This chapter stands together with chapter 34 to form a bridge between the first and second parts of the book. Judgment of the wicked (chapter 34) and redemption of the faithful (chapter 35) are the goal of God's work in part one, and they provide the keynote for the new work of God in part two.
This text is marked by a poetic symmetry that corresponds to the perfection of God's redemption that it describes. The beginning and the end of the section portray the transformation of creation (vv. 1-2, 6b-7); within those verses, the prophet depicts the transformation of human beings (vv. 3-4a, 5-6a); and in the middle is the announcement that makes all this possible: "Here is your God" (v. 4). Thus the concentric structure is creation-people-God-people-creation.
God comes with vengeance only to rid the world of those who oppress the weak, the feeble, and the fearful (chapter 34), paving the way for the salvation of God's faithful ones.
This is another of Isaiah's texts that include the "environmental impact" of the work of God and human beings. On the one hand, human wickedness had dire consequences for the creation (chapter 34), but now God's redemption will allow not only people but also creation itself to thrive (chapter 35).
When God comes, God will strengthen hands, firm up knees, calm hearts, open eyes, unstop ears, free limbs, loosen tongues, and restore the creation. Everything that was closed up, shut down, and made desolate in the judgment announced in the first part of the book (6:9-13) is now opened up and made new. This is the "new thing" that God is up to in the second part of the book (43:19).
When John's disciples ask whether Jesus is "the one who is to come," Jesus refers to the events of this text as signs of the kingdom that Jesus is inaugurating with his deeds of healing and compassion (Matthew 11:2-6). This messianic interpretation of the text stands behind George Frideric Handel's use of it in the well-known alto recitative in his oratorio Messiah: "Then shall the eyes of the blind be opened." Indeed, many of the familiar words in Handel's oratorio are taken from the book of Isaiah.
35The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad,
the desert shall rejoice and blossom;
like the crocus 2it 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 are of a fearful heart,
Be strong, do not fear!
Here is your God.
He will come with vengeance,
with terrible recompense.
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 the lame shall leap like a deer,
and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy.
For waters shall 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;
the haunt of jackals shall become a swamp,*
the grass shall become reeds and rushes.
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org
10 February 2011