Isaiah the prophet ministered in Judah for about 40 years from 740 to 697 B.C., approximately 100 years before the southern kingdom of Judah fell to the Babylonians in 586 B.C. Judah’s captivity in Babylon would last for 70 years. The Book of Isaiah contains more messianic prophecies than any other book in the Tankah, and many of those prophecies specifically relate to the redemption through the Messiah of the two houses of Israel.
In the Isaiah 40 prophecy, according to rabbinic understanding, Isaiah is prophesying (in verses 3–5) concerning Israel’s deliverance from exile seventy years after her captivity (The Soncino Pentateuch, p. 777). This is not an incorrect interpretation of this prophecy, although it is not necessarily the only one, for we know, as with many of the Scripture’s ancient prophecies, there are sometimes multiple fulfillments. Because the old adage that says, “history repeats itself,” is true, and because human behavior remains unchanged from time immemorial, though the players and costumes change on history’s theatrical stage, many biblical prophetic themes have cyclical patterns. In the present case, where Isaiah speaks in verse three of “a voice crying in the wilderness,” (Isa 40:3) we know that the gospel writers applied this to John the Baptist preparing the way for the coming of Yeshua the Messiah (Matt 3:3; Mark 1:3; Luke 3:4; John 1:23). What in this prophecy did the gospel authors see as applying to Yeshua the Redeemer and Savior of Israel? First, Yeshua himself declared John the Baptist to be that messenger who would prepare the way for the Messiah that Malachi prophesied about (cp. Matt 11:10 and Mal 3:1). The messenger of Malachi 3 and 4 seems to be the same individual mentioned in Isaiah 40. Furthermore, Isaiah 40:3 speaks of preparing the way for YHVH and making a highway in the desert for Elohim. Clearly, the gospel writers recognized that Yeshua was YHVH Elohim based not only on his claims to deity, but based on the fact that Isaiah states that the Messiah, the Redeemer of Israel, would not only be YHVH Elohim, but that he was the arm of YHVH (Isa 53:1) making him a manifestation, if you will, of YHVH.
Not only did the gospel authors see John the Baptist in the Isaiah 40 prophecy (Isa 40:3–4 cp. Matt 3:3; Mark 1:3; Luke 3:4–5; John 1:23) because they recognized who Yeshua was and could see that John had fulfilled the Isaiah 40 passage, but they also likened John to Elijah the prophet who had come to prepare the way for Yeshua (Mal 3:1 cp. Matt 11:10; Mark 1:3). Additionally, we know that an end-time prophet, or prophets, will come to prepare the way for the second coming of Yeshua. This is clear from Malachi 4:5–6 where we find the prophecy concerning Elijah the prophet coming before the great and terrible day of Elohim’s wrath, which is understood to occur just prior to the coming of Messiah. This Elijah-type person, or person(s), coming in the spirit of Elijah (like John the Baptist, see Matt 17:11–13), will effect a great spiritual revival in helping to turn the hearts of the children to their spiritual fathers (Mal 4:6), and in so doing will be preparing Israel to meet their Messiah. So we can link the Isaiah 40 passage with John the Baptist and Elijah the Prophet and with an end-time generation of righteous individuals who will be fulfilling this prophecy; that is, they will be preparing the way of YHVH, exalting the valleys, lowering the mountains, and making the crooked paths straight. What do these poetic expressions mean in concrete spiritual terms?
Now let us establish one fact. This end-time Elijah-type prophet (or prophets coming in the spirit of Elijah) will make straight the crooked paths of men, thus preparing a spiritual highway in the wilderness for the Messiah (Isa 40:3–5). The righteous ways of YHVH are always straight and narrow (Matt 7:13–14), while the wicked ways of men are crooked (Jer. 17:9). Messiah is coming back to reward the righteous—those whose ways are straight—and to punish the wicked.
YHVH’s path of righteousness is always straight, never changes (or curves) and leads to eternal life, while the path of a serpent (like the tracks of a snake in the sand) is curvy and wavers between good and evil. That is why the serpent hid in the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the Garden of Eden and lured Adam and Eve away from the tree of life over to his crooked path that leads to death. Most men want to do some good, but they do not want to walk in total submission to the righteous commands of YHVH. Instead, they prefer to bend the laws of Elohim a little (or a lot!) to fit the lusts of the flesh and eyes to suit them. This is the broad and curved path that leads to destruction—not the straight line path that leads to eternal life (Matt 7:13). This is the path of secular humanism where YHVH and his straight path of righteousness as characterized by his Torah is marginalized or diminished in the minds and theologies of men, and the prideful will of man is elevated against the will of YHVH. This is the path that says that YHVH does not mean what he says in his Word—that YHVH’s Word does not stand forever, even though he says it does (Isa 40:8). We see this spirit of rebellion manifested on the part men in our day when, for example, YHVH commands man to keep the seventh-day Sabbath on the seventh day and man chooses to do so on the first day of the week, or men exchange YHVH’s biblical holy days for man-made holidays, or men cast off the constraints of the righteous walk by disregarding YHVH’s dietary laws, or men exchange many of YHVH’s other biblical truths for their own non-biblical religious doctrines and traditions.
Each of us can choose to be willing and obedient to YHVH’s Word and be blessed as a result, or choose to refuse to obey and instead rebel against YHVH only to suffer his judgment (Isa 1:19–20). For those who choose the straight and narrow path of life and adhere to the Torah (YHVH’s instructions, teachings and precepts in righteousness), Yeshua declared that they will be called the greatest in YHVH’s kingdom (Matt 5:19). For those who choose to rebel against YHVH’s Torah, YHVH Messiah will return the second time to establish his millennial kingdom and with a strong hand and arm he shall rule and he will reward men according to their obedience to his Word that stands forever (Isa 40:8 and 10). The Book of Revelation speaks of Yeshua ruling on this earth as King of kings with a rod (staff or a kingly scepter) of iron (Rev 2:27; 17:14; 19:15–16). Those who refuse to keep the biblical Feast of Tabernacles, for example, during the millennial reign of King Yeshua will be starved into submission as Yeshua with his sovereign rod of iron rule upon the earth (Zech 14:16–19). This is the strong arm by which Messiah will rule that Isaiah refers to (Isa 40:10).
In the remainder of Isaiah 40, the prophet makes a strong case that it is futile for men to match wills with the Creator of the universe before whom the nations are mere vanity (or nothingness, verse 17) and men are mere grasshoppers (verse 22). Furthermore, all religious activities of all men on the whole earth, other than obedience to YHVH and adherence to his unchanging Word, are meaningless and absurd (verses 19–20).
What then is the point of this discussion? It is this: Only by complete submission and obedience to the unchanging Torah-Word of YHVH as revealed in the Scriptures will men be walking in the straight and narrow path. Only then will we be preparing the way in the spiritual wilderness that surrounds us for the Messiah to come again. Many in our day are called to be spiritual Elijahs and John the Baptists crying in the wilderness urging all to turn their hearts back to the ancient paths, back to the biblical Hebraic roots of our faith, and back to our spiritual fathers—the patriarchs, prophets and apostles. Someone has been given the difficult task of pulling down the religious strongholds that run counter to the “Word [Torah] of our Elohim [that] shall stand forever,” and to prepare a straight and flat path for the return of Yeshua the Messiah. Are you part of that Elijah generation, and if so, what are you doing to prepare the way for Messiah?