Isaiah 35 is like a breath of fresh air. The preceding chapters developed a picture of God’s people constantly “riding the fence” in regards to their trust and faithfulness to God. Isaiah 35 sets a distinct contrast to chapter 34 (620). The picture in Isaiah 34 (like elsewhere Isaiah) speaks of judgement regarding the nations and contains many descriptions void of hope. Images of God’s anger and death seems to reign throughout Isaiah 34. Chapter 35 changes the picture toward life, beauty, and God’s redemption plan.
It is interesting that in both chapters the creation plays a vital role in how the proposed future will be experienced by humanity. We see that God’s engagement against sin can and will bring destruction. God’s full engagement intention, however, will bring about holistic healing for the creation.
Oswalt notes how poetic language is difficult to try and always pin down into literal meanings (621). Even though poetic language is being used, the text is talking about two very important and distinct possible realities. There is a reality that relies on sinful humanity judged by God, and there is a reality where humanity surrenders to God and is redeemed. I believe that the second picture is God’s favorite one and intrinsic to God’s nature (Isaiah 35). The original intention of creation gets put back into place because God acts in creation.
Isaiah 35 immediately violates the mind by putting forth a paradox. The picture of a desert is basically synonymous with death in most minds. This baron wasteland however, gets a resurrection. This was not the case in the language of Isaiah 34. This seems to be a major turning point in the book itself. Chapter 35 in many ways serves as a hinge from the theme of judgment to the hope of God’s redemption (626).
The striking turning point for the reader of Isaiah is that what has been broken will not remain. God comes for the broken and hopeless (vs. 4b). God’s control over the nations and all reality is a very good thing for those who cry out to God. Oswalt writes, “God has been coming to us across the millennia: through the process of revelation, in the acts of his providence, in the first coming of Christ” (623). This hinge chapter is hanging on the message of hope in a good God. The result is life which is represented by the pictures of healed bodies, thirsts quenched, and places of violence made safe.
I think it is worth noting how Chapter 33 contains a prayer to God for the people’s salvation and strength (33:2). This has been what God has wanted from the start (592). It is when the other perceived powers and gods have failed that God can be seen as the only true remedy for hope. No longer will God’s people depend on human powers to feel safe from fear. This God will come to the rescue when the people remember, repent, and return to God.
The last part of Isaiah 35 deals with those who participate in the abundant new life that God wants to provide. When the image bearers respond to God’s saving activity then the world will change into the type of place where deserts become lush gardens. This happens because God is different than the other idols and humanity finds its true identity and restoration from sin and death. The most vivid observation is that humanity starts to live in a new way as a result to trusting a Holy God. The ultimate end is joy found in relationship to this God.
Oswalt, John N. The Book of Isaiah: Chapters 1-39. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1986.