17 December 2016

Isaiah 35:1-10

“Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees. 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.’ (vv. 3-4)

Psalm: Psalm 75:1-7


Chapters 34 and 35 form a very interesting part of Isaiah. They have more in common with what is called Deutero-Isaiah (chapters 40-55) than what surrounds them. They are set later than the preceding chapters and are followed by chapters mostly containing narrative material from 2 Kings.

Chapter 34 is a judgement on nations with a focus on Edom, This probably places it after the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem in 587BC, which was exploited by the Edomites (see the book of Obadiah for more from this period).

After the judgement comes restoration: chapter 35 looks to the return to Jerusalem and does so in language that reflects temple liturgy, when those who have been excluded can return at the great atonement.

The passage begins with a picture of the transformation possible when land is blessed by water and by God.

Verses 3 and 4 fit an advent theme as they indicate a response to the hope of renewal. The hope of renewal is to strengthen and give courage until the day of renewal comes while also looking to God to bring justice, saving those who need it and bringing punishment for those who have done wrong.

The references to the blind, deaf, lame and speechless in verses 5 and 6 are not as simple as disabilities. They are also wordplays in a typical style of Isaiah and probably refer to the names of four heavenly beings (see for example blind, lame in 2 Samuel 5:6; speechless, the same word is translated as "the Gods" in Psalm 58:1; deaf - being the same word as magician in Isaiah 3:3). Jesus alludes to these in his response to John the Baptist's disciples in Luke 7:22 and Matthew 11 (see Sunday's notes).

In the second half of verse 6 and then in verse 7 we again see that this transformation is not limited to the lives of people but a transformation of everything.

In Isaiah God's renewal is always a big picture. It is never just about me or myself. Instead it is about people and places being transformed. The desire for strength and courage is not for our own benefit alone but as part of God's bigger plan.

To Ponder

  • What are your experiences of God strengthening and giving courage?
  • How do you feel about whether the blind, deaf, lame, speechless should be understood literally or more about destruction of heavenly beings?
  • Where would you like to see restoration taking place? Offer this to God in prayer.

Bible notes author

The Revd Dave Warnock

Dave Warnock is a Methodist minister in the Leicester North Circuit based in Syston, Leicester. He is passionate about lots of things (including Scripture, discipleship, gender/sexual equality, pacifism and cycling) and loves being part of the Methodist people.