35:1. Masoretic Text: The wilderness and the parched ground will exult, and the desert will rejoice and blossom like a meadow saffron [chavatstséleth].
Septuagint: Rejoice, O parched wilderness. Let the wilderness exult and blossom like a lily.
In the Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah, the first two verses are missing in the main text. (See 34:17 for additional comments.)
According to the interpretation in the Targum of Isaiah, the wilderness dwellers would rejoice and the inhabitants of the desert would shout for joy.
The concluding verse of chapter 35 unmistakably relates the developments to the time the Jewish exiles would be able to return to their land. After invading armies had devastated the land and taken survivors into exile, formerly cultivated areas became a wilderness, with thorny plants and weeds taking over. The neglected land then appeared to be in a state of mourning. Upon the return of the Jewish exiles, the land would again be cultivated, transforming the untended wilderness into a productive region that resembled meadows blossoming profusely with beautiful flowers.
Besides “meadow saffron,” lexicographers have suggested “crocus” and “asphodel” for the Hebrew word chavatstséleth. Like the Septuagint, the Vulgate rendering is “lily” (lilium). (See flowers for pictures.)
35:2. Masoretic Text: Blossoming, it will blossom and rejoice, yes, with joy and singing. The glory of Lebanon will be given to it, the splendor of Carmel and Sharon. They will see the glory of YHWH, the majesty of our God.
Septuagint: And the desolate [areas] of the Jordan will blossom and exult; and the glory of Lebanon has been given to it and the honor of Carmel. And my people will see the glory of the Lord and the exaltation of God.
The Targum of Isaiah speaks of the joy and other positive developments as having been promised to the “house of Israel.”
The repetition of the verb for “blossom” serves to emphasize the flourishing state of the transformed barren desert. The thriving condition would be as if the region had begun to shout for joy and burst out in song.
Lebanon was known for its luxuriant cedar forests. For the desert to be given the glory of Lebanon would signify that the barren land would sprout profusely with greenery.
The Carmel ridge extended from the Mediterranean Sea to the plain of Dothan. Trees thrived on the slopes of the Carmel ridge, and the well-watered plain of Sharon to the south produced abundant crops. Accordingly, the “splendor” of Carmel and Sharon would be the flourishing condition in what had earlier been reduced to a desolate region.
YHWH is the one who would effect this marvelous transformation by liberating his people from exile. Therefore, through this development, his glory, splendor, or magnificence would be seen. He would be revealed as the “majestic” or highly exalted God.
35:3. Masoretic Text: Strengthen the weak hands and make the feeble knees firm.
Septuagint: Be strong, O weak hands and enfeebled knees.
The Targum of Isaiah identifies the prophet as the speaker of these words.
This admonition may be regarded as directed to the Israelites who would find themselves in exile. As the years would pass with no evidence that they would be able to return to their land, they would become discouraged. They would be like persons exhausted from hard labor, lacking strength to lift their hands. With little hope of a change in their circumstances, they would be like persons having “feeble knees,” too weak to provide support. Especially when the time for YHWH to take action drew near, they needed to recall the prophecy and to rekindle confidence in its sure fulfillment. In this way, they would strengthen their drooping hands and their enfeebled knees.
35:4. Masoretic Text: Say to those being anxious [mahár] of heart, Be strong; fear not. Look! Your God will come [with] vengeance, the recompense of God. He will come and save you.
Septuagint: Encourage [one another], you disheartened ones [literally, “little souls”] of mind. Be strong; do not fear. Look! Our God recompenses with judgment, and he will recompense. He himself will come and save us.
Translators have variously rendered the phrase about “recompense.” “Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God He will come and save you.” (Margolis) “With divine retribution he will come to save you.” (NIV) “Your God comes to save you with his vengeance and his retribution.” (REB) “He will come with vengeance, with terrible recompense.” (NRSV) The preposition “with” does not precede the Hebrew word for “vengeance,” allowing for the text to be punctuated and translated differently. “Behold your God! Requital is coming, the recompense of God — He Himself is coming to give you triumph.” (Tanakh) “Here is your God, vengeance is coming, divine retribution; he is coming to save you.” (NJB)
In the Targum of Isaiah, the admonition not to fear is directed to those eager to observe the law.
The basic meaning of the Hebrew word mahár is “hasten” or “hurry. In this context, it appears to refer to one’s being anxious as when having to get something accomplished quickly within a very short time. At “heart” or in their inmost selves, the exiles would have been anxious or troubled in their state of despair, wondering whether relief would ever come. They could draw comfort from the prophetic word, letting it serve to strengthen their hope and to liberate them from the fear that they would never be able to return to their land. The Septuagint rendering may be understood to mean that the exiles should encourage one another to be strong and not to be fearful.
They needed to focus on the certainty that God would come with vengeance against those who had devastated their land and taken them into exile. He would repay those who had made their lives bitter. God would come to their aid and deliver them from their place of exile.
35:5. Masoretic Text: Then the eyes of the blind will be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped.
Septuagint: Then the eyes of the blind will be opened, and ears of the deaf will hear.
In the context of exile and return from exile, these words do not apply to literal blindness and deafness. This is made explicit in the Targum of Isaiah, which refers to the “house of Israel” as having been blind to the law and deaf in accepting the words of the prophets. The formerly blind eyes of the people would see and act on what YHWH declared in his law and through his prophets. Their ears that had once been deaf to the exhortation of the prophets and the call to repentance would be unstopped. They would listen and heed the word of YHWH that had been declared to them through his prophets.
35:6. Masoretic Text: Then the lame one will leap like a stag, and the tongue of the speechless one will shout [joyfully], for waters will break forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert.
Septuagint: Then the lame one will leap like a deer, and clear will be the tongue of stammering ones, for water has broken forth in the wilderness, and a ravine in a parched land.
In the Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah, a form of the verb halákh (“go”) is linked to streams, and the last phrase may be rendered, “and streams will flow in the desert.”
The Septuagint reference to a “ravine” may be understood to be to a channel through which water flows.
The apparent application is to the exiles. This is the explicit interpretation found in the Targum of Isaiah, which refers to the exiles of Israel as being gathered and returning to their land like swift stags that cannot be restrained. On seeing the return of the exiles, those whose tongues had formerly been speechless would sing praises.
The people who had been ripped from the land and taken into exile would have been “lame.” They had been indecisive in their conduct, limping, as it were, with two different opinions. This was because they claimed to be YHWH’s people and yet repeatedly came to be involved in the veneration of other deities. (Compare 1 Kings 18:21.) Even when Jerusalem was destroyed as the prophets had declared beforehand, many of the survivors maintained that the miseries that had befallen them resulted from their neglect of idolatrous practices. (Jeremiah 44:16-18)
The repentant exiles would cease to be lame. They would be fully devoted to YHWH in their walk, not limping because of having been put out of joint on account of following the wrong path. As persons surefooted in their resolve to follow his ways, they could be spoken of as being like leaping stags.
Before going into exile and while in exile, the people had been speechless or mute, not praising YHWH in a manner that befitted his people. Psalm 137 depicts the exiles as weeping when they remembered Zion or Jerusalem, and it was inconceivable for them to sing one of the joyous compositions of praise that they used to sing there. With the release from exile, this would change. Their tongues would break forth joyfully with expressions of praise, acknowledging YHWH for what he had done for them. According to the rendering of the Septuagint, their expressions would not be like incomprehensible stammering but would be clear.
If, as the Targum of Isaiah indicates, the reference is to the return of the people to their land, doing so like swift stags, the rest of the verse could be understood to apply to YHWH’s providing for them along the way. The portrayal of the return would then be like a second exodus. When the Israelites left Egypt and wandered in the wilderness, YHWH did provide water for them. The words in the book of Isaiah may indicate that the people did not have to fear being without essential water during their long journey back to their land. For them and their animals, there would be water in the wilderness areas and streams in the desert.
35:7. Masoretic Text: And parched ground will become a pool, and thirsty ground springs of water. In the habitation of jackals, her [a creature’s] resting place, [there will be] grass, reed, and rush [or papyrus].
Septuagint: And the waterless [region] will be [changed] into marshes; and a spring of water will be in a parched land. In that place [will be] a rejoicing of birds, a home of reed and marshes.
The Hebrew words for “grass,” “reed,” and “rush” are collective singulars. In view of the need to supply words and because a preposition precedes the Hebrew word for “reed,” translations vary in their renderings. “Instead of reeds and rushes, grass will grow.” (REB) “The grass shall become reeds and rushes.” (NRSV) “The abode where jackals lurk will be a marsh for the reed and papyrus.” (NAB) “The lairs where the jackals used to live will become plots of reed and papyrus.” (NJB)
The Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah does not have the feminine suffix (“her”) with the expression here translated “resting place.”
The description here given suggests a transformation of the land of YHWH’s people. According to the Septuagint rendering, the former waterless region would come to have a spring, with marshes forming and reeds beginning to thrive. The region would be transformed into an ideal habitat for birds.
In times of war, armies stopped up springs and wells, felled trees, and caused widespread devastation. (Compare 2 Kings 3:25.) Upon the return of the exiles, the formerly parched land that had been submitted to the ravages of war would again have pools of water and flowing springs. The desolate area where jackals had roamed would become well-watered, with flourishing grass, reeds, and rushes or papyrus.
35:8. Masoretic Text: And a highway will be there, even a way, and the holy way it will be called, and no one unclean will pass over it, and it [will be] for them; the one walking a road and foolish ones will not wander about [there].
Septuagint: In that place [there] will be a clean way, and it will be called a holy way, and by no means will the unclean [one or thing] pass by there, nor will an unclean way be there. But the dispersed ones will go on it, and by no means will they stray.
In the Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah, the Hebrew word for “there” is repeated. Instead of “it will be called,” the scroll says, “they will call it,” and the word for “way” is not repeated (“they will call it the holy way”). The words of the Masoretic Text here rendered “and it [will be] for them” (literally, “and he [will be] for them”) are not found in the Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah. But neither Hebrew text conveys a clear meaning.
For the Septuagint rendering, “by no means” serves to preserve the emphatic sense of the two Greek words for “not.”
According to the interpretation of the Targum of Isaiah, the ones walking or “wayfarers” would not cease to be on the straight way and those who had not been instructed (“foolish ones,” Masoretic Text) would not wander from the right course.
For the exiles, the way back to the land would prove to be like a well-prepared highway. It would be a holy way, for the repentant remnant of Israel that would be leaving the regions of their exile would be “clean,” not defiled by idolatrous practices and disregard of YHWH’s commands. The Septuagint rendering represents the way itself as being clean, with no defilement attached thereto.
Those who were unclean or defiled would not be among the repentant Israelites. Possibly the reference to one walking a road is to a person with no set purpose and, therefore, not devoted exclusively to YHWH. Foolish ones would be morally corrupt persons who had rejected YHWH’s guidance and deliberately ignored his righteous ways.
As it is not possible to specifically identify the “one walking a road,” translators vary in the meanings their renderings convey. “And a highway shall appear there, which shall be called the Sacred Way. No one unclean shall pass along it, but it shall be for them. No traveler, nor even fools, shall go astray.” (Tanakh) “And a causeway will appear there; it will be called the Way of Holiness, no one unclean will pass along it; it will become a pilgrim’s way, and no fool will trespass on it.” (REB) “A good road will be there, and it will be named ‘God’s Sacred Highway.’ It will be for God’s people; no one unfit to worship God will walk on that road. And no fools can travel on that highway.” (CEV) “And through it will run a road for them and a highway which will be called the Sacred Way; the unclean will not be allowed to use it; He [“Yahweh,” footnote] will be the one to use this road, the fool will not stray along it.” (NJB) “And a highway will be there; it will be called the Way of Holiness. The unclean will not journey on it; it will be for those who walk in that Way; wicked fools will not go about on it.” (NIV)
35:9. Masoretic Text: A lion will not be there nor will any fierce beast come up on it. [It] will not be found there, and the redeemed will go [there].
Septuagint: And a lion will not be there, nor will an evil beast by any means come up on it nor will it be found there, but the redeemed ones will go on it.
In the Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah, after the reference to the “fierce beast” not coming up on it, the next phrase starts with the conjunction “and.”
In the Septuagint, the two words for “not” are here rendered “nor by any means” to preserve the emphatic sense.
Instead of referring to animals, the Targum of Isaiah says that on the way of holiness there would be no king who engages in evil practices and no ruler who is guilty of oppression.
On the way back to their land, the Jewish exiles could rest assured of YHWH’s protective care. They would not have to be in fear of possible attacks from lions or any other beasts of prey nor of falling victim to robbers. YHWH had redeemed them, liberating them from those who had made them captives and taken them into exile. With his protection and guidance, they would be able to make the journey back to their land on a safe route.
35:10. Masoretic Text: And the ransomed ones of YHWH will return and come to Zion with [joyous] shouting, and rejoicing for limitless time [will be] on their head. They will obtain exultation and rejoicing, and grief and sighing will flee away.
Septuagint: And those gathered because of the Lord will return and come to Zion with rejoicing, and eternal rejoicing [will be] above their head; for on their head [will be] praise and exultation, and rejoicing will seize them. Pain and grief and sighing have fled away.
The Targum of Isaiah mentions that a “cloud of glory” would cover their heads, suggestive of God’s presence with them (as was the case when a column of cloud and a column of fire guided the Israelites during the time they were in the wilderness).
YHWH would acknowledge the repentant ones whom he had ransomed or liberated as being his own. They would then shout for joy, making expressions of praise and lifting their voice in song. Their joy would not be temporary. It would be as if lasting joy had taken up residence on their heads, prompting expressions of praise and jubilation. While in exile, they would have experienced grief and would have groaned or sighed in view of their distressing circumstances and their having to endure the taunts of their captors, “Where is your God?” (Compare Psalm 115: 2.) Displaced by joy and gladness, grief and sighing would vanish as if having taken flight. The Septuagint rendering suggests that rejoicing would take complete possession of the repentant people.