Isaiah 35:1-10 – Joy in Advent

Here is the sermon I did this weekend that I wanted to share with you all. Let me know what you think.

The Joy of Transformation: Isaiah 35:1-10

Do you watch Extreme Makeover: Home Edition? In my opinion it is one of the better shows on TV because of the good things they do for people who are often in such destitute situations that without help they will not get out of it – in desperation they send in a video application to the show and hope and dream that maybe Ty and the gang will one day show up at their home – to build them a new one! What is the response? Spontaneous shouts of Joy! What is the response when folks see the new house? Shouts of Joy and gladness that bring tears of happiness! Sometimes people will stand in awe and then joy will rise out of them and they cannot contain their emotions and they shout and rejoice at the blessing they have received from Ty and the gang – many often attribute the blessing to God and rightfully so.

Well, in the passage we are going to look at today we will see future descriptions of the People of Israel and also the creation shouting for joy and rejoicing as the people return to the land after having been in exile for 70 years in Babylon – they got back to Israel to find their land destroyed and overgrown – yet in this passage in Isaiah following on the heels of a judgment passage there is a prophecy that in the midst of suffering and morning the Glory of the Lord will return to Zion and the people will see the deliverance of the Lord – the blind will see – the deaf will hear – the lame man shall leap – and the mute shall sing for joy! In addition, not only will the people shout for joy at the presence of the Lord – so too the creation will express joy at the redemption of Israel.

ISAIAH 35:1-10

1 The desert and the parched land will be glad;
the wilderness will rejoice and blossom.
Like the crocus,

2 it will burst into bloom;
it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy.
The glory of Lebanon will be given to it,
the splendor of Carmel and Sharon;
they will see the glory of the LORD,
the splendor of our God.

3 Strengthen the feeble hands,
steady the knees that give way;

4 say to those with fearful hearts,
“Be strong, do not fear;
your God will come,
he will come with vengeance;
with divine retribution
he will come to save you.”

5 Then will the eyes of the blind be opened
and the ears of the deaf unstopped.

6 Then will the lame leap like a deer,
and the mute tongue shout for joy.
Water will gush forth in the wilderness
and streams in the desert.

7 The burning sand will become a pool,
the thirsty ground bubbling springs.
In the haunts where jackals once lay,
grass and reeds and papyrus will grow.

8 And a highway will be there;
it will be called the Way of Holiness.
The unclean will not journey on it;
it will be for those who walk in that Way;
wicked fools will not go about on it.

9 No lion will be there,
nor will any ferocious beast get up on it;
they will not be found there.
But only the redeemed will walk there,

10 and the ransomed of the LORD will return.
They will enter Zion with singing;
everlasting joy will crown their heads.
Gladness and joy will overtake them,
and sorrow and sighing will flee away.

Exegetical Notes:

There are several Hebrew words in this passage for joy – they are synonyms yet they have slightly different nuances (though of course some overlap).

Joy is characteristic of the life of faith. It marks both the life of the community of faith and the life of the individual believer. Joy is a quality and not simply an emotion. Above all God is both the object and giver of our joy!

This first word gil, refers especially to joy before God and is associated with rejoicing. It has to do with a person’s expression of jubilation and joy because of what God has done on behalf of his people.

The next word is raan. Its basic meaning is to yell. On most occasions it describes an emotional and physical response to the presence and provision of God. So it often indicates a loud, enthusiastic, and joyful shout; So how this word is used (because it can mean yell) is determined by the context – in this case it is the joyful, enthusiastic shout in praise to God for his redemptive provision. Despite the root being related to yelling, there are over fifty occurrences, in the OT where it expresses happiness, joy, or relief, occurring in association with other vbs. that express a similar joyful emotion.

While there may be many reasons for joyful expression, by far the predominant object of the shout of joy in all its OT occurrences is God!

God evokes shouts of joy from his people because of his acts of redemption. In our passage we see that God will rescue his people from their dispersion among the nations, and they will respond with shouts of joy especially as they see the tremendous bounty of grain, wine, and oil that God will provide for them.

In the Bible, a multitude of voices shout for joy to God. Most often the ones who shout are God’s people. Prov 29:6 tells is it is only the righteous who can shout for joy; the wicked are unable because of their sin. In Isa 26:19, we see it described that the dead rise out of their dusty graves to “shout for joy” before the Lord. Job 38:7 describes the angels as shouting for joy at the sight of God creating the world.

In our passage in throughout the Psalms and Prophets, different parts of God’s inanimate creation also take part in the symphony of praise. In our passage it is the wilderness and dry land; In Isa 44:23; 49:13, the heavens give praise to God; the mountains do the same in Ps 98:8; as well as the trees in Ps 96:12; Tabor and Hermon [89:12 (13)]; and Lady Wisdom [Prov 1:20; 8:3]).

Finally, there is samach (also simcah). It signifies a spontaneous and vocal expression of joy rather than a restrained frame of mind. In verse 10 we see the redeemed of the Lord are overtaken by joy in being able to return to Zion and worship God! Sometimes we need to realize it is okay to shout to God in joyful exaltation to him for his miraculous provision in our lives! And that its is okay to be happy.

When samach occurs we often see the expressive nature of the word: for example in 1 Chron 15:16 and Ezra 3:12 it means to lift up one’s voice. In Gen 31:27, 2 Chron 23:18, and Ps 137:3 thee is singing. Ps 9 and 68 tell us to sing praise.

In such texts as Genesis 31, Deut 12; 1 Chron 29; in Esther and the Psalms 104:15 samach often serves as part of a festive celebration that entails eating and drinking and the playing of various instruments. Other expressive activities that occur along with samach are dancing which we see in 2 Sam 6:14-16, clapping the hands as in Isa 55:12 and Ezek 25:6, and stamping the feet (Ezek 25:6).

samach serves as the polar opposite for mourning (Ps 30:11 [12]) and gloom (Isa 24:11).

These words for joy also indicate a sense of future rejoicing. Both Jeremiah and Isaiah (as in our passage) affirm that the day when Yahweh restores Israel to her land inheritance will be a day of joyful shouting and gladness. Zech 8:19 draws attention to the abundant blessings awaiting Israel by making a contrast between the present days of fasting and future feast days. In this passage, the Lord will transform the fasts that commemorate dark days in Israel’s history into joyful days of feasting. Instead of mourning (as was the case with Israel during and following the exile), these days will be characterizes by joyfulness and festive celebration because of the redemption Yahweh will accomplish on Israel’s behalf. In fact, in Zeph 3:17 God himself will rejoice over his covenant people.

There is one other word I want us to look at in this passage. In our passage, in verse 10 we see that the ransomed of Yahweh who will return to Zion with singing will be overtaken, or overwhelmed by joy and gladness and, with the departure of sorrow and sighing, will experience uninterrupted happiness (Isa 35:10). In this case, the salvation of the Lord will be so great that the people of Israel will simply be overtaken by the joy of their newfound freedom and redemption. At the same time, this idea of overtaking could equally well be translated “they overtake gladness and joy,” in which case the meaning would be that the joy that had been previously eluding their grasp will now at last be caught and possessed. They have longed to walk in the joy of the Lord and in his redemption they have finally obtained it!

In this season of Advent there are plenty of reasons for allowing ourselves to be overtaken by joy and gladness.

The first is that Jesus Christ came into the world to usher in a new messianic age: At his birth there was joy because the people knew Jesus was the long promised messiah – when the angel announced to Zechariah that his wife Elizabeth would have a son – he noted there would be joy and gladness (Lk 1:14). In the magnificant Mary rejoices at the notion that she is to give birth to the Messiah (Lk 1:46) and then when Jesus is born there is much rejoicing (Lk 2:14). There was much Joy is in the hearts of the people because they knew God had finally come to live with and among his people.

The second is because Jesus became flesh and dwelt among us (Jn 1:14). Through his coming into the world we are now able to experience the future coming messianic age through the presence of the Holy Spirit in our hearts and lives. Jesus is Emmanuel “God with us”. Because God is with us – the blind see, the deaf hear, the lame walk; there is evidence of the Kingdom among us! When John was in prison and beginning to wonder if Jesus was really the Messiah – he sent his disciples to ask Jesus about this – he pointed to this text in Isaiah. In Matthew 11:4 and following Jesus does not point to political or militaristic evidence of the kingdom but rather spiritual and physical evidence through the various healings and miracles that had been performed. Joy is in our hearts because God has finally come to live with and among his people.

The third reason for joy in this season of advent is because we know Jesus will come again – and when he does even the creation will be full of gladness and joy and will rejoice at the restoration of creation and the coming messianic age (cf. Rom 8:18ff.). We call this an eschatological hope – a hope based on the future promises that God will finally bring all suffering, oppression and injustice to an end. Lets look again at Isaiah 35:2. It says one day we will they will see the glory of the LORD, the splendor of our God. Here is a reference to shekinah glory of the Lord that will come down and rest upon Zion and the creation and as a result there will be no more blindness – deafness – lameness – the mute will sing with joy to the Lord for his saving power. It will be an awesome day!

Why is it hard for some to have joy in this season? Some have bad memories of Christmas’ past, some remember loved ones who have passed away – some get caught up in their own situations and have difficulty being joyful – how can we overcome this?

Focus on God and his love for you – when you dwell on your own circumstances we often lose joy – look outward to what God is doing and you will find new joy.

Let your heart be full of anticipation for the coming of Jesus. As out text notes in verse 4: “Be strong, do not fear; your God will come… he will come to save you.” Remember that despite the struggles we face, God has and is coming to save us! That should bring you plenty of joy in this Christmas Season.

Don’t celebrate the material aspects of Christmas but the spiritual aspects in the coming of Jesus into the world. His joy in us will be inner transformation and change in or hearts that will reflect his presence in us.

God’s presence in our hearts and lives and in the world brings transformation and a day is coming when that transformation will be completed in the permanent coming of God into the world!

In this season of Advent let your heart be filled with the joy that comes form knowing that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed in us – because a day is coming when God will throw down injustice and oppression and will fully and permanently (and physically) live among his people. Let your heart be full of hope and expectation that God will bring deliverance and healing to all.

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