Every Valley Shall Be Made Straight

If you listened to the recitative in yesterday’s post, “Comfort Ye My People,” then you will instantly recognize today’s passage.

God’s people would have a rough road ahead of them when they returned to rebuild Jerusalem and the temple. (Their story is available in the postexilic books of Ezra and Nehemiah.) Rugged hills and valleys extend to this day from Jerusalem all the way down the Jordan Valley. In fact, starting from Jericho, it is fifteen miles of a steady rise in elevation, of about three thousand feet. That is the context for these next two verses:

A voice cries out:
“In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord;
    make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be lifted up,
    and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
    and the rough places a plain.

40:3-4 (NRSV)

The King is coming!

The picture here is of an ambassador coming months ahead of time to order the repairing of the roads and the removal of all obstacles in preparation for the king’s visit, along with all his retinue. God was coming to God’s people, but they were not yet ready.

Accademia – St John the Baptist by Titian Cat314 | By Didier Descouens – Own work, Public Domain

Expositors have come to find at least four meanings in Isaiah’s imagery.

Fourfold Significance of Isaiah’s Simile

Near-Term Prophecy

God would

  • Prepare the way back to Judah seventy years after their exile by causing king Cyrus to favor them.
  • Provide leadership through the governor Nehemiah and the prophet Ezra.
  • Produce the necessary resources through access to Persia’s royal coffers.
  • Protect the people on their journey back to Judah, carrying so much treasure.

Far-Term Prophecy

John the Baptist, the forerunner to Jesus, would help people to prepare for the coming Messiah by calling them to repentance and symbolically baptizing them with water. In this way, the people would be readying themselves for Messiah’s baptism with the Holy Spirit—Whom the Baptist called “fire.”

“I baptize you with water for repentance, but the one who is coming after me is more powerful than I, and I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.

Matthew 3:11 (NRSV, emphasis mine)

This was in itself a prophetic word of the Spirit’s empowerment, just a few years later.

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.

Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them.

All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

Acts 2:1-4 (NRSV, emphases mine)

John the Baptist carried out his ministry in the same Judean wilderness that Isaiah described here, and quoted the prophet in his description of himself.

He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ ” as the prophet Isaiah said.

John 1:23 (NRSV)

The other Gospel writers also noted a direct connection between John the Baptist’s ministry and Isaiah’s far-term prophecy.

As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,

“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
    who will prepare your way,
the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
    ‘Prepare the way of the Lord;
    make his paths straight,’ ”

so John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

Mark 1:2-4 (NRSV) Note also Matthew and Luke
San Giacomo dall’Orio (Venice) – La predicazione del Battista (1570) – Francesco Bassano | By Didier Descouens – Own work, Public Domain

Even Farther-Term Prophecy

Jesus will one day prepare the way for His rule in Jerusalem when He returns, as described in the Book of Revelation.

That Great and Glorious Day

After the day of judgment, God will lead the people of God in the way to the New Heaven and Earth in eternity.

Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
    and all flesh shall see it together,
    for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

Isaiah 40:4 (NRSV, emphasis mine)

When God comes, God’s glory will be revealed to the whole world.

The Glory of God

Pillar of Fire and Cloud

During the Exodus, God’s people saw God’s glory in the pillar of cloud and fire, God’s Shekinah, God’s radiance. This is the glory God allowed Moses to see, and which caused Moses’s face to glow after he had spent time with the Lord. Later, when the tabernacle was built, God caused God’s glory to fill and surround the tent of meeting with brilliance. God did the same again when Solomon dedicated the temple.


The gospels describe the Lord Jesus as God come in the form of a man to live among His people. Jesus Himself said “When you see me, you have seen the Father.”  Later the writer of the book of Hebrews described Jesus as the radiance of God’s glory, the exact representation of God’s being. The disciples saw something of this when Jesus was transfigured, the glory of God emanating from within Him. This was Jesus’ prayer the night before His crucifixion, that His own would see His glory.


Those who have been born anew from above, who have received Jesus in faith, are also an expression of God’s glory, making God made visible to others. Paul used the imagery of Moses’s fading glory as contrasted with the inner, increasing glow of every believer who moves from faith to faith, from glory to glory as they grow to be more like the Lord.

God’s Eternal Glory

In his Revelation, John described God’s unending glory in heaven where even the sun would seem dim in comparison. In eternity to come, God’s glory will be all that is needed to fill heaven and earth with light.

God’s Continuing Revelation of Glory

Isaiah’s near-term prophecy pointed to all the surrounding nations seeing God’s glory in deliverance of God’s people from Babylon. Later there would be a greater fulfillment of this prophecy when Jesus would rise from the dead and His visible presence would spread all over the earth through the Gospel.

Another even more literal fulfillment will come with the Lord Jesus’s return to earth.

For the Lord himself, with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call and with the sound of God’s trumpet, will descend from heaven.

1 Thessalonians 4:16 (NRSV)

How could the ancient Jews, and how can you and I today, count on this really happening? For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.

God’s provision strengthens God’s people to repent

The Israelites Led by the Pillar of Fire by Night
William West (b.c.1793–1861)
Nottingham City Museums & Galleries

God will accomplish God’s purpose. The Lord had already proven the trustworthiness of God’s pronouncements through the prophecies that had already been fulfilled. So would this promise be fulfilled. In this, we see God’s grace to all people, increasingly revealing the very nature of God to all.

God’s Common Grace

Grace flows from God’s love. Since God is love, God’s grace flows from God’s love. It is simply God’s nature to love. In a very real sense, this is the glory of God. And because this is so, because God is love, Jesus explained that the Father cares for all people alike.

I say to you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven, for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.

Matthew 5:44-45 (NRSV, emphases mine)

God blesses the whole earth, and sustains all life by God’s common grace to all people.

It is because of God’s love for all people, God’s desire that no one should perish, that Jesus came, that His invitation was for everyone, that He never turns anyone away. The gospel is for all people everywhere, an open invitation from the Lord to come to Him.

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