We are first speaking of ethnic Israel and then speaking of both ethnic Israel and the redeemed among the nations. To neglect the former negates the latter.
Chapters 34 and 35 detail the doom of Edom and the return to the land of the redeemed people of Israel. These chapters are act as an epilogue of what some call the “Book of Wows”.
In these chapters the prophet looks beyond the punishing of Assyria and its judgement and eventual destruction to the judgement of all the ungodly nations of the world. Edom, a brother to Israel, had acted in an unbrotherly way toward Israel during her distress. Edom, while a literal ethnic title, is also used as a personification of all those who have come against God and His people. Edom is seen as a representation of that which is evil within the human race and is prophesied to share the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah. Chapter 34 details the fate of Edom which is almost identical to that of Babylon. Some critiques mistakenly presume that this is proof of a post exilic dating for this text, however, it is more reasonable to conclude that the similar themes in Zechariah and Ezekiel are simply proof that Isaiah’s prophecies were well known to the latter prophets and that it was Isaiah’s scroll that influenced the latter prophets and not the other way around.
Chapter 35 is an exceptional poetic picture of the future redemption and return of Israel both spiritual and physical. It provides a stark contrast to the judgement, punishment and desolation of Edom, the evil nations of world who have sought come against God and His redemptive purpose for humanity.
Isa 35:1 Ye’susum Rejoice midbar wilderness (from the Word) and tziyah dryness (dry place) vetageil and be glad aravah desert plain; ve’tifrach and blossom kachavatztzalet as the rose, meadow saffron, crocus.
The previous chapter ends with Edom’s (Enemies of God and Israel) land being turned into a place of perpetual desolation, dryness. Whereas this chapter begins and ends with Israel’s desert and wilderness being transformed into well-watered blossoming pasture land.
The Hebrew word midbar (Wilderness), as previously discussed in my commentary on Isaiah 32, is a contraction meaning “from the Word, essence, thing”. Thus, rejoicing comes from the Word (John 1), and from within Zion.
The Hebrew tziyah “dryness”, is the root for the noun Tziyon (Zion: parched land). Therefore, the dry land of the desert is a personification of Tziyon. Zion is to rejoice and be glad from her interaction with the Word (The Messiah Yeshua). As a result she will blossom like the rose or meadow saffron, both beautiful and fragrant blooms.
The wilderness is a place of nourishment for the people of Israel. Her journey through the wilderness after escaping her captivity in Egypt resulted in her spiritual formation, and prepared her for what was ahead of her in the promised land. Revelation 12:14 describes Israel’s original exodus retrospectively and leaves open the possibility that the future may yet hold a wilderness experience for the ethnic people of Israel.
As a remez (hint) from the Hebrew text we can read “Rejoice from the Word in your wilderness experience, and you dry ones (Tziyah: residents of Zion) be glad even as far as the arabah (the desert parts of your God given land), behold, God is making you blossom and prosper.”
Rav Moses Hakkohen writes that there are two opinions as to the specific nature of this prophecy. One opinion suggests that this describes the state of Israel in the time of the Messiah’s reign, and the other suggests that it refers to the peaceful state of Judah following the Assyrian withdrawal in 704 BCE. In fact both interpretations are valid. The perpetual nature of Hebrew prophecy allows for both.
Isa 35:2 Paroach buding, sprouting, tifrach bud, sprout, (abundantly), vetageil and be glad with giylat joy veranein and overcome, shout: Kevod the glory of ha-levanon the Lebanon (witness) nitan-lah will be given to her, hadar the splendour of ha-Carmel the Carmel (Garden land) and ha-Sharon the Sharon (plain north of Jaffa between the central mountains of Israel and the Mediterranean Sea), they will see Khevod-YHVH the glory of HaShem (YHVH: Mercy), the splendour of Eloheiynu our God (Judge).
We note that the “budding, sprouting” from the root parach, is doubled at the beginning of this verse and infers abundance while also reminding the reader that the future blossoming and rejoicing of Israel has been firmly established by God.
Ibn Ezra is right in saying that this text refers to the land of Israel or Jerusalem itself, and that the “They” of the final clause refers to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. This is affirmed by the 2nd century Targum Yonatan which reads;
“the house of Israel, to whom these things are said, they shall see,''
We further observe that while the favoured English translation is “With great joy and singing”, the Hebrew root ranan literally means to overcome and can mean to shout or cry out but at best can only be rendered as singing in a figurative sense. Therefore, I have chosen to translate the Hebrew as an “overcoming shout” rather than as “singing”.
“The Lebanon (witness)” in this context probably refers to a specific mountain in Judea famous for its tall cedars and green appearance rather than to Israel’s northern neighbours. It alludes to both the physical appearance of the mountain and perhaps also to the future physical appearance of the “witness” who will precede the Messiah, that is Elijah. The kevod glory is associated with the Lebanon, whereas hadar beauty, which infers a more earthly affiliation, is connected to the Carmel and the Sharon (two locations within the territory of Judah famous for their fruitful pasture land).
In using all three locations to refer to the coming redemption of the land, the prophet is showing that this redemption will cover the entire land of Israel.
The kevod (heavenly glory) and the hadar (earthly beauty) will be united and as a result the people will see the Khevod HaShem the glory of Mercy and the Hadar Elohiym the beauty of His judgement. The couplets within the Hebrew poetic-prophetic text are intended to give a sense of something established outside of time and space that is to take place within time and space.
Isa 35:3 Chazeku Strengthen you yadiym the hands of rafot the weak, uvirkayim and the knees of koshelot the stumbling ones ameitzu make strong, alert, courageous, brave, bold, solid, secure.
By far the majority of Jewish commentators attribute this verse to the Messianic age. These things did not occur during the reign of Hezekiah, it is therefore intellectually dishonest to suggest that they did.
Strength and courage are the result of the coming King’s (Isaiah 32) redeeming work. Hashem Himself will hold firm the shaking hands of the weak and give courage and stability to the stumbling ones. This applies both to the weakness of the body and that of the spirit, mind, and soul being. Hashem and His Mashiyach King will affect this transformation and regenerate the people of Israel and her land.
The hands symbolize human action and the legs represent the way we walk or live in a moral sense. Thus the coming Redeemer will replace the shaky and morally dubious actions of His people with the firm right action of His Spirit and will give His people the courage to walk rightly before Him in the presence of the Messianic King.
Isa 35:4 Say lenimhareiy to them that have an anxious, hurried, fearful lev core being (heart), “Chizku Be strong, al-tiyrau don’t fear (be afraid): hinei behold, Eloheiychem your God (Judge) nakam with vengeance will come, with a recompense Elohiym God (Judge); Hu yavo veyosha’achem He will come and save you (plural).
Ibn Ezra suggests that this verse is spoken to those who don’t believe this miracle could happen.
This wonderful message of assurance spoken to the ethnic people of Israel then and now is also available to all who would put their trust in Israel’s Messiah Yeshua (Jesus). What a wonderful encouragement it is to hear these words from the mouth of the Messiah:
“You who are anxious, hurried, fearful within your core being, be strong, don’t fear, listen to Me, your God is coming with vengeance against your enemies and His: your God, the Judge of the universe is coming to repay the wicked in justice; He will come and save you!”
I’m reminded of the comforting words chanted as we complete each book of the Torah and at the end of the Torah cycle:
“Chazak, chazak, v'nitchazeik.” Be strong, be strong, and we will be strengthened!”
Some shy away from talking about the vengeance of the Lord because they are under the delusion that this somehow impugns God’s character, it does not. God is just and His vengeance is just. There is security in knowing that the God in Whom we have placed our trust will be fierce in His administration of justice and in His protection over us His children, both redeemed ethnic Israel and Messiah following Gentiles. The Scriptures speak of the vengeance of God on many occasions and often in conjunction with His deliverance of ethnic religious Israel: Isaiah 61:2; Luke 21:22; Revelation 18:20; 2 Thessalonians 1:8.
Recompense is reward to the righteous and punishment to the wicked (Rev. 11:18).
“He will come and save you”. The King Messiah came for the first time to perform the redeeming act of death and resurrection in order to make eternal deliverance possible for ethnic Israel and all humanity. And, although it is true that He has come to save you, it is also true that “He will come and save you”! In this context the prophet is speaking specifically to the ethnic people of Israel His chosen people. Yeshua the King Messiah has come to deliver us from sin and is coming again with vengeance and in order to bring judgement and recompense.
Notice that verse 4 uses only the Name of God that denotes judgement. Mercy (YHVH) and Judgement (Elohiym) begin this redemptive process (v. 2), but it is God as Judge Who saves (Yeshua) in the present verse. The King Messiah is coming again as a warrior, a fierce King, with judgement and recompense He will bring about the salvation of His brothers and sisters ethnic Israel. Make no mistake, God will keep His promises to ethnic Israel, not because of our righteousness but because of His. The Prince of Peace will again come to save us but this time He will be wearing the garments of war.
Isa 35:5 Then opened will be the eyes of the blind, and the ears of the deaf will be unstopped.
These words taken literally refer to the physical events that directly correlate to this prophecy, those being the healing miracles of the King Messiah at His first coming, recorded in the Brit-Chadashah (New Testament): Matthew 9:27; John 9:1; Matthew 11:5.
We must however, go a step further, for this verse is also speaking of a time when this will happen in a general sense. Meaning that the eyes of all who are blind in Israel will be opened along with the unstopping of the ears of all in Israel who have been deaf. This refers without doubt to a spiritual blindness and a spiritual rebellion. These events, while having occurred in part in both the physical and spiritual due to Messiah’s saving work at His first coming, are yet to be fully filled. This yet future event is described in Romans 11 and will bring about the redemption of all of ethnic Israel.
Isa 35:6 Then yedaleig leaping like a deer piseiach a lame man, ve’taron and overcoming, shouting, leshon the tongue of ileim the dumb, silent, mute: ciy-nivkeu for breaking open, tearing, bamidbar in the wilderness (in and from the Word), mayim waters: unechaliym and a torrent ba’aravah in the steppe desert.
Once again the physical healing of the lame within Israel saw its fulfilment in the days of Yeshua the King Messiah’s first coming (Matthew 15:30; Acts 3:1). Likewise the healing of those unable to speak (Matthew 9:32; Matthew 12:22). However, the Targum rightly understands this as referring not only to physical healing but also to the spiritual redemption that the Messiah was to bring to ethnic Israel and the nations:
"then shall the eyes of the house of Israel be opened, who were as blind men as to the law; and the ears of them that are as deaf men, to attend to the words of the prophets shall hear; then when they shall see the captives of Israel gathered to go up to their own land as the swift harts, and not tarry,'' -Targum Yonatan (2 century BCE)
The lame man is symbolic of one whose purpose has been hindered by the sin affected world. His healing brings him into a place that exceeds all hope and causes him not just to walk but to leap. The one unable to speak has an impaired tongue or language. This is representative of a restriction that has been imposed upon his ability to communicate. Thus, the loosing of his tongue or language sets him free to communicate the righteousness of God to others. In one sense we might say that the Hebrew language had itself been restricted during the Hellenistic period and parts of later history but has now been loosed once more, this time as an everlasting language.
The Hebrew nechaliym (torrent) is from the root nachal “inherit, possess”.
The wording of the latter clause is beautiful and revealing:
“for breaking open, tearing, out of the wilderness ( from the Word), waters: and a torrent in the steppe desert.”
The waters will of course literally break forth to water crops and bring flowers into blossom, but the prophet intends much more and the prophetic meta-narrative of God demands it. Water is life and that life is born of God, poured out to us through His Messiah Yeshua Who said:
“Everyone who drinks from this water will get thirsty again. But whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never be thirsty. The water that I give him will become a fountain of water within him, springing up to eternal life!” -Yochanan (John) 4:13-14 TLV
Notice that this water comes from our wilderness experience, from that time when we dwelt alongside the Mishkhan (Tent of the Presence). Wilderness life is hard but intimate, a trial that binds us together out of necessity. It is mi-from davar-the Word Himself, He Who bore our wilderness and suffered as we have, that the living water comes forth.
Look closely at the language. It is dishonest to translate nechaliym as streams: nachlah is a tearing, a torrent, a bursting forth. This is not a description of a trickling stream or otherwise, rather it is a an image of a gushing, bursting, fierce, unrelenting rush of waters that will forever silence the thirst of the desert and satisfy the thirst of the soul. Isaiah is prophesying a torrent of eternal life, something that we inherit nachal through Messiah.
Isa 35:7 And it has come to pass ha-sharav the burning (scorched) ground, mirage, will become la’agam a troubled pool, and the thirsty ground springs of mayim water: binveh in the habitation (shepherds hut) of taniym serpents/dragons, where each lay, shall be chatziyr grass, Leeks, herbs with reeds and rushes.
The plain meaning indicates that while once the scorching heat of the desert produced the illusion of an oasis within a mirage, now there will really be a place of refreshing waters and palm trees, and where there was once nothing but dry thirsty ground there would now be springs of water. The environment that had been ideal for snakes will now be too wet for them and will become a green well-watered land, lush with leeks, rushes and herbs.
On the other hand the symbolic language also conveys some deeper spiritual truths. The mirage produced by the conditions of Israel’s desert experience had become their focus so that they had chosen to pursue the mirage of unsatisfying water offered by false gods, waters that weren’t really there. Now, in the Messianic age they will behold the real living waters of God and His Messiah.
The regeneration of the land will make it impossible for the serpent to make his home there. The shepherd housing, once occupied by the false shepherd, symbolized by the serpent, will now be occupied by the righteous and rightful shepherd of Israel, the King Messiah Yeshua. Thus, the serpent Satan and his minions will be removed from the land completely and forever.
Isa 35:8 And it has come to pass sham there maslul a highway vaderekh and a way, vederekh and the way of ha-Kodesh the holiness, she (lah) will be called; and no tame unclean, impure thing will pass over it; but it (he) will be for those choleich going forth, derekh a way ve’eviliym that fools (despise wisdom) will not err in, wander from.
“There” means through the once barren lands of the southern and parts of the eastern borders of the land of Israel. A maslul highway will be made to carry and return the redeemed of ethnic Israel, both physically and spiritually. A highway is a wide main road that is unmistakably clear to all who seek it.
This “Highway” will be vaderekh “the Way”. The Hebrew text repeats the phrase “vaderekh vederekh ha-kodesh” literally “and a way and the way of Holiness”. The text explains that the second phrase is a title for this “way”. In other words, while this is a literal highway it is also a spiritual path, one that has a name “Vederekh Ha-Kodesh” The Way of Holiness. It is therefore, no coincidence that the spiritual path pursued by the Jewish followers of the King Messiah Yeshua became known as “The Way” a Jewish sect (Acts 19:9-23). Thus, this “Way of Holiness” refers to ethnic Israel’s path to salvation through the King Messiah Yeshua and his blood atoning sacrifice and resurrection.
“No unclean thing” refers not only to ritual uncleanness but to moral uncleanness. This way will be only for those who have returned to God through the Redeemer and Messiah Yeshua. In historical context this must first be understood to refer specifically to the Jewish people, however, it will also become true of those among the nations who accept Israel’s Messiah Yeshua. He is of course “Ha-derekh, ha-emet ve’chayim” The way, the truth, and the life.
Such is the clarity of the highway and its “way” that even the one who was once foolish, who now chooses “The Way”, will no longer be able to walk in error due to the transformative work of God through the Messiah.
Isa 35:9 There will not come there any aryeih lion, nor any ravenous chaiyot animal shall go up there, it shall not be found sham there vehalechu and walking geuliym the redeemed:
The lion and ravenous beast are symbolic of harm that comes against travellers, especially in a land that has become unruly and left desolate. Thus, the text is conveying the idea that all the previous threats which resulted from sin and lawlessness will be removed from Tziyon (Parched land) and that only the redeemed (Through Messiah) will walk in this place.
Isa 35:10 Upeduyeiy And the ransomed of HaShem (YHVH: Mercy) yeshuvun will return, and come to Tziyon (Zion: parched land) berinah with shrill ringing cries (overcoming) vesimchat and joy olam everlasting al rosham upon their heads: sason gladness vesimchah and joy yasigu they will obtain, take hold of, venasu and flee yagon grief, sorrow, anguish va’anachah and sighing, groaning.
Notice that it is only the ransomed of Hashem who will return. No one will return unless his ransom has been paid. Thank God, Yeshua gave of Himself to be that ransom for all ethnic Israel and for the nations. Here though we are first speaking of a physical return and then a spiritual one. Therefore, we are first speaking of ethnic Israel and then speaking of both ethnic Israel and the redeemed among the nations. To neglect the former negates the latter.
We see that this chapter ends by referring to God’s ethnic chosen people using the designation it began with, “Tziyon” from tziyah (Parched Land). He was there in the wilderness, He is here in the regenerated land.
“Berinah” is more akin to the shrill wailing of middle eastern women than it is to singing. Mizrachi Jewish women still make this shrill cry at weddings and festivals in celebration of the goodness of God.
This returning to Zion is one of the greatest of joys. The prophet says that ethnic Israel will be filled with everlasting joy, and that joy will rest upon our heads. The rosh (head) is the ruler of the body. Thus the joy that is everlasting will rule us both individually and corporately. We will obtain this through the King Messiah from God the Father and what’s more, all that once resulted in sadness, sorrow and suffering will flee away.
This will begin as a complete restoration of the ethnic people of Israel, God’s chosen, and culminate with the resurrection of the righteous from every ethnicity of humanity and the unification of the heavenly and earthly Jerusalem, and the regeneration of all things through Messiah Yeshua our King and Redeemer unto the Glory of HaShem the Merciful King of the universe.
© 2018 Yaakov Brown
Spiritual leader of Beth Melekh Community, Auckland, Aotearoa, N.Z.