1. Why do many religions hold out the hope of life in a paradise?
“THE nostalgia for paradise is among the powerful nostalgias that seem to haunt human beings. It may be the most powerful and persistent of all. A certain longing for paradise is evidenced at every level of religious life.” So says The Encyclopedia of Religion. Such nostalgia is only natural, since the Bible tells us that human life began in Paradise—a beautiful garden free of disease and death. (Genesis 2:8-15) It is not surprising that many of the world’s religions hold out the hope of future life in a paradise of one kind or another.
2. Where can we find the true hope of future Paradise?
2 In many parts of the Bible, we can read of the true hope of the future Paradise. (Isaiah 51:3) For example, the part of Isaiah’s prophecy recorded in Isa chapter 35 describes the transformation of wilderness regions into gardenlike parks and fruitful fields. The blind gain sight, the mute can speak, and the deaf can hear. In this promised Paradise, there is no grief or sighing, which implies that even death is no more. What a wonderful promise! How should these words be understood? Do they hold out hope for us today? A consideration of this chapter of Isaiah will provide the answers to these questions.
A Desolate Land Rejoices
3. According to Isaiah’s prophecy, what transformation will the land undergo?
3 Isaiah’s inspired prophecy of Paradise restored begins with these words: “The wilderness and the waterless region will exult, and the desert plain will be joyful and blossom as the saffron. Without fail it will blossom, and it will really be joyful with joyousness and with glad crying out. The glory of Lebanon itself must be given to it, the splendor of Carmel and of Sharon. There will be those who will see the glory of Jehovah, the splendor of our God.”—Isaiah 35:1, 2.
4. When and how does the Jews’ homeland take on the appearance of a wilderness?
4 Isaiah writes these words about the year 732 B.C.E. Some 125 years later, the Babylonians destroy Jerusalem and the people of Judah are sent into exile. Their homeland is left uninhabited, desolated. (2 Kings 25:8-11, 21-26) In this way Jehovah’s warning that the people of Israel would go into exile if they proved unfaithful is fulfilled. (Deuteronomy 28:15, 36, 37; 1 Kings 9:6-8) When the Hebrew nation becomes captive in a foreign land, their well-irrigated fields and orchards are left unattended for 70 years and become like a wilderness.—Isaiah 64:10; Jeremiah 4:23-27; 9:10-12.
5. (a) How are paradiselike conditions restored to the land? (b) In what sense do people “see the glory of Jehovah”?
5 However, Isaiah’s prophecy foretells that the land will not lie desolate forever. It will be restored to a veritable paradise. “The glory of Lebanon” and “the splendor of Carmel and of Sharon” will be given to it.a How? Upon their return from exile, the Jews are again able to cultivate and irrigate their fields, and their land returns to the rich fruitfulness that it had before. For this, credit can go only to Jehovah. It is by his will and with his support and blessing that the Jews get to enjoy such paradiselike conditions. People are able to see “the glory of Jehovah, the splendor of [their] God” when they acknowledge Jehovah’s hand in the amazing transformation of their land.
6. What important fulfillment of Isaiah’s words is seen?
6 Nevertheless, in the restored land of Israel, there is a more important fulfillment of Isaiah’s words. In a spiritual sense, Israel has been in a dry, desertlike state for many years. While the exiles were in Babylon, pure worship was severely restricted. There was no temple, no altar, and no organized priesthood. Daily sacrifices were suspended. Now, Isaiah prophesies a reversal. Under the leadership of such men as Zerubbabel, Ezra, and Nehemiah, representatives from all 12 tribes of Israel return to Jerusalem, rebuild the temple, and worship Jehovah freely. (Ezra 2:1, 2) This is indeed a spiritual paradise!
Aglow With the Spirit
7, 8. Why do the Jewish exiles need a positive attitude, and how do Isaiah’s words provide encouragement?
7 The words of Isaiah chapter 35 have a ring of joy. The prophet is proclaiming a bright future for the repentant nation. Indeed, he speaks with conviction and optimism. Two centuries later, at the threshold of their restoration, exiled Jews need the same conviction and optimism. Through Isaiah, Jehovah prophetically exhorts them: “Strengthen the weak hands, you people, and make the knees that are wobbling firm. Say to those who are anxious at heart: ‘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.’”—Isaiah 35:3, 4.
8 The end of the long exile is a time for action. King Cyrus of Persia, the instrument of Jehovah’s vengeance against Babylon, has proclaimed that Jehovah’s worship is to be restored in Jerusalem. (2 Chronicles 36:22, 23) Thousands of Hebrew families need to get organized in order to make the hazardous trip from Babylon to Jerusalem. When they arrive there, they will have to erect adequate living facilities and prepare for the monumental task of rebuilding the temple and the city. For some Jews in Babylon, all of this may seem daunting. However, it is no time to be weak or apprehensive. The Jews are to strengthen one another and have confidence in Jehovah. He assures them that they will be saved.
9. What grand promise is held out to returning Jews?
9 Those released from captivity in Babylon will have good reason to rejoice, for a grand future awaits them upon their return to Jerusalem. Isaiah foretells: “At that time the eyes of the blind ones will be opened, and the very ears of the deaf ones will be unstopped. At that time the lame one will climb up just as a stag does, and the tongue of the speechless one will cry out in gladness.”—Isaiah 35:5, 6a.
10, 11. For returning Jews, why must Isaiah’s words have a spiritual meaning, and what do they imply?
10 Jehovah evidently has in mind the spiritual condition of his people. They have been punished with 70 years of exile for their earlier apostasy. Still, in administering his discipline, Jehovah did not strike his people with blindness, deafness, lameness, and muteness. Hence, restoring the nation of Israel does not require the healing of physical disabilities. Jehovah restores that which was lost, namely, spiritual health.
11 Repentant Jews are healed in that they regain their spiritual senses—their spiritual vision and their ability to hear, obey, and speak Jehovah’s word. They become aware of their need to stay close to Jehovah. By their fine conduct, they “cry out” in joyful praise of their God. The formerly “lame one” becomes eager and energetic in his worship of Jehovah. Figuratively, he will “climb up just as a stag does.”
Jehovah Refreshes His People
12. To what extent will Jehovah bless the land with water?
12 It is difficult to imagine a paradise without water. The original Paradise in Eden had an abundance of water. (Genesis 2:10-14) The land given to Israel was also “a land of torrent valleys of water, springs and watery deeps issuing forth.” (Deuteronomy 8:7) Appropriately, then, Isaiah makes this refreshing promise: “In the wilderness waters will have burst out, and torrents in the desert plain. And the heat-parched ground will have become as a reedy pool, and the thirsty ground as springs of water. In the abiding place of jackals, a resting-place for them, there will be green grass with reeds and papyrus plants.” (Isaiah 35:6b, 7) When the Israelites again care for the land, the desolate areas where jackals once roamed will be covered with verdant, luxuriant vegetation. Dry and dusty ground will be transformed into “a swampy place” where papyrus and other aquatic reeds can grow.—Job 8:11.
13. What abundant spiritual water will be available to the restored nation?
13 More important, though, is the spiritual water of truth, which the repatriated Jews will enjoy in abundance. Jehovah will provide knowledge, encouragement, and comfort through his Word. Moreover, faithful older men and princes will be “like streams of water in a waterless country.” (Isaiah 32:1, 2) Those who promote pure worship, such as Ezra, Haggai, Jeshua, Nehemiah, Zechariah, Zerubbabel, will indeed be living testimony to the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy.—Ezra 5:1, 2; 7:6, 10; Nehemiah 12:47.
“The Way of Holiness”
14. Describe travel between Babylon and Jerusalem.
14 Before the exiled Jews can enjoy such physical and spiritual paradisaic conditions, however, they will have to make the long and hazardous journey from Babylon to Jerusalem. Taking a direct route would mean crossing some 500 miles [800 km] of arid, inhospitable terrain. A less-challenging route would involve traveling 1,000 miles [1,600 km]. Either journey would mean spending months exposed to the elements and in danger of meeting both wild beasts and beastlike men. Still, those who believe Isaiah’s prophecy are not overly concerned. Why?
15, 16. (a) What protection does Jehovah provide for faithful Jews on their journey home? (b) In what other sense does Jehovah provide a safe highway for the Jews?
15 Through Isaiah, Jehovah promises: “There will certainly come to be a highway there, even a way; and the Way of Holiness it will be called. The unclean one will not pass over it. And it will be for the one walking on the way, and no foolish ones will wander about on it. No lion will prove to be there, and the rapacious sort of wild beasts will not come up on it. None will be found there; and the repurchased ones must walk there.” (Isaiah 35:8, 9) Jehovah has reclaimed his people! They are his “repurchased ones,” and he guarantees them safe conduct on their way home. Is there a literal paved, elevated, and fenced-in road from Babylon to Jerusalem? No, but Jehovah’s protection of his people on their journey is so sure that it is as if they were on such a highway.—Compare Psalm 91:1-16.
16 The Jews are also protected from spiritual dangers. The figurative highway is “the Way of Holiness.” Those who disrespect sacred things or are spiritually unclean are not qualified to travel on it. They are not wanted in the restored land. Approved ones are rightly motivated. They are not returning to Judah and Jerusalem in a spirit of national pride or in pursuit of personal interests. Spiritually-minded Jews realize that the principal reason for their return is to reestablish the pure worship of Jehovah in that land.—Ezra 1:1-3.
Jehovah’s People Rejoice
17. How has the prophecy of Isaiah comforted faithful Jews during their long exile?
17 Chapter 35 of Isaiah’s prophecy ends on a joyful note: “The very ones redeemed by Jehovah will return and certainly come to Zion with a joyful cry; and rejoicing to time indefinite will be upon their head. To exultation and rejoicing they will attain, and grief and sighing must flee away.” (Isaiah 35:10) The captive Jews who have looked to this prophecy for comfort and hope during their exile may have wondered how its various details would be fulfilled. Likely they have not understood many aspects of the prophecy. Still, it has been crystal clear that they would “return and certainly come to Zion.”
18. In what way is grief and sighing in Babylon replaced by exultation and rejoicing in the restored land?
18 Hence, in the year 537 B.C.E., some 50,000 men (including more than 7,000 slaves and temple singers) along with women and children make the four-month journey back to Jerusalem, with full confidence in Jehovah. (Ezra 2:64, 65) Just a few months later, Jehovah’s altar is rebuilt, setting the stage for a full reconstruction of the temple. The 200-year-old prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled. The nation’s grief and sighing while in Babylon is replaced by exultation and rejoicing in the restored land. Jehovah has fulfilled his promise. Paradise—both literal and spiritual—has been restored!
The Birth of a New Nation
19. Why must it be said that Isaiah’s prophecy has only a limited fulfillment in the sixth century B.C.E.?
19 Of course, in the sixth century B.C.E., the fulfillment of Isaiah chapter 35 is limited. The paradisaic conditions enjoyed by the repatriated Jews do not last. In time, false religious teachings and nationalism contaminate pure worship. Spiritually, the Jews again experience grief and sighing. Jehovah eventually rejects them as his people. (Matthew 21:43) Because of renewed disobedience, their rejoicing is not permanent. All of this points to a further, greater fulfillment of Isaiah chapter 35.
20. What new Israel came into existence in the first century C.E.?
20 In Jehovah’s due time, another Israel, a spiritual one, came into existence. (Galatians 6:16) Jesus set the stage for the birth of this new Israel during his earthly ministry. He restored pure worship, and with his teachings, waters of truth began to flow once again. He healed the sick, both physically and spiritually. A joyful cry went forth as the good news of God’s Kingdom was proclaimed. Seven weeks after his death and resurrection, the glorified Jesus established the Christian congregation, a spiritual Israel made up of Jews and others redeemed by Jesus’ shed blood, begotten as God’s spiritual sons and brothers of Jesus, and anointed by holy spirit.—Acts 2:1-4; Romans 8:16, 17; 1 Peter 1:18, 19.
21. Regarding the first-century Christian congregation, what events may be viewed as a fulfillment of certain features of Isaiah’s prophecy?
21 When writing to the members of spiritual Israel, the apostle Paul referred to the words of Isaiah 35:3 by saying: “Straighten up the hands that hang down and the enfeebled knees.” (Hebrews 12:12) Evidently, then, in the first century C.E., there was a fulfillment of the words of Isaiah chapter 35. In a literal sense, Jesus and his disciples miraculously gave sight to blind ones and hearing to deaf ones. They enabled ‘lame ones’ to walk and speechless ones to regain their speech. (Matthew 9:32; 11:5; Luke 10:9) More important, righthearted ones escaped from false religion and came to enjoy a spiritual paradise within the Christian congregation. (Isaiah 52:11; 2 Corinthians 6:17) As in the case of the Jews returning from Babylon, these escapees found that a positive, courageous spirit was essential.—Romans 12:11.
22. How did sincere, truth-seeking Christians in modern times come into Babylonish captivity?
22 What of our day? Does the prophecy of Isaiah have another fulfillment, a more complete one involving the Christian congregation today? Yes. After the death of the apostles, the number of true anointed Christians greatly diminished, and false Christians, “weeds,” flourished on the world scene. (Matthew 13:36-43; Acts 20:30; 2 Peter 2:1-3) Even when during the 19th century, sincere individuals began to separate themselves from Christendom and seek pure worship, their understanding remained tainted with unscriptural teachings. In 1914, Jesus was enthroned as Messianic King, but soon thereafter, the situation looked bleak for these sincere truth seekers. In fulfillment of prophecy, the nations ‘made war with them and conquered them,’ and the attempts of these sincere Christians to preach the good news were stifled. In effect, they went into Babylonish captivity.—Revelation 11:7, 8.
23, 24. In what ways have Isaiah’s words been fulfilled among God’s people since 1919?
23 In 1919, however, things changed. Jehovah brought his people out of captivity. They began to reject the false teachings that had earlier corrupted their worship. As a result, they enjoyed a healing. They came to be in a spiritual paradise, which even today continues to spread throughout the earth. In a spiritual sense, the blind are learning to see and the deaf, to hear—becoming fully alert to the operation of God’s holy spirit, constantly aware of the need to stay close to Jehovah. (1 Thessalonians 5:6; 2 Timothy 4:5) No longer mute, true Christians are eager to “cry out,” declaring Bible truths to others. (Romans 1:15) Those who were spiritually weak, or “lame,” now display zeal and joy. Figuratively, they are able to “climb up just as a stag does.”
24 These restored Christians walk on “the Way of Holiness.” This “Way,” which leads out of Babylon the Great into a spiritual paradise, is open to all spiritually clean worshipers. (1 Peter 1:13-16) They can count on Jehovah for protection and be confident that Satan will not succeed in his animalistic attacks to eliminate true worship. (1 Peter 5:8) Disobedient ones and any who behave like rapacious wild beasts are not allowed to corrupt those on God’s highway of holiness. (1 Corinthians 5:11) Within this protected environment, Jehovah’s redeemed ones—anointed and “other sheep”—find joy in serving the only true God.—John 10:16.
25. Will there be a physical fulfillment of Isaiah chapter 35? Explain.
25 What of the future? Will Isaiah’s prophecy ever be fulfilled in a physical way? Yes. The miraculous healings by Jesus and his apostles in the first century demonstrated Jehovah’s desire and ability to perform such healings on a large scale in the future. The inspired Psalms speak of everlasting life in peaceful conditions on earth. (Psalm 37:9, 11, 29) Jesus promised life in Paradise. (Luke 23:43) Down to its very last book, the Bible provides hope for a literal paradise. At that time, the blind, the deaf, the lame, and the speechless will be healed physically and permanently. Grief and sighing will flee away. Rejoicing will indeed be to time indefinite, even forever.—Revelation 7:9, 16, 17; 21:3, 4.
26. How do Isaiah’s words strengthen Christians today?
26 While true Christians await the restoration of the physical earthly Paradise, even now they enjoy the blessings of the spiritual paradise. They face trials and tribulations with optimism. With unwavering confidence in Jehovah, they encourage one another, heeding the admonition: “Strengthen the weak hands, you people, and make the knees that are wobbling firm. Say to those who are anxious at heart: ‘Be strong. Do not be afraid.’” They have complete trust in the prophetic assurance: “Look! Your own God will come with vengeance itself, God even with a repayment. He himself will come and save you people.”—Isaiah 35:3, 4.
a The Scriptures describe ancient Lebanon as a fruitful land with luxuriant forests and majestic cedars, comparable to the Garden of Eden. (Psalm 29:5; 72:16; Ezekiel 28:11-13) Sharon was known for its streams and oak forests; Carmel was famous for its vineyards, orchards, and flower-carpeted slopes.
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Desert places become well-watered places of reeds and papyrus plants
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Jesus healed the sick, both spiritually and physically