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Isaiah 35:1-10

Isaiah 35:1-10

Background to the Book of Isaiah

Historical: The following table gives an indication when the prophet Isaiah was preaching. It is worth noting that Hosea in the Northern kingdom of Israel and Micah in the Southern kingdom of Judah were in the same period.

Kings Israel

Kings of Judah


Kings of Assyria

Menahem 748 - 737

Uzziah 769 - 736
Jotham 756 - 741

Hosea 745 Israel
Isaiah 742 Judah
Micah 735 Judah

745 - 727

Pekahiah 737 - 736
Pekah 735 - 732
Hoshea 731 - 723

Ahaz 741 - 715

Isaiah 742 - 701

727 - 722

Fall of Samaria

Hezekiah 715 - 687

Isaiah 742 - 701

Sargon 722 - 705

(The above dates are approximate because you will find slight variation among the scholars)

Isaiah, a prophet in the southern kingdom of Judah, had four major periods of prophecy between the years 742 -701 BCE. One of these times was when Ahaz was king of Judah and the Assyrian king Tiglath-Pileser had initiated a campaign from the north into Syria and the northern kingdom of Israel (738 BCE). In order to combat the Assyrian army Israel had formed a coalition with Syria against Assyria. However, Judah refused to join that coalition having the benefit of some distance from the direct challenge of Assyria. The kings of Syria (Rezin) and Israel (Pekah) sought to replace by force the Judean king, Ahaz, in the city of Jerusalem. Isaiah, sharing with Ahaz the words he heard from Yahweh, made clear that Ahaz was to trust in God alone and not to go down the path of forming coalitions with other countries whether, Syria, Israel or Assyria.

Isaiah was alive when the Assyrians over ran the Northern kingdom of Israel and deported the majority of the ten tribes of Israel to countries which Assyria had defeated and who were in vassaldom to Assyria. There is some reference to this event, but not as much comment as one would expect for such a devastating occurrence. Isaiah prophesied that Jerusalem was safe because the Lord dwelt there in the temple. This was affirmed when the Assyrians were besieging Jerusalem and the people were becoming desperate when suddenly the Assyrians departed in a hurry leaving Jerusalem safe for another 114 years. The Book of Isaiah records this as a miracle of the Lord (Isa 37:36-38).

Literary Background to the Book:

The whole book of Isaiah has been divided up into three main sections which appear to reflect preaching from different historical periods. Chapters 1-39 are often referred to as the prophecies from Isaiah of Jerusalem and cover the periods shown in the above table. Chapters 40-55 speak to the exiles, offering forgiveness and a strong encouragement to move back to Jerusalem. It contains some of the most beautiful language and a comprehensive theology of God as creator and redeemer. The remaining chapters 56-66 speak to a later post-exilic situation addressing quite different concerns to those expressed in Isa 40-55.

Isaiah 1-39 has some distinct sections within it. Isa 1 has a collection of oracles which appear to come from different periods of Isaiah's ministry. Isa 2-12 contains a collection of oracles mainly about Judah and Jerusalem, covering the threat from the Israel/Syria Coalition and the section ends with a psalm of deliverance. As each of the major prophets have a section with oracles against foreign nations so Isa 13-23 covers this topic. There are oracles against Babylon, Moab, Damascus, Egypt, Assyrian crisis and Tyre. We then find in Isa 24-27 a collection of oracles which are called the Isaiah Apocalypse and is reminiscent of material from a much later period in Israel's history. The remaining oracles cover further oracles on the Assyrian crisis and this section finishes with narratives about Isaiah. Isa 36-38 are almost identical with 2 Kings 18-19.

The Isaiah Scroll which was found at Qumran in the caves there (1948) and came from a time (250-68 BCE) before the Masoretes added vowels to the language is almost an exact copy of the Hebrew Text from which we work today. This testifies to the ability of the scribes who copied the Hebrew texts faithfully over the centuries and to the Masoretes who incorporated the vowels correctly (8-10 CE).
In the chapters leading up to the call of Isaiah (Isa 6) we have oracles which consist mainly of judgement and condemnation although Isa 2:1-4 speaks of the future as one of peace. We see in these earlier chapters two "Introductions" in Isa 1:1 and Isa 2:1 and it appears that we have additions and reworking of the Isaiah material. The condemnations are focused on the unjust behaviour of the people towards others in society and their abandonment of following in the ways of Yahweh. For these sins, the judgement is going be particularly harsh and the people will be overrun by a foreign nation.
Context of Isaiah 35:1-10::

Isa 30-31 pick up a theme which was present in the earlier chapters, that is, the call for Israel to trust God and not to make alliances with foreign nations. Promises based on a king who will be righteous and warnings against those who would be complacent are next in Isa 32. This chapter is almost like a summary of Isa 1-39. The issues of righteousness and justice dominate the verses and the consequence is this idyllic picture of harmony and peace within communities, and the natural world (32:16-20). Isa 33 contains many forms which are present in worship liturgies: prayer (vv.1-6), lament (vv.7-9), divine oracle (vv.10-16), and promise of salvation (vv.17-24). Isa 34-35 completes the first section of the Book of Isaiah with prophecies concerning Edom and Zion. The nations will be judged and punished because of the way they have treated Zion. It is interesting to note the particular focus on Edom and wonder why Edom is not mentioned in the oracles against the nations in Isa 13-23, but is singled out here for a very severe punishment. Juxtaposed with this oracle of disaster for Edom (Isa 34) is the oracle of salvation for Zion (Isa 35) and naturally leads into the oracles of salvation found in Isa 40-55. However, Isa 36-39 form an historical bridge between Isa 35 and Isa 40, and appears to have been taken from 2 Kgs 18:13-20:19. Isa 34-35 is framed by 28-33 and 36-39: the former chapters centred on Jerusalem and its problems with Assyria, and the latter chapters finishing with the prophecy that Judah will be carried into exile by Babylon.

Insights/Message of Isa 35:1-10

Literary structure: The juxtaposition of the two poems in 34 and 35 serve on the one hand, to compare the disaster forecast for Edom versus the glorious picture of salvation offered to Zion on the other hand. This is emphasised by the use of the same word "vengeance" (naqam) in Isa 34:8 and in Isa 35:4 which for Edom spells disaster and for Zion spells salvation. It is clear that by the time we receive the book of Isaiah a great deal of very clever literary creation has gone into the presentation of the message. The movement of these last six chapters goes "from the promise of victory among the nations (Isa 34-35), to a miraculous victory in the past (Isa 36-38), to a foreseen exile in Babylon ( Isa 39) and finally to words of comfort and forgiveness (Isa 40)", (Seitz:242). The images and style of the poetry in Isa 35 are very similar to those in Isa 40-55 which is the reason for many commentators to posit the same author for Isa 35 and 40-55. Indeed, many people suggest Isa 35 was the original bridge between the two sections. The language is no longer centred in concrete historical references as much of earlier Isaianic material is, but has moved to the more general language of poetry. There are no opening words indicating it is a divine oracle or to whom it is addressed. The poem launches straight into images of desert and wilderness rejoicing. The pronoun, "it" in v.2 presumably applies to the dry land of v.1, thus comparing the desert with the glorious vegetation of Lebanon, Carmel and Sharon. The author is identifying with the audience in using the phrase, "our God" (Tucker:281). Again in vv.3-4 the imperatives have neither the author or audience identified but since they are plural one assumes the people are the recipients of these verses. V.4 has echoes of a theophany, that is, the appearance of God. However, unlike many appearances which talk of vengeance and mean disaster this theophany will be for the salvation of the people. The language sets the people up to initially feel fear, but changes in the very last line. It is a very clever use of a past image now reversed to make the message more pointed.

Message / Theology. A theology in which the land itself sings and rejoices is part of Old Testament proclamation and understanding. This aspect did not become prominent in Western theology, but has been picked up in the Celtic tradition. We have a few hymns which speak of nature itself praising God, one of which is Isaac Watts, "Joy to the world! The Lord is come". Vv.5-7 use the opposite of what is expected, for example, the 'blind shall see' is an oxymoron (a literay device where opposites are linked for effect), as is waters breaking forth in the desert and burning sand becoming a pool. The amazing power of God who can make nature go against its normal behaviour, but the God of Israel is the creator God. The verses bring back memories of the the first wilderness experience when Moses performed a miracle and water sprang forth. The imagery of the highway on which the redeemed will travel brings reminders of Isa 40. It could be read as though the people were in exile and this glorious message of hope based on the power and compassion of God assures them of hope and return to the promised land. The redeemed and ransomed of the Lord remind us that these terms are used when people have been in captivity (Tucker:282). They are unable to release themselves from captivity, but God is the one who will come and save (v.4). The people can be transformed only through the initiative of God. This is seen in the ultimate gift of God's son who came that we might have life in all its fullness. As Christians, we can be transformed because God acted for us in becoming incarnate as a human being. In v.8 the highway is called the 'Holy Way' which has been taken up in the Christian tradition with Christ as 'The Way'. The last verse of Isa 35 is an extaordianry hymn of praise and celebration with each line saying so much. The redeemed in v.9 and the ransomed in v.10 emphasise the actions of God who will ensure they walk and return to Zion. There is absolute certainty in the statements, which for a people who are suffering captivity in Babylon offers a hope and a vision for them to live by. The repetition of joy and gladness leaves one with a sense of peace and celebration that God has so much compassion and care for these people and for us.

OT images/motifs used in the New Testament reading: Mth 11:2-11, contains further material about John the Baptist with a composite quote from Exod 23:20 which is the first clause and Mal 3:1 the second clause. Both John who is in prision and the crowds, are reassured that Jesus is the Messiah of whom John preached. In the Exodus quote the messenger is an angel who wil guide the people into the promised land but now the messenger is a human being who is to be equally revered as is the quote from Malachi. The OT references are confirming that John is the forerunner who annouces the coming of the Messiah which is very close in time.
Worship/Resources for Isa 35:1-10

Worship: Psalm 96 is a joyous psalm which can be used as a Call to Worship and praise

Resources: Commentaries

The Old Testament Guides (OTG) by Sheffield Academic Press are an excellent small resource which give many suggestions for readings on particular aspects in the book.

The New Interpreter's Bible is another very helpful resource and published in the late 1990's - 2002 is more up to date than some earlier works.

Barton, J. Isaiah 1-39. Old Testament Guides. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1995.
Childs, Brevard. Isaiah. Old Testament Library. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001.
Clements,R.E. Isaiah 1 - 39. NCB. Grand Rapids: Wm.Eerdmans, , 1980.
Hayes, J.H. & Isaiah, His Times and His Preaching, Abingdon,
Kaiser,O. Isaiah 1-12 (2nd ed), OTL, transl. J.Bowden, London: SCM Press, 1983.
Oswalt,J.N. The Book of Isaiah 1-39, Wm.Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, 1986.
Seitz,C.R. Isaiah 1-39, Interpretation, John Knox, Louisville, 1993.
Sweeney,M.A., Isaiah 1-39, FOTL, Wm.Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, 1996.
Tucker, Gene. 'The Book of Isaiah 1-39'. NIB. Vol VI. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2001.
Watts,J.D.W. Isaiah1-33, Isaiah 34-66, WBC, Word Book, Waco, 1985, 1987.
Wildberger,H. Isaiah 1-12, transl.T.H.Trapp, Fortress Press, Minneapolis, 1991

The Dramatised Bible: ed. Michael Perry. London: Marshall Pickering: Bible Society, 1989

Web sites with helpful lectionary resources:


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