Isaiah prophesied that “in the wilderness shall waters break forth, and streams in the desert.” And he said, “a highway shall be there, and a way…” (Isa. 35.8). He is talking of something God has created—a river, a way—through the terrible wilderness of life.
This is a theme much on Isaiah’s heart, for he brings it up again in Chapter 43. Notice again the intermingling of these two—the water, and the way.
Behold, I will do a new thing; now it shall spring forth: shall ye not know it? I will even make a way in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert (Isa. 43.19).
We’ll speak more of this river road in a coming blog entry, but first we want to ask: just what is a highway? In our day and age we think immediately of the asphalt freeway out there. When you want to go somewhere you don’t have to make your own way; you just get on the highway and step on the gas, and you are soon at your destination. And this is the idea behind the Bible word. It means simply a raised way, a HIGHway, a prepared way. Back in those days they built their roads by going along and casting rocks and other obstructions out of the way. They would level the terrain to some extent by bringing down high places and raising up low places. Thus, they would “cast up” the highway, and there are several Bible passages that use this imagery—one we’re very familiar with.
The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert an highway for our God.
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;
And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed… (Isa. 40.3-5).
This was the way, the highway, that God prepared for the coming of the glory of the Lord—His Son. He had a man go before Him to prepare His way.
And it’s a highway—the same way of the Lord—that we too are to walk in. When Isaiah prophecies of the return of God’s people from their Babylonian captivity, he brings up this same highway through the wilderness.
Cast ye up, cast ye up, prepare the way, take up the stumblingblock out of the way of my people (Isa. 57.14).
Go through, go through the gates; prepare ye the way of the people; cast up, cast up the highway; gather out the stones; lift up a standard for the people (Isa. 62.10).
This is an utterly awesome prophecy. There comes a time when God brings His people out through the gates of Babylon where they have been captives, His intent being to return them to Zion, His own dwelling place, where He will dwell in their midst. I realize we’ve seen this in a measure all through the new covenant dispensation. But the promise of God is that there will yet be a great company returning on this highway.
Behold, I will bring them from the north country, and gather them from the coasts of the earth, and with them the blind and the lame, the woman with child and her that travaileth with child together; a great company shall return thither.
They shall come with weeping, and with supplications will I lead them: I will cause them to walk by the rivers of waters in a straight way, wherein they shall not stumble… (Jer. 31.8,9).
Why won’t they stumble? It’s because God sees to it that the stumblingstones that have been such a hindrance to His people are removed. Thus they walk in a prepared Way, a way raised up, a way not of our own making, a Way of rest—right through that great and terrible wilderness of ours. I am not trying to be unfeeling, but I don’t care how difficult, how grievous, how tormenting, how impassable, that terrible wilderness of yours and mine is; the God who loves us with an everlasting love has created a Highway there, and you and I the redeemed of the Lord shall walk therein, and return to Zion, the heavenly City unto which our Lord Jesus Christ has brought us in the New Covenant (Heb. 12.22).
One more thing. This way of rest… it sounds so easy. You mean this is something for the idle, the spiritually lazy? Not when you consider this verse:
The way of the slothful is an hedge of thorns, but the way of the righteous is made plain (Pr. 15.19).
Notice the contrast. The slothful are travelling a way that’s so difficult it’s like trying to get through a hedge of thorns. The righteous are walking in an easy way. The Hebrew says something like, “the way of the upright is raised up as a causeway, or highway.” It’s the same word used in the other verses about casting up the highway. This is what the way of the upright is like; it’s a prepared way, a way raised up. The upright don’t have to contend with brambles and thorns as they try to make their own way; they just have to follow the prepared way.
I like this very much. I am not being slothful when I am seeking to walk in rest. On the contrary, it’s slothful to neglect this beautiful highway. I understand that. This highway must be maintained. It takes earnest spiritual diligence, earnest prayer, and continually maintaining a close communion with the Lord Jesus, to walk in this prepared Way, the Way of the Spirit. It’s far from slothful; it’s when we neglect it that we are being slothful.
And if we neglect it we will continue to walk through thorns. I know by personal experience what it’s like to try to fight my way through the wilderness thorns toiling and sweating and struggling, piercing myself through with anxious thoughts… and never getting anywhere. I also know by experience that when I cry unto the Lord in my troubles He shows me His Way. And I repent of my foolishness. Why do I torment myself with thoughts that pierce like thorns, when there is a Way, oh, so beautiful a Way, through my wilderness? The God who loves me has prepared a Way for me, a Way of rest. Yes, the frightening thorns of circumstance may still be there, but I am walking through them on a raised Way—who at one and the same time is my destination—Jesus Christ Himself.