Life in Abundance (Isaiah 35:1-10)
Deserts that start to bloom: This really does exist! A well-known example is the Atacama Desert in Chile, which is around 1200 kilometers long and stretches from southern Peru to northern Chile. It is considered the driest desert in the world. There is no rain there for years. But when it does come, about every 5 to 7 years, the desert is transformed into an unimaginable sea of flowers. Seeds that have been waiting for years to get a drop of rain come to life, germinate and literally explode. Who knows, perhaps the authors of the texts at that time experienced such a wonderful natural spectacle in their environment? In any case, they found an impressive image for their message of hope: What water is for the desert, God is for man. Whoever comes to the bubbling spring of God’s instructions will have life in abundance, joy without end.
Neela Pushparaj (b. 1938), Blooming Cacti, 2004, Watercolor on paper, 41 x31 cm, Private collection.
The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad;
the desert shall rejoice and blossom.
The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it,
the majesty of Carmel and Sharon.
They shall see the glory of the Lord,
the majesty of our God.
Strengthen the weak hands
and make firm the feeble knees.
Say to those who are of a fearful heart,
“Be strong, do not fear!
Here is your God.
He will come with vengeance,
with terrible recompense.
He will come and save you.”
Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
and the ears of the deaf shall be opened;
then the lame shall leap like a deer,
and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy.
For waters shall break forth in the wilderness
and streams in the desert;
the burning sand shall become a pool
and the thirsty ground springs of water.
A highway shall be there,
and it shall be called the Holy Way;
No lion shall be there,
nor shall any ravenous beast come up on it;
but the redeemed shall walk there.
And the ransomed of the Lord shall return
and come to Zion with singing;
everlasting joy shall be upon their heads;
they shall obtain joy and gladness,
and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.
The contrasts could hardly be greater: In chapter 34, a land inhabited by Judah’s brother and enemy becomes a barren desert; in chapter 35, the desert is transformed into a fertile, flourishing landscape. Chapter 35 functions as a bridging text to chapter 40ff, the opening of Deutero-Isaiah; both chapters are closely related by keyword references. In particular, the motif of the road and the metaphor of the desert (as an image for the downcast Jerusalem) are important. In both chapters a group of people speaks out who feel particularly connected to YHWH and call him “our God” (35:2; 40:3, 8). It wants to encourage the people of post-exilic Israel to turn back to YHWH: “Look, here is your God” (35:4). In this, its focus on the kingship of YHWH is central to the book of Isaiah. The nations are to learn that there is no way around the invisible but effective kingship of YHWH on Zion, otherwise they, like Edom, will have no future.
Photo: © Neela Pushparaj / Bridgeman Images
New Revised Standard Version, Updated Edition (NRSVUE) © 2021 National Council of Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.