I was recently asked to explain what was behind some of the language used in Isaiah 35:1-10 with references to:
- Desert and parched land (Is 35:1)
- Holy Highway (Is 35:10)
These words were written to give hope to God’s people – people who were going to experience exile out of their land – hope that one day they would be able to return home. And they are written following on from Is 34 which speaks of a world that has become desert and desolate where no-one is safe to be or to travel. They speak about how God is going to restore what has been damaged and tarnished.
It is possible that the desert and the parched land refers to the Syrian desert across which the returning exiles would have to travel. But it is more likely that the terms are being used to refer to the entire world – physical, social, spiritual – which we have managed to mess up in so many ways. But that God is going to act, to work on this world, and it is going to be restored to wonder and glory once again. And all of creation will rejoice when it sees this happening.
And this picks up on the idea in Isaiah 32:15 which speaks about God’s spirit being poured out on the desert and turning it into a “fertile field”.
- Is 35:1-2 are speaking about God acting in power to restore
- Is 35:3-4 is to encourage people to prepare themselves and to dare to hope again
- Is 35:5-7 are examples of the outworking of God’s power in salvation both for people and for situations. There is healing, there is restoration, there is provision
And then in Is 35:8-10 there is talk about a safe and secure “highway” that the redeemed will walk on as they return home. And the idea of a highway to return home keeps on cropping up in Isaiah (Is 11:16, 19:23 – which is about other nations entering into God’s blessing as well, Is 35:8, 40:3 – and here the idea is a highway for God to return, Is 49:11, 62:10).
It speaks physically about the journey that the exiles will take as they return to Zion (Jerusalem) the city of God and it speaks more widely of the journey that all people can take as they respond to God and come to him to receive his blessing. It is a safe road, a good road and a road that ends in joy and celebration.