Isaiah 40:3 A voice of one calling: “In the desert prepare the way for the Lord ; make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God.”
Many people tend to think of “desert” as a place of sand dunes, as indeed some deserts are. However, Japanese has two different terms that are used in places where English Bibles say “desert,” and I’m sure Hebrew has multiple terms as well, much like the Inuit have many different words for snow. The term the Japanese uses here doesn’t even specify that the land is dry, but is much closer to the “wilderness” the NIV uses in the last part of the verse. The character used in both places in the Japanese, in combination with two other characters, means “rough,” in distinct contrast to the “great level road” (highway) we are enjoined to prepare. What struck me as I read this just now is that society today could certainly be described as rough. God is saying through Isaiah that we are to prepare a road for the Lord in the middle of this very rough situation. John the Baptist claimed this verse as a description of himself, (John 1:23) but I hardly think this is limited to him. We too need to be “road builders,” regardless of the roughness of the terrain. We have various examples in history we can look to. William Wilberforce in Britain was powerful in eliminating the legal slave trade, and that was certainly a move to prepare the Lord’s highway. For a far lesser-known example, Fudeko Ishii was a Christian woman from right here in Omura who essentially started social welfare for handicapped people in Japan. Any given individual’s role might seem big or small, but the point is, we are to be preparing the Lord’s way right where we are. This is actually directly connected to the Lord’s Prayer. We aren’t just to say the words, “May Your name be acknowledged as holy. May Your rule and reign be established and Your will be done perfectly right here.” We are to pray those words, and we are also to offer ourselves as instruments for their fulfillment. We are to acknowledge God’s name as holy in all we say and do. We are to work for God’s authority to be manifested. We are to seek to do God’s will in every detail, every moment of our lives. That is preparing a highway for the Lord.
This certainly applies to me, because it applies to every believer. My younger daughter is fond of pointing out that in the two Great Commandments Jesus specified (Matthew 22:37-40) there are the two connections: vertical to God and horizontal to our neighbor. It is no accident that forms a cross. We’ve got to have a right vertical relationship with our Creator, but that cannot be maintained without a right horizontal relationship with the people around us. Getting and keeping those relationships right is another way of expressing what this verse says. I am frequently reminded that society around me is rough. I’m not simply to get angry, as I did yesterday, but rather act as God’s agent, changing things as I can and remembering that God is Lord, whatever people do. I’ve got to remember that “Man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.” (James 1:20)
Father, thank You for this reminder. Help me indeed be the highway builder You want me to be, for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!