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. (Isa. 35:8-10)
Again, while Isaiah is looking for a very physical return from exile as the work of God, we can rightly see them fulfilled more completely in Jesus. After all, in Luke 7:22 Jesus himself quotes the preceding verses as the evidence that he is indeed the one who is to come –
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. (Isa. 35:5,6)
So what is the exile from which we are to return? It’s a big question, touching on the whole idea of what we mean by ‘salvation’ – perhaps it’s best seen as our whole state of being apart from God, in fear, guilt, shame and meaninglessness.
And the return isn’t meant to be hard – the road which Isaiah sees stretching ahead is a wide and safe one, from which even the foolish won’t wander off. No-one is forced to take that road. But whenever we make it hard, or install gates and turnstiles to make sure that only the right people get through, we’ve missed something of the joy of Isaiah’s vision – and of Jesus’ fulfillment of it.