One night when I was in the depths of depression, I was getting ready for bed. Out of force of habit, I sat down to read a psalm. But in my tiredness, I missed Psalms and ended up reading through all of Isaiah 35 before I noticed my “mistake.”
Here’s what I read:
1 The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad;
the desert shall rejoice and blossom like the crocus;
2 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.
3 Strengthen the weak hands,
and make firm the feeble knees.
4 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.”
5 Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
and the ears of the deaf unstopped;
6 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;
7 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.
8 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.
9 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.
10 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.
I believe that God directed me to the “wrong” passage that day because this was exactly what my hurting soul needed. I needed to read this promise of renewal for the deserts – the empty, lonely, broken places of the world – because my heart felt like a desert. I needed to hear that no matter how hopeless I felt, I wasn’t really without hope because God had promised to make things right.
Verse 10 in particular stood out to me with its promise that “sorrow and sighing shall flee away.” I believe the complete fulfillment of these verses will come when Christ returns. But until then, God’s promise that better things are coming can give us hope and comfort.
But is that all our faith offers? Is it merely a piece of positive thinking or an “opiate of the masses”? Not according to Isaiah.
Verses 5 and 6 speak of healing for the blind, the deaf, the lame and the mute. Just as God gives us emotional comfort, He offers healing. We see that in the pages of the Bible, and I believe that God continues to work miracles today. Yet once again we will need to wait until Christ returns for all disease to completely disappear.
OK, so Christianity offers emotional and physical healing – for us. But is it just a personal thing that only touches its followers? Again, the answer is “no.”
The whole point of this passage is that the physical world will be healed. Verses 1, 2, 6 and 7 speak of desert being turned into lush, fertile land. In a sense, this is undoing the effects that sin had on all of nature. Part of God’s curse after the first sin was that the land would be unfruitful, producing thorns and thistles instead of good crops. But here we see the curse undone. Even the harshest, least hospitable lands are transformed into lush valleys. The whole earth becomes a fruitful, safe and holy place.
How does all this happen? The passage doesn’t explicitly say, but verse 8 points to the answer. It refers to the “Way of Holiness” in which the redeemed walk. Verse 10 indicates that it leads back to Jerusalem, the city of God. In the Bible, Jerusalem is seen as the place of God’s presence, and we know from the New Testament that the way back into God’s presence is Jesus. He is the One through whom our hearts, our bodies and all of creation will be healed. When we believe and obey Him, we walk in the way of holiness.
We all face moments when we feel dry and empty. We sometimes fall and wander away from the way of holiness. But we must “Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees. Say to those who have an anxious heart, ‘Be strong; fear not!’” That means picking ourselves up when we fall, but it also means building others up when they are weak. We must remember, as it says in verse 4, that God will come and save us. We can be strong and work to restore the things that are broken in human lives and the outside world only when we place our hope in the One who has the power to accomplish this seemingly impossible mission.