‘The desert and the parched land will be glad; the wilderness will rejoice and blossom. Like the crocus, it will burst into bloom. . . .” Isaiah 35:1-2a
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s iconic sleuth once quipped: “Our highest assurance of the goodness of Providence seems to me to rest in the flowers. All other things, our powers, our desires, our food, are really necessary for our existence in the first instance. But this rose is an extra. Its smell and its colour are an embellishment of life, not a condition of it. It is only goodness which gives extras, and so I say again that we have much to hope from the flowers.”
Sherlock Holmes may have been clueless in his theology, but I think he was on the right track when he connected hope with flowers. Flowers have the almost unfailing ability to encourage an ailing patient in a hospital room, or to cheer up a discouraged soul. They are received with great appreciation by a girlfriend or a wife, at least when given at the appropriate time. They brighten up a room, and when planted thoughtfully and cared for lovingly they make any landscape look truly beautiful.
Seen from a distance, flowers impress; seen up close, they are truly magnificent in their beauty. The colours are exquisite. The scents are lovely. The craftsmanship that the Lord has utilized in designing flowers is something wonderful to behold. What a gift for us to enjoy! I could go on and on – after all, I used to sell flowers for a living, and growing them has long been a proud part of the Alkema family tradition.
In Isaiah 35:1-2 the Holy Spirit utilizes the imagery of flowers in a very powerful way. The previous chapter described God’s righteous judgment poured out in a day of vengeance and a year of retribution, with devastating effect. The land of Edom, which had been bountiful and rich, was transformed into a place of desolation. God’s wrath had made it a dry and hot wilderness, inhabited by desert owls, jackals, hyenas, wild goats, and birds of prey. It is a dreadful image of stark barrenness.
And yet verse one tells us that the desert and the parched land will be glad! How is this possible? Life in the desert struggles to survive, eking out an existence. How can it rejoice? Isaiah prophesies that this land will be radically transformed: “The wilderness will rejoice and blossom.” Where once there was gloom and despair, now there will be a new creation. The land will be dramatically altered, and a new and wonderful existence will be created. The waters of life will come, and beauty will once again be seen and experienced by all who live there.
“Like the crocus,” says Isaiah, “it will burst into bloom.” In the original language the sense is that of abundant and profuse blooming. There will be new colour, new beauty, new hope everywhere! The picture painted here by Isaiah is of a radical transformation from God’s wrath to his love, from devastation to peace and great blessing.
These are words of incredible hope for God’s people. Who could ever expect a desert to be transformed in such a fashion? Only God has the power to effect such change. Our sin is what transforms life into a barren and harsh existence. We are powerless to do anything about it. But the Lord restores his people and gives them joy in the renewal of life. That’s what Isaiah is prophesying about. In Jesus Christ we find the assurance of God’s powerful work for us and in us. Apart from him there is the emptiness of the wilderness. But in him there is new life: the beauty and the wonder of living in a relationship of love with the Lord.
The Apostle Paul would later write to the Ephesians that we are God’s workmanship. What a picture! We are a work of art and we may blossom in him. Where once there was hardness of heart, and a bitter existence, now there can be the beauty of serving the Lord and more and more resembling him in our lives.
The next time you see a flower, take a moment to really admire the beauty, the elegance, and the stunning workmanship that the Lord has created. We have much to hope from the flowers.
Rev. H. Alkema, minister of the Free Reformed Churches of Australia, in Albany, Western Australia, formerly minister at Canadian Reformed Church in Houston, B.C.
Excerpt from Clarion, The Canadian Reformed magazine, Volume 60, No. 14, p. 334 July 1, 2011