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Isaiah 40:3-4 NASB

[3]A voice is calling, "Clear the way for the Lord in the wilderness; Make smooth in the desert a highway for our God. [4]"Let every valley be lifted up, And every mountain and hill be made low; And let the rough ground become a plain, And the rugged terrain a broad valley;

After the call to clear the way for the Lord should the above text be understood in a literal sense?

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  • "Is _____ meant to be understood literally?" – Probably not, especially when the literal meaning makes no sense.
    – 習約塔
    Jan 27 '19 at 3:53
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The New Testament quotes Isa 40:3 in three places, Matt 3:3, Mark 1:3, John 1:23. In all cases they are interpreted as a prophecy of John the Baptist and the function he would serve in preparing the way for Messiah. this was fulfilled as follows.

  • John the Baptist called out and preached in the wilderness of Judea (literally)
  • John prepared the way for Messiah (Jesus) by "making smooth a highway" (figurative language here), that is, John did preparatory preaching so that people would better receive Jesus' message of the Gospel.
  • The quintessential Hebrew hyperbole then goes on to elaborate in typical Hebrew poetic style that this smooth highway would have no impediment - every valley would be lifted up and hills made low - that is the highway would be straight and flat (even and level) so is to provide a minimum impediment to travel. This is highly figurative language and suggests that John would make the reception of Jesus preaching easier to understand as symbolised by a smooth and level highway.

Therefore, I conclude that the language has both literal and figurative (or metaphorical) elements to it as explained by the inspired NT writers.

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