Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
The wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad for them; and the desert shall rejoice, and blossom as the rose.XXXV.
(1) The wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad for them . . .—The desolation of the chief enemy of Israel is contrasted with the renewed beauty of Israel’s own inheritance. The two last words are better omitted. The three nouns express varying degrees of the absence of culture, the wild pasture-land, the bare moor, the sandy steppe.
Shall . . . blossom as the rose.—Better, as the narcissus, but the primrose and the crocus (Colchicum autumnale) have also been suggested. The words paint the beauty of the chosen land flourishing once more as “the garden of Jehovah” (Genesis 13:10), and therefore a fit type of that which is in a yet higher sense the “Paradise of God” (Revelation 2:7).
It shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice even with joy and singing: the glory of Lebanon shall be given unto it, the excellency of Carmel and Sharon, they shall see the glory of the LORD, and the excellency of our God.(2) The glory of Lebanon . . .—The three types of cultivated beauty are contrasted with the former three of desolation. See Note on Isaiah 33:9. And over this fair land of transcendent beauty, there will shine not the common light of day, but the glory of Jehovah. (Comp. Isaiah 30:26; Revelation 21:23.)
Strengthen ye the weak hands, and confirm the feeble knees.(3) Strengthen ye the weak hands . . .—Here the words are obviously, as they are quoted in Hebrews 12:12, figurative and not literal, and so far suggest a like interpretation for what follows.
Say to them that are of a fearful heart, Be strong, fear not: behold, your God will come with vengeance, even God with a recompence; he will come and save you.(4) Be strong, fear not: . . .—The words are, of course, wide and general enough, but looking to the probable date of this section, we may perhaps connect them with the tone of Hezekiah’s speech in 2Chronicles 32:7. Both king and prophet had the same words of comfort for the feeble and faint-hearted, and the ground of comfort is that the government of God is essentially a righteous government, punishing the oppressor, and saving the oppressed. (Comp. Joshua 1:6-7.)
Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped.(5, 6) Then the eyes of the blind shall . . .—The words are obviously to be interpreted, like those that precede them, and Isaiah 29:18, of spiritual infirmities. If they seem to find a literal fulfilment in the miracles of the Christ, it is, as it were, ex abundante, and as a pledge and earnest of something beyond themselves.
And the parched ground shall become a pool, and the thirsty land springs of water: in the habitation of dragons, where each lay, shall be grass with reeds and rushes.(7) The parched ground . . .—The Hebrew word is essentially what we know as the mirage, or fata morgana, the silvery sheen which looks like a sparkling lake, and turns out to be barren sand. Instead of that delusive show, there shall be in the renewed earth the lake itself.
In the habitation of dragons . . .—Better, as elsewhere, jackals, which had their lair in the sandy desert.
Shall be grass with reeds and rushes.—Better, grass shall grow as (or unto) reeds and rushes, the well-watered soil giving even to common herbage an intensified fertility.
And an highway shall be there, and a way, and it shall be called The way of holiness; the unclean shall not pass over it; but it shall be for those: the wayfaring men, though fools, shall not err therein.(8) An highway shall be there.—The raised causeway, as distinct from the common paths. (See Judges 5:6.) We are still in the region of parables, but the thought has a special interest as a transition, at the close of the first volume of Isaiah’s writings, to the opening of the second. The use of the road has been referred, by some interpreters, to the return of the exiles from Babylon. Rather is it the road by which the pilgrims of all nations shall journey to the mountain of the Lord’s house (Isaiah 2:1).
The way of holiness . . .—The name of the road confirms the interpretation just given. There was to be a true Via Sacra to the earthly temple, as the type of that eternal Temple, not made with hands, which also was in the prophet’s thoughts. Along that road there would be no barbarous invaders polluting the ground they trod, no Jews ceremonially or spiritually unclean. The picture of the heavenly Jerusalem (Revelation 21:27) into which “there entereth nothing that defileth,” presents a like feature. It shall be for them, i.e. . . . It is appointed for those, for whosoever walketh therein (the Hebrew verb is in the singular). Then, in strict order, comes the final clause: Even the simple ones shall not lose their way. A curious parallel is found in Ecclesiastes 10:15, where “he knoweth not how to go to the city,” is one of the notes of the man who is void of understanding.
No lion shall be there, nor any ravenous beast shall go up thereon, it shall not be found there; but the redeemed shall walk there:(9) No lion shall be there . . .—We have to remember that the lion had not ceased to haunt the valley of the Jordan, as it had done in the days of Samson (Judges 14:5), and David (1Samuel 17:3-4; 2Samuel 23:20). The recent depopulation of the northern kingdom had probably laid the country more open to their attack (2Kings 17:25), and thus gave a special force to the prophet’s description. For “any ravenous beast,” read the most ravenous.
The redeemed . . . (10) . . . the ransomed.—The Hebrew words express simply the idea of release and freedom, without implying, as the English words do, a payment as its condition.
And the ransomed of the LORD shall return, and come to Zion with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads: they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.(10) With songs and everlasting joy . . .—The first volume of Isaiah’s prophecy closes fitly with this transcendent picture, carrying the thoughts of men beyond any possible earthly fulfilment. The outward imagery probably had its starting-point in the processions of the pilgrims who came up to the Temple singing psalms, like those known as the “songs of degrees” at their successive halting-places (Psalms 120-134).
Sorrow and sighing shall flee away.—The words have a special interest as being the closing utterance of Isaiah’s political activity, written, therefore, probably, in his old age, and in the midst of much trouble, whether he wrote at the close of Hezekiah’s reign, or the beginning of Manasseh’s, which must have been sufficiently dark and gloomy. (See 2Chronicles 32:26; 2Chronicles 33:1-10.) The hopes of the prophet were, however, inextinguishable, and they formed a natural starting-point for the words: “Comfort ye, comfort ye, my people,” with which the second collection opens, the intermediate chapters being obviously of the nature of an historical appendix. They find their echo in Revelation 7:17, “God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes.”