A voice of one calling: “In the desert prepare the way for the LORD; make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God.” (Isaiah 40:3 NIV[i])
A voice of one calling in the desert, “Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.” (Luke 3:4)
I have read these verses many times, but for some reason I didn’t realize that in Isaiah this verse says: A voice of one calling, “IN THE DESERT prepare the way for the Lord.” However, in Luke it says: A voice of one calling IN THE DESERT, “Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.”
Both speak life to us, don’t they? John the Baptist was a voice calling in the desert to prepare the way for the coming Messiah, but also, it is in the desert or wilderness places of our lives where the “way” is prepared. The Israelites were tested there:
“Remember how the LORD your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years, to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands” (Deut. 8:2)
Even Jesus, The Way, was tested in the desert.
“At once the Spirit sent him out into the desert, and he was in the desert for forty days, being tempted by Satan” (Mark 1:12)
For us, the desert is also the place where we learn to lean on the Beloved:
“Who is this coming up from the desert leaning on her lover?” (Song of Songs 8:5)
But note, in Isaiah 40:3 there are two things happening: a way is being prepared or cleared, but also a highway is being built. The word “way” is the Hebrew word derek (דְּרָכַ֫יִם) which means a way, road, or path that is trodden – a journey, manner, habit, or course of life. It’s like a deer-path in the woods that is made because they get in the habit of walking that way. The “way” is prepared or cleared away like a path through the underbrush of our lives. And how is the way prepared?
“He who sacrifices thank-offerings honors me, and he prepares the way so that I may show him the salvation of God.” (Psalm 50:23)
Thanking God is hard in the desert places, when everything looks so hopeless and we want to despair! But that is where the way is prepared for salvation. That is where we chop through the thorny vines and bitter roots of grumbling, fear, unforgiveness, faithlessness, and hopelessness that trip us up, and offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving. It is a sacrifice. It involves a death of self.
As we learn to praise Him no matter what – to make thanksgiving a habit, a way of life – those places of hopelessness and despair are changed into places of blessing.
“Blessed are those who dwell in your house; they are ever praising you. Selah. Blessed are those whose strength is in you, who have set their hearts on pilgrimage (or, in whose hearts are the highways – NASB). As they pass through the Valley of Baca (weeping, affliction), they make it a place of springs; the autumn rains also cover it with pools” (Psalm 84:4-6)
Or as The Message says “And how blessed all those in whom you live, whose lives become roads you travel.” The word translated “pilgrimage, “roads,” or “highway” here and in Isaiah 40:3 is the Hebrew word m@cillah (מְסִלָּה), which means highway, raised way, public road. It’s a public road; it’s not just for us, but for others as well. Our lives can become a place of blessing, a highway where God shows up.
Thank you Lord that there is a highway that runs through my heart, and that you travel on it with me, no matter what. I will prepare the way for you and your salvation. I will offer up thank offerings in the desert place. I will set my heart on pilgrimage and build up your highway. Teach me how to lean on you as we walk, that this place of weeping and affliction can become a place of Salvation and Life.
“See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland.” (Isaiah 43:19)
“The highway to Your city runs through my heart” – Ted Sandquist
[i] All Bible verses from the New International Version unless noted