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, 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, but it shall be for God’s people; 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.
This singing passage speaks of the return of the redeemed to Zion. The imagery of this chapter resonates with Christians who are in exile in a world where secular values prevail and where Islam contends strongly for pre-eminence in the minds and hearts of spiritual people. Christians are pressured at various times by both the secular and the Islamic worldviews.
It is a major issue for Christians that they cannot be politically correct. Christians serve God regardless of political or cultural pressure to conform. Christians look back to the image of the three Hebrews who defied King Nebuchadnezzar by refusing to bow down to his golden image, and like those faithful men they say, “If our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire and out of your hand, O king, let him deliver us. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods and we will not worship the golden statue that you have set up.” (Daniel 3:17-18) Christian values do not come from the culture. Christian language is not shaped by the culture. Christian words and deeds are directed by God. To date, nobody has suggested throwing any Christians into a fiery furnace, but it can feel quite miserable when someone in public life makes fun of Christians either for their unwillingness to use the words and ideas of the culture or for their firm testimony that they serve God above humans.
The description of the transformation of the desert into an oasis describes a feeling Christians experience when they gather with other Christians. The experience of worship is powerful. A weary, exhausted Christian, bruised and battered from the battlefield of worldviews is renewed in the community of believers joined in praise, thanksgiving and adoration in the presence of God. Being in worship is like returning from exile. The world outside is the land of exile while the worship sanctuary is our Zion.
In worship, we turn ourselves completely toward God. We sing “Kyrie elision” and our heads bow with those of the 24 elders casting their crowns before the heavenly throne. Our voices join with the myriads and myriads singing praise to the Lamb. We give ourselves to Christ. We receive strength and encouragement. We are reminded that as his voice and his hands and his feet we bear his love and light to a desperate, dark world. We are reminded that he will go with us and he will keep his promises, because of his steadfast love.
In worship our eyes are opened and our ears are unstopped, like those who rejoice in Isaiah’s text. We grow strong and excited. Our hearts leap with joy. We thirst for God, and we slake our thirst with the water of life. The dire wilderness of daily life is held off for a time while we rest in the oasis, God’s sanctuary.
When we leave the sanctuary of worship, we enter a battlefield. Muslim thinkers accuse us of the heresy of worshiping three gods because we worship the Mysterious Three in One. Secular thinkers accuse us of believing ghost stories. Satan hovers always near, whispering, “What makes you so sure you know everything? Maybe other people are just as right in their way as you are in yours.” Isaiah tells us that we are not trapped. There is a way out. There is a way through the wilderness of life on God’s highway. The “unclean” do not live in relationship with God, so they cannot see this road or walk on it. Our relationship with God keeps us on the way, a road marked in eternity/infinity that is unseen and unknown by those whose sight is limited to time and space.
Life in the realm of time and space is a battle. Satan runs rampant, lashing out at everyone as he suffers his death throes. Some people ask, if God is good, why is there war? The answer is that in the world, we are free and Satan is free – subject to God’s ultimate will but not micromanaged in our every move. We are free to choose between good and evil in time and space. When a human chooses evil, then very bad things happen. Yet Satan knows that it is only in time and space that he has any freedom. The book of Revelation describes his anger at this state of affairs by saying that when he lashed his tail, a third of the stars fell out of the sky.
Satan hates the limitations on him that result when our relationship with God is strong. He hates the fact that we live in God’s loving care and walk on God’s safe path when we choose Christ. He rages at our ability to enter the oasis of worship and end the chaos in which he desires to enmesh us forever. We can be grateful that God has made a way for us to walk with God through the conflicts of daily life.
Isaiah wrote in a time when Israelites far from their homes yearned for a day when the exile would end and they would go home. Only the Spirit who inspired his words knew how much Christians in the twenty-first century in the USA would need this message of hope and healing. Christians must be very grateful to the writer who responded to the inspiration, to the many faithful scribes who made copies, to those who wrapped the scrolls and hid the scrolls from destruction and taught the words to succeeding generations, and to those who translated from ancient languages to modern ones. Every time we read these words in public or private worship, we can be grateful to the work of the Holy Spirit which has preserved and protected these words for our nourishment and healing today.