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Isaiah 35:8-9 (NRSV)

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.

A couple of questions:

  1. What/where was the highway referred to here as "the Holy Way"?

  2. From what/where were those who walk on it, redeemed?

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The prophecy seems to be set at the advent of Christ, because it says in the prior verses:

Isaiah 35:4-6 (DRB)

Say to the fainthearted: Take courage, and fear not: behold your God will bring the revenge of recompense: God himself will come and will save you.Then shall the eyes of the blind be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped. 6 Then shall the lame man leap as a hart, and the tongue of the dumb shall be free: for waters are broken out in the desert, and streams in the wilderness

"The Way" was what Christians were known as well as "Christians."

Acts 22:4

Who persecuted this Way [Christians] unto death, binding and delivering into prisons both men and women.

Acts 24:14

But this I confess to thee, that according to the Way, which they call a heresy, so do I serve the Father and my God, believing all things which are written in the law and the prophets:

This language of following a Way is even used in an extremely early Christian catechetical work called the Didache, which speaks of "the Way of Life," and "the Way of Death:

Chapter 1. There are two ways, one of life and one of death; but a great difference between the two ways. The way of life, then, is this . . .

This way of separation from 'the world' is what makes it "holy." And because it requires holiness, and leads thereto.

Hebrews 12:14

Follow peace with all men, and holiness: without which no man shall see God.

Of course it's a "holy way" because ultimately they are following Jesus Christ as "the Way." That's why it is called holy and uses "the unclean shall not" as a parallelism/contrast. Jesus is the very Way itself, which leads to God the Father:

John 14:5-6

Thomas saith to him: Lord, we know not whither thou goest; and how can we know the way? 6 Jesus saith to him: I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No man cometh to the Father, but by me.

"...but they shall walk there that shall be delivered." That is, only those who are of the elect will persevere in this Way after which they will have reached their goal in heaven.

Revelation 21:27

There shall not enter into it any thing defiled, or that worketh abomination or maketh a lie, but they that are written in the book of life of the Lamb.

  • What did this passage mean to the people who heard it from the prophet himself? Is it reasonable to think that they thought that he was speaking of some event 600+ years in the future, of which the general public would hardly be aware at the time, under Roman occupation? In Isaiah 35:8 the Hebrew words are מסלול and דרך. To which Greek words are you correlating this in the NT? Is the correlation in the above cited verses consistent? Islam also uses "way" similarly. Perhaps this is in fact a prophecy of Islam? – Abu Munir Ibn Ibrahim Jan 4 '18 at 11:31
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    @AbuMunirIbnIbrahim Jesus's words testify to who He was-Islam has no comparison to that. What this answer doesn't include is a reference to the future of Israel, because even though the 'foolish' and 'unclean' walk there now, in the future it shall not be so. Of course, Islam "attempts" to provide an answer-but by ignoring "The" answer, it falls in the same category as the "foolish and unclean". – Tau Jan 4 '18 at 11:44
  • @Tau What did this passage mean to the people who heard it from the prophet himself 600 BCE? What did they make of it then? – Abu Munir Ibn Ibrahim Jan 4 '18 at 12:47
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    @AbuMunirIbnIbrahim The people knew the prophet was speaking of a future time, when Messiah would be revealed to them. It was a time of great trouble, when Israel was carried off(722 BC), and Judah threatened by Assyria during Hezekiah's reign. The Book of Isaiah is full of references to the future Messiah, who was a conquering King (Isa. 24:23), and as a Suffering Servant (Isa. 53:12). After prophesying great hardships for Israel, he prophesied great consolations, all of which did not occur during his lifetime. – Tau Jan 4 '18 at 23:59
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My answer would be unlike most here, in this context, because of the hermeneutic that I employ -- I approach the scriptures as a dispensationalist: a consistent literal, grammatical, historical hermeneutic. A hallmark of that hermeneutic is a distinction between Israel and the Church. Another hallmark is that God is not done with the people of Israel. There will be a time when they will receive their kingdom and God will reign with them on earth as the Old Testament prophets predicted. Some Christians refer to this as the millennial kingdom after the literal 1000 years in the book of Revelation.

As to Isa. 35 the first exegetical question to be answered is the most important. Are the descriptions here of this place meant to be taken literally? If they are to be taken literally then these circumstances have as yet not been fulfilled. Despite the fact that Jesus performed some of the miracles mentioned in verses 5 and 6 the overall context suggests a future fulfillment. This is due to the physical changes and the changes in nature of animals that are found within the larger context.

The only time period that fits all of the events are the events that are centered in the millennial kingdom, when Jesus will return to the earth to reign over a literal kingdom, that includes the return of sacrifices that will be administered by the sons of Zadok. This is based on a literal interpretation of Ezekiel 40-44 since the temple and sacrifices listed there do not correspond to any previous temple or sacrificial system. This is where the highway enters into the picture. Three times a year, adult males in Israel were required to go to Jerusalem to offer sacrifices as part of the Biblical feasts. There are even a series of Psalms that they would sing as the ascended upwards towards Jerusalem -- they are called the songs of ascent. During the millennial kingdom there will be a time when believers will once again travel to the New Jerusalem to be in the presence of God.

The second question concerns who will enter into the millennial kingdom. The hallmark of the initial days of the kingdom include the fact that only those who have been redeemed by the blood of Christ will enter into the millennial kingdom. They are those people who have been saved from their sins and have entered into a relationship with God through their faith in Jesus. The context of chapter 15 is directed at the people of Israel and they will be redeemed because they will look upon Him whom they have pierced and they will accept Jesus as their anointed one--the Messiah.

Evidence of a future fulfillment:

  1. The wilderness (the place where Israel travelled for 40 years) and the desert will blossom (Isa. 35:1-2) Even though there has been some growth on the Eastern side of the Jordan river it is still a vast desert.

  2. The Shekinah Glory of God will once again shine forth in Lebanon, Carmel, and Sharon (Isa. 35:2-3).

  3. The tribulation is called the time of Jacob's trouble (Jer. 30:7). Isa 35:3-5 refers to that time when the whole world will be against Israel and in the midst of that terrible time of judgment, Jesus will return to pour out the winepress wrath of God upon the world. In doing so He will deliver and save the people of Israel. The key to verses 3-4 is that it is a coming of the Lord that includes His wrath, therefore it is not the first coming of Christ because in that circumstance He came in meekness.

  4. That verses 5-6 refer to a future time is centered in the fact that both verse 5 and verse 6 begins with the temporal adverb אָ֥ז (at that time, then). That means the events of verses 5-6 occur at the time of the events of verses 3-4. That means that when Jesus returns there will be another series of healings that will be general of anyone who has a natural body and they have the afflictions listed.

  5. There are the physical changes in the land and in animals as well in verses 6-9. There are numerous Old Testament passages that describe the changes that will take place to the physical land of Israel as part of the millennial kingdom. One will include this road that will make tis way to Jerusalem. While some Bibles have the second reference as "the way of holiness," The phrase in the original Hebrew links the two terms. The original audience would have understood this immediately as being something like the annual journey to Jerusalem with the intent to bring holiness to the person who journeyed to Jerusalem. I would contend that it loses the thrust to spiritualize this phrase into some association with Christianity. As a Christian I have been blessed by almighty God. I don't need to claim a promise given to Israel -- it belongs to her and it will be fulfilled in His timing.

  6. Finally in verse 10 there is the return of those who return to Zion. One of the other common themes in the Old Testament is God's future plan to gather again the people of Israel in peace and Joy. Today they are gathered to the land in unbelief but by the end of the tribulation they will see a time of exceeding joy as they have been redeemed from the horrors of the tribulation.

This was just a brief exegetical examination of Isa. 35. But I would like to stress that it is possible to take the entire passage literally, and if done literally then it refers to a future as yet unfulfilled promise of the future.

How would the original audience understood this? They would have placed this into the category of the other Messianic kingdom promises. If you put yourself in the mind of an Israelite who is travelling to Jerusalem singing the songs of ascent then it would have been joyous to know a day was coming that God would care for His people Israel. It would have also reminded them that God is serious about sin and there is a call to holiness that was intended by the sacrificial system of worship.

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