Unlike the exodus when all of the children of Israel were delivered from slavery, captivity was a means of separating out those who wanted a different way of life from those who were content with a lifestyle of sin. When the Israelites went into captivity, God had not yet fulfilled his promise to provide a Messiah or Savior for his people. Only those who returned to the Promised Land at the end of their captivity experienced the fulfillment of God’s promise.
Isaiah encouraged God’s people to not give up on God’s promise by describing the scene of their return as a desert that blossoms like a rose (Isaiah 35:1). The real incentive for return was the hope of a transformed life. Isaiah depicted the Messiah’s ministry as a miraculous intervention in the lives of desperate people. He said:
Behold, your God will come with vengeance, even God with a recompence, he will come and save you. Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped. Then shall the lame man leap as a hart, and the tongue of the dumb sing: for in the wilderness shall waters break out, and streams in the desert. (Isaiah 35:4-6)
Isaiah compared God’s offer of salvation to a well-known and well-traveled road (Isaiah 35:8). The children of Israel were well aware of the LORD’s promise of a Messiah. The trouble with God’s people was they didn’t want to give up their sin. Isaiah referred to salvation as “The way of holiness” (Isaiah 35:8). What he meant by that was there would be a process of salvation available that would result in a transformed life, but only for those who chose to return from captivity (Isaiah 35:9-10).
At the heart of Isaiah’s message about returning to Zion after captivity was the concept of a consecrated life. Many of Israel’s leaders were poor examples of being set apart for God’s work. What Isaiah wanted the people to understand was that it was possible to live a life for God and be happy, in spite of negative circumstances. Isaiah spoke of being ransomed (Isaiah 35:10), which meant some intervening or substitutionary action would effect a release from an undesirable condition (6299). The undesirable condition of God’s people was punishment for their sin. Those who were redeemed would escape punishment and be set free from the power of death (Isaiah 25:8).