Isaiah 40:1–11 hearkens back to the exodus from Egypt to provide hope for the exiles. Isaiah 40:3–5 announces the new exodus. God led His people through the wilderness before (Exod 13:18), and now in the wilderness, preparations must be made for the way of the LORD (Exod 13:21–2223:20; Isa 40:343:16–19). Creation will be transformed so that God’s people may travel (Isa 40:4)—like they did before (Exod 14:21–22).

The glory of the LORD will be revealed (Isa 40:5). The glory is God’s presence, manifested. It is the same glory that filled the tabernacle, overwhelming Moses (Exod 40:34–35; compare Isa 63:10–11). In the glory of the LORD, the frailty of humanity is exposed (Isa 40:6–8), just like when the Israelites met God at Sinai (Exod 20:19).

As this section of Isaiah began, it ends: with the message of good news to God’s people (Isa 40:1, 9–10). The Holy One of Israel will care for His people as a shepherd cares for his flock (Isa 40:11). He will lead Israel back to their land, like He led them out of Egypt (Isa 63:11).

Repurposing Isaiah 40:1–11

Even after the return from exile, some communities in Israel questioned whether the prophecies of Isaiah had been fulfilled. Had the exile come to an end?

Had the way of the LORD been prepared? Had the glory of the LORD been revealed?

In order to fulfill what Isaiah had written, a Jewish sect called the Essenes moved into the desert at Qumran (250 BC–68 AD), near the Dead Sea, to prepare the way of the LORD. One of their writings, called the Rule of the Community, reads:

“And when these have become a community in Israel in compliance with these arrangements they are to be segregated from within the dwelling of the men of sin to walk to the desert in order to open there His path. As it is written: ‘In the desert, prepare the way of [Yahweh], straighten in the steppe a roadway for our God’ ” (Rule of the Community, column 8, lines 12–14).

Florentino García Martínez and Eibert J. C. Tigchelaar, The Dead Sea Scrolls Study Edition (Transcriptions) (New York: Brill, 1997–98).

Another writer ironically saw the fulfillment of what Isaiah had written in a Roman ruler’s entrance into Jerusalem. Israel historically looked for deliverance from foreign rulership, but here the Jewish leaders are welcoming the Roman Pompey (106–48 BC):

The non-biblical writing, Psalms of Solomon, records that the Jewish leaders “made the rough ways even, before his [Pompey’s] entering” into Jerusalem (Psalms of Solomon, 8:17).