reeds and rushes. Abundance of water is a constant indicator of blessing in Scripture, symbolic as we saw in Isaiah 32:15 of the coming of the Spirit of God (compare Isaiah 44:1-5).

Isaiah 35:5-6

Then the eyes of the blind will be opened,

And the ears of the deaf will be unstopped.

Then will the lame man leap as a hart,

And the tongue of the dumb will sing.’

Such will be God’s blessing that all physical imperfection will be removed. The blind will see, the deaf will hear, the lame will dance about and the dumb will speak. Note the contrast between the feeble knees of the previous verses and the leaping like a hart. All has changed. The stress here is on the fact that in God’s ideal kingdom there can be no defects. In that future kingdom man will be made completely whole.

There was a spiritual fulfilment of these promises among the godly in Israel after the return for many heard and saw Him, and the spiritually lame leaped and spoke of His glory. That was what sustained the truth through the dark times (we must not underestimate this inter-testamental work of God which resulted in a remnant of Israel being preserved pure and holy ready for the Coming One).

Later, with the presence of Jesus, there was literal fulfilment wherever He went, for He healed all Who came to Him, the deaf, the dumb, the blind and the lame (Matthew 11:4-5). In His presence disease could not survive, and it was a picture of the greater glory yet to come in the everlasting kingdom in heaven. For in healing them He drew attention to the greater spiritual significance of what He was here to do, using the healings as parables of what He had spiritually come to bring about. And He opened the spiritual ears and eyes of men even more fully and declared that the Kingly Rule of God had come. Men’s hearts leaped in His presence. And it has been so through the centuries.

However, its even greater fulfilment awaits that great day when the true people of God will arise from the dust (Isaiah 26:19), made perfect in Him in every way, and the everlasting kingdom will come in, and all that is imperfect and marred will be done away.

Isaiah 35:6-7

‘For in the wilderness will waters break out,

And streams in the desert,

And the burning sand (or ‘mirage’) will become a pool,

And the thirsty ground springs of water.

In the haunt of jackals where they rested,

Will be grass, with reeds and rushes.’

The need for water was constantly central in life in Canaan. There were no great rivers, and the country mainly depended on rainfall; on springs and wells and cisterns. Here the promise is therefore that the wilderness and desert will have plenty of water and abound in springs, instead of burning sand (or mirages) there will be cooling pools, instead of ground thirsty for rain there will be springs of water. There will be streams (‘wadis - temporary rushing streams caused by rain) everywhere. Even the barren places where jackals made their dens would be full of grass, reeds and rushes, all indicating plenteous water and regular rain.

This glowing picture again found fulfilment step by step. First after the exilic period when the land was restored and became fruitful, and was irrigated and blossomed, then in spiritual terms through the ministry of Jesus when the water of life flowed through the land and out into the world producing fruitfulness and blessing (John 4:10-14; John 7:37-39), and it will finally again receive its complete fulfilment in the everlasting kingdom (Revelation 22:1-3), when the river of Eden will again flow for the people of God.


Verses 8-10

God Will Prepare For His People The Way In Which They Must Walk (Isaiah 35:8-10).

Walking in God’s way (or not doing) is a theme of Isaiah (Isaiah 3:12; Isaiah 8:11; Isaiah 26:7-8; Isaiah 28:7; Isaiah 30:21). It is a way of roses and abundant joy (Isaiah 35:1-2), it is a way in which all are restored and made whole (Isaiah 35:3-6 a), it is a way of abundance of water when the wilderness will be no more (Isaiah 35:6-7), it is the way of security and holiness (Isaiah 35:8-9). And all who walk in it turn towards the heavenly Zion in festal joy (Isaiah 35:10).

Analysis.

a And a highway will be there and a way, and it will be called the Holy Way (Isaiah 35:8 a).

b The unclean will not pass over it, and it is for those who walk in it, yes, fools will not err in it (Isaiah 35:8 b).

c No lion will be there, nor will any ravenous beast go up on it (Isaiah 35:9 a).

c They will not be found there, but the redeemed will walk there (Isaiah 35:9 b).

b And the ransomed of Yahweh will turn, and come with singing to Zion ,and everlasting joy will be on their heads (Isaiah 35:10 a).

a They will obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing will flee away (Isaiah 35:10 b).

.

In ‘a’ there will be a way in which men can walk called the holy way, set apart for God’s own purified people, and in the parallel it will be a way of joy and gladness, where sorrow and sighing is no more (Revelation 21:4). In ‘b’ nothing unclean will be there, and it will be a way in which none can go astray, and in the parallel the ransomed of Yahweh will constantly turn from what they are doing in that way and come with singing to Zion, with garlands of everlasting joy on their heads, in order to worship and praise their God. In ‘c’ it will be perfectly secure, there will be no wild beasts to watch out for, for, in the parallel they will not be there. It is the redeemed who will walk there.

Isaiah 35:8

‘And a highway will be there and a way,

And it will be called the Holy Way.

The unclean will not pass over it,

And it is for those who walk in it,

Yes, fools will not err in it.’

There is double emphasis here on the fact that there is a Way, a road to travel along. The concentration here is not on where the way leads, (although it is clear from Isaiah 35:10 that it leads to the heavenly Zion where everlasting joy can be found, so that those who are in it are never far from the heavenly Zion), but on the walking in it. For it is the Holy Way (‘way of holiness’), the way of cleanness, of separation to God, the way where God is with His people, and in which they turn to Him. Thus the careless, those who are ritually or morally unclean and do nothing about it, cannot use it, for it is ‘for those who walk in it’, that is, for those who choose it by deliberate choice and dedication, and it is so straight a way that even the foolish will not go astray in it.

There is a stress here on choice. A man could choose whether he be made clean, in the Old Testament by the ordinances of sacrifice and offering, and washing and waiting before God, and in the New by the blood of Jesus Christ which cleanses from all sin (1 John 1:8-10). Those who would walk that way now must use the means offered. For that Holy Way is in the end only for the cleansed. And in the final kingdom all who are there will be in that way, and those who are not clean will not be there. All will walk with God in the way.

It is no accident that the early Christians saw themselves as the people of The Way (Acts 9:2; Acts 19:9; Acts 19:23; Acts 22:4; Acts 24:14; Acts 24:22). The designation may well have had this verse in mind, as in the same way Jesus may have had when He called Himself the Way (John 14:6). For to come to Jesus as the Way was to enter onto the way of holiness. It is the Way of God.

In Isaiah this is represented in a number of ways. ‘The way’ is the way of God’s paths (Isaiah 3:12), in contrast with the ‘way of the people’ (Isaiah 8:11); it is the way of the just which is uprightness (Isaiah 26:7); it is the way of His judgments (Isaiah 26:8). His own do not leave it through drunkenness (Isaiah 28:7), but rather when they begin to go astray to the right hand or to the left they hear a word behind them saying, “This is the way, walk in it” (Isaiah 30:21).

We can also compare here Isaiah 19:23 where there would be a highway between Egypt and Assyria uniting them in God with Israel, a highway of blessing and oneness. Not all highways were seen to lead to Jerusalem. Rather it was a way of mutuality and blessing, bringing together the people of God.

Comparison with Isaiah 35:10 certainly sees this way as connecting with Zion. All who walk in this way will constantly ‘turn and come with singing to Zion’, for it will be their delight to worship God and acknowledge Him, but that is by no means the emphasis of the way. It is simply one of its aspects. The emphasis is on walking in ‘the Holy way’. There is no basis at all for suggesting that it is the road from exile. It is rather the way to God for all who are in spiritual exile, so that if we would escape from spiritual exile we must certainly walk in it. The ‘turning’ or ‘returning’ of Isaiah 35:10 primarily refers to their continual turning to God while in the Way (see Isaiah 1:27; Isaiah 6:10; Isaiah 9:13; Isaiah 10:21-22; Isaiah 19:22). Isaiah had said elsewhere, in ‘returning and rest’ they will be delivered (Isaiah 30:15), where no thought of the exile is in mind. The thought is of a turning of the heart towards God.

Isaiah 35:9

‘No lion will be there,

Nor will any ravenous beast go up on it.

They will not be found there,

But the redeemed will walk there.’

The road will be secure from every type of danger, it is for the redeemed of Yahweh. On ancient roads the wayfarer was always in danger of wild beasts, but where this road is there will be no wild beasts, it is the road of the new age when the lion is no longer harmful (Isaiah 11:6). And it is for the redeemed, those whom God has delivered by His power and who acknowledge Him as their Lord and Kinsman.

Isaiah 35:10

‘And the ransomed of Yahweh will turn,

And come with singing to Zion,

And everlasting joy will be on their heads.

They will obtain gladness and joy,

And sorrow and sighing will flee away.’

And while in that way ‘the ransomed of Yahweh’ will turn and come with singing to Zion. The idea of ransom is that of the paying of a price. God will in some way pay a price for the deliverance of His people by the exertion of His power and mercy. That is why they are His. They are bought with a price (1 Corinthians 6:20). And those who have been redeemed will walk in His way, and while walking in that way they will constantly turn to Zion to meet with God, in order to give praise and thanks to God. In the end the picture is of the whole world walking in His way and constantly turning to Zion as they receive His word from there (Isaiah 2:2-3). They will be crowned and garlanded with everlasting joy. They will be full of joy and gladness. Sorrow and sighing will have no place for them, such things will flee away.

The whole idea behind these last three verses is that of redemption, and of being holy, and of walking in God’s way, and of constantly turning to God and enjoying His presence. In the Old Testament, as the Psalmists made clear, the true in heart looked to Jerusalem and the Temple as the earthly representation of the reality of God’s presence with His people, although they knew that they could pray wherever they were (Daniel 6:10; Daniel 9:3). And these words are therefore emphasising that those who would so approach God must do it in holiness. In New Testament terminology it is the heavenly Zion (Galatians 4:26; Hebrews 12:22) to which they are to turn, the place where they may meet with God, and walk with Him and dwell in His presence. And it will result in everlasting joy.

The emphasis of the whole chapter is in fact on walking in this blessed way. In Isaiah 35:1-2 it is a way where men walk amidst roses, where they constantly enjoy abundance, where they see the glory of Yahweh, the excellency of God. In Isaiah 35:3-6 a it is the way in which all who walk are made whole, and can be strong and rejoice. In Isaiah 35:6-7 it is the way in which there is always plenteous ‘water’ which is God’s provision for His own. And now it is the Way of Holiness in which men constantly turn to Zion. It is the way in which men walk with God.

And so we come to the end of what some see as this first section, and these verses will now lead us on, after an historical interlude, into the second part of the book, where we will learn the way by which we can enter on to this Way.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Isaiah 35:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/isaiah-35.html. 2013.

Lectionary Calendar
Saturday, June 15th, 2019
the Week of Proper 5 / Ordinary 10
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