Isaiah 40:4
Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain:
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(4) Every valley shall be exalted.—The figure is drawn from the titanic engineering operations of the kingly road-makers of the East, but the parable is hardly veiled. The meek exalted, the proud brought low, wrong ways set right, rough natures smoothed: that is the true preparation for the coming of the Lord, and therefore the true work of every follower of the Baptist in preparing the way. (Comp. Matthew 3:5-7; Luke 3:3-9.)

40:1-11 All human life is a warfare; the Christian life is the most so; but the struggle will not last always. Troubles are removed in love, when sin is pardoned. In the great atonement of the death of Christ, the mercy of God is exercised to the glory of his justice. In Christ, and his sufferings, true penitents receive of the Lord's hand double for all their sins; for the satisfaction Christ made by his death was of infinite value. The prophet had some reference to the return of the Jews from Babylon. But this is a small event, compared with that pointed out by the Holy Ghost in the New Testament, when John the Baptist proclaimed the approach of Christ. When eastern princes marched through desert countries, ways were prepared for them, and hinderances removed. And may the Lord prepare our hearts by the teaching of his word and the convictions of his Spirit, that high and proud thoughts may be brought down, good desires planted, crooked and rugged tempers made straight and softened, and every hinderance removed, that we may be ready for his will on earth, and prepared for his heavenly kingdom. What are all that belongs to fallen man, or all that he does, but as the grass and the flower thereof! And what will all the titles and possessions of a dying sinner avail, when they leave him under condemnation! The word of the Lord can do that for us, which all flesh cannot. The glad tidings of the coming of Christ were to be sent forth to the ends of the earth. Satan is the strong man armed; but our Lord Jesus is stronger; and he shall proceed, and do all that he purposes. Christ is the good Shepherd; he shows tender care for young converts, weak believers, and those of a sorrowful spirit. By his word he requires no more service, and by his providence he inflicts no more trouble, than he will strengthen them for. May we know our Shepherd's voice, and follow him, proving ourselves his sheep.Every valley shall be exalted - That is, every valley, or low piece of ground, shall be filled up so as to make a level highway, as was done in order to facilitate the march of armies. This verse is evidently designed to explain what is intended in Isaiah 40:3, by preparing the way for Yahweh. Applied to the return of the Jews from Babylon, it means simply that the impassable valleys were to be filled up so as to make a level road for their journey. If applied to the work of John, the forerunner of the Messiah, it means that the nation was to be called on to put itself in a state of preparation for his coming, and for the success of his labors among them. Vitringa, and others, have endeavored to specify what particular moral qualities in the nation are meant by the 'valley,' by the 'mountain and hill,' and by the 'crooked' and 'rough places.' But the illustrations are such as cannot be demonstrated to be referred to by the prophet. The general sense is plain. The language, as we have seen, is taken from the march of a monarch at the head of his army. The general idea is, that all obstructions were to be removed, so that the march would be without embarrassment. As applicable to the work of John also, the language means in general, that whatever there was in the opinions, habits, conduct, in the pride, self-confidence, and irreligion of the nation that would prevent his cordial reception, was to be removed.

Every mountain and hill - They shall be dug down so as to make the journey easy. All obstructions were to be removed.

And the crooked - The word used here, (עקב ‛âqob) is usually rendered 'crooked;' but perhaps not by any good authority. The verb עקב ‛âqab usually denotes to be behind; to come from behind; or, as Gesenius supposes, to be elevated like a mound, arched like a hill or tumulus, and is hence applied to the heel from the figure (see Genesis 25:26; Hosea 12:4). According to this, the word would denote properly a hill, mound, or acclivity, which would put back those who attempted to ascend.

Shall be made straight - Margin, 'A straight place.' The Hebrew word (מישׁור mı̂yshôr) denotes properly "evenness," a level region, a plain. The hilly places would be reduced to a level.

And the rough places - Those which are hard, bound up, stony, difficult to pass. Such as abounded with rocks and precipices, and which presented obstructions to a journey. Such places abounded in the region lying between Palestine and Babylon.

Plain - Margin, 'A plain place.' A smooth, level plain.

4. Eastern monarchs send heralds before them in a journey to clear away obstacles, make causeways over valleys, and level hills. So John's duty was to bring back the people to obedience to the law and to remove all self-confidence, pride in national privileges, hypocrisy, and irreligion, so that they should be ready for His coming (Mal 4:6; Lu 1:17).


This is only a more particular explication of that which was generally expressed Isaiah 40:3. The sense is, All obstructions shall be removed, and the way made in all respects convenient and easy for the passenger. Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low,.... Which is not to be understood literally, but, as Kimchi says, parabolically and mystically: the meaning is, that in consequence of John's ministry, and our Lord's coming, such who were depressed and bowed down with the guilt of sin, and were low and humble in their own eyes, should be raised up and comforted; and that such who were elated with themselves, and their own righteousness, should be humbled; their pride and haughtiness should be brought down, and they treated with neglect and contempt, while great notice was taken of lowly minded ones; see Luke 14:11 and Luke 18:14,

and the crooked shall be straight and the rough places plain; what before was dark and intricate in prophecy should now become clear; and such doctrines as were not so well understood should now become plain and easy.

Every valley shall be exalted, and every {g} mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain:

(g) Whatever may prevent or hinder this deliverance will be removed.

4. and the crooked … plain] More literally: and the uneven shall become a plain, and the rugged places a valley. rough places is a word of somewhat uncertain sense, which does not occur elsewhere. straight and plain are nouns in the original.Verse 4. - Every valley shall be exalted, etc.; rather, let every valley be exalted. The prophets are to see that the poor and lowly are raised up; the proud and self-righteous depressed; the crooked and dishonest induced to change their ways for those of simplicity and integrity; the rude, rough, and harsh rendered courteous and mild. "In general, the meaning is that Israel is to [be made] take care that the God who is coming to deliver it shall find it in such an inward and outward state as befits his... purpose" (Delitzsch, 'Comment. on Isaiah,' vol. 2. p. 142). The consequences of this coqueting with the children of the stranger, and this vain display, are pointed out in Isaiah 39:3-8 : "Then came Isaiah the prophet to king Hizkiyahu, and said to him, What have these men said, and whence come they to thee? Hizkiyahu said, They came to me from a far country (K. omits to me), out of Babel. He said further, What have they seen in thy house? Hizkiyahu said, All that is in my house have they seen: there was nothing in my treasures that I had not shown them. Then Isaiah said to Hizkiyahu, Hear the word of Jehovah of hosts (K. omits tsebhâ'ōth); Behold, days come, that all that is in thy house, and all that thy fathers have laid up unto this day, will be carried away to Babel (בּבל, K. בּבלה): nothing will be left behind, saith Jehovah. And of thy children that proceed from thee, whom thou shalt beget, will they take (K. chethib, 'will he take'); and they will be courtiers in the palace of the king of Babel. Then said Hizkiyahu to Isaiah, Good is the word of Jehovah which thou hast spoken. And he said further, Yea (כּי, K. אם הלוא), there shall be peace and stedfastness in my days." Hezekiah's two candid answers in vv. 3 and 4 are an involuntary condemnation of his own conduct, which was sinful in two respects. This self-satisfied display of worthless earthly possessions would bring its own punishment in their loss; and this obsequious suing for admiration and favour on the part of strangers, would be followed by plundering and enslaving on the part of those very same strangers whose envy he had excited. The prophet here foretells the Babylonian captivity; but, in accordance with the occasion here given, not as the destiny of the whole nation, but as that of the house of David. Even political sharp-sightedness might have foreseen, that some such disastrous consequences would follow Hezekiah's imprudent course; but this absolute certainty, that Babylon, which was then struggling hard for independence, would really be the heiress to the Assyrian government of the world, and that it was not from Assyria, which was actually threatening Judah with destruction for its rebellion, but from Babylon, that this destruction would really come, was impossible without the spirit of prophecy. We may infer from Isaiah 39:7 (cf., Isaiah 38:19, and for the fulfilment, Daniel 1:3) that Hezekiah had no son as yet, at least none with a claim to the throne; and this is confirmed by 2 Kings 21:1. So far as the concluding words are concerned, we should quite misunderstand them, if we saw nothing in them but common egotism. כּי (for) is explanatory here, and therefore confirmatory. אם הלוא, however, does not mean "yea, if only," as Ewald supposes (324, b), but is also explanatory, though in an interrogative form, "Is it not good (i.e., still gracious and kind), if," etc.? He submits with humility to the word of Jehovah, in penitential acknowledgement of his vain, shortsighted, untheocratic conduct, and feels that he is mercifully spared by God, inasmuch as the divine blessings of peace and stability (אמת a self-attesting state of things, without any of those changes which disappoint our confident expectations) would continue. "Although he desired the prosperity of future ages, it would not have been right for him to think it nothing that God had given him a token of His clemency, by delaying His judgment" (Calvin).

Over the kingdom of Judah there was now hanging the very same fate of captivity and exile, which had put an end to the kingdom of Israel eight years before. When the author of the book of Kings prefaces the four accounts of Isaiah in 2 Kings 18:13-20, with the recapitulation in 2 Kings 18:9-12 (cf., Isaiah 17:5-6), his evident meaning is, that the end of the kingdom of Israel, and the beginning of the end of the kingdom of Judah, had their meeting-point in Hezekiah's time. As Israel fell under the power of the Assyrian empire, which foundered upon Judah, though only through a miraculous manifestation of the grace of God (see Hosea 1:7); so did Judah fall a victim to the Babylonian empire. The four accounts are so arranged, that the first two, together with the epilogue in Isaiah 37:36., which contains the account of the fulfilment, bring the Assyrian period of judgment to a close; and the last two, with the eventful sketch in Isaiah 39:6-7, open the way for the great bulk of the prophecies which now follow in chapters 40-66, relating to the Babylonian period of judgment. This Janus-headed arrangement of the contents of chapters 36-39 is a proof that this historical section formed an original part of the "vision of Isaiah." At any rate, it leads to the conclusion that, whoever arranged the four accounts in their present order, had chapters 40-66 before him at the time. We believe, however, that we may, or rather, considering the prophetico-historical style of chapters 36-39, that we must, draw the still further conclusion, that Isaiah himself, when he revised the collection of his prophecies at the end of Hezekiah's reign, or possibly not till the beginning of Manasseh's, bridged over the division between the two halves of the collection by the historical trilogy in the seventh book.

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