The book of Isaiah presents to the audience the same two decisions that affect each of us each day. It is a decision that we must make at every moment, every day we breathe. Will you follow the world or follow God? Will you follow yourself and trust in yourself or will you follow God and put your trust in God? Isaiah’s prophecy is going to proclaim the reasons why we must follow the Lord. Isaiah pictures the final outcome for those who trust in the Lord and the final outcome for those who trust in themselves and the things of this world. Isaiah 34-35 stand together as one unit of prophecy concerning the outcome for these two groups.
Fear God, Not This World (34:1-17)
The thirty-fourth chapter of Isaiah begins by describing the judgment that is going to fall upon the world. This chapter reveals graphic images of national judgment. As we have been studying through the book of Isaiah we have seen the main enemy of Judah is the nation of Assyria. Assyria is the world power at the time and Isaiah has been calling on the people to turn their trust and hearts to the Lord for deliverance from Assyria’s hand. Assyria is attacking Judah and surrounding Jerusalem, yet the people seem to refuse to turn to the Lord. Chapters 34-35 are the final prophecy before the narrative section of this book where we see what God does for Judah. This final prophecy is to convince the people to turn to God with full trust in him. But notice what is unusual about this prophecy. Notice who the object is of this divine judgment. Verse 5 reads, “For my sword has drunk its fill in the heavens; behold, it descends for judgment upon Edom, upon the people I have devoted to destruction.” This is unusual because Edom has not been the problem in this book. Yet Edom, not Assyria, is the one devoted to destruction.
The call for Edom’s fall is a powerful image by God because Edom is a symbol of the enemies of God’s people. Historically, Edom has always been an enemy for Israel. The two nations represent two groups of people in the world: Israel/Judah represents the people of God and Edom represents the enemies of God’s people. Homer Hailey sums the idea up well, “Esau symbolizes the impious mind giving vent to its earthly character and its hatred of God, his people, and everything which is spiritual. … Isaiah is picturing the day of Jehovah’s vengeance against all that Edom represents” (Hailey, A Commentary on Isaiah, 286-287). In another book Hailey wrote, “Also, it was more than the expression of one nation or people; in Edom was expressed the contempt of this world for God and his righteousness. Edom symbolized the world and all the nations of which it was composed” (Hailey, The Edomites: Symbol of the World, 21). Isaiah is not suddenly turning his attention to Edom completely out of context of the prophecy. Rather, by speaking of Edom, God is declaring doom, not only against Assyria, but any nation or people or threat against God’s people. From the very beginning, Esau and Jacob were at odds with one another. The nations that come from these men were always enemies of one another. This ultimately became a symbol for the people who stand with God and the people who stand with wickedness.
Therefore, as we read Isaiah 34 we must see the imagery against all who stand against God, his purposes, and his people. Listen to verse 8: “For the Lord has a day of vengeance, a year of recompense for the cause of Zion.” Verses 9-10 describe the judgment as a burning pitch, a burning night and day that will not be quenched and whose smoke goes up forever. Does that sound familiar to the imagery used in the New Testament for the judgment on the wicked whose fire is not quenched (cf. Mark 9:48)? God is going to act for the cause of Zion, representative of the people of God.
There is one more point of significance we must consider about Edom before we leave this image of judgment. In Numbers 20:14-21 we see an active hostility of Edom against Israel. In 1 Samuel 14:47 we see Saul going to war against Edom and the other enemies that surrounded him. David also attacked Edom but this time he was victorious against Edom (2 Samuel 8:14; 1 Kings 11:15). This was the first and only conquest of Edom. David was the only king who was able to conquer Edom and keep this unruly foe in subjugation. But that changed when Solomon took the throne and Edom rebelled against him (1 Kings 11:14). So keep this history in your mind: only David was able to conquer Edom and maintain its subjugation. Only David can conquer Edom.
Hope In God, Not This World (35:1-10)
Instead of hoping in this world, God describes what he will do so that you will put your hope in him. The first two verses of chapter 35 picture new life and renewal. The wilderness and dry land are going to blossom. Why is there going to be new life? Why is there going to be blessings? Why is there going to be renewal? Listen to the words of verse 2: “They shall see the glory of the Lord, the majesty of our God.” You are going to see something that is going to change everything. The Lord is going to come and you will see his glory. God is coming! His glory will be on display!
Therefore, verses 3-4 becomes a truth to the audience. “Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees. Say to those who have an anxious heart, ‘Be strong; fear not!'” God’s people must be encouraged and strengthened because the Lord is coming and his glory will be seen. God is coming and he is coming with vengeance (which we saw in Isaiah 34). Judgment is coming against the enemies of God, represented by Edom. Listen to the beautiful words of verse 4: “He will come and save you.” Your strength comes from the knowledge that the Lord is coming with vengeance, with the recompense of God. You can endure because God is going to come and save you. You are going to see the glory of God.
The writer of Hebrews quotes Isaiah 35:3 in Hebrews 12:12. Though crushed by difficulties, we are to be strengthened by hope. Our strength comes from hearing the salvation oracle. The writer of Hebrews speaks of hostility and difficulty as the discipline of the Lord which yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it (Hebrews 12:11). Though God allows painful circumstances in our lives, its purpose is training that “we might share his holiness” (Hebrews 12:10).
Isaiah describes the results of the coming of the Lord in verses 5-7. The eyes of the blind shall be opened. The ears of the deaf will be unstopped. The lame will leap like a deer. The mute will sing for joy. Water will flow in the wilderness. The parched, dry, abandoned ground will become pools, springs, and lush land. These would be the signs of liberation and redemption. God was going to come and give spiritual life to his people, exemplified by the miracles of Jesus. Jesus’ miracles were to give sight to the blind, cause the lame to walk, cause the mute to speak, and cause the deaf to hear. What did these miracles mean? God has come! God has come and he will save you. God has come and he will come with vengeance. Who was the only person who conquered Edom? David was the only king who conquered Edom. Now the new David has come, King Jesus, and he conquers Edom. He conquers the enemies that stand against his people. Therefore, strengthen weak hands and feeble knees. God has come! When John the Baptist is imprisoned and sends messengers to Jesus to ask if Jesus is truly the one, do you remember the answer Jesus sends back to John? The answer is the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear and so forth (Luke 7:18-23). The message is not merely that Jesus does miracles. The message is God has come! Strengthen weak hands because God has come and he will bring his vengeance.
There is something else that will be in this transformed desert. Verse 8 tells us that a highway is going to be there. The name of the highway is Holiness. No one unclean that walk on this road. No fools will wander on it. Those who belong to that road will stay on that road. There is no danger on this road. There is nothing to threaten us on this journey. The redeemed will walk on this road. Those who have been delivered from the legal obligation of their sins will walk on it. The ransomed of the Lord will return. Those who have had a payment made on their behalf to deliver them from their debt or obligation shall come home with singing. Notice the character of these redeemed, ransomed people of the Lord. “Everlasting joy shall be upon their heads. They shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.” The Lord’s people will be overwhelmed with joy. That which your soul seeks will be given to you: everlasting joy. You will wear that eternal joy like a crown on your head. This is your joy: God comes for his people, destroys those who come against them, gives them salvation, and places them on the highway of holiness. God says that he will come, you will see him, and make a way for you to come home to him. The road has been paved for you to come to God. God is with you as you walk this road. Listen to how the Gospel of John opens concerning the arrival of God to this world.
14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. 15 (John bore witness about him, and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.'”) 16 For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known. (John 1:14–18 ESV)
Jesus came. Your hope is in him. Walk on the highway of holiness with joy and gladness to the eternal Father.