Sunday, February 14, 2010

I-35...Isaiah's "Highway of Holiness" ?

A video was brought to my attention (with Pat Robertson from the 700 Club) discussing what some Christian evangelists have come to believe in regards to the prophecy at Isaiah 35:8 which mentions the "highway of holiness" ... thinking that it refers to the *literal* I-35 Highway in the midwest!

Which is clearly incorrect and misleading, (although on a side note, it's sort of refreshing to hear people actually get enthusiastic about God for once! lol) So anyway, I did some extra research on that prophecy in Isaiah, and the following info elaborates on the details of the *initial fulfillment* as well as the *modern-day/future fulfillment*...

Jewish exiles making the journey back to their homeland (illustration and info on pgs 26 & 27 of the 5/15/08 WA)

‘There Will Come to Be the Way of Holiness’
Jehovah foretold that his people who were in Babylonian exile would be restored to their homeland. The prophecy of restoration contained this guarantee: “There will certainly come to be a highway there, even a way; and the Way of Holiness it will be called.” (Isaiah 35:8a) These words show that Jehovah not only opened the way for the Jews to get home but assured them of his protection along the way.

“The Unclean One Will Not Pass Over It”
In 537 B.C.E., the returning Jews had to meet an important requirement. Regarding those qualified to walk on “the Way of Holiness,” Isaiah 35:8b states: “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.” Since the purpose of the Jews’ return to Jerusalem was to reestablish pure worship, there would be no place for those who had selfish motives, lacked respect for sacred things, or were spiritually unclean. The returnees needed to maintain Jehovah’s high moral standards. Those desiring God’s favor today need to meet the same requirement. They must pursue “holiness in God’s fear.” (2 Corinthians 7:1)

Photo of the Cyrus Cylinder and following info on (pg 332 of Insight on the Scriptures Vol. 2)

Exiles Return From Babylon

In 607 B.C.E. the once-prosperous land of Judah was made “a desolate waste, without an inhabitant,” as Jewish captives were led away to exile in Babylon and a remnant fled to Egypt. (Jeremiah 9:11) The God of loving-kindness, though, would not leave his people in exile forever. He foretold that they would “have to serve the king of Babylon seventy years,” after which he would deliver a faithful remnant. (Jeremiah 25:11, 12; 29:10-14) And not even the seemingly impregnable world power of Babylon could thwart God’s stated purpose. The return of the Jewish exiles demonstrates the unerring accuracy with which Jehovah’s prophecies are fulfilled.

Even before the end of the 70 years of exile, Babylon fell, in 539 B.C.E., to the invading armies of Persian King Cyrus. Then, during his first year as ruler of Babylon, Cyrus issued a decree opening the way for the Jewish exiles to return to Jerusalem. (Ezra 1:1-4) A remnant that may have numbered 200,000 (including men, women, and children) made the journey, arriving in Judah in 537 B.C.E. (Ezra 1:5–3:1; 4:1) Thus the 70 years’ desolation ended exactly on time!
Not all the exiles returned at that time, however. In 468 B.C.E., another group of returnees accompanied the priest Ezra, who brought to Jerusalem gifts for the temple. (Ezra 7:1–8:32) Then in 455 B.C.E., Nehemiah traveled from Shushan to rebuild Jerusalem’s walls. (Nehemiah 2:5, 6, 11) As to the exact route followed by the returnees, the Scriptures are silent. Some reasonable possibilities are shown on the map.

Map of possible return routes of the returning exiles back to Jerusalem - (pg 332 of Insight on the Scriptures Vol. 2)

(the following illustrations and info are taken from chapter 28, Paradise Restored, of Isaiah's Prophecy Vol. 1)

Aglow With the Spirit
The words of Isaiah chapter 35 have a ring of joy. The prophet is proclaiming a bright future for the repentant nation. (Who were punished with 70 years of exile for their earlier apostasy). Indeed, he speaks with conviction and optimism. Two centuries later, at the threshold of their restoration, exiled Jews need the same conviction and optimism. Through Isaiah, Jehovah prophetically exhorts them: “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.’”—Isaiah 35:3, 4.

The end of the long exile is a time for action. King Cyrus of Persia, the instrument of Jehovah’s vengeance against Babylon, has proclaimed that Jehovah’s worship is to be restored in Jerusalem. (2 Chronicles 36:22, 23) Thousands of Hebrew families need to get organized in order to make the hazardous trip from Babylon to Jerusalem. When they arrive there, they will have to erect adequate living facilities and prepare for the monumental task of rebuilding the temple and the city. For some Jews in Babylon, all of this may seem daunting. However, it is no time to be weak or apprehensive. The Jews are to strengthen one another and have confidence in Jehovah. He assures them that they will be saved.

(Illustration of Jewish exiles cultivating and restoring the land)

A Desolate Land Rejoices
Isaiah’s inspired prophecy of Paradise restored begins with these words: “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.”—Isaiah 35:1, 2.

Isaiah writes these words about the year 732 B.C.E. Some 125 years later, the Babylonians destroy Jerusalem and the people of Judah are sent into exile. Their homeland is left uninhabited, desolated. (2 Kings 25:8-11, 21-26) In this way Jehovah’s warning that the people of Israel would go into exile if they proved unfaithful is fulfilled. (Deuteronomy 28:15, 36, 37; 1 Kings 9:6-8) When the Hebrew nation becomes captive in a foreign land, their well-irrigated fields and orchards are left unattended for 70 years and become like a wilderness.—Isaiah 64:10; Jeremiah 4:23-27; 9:10-12.

However, Isaiah’s prophecy foretells that the land will not lie desolate forever. It will be restored to a veritable paradise. “The glory of Lebanon” and “the splendor of Carmel and of Sharon” will be given to it. How? Upon their return from exile, the Jews are again able to cultivate and irrigate their fields, and their land returns to the rich fruitfulness that it had before. For this, credit can go only to Jehovah. It is by his will and with his support and blessing that the Jews get to enjoy such paradiselike conditions. People are able to see “the glory of Jehovah, the splendor of [their] God” when they acknowledge Jehovah’s hand in the amazing transformation of their land.

Nevertheless, in the restored land of Israel, there is a more important fulfillment of Isaiah’s words. In a spiritual sense, Israel has been in a dry, desertlike state for many years. While the exiles were in Babylon, pure worship was severely restricted. There was no temple, no altar, and no organized priesthood. Daily sacrifices were suspended. Now, Isaiah prophesies a reversal. Under the leadership of such men as Zerubbabel, Ezra, and Nehemiah, representatives from all 12 tribes of Israel return to Jerusalem, rebuild the temple, and worship Jehovah freely. (Ezra 2:1, 2) This is indeed a spiritual paradise!

The Scriptures describe ancient Lebanon as a fruitful land with luxuriant forests and majestic cedars, comparable to the Garden of Eden. (Psalm 29:5; 72:16; Ezekiel 28:11-13) Sharon was known for its streams and oak forests; Carmel was famous for its vineyards, orchards, and flower-carpeted slopes.

Jehovah’s People Rejoice
Chapter 35 of Isaiah’s prophecy ends on a joyful note: “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 35:10) The captive Jews who have looked to this prophecy for comfort and hope during their exile may have wondered how its various details would be fulfilled. Likely they have not understood many aspects of the prophecy. Still, it has been crystal clear that they would “return and certainly come to Zion.”
Hence, in the year 537 B.C.E., some 50,000 men (including more than 7,000 slaves and temple singers) along with women and children make the four-month journey back to Jerusalem, with full confidence in Jehovah. (Ezra 2:64, 65) Just a few months later, Jehovah’s altar is rebuilt, setting the stage for a full reconstruction of the temple. The 200-year-old prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled. The nation’s grief and sighing while in Babylon is replaced by exultation and rejoicing in the restored land. Jehovah has fulfilled his promise. Paradise—both literal and spiritual—has been restored!

“The Way of Holiness”
Before the exiled Jews can enjoy such physical and spiritual paradisaic conditions, however, they will have to make the long and hazardous journey from Babylon to Jerusalem. Taking a direct route would mean crossing some 500 miles [800 km] of arid, inhospitable terrain.

A less-challenging route would involve traveling 1,000 miles [1,600 km]. Either journey would mean spending months exposed to the elements and in danger of meeting both wild beasts and beastlike men. Still, those who believe Isaiah’s prophecy are not overly concerned. Why?

Through Isaiah, Jehovah promises: “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. 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.” (Isaiah 35:8, 9) Jehovah has reclaimed his people! They are his “repurchased ones,” and he guarantees them safe conduct on their way home. Is there a literal paved, elevated, and fenced-in road from Babylon to Jerusalem? No, but Jehovah’s protection of his people on their journey is so sure that it is as if they were on such a highway.—Compare Psalm 91:1-16.

The Jews are also protected from spiritual dangers. The figurative highway is “the Way of Holiness.” Those who disrespect sacred things or are spiritually unclean are not qualified to travel on it. They are not wanted in the restored land. Approved ones are rightly motivated. They are not returning to Judah and Jerusalem in a spirit of national pride or in pursuit of personal interests. Spiritually-minded Jews realize that the principal reason for their return is to reestablish the pure worship of Jehovah in that land.—Ezra 1:1-3.

Jehovah Refreshes His People
It is difficult to imagine a paradise without water. The original Paradise in Eden had an abundance of water. (Genesis 2:10-14) The land given to Israel was also “a land of torrent valleys of water, springs and watery deeps issuing forth.” (Deuteronomy 8:7) Appropriately, then, Isaiah makes this refreshing promise: “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) When the Israelites again care for the land, the desolate areas where jackals once roamed will be covered with verdant, luxuriant vegetation. Dry and dusty ground will be transformed into “a swampy place” where papyrus and other aquatic reeds can grow.—Job 8:11.

More important, though, is the spiritual water of truth, which the repatriated Jews will enjoy in abundance. Jehovah will provide knowledge, encouragement, and comfort through his Word. Moreover, faithful older men and princes will be “like streams of water in a waterless country.” (Isaiah 32:1, 2) Those who promote pure worship, such as Ezra, Haggai, Jeshua, Nehemiah, Zechariah, Zerubbabel, will indeed be living testimony to the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy.—Ezra 5:1, 2; 7:6, 10; Nehemiah 12:47.

The Birth of a New Nation
Of course, in the sixth century B.C.E., the fulfillment of Isaiah chapter 35 is limited. The paradisaic conditions enjoyed by the repatriated Jews do not last. In time, false religious teachings and nationalism contaminate pure worship. Spiritually, the Jews again experience grief and sighing. Jehovah eventually rejects them as his people. (Matthew 21:43) Because of renewed disobedience, their rejoicing is not permanent. All of this points to a further, greater fulfillment of Isaiah chapter 35.

In Jehovah’s due time, another Israel, a spiritual one, came into existence. (Galatians 6:16) Jesus set the stage for the birth of this new Israel during his earthly ministry. He restored pure worship, and with his teachings, waters of truth began to flow once again. He healed the sick, both physically and spiritually. A joyful cry went forth as the good news of God’s Kingdom was proclaimed. Seven weeks after his death and resurrection, the glorified Jesus established the Christian congregation, a spiritual Israel made up of Jews and others redeemed by Jesus’ shed blood, begotten as God’s spiritual sons and brothers of Jesus, and anointed by holy spirit.—Acts 2:1-4; Romans 8:16, 17; 1 Peter 1:18, 19.

What of our day?
Does the prophecy of Isaiah have another fulfillment, a more complete one involving the Christian congregation today? Yes.
After the death of the apostles, the number of true anointed Christians greatly diminished, and false Christians, “weeds,” flourished on the world scene. (Matthew 13:36-43; Acts 20:30; 2 Peter 2:1-3) Even when during the 19th century, sincere individuals began to separate themselves from Christendom and seek pure worship, their understanding remained tainted with unscriptural teachings ... In 1919, however, things changed. Jehovah brought his people out of captivity. They began to reject the false teachings that had earlier corrupted their worship. As a result, they enjoyed a healing. They came to be in a spiritual paradise, which even today continues to spread throughout the earth. These restored Christians walk on “the Way of Holiness.” This “Way,” which leads out of Babylon the Great into a spiritual paradise, is open to all spiritually clean worshipers. (1 Peter 1:13-16) ... Disobedient ones and any who behave like rapacious wild beasts are not allowed to corrupt those on God’s highway of holiness. (1 Corinthians 5:11)

What of the future?
Will Isaiah’s prophecy ever be fulfilled in a physical way? Yes.
The miraculous healings by Jesus and his apostles in the first century demonstrated Jehovah’s desire and ability to perform such healings on a large scale in the future. The inspired Psalms speak of everlasting life in peaceful conditions on earth. (Psalm 37:9, 11, 29) Jesus promised life in Paradise. (Luke 23:43) Down to its very last book, the Bible provides hope for a literal paradise. At that time, the blind, the deaf, the lame, and the speechless will be healed physically and permanently. Grief and sighing will flee away. Rejoicing will indeed be to time indefinite, even forever.—Revelation 7:9, 16, 17; 21:3, 4.

While true Christians await the restoration of the physical earthly Paradise, even now they enjoy the blessings of the spiritual paradise. They face trials and tribulations with optimism. With unwavering confidence in Jehovah, they encourage one another, heeding the admonition: “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.’” They have complete trust in the prophetic assurance: “Look! Your own God will come with vengeance itself, God even with a repayment. He himself will come and save you people.”—Isaiah 35:3, 4.