The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad; the desert shall rejoice and blossom like the crocus; it shall blossom abundantly and rejoice with joy and singing. 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 have an anxious heart, “Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God. He will come and save you.”
Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy. For waters break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert; the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water; in the haunt of jackals, where they lie down, the grass shall become reeds and rushes. And a highway shall be there, and it shall be called the Way of Holiness; the unclean shall not pass over it. It shall belong to those who walk on the way; even if they are fools, they shall not go astray. No lion shall be there, nor shall any ravenous beast come up on it; they shall not be found there, 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 gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away. – Isaiah 35
As I read this passage of Scripture in the midst of sheltering in place because of Covid-19 I am encouraged. I am encouraged not because anything has changed this morning, unless what has changed is my perspective. The world remains the same, and so does God.
This was written to ancient Israel. It was written as a closure of the first 34 chapters of the book of Isaiah, in which the people of God were chastised for their idolatry and their injustice. They had failed to worship God with their whole hearts, to worship Him alone. They had failed to care for the least of these among their own people: the poor, the widow, the fatherless. Therefore God was going to exile them to a distant land. He was going to bring upon them their just punishment, in the form of ancient Assyria.
This passage looks past the exile to a time in which the people would again rejoice greatly and shout for joy. It looks ahead to the return from exile, the time in which God would do amazingly greater things than He had done. The prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel also see ahead to that day, the time of when the Messiah would come.
So I read this passage and see backward, to the day when Israel came back out of the land of Babylon, back to Jerusalem. It was a day of great joy. And yet, it was a day of great disappointment, as the walls were broken down, the temple was destroyed, and people’s hearts had not yet been made new. That New Day was still to come.
I read this passage and see backward, to the day when Jesus came. He lived an amazing life of blessing and healing. It was verses 5-6 and He quoted to John the Baptist’s followers when asked if he was the Messiah. Jesus ushered in this New Day, the Return. He is the Messiah who brings this New Day, yet mostly only in our own hearts, in our soul, and not yet in the culture and in the world as a whole. The New Day is here, but not yet fully.
So as I sit here, sheltering in place, listening to the birds, I have hope, for this passage reveals who God is. He is one who turns the desert into the oasis. He is the one who calls to us and says, “Be strong, do not fear, your God will come.” God will clear up this pandemic, this disaster that has come upon the world. It is a disaster unlike any other, though certainly not the worst the world has ever seen.
My fear is that people (myself included) are not actually looking to God for His saving hand. I hear much from leaders of plans, or no plans. I hear of reopening things, or not opening things yet. I hear little of prayer. I know there are people in different administrations that are praying, but this thought led me to pray for mayors and governors and presidents and kings today. I pray they would be given wisdom from on high, from God, who actually knows all things, unlike we broken and fallen humans.
I sit here and look forward to the day when we will return to hugging our friends, to going out to eat, to kids seeing their teachers and enjoying playing on playgrounds. Because God is who He is, these things will return. I do hope it’s a return to less idolatry and less injustice as well. I will do what I am able.
But mostly, reading this, I look forward, far forward, though I do not know how far. I look forward to that Day, that Final Day, in which God wraps up this age as one wraps up a cloak. I look forward to that Day in which He fully and finally creates that highway called the Way of Holiness. Right now that Way seems like a trail through the wilderness, in which faithfulness to God feels difficult and dangerous. One day, it will truly be a highway, and people of all nations will walk upon it, going to His temple to worship Him. “The redeemed will walk there, and the ransomed of the LORD will return and come to Zion with singing.” It will be a day in which “sorrow and sighing will flee away” finally and fully away. This is the hope of the Bible, that the earth will be redeemed. Jesus came to pay the way for us, to pay for our sin and rebellion by taking the just punishment of that rebellion upon Himself, so that we could go free.
So until that day when God turns the whole desert into an oasis (the New Earth), I wait. But I wait with eyes that see our true end, and I begin to sing.
“Some bright morning, when this life is gone, I’ll fly away.
To a land where joy will never end, I’ll fly away.
I’ll fly away o‘ glory. I’ll fly away.
When I die, hallelujah by and by, I’ll fly away…”