“A voice cries: ‘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. And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken’” (Isaiah 40:3-5 NKJV).
When I mention the countries to which I regularly travel, which are Nepal and Bangladesh, a very common response is, “I would love to go to Nepal.” I am not sure I have ever been told the same about Bangladesh. Most do not explain their reasons for the desire to visit the one country, but I suspect that much of the appeal lies in the beauty of the country and the majesty of the Himalaya range of mountains. Nepal resounds with romance and exoticism and many respond to its call.
Ancient Israel and Judah possessed highlands which provided forests, secure sites for cities, and abundant stone for building. Its mountains were featured in many historic events which were treasured in the national memory. When the prophet Isaiah predicted that mountains would be leveled, it would not be surprising if his announcement was met with anger. Surely there were many who would protest, “Don’t mess with our holy hills!”
Why would Messianic blessings be associated with the destruction of some of Israel’s most desirable topography? Without claiming to know the mind of God, one might speculate that convenience and accessibility would feature prominently. As beautiful as mountains are, they hinder easy transportation. They also limit visibility, which is a key in the context of this passage. The end purpose of the leveling is that the people might truly see the glory of God (verse 5).
There is a deliberate contrast in this passage between creator and creature. Mountains are among the most spectacular of all created things, especially on the earth itself. It is true that we are encouraged to perceive God’s nature within and through the creation (Romans 1:19-20). However it is also true that material things, including the beauty of the world we live in, can be barriers to our perception of God.
We may look at the mountains and forget about the one who made them. We are awed and thrilled at their majestic beauty. We are challenged by their size and the difficulty of ascent. The mountain takes on a reality and presence that obscure the creator.
This is the basis of the Hebrew writer’s admonition:
“Let us lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:1-2).
Hindrances must be discarded and our vision of the divine must be clarified if we are to please him and complete our goals.
This is one of the great challenges of faith. We do not walk by sight, that is, by reliance on the material things of life. We walk by faith in that which we cannot see, but which is far more eternally real (2 Corinthians 5:7).
In preparation for the coming Lord, Israel was exhorted to clear the way and the view, so they could see God clearly, and so that his prophetic word could be fulfilled (verse 5). We must do the same. Mountains are beautiful, but if they hinder our path to God they must be overcome.