Today’s Bible: Isaiah 35 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
35 The desert and the dry will rejoice,
the desert will rejoice and flourish;
like a crocus 2 it will bloom profusely,
and rejoice in joy and singing.
He will be given the glory of Lebanon,
Majesty Carmel and Sharon.
They will see the glory of the Lord,
the majesty of our God.
3 Strengthen weak hands,
and tighten weak knees.
4 Tell those who have a fearful heart,
“Be strong, don’t be afraid!
Here is your God.
He will come with revenge,
with terrible compensation.
He will come and save you. ”
5 Then the eyes of the blind will be opened,
and the ears of the deaf unstoppable;
6 then the lame will jump like a deer,
and a language without words sings with joy.
For waters shall break out in the wilderness,
and streams in the desert;
7 burning sand will become a pond,
and thirsty water sources;
the refuge of the jackals will become a swamp,[a]
the grass will become reeds and rushes.
8 the highway will be there,
and it shall be called the Holy Way;
the unclean will not travel on it,[b]
but it will be for God’s people;[c]
no traveler, not even fools, will go astray.
9 There are no lions there,
nor shall any beast of prey be drunk upon him;
they won’t be there,
but the redeemed will walk there.
10 And the redeemed of the Lord shall return,
and come to Zion with singing;
eternal joy will be on their heads;
they will get joy and happiness,
both sorrow and sighs will escape.
Tim’s pious reflection for today
Isaiah’s words were for his people, who lived in exile and whose home lay in ruins. The mighty kingdom of Babylon conquered the tiny nation of Judah – all that is left of the great kingdom of David and Solomon. They stripped the nation, burned entire cities to the ground, took the crops and livestock of all farmers and left nothing but burnt land. They killed or captured rulers, teachers, priests, merchants, and took the survivors to Babylon as prisoners. The physical, emotional and spiritual devastation was terrible.
In his paintings, Isaiah contrasts what the present is like, while holding a picture of what it will be like when God makes it new. First, there is the emphasis on the dryness and heat of the wilderness (verses 1, 6), which is a place of burning sand, thirsty land, and a refuge for jackals (verse 7). It is a picture of life in the most difficult circumstances, what people experience in the present – dryness, thirst and death. The contrast is then with life-giving waters, streams (v. 6), swamp, reed and rush (v. 7) and crocuses that grow in abundance in wetland land (v. 1). It is a picture of life as Isaiah puts it will to be – to satisfy thirst and hunger, vitality, wholeness and perseverance. In the midst of emotional and spiritual devastation, Isaiah paints joy.
Other biblical passages immediately come to mind in such a connection: those who follow the will of God are like trees planted by streams of water, which never wither and which bears fruit in its time (Psalm 1: 3); Christ, the fountain of living water (John 7:38), can keep us from thirsting (John 4:13). The contrast is sharp – the old life without God and the fullness of life given by communion with God and living according to God’s intentions.
These words of Isaiah are essential as we look at the difficult times in our lives. What is the foundation of our hope for new beginnings, new beginnings, second chances, new life? What is the reason for joy even in the midst of extreme difficulties? The decisive answer given in the testimony of countless men and women in the pages of Scripture and through the ages is GOD. God gives new life and a wonderful, merciful gift of Joy.