Good morning! I hope this day finds you and your family well, and I want you to know that you are in my prayers daily during this difficult time.
I invite you to take a few moments with me to reflect on today’s Upper Room Devotional below — as well as on the theology woven into “It is well with my soul.”
Isaiah 35 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
The Return of the Redeemed to Zion
35 The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad,
the desert shall rejoice and blossom;
like the crocus 2 it 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,[a]
the grass shall become reeds and rushes.
8 A highway shall be there,
and it shall be called the Holy Way;
the unclean shall not travel on it,[b]
but it shall be for God’s people;[c]
no traveler, not even fools, shall go astray.
9 No lion shall be there,
nor shall any ravenous beast come up on it;
they shall not be found there,
but the redeemed shall walk there.
10 And the ransomed of the Lord shall return,
and come to Zion with singing;
everlasting joy shall be upon their heads;
they shall obtain joy and gladness,
and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.
Tim’s Devotional Reflection for Today
Isaiah’s words were for his people, who lived in exile and whose home lay in ruins. The mighty empire of Babylon had conquered the tiny nation of Judah—all that remained of the great kingdom of David and Solomon. They had stripped that nation bare. Whole cities had been burned to the ground. They took the crops and livestock of every farmer and left nothing but scorched earth. They killed or captured the rulers, the teachers, the priests, the merchants and took the survivors to Babylon as prisoners. The physical and emotional and spiritual devastation was horrible.
The images Isaiah paints make clear that he is contrasting what the present is like while holding up an image of what it will be like when God makes it new. First, there is emphasis on the dryness and heat of the desert (vv. 1, 6) which is a place of burning sand, thirsty ground, and the haunt of jackals (v. 7). It is the image of life in the most difficult of circumstances, what the people are experiencing in the present—dryness, thirst, and death. The contrast then is with life-giving waters, streams (v. 6), a swamp, reeds and rushes (v. 7), and crocuses that grow abundantly in swampy land (v. 1). That is the image of life as Isaiah says it will be—satisfaction of thirst and hunger, vitality, wholeness and permanence. In the midst of emotional and spiritual devastation Isaiah paints a picture of joy.
Psalms and John. Other biblical passages immediately spring to mind in such a connection — that those who follow the will of God are like trees planted by streams of water, that never wither and that bring forth their fruit in due season (Psalm 1:3); or that Christ, the fountain of living water (John 7:38), can keep us from ever thirsting again (John 4:13). The contrast is stark–the old life without God and the fullness of life given by fellowship with God and living according to the purposes of God.
These words of Isaiah are important words in this season of Advent—and beyond—as we look at our own lives and our need for newness of life. What is the ground of our hope for new beginnings, new starts, second chances, new life? What is the reason for Joy even in the midst of extreme difficulty? The resounding answer given in the testimony of countless men and women throughout the pages of scripture and throughout the ages is GOD. God gives new life and the wonderful and gracious gift of Joy.
Thank you for sharing this early moment of your day with me, with God, and with the words and music that I hope you will carry with you throughout the coming day and night.
I am so grateful for you, for our church, and for the Love that will see us all through this very difficult time. Please stay safe and well and we’ll be together again in spirit tomorrow morning!
Grace and Peace,
Dr. Tim Bruster