Where are you heading?
‘A highway shall be there, and a road; and it shall be called the highway of holiness. The unclean shall not pass over it, but it shall be for others. Whoever walks the road, although a fool, shall not go astray. No lion shall be there, nor shall any ravenous beast go up on it; it shall not be found there. But the redeemed shall walk there; and the ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion with singing, with everlasting joy on their heads. They shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away’ (Isaiah 35:8-10).
Where are you heading? Isaiah 35 speaks of a highway. When you see a highway, it is natural to ask, ‘Where does it go?’ Another good question to ask is, ‘Who is on it?’ We occasionally drive through Toronto in the middle of the night: we are amazed at the volume of traffic, and ask, ‘Where are all these people going?’
The context of Isaiah 35 is the Assyrian invasion. Assyria was the superpower of the day who had conquered one kingdom after another. Even the northern kingdom of Israel had succumbed. Judah was now threatened and seemed to have little chance of victory.
The nation would in fact be conquered, not at that time, but later by the Babylonians. As hopeless as the situation seemed, this prophecy brought encouragement, especially through a number of pictures, such as the desert blossoming and the healing of the sick. These beautiful pictures speak of the changes that come in the lives of those who experience God’s grace.
Let us look more closely at one picture in particular, noticing several things about the highway.
It is a well-prepared (v.8). Every nation has its roads, but in poor countries they may just be dirt roads with little preparation or maintenance. In heavy rain they are washed out and become almost impassible.
The word ‘highway’ is what it says – a high way, a raised up road that is specially constructed and will not be washed out. Our highway is prepared by the Lord himself for his people to travel on. We don’t choose our own route, but God shows us the way we should go.
It is a holy (v.8). This way is called ‘the way of holiness’. That is not just a name on a street sign, but it describes the character of the road and those who travel on it. There is no alternative route – ‘Without holiness no one will see the Lord’ (Hebrews 12:14). We are not saved by holiness, but neither are we saved without it. Holy living is the necessary evidence in the lives of those who truly know the Lord.
It is restricted (v.8). In Canada in the spring, when the frost is coming out of the ground, some roads are restricted to vehicles under a certain weight, in order to reduce wear on the surface. Some highway lanes are restricted to buses or vehicles with two or more passengers. This highway Isaiah speaks of is restricted to God’s people. The unclean are excluded.
In the Old Testament, Israelites were sometimes excluded from worship if they were ceremonially unclean, perhaps through touching a dead body. But the uncleanness here is moral uncleanness. It is another way of saying that those whose lives are not holy cannot walk on this road. You may profess to be a Christian, but if your life does not match your profession you will not find yourself on this highway.
Fools also have no place here. Many times in the Old Testament, wisdom and foolishness are not a matter of the intellect but of the heart. A fool is one who has never seen that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.
It is safe (v.9). There will be no lions or ferocious beasts there. The devil is sometimes likened to a lion (1 Peter 5:8). Isaiah is not saying there will be no dangers in the Christian life, but that spiritually God’s people are safe. John Bunyan in Pilgrim’s progress portrayed it well.
As Christian arrived late at the Palace Beautiful he was confronted by lions on either side of the path. Naturally he was scared. However the porter came out from the palace and told him not to be afraid because the lions were chained.
As long as he kept in the middle of the path he would be safe. We may suffer all kinds of hardships and persecution, but nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ (Romans 8:39).
It is a highway of redemption (vv.9,10). If our trust is in Jesus Christ, we are the redeemed of the Lord – his ransomed people. Christ has set us free from sin’s guilt and power by his own precious blood. No one else walks this highway – only Christians, those redeemed by the blood of the Lamb. Are you one of them?
We may with the best of intentions walk a path we think will lead to heaven, but neither our sincerity nor good works will bring us to the desired destination. It is only Christ’s redeeming work that will put us on the right road.
It is joyful (v.10). The route resounds with the songs of pilgrims. When we think of our salvation and especially of our Saviour, shouldn’t it generate joy and singing?
Often we seem to find more pleasure in earthly things than in the things of God. We can get more excited by our team winning their match than we do in considering that our sins are forgiven. Shame on us! We need to fix our eyes on Jesus. We should be joyful because of our salvation, but also because of our destination.
It has a destination (v.10). We are heading to Zion. Every male Jew was expected to go to Jerusalem (Zion), three times a year for the main feasts. We have no earthly Zion to travel to, but a far better place – the heavenly Jerusalem. That is our destination as individuals and churches.
Pilgrims travelling to Israel liked to travel together for safety because of robbers, and as we travel towards the promised land we need to be together as God’s people. We need to maintain love and unity; we need each other. We shouldn’t neglect to meet together and pray together.
Whatever trials we face in this life we can encourage one another. We can especially encourage each other with the prospect of arriving at the Celestial City where we shall see Jesus face to face and be with him for ever.
Are you on this highway? Have you begun this pilgrimage? If not, you need to come to the Lord, confess your sins and seek his forgiveness and salvation. Then remain steadfast as you journey towards Zion.