Translation commentary on Isaiah 35:5

Verse 4 says God is coming to rescue his people; verses 5-6a introduce the results of this event. They mention four distinct results: his healing of the blind, the deaf, the lame, and the dumb. It is not clear whether the prophet is using figurative language, or whether he is describing people who are actually physically impaired, and who will find physical healing. In verses 5-10 he is describing an idyllic world, in which even deserts become lush, fertile, and well traveled. Since it is not possible to be sure that this is metaphor, we recommend a fairly literal translation here.

Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened is the first example of what Yahweh will do by way of rescue. The blind will see (compare 29.18; 42.7, 16, 18-19). The Hebrew particle rendered Then introduces this as a result. The verb rendered shall be opened is used specifically for opening a person’s eyes in Hebrew. This line may be translated “Then blind people will be made [able] to see.”

And the ears of the deaf unstopped: God will also make it possible for the deaf to hear (compare 29.18; 42.18-19). This line uses the figure of a blockage that prevents a person from hearing. The Hebrew verb rendered unstopped is often used of opening a door or some similar object. This line may be translated “and deaf people will be made [able] to hear.”

Some languages will need to include an object for the verbs of seeing and hearing, such as “things” for seeing and “words” for hearing (see the third example below). If passive verbs cannot be used here, it is possible to use active verb forms with God as the subject (see the fourth example below).

The Hebrew words for opened and unstopped have a sound rhythm since they are tippaqachnah and tippathachnah respectively. This rhetorical feature will be rather difficult to express in other languages. Like the last two lines of verse 3, the Hebrew syntax has the following chiasmus: verb > noun phrase > < noun phrase < verb. It reads literally “Then will be opened the eyes of the blind and the ears of the deaf will be unstopped.” Translation examples for this verse are:
• Then the blind will be made to see,
and the deaf be made to hear.

• Then blind people will be able to see
and deaf people to hear.

• Then the eyes of blind people will see things,
and the ears of deaf people will hear what people say.

• Then God will open the eyes of blind people,
and make deaf people to hear.

Quoted with permission from Ogden, Graham S. and Sterk, Jan. A Handbook on Isaiah. (UBS Helps for Translators). New York: UBS, 2011. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .