[reprinted from December 4, 2009]
– Henry Neufeld
8There will be a highway there,
A passage that will be called the Holy Way.
Nothing impure will go up on it.
But it shall be for God’s people.
No traveler, even a fool, will go astray.
9There won’t be any lions there,
Nor will ravenous beasts enter it.
They won’t be found there.
But the redeemed will travel on it.
10And YHWH’s ransomed ones will return
And enter Zion with singing.
Eternal joy will be on their heads.
They will attain gladness and joy.
And sighing and sorrow will flee. — Isaiah 35:8-10 (HN)
Isaiah 35 is one of the most beautiful passages in the Bible. It is a song of longing, but also a song of encouragement and of promise. It can speak to you in the dry places of your life, and it keeps right on speaking when things are going so much better.
This passage was first written for those who would go into exile and then return. It was the promise of return. God speaks of judgment a great deal in the Hebrew scriptures, but he intersperses these judgments with the promise. God doesn’t bring judment on his people to destroy, but to correct and ultimately to restore.
We also needn’t argue about who these scriptures apply to. They were indeed spoken first to Israel, or more specifically to Judah. There is a specific prediction involved. But when we read Bible prophecy in this way, looking for the one time that the prophecy applies, we often miss the major point.
This chapter reveals in a most powerful way who God really is. We look for this text and that to tell us about God’s attributes, and there are some good ones, but what about God’s actions? With people we would say that actions speak louder than words—and I think God sees it that way as well. That’s why so much of the Bible is about his actions.
We also say that the way you’ll truly know a man’s character is by how he behaves when the going gets tough and trouble is all around. Can God get in trouble? Can God suffer hardship? Well, God expresses sorrow over his people’s failures, over their disasters, and hope that they will return to him. Picture Jesus weeping over Jerusalem. Sometimes we forget our trinitarian doctrines, but Jesus is God, and God was there weeping. Why would they not come to him? God feels the sorrow of one who passionately desires a connection, a relationship with another person, and that passion is not returned.
So how does God behave under pressure? He ransoms! He redeems! He recreates!
This passage, one of the greatest songs of God’s redemption, comes out of the most difficult time. From the time of Hezekiah, who heard Isaiah preach, Judah went downhill with only the briefest of blips of reformation. God looked forward, saw that his people would reject him over and over again. He saw that they would reject the work of the prophet Jeremiah and stand up against the Babylonians until Jerusalem was destroyed and they were taken into exile.
If a father were told that his children would reject him, refuse all help and all advice, and finally end up—all of them—on death row, he would be discouraged. God, however, follows the path as far as it will go, and says, “I will make a path back!”
As God’s people, we are the ones who act in God’s world. (Perhaps I’ll mention some of the scriptures on which I base this in future devotionals.) We bring God’s redemptive power to people. We should be the most optimistic people around, because we know that no matter how bad things get, God remains a God who redeems.