That’s the feeling I have as I walk a trail along a stream in a state park. It’s not just the occasional harsh alarm call from a bird or the scolding of a squirrel that makes me feel this way. The whole forest seems to be holding its breath, waiting for me to pass.
It’s clear I don’t belong here.
I wish I did, though. There is such beauty, as the rising sun filters through the canopy, highlighting portions of the stream. It also illuminates some mountain laurel close to me. I wish the animals didn’t see me as a threat, a trespasser, an interloper. I can imagine them thinking, from their dark, safe holes: Who said you could come here?
As I consider the last few verses of Isaiah 35, I see another path I shouldn’t be on.
And a highway will be there;
it will be called the Way of Holiness;
it will be for those who walk on that Way.
The unclean will not journey on it;
wicked fools will not go about on it. (vs 8)
Knowing what I know about my capability for wicked foolishness (which is just a fraction of what the Lord knows!), I should never expect to find my feet on the Way of Holiness. Or, at least, the “highway” would be more like the arduous tracks of the Pennsylvania mountains, which have more rocks than dirt underfoot.
The perceptive hearers of Isaiah’s message would have had the same response that I do. Who could possibly walk the Way of Holiness?
Isaiah provides the answer.
…But only the redeemed will walk there,
10 and those the Lord has rescued will return.
They will enter Zion with singing;
everlasting joy will crown their heads.
Gladness and joy will overtake them,
and sorrow and sighing will flee away. (vs. 9d-10)
The solution to this riddle is grace. This is the first of the many appearances of the word redeemed in Isaiah. My commentator tells me that the Lord “identifies with (his people) as their Next-of-Kin, taking their needs as if his own, the Mighty in the place of the helpless, paying their price.” (Motyer).
It is Jesus’s work on my behalf that allows me to be on that highway. Though I know I don’t belong there, he tells me I do. I can take his place.
The sun on the upturned leaves of a rhododendron make them look like hands held up in praise. It reminds me of the final destination of this Exodus Isaiah speaks of. We head to the kingdom God has prepared for us – a city of “everlasting joy,” where the brightness will banish the shadows.
That joy will flow from the wonder of knowing that the home where we belong is the place we didn’t deserve.
Gracious Father, there is so much in this world that makes us long for a home where we can belong. A taste of beauty does. As does sorrow and sighing. We praise you for your redemptive work through Jesus – opening the highway for us to be with you forever.
Reader: What in nature reminds you of our promised eternal home?