“Your Word Is Truth”
‘The Wilderness Will Exult’
THE land that God gave to the nation of Israel was no wilderness. Moses described it as “a good land, a land of torrent valleys of water, springs and watery deeps issuing forth in the valley plain and in the mountainous region, a land of wheat and barley and vines and figs and pomegranates, a land of oil olives and honey.”—Deut. 8:7, 8.
However, only if the Israelites continued to serve their God Jehovah in faithfulness would the land remain a virtual paradise. Disobedience on their part was foretold to result in the complete desolation of their God-given land, transforming it from a beautiful region into an unkept wilderness. Did that prophetic warning prove to be true?—Lev. 26:33-35.
In fulfillment of the prophetic word, some nine hundred years after Moses recorded it, the year 607 B.C.E. saw the Babylonians conquer Judah and Jerusalem. The surviving Jews, with the exception of the poorest, were taken into Babylonian exile. Over those that were left behind, Nebuchadnezzar appointed Gedaliah as governor. After the murder of Gedaliah the Jews yet remaining in the land, fearing punishment at the hands of the Chaldeans on account of the assassination, fled to Egypt. The foretold desolation was then complete.—Jer. 39:8-10; 40:5; 41:2; 43:2-7.
But it was not Jehovah’s purpose for the land to remain an uninhabited wilderness. More than a century before Jerusalem’s destruction the prophet Isaiah wrote: “The wilderness and the waterless region will exult.” (Isa. 35:1; see also Isaiah 51:3.) The fulfillment of that prophecy called for the release of the exiled Jews so that they could return to their desolated homeland. As the land had gone into mourning at its desolation, so it was to exult on ceasing to be an uninhabited wilderness.—Isa. 24:1, 3, 4; 33:8, 9.
From a human standpoint, however, the transformation of the wilderness into an Edenic paradise may have appeared unlikely. Release from exile was impossible as long as Babylon continued to exist as a world power. Yet even after almost seven decades of the foretold seventy-year desolation of the land had passed, the capital city of Babylon remained seemingly impregnable. (Jer. 29:10) Therefore, many of the Jews probably gave way to doubts concerning a future restoration. But any with weak hands, wobbling knees and anxious heart could draw comfort from Isaiah’s further words: “Be strong. Do not be afraid. Look! Your own God will come with vengeance itself, God even with a repayment. He himself will come and save you people.”—Isa. 35:3, 4.
True to his Word, in 539 B.C.E. Jehovah God did come with vengeance itself against Babylon by means of a number of nations, including the Medes and Persians. Leading the armies was Cyrus, the very man whom Jehovah, through Isaiah, announced by name as the conqueror of Babylon nearly two centuries earlier. Also in fulfillment of prophecy Cyrus diverted the Euphrates from coursing through Babylon, drying it up, as it were, and thus enabled the conquering armies to march through the riverbed and enter the city gates that had strangely been left open.—Isa. 13:17; 21:2; 44:27—45:6.
Shortly thereafter, in 537 B.C.E., Cyrus’ decree permitting the Jewish exiles to return to their homeland and rebuild the temple at Jerusalem went into effect. A faithful remnant immediately responded. No longer were they spiritually blind, deaf, lame and dumb. (Isa. 35:5, 6) With their eyes they were quick to recognize their God Jehovah and the deliverance he had wrought for them. (Isa. 52:6) Their ears listened to and heeded his prophetic command to forsake Babylon. (Isa. 52:11; Jer. 50:8; 51:6) By walking in accord with Jehovah’s will they were no more afflicted by the lameness due to their deviating from the path of righteousness. (Isa. 42:24; Heb. 12:13) Though once speechless, they began to relate what Jehovah had done for them.—Isa. 43:20, 21; 48:20.
Particularly after they were restored to their God-given land could the faithful Jews tell about Jehovah’s marvelous deliverance and his leading them back from Babylon. Although Jehovah had apparently brought them back by a direct desert route, the Jewish remnant did not suffer thirst. Miraculously Jehovah caused water to flow from the very rock. Along the way he also protected them from wild beasts. The route by which God led them had proved to be “the Way of Holiness,” because only his clean and repentant servants passed over it.—Isa. 35:6-9; 43:19; 48:21.
What abundant cause for exultation and joyfulness God’s redeemed people therefore had! As a liberated people they no longer experienced grief and sighing as Babylon’s captives. Jehovah had proved true to his promise. He had indeed made the wilderness exult by causing it to come alive with joyful repatriated Israelites and their domestic animals.—Isa. 35:10.
This grand transformation of the land of Judah from a wilderness state also meant that a “new earth” had come into existence. This is because in Biblical usage “earth” often denotes the section of the globe inhabited by the Israelites. (Isa. 24:1, 3-6, AS, AV, NW, 1958 ed. ftn.) So when Jehovah reestablished them in their land, he, in effect, ‘laid the foundation of the earth.’ Over this “earth” of repatriated Israelites a “new heavens” ruled, for Jehovah, through Governor Zerubbabel and High Priest Joshua, directed and supervised the subject people.—Isa. 51:16; 65:17; 66:22; Hag. 1:1, 14.
What Jehovah God did for the Israelites back there in the sixth century B.C.E. is not merely dead history. There was yet to be a future fulfillment of these restoration prophecies. Wrote the apostle Peter: “There are new heavens and a new earth that we are awaiting according to his promise, and in these righteousness is to dwell.” (2 Pet. 3:13) Surely the earth today is no less a wilderness than was the desolated land of Judah. It is filled with persons who are wild and hurtful to their fellowman, and it abounds in bad fruitage. There is a real need for a righteous administration to take over earth’s affairs and completely eradicate all wickedness.
It is therefore comforting to note that it is God’s purpose to usher in “new heavens and a new earth.” This means that God’s righteous government, his kingdom, will as “new heavens” rule over the “new earth,” the society of loyal subjects of his administration. Then this planet, figuratively speaking, will no longer mourn because of having been reduced to a wilderness state by wicked men. Instead of being ruined, it will be transformed into a paradise. Tears and sorrow will give way to rejoicing and exultation. Filled with happy and loyal subjects of God’s kingdom, the former wilderness will exult.—Rev. 11:18; 21:1, 4, 5.