I like the opening to this chapter, which says, essentially, “Cheer up Jerusalem, you’ve suffered more than enough”.
Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God. Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned: for she hath received of the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.
Maybe this is meant as a temporary reprieve for the Jews of that day, but certainly their trials were just beginning. It is only in the last days (our day) that this salutation will be realized in full.
Verses 3-5 contain a very interesting reference to the 2nd coming that I want to discuss.
3 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.
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:
5 And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it.
As I slowed down to contemplate these verses, the image of highway construction came to my mind. I remember many family trips through the west and observing how highways were built. In order to smooth out the travel on the highway, engineers would literally flatten hills and fill in valleys to make the road level. They would also take care to run the roads in the straightest way possible. Finally, they would construct the surface from asphalt to make it flat and ideal for the cars which travel on it at high speeds. Though some of the details may be different, I’m sure the basic idea was the same in Isaiah’s day. I’ll return to this metaphor in a moment.
Verse 3 speaks of one crying in the wilderness. We know from Matthew 3:3 and 1 Nephi 10:8 that this refers John the Baptist. Joseph Smith, however, also delivers the commandment to “Prepare ye the way of the Lord” in D&C 65. John the Baptist raised the cry before the first coming. Joseph Smith before the second. I think we can safely assume, therefore, that this commandment is directed toward us. And what is this commandment? To make the way of the Lord like unto a highway. Verse 4 is a continuation of this thought, declaring “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.”
Now consider the highway metaphor again. If we are to build a highway, would that not involve lowering mountains, raising valleys, making crooked paths straight, and rough places plain? A highway indicates something that is easy to travel on because it is a clear path that is safe and built up. The way of the Lord is a way of living, a way of thinking, a way of interacting with God. Within ourselves, this becomes a highway as we internalize the teachings of Jesus Christ, turning precepts into good habits. As we pray always, it becomes easier to pray because of the habit, and so on. Externally, we make a highway by building up Zion, following the prophet, and being obedient as a people. Others who do not have the gospel can then see clearly the way and can easily follow it once they decide to get on the road. As I look at the organization of the church today, I can see that happening already. Think of how much easier it is for a person to discover the gospel and learn correct precepts today than it was in Joseph Smith’s time. We have a vast array of resources from printed scriptures, satellite broadcasts, internet sites, plentiful meeting houses and temples, programs, etc. Given that we have to retain our agency, I can’t think of a way to make it easier for God’s children to follow the path. It is strange to relate that even with such a clear path, many still choose to ignore it. Such is the way of agency.
In verses 6-8, Isaiah himself receives a command to cry to the people. He asks, “what shall I cry?” The answer, paraphrased, is this: All this material world around us, it’s nothing. All the things that people create and adore are all temporary, just like their makers. Everything will eventually decay and go away except one thing: the word of God. – This is a powerful message in our day, where we have probably the most materialistic society of all time.
The above thought is echoed in verses 18-27 in a wonderful way. After describing how great God is, how all the nations of the world are like a little drop in a bucket to Him, The Lord asks (paraphrasing), “So, what are you going to compare God to? What is he like? Some of you try to create fancy statues of God covered with gold and silver. Even the poor people who don’t have precious things search around for a great piece of wood and have it carved into an image of God. Don’t you guys get it? Haven’t you been hearing what I’ve been saying?? Look at the Earth! Look at the sky! God made all of that! Look at the kings and princes. Who do you think put them there? Who do you think can take them out whenever he wants? How can you possibly think that god is like this pathetic thing you have created?“
In our day, we don’t make graven images so much as we admire our gadgets, vehicles, homes, clothing, furniture, etc. We celebrate and devote hours to the latest device only to throw it on the garbage heap in few years. In the mean time, we ignore the grand world of nature all around us, where each simple leaf dwarfs the complexity and craftsmanship of anything man has made.
In verses 27-31, Isaiah continues by describing God again, saying how it is impossible to completely understand him. He also gives here at the end probably the most paradoxical and marvelous attribute of God. His joy is in giving strength to the weak and the powerless who wait upon him. Basically, God loves the underdog! He loves taking simple, obedient people and using them to confound the learned and the great. If there was just one attribute that would make me adore God, I think this one would be it.