We Have Reason to Cry Out for Joy
“To exultation and rejoicing they will attain, and grief and sighing must flee away.”—ISAIAH 35:10.
1. Who today have particular reason for joy?
YOU have likely noted that few people have real joy nowadays. Yet, as true Christians, Jehovah’s Witnesses have joy. And the prospect of obtaining that same joy lies right before additional millions of yet unbaptized ones, young and old, who associate with the Witnesses. The fact that you are now reading these words in this magazine indicates that this joy is already yours or is within your grasp.
2. How does a Christian’s joy contrast with the general state of most people?
2 Most people sense that their life lacks something. What about you? Granted, you may not have every material item you could use, certainly not all that today’s rich and powerful ones have. And you might like to have more in the way of good health and vigor. Still, it is safe to say that when it comes to joy, you are richer and healthier than most of earth’s billions. How so?
3. What meaningful words merit our attention, and why?
3 Call to mind Jesus’ words: “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you and your joy may be made full.” (John 15:11) “Your joy may be made full.” What a description! An in-depth study of the Christian way of living would reveal many reasons for our joy being full. But right now, note the meaningful words at Isaiah 35:10. These are meaningful because they have much to do with us today. We read: “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.”
4. What sort of joy is mentioned at Isaiah 35:10, and why should we give attention to this?
4 “Rejoicing to time indefinite.” The phrase “to time indefinite” is an accurate rendering of what Isaiah wrote in Hebrew. But, as borne out by other scriptures, the import in this verse is “forever.” (Psalm 45:6; 90:2; Isaiah 40:28) So the rejoicing will be endless, in conditions that will permit—yes, justify—everlasting rejoicing. Does that not sound delightful? Perhaps, though, that verse strikes you as a comment on an abstract situation, leaving you feeling: ‘That does not actually involve me in the sense that my everyday problems and concerns do.’ But the facts prove otherwise. The prophetic promise at Isaiah 35:10 has meaning for you today. To find out how, let us examine this beautiful chapter, Isaiah 35, noting each part in context. Be assured that you will enjoy what we find.
People Who Needed to Rejoice
5. In what prophetic setting is the prophecy in Isaiah chapter 35 found?
5 As an aid, let us look at the background, the historical setting, for this fascinating prophecy. The Hebrew prophet Isaiah wrote it somewhere around 732 B.C.E. That was decades before the Babylonian armies destroyed Jerusalem. As Isaiah 34:1, 2 indicates, God had foretold that he was going to express vengeance on the nations, such as Edom, mentioned at Isaiah 34:6. Evidently he used the ancient Babylonians to do that. Similarly, God had the Babylonians desolate Judah because the Jews were unfaithful. The result? God’s people were taken into captivity, and their homeland lay desolate for 70 years.—2 Chronicles 36:15-21.
6. What contrast is there between what was to come upon the Edomites and what was to come upon the Jews?
6 However, there is a significant difference between the Edomites and the Jews. The divine retribution on the Edomites was never-ending; in time they disappeared as a people. Yes, you can still visit the empty ruins in the area where the Edomites used to live, such as the world-famous remains of Petra. But today, there is no nation or people that can be identified as ‘the Edomites.’ On the other hand, was the Babylonian desolation of Judah to be forever, leaving the land eternally joyless?
7. How might Jews captive in Babylon have responded to Isaiah chapter 35?
7 Here the wonderful prophecy in Isaiah chapter 35 has exciting meaning. It might be called a restoration prophecy, for it had its first fulfillment when the Jews returned to their homeland in 537 B.C.E. The Israelites who had been captive in Babylon were granted freedom to return to their homeland. (Ezra 1:1-11) Yet, until that happened the Jews captive in Babylon who considered this divine prophecy might have wondered what sort of conditions they would find back in their national homeland, Judah. And what condition would they themselves be in? The answers bear directly on why we truly have reason to cry out for joy. Let us see.
8 The situation certainly would not seem promising to the Jews even when they heard that they could return to their homeland. Their land had lain desolate for seven decades, a whole lifetime. What had happened to the land? Any cultivated fields, vineyards, or orchards would have become wilderness. Irrigated gardens or tracts would have declined into arid wasteland or desert. (Isaiah 24:1, 4; 33:9; Ezekiel 6:14) Think, too, of the wild animals that would abound. These would include carnivorous ones, such as lions and leopards. (1 Kings 13:24-28; 2 Kings 17:25, 26; Song of Solomon 4:8) Nor could they overlook bears, who had the ability to strike down man, woman, or child. (1 Samuel 17:34-37; 2 Kings 2:24; Proverbs 17:12) And we hardly need to mention the vipers and other poisonous snakes, or the scorpions. (Genesis 49:17; Deuteronomy 32:33; Job 20:16; Psalm 58:4; 140:3; Luke 10:19) Had you been with the Jews returning from Babylon in 537 B.C.E., you probably would have been hesitant to walk around in such an area. It was no paradise when they arrived.
9. For what reason did the returnees have a basis for hope and confidence?
9 Still, Jehovah himself had led his worshipers home, and he has the ability to reverse a desolate situation. Do you not believe that of the Creator? (Job 42:2; Jeremiah 32:17, 21, 27, 37, 41) So what would he do—what did he do—for the returning Jews and for their land? What bearing does this have on God’s people in modern times and on your situation—present and future? First let us see what took place back then.
Joyful Over a Changed Situation
10. What change did Isaiah 35:1, 2 foretell?
10 What would happen when Cyrus allowed the Jews to return to that grim land? Read the thrilling prophecy at Isaiah 35:1, 2: “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.”
11. Upon what knowledge of the land did Isaiah draw?
11 In Bible times, Lebanon, Carmel, and Sharon were noted for their verdant beauty. (1 Chronicles 5:16; 27:29; 2 Chronicles 26:10; Song of Solomon 2:1; 4:15; Hosea 14:5-7) Isaiah drew on those examples to describe what the transformed land would be like, with God’s help. But was this to be an effect merely on the soil? Certainly not!
12. Why can we say that the prophecy in Isaiah chapter 35 centers on people?
12 Isaiah 35:2 speaks of the land being “joyful with joyousness and with glad crying out.” We know that the soil and plants were not literally “joyful with joyousness.” Yet, their transformation to become fertile and productive could cause people to feel that way. (Leviticus 23:37-40; Deuteronomy 16:15; Psalm 126:5, 6; Isaiah 16:10; Jeremiah 25:30; 48:33) The literal changes in the land itself would correspond to changes in the people, for people are central to this prophecy. Hence, we have reason to understand Isaiah’s words as focusing primarily on the changes in the Jewish returnees, especially their joyousness.
13, 14. What change in people did Isaiah 35:3, 4 foretell?
13 Accordingly, let us examine more of this stimulating prophecy to see how it found fulfillment after the Jews’ liberation and return from Babylon. In Isa 35 verses 3 and 4, Isaiah speaks about other changes in those returnees: “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.’”
14 Is it not strengthening to think that our God, who could reverse the desolate condition of the ground, is so interested in his worshipers? He did not want the captive Jews to feel weak, discouraged, or anxious about the future. (Hebrews 12:12) Think of the condition of those Jewish captives. Aside from what hope they could draw from God’s prophecies about their future, it would have been hard for them to be optimistic. It was as if they were in a dark dungeon, not free to move about and to be active in serving Jehovah. It might well have seemed to them as if there were no light ahead.—Compare Deuteronomy 28:29; Isaiah 59:10.
15, 16. (a) What may we conclude that Jehovah did for the returnees? (b) Why would the returnees not have expected miraculous physical healings, but what did God do in line with Isaiah 35:5, 6?
15 How that changed, though, when Jehovah had Cyrus release them to return home! There is no Biblical evidence that God there miraculously opened any blind eyes of the returning Jews, unstopped the ears of any deaf ones, or healed any crippled or missing limbs. However, he really did something far grander. He restored them to the light and freedom of their beloved land.
16 There is no indication that the returnees expected Jehovah to perform such miraculous physical healings. They must have realized that God had not done so with Isaac, Samson, or Eli. (Genesis 27:1; Judges 16:21, 26-30; 1 Samuel 3:2-8; 4:15) But if they expected a divine reversal of their condition figuratively, they were not let down. Certainly in a figurative sense, Isa 35 verses 5 and 6 found a real fulfillment. Isaiah accurately foretold: “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.”
Making the Land Like a Paradise
17. What physical changes did Jehovah evidently bring about?
17 Those returnees would certainly have had reason to cry out in gladness over conditions such as Isaiah went on to describe: “For 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) Though we may not see it over that entire region today, the evidence suggests that the area that was Judah once was “a pastoral paradise.”*
18. How would the Jewish returnees likely have responded to God’s blessings?
18 As to causes for joy, think of how the Jewish remnant must have felt when repatriated to the Promised Land! They were in position to take the wasteland, inhabited by jackals and other such animals, and transform it. Would you not have found joy in doing such restorative work, especially if you knew that God was blessing your efforts?
19. In what sense was the return from Babylonish captivity conditional?
19 It was not, however, that just any and every Jewish captive in Babylon could or did head back to share in that joyous transformation. God set conditions. No one contaminated with Babylonish, pagan religious practices had a right to return. (Daniel 5:1, 4, 22, 23; Isaiah 52:11) Nor could anyone return who was foolishly committed to an unwise course. All such persons were disqualified. On the other hand, those who met God’s standards, whom he viewed as being holy in a relative sense, could head back to Judah. They could travel as if along a Way of Holiness. Isaiah made that clear in Isa 35 verse 8: “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.”
20. What did the Jews not need to fear as they returned, resulting in what?
20 The returning Jews did not need to fear any attack from beastlike men or packs of marauders. Why? Because Jehovah would not permit such to be on the Way with his repurchased people. So they could travel with joyful optimism, with happy prospects. Note how Isaiah described that in concluding this prophecy: “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. And 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 35:9, 10.
21. How should we today look upon the fulfillment of Isaiah chapter 35 that has already occurred?
21 What a prophetic picture we have here! We should not, though, view this as dealing with just past history, as if it were a quaint account having little to do with our situation or our future. The fact is that this prophecy finds an amazing fulfillment today among God’s people, so it does truly touch each of us. It provides us with sound reason to cry out for joy. These aspects involving your life now and in the future are treated in the following article.
From his studies of the region, agronomist Walter C. Lowdermilk (representing the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization) concluded: “This land was once a pastoral paradise.” He also indicated that the climate there has not changed significantly “since Roman times,” and “the ‘desert’ that took over the once-flourishing land was the work of man, not of nature.”
Do You Recall?
□ When did Isaiah chapter 35 have its first fulfillment?
□ What effect would the prophecy’s initial fulfillment produce?
□ How did Jehovah fulfill Isaiah 35:5, 6?
□ What changes in the land and in their situation did the Jewish returnees experience?
[Picture on page 9]
The ruins of Petra, in the area where the Edomites once lived
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While the Jews were in exile, much of Judah became like a wilderness, overrun with ferocious beasts like bears and lions
Bear and Lion: Safari-Zoo of Ramat-Gan, Tel Aviv