Formations 07.30.2023: The Desert Will Bloom

Isaiah 35

I heard someone make a troubling observation a while ago about the record-setting temperatures that are currently besetting not only parts of the United States but also parts of Europe and Asia. Headlines around the world this July say things like, “Hottest Temperature Recorded in XYZ City.” I heard someone insist that the headlines are all wrong. Instead, they should all read, “Hottest Temperature Recorded…So Far.”

Frankly, it’s hard to argue with that observation. We have passed the point where anyone can credibly assert that the planet’s climate is not changing. Whatever we may believe about what can and should be done about it, the majority of Americans believe that human activity is a contributing factor to this ecological catastrophe, and that we’ve got to do something.

In the ancient world, people believed that the wellbeing of their land was tied to the morality of the people and their leaders. King David’s hubris led to pestilence and famine. King Ahab’s idolatry led to a devastating drought. It shouldn’t surprise us that the prophet Isaiah shared the same assumptions. Judah was suffering ecological crisis, and in his eyes the people’s sin was (at least partly) to blame. In the last book of the Bible is a depiction of heavenly beings exulting in God’s victory over evil. In part, they sing, “But your wrath has come, and the time for judging the dead, for rewarding your servants, …and for destroying those who destroy the earth” (Rev 11:18).

Hubris, idolatry, greed, and exploitation ruin everything. Humans in their shortsightedness may “destroy” the earth, but God intends to redeem it.

As Isaiah of Jerusalem approaches the end of his message to sinful Judah, he paints a picture of God’s victorious future. Desolation and despair are not God’s final words. Where previously the prophet described God’s redemption as a great feast (ch. 26), here in chapter 35 he casts a vision of all creation renewed: the blind and deaf will see and hear, and ravenous beasts will no longer pose a danger. The desert, Isaiah says, will bloom. The wilderness and the dry land will rejoice. “The burning sand shall become a pool and the thirsty ground springs of water; the haunt of jackals shall become a swamp; the grass shall become reeds and rushes” (v. 7).

God isn’t satisfied with simply redeeming people. God intends to redeem the entire world.


• In our often jaded and cynical world, how shall we approach these visions of future redemption?
• Are we meant to take these images literally, or do they describe something else?
• How can these images instill hope or inspire greater faithfulness?
• Where do you go to renew your hope for the world?
• How can you encourage others that God’s redemption is coming?

Darrell Pursiful is the editor of Formations. He is an adjunct professor at Mercer University and an active member of the First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon, Georgia.


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