The Highway of Holiness

“And an highway shall be there, and a way, and it shall be called The way of holiness; the unclean shall not pass over it; but it shall be for those: the wayfaring men, though fools, shall not err therein.”—Isaiah 35:8

One of the most graphic pictures of Christ’s kingdom on earth is that of a highway. The prophet Isaiah describes it as a road leading from the depths of degradation and death to the pinnacle of life and happiness.

This highway is a leading theme in the book of Isaiah. Not only is it described in our theme text but it appears throughout the pages of this prophecy. In chapter eleven he describes the origins of this road. In chapter nineteen he outlines its route. In chapters 40 and 62 he tells of the preparations for its construction. We will seek to examine each of these references to this highway in this article.

The Highway Described

“And an highway shall be there, and a way, and it shall be called The way of holiness; the unclean shall not pass over it; but it shall be for those: the wayfaring men, though fools, shall not err therein. No lion shall be there, nor any ravenous beast shall go up thereon, it shall not be found there; but the redeemed shall walk there: And the ransomed of the LORD shall return, and come to Zion with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads: they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.”—Isaiah 35:8-10

The thirty-fifth chapter of Isaiah is one of the most beautiful descriptions of the peaceful kingdom of Christ to be found in the Bible. Not only does the prophet describe the fertility of the earth with the desert blossoming abundantly and the parched ground becoming a pool but he also tells of the love of man to man with the strengthening of the weak hands and the confirming of the feeble knees. Physical health is also covered with the eyes of blind being opened, the tongue of the dumb singing, and the lame man leaping as an hart. He caps his kingdom description with this image of a highway, “the way of holiness,” or the road that leads to holiness in thought, word, and deed.

Although the highway is described as being for the unclean, the prophet states that such shall not “pass over it,” for by the time they reach its end they will no longer be unclean but clothed in garments of righteousness, white and clean.

The phrase “the wayfaring men, though fools” might be better translated “the foolish men among the walkers on this road.” It implies that some of the travelers of this highway will be “foolish,” that is, lacking the will or ability to quickly learn (Prov. 24:7). The instructions of righteousness to be given along this way will be so clear that even those dull of understanding may comprehend.

The “lion” and “ravenous beast” refers to the influences of Satan and his allies. Satan is termed a “roaring lion” in 1 Peter 5:8. His absence during this kingdom is assured in the words of the revelator, who states that he “shall be bound a thousand years” (Rev. 20:1). In contrast to the omission of vicious beasts, the prophet states that the ones walking this road will be “the redeemed.” The Hebrew gaal, here translated “redeemed” refers specifically to those redeemed under Jewish law by the next of kin. This term is especially appropriate to Jesus Christ who became man, being “born of a woman,” redeeming men from their sins.

In addition to being called “redeemed,” the walkers on this road are also termed as being “the ransomed of the Lord.” Whereas the Hebrew gaal stresses the relationship between the purchaser and the purchased, the word used here, padah, indicates “some intervening or substitutionary action” effecting a release from an undesirable condition and is connected with the laws of the firstborn (Vine’s Dictionary). Both thoughts are encompassed in the redemptive work of Christ. Not only did he become man’s next of kin but his sacrifice was substitionary—”a perfect life for a perfect life” and was related to his role as the “firstborn” son of God.

The notable effect of the application of this redemptive price will be to bring not only life but a resultant joy on all who enjoy its benefits. These same results are beautifully summarized in the final book of the Bible: “And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away” (Rev. 21:4).

The Route of the Road

“And the LORD shall smite Egypt: he shall smite and heal it: and they shall return even to the LORD, and he shall be intreated of them, and shall heal them. In that day shall there be a highway out of Egypt to Assyria, and the Assyrian shall come into Egypt, and the Egyptian into Assyria, and the Egyptians shall serve with the Assyrians. In that day shall Israel be the third with Egypt and with Assyria, even a blessing in the midst of the land: Whom the LORD of hosts shall bless, saying, Blessed be Egypt my people, and Assyria the work of my hands, and Israel mine inheritance.”—Isaiah 19:22-25

In this passage the “highway” is described as extending from Egypt to Assyria through the middle ground of Israel. In ancient times there was a highway which matched this exact description. It was called the “Via Mara,” or “Way of the Sea.” The road stretched eastward and northward along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea into Israel where it swung sharply east, crossing the river Jordan at the “Bridge of Jacob’s Daughters,” progressing on a northeasterly direction to Assyria. A portion of the road in trans-Jordan Galilee is described in Isaiah 9:1.

It is not the literal highway, however, but that which it symbolizes which interests us. The nineteenth chapter of Isaiah is called “the burden of Egypt” (v. 1). It deals with the ultimate conversion of Egypt to the Lord through a troublous or “smiting” experience. We are assured that Egypt will not only be “smitten,” but “healed” as well. Both Egypt and Assyria had been, at one time or another, enemies of Israel as well as enemies of each other.

In this passage the highway is described as picturing a time of peace between these erstwhile foes. The opening of the highway would signal commerce and communication between these nations which had been so hostile to each other. The highway was to traverse, at its center section, the country of Israel. They would play a middle or intermediary role in establishing this peace between former warring peoples.

While both Egypt and Assyria will be given special titles—”my people” and “the work of my hands,” it is only said of Israel that they are God’s “inheritance.” Thus, in poetic language, a unique role for God’s chosen people of old is assigned in the work of the “highway of holiness.”

The Origins of the Highway

“And the LORD shall utterly destroy the tongue of the Egyptian sea; and with his mighty wind shall he shake his hand over the river, and shall smite it in the seven streams, and make men go over dryshod. And there shall be an highway for the remnant of his people, which shall be left, from Assyria; like as it was to Israel in the day that he came up out of the land of Egypt.”—Isaiah 11:15, 16

In this passage the highway is likened to the road taken by the Israelites in their exodus from Egypt. As the Lord led them out of Egypt by parting the waters of the Red Sea, so he opens this highway by a symbolic smiting of similar waters. In fact that journey was both started and completed through parted waters, the waters of the flood-swelled Jordan being parted to permit the people of Israel under their leader Joshua to enter the promised land. The parting of these waters aptly signified the passing of the death sentence. In the instance of the Red Sea they faced almost certain death, either from the pursuing Egyptian army in the rear or by drowning in the sea ahead.

There is widespread disagreement among translators as to the force of this passage. Although the King James version implies the smiting of seven streams of the river, suggestive of the splitting of the Nile into various branches at its gulf, most other translators give the sense of dividing the river into seven streams, thus making it easier to ford. The New International version, for instance, translates it thus: “He will break it up into seven streams so that men can cross over in sandals.”

This also fits the picture of Christ’s kingdom where, though the Adamic sentence of death is done away by the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, its effects remain for men to conquer in that kingdom.

Additionally the New International version follows the lead of many commentators by applying this passage to the Euphrates instead of the Nile. If this be the case, it provides for a dryshod crossing at both ends of the journey, similar to that experienced by Israel who crossed the Jordan dryshod at the termination of their wilderness wanderings. Strong’s Concordance (# 5104) applies the term especially to the Nile or Euphrates.

Though the translators of the New International appears to be somewhat arbitrary in assigning this river to the Euphrates, the thought is not unreasonable. Whether or not the Euphrates is intended, it is true that symbolically the death sentence is smitten both at the beginning and at the end of the reign of Christ. At the beginning, it is the removal of the Adamic curse which permits man to come back from the grave. He comes forth from the tomb in the same condition in which he entered it. It will take the entire reign of Christ for man to shake off the effects of Adamic condemnation and come to a full standing—”resurrection,” Greek,anastasis.

The experiences of Israel in the wilderness well illustrate the problems which men will face as they walk along this highway to the achievement of true holiness.

Preparation of the Highway

“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. 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.”—Isaiah 40:3, 4

The speaker in this verse is addressing his words to natural Israel (vs. 1, 2). The words addressed to them are identical to those used by John the Baptist in preparing the way for Jesus at his first advent (Matt. 3:1-3). Here we see the two advents of Christ mirroring each other. At both ends of the age the prerequisite to achieving divine favor is an attitude of humility. Of equal importance are the straightening of the crooked perverseness of the human mind and the smoothing out of the rough edges of character molded by association with “this present evil world.”

While this work must be accomplished in the human heart of each individual, they will also be done on a larger scale in the framework of the society in which we live. The great and powerful of this world must be brought low and the meek and humble elevated. The crooked and convoluted ways of religious and philosophical thought must be replaced with the clear presentation of divine precepts and principles, while the rough inconsistencies and errors of human dogma must be totally removed.

Gathering Out the Stones

“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. Behold, the LORD hath proclaimed unto the end of the world, Say ye to the daughter of Zion, Behold, thy salvation cometh; behold, his reward is with him, and his work before him. And they shall call them, The holy people, The redeemed of the LORD: and thou shalt be called, Sought out, A city not forsaken.”—Isaiah 62:10-12

This verse describes the work of those preparing this highway. They are to “go through the gates” in order to prepare the way. This is a work which will be accomplished by the church of Christ at the present time. The “gate” which the church must enter is the “strait gate” of consecration opening on to the “narrow way” (Matt. 7:13, 14). The highway, too, must be entered through a gate of consecration, though it will be unto life whereas the consecration of the present age is unto death.

The experiences of the church at the present time are to prepare them to assist mankind in the future. The “stumbling stones” along the narrow way must be overcome in order to learn the lessons for assisting mankind in removing the “stones” from their path.

In order to accomplish this work a “standard” or “ensign” must be raised. This standard is Christ himself. “And in that day there shall be a root of Jesse, which shall stand for an ensign of the people; to it shall the Gentiles seek: and his rest shall be glorious” (Isa. 11:10). It will be the perfect standard of righteousness, for in that kingdom he will lay justice to the line and righteousness to the plummet (Isa. 28:17).

However the standard of that time will not only be the intangible concepts of righteousness but these will be displayed in the lives of a redeemed Israel. The workings of God in and with his people of old will be a beacon light along this highway (Isa. 30:17).

A Highway for All

In contrast to the narrow way of the present, the highway of holiness will not be an exclusive road. It will not be for a chosen few. It will be for all—saint and sinner, pagan and Christian, Jew and Arab. “And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely” (Rev. 22:17).

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