Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New TestamentISAIAH 35
Many scholars profess to see a close connection between this chapter and the preceding one, and to interpret the wonderful blessings portrayed in this as being the consequence of the destruction of God's enemies in Isa. 34. We see no such thing. Whatever similarities may exist here between the great blessings of the Kingdom of Christ, which is most surely the focus of the chapter, and the return of a small remnant of the Jews from the Babylonian captivity, it appears to us are very limited; and both in such types and the great reality itself, the cause of them must be discerned as being the intervention of God Himself in human affairs. Was it due to the destruction of enemies? Not entirely, because God still has enemies. The cause of the blessings in Christ's kingdom is Jesus Christ himself. He is the HIGHWAY to heaven. Christ is also the highway that brought the Jews back to Jerusalem after the captivity; because the very purpose of God's bringing them back was that the Jews should be preserved as a separate people until Messiah should be born.
The existence of a "highway" through the desert from Babylon to Judah, and that desert that blossomed like a rose as they came back home through that desert simply did not exist. This passage was not talking about such literal things as that.
There could, of course, be a prophecy here of a "highway" for the Jews to use on the way back from Babylon, if we could interpret such a highway as being the providential assistance that Cyrus the Persian ruler gave the Jews in allowing, aiding and encouraging it. Where else in these ten verses do we locate a prophecy of Jews returning to Jerusalem?
Verses 1, 2
The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad; and the desert shall rejoice, and blossom as the rose. It shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice even with joy and singing; the glory of Lebanon shall be given unto it, the excellency of Carmel and Sharon: they shall see the glory of Jehovah, the excellency of our God.
No such transformation of the desert between Babylon and Jerusalem is recorded as having taken place on the return of the remnant; and therefore we must see in these words a prophecy of a spiritual transformation that would take place at some future occasion afterward from the times of Isaiah. What was it? As Barnes explained it:
"The sense here (Isaiah 35:1,2) is that the desolate moral world would be filled with joy on account of the blessings which are here predicted ... and that the change would be so great under the blessings of the Messiah's reign, as if there should be suddenly transferred to the waste wilderness (the desert) the majesty and glory of mount Lebanon ... and that the blessings of the times of Messiah would be as great, as if the desert were made as lovely as Carmel, and as fertile as Sharon."F1
Archer understood that blossoming and singing desert to symbolize, "The inward changes that take place in the redeemed";F2 and that certainly makes sense. As the sense of this chapter begins to appear, we may easily understand why Lowth complained that, "It is not easy to discover what connection the extremely flourishing state of the church or people of God described in Isa. 35 could have with those events (of Isa. 34)."F3 We will go much further and declare that, in fact, there is hardly any connection at all, except the resulting dramatic contrast between, "The future of the unrepentant, God-defying world and the future of the people of God."F4 There is also one other connection. The final glory of the Church will come after the execution of the final judgment; and since it is the final judgment that appears in Isa. 34, it was most logical that the joy of the saints of God should immediately appear, as indeed they do, right here in Isa. 35. However, the element of cause and effect is not in the two chapters, but only the element of their near simultaneous timing.
As indication of the many differences of scholars regarding these verses, take that word rendered "rose" (Isaiah 35:1) in our version. Peake gave it as, "the autumn crocus, "or "the narcissus." "The Septuagint (LXX) renders it `Lily,' the Vulgate gives us `Lilium' (the same thing); and the Syriac version translates it `the meadow-saffron.'"F5
Of course, anyone can see that the exact identity of the flower in this passage is of little, if any, importance.
Rawlinson, as we see it, properly identified this whole chapter as a prophecy of, "The glory of the last times,"F6 and Hailey explained the reasons for doing so, as follows:
"The wilderness through which the redeemed came singing to Zion is not the road from Babylon to Judah, but the spiritual desert which led them into the captivity ... Afterward came the Medo-Persian role and oppression, then Alexander whose role was totally void of spiritual values ... then the Ptolemies, the Syrian Seleucids, the Maccabean wars ... and the Pharisees and Sadducees, religious rulers who corrupted the spiritual life of the nation ... and after them the Romans. It is obvious that the glorious picture in Isa. 35 was certainly not realized at any time during the period between Babylon and the coming of Jesus Christ. Only a messianic interpretation of the chapter fits the text."F7
Verses 3, 4
Strengthen ye the weak hands, and confirm the feeble knees. Say to them that are of a fearful heart, Be strong, fear not: behold, your God will come [with] vengeance, [with] the recompense of God; he will come and save you.
As Payne wrote, "`Vengeance' today has a negative and unproductive ring about it; but vengeance and recompense belong together. The world cannot be put to rights and the era of peace be brought in without both the banishment and punishment of the wicked, and also the blessing of the `ransomed of the Lord.'"F8
Certainly, the admonition here for the strong to aid and strengthen the weak and fearful has an application to every age of God's people, whether in the Old Testament or the New Testament. New Testament admonitions on this subject are: 1 Cor. 3:1; Gal. 6:1; Heb. 5:12-14; and Rom. 15:1. That these verses also had a direct application to the Jews of Isaiah's day is certain; for they apply to every age of God's people.
The big thing that is promised in this passage is, "Your God will come ... and save you." "This is nothing less than an announcement of the Incarnation!"F9 Efforts of some to apply these words in any manner whatever to the Jewish return from captivity were described by the same author as "most inadequate."F10 Barnes denied that the words here have any other explanation than as a reference to the Father; but it was not "The Father," but "The Son" who actually "visited" us from on high and brought redemption to fallen man.
Verses 5, 6
Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped. Then shall the lame man leap as a hart, and the tongue of the dumb shall sing; for in the wilderness shall waters break out, and streams in the desert.
Again, we point out that the great promise in Isa. 35:4 is, "Behold, your God will come ... and save you." Very well, the people who heard that would wish to know, above everything else, WHEN will it happen? Isa. 35:5 answers the question. Look at the first word in Isa. 35:5 and Isa. 35:6. "THEN," that is, when the "eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the death unstopped." "When? .... Then," i.e., "When the lame man shall leap as a hart, and the tongue of the dumb shall sing!" And when?, pray tell, is that? It is, of course, in the times of the Messiah, for there is not a more Messianic message in the entire Bible than these two verses right here. Commentators of every shade of conviction are unanimous:
"Lowth declared that, "The miraculous works wrought by our blessed Saviour are so clearly specified here (Isaiah 35:5,6) that we cannot avoid making the application. And our Saviour himself has moreover plainly referred to this passage as speaking of him and his works in Matt. 11:4,5".F11 This passage is so accurate a description of what the Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ did, that it doubtless refers to the miracles which he would perform."F12
And the glowing sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water: in the habitation of jackals, where they lay, shall be grass with reeds and rushes.
This language is very similar to the promises in the first few verses of the chapter and carry exactly the same meaning, indicating the contrast between the conditions where men are in rebellion against God and the far better times which result from men's submission to God's will. It is no accident that, all over the world, wherever Christian faith has thrived, there, and there only, have occurred the truly great advancements of human civilizations. If one needs an example of this, try a contrast between Africa and North America.
In this verse, the expression "glowing sand" is given as "mirage" in an alternate reading in the American Standard Version margin; and some scholars prefer that reading. Such a change would not alter the obvious meaning of the passage.
THE HIGHWAY FOR THE REDEEMED
And a highway shall be there, and a way, and it shall be called The way of holiness; the unclean shall not pass over it; but is shall be for [the redeemed]: the wayfaring men, yea fools, shall not err [therein]. No lion shall be there, nor shall any ravenous beast go up thereon; they shall not be found there; but the redeemed shall walk [there]: and the ransomed of Jehovah shall return, and come with singing unto Zion; and everlasting joy shall be upon their heads: they shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.
One of the most glorious passages in all the Word of God is these three verses. "The glory of this passage is enhanced, if that is possible, by its setting as an oasis between the visionary waste of Isa. 34 and the history of war, sickness and folly in Isa. 36--39."F13
Another glorious thing about this chapter was pointed out by Kelley who wrote:
"Attention has often been called to the numerous parallels between Isa. 35 and those found in Isa. 40--66. The themes shared in common include: (1) the transformation of the desert into a lush oasis at the appearance of God, which appears also in Isa. 41:17-20; 43:19-21; 51:3,10,11; 55:12:13; (2) the coming of God as a source of comfort and strength, found also in Isa. 40:9-11; 52:7-10; (3) the restoration to health of the weak and infirm, appearing again in Isa. 42:16; 61:1; (4) the preparation in the desert of a highway for the redeemed, predicted again in Isa. 40:3-5; 49:8-11; (5) the joy of the redeemed as they return to Zion, mentioned also in Isa. 43:5-7; 49:12-13; 51:11."F14
Important as these comparisons are, Kelley's conclusion is even more important: He wrote, "The close similarities between the two sections argue for a common background and origin." Yes indeed! This is not only "an argument" for a common origin, it is proof of the same; and that proof has been available for all generations and is still so. Near the end of the last century. Dr. George C. M. Douglas published a book in London, entitled "Isaiah One, and his Book One!"F15 It has never been any other way with truly intellectual and thoughtful scholars. It is wonderful to see this same thought in a Broadman Commentary!
How many "ways" are visible in this passage? The answer is, only one. But, does not the text say, "A highway and a way"; and does not that make two? That second "way" which appears here is an error. "A Hebrew word was added by mistake to the first member of the sentence." It does not read like this in many ancient manuscripts and in the Syriac version.F16
The proof of Lowth's position on this is seen in the manner Jesus Christ treated the teaching here. We already know that Christ, and only Christ, is the Highway of this passage; and yet he did not say, "I am the Highway"; but that "I am the Way" (John 14:6). The truly accurate understanding of the scriptures by Jesus is seen in the difference. For Christ to have said "I am the highway," it might have been interpreted as an implication that there was also another way, or a low way. We have seen that some critics are unwilling to allow the comments of Christ on the Old Testament prophets as the truth, because some of such critics vainly think they are more learned than was Christ; but the truth is, none of them of whom we have ever read, is even in a class with Jesus, but far inferior to him.
"The whole atmosphere of this passage is supernatural."F17 This passage is not referring to any kind of an elevated roadway through a desert, but to the way of Salvation in Jesus Christ. He alone is "the way."
Some of the language here has long been misunderstood. "Wayfaring man, though a fool, shall not err therein" has been thought to mean that even a fool can enter the "Way" without making an error; but what is meant is that, "Fools are not permitted to enter it."F18 The word "fools" here carries a moral rather than an intellectual significance, "Here they stand for the irreligious, and they shall not go to and from in that way of holiness. The English Revised Version (1885) is singularly unfortunate here, since it has been commonly taken to mean that `not even a fool can miss it.'"F19 Throughout the New Testament. the term "fool" always implies wickedness. The foolish builder who built on the sand, the foolish virgins, the rich fool who mistook his stomach for his soul, etc. were always morally deficient persons.
As Hailey summed up the lines about the wayfaring man, though a fool, "The prophet is not saying that the way is so simple that an inexperienced or unlearned person cannot miss it, but that the man who despises wisdom, being wise in evil instead, will not make the mistake of walking in it."F20
Isa. 35:10 is the glorious climax of the whole prophecy. Fortunately, we have a New Testament glimpse of some of those redeemed souls coming unto Zion in these words: "Ye are come unto mount Zion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable host of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God the judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, and to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaketh better things than that of Abel" (Hebrews 12:22-24).
This is not a picture of Jews coming back from Babylon, but a picture of sinners (Jews and Gentiles alike) leaving their sins and coming home to God through Christ. May we come with "songs of everlasting joy" upon our heads, as Isaiah here said. Just think, we are the "heirs of all things through Christ!" As an apostle expressed it, "Eye hath not seen, nor has ear heard, and neither has it entered into the heart of man, the good things that God has prepared for them that love him." (1 Corinthians 2:9). This subject was also covered by Isaiah himself in Isa. 64:4 and Isa. 65:17.
This writer once preached a sermon on this chapter; and many details of the occasion have remained in his memory ever since. It was preached outdoors in Bowie, Texas, the night of August 15, 1935, the night of that day when Will Rogers and Wiley Post were killed in the "Winnie Mae" in Alaska. The response included W. T. Hamilton, one of the greatest preachers of this century, who was baptized that night at the age of 10. Also another was baptized. He was Mose Fowler, the founder of the city of Stoneberg, Texas, and the man whose oil well, "The Mose Fowler No. 1" brought in the Burkburnett Oil Field in the second decade of this century. It was a producer that yielded 365,000 barrels a day at $3,00 a barrel (and there was no income tax)!
The outline of the sermon, adapted from one originally preached by N. B. Hardeman in the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville was as follows:
THE WAY TO HEAVEN ISA. 35:8
I. What is that WAY? It is Jesus Christ.
A. John 14:6
B. It is the way of holiness (which is described here).
C. It is the way of eternal life.
II. First, one must come TO that way. No man has ever entered a way
yet without getting TO it first. How does one arrive AT the way?
A. Faith brings one TO it; not INTO it (Romans 10:10).
B. Confession also brings one "to it."
C. Repentance brings one "to it." (Acts 11:18)
III. Then one must ENTER the way. How does one enter Christ?
The Word reveals the answer:
A. Rom. 6:3-5
B. 1 Cor. 12:13
C. Gal. 3:27ff
IV. Then one must continue in the Way, all the way home.
A. Rev. 2:10
B. James 2:21-22
C. 2 Pet. 1:6-8
(The end of Division IV)
Footnotes for Isaiah 35
1: Albert Barnes' Commentary p. 502.
2: Wycliffe Old Testament Commentary, p. 633.
3: Robert Lowth's Commentary, p. 297.
4: Wycliffe Old Testament Commentary, p. 633.
4: Peake's Commentary Series, p. 458.
5: Albert Barnes' Commentary, p. 502.
6: The Pulpit Commentary, Vol. 10a, p. 568.
7: Homer Hailey, p. 293. <8> The New Layman's Bible Commentary, p. 795.
9: The Pulpit Commentary, Vol. 10a, p. 568
11: Robert Lowth's Commentary, p. 297.
12: B., p. 503.
13: The New Bible Commentary, Revised, p. 609.
14: Broadman Bible Commentary (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1971), p. 288.
15: George C. M. Douglas, Isaiah One, and his Book One (London: James Nisbet and Co., 1895).
16: Robert Lowth's Commentary, p. 301.
17: T. K. Cheyne's Commentary, p. 200.
18: Broadman Bible Commentary (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1971), p. 289.
19: Peake's Commentary Series, p. 458.
20: Homer Hailey, p. 297.