4/02/2015

The Highway to Happiness (Isaiah 34-35)

Isaiah 34-35

"And a highway will be there; it will be called the Way of Holiness; it will be for those who walk on that Way. The unclean will not journey on it; wicked fools will not go about on it. 9 No lion will be there, nor any ravenous beast; they will not be found there. But only the redeemed will walk there, 10 and those the Lord has rescued 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" (Isa 35:8-10, NIV).

Theme: What is the unmistakable highway to happiness? To everlasting joy and gladness?

Isaiah 34-35, side by side and consecutively, cover the two major repeated themes of judgment (ch. 34) and salvation (ch. 35) that is repeated throughout the book of Isaiah.
What is the Way of Holiness? The unmistakable highway to happiness and to everlasting joy (Isa 35:10) is the Way of Holiness (Isa 35:8a), which is a major theme of the book. It is the way to Zion, the city of God and all that it symbolizes. In NT terms it is the highway to heaven (Heb 12:22-24). For Isaiah, holiness is the defining characteristic of God himself. Above all else, God is holy (Isa 6:3). So the way of holiness is not just the way to Zion, or the way to heaven; it is the way to God. It is not the golden streets or the pearly gates that make heaven what it is, but the presence of God. To be in heaven is to be with God for ever, in totally joyous, unspoiled fellowship.

Those disqualified from the highway. The Way of Holiness is the way that we must choose. The unclean and wicked fools cannot travel it (Isa 35:8b). The Lord never reduces his standards to match the weaknesses of his people; he raises his people to the height of his standards. Those disqualified from walking the Way of Holiness are those who disqualify themselves through their failure to choose and to use the means of grace available to them. Fools are those who will inevitably get it wrong; they are those who lack and refuse steady guiding principles.

Those on the highway. The Way of Holiness is for those who have chosen holiness as their way of life and renounced other ways. The Way of Holiness is the way of singing, joy and gladness (Isa 35:10). The pursuit of holiness is the pursuit of God himself. Ultimately, the intention expressed by the highway is to emphasize that the certainty of arriving at the destination is not dependent on human ability. Rather, the assurance of final salvation is inherent in the initial work of salvation (Isa 35:4b) with its consequence of radically overcoming human frailties (Isa 35:5-6a). This thought is continued in the reference to the absence of any external threat such as would stop the pilgrim from reaching the end of the road (Isa 35:9a).

The redeemed and the ransomed (Isa 35:9b-10). The way to heaven is provided by God himself. The redeemed or ransomed refer to powerful and costly deliverance. They have their roots in the exodus from Egypt, and find their final significance in the work of Christ, by which God rescues us from the power of sin and Satan. These acts of judgment and deliverance are the expressions, par excellence, of his holiness. The Way of Holiness is the way of salvation that God provides. The verb "redeemed" stresses the person of the redeemer, his relationship to the redeemed, and his intervention on their behalf.

References:
  1. A Highway Shall Be There (Isaiah 34,35). My daily bread Dec 2010.
  2. ESV Study Bible. Isa. 34:1–35:10 Two Final Outcomes: Judgment or Salvation.These chapters describe God's final judgment of the world (ch. 34) and vindication of his people (ch. 35), with their everlasting happiness.
  3. Webb, Barry G. The Message of Isaiah. 142-146. Final judgment (34:1-17). Final salvation: the joy of the redeemed (35:1-10).
  4. Motyer, J. Alec. Isaiah. 239-247. Final judgment (34:1-17). Pilgrims to Zion (35:1-10).
  5. 50 sermons on Isaiah by Ray Ortlund.