This post contains a brief statement about the prophecy and its context, followed by a presentation of the messianic character of the passage, and concludes with notes on the text.
1. THE PROPHECY AND ITS CONTEXT. The prophet an nounces in Is 34 an approaching judgment that will embrace all nations. In Edom especially is a great sacrifice prepared, that will strip the country of its inhabitants, and leave it a desolation, the haunt of wild animals. The future of the redeemed Israelites will be far different from this. The desert soil will produce for them fruit in plenty, human infirmities will cease to vex, human needs will be relieved. The exiles will return to Sion free from all molestation, and obtain there never-ending joys. This contrasted future of Israel is described in Is 35.
2. MESSIANIC CHARACTER OF THE PROPHECY. a. We know that all misery and infirmity has been introduced into the world through sin; it is, therefore, antecedently probable that the redemption from sin will be outwardly manifested by a release from those external afflictions of the body. And since the present chapter fully describes a future state of such liberation, we naturally refer it to him who is the liberator and redeemer from sin, to the Messias. b. Jesus Christ himself appeals, according to St. Matthew 11:5, to such signs as are described in the present chapter in order to prove his Messiasship. Then shall the eyes of the blind be open, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped. . . . c. The evangelist, too, proves the Messiasship of Jesus (Matt 8:17; cf. Is 53:4) by appealing to outward signs of the same nature, d. It is the general custom of Isaias not to rest in the mere description of the Assyrian destruction or of the ruin of Israel s enemies; he passes over to the destruction of Israel’s true enemies and to the Messianic age, so much so as to represent the Messias even as Israel s temporal restorer (cf. Is 8:9, 10). We must, therefore, suppose that the prophet has been faithful to his usual way of proceeding, passing from the ruin of the Edomites to the greatest glory of the Israelites, the Messianic times, e. The Jewish writers agree with us in applying Is 35 to the Messias:
Verse 1. Tanchuma on Deut 1:1 (ed. Warsh, p. 99 a) quotes this passage as containing one of the miracles which God will do to redeemed Sion in the latter days, i.e., in the Messianic times.
Verses 5, 6. Midrash on Genesis 46:28 (sect. 85; cf. Yalkut, 1 Sam 28:24) has the following passage: “Come and see; all that the Holy One has wounded in
this world he will heal in the future.1 The blind shall be healed; for it is said: ‘Then shall the lame man leap as a hart. The dumb shall be healed; as it is said, and the tongue of the dumb shall be free.’” Yalkut (on Josue 10:12) says:
“The word then may refer to the past and to the future. To the latter refers ‘then thou shalt see and flow together’ [Is 40:5]; ‘then shall thy light break forth as the morning’ [Is 58:8]; ‘then shall the lame man leap, then shall the eyes of the blind . ..” (Is 35:5,6).
Verse 10. Midrash on Ps 107:1 applies this passage to Messianic times, noting, however, that the deliverance will be effected by God himself, and not either by Elias or the king Messias. Yalkut (vol. ii. p. 162 d, at the close on
Par.) says that in this world the deliverance of Israel is accomplished by man and is followed by fresh captivities, but that in the latter or Messianic days their deliverance will be accomplished by God, and will not be followed by
Isa 35:1 The land that was desolate and impassable shall be glad, and the wilderness shall rejoice, and shall flourish like the lily.
Isa 35:2 It shall bud forth and blossom, and shall rejoice with joy and praise: the glory of Libanus is given to it: the beauty of Carmel, and Saron, they shall see the glory of the Lord, and the beauty of our God.
Isa 35:3 Strengthen ye the feeble hands, and confirm the weak knees.
Isa 35:4 Say to the fainthearted: Take courage, and fear not: behold your God will bring the revenge of recompense: God himself will come and will save you.
The land that was desolate. The prophet employs in the description all the greatest natural beauties that Palestine possessed: the glory of Libanus, the beauty of Carmel, the lily of Saron. Nor is the prophet’s beauty lifeless: all is filled with joy and praise and exultation. The description begins very aptly with the land that was desolate, since the world in its fallen state was really a desert and a wilderness. It is owing to the Messianic blessings that mountains, and woods, and fields (Libanus, Carmel, Saron) have become the true symbols of God’s divine beauty and goodness. Hence the prophetic address concerning the feeble hands and the weak knees and the faint-hearted.
Isa 35:5 Then shall the eyes of the blind be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped.
Isa 35:6 Then shall the lame man leap as a hart, and the tongue of the dumb shall be free: for waters are broken out in the desert, and streams in the wilderness.
Then shall the eyes of the blind. Explanations: a. The promises convey in general that all evils shall be healed by means of the Messianic benefits; and as in Is 34. God’s curse is signified by the different evils which befall Israel s enemies, so here God s blessing is indicated by the cessation of all manner of diseases, b. The single benefits described must be understood in a spiritual manner: the eyes shall see the heavenly truths of the Messianic doctrine; the ears shall obediently hear the Messianic precepts and counsels; the lame shall make rapid progress in the way of Christian perfection; the dumb shall sing the praises of God (Osorio, Eusebius, Barhebraeus, Sanchez). One of the reasons for this spiritual interpretation is taken from the following words: Waters are broken out in the desert. For since this has been verified only spiritually, the preceding words too must be understood spiritually, c. Others, again, explain the passage in both its literal and spiritual meaning: literally the prediction was verified when Jesus gave sight to the blind, opened the ears of the deaf, loosened the tongue of the dumb, etc.; but spiritually the prophecy is still verified day after day by the conversion of the Gentiles to the doctrine of the Messias, and by their seeing and hearing and living according to the truths of Christianity (Jerome, Cyril, Haimo, Maldonatus, Pinto, Sasbout, Foreiro, Menochius, Gordon), d. There is a class of writers who explain the passage metaphorically, if it is applied to the time after the Assyrian captivity; literally if applied to the time of the Messias (St. Thomas, Ephrem). e. Mariana, Tirinus, Calmet restrict the application of the prophecy to the time of the Messias alone; but no one explains how the prediction applies immediately to Christ. Perhaps it is best to conceive the prophecy as promising spiritual sight and hearing, and power of moving; but these spiritual benefits brought to us by the Redeemer were externally symbolized by him in the many outward miracles he performed in favor of the blind, the deaf, the lame, etc. The promise, finally, God himself will come and will save you (verse 4), is surely most amply verified in the mystery of the incarnation; still it can hardly be maintained that the prophet himself understood the promise in such a magnificent manner, since the same words refer in other passages (Is 30:27; 31:4; 33:10,22) mainly to God’s help in distress, and not necessarily to his becoming man. We may, however, safely maintain that the Holy Ghost in inspiring these expressions intended to reveal not merely the substantial promise of God s certain help, but also the manner in which God has helped us, the incarnation of the Word.
Isa 35:7 And that which was dry land, shall become a pool, and the thirsty land springs of water. In the dens where dragons dwelt before, shall rise up the verdure of the reed and the bulrush.
Isa 35:8 And a path and a way shall be there, and it shall be called the holy way: the unclean shall not pass over it, and this shall be unto you a straight way, so that fools shall not err therein.
Isa 35:9 No lion shall be there, nor shall any mischievous beast go up by it, nor be found there: but they shall walk there that shall be delivered.
Isa 35:10 And the redeemed of the Lord shall return, and shall come into Sion with praise, and everlasting joy shall be upon their heads: they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and mourning shall flee away.
And that which was dry land. After predicting how the wilderness of nature and the wilderness of men shall be changed in the Messianic days, the prophet continues to describe the condition of that time: a. The goods are not false and deceptive, but true and reliable: that which presented a delusive mirage of water shall be come a real pool of living water, and the habitations of the jackal and the dragon shall afford perfect safety. b. There shall be holiness and peace and security: there shall be a holy way; no unclean persons and no mischievous beast shall go up by it. c. The Messianic
goods shall last for ever: after their peaceful and secure journey through this life, the adherents of the Messias shall have everlasting joy heaped upon their heads in the heavenly Sion.
It follows from what has been said that the miracles of Jesus are predicted in the prophecy in so far as they are symbols of the inward and spiritual blessings which he has brought us.