Chapter 35 is the climactic chapter of the first “book” of his prophecy. Its background makes it all the more pertinent, meaningful, and poignant. When Isaiah utters this prophecy the northern kingdom has already been destroyed and led into captivity by the Assyrians. Isaiah has also predicted that Judah would be carried into captivity by the ruthless and merciless Babylonians. In his vision, (chapter 34) he sees a barren and wasted land. After the people were carried off into slavery in Babylon they would mourn for seventy years. The 137th Psalm is a Song of Lament about their experience in captivity:
“By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion. There on the poplars we hung our harps, for there our captors asked us for songs, our tormentors demanded songs of joy; they said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!” How can we sing the songs of the LORD while in a foreign land?” (Psalm 137:1–4, NIV84)
Had Isaiah’s prophecy ended in chpt. 34, it would have been sad. But God opened the eyes of the Prophet to let him see a vision of the glory of the presence of the Lord as He remembered His repentant and contrite people. At the end of the vision he sees a land where the desert blossoms as a rose. ILLUS. This prophecy has literally come true for modern-day Israel. This tiny nation has made its desert bloom, and has become the third-largest exporter of flowers in the world, and the largest exporter of cut flowers to Europe. The week before Valentine’s Day, Israel shipped some 125 million flowers, weighing more than 5,000 tons, to European florists.
This is the prophecy of Isaiah. But there is more. The prophet sees a large, raised causeway, and on that road, there are pilgrims and exiles returning home. They were singing because joy and gladness overwhelmed them. As they returned to their home after exile and slavery, sorrow and sighing had now flown away; nothing but the glory and goodness of God was before them.
Psalm 126 is one of the songs they sang upon their return:
“A song of ascents. When the LORD brought back the captives to Zion, we were like men who dreamed. Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy. Then it was said among the nations, “The LORD has done great things for them.” The LORD has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy. Restore our fortunes, O LORD, like streams in the Negev. Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy. He who goes out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with him.” (Psalm 126, NIV84)
The prophecy was partially fulfilled when the Holy Family returned from their flight to Egypt. And the prophecy was partially fulfilled when the Jews returned to Palestine and re-established Israel as a nation. But the ultimate and final fulfillment will be when the Lord’s redeemed of all the ages find their way to the New Jerusalem. Like the Jews returning from Babylon it will be a journey of rejoicing for us.
This first section of Isaiah’s prophecy has one central theme: God will bring justice to this earth, but it comes according to his plan and on his timetable. We must trust him and wait to see how he will bring justice in situations we think are unfair.