The prophet Isaiah and John (Mt 3: 3-3:3)

“This is the one

Of whom

The prophet Isaiah

Spoke

When he said.

‘The voice of one crying out

In the wilderness.

Prepare

The way of the Lord!

Make his paths straight!’”

 

οὗτος γάρ ἐστιν ὁ ῥηθεὶς διὰ Ἠσαΐου τοῦ προφήτου λέγοντος Φωνὴ βοῶντος ἐν τῇ ἐρήμῳ Ἑτοιμάσατε τὴν ὁδὸν Κυρίου, εὐθείας ποιεῖτε τὰς τρίβους αὐτοῦ.

 

Matthew followed Mark who introduced John as a fulfilment of a prophecy from the Book of Isaiah. However, the text from Mark, chapter 1:2, was a composite of texts from Isaiah, Malachi and Exodus. Matthew, as well as Luke, dropped the first part of these references. However, Luke, chaper 3:4-6, has a more extended citation from Isaiah. Matthew began with the modified quotation from Isaiah, chapter 40:3, while he moved the Malachi and Exodus material to later in the text, where Jesus quoted them. However, it was clear that John the Baptist was the one (οὗτος γάρ ἐστιν ὁ ῥηθεὶς) that Isaiah the prophet was talking about (διὰ Ἠσαΐου τοῦ προφήτου λέγοντος). He was the messenger being sent ahead. He was a voice crying out in the wilderness (Φωνὴ βοῶντος ἐν τῇ ἐρήμῳ). He was to prepare the way for the Lord (Ἑτοιμάσατε τὴν ὁδὸν Κυρίου,). He was going to make the paths straight (εὐθείας ποιεῖτε τὰς τρίβους αὐτοῦ). Deutero-Isaiah originally talked about a voice in the wilderness leading to a new path out of the Exile, in this oracle of Yahweh, just as there had been a path out of the Exodus. In this wilderness or desert, they were to make a straight path, like a highway for God or the Holy Way. However, this would also be a time of upheaval. The valleys would rise as the mountains and hills would fall, so that the uneven and rough places would become level and plain. All the people would then see the glory of God revealed. Clearly, there was a connection between John the Baptist and Isaiah the prophet.

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The chant leaving Babylon (Isa 48:20-48:22)

“Go out from Babylon!

Flee from Chaldea!

Declare this

With a shout of joy!

Proclaim it!

Send it forth

To the ends of the earth!

Say.

‘Yahweh has redeemed

His servant Jacob!’

They did not thirst

When he led them through the deserts.

He made water flow for them

From the rock.

He split open the rock.

The water gushed out.

‘There is no peace

For the wicked.’

Says Yahweh.”

Second Isaiah makes an obvious comparison to the Exodus in this hymn about leaving Babylon. They were to get out of Babylon and away from the Chaldeans. The Israelites were to shout with joy so that it could be heard at the ends of the earth. Yahweh has saved Jacob. They would not be thirsty on their way through the wilderness, just as those leaving with Moses were not thirsty. Yahweh was going to break open a rock, as in Exodus, chapter 17, to give them water, so that the water would gush out of the broken rock. However, there would be no peace for the wicked.

The voice in the wilderness (Isa 40:3-40:5)

“A voice cries out.

‘In the wilderness,

Prepare the way of Yahweh!

Make straight in the desert

A highway for our God.

Every valley shall be lifted up.

Every mountain shall be made low.

Every hill shall be made low.

The uneven ground shall become level.

The rough places shall become a plain.

The glory of Yahweh shall be revealed.

All the people shall see it together.

The mouth of Yahweh has spoken.’”

Here we have the famous phrase that was used by the Christian writers of the New Testament to speak about John the Baptist. The Gospel of Matthew and the Gospel of Luke both use these phrases from the Greek Septuagint when citing them from Isaiah. Apparently this new path is a way out of the Exile, just as there was the path of the Exodus. In this wilderness or desert, they were to make a straight path, like a highway for God or the Holy Way that was mentioned earlier in chapter 35, to prepare a path for Yahweh. This would also be a time of upheaval. The valleys would rise as the mountains and hills would fall. Also the uneven and rough places would become level and plain. All the people would then see the glory of God revealed. In case there was any doubt, Second Isaiah said that this was spoken by the mouth of Yahweh.

The Israelites in Egypt (Isa 19:18-19:18)

“On that day,

There will be five cities

In the land of Egypt

That speak the language of Canaan.

They swear allegiance

To Yahweh of hosts.

One of these will be called

The City of the Sun.”

This section seems to imply that Israelites had settled in 5 Egyptian cities. We know that they were in Alexandria after the 4th century BCE. Perhaps there were some settlements in the 6th century BCE during the time of the Exile. On other hand, some of these may have been Israelites who never left Egypt when Moses led the Exodus. 5 of these cities in Egypt were speaking Canaanite or a Semitic language, not the Egyptian language. They all swore allegiance to Yahweh. One of these cities was the City of Sun, probably a reference to Heliopolis, which is near present day Cairo.

The return of the remnant (Isa 11:11-11:11)

“On that day,

Yahweh will extend his hand

Yet a second time.

He wanted to recover

The remnant that is left

Of his people,

From Assyria,

From Egypt,

From Pathros,

From Ethiopia,

From Elam,

From Shinar,

From Hamath,

And from the coastlands of the sea.”

In this ideal time, all the scattered Israelites would return from their Exile. Yahweh was going to extend his hand for a second time. The first time was the Exodus from Egypt. This time it is a call to recover the remnant from all over the place. Some of these places are easy to figure out. Assyria (present day Iraq), Egypt, and Ethiopia are easy to understand. Pathros was in upper Egypt. Elam is where current day Iran is. Shinar was in Babylon. Hamath was in Syria. The coastlands may have been the Aegean islands around present day Greece. Obviously, this was during the Exile or after it. It is interesting to note how many different places the Israelites were in Diaspora, so early in their history.