A Stark Contrast
The Bible is filled with extreme contrasts. There is blinding light and utter darkness. We read about perfect goodness and absolute evil. Holiness is contrasted by sin. The spiritual realm has servant angels and rebellious demons. And, it seems that of all the contrasts, the one that matters most to us is life and death.
Chapters 34 and 35 of Isaiah are two chapters illustrating these great extremes. We’d be hard pressed to find anywhere in Scripture back-to-back chapters with such a stark contrast.
Isaiah sets the stage. Both chapters describe a kingdom and the fate of those who live in them. It is a one-act play about two places and two groups of people with two extremely different outcomes.
End of the Age
People throughout history are obsessed with the idea of doomsday, the end of the world. It is a global fascination. People want to know what will happen and when.
Chapters 34 and 35 are part of Isaiah’s prophecy of the end of time. He uses phrases like, “forever” and “from generation to generation” (Isaiah 34:10, 17) which are biblical words for the afterlife, what happens at the end of the age. He doesn’t tell us the time it will happen; only God knows the exact day and hour. But, Isaiah does reveal to us what that day will look like.
God creates the world at the beginning of time and He ends the world. God is the Alpha and the Omega (Revelation 22:13), the beginning and the end. The world ends the same way it begins, through the power of God’s word. From His mouth, God commands the end to come (Isaiah 34:16). Such power is too incredible for us to comprehend.
Isaiah describes the end of the world as an event as having two distinct outcomes. One outcome is described in chapter 34 and the other contrasting outcome is described in chapter 35.
The Outcome of Edom
The outcome described in chapter 34 is the outcome of all the nations. God gives these nations the name Edom which represents all those who oppose God.
There is not a great deal of detail, but what Isaiah does reveal about the events facing Edom is cataclysmic. At the end of the age, God speaks, and the sky rolls back like a scroll and the powerful stars (source of energy) wither and fade like a little leaf that turns brown and dies on the vine (Isaiah 34:4). The earth turns into brimstone and burning pitch. Streams of water become like slow-moving tar (Isaiah 34:9).
Edom, the kingdom of the nations is reduced to rubble. Great cities and the fortifications built by men are piles of stones filled with thorns and thistles (Isaiah 34:13). A great curse fills all that is left of the work of men.
No humans roam the streets. Instead, animals wander about. Isaiah says, to read the book of the Lord. Look at the time of Noah. Read how God saves the animals in the time of the flood (Isaiah 34:16). God does the same at the end of the age. The animals gather by the command of His mouth and the leading of His Spirit. There are animals of all kinds and each has a mate (Isaiah 34:11-15). What used to be cities and fortifications of men become places filled with pelicans, hedgehogs, jackals, ostriches, and snakes. The land no longer belongs to men, but the animals, crawling creatures, and birds shall possess it forever; from generation to generation.
The outcome of Zion
While Edom becomes brimstone, Chapter 35 shows us the outcome for Zion. Zion represents God’s perfect kingdom. Zion is God’s expressed will of what life should be in all its perfection. What happens in Zion is the opposite outcome of Edom. Instead of cataclysmic destruction, Zion is a land of flourishing.
Since the Garden of Eden, the sin of man cripples the earth. The earth as we know it now is polluted by sin (Isaiah 24:5; Jeremiah 12:11; Hosea 4:3). The Apostle Paul writes about this in his letter to the Romans. The earth groans as it longs to be set free from the slavery of corruption. (Romans 8:20-21)
There can be no doubt that when Paul writes in Romans 8 about the release of Creation from futility that he has this passage in mind. No other Old Testament book reveals to us this picture. The earth is gloriously set free from corruption. In Edom, the curse of sin remains. But, not so in Zion. In Chapter 35, we see Zion transformed back into the paradise of Eden.
The reason for the transformation is the revealing of the glory and majesty of the Lord (Isaiah 35:2).
When the glory and majesty of the Lord is revealed in Zion, the gloomy, wildernesses and deserts become places of rejoicing blossoms. Scorched land becomes pools of spring water. It is so wet; grass becomes reeds and rushes. Land not fruitful today, equals the fruitfulness and majesty of Lebanon, Carmel, and Sharon. Imagine the Sahara Desert as a destination of water, flowers, and towering cedars!
Can we picture these two extremes? In Edom, the earth is reduced to brimstone and flowing rivers of pitch. But in Zion, deserts are blooming with flowers and pools of clear water fill the land with lush grass. In Edom, the curse of sin permeates the ground. In Zion, the earth rejoices at being set free from sin.
The outcome of the inhabitants of Edom
The brimstone and tar in the land of Edom are of little consequence compared to the outcome God plans for people who rebel against His authority. God’s pours out His wrath against the armies of all the nations who gather to fight against Him and His goodness.
Their end is gruesome. Isaiah 34:3 is not a verse on someone’s verse memory list. “So their slain will be thrown out, and their corpses will give off their stench, and the mountains will be drenched with their blood.”
God speaks in a metaphor of a great sacrifice (Isaiah 34:5-7). Th sacrifice being made is His sword being thrust into the kings, princes, and rulers of this present age who rebel against Him. In the end, the nobles, kings, and princes will be gone (Isaiah 34:12).
The Apostle John tells us about this event. Revelation says birds will come and feast on the flesh of kings, commanders, mighty men, free and slave, and the small and great (Revelation 19:17-18).
We may wonder, why such graphic terms Lord? Must you describe this scene in this way? It is hard to listen to and hear these descriptions. We want to skip chapter 34 like a gruesome scene in a movie. But, we know God is the writer, producer and the director. This scene is not on the cutting room floor. He put it here for us to see. Perhaps God wants us to see the gravity of His judgment. Perhaps God wants us to know when we warn the wicked, that we are not to sugarcoat the outcome.
At the end of the day, we need to rejoice in God’s judgment just as we rejoice when we watch a movie and the bad guys lose. We rejoice when evil people are taken away in this world. We need to see it as God wins the fight against evil once and for all.
The fight against evil is only half the story. There is something much greater which brings great rejoicing.
The outcome of the inhabitants of Zion
Praise be to God the adopted saints of God have chapter 35 next to chapter 34. Our faith is in the God who gives us hope and presents to us these beautiful words.
Are you exhausted? Do you feel feeble? Is your heart anxious? God says, “Take courage, fear not. Behold, your God will come with vengeance; The recompense of God will come, but He will save you.” (Isaiah 35:3-4).
The vengeance which condemns Edom is the vengeance which frees Zion. Don’t be disheartened, but rejoice. These words are much like the words our Savior says:
Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:28-30)
God is telling us there is rest for our soul. There is coming a day when weariness comes to an end. We will no longer be anxious. God’s promise to us everlasting rest and peace.
God not only promises to give us rest in our soul. He also promises restoration for all that ails us physically. God transforms the desert into a land flourishing with flowers and makes it beautiful, and He promises the same for our bodies.
5 Then the eyes of the blind will be opened
And the ears of the deaf will be unstopped.
6 Then the lame will leap like a deer,
And the tongue of the mute will shout for joy. (Isaiah 35:5-6)
The picture God wants us to have in our hearts and minds is a picture of unspeakable joy. Look at verse 10:
10 And the ransomed of the Lord will return
And come with joyful shouting to Zion,
With everlasting joy upon their heads.
They will find gladness and joy,
And sorrow and sighing will flee away. (Isaiah 35:10)
Imagine all of us who know Christ, walking toward God’s great and beautiful kingdom of Zion. We are filled with joy that makes us shout. We are overcome with gladness and joy as we have never seen or known before.
The future for those who oppose God is grim. But, the future for those who God calls His children is glorious. Our inheritance with Christ is an inheritance of everlasting joy and gladness. Our future is unspeakably amazing.
As Paul tells the church in Corinth:
But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. (1 Corinthians 2:9)
When? The Day of vengeance
When will this day occur? What brings about condemnation for those who oppose God and eternal joy for those who God adopts?
Isaiah, and the rest of Scripture tell us that this day is the day of the Lord’s vengeance. Ever since the fall of angels in heaven and the fall of man in the Garden of Eden, the Lord is preparing a day when evil against Him is judged. It is recompense for the cause of Zion. (Isaiah 34:8). It is the day when God no longer withholds His judgment upon evil. For some, it is eternal condemnation. And, for His saints, it is a day beginning eternal joy.
God appoints a day. It is a day when He speaks the final word for this present age. It is a day when the full revelation of God’s character is on display. The day of vengeance which God appoints to bring destruction to Edom (Isaiah 34:8) brings a day of recompense and gladness to God’s chosen (Isaiah 35:4). We may not have our joy unless God brings about His day of vengeance.
On that day, God’s glorious judgment is displayed at the same time we witness and experience the beauty of His glorious grace. All of creation, the principalities and powers in the heavenly places and the kings and paupers of the earth will see the glory and majesty of the Lord revealed in all of its splendor.
One Way of Escape
We must ask ourselves, what is the determining factor on this great day of judgment? What places some in the cross-hairs of God’s judgment and how do others become the recipients of God’s restoration and joy?
The answer is found in Isaiah 35:8. There is a great roadway called, the Highway of Holiness. Those who walk on the highway are heading to Zion. Anyone not found on that road faces God’s sword in Edom.
Fools do not travel on that road, but only those who are wise. The unclean do not travel on the Highway of Holiness leading to Zion, but only those who walk in holiness.
Who is found on the Highway of Holiness? The redeemed walk there (Isaiah 35:9). Redeemed people are those who are purchased from slavery.
The Bible is very clear about the identity of these people. The people on the Highway of Holiness are those who made clean and wise because they are purchased by the precious blood of Jesus Christ. Jesus is the Messiah Isaiah speaks about over and over again in his book.
The redeemed are not holy because they have good works. They are not on the Highway of Holiness because their parents love God. They are not wise because they have figured out by their wisdom in going to school and university. Politicians don’t save them. They are redeemed because they put their faith in the person and work of their Savior.
There is only one Highway of Holiness, and those who walk upon the roadway do so because of faith. They believe Jesus is the only way. They know they are in need of a Savior. They know that unless God has mercy on their soul, their destiny is Edom. They believe Jesus is “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). They hear and believe the words of Jesus who says:
"Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.” (Matthew 7:13-14)
Do you want to be restored? Do you seek encouragement and rest for your anxious soul? Do you want everlasting joy and gladness? Then join with those who are on the Highway of Holiness and put your faith in Jesus Christ.
On the Highway
A few words to those of us who are on the Highway of Holiness. We must be diligent to stay on the road. We have an enemy who will seek to derail us from joy and gladness. Our enemy knows his fate is found in Isaiah 34. He will do all in his power to take as many with him as he may. But, we must not listen to him. We must hear the words of the Spirit our teacher.
Your ears will hear a word behind you, “This is the way, walk in it,” whenever you turn to the right or to the left. (Isaiah 30:21)
God gives us His Spirit so we may walk on His Highway of Holiness. The world will tell us that holiness is a misery. A life of holiness is a life of drudgery. Satan wants us to believe that holiness will rob us of our joy. Sin has fleeting pleasure. It looks like fun. But, the Highway of Holiness promises eternal joy and gladness. Our Creator made us to enjoy Him. At His right hand are pleasures forevermore. Don’t be fooled by the deception of sin.
While we are on the Highway of Holiness which leads to Zion, don’t look back. Remember Lot’s wife, as Lot took his family out of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, God told Lot to look forward.
Don’t look back. The world will tempt us to look over our shoulder and contemplate what we may be missing. We are not missing anything but misery and death. Look forward to everlasting life. Keep your eyes on Christ and His kingdom of perfection.
"Follow Me." But he (the man) said, "Lord, permit me first to go and bury my father." But He (Jesus) said to him, "Allow the dead to bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim everywhere the kingdom of God." Another also said, "I will follow You, Lord; but first permit me to say good-bye to those at home." But Jesus said to him, "No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God." (Luke 9:59-62)
Don’t look back, but let’s make sure we listen to the words of our Savior. He says to let the dead bury their dead, but we are to go and proclaim everywhere the kingdom of God. Let’s endeavor to tell people of this great roadway God provides as an escape from this world’s evil.
Isaiah begins chapter 34 by saying:
Draw near, O nations, to hear, and listen, O peoples! (Isaiah 34:1)
We need to tell all people to draw near and listen. We warn people of coming tornados and hurricanes. If there were an imminent threat of terror, we would warn as many as we could. Sound the warning sirens. Put up the hurricane flags. There is a great disaster coming to the earth, and it is far worse than any disaster the world has ever seen. Tell people to get to the shelter of God’s wings.
Noah warned people of a great flood, but they didn’t believe him. But, he kept on warning people for 125 years. We must be like Noah. We must tell people there is no recovery and only one means of escape. This is the real deal. We need to tell people about salvation in Jesus Christ so they may join hands with us on the Highway of Holiness leading to Zion.
MAIN IDEA: Believe God’s Highway of Holiness is the only road leading to an eternal life of gladness and joy.
NOTE: “Scripture quotations are from the NASB." This manuscript is provided as a courtesy and is not intended for publication. The recorded audio/video message differs from the manuscript. Thanks for understanding.