Matthew 3:3
For this is he that was spoken of by the prophet Esaias, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(3) This is he.—The words are those of the Evangelist, not of the Baptist, though the latter also used them to describe his own office (John 1:23). In each case the reference shows how strongly the great second part of Isaiah had impressed itself on the minds of men. To the Baptist, brooding over the sins of his people, and the long-expected consolation of Israel, there had come “the word of the Lord” (Luke 3:2), bidding him identify himself with that “voice of one crying in the wilderness.”

Historically, the connection of the opening chapters of this part of Isaiah with the protests against idolatry (Isaiah 40:18-24; Isaiah 41:7; Isaiah 44:9-20), and with the name of Cyrus (Isaiah 44:28; Isaiah 45:1), shows that the prophet blended his glorious visions of the ideal polity of the future with the return of the exiles from Babylon. The return came, and the ideal was not realised. The kingdom of heaven seemed still far off. Now, the Baptist came to proclaim its nearness.

Prepare ye the way of the Lord.—The imagery is drawn from the great strategical works of the conquerors of the East. They sent a herald before them to call the people of the countries through which they marched to prepare for their approach. A “king’s highway” had to be carried through the open land of the wilderness, valleys filled up, and hills levelled (the words used are, of course, poetical in their greatness), winding bye-paths straightened, for the march of the great army. Interpreted in its spiritual application, the wilderness was the world lying in evil, and the making low the mountains and hills was the bringing down of spiritual pride. When the poor in spirit were received into the kingdom of heaven, the valleys were exalted; when soldier and publican renounced their special sins, the rough places were made plain and the crooked straight.

It is probable that the stress thus laid upon “the way of the Lord,” in the first stage of the Gospel, led to the peculiar use of the term “the way” by St. Luke, to denote what we should call the “religion” of the Apostolic Church (Acts 9:2; Acts 18:25-26; Acts 19:9; Acts 19:23; Acts 22:4; Acts 24:14; Acts 24:22).

Matthew 3:3. For this is he, &c. — These may be the words of John himself, (comp. John 1:22-23,) but it is more likely that they are the words of the evangelists; spoken of by the Prophet Esaias, saying, The voice, &c. — Isaiah, in the passage referred to, Isaiah 40:3, &c., is to be understood as speaking first, though not principally, concerning the Jews returning from the Babylonish captivity, as appears from the preceding chapter. As, however, the prophet intended, under the emblem of that deliverance of God’s people, to shadow out a redemption of an infinitely higher and more important nature, the evangelists, with the greatest propriety, apply his words to the opening of the gospel dispensation by the preaching of John, and to the introduction of the kingdom of the Messiah, who was to effect a much greater deliverance of the people of God, Gentiles as well as Jews, from the captivity of sin, and the power of death. And the same thing may be affirmed concerning many other passages of the prophets. See notes on Isaiah 40:3-4. This expression, The voice of one crying, is as much as to say, A herald is at hand proclaiming. The word crying, implies that John’s testimony concerning Christ was uttered, not secretly, negligently, or doubtfully, but openly and publicly, freely, expressly, and resolutely, with a fervent spirit, and an audible, or strong voice. In the wilderness — These words are generally considered as connected with the preceding, so as to signify that John preached in the wilderness of Judea; and some interpret the expression figuratively as well as literally, and by the wilderness of Judea, understand the desert state of the Jewish Church at that time, destitute of religious culture, and the trees and fruits of righteousness. But Bishop Lowth connects Isaiah’s words with the following clause, and translates them, A voice crieth: In the wilderness prepare ye the way of Jehovah, which he thus interprets: “The prophet hears a crier giving orders, by solemn proclamation, to prepare the way of the Lord in the wilderness; to remove all obstructions before Jehovah marching through the desert; through the wild, uninhabited, and unpassable country;” the idea, he thinks, “being taken from the practice of the eastern monarchs, who, whenever they entered upon an expedition, or took a journey, especially through desert countries, sent harbingers before them to prepare all things for their passage, and pioneers to open the passes, to level the ways, and to remove all impediments.” Thus John the Baptist, the harbinger of Christ, who was God manifest in the flesh, is sent to prepare his way before him, by calling the people to repentance and to faith in him, their great Redeemer and Saviour. Make his paths straight — The paths of our God. Remove all obstructions out of his way, particularly all sin and unbelief, all carnal desires and worldly views, affections, and expectations, that your Saviour and your King may have a ready passage, and free access to your hearts, and may there erect his spiritual kingdom of righteousness, peace, and joy in, and by, the Holy Ghost; and may rule your lives, your whole conversation and conduct by his righteous and holy laws. Though this could only be done by divine grace, and it is grace which prepares for further grace, yet as man must concur with God, and be a worker together with him, John with propriety calls on the people thus to prepare the Lord’s way, that his grace might not be received in vain. The words imply that they were unprepared for receiving the Messiah and his salvation, which indeed they were in every sense, being neither in a fit disposition to relish, or even understand, his doctrine, to be convinced by his miracles, receive his Spirit, follow his example, rely on his mediation, or become his subjects. An earthly, sensual, and devilish disposition had taken possession of their minds and hearts, even the whole spirit of the world, and obstructed the entrance of Christ’s spiritual kingdom into them and among them. It was necessary, therefore, that these hinderances should be removed out of the way, that they might become the true people and followers of the Messiah.

3:1-6 After Malachi there was no prophet until John the Baptist came. He appeared first in the wilderness of Judea. This was not an uninhabited desert, but a part of the country not thickly peopled, nor much enclosed. No place is so remote as to shut us out from the visits of Divine grace. The doctrine he preached was repentance; Repent ye. The word here used, implies a total alteration in the mind, a change in the judgment, disposition, and affections, another and a better bias of the soul. Consider your ways, change your minds: you have thought amiss; think again, and think aright. True penitents have other thoughts of God and Christ, sin and holiness, of this world and the other, than they had. The change of the mind produces a change of the way. That is gospel repentance, which flows from a sight of Christ, from a sense of his love, and from hopes of pardon and forgiveness through him. It is a great encouragement to us to repent; repent, for your sins shall be pardoned upon your repentance. Return to God in a way of duty, and he will, through Christ, return unto you in the way of mercy. It is still as necessary to repent and humble ourselves, to prepare the way of the Lord, as it then was. There is a great deal to be done, to make way for Christ into a soul, and nothing is more needful than the discovery of sin, and a conviction that we cannot be saved by our own righteousness. The way of sin and Satan is a crooked way; but to prepare a way for Christ, the paths must be made straight, Heb 12:13. Those whose business it is to call others to mourn for sin, and to mortify it, ought themselves to live a serious life, a life of self-denial, and contempt of the world. By giving others this example, John made way for Christ. Many came to John's baptism, but few kept to the profession they made. There may be many forward hearers, where there are few true believers. Curiosity, and love for novelty and variety, may bring many to attend on good preaching, and to be affected for a while, who never are subject to the power of it. Those who received John's doctrine, testified their repentance by confessing their sins. Those only are ready to receive Jesus Christ as their righteousness, who are brought with sorrow and shame to own their guilt. The benefits of the kingdom of heaven, now at hand, were thereupon sealed to them by baptism. John washed them with water, in token that God would cleanse them from all their iniquities, thereby intimating, that by nature and practice all were polluted, and could not be admitted among the people of God, unless washed from their sins in the fountain Christ was to open, Zec 13:1.The prophet Esaias - The prophet Isaiah. Esaias is the Greek mode of writing the name. This passage is taken from Isaiah 40:3. It is here said to have been spoken in reference to John, the forerunner of Christ. The language is such as was familiar to the Jews. and such as they would understand. It was spoken at first with reference to the return from the captivity at Babylon. In ancient times, it was customary in the march of armies to send messengers, or pioneers, before them to proclaim their approach; to provide for them; to remove obstructions; to make roads, level hills, fill up valleys, etc. Isaiah, describing the return from Babylon, uses language taken from that custom. A crier, or herald, is introduced. In the vast deserts that lay between Babylon and Judea he is represented as lifting up his voice, and, with authority, commanding a public road to be made for the return of the captive Jews, with the Lord as their deliverer. "Prepare his ways, make them straight," says he. The meaning in Isaiah is, "Let the valleys be exalted, or filled up, and the hills be levelled, and a straight, level highway be prepared, that they may march with ease and safety." See the notes at Isaiah 40:3-4. The custom here referred to is continued in the East at the present time. "When Ibrahim Pasha proposed to visit certain places on Lebanon, the emeers and sheiks sent forth a general proclamation, somewhat in the style of Isaiah's exhortation, to all the inhabitants, to assemble along the proposed route and prepare the way before him. The same was done in 1845, on a grand scale, when the present sultan visited Brousa. The stones were gathered out, the crooked places straightened, and the rough ones made level and smooth." - The Land and the Book, Vol i. pp. 105, 106.

As applied to John, the passage means that he was sent to remove obstructions, and to prepare the people for the coming of the Messiah, like a herald going before an army on the march, to make preparations for its coming.

3. For this is he that was spoken of by the prophet Esaias, saying—(Mt 11:3).

The voice of one crying in the wilderness—(See on [1213]Lu 3:2); the scene of his ministry corresponding to its rough nature.

Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight—This prediction is quoted in all the four Gospels, showing that it was regarded as a great outstanding one, and the predicted forerunner as the connecting link between the old and the new economies. Like the great ones of the earth, the Prince of peace was to have His immediate approach proclaimed and His way prepared; and the call here—taking it generally—is a call to put out of the way whatever would obstruct His progress and hinder His complete triumph, whether those hindrances were public or personal, outward or inward. In Luke (Lu 3:5, 6) the quotation is thus continued: "Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be brought low; and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways shall be made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God." Levelling and smoothing are here the obvious figures whose sense is conveyed in the first words of the proclamation—"Prepare ye the way of the Lord." The idea is that every obstruction shall be so removed as to reveal to the whole world the salvation of God in Him whose name is the "Saviour." (Compare Ps 98:3; Isa 11:10; 49:6; 52:10; Lu 2:31, 32; Ac 13:47).

It is not much material whether we understand these words as the words of the evangelist concerning John, as it should seem by Mark 1:3 Luke 3:4, or the words of John himself, for he thus spake, John 1:23. As the words of the prophet they are found Isaiah 40:3. The words are judged literally, but typically, to concern Cyrus and Darius, and either these princes, who were instrumental in the restoring of the Jews to their liberty from the captivity of Babylon, or those prophets who encouraged them to their return, or upon their return to build the temple and city. But they are confirmed by all the four evangelists, Mark 1:3 Luke 3:4 John 1:23, to have a special relation also to John the Baptist, who was to come more immediately before Christ, and with the fervency and in the spirit of Elias, Luke 1:17, crying,

Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. As the harbingers of great princes are sent before them to call to persons to remove things out of the way which may hinder their free passage, so John was sent before this great King in Zion, now coming forth to show himself, and to set up his kingdom in the world; to cry fervently to all people, by a true and timely repentance, to cast off those sinful courses, and to reject those false opinions, of which they were possessed, the holding of and to which might hinder the progress of this spiritual kingdom.

For this is he that was spoken of,.... These are not the words of the Baptist himself, as in John 1:23 but of the Evangelist, who cites and applies to John a passage in the Prophet Isaiah, Isaiah 40:3 and that very pertinently, since that "chapter" is a prophecy of the Messiah. The consolations spoken of in Isaiah 40:3, were to be in the days of the king Messiah, as a writer of note (y) among the Jews observes. The Messiah is more expressly prophesied of in Isaiah 40:9 as one that should appear to the joy of his people, and "come with a strong hand", vigorously prosecute his designs, faithfully perform his work, and then receive his reward; he is spoken of under the "character" of a "shepherd", who would tenderly discharge the several parts of his office as such, which character is frequently given to the Messiah in the Old Testament: now the person spoken of in Isaiah 40:3 was to be his harbinger to go before him, proclaim and make ready for his coming; and what is said of him agrees entirely with John the Baptist, as the character given of him,

the voice of one crying, lowing like an ox; which expresses the austerity of the man, the roughness of his voice, the severity of his language; that he called aloud and spoke out, openly, publicly, and freely; and that he delivered himself in preaching with a great deal of zeal and fervency. The place where he preached was "in the wilderness", that is, of Judea, where he is said before, in Matthew 3:1 to come preaching. The doctrine he preached was,

prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight, which is best explained by what is said before, in Matthew 3:2

repent ye, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. The Lord whom ye have sought, the Messiah whom you have expected, is just coming, he will quickly appear; prepare to meet him by repentance, and receive him by faith, relinquish your former notions and principles, correct your errors, and amend your lives, remove all out of the way which may be offensive to him. The allusion is to a great personage being about to make his public appearance or entrance; when a harbinger goes before him, orders the way to be cleared, all impediments to be removed, and everything got ready for the reception of him.

(y) R. David Kimchi in Isaiah 40.1.

For this is he that was spoken of by the prophet Esaias, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, {e} make his paths straight.

(e) Make him a plain and smooth way.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
Matthew 3:3. Γάρ] “Causa, cur Johannes ita exoriri tum debuerit, uti Matthew 5:1-2, describitur, quia sic praedictum erat,” Bengel.

Does not belong to John’s discourse, Matthew 3:3, so that by οὗτος he points to himself, as Er. Schmid, Raphel, Fritzsche, Paulus, Rettig in the Stud. u. Krit. 1838, p. 205 f., maintain, since so prominent a self-designation has no basis in the connection (John 1:23; on the other hand, John 6:50; John 6:58); further, the descriptive present ἐστί is quite in keeping with παραγίνεται in Matthew 3:1; and αὐτὸς δέ, Matthew 3:4, is quite in keeping with the sense of the objectively and generally delivered prophetic description (the voice of one calling, and so on), and leads to the concrete person thereby intended.

ἐν τῇ ἐρήμῳ] belongs in the original text to ἑτοιμάσατε, and in the LXX. also there is no reason for separating it from it; but here it belongs to βοῶντος, according to Matthew 3:1 : κηρύσσων ἐν τῇ ἐρήμῳ. This in answer to Rettig, Hofmann, Weissag. u. Erf. II. p. 77 f., and Delitzsch.

The passage, Isaiah 11:3, quoted according to the LXX., contains historically a summons to prepare the way for Jehovah, who is bringing back His people from exile, and to make level the streets which He is to traverse, after the analogy of what used to take place in the East when rulers set out on a journey (Wetstein and Münthe). In this the evangelist recognises (and the Baptist himself had recognised this, John 1:23) the typically prophetic reference to John as the prophet who was to call on the Jews to prepare themselves by repentance for the reception of the Messiah (whose manifestation is the manifestation of Jehovah). In Isaiah, the voice which calls is that of a herald of Jehovah, who desires to begin his journey; in the Messianic fulfilment, it is the voice of the Baptist.

Faith in a God-sent forerunner runner of the Messiah, based on prophecy (Malachi 3:1; Luke 1:17; Luke 1:76) and confirmed by Jesus Himself (Matthew 11:10, Matthew 17:11), and attested as realized in the appearance of the Baptist, had in various ways (see Bertholdt, Christol. p. 58) assumed the form of the expectation of the return of one of the ancient prophets. Comp. Matthew 16:14; John 1:21.

Matthew 3:3. οὗτος γάρ ἐστιν, etc.: the evangelist here speaks. He finds in John the man of prophecy who proclaims in the desert the near advent of Jehovah coming to deliver His people. He quotes Isaiah only. Mark (Mark 1:2) quotes Malachi also, identifying John, not only with the voice in the desert, but with Elijah. Isaiah’s herald is not merely a type of John in the view of the evangelist; the two are identical. The quotation follows the Sept[12], except that for τοῦ θεοῦ ἡμῶν is substituted αὐτοῦ. Note where Matthew stops. Luke, the universalist, goes on to the end of the oracle. The mode of introducing the prophetic citation is peculiar. “This is he,” not “that it might be fulfilled”. Weiss (Meyer) thinks this an indication that the passage is taken from “the apostolic source”.

[12] Septuagint.

3. by] See note on ch. Matthew 2:5.

by the prophet Esaias] The reference in Isaiah 40:3 is to the promised return from Babylon. A herald shall proclaim the joyous news on mountains and in the desert through which the return should be. This incident in the national history is transferred to the more glorious deliverance from bondage and to the coming of the true King.

The voice] The message is more than the messenger, the prophet’s personality is lost in the prophetic voice.

make his paths straight] The image would be familiar to Eastern thought, a Semiramis or a Xerxes orders the mountains to be levelled or cut through, and causeways to be raised in the valleys.

Matthew 3:3. Οὗτος, κ.τ.λ., this, etc.) There are many circumstances recorded in the New Testament, which had been predicted in the Old.—γαρ, for) The reason why it was necessary that John should thus arise at that time (as is described in verses 1, 2), was, that it had been so predicted.—φωνὴ, κ.τ.λ., a voice, etc.) See Gnomon on Luke 3:4. “A voice,” i.e., “it is a voice.”—βοῶντος, of one crying[117]) i.e., of John. An analogous phrase occurs in Romans 10:15, viz., οἱ πόδες τῶν εὐαγγελιζομένων, the feet of them that preach.—ἐν τῇ ἐρήμῳ, in the wilderness) Not in the temple, or the synagogues. Some construe this passage thus, “Prepare ye in the wilderness, etc,” because the accents[118] in the original Hebrew of Isaiah require it to be so construed there. But if such had been the evangelist’s meaning, he would subsequently have expressed, in equivalent terms, the parallel phrase בערבה, in the desert.[119] As the passage stands, the expressions, “preaching in the wilderness,” in Matthew 3:1, and “a voice of one crying in the wilderness,” in Matthew 3:3, correspond with each other. It comes to the same thing: for where there is the voice, there also are the hearers who are commanded to prepare the way, and there is the Coming of the Lord. St Matthew, also, in ch. Matthew 4:15, contains something different from the Hebrew accents.—Cf. Gnomon on Hebrews 3:7.—τἠν ὁδὸν, the way) There is one primary way, and this includes many tracks, τρίβους.—Κυρίου, of the Lord) The Hebrew יהוה, Jehovah, for which the Hebrews of later ages substituted אדני, Adonai, is rendered by the LXX. ΚΎΡΙΟς, Lord. In this passage Christ is intended. The appellation Κύριος, Lord, when applied to Christ in the New Testament, has various meanings, according to the variety of circumstances, times, and speakers. In passages quoted from the Old Testament it frequently corresponds to the names יהוה and אדני, of which the one expresses His majesty as the Son of God, the other, His glory also as the Messiah. Men amongst whom He walked addressed Him thus with various purport, according to the various extent of their faith. From that time forward, the apostles, and the faithful in general, frequently employed this appellation with reference to His dominion and authority over His own followers, and over all things beside, even in His state of humiliation,[120] but rather in His state of exaltation: in which cases the pronoun “my” is sometimes added, which is never joined with the tetragrammaton יהוה.—εὐθείας) straight.

[117] “Clamantis”—crying out, uttering with a loud voice—not weeping.—(I. B.)

[118] See p. 132, f. n. 5.—(I. B.)

[119] In Isaiah 40:3, the passage stands thus: “The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God;” where the phrases, in the wilderness, and in the desert, are in parallelism to each other.—(I. B.)

[120] “Exinanitionis;” literally, of being emptied out: a phrase of frequent occurrence, suggested by the words in Php 2:7, ἑαυτὸν ἐκένωσε, He emptied Himself—rendered in E. V., made Himself of no reputation.—(I. B.)

Verse 3. - For. The reason for John's appearance and proclamation lies in prophecy. This is he that was spoken of (οῦτος γὰρ ἐστιν ὁ ῤηθείς). In John 1:23 the following quotation is uttered by the Baptist himself, and some commentators have supposed this to be the case also here. But

(1) this is against the parallel passages in Mark and Luke.

(2) The form of the expression in John arises directly from the context.

(3) In the Baptist's mouth the neuter (τοῦτο... τὸ ῤηθέν) rather than the masculine would have been more natural. The expression is doubtless that of the evangelist, suggested to him by John's own utterance, the "is" (ἐστιν) expressing John's permanent character. Contrast εϊχεν η΅ν, (ver. 4) of his clothing and food. [He that was] spoken of. The expression means, not a mere reference found in Isaiah, but the absolute content of the prophet's words. The utterance of God by means of the prophet is - John the:Baptist. The Prophet Esaias; Isaiah the prophet (Revised Version); the commoner Greek order (but cf. Luke 4:17). The voice, etc. (except "his" for "our God," from the LXX. of Isaiah 40:8). The Hebrew probably joins "in the wilderness" with "prepare ye," but St. Matthew with "crying" (cf ver. 1, "preaching in the wilderness," as probably the LXX.) In Isaiah the original meaning of the passage was probably, "prepare for the return to Jerusalem." The figure is that of the common and necessary process in semi-civilized countries of repairing roads before a great personage comes along them. Zechariah had; years before, applied the similar expression in Malachi 3:1 to his son (Luke 1:76; cf. Mark 1:2). (For a metaphor like in kind, but with contrasted meaning, cf. Galatians 5:7, ἐκόπτειν, breaking up a road to render it impassable.) Paths (τρίβους). According to Philo, the word is equivalent to "a carriage-road" (ἱππήλατος καὶ ἁμαξήλατος ὁδός, vide in Wetstein). It is thus equivalent to the Hebrew (m sillah, "a highway," "a made road"). Possibly the plural was employed by the LXX. rather than the singular of the original, from their interpreting the passage, not of the return of the Lord to Palestine, but his coming into many hearts. Matthew 3:3
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