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Deeper Commentary

Isaiah 35:1 The wilderness and the dry land will be glad. The desert will rejoice and blossom like a rose- I noted that the preceding pictures of desolation concerning Edom have within them the hint that even the most heavily judged and condemned areas will be revived in God's Kingdom (see on Is. 34:13,15,17). In this case, this prophecy would flow on seamlessly from that.

Isaiah 35 is an evident prophecy of the future Kingdom of God on earth. But it is replete with connections with the prophecies of Judah’s restoration from Babylon in Isaiah 40-55: Water in the wilderness = Is. 41:18,19; Is. 43:19,20; Is. 44:3; Is. 50:2; Is. 51:3; God’s glory revealed (Is. 35:2) = Is. 40:5,9; Time of judgment and recompense (Is. 35:4) = Is. 40:10; Strength to the faint-hearted (Is. 35:3,4) = Is. 40:9, 29-31; A highway for the return to Zion (Is. 35:8) = Is. 40:3. The conclusion from this is surely that the way home from Babylon to Judah was to be seen as the entrance into the Kingdom age. Which is why I suggest that a Messianic Kingdom could’ve come at the restoration. Isaiah’s predictions about the return from exile in Babylon (Is. 49:6), the freedom of the land from foreign dominance (Is. 53:8,11), the repopulation of Jerusalem (Is. 54:1), rebuilding the temple (Is. 53:5) etc. all came true at the return of the exiles; but those same prophecies speak of the resurrection of the dead (Is. 42:11; Is. 45:8; Is. 49:8), Messiah teaching the Law to Israel, all the world coming to accept Israel’s God and coming to worship in the new temple etc. The prophecies of the restoration of the exiles from Babylon are inextricably connected with these things. And yet they didn’t happen; and even those aspects which did, only came true to a very limited extent- solely because of Israel’s indolence, and the fact the majority of the Jews remained in Babylon.

Isaiah 35:2 It will blossom abundantly, and rejoice even with joy and singing. Lebanon’s glory will be given to it, the excellence of Carmel and Sharon; they will see Yahweh’s glory, the excellence of our God-
The blossoming here and in :1 is surely to be understood in the context of Is. 27:6. Israel will fill the face of the world with spiritual fruit – and this will be the fruit of the taking away of their sin, and their experience of repentance (Is. 27:6,9 RV). This is the 'budding' of the waste places of the land foreseen in these Kingdom prophecies. Is. 66:14 uses the word for the flourishing of the hearts of the repentant peoples. And here, the blossoming is related to their perception of the excellency of Israel's God, further implying that the blossoming is of Gentiles who have been converted by the witness of the repentant, forgiven remnant of Israel. There were no real deserts and dry lands in Israel; it was to be a "good land", fertile and unlike Egypt; "good land, a land of brooks of water, of springs and underground water gushing into valleys and hills" (Dt. 8:7). The deserts and dry areas were in the areas inhabited by Israel's Gentile enemies. A remnant of these peoples was to repent, and then they and their territory would be incorporated into the Kingdom of God in Israel, covering the full extent of the land / eretz promised to Abraham. Those territories will be materially transformed, those desert areas will be like Israel "proper", as fruitful as Carmel and Sharon. See on Is. 27:12.

Isaiah 35:3 Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees-
 see on Job 4:3-5. "Palsied knees" (LXX); "knees that tremble with weakness" (GNB). The wonder of the Kingdom situation is that the spiritually weak will be strengthened. But we can live the spirit of the Kingdom life now; for these words are quoted in Heb. 12:12,13 about life lived in Christ and His Spirit right now. "Feeble" is s.w. "stumbled" (Is. 59:10); it generally refers to spiritual stumbling, not least for those who stumble over the rock of Christ (s.w. Is. 8:15; 28:13). The strengthening of the week or even those who have been condemned for their sins but want to repent... is one of the most wonderful experiences to behold. We will see on :3 that the same category is there in view. The good news of the Kingdom is far from just the change of earth's physical environment; more essentially is it about the change of human hearts. And this was the good news of the Kingdom which the Lord taught in His parables, which are largely about this rather than what the future Kingdom will physically be like. The good news for those in the new covenant is that they will no longer "stumble", s.w. "feeble" (Jer. 31:9). "Weak hands" carries the idea of those who are "idle" (s.w. Ex. 5:17), and the phrase "weak hands" is also translated "slack hands" (Josh. 10:6; 2 Sam. 4:1). The idea is that the spiritually weak minded, directionless and uncommitted will be mentally transformed. This is clearly the work of the Holy Spirit working upon the human spirit; and that is exactly what the new covenant promised Judah, in Ez. 20, 36 and Jer. 31. This is what could have happened to Judah in captivity, but they refused the potential strengthening. And Hezekiah, the 'strengthener of Yah', didn't do this work of strengthening in Isaiah's time (s.w. Is. 51:18), even though he was the parade example of physical 'weakness' being 'strengthened' (s.w. Is. 39:1). The weak hands could have been strengthened at the restoration (s.w. Zech. 8:9,13), but again, the huge potential strengthening was not made use of.

Isaiah 35:4 Tell those who have a fearful heart, Be strong, don’t be afraid-
"Fearful" is the word for "rash" and as noted on that word on Is. 32:4 these are those who were impatient with God's apparent lack of response (Is. 5:19 s.w.). One of the greatest joys of the Kingdom will be the power of God's Spirit to transform the hearts of those who appear totally unspiritual and short termist in their judgments. See on :3. They now do not need to fear condemnation; they have been transformed by the gift of the new heart and new eyes which is part of the new covenant.

We’re familiar with the references to God hardening the heart of Pharaoh (Ex. 14:8 etc.). However, the same Hebrew words occur in a positive context- for God also hardens or strengthens the hearts of the righteous (Ps. 27:14; Is. 35:4). Indeed, Is. 35:4 speaks of how the righteous shouldn’t have a fearful / weak or [Heb.] ‘fluid’ heart, but rather a hardened one. Clearly enough, God solidifies human attitudes, one way or the other. This is a sobering thought- for He is prepared to confirm a person in their weak thinking. But on the other hand, even the weakest basic intention towards righteousness is solidified by Him too.

Behold, your God will come with vengeance, God’s retribution. He will come and save you- This is the final "day of vengeance" (Is. 59:17; 61:2; 63:4; Mic. 5:15), both on the "sinners in Zion" of Is. 33:14 (s.w. Lev. 26:25), and upon the abusers of Israel (Dt. 32:41,43). The final coming of God will be in the person of His Son, the Lord Jesus, at the last day. "Retribution" is s.w. "benefit in 2 Chron. 32:25; in the immediate context, Hezekiah did not render back according to the benefit or retribution given in healing him, and so the possibility of the Kingdom then didn't transpire and is deferred to the last day. 

Isaiah 35:5 Then the eyes of the blind will be opened, and the ears of the deaf will be unstopped-
As noted on :3,4,6, we have here language relevant to the spiritual healing of God's people, although that will be physically articulated in the healing of the physically impaired. The blind and deaf in Isaiah are the spiritually blind and deaf whose eyes will be opened so that they may "hear the words of the book" (Is. 29:18; 42:16,18; 43:8).

The teaching of the Lord Jesus included frequent quotations from and allusions to the Old Testament. When we go back and read around the contexts of the passages He quoted, it becomes apparent that He very often omits to quote the negative, judgmental, or conditional aspects of the blessings which He quotes. Consider the way He quotes Is. 29:18; 35:5,6 and 61:1 in Mt. 11:4,5. These are all talking about Messianic blessings. But they are embedded amidst warnings of judgment and the conditionality of God’s grace. Likewise Luke records how Jesus read from Is. 61:1,2, but He stopped at the very point where Isaiah’s message turns from promise to threat. None of this takes away from the terrible reality that future failure is a real possibility, even tomorrow. We can throw it all away. We may do. We have the possibility. And some do. There is an eternity ahead which we may miss. And each one who enters the Kingdom will, humanly speaking, have come pretty close to losing it at various points in his or her mortal life.

Isaiah 35:6 Then the lame man will leap like a deer and the tongue of the mute will sing; for waters will break out in the wilderness, and streams in the desert-
As explained on :3-5, the deaf and lame are spiritually deaf, and they shall be spiritually cured; and that will be reflected in the healing of the physical environment. The waters and streams may be literal, but they essentially refer to the water of healing coming from Messiah, as mentioned in Rev. 22:2; Jn. 7:38. The lame men primarily in view are those of Is. 33:23 who went out to gather the prey of the Assyrians. But they refer also to the latter day lame of Jer. 31:8, who like Jacob bear the marks of their spiritual weakness and are repentant, throwing themselves upon Yahweh's grace. The Lord's healing of the lame who then jumped indicates that this Kingdom language started to have a foretaste in His work (Mt. 21:14; Acts 3:2-10). As noted on Is. 33:23, Judah were not then the lame repentant Jacob as they were intended to have been. And so these possible fulfillments are delayed until the last days.   

The Babylonian Account of Creation claims (Tablet 4, line 137) that Marduk cleft Teammate, the ocean goddess, with his sword. The Biblical idea of Yahweh cleaving the waters clearly picks up this idea (Hab. 3:9; Ps. 74:15; 78:13,15; Ex. 14:16,21; Jud. 15:19; Is. 35:6; 48:21; 63:12; Neh. 9:11). But these passages largely refer to the miracle God did at the Red Sea, bringing about the creation of His people out of the cleft waters of the Sea. Again, pagan creation is reinterpreted with reference to a historical, actual event in the experience of God’s people.

Isaiah 35:7 The burning sand will become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water. Grass with reeds and rushes will be in the habitation of jackals, where they used to lay-
These "jackals" are those envisaged living for 'ever', for generation after generation, in the judged cities of Edom. But it seems those areas will be revived. Areas so heavily condemned and judged will in due course be brought under God's glory. The water source is the stream envisaged as flowing from Zion in Ezekiel and Revelation. This could have happened literally had Judah built the temple system as commanded in Ez. 40-48. Hence LXX "a fountain of water shall be poured into the thirsty land; there shall there be a joy of birds, ready habitations and marshes".

Isaiah 35:8 A highway will be there, a road, and it will be called The Holy Way. The unclean shall not pass over it, but it will be for those who walk in the Way. Wicked fools will not go there-
I noted on :3-6 that what is primarily in view is the spiritual healing of people; this highway may be literal, but it is essentially spiritual. This prepared highway is a major theme of Isaiah, e.g. Is. 26:7 "The way of the just is uprightness; You who are upright make the path of the righteous level". This is the language of Is. 40. The way was open for the exiles to return as righteous, justified by faith, to a restored Zion; and if they made that journey, Zion's gates were open to them (see on Is. 26:2). That way was potentially prepared at the restoration, as LXX clarifies: "the dispersed shall walk on it, and they shall not go astray". But the exiles chose to remain in Babylon and Assyria, and those who did return did so without accepting the call to repentance which is part of the making straight of the path to Zion. But it was all potentially prepared. It is for us now to walk in that path likewise to Zion. In the future it seems there may be literal highways prepared leading to Zion for the repentant remnants of the nations (see on Is. 11:16;  19:23; 35:8; 62:10; Jer. 31:21).

Isaiah 35:9 no lion will be there, nor will any ravenous animal go up on it. They will not be found there; but the redeemed will walk there-
LXX "the redeemed and gathered on the Lord's behalf, shall walk in it"; GNB "Those whom the LORD has rescued will travel home by that road". The return of the exiles is clearly in view. But despite such a highway with such protection being potentially available, they chose not to make the journey, and to act as if they had not in fact been "redeemed" from the lands of their exile. The lions and wild beasts clearly refer to the aggressive nations, who will be no more; and this will be reflected in the Kingdom by the animals also being at peace with each other and with man. 

Isaiah 35:10 Yahweh’s ransomed ones will return, 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-
There was great joy at the time of the first Purim in Esther's time when sorrow was turned to joy (s.w. Esther 9:22), but the people did not return. The restoration was intended to be the time when sorrow was turned to joy (Jer. 31:13 s.w.). But as we can, they forgot the price aid for their ransom and remained in slavery. And those who did return didn't do so with the voice of joy, but with nervousness and then complaining about the famine, bad harvests and diseases they and their crops were smitten with on returning. The eternal joy spoken of here will come true only at the return of the Lord Jesus. Joy by its nature is temporal in this life, because of our emotional structure; we cannot maintain such experiences of joy in a permanent sense. But this is the wonderful nature of salvation. "Sorrow and sighing" is the same phrase used about David's feelings because of his sin with Bathsheba (Ps. 31:10). As noted throughout Is. 35, the essential theme is of internal spiritual transformation, and no longer experiencing the effects of sin; for that is the greatest "joy".