(A five minute read)
Some encouragement is eternal, just like some truth.
When I faced a medical crisis three years ago, Isaiah 35 was my cane when I felt weak, and a steadying hand to the elbow when I couldn’t move forward. It brought life when it seemed there could be death, and completed a picture for me of how God answers prayer.
In June of 2019 I had surgery to remove a tumour from inside my bladder, and spent the rest of the year receiving chemotherapy and chemo-radiotherapy. My wife Melanie and I had already struck the match of faith even before the surgery, and His heat came, as we knew it would. And then God showed me the riches of this passage.
Isaiah 35 is superficially about the future glory of Zion, God’s permanent capital. But at my personal level, it became a byword about hope for restoration and revival.
The prophet offers a picture of how God promises to answer when we cry for help. Then, when He comes in response to prayer, miracles happen. Jesus promised the same when He taught, ‘Your kingdom come; Your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.’ *
I cried out to God repeatedly. He answered through this scripture.
1 The wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad, and the desert shall rejoice and blossom as the rose;
2 it shall blossom abundantly and rejoice even with joy and singing. The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it, the excellency of Carmel and Sharon. They shall see the glory of the Lord and the excellency of our God.
The overwhelming nature of God’s promises are shown in the superlatives in the first two verses: glad, rejoice, blossom abundantly, joy and singing, glory, excellency. These are reliable even in our greatest times of spiritual barrenness.
3 Strengthen the weak hands, and support the feeble knees.
4 Say to those who are of a fearful heart, “Be strong, fear not. Your God will come with vengeance, even God with a recompense; He will come and save you.”
God comes to those who are obedient and faithful, and who cry out to Him, even from a place of desperation or fear.
5 Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped.
6 Then the lame man shall leap as a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy. For in the wilderness waters shall break out and streams in the desert.
‘Then’ shows that the healing that happens next is a result of our obedience and faithful prayer. After He comes, then the eyes of the blind and the ears of the deaf are opened, then the lame walk and the mute speak.
These verses also show that God is not just a Healer, but also heals us beyond what we ask for. The mute may wish to speak, but He also has them sing! The lame may wish to walk – He also has them leap!
In my spiritual wilderness, when I needed a drink, He brought an oasis, He came to me and said, ‘You will spring to new life.’ He always thinks bigger than I do.
7 The parched ground shall become a pool, and the thirsty land springs of water; in the habitation of jackals where each lay, there shall be grass with reeds and rushes.
The word translated ‘jackals’ is the Hebrew word tannîym, which is doubled in the text for emphasis. It’s often translated as ‘dragon’, which of course is symbolically the devil. In this passage, God transforms a place where only hideous creatures will dwell to one full of gentility and life.
8 A highway shall be there, a roadway, and it shall be called the Highway of Holiness. The unclean shall not pass on it, but it shall be for the wayfaring men, and fools shall not wander on it.
‘Highway’ here does means a thoroughfare for travel, but the word translated as ‘roadway’ is the Hebrew derek, which means a course of action, or what we might today call a lifestyle. The wayfaring men are those who choose this path to salvation that God has offered and set out on it in obedience, not knowing their destination, but trusting that it is good.
9 No lion shall be there, nor any ravenous beast shall go up on it; these shall not be found there, but the redeemed shall walk there,
10 and the ransomed of the Lord shall return and come to Zion with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads. They shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.
I’m one of those ‘ransomed of the Lord.’ When Jesus died on the cross and paid the price for my sin, He bought the rights to my life (and yours). The passage ends with the greatest news of all, that in the end I’ll return to God, meaning I’ll repent of my wrongdoing and turn back (Hebrew shoob) to God, who will be waiting with open arms to restore (Hebrew shoob) me.
Hebrews chapter 12 offers a wonderful New Testament parallel to this. It reads:
‘Now all discipline seems to be more pain than pleasure at the time, yet later it will produce a transformation of character, bringing a harvest of righteousness and peace to those who yield to it.
‘So be made strong even in your weakness by lifting up your tired hands in prayer and worship. And strengthen your weak knees, for as you keep walking forward on God’s paths all your stumbling ways will be divinely healed!’ **
To which I say, ‘So be it!’
Adapted from my memoir The Lie Called Cancer. Read more here.
* Matthew 6:10
** Hebrews 12:11-13