The Isaiah 19 Highway: Metaphors and meaning

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Are we on the highway to peace? Isaiah 19 has a fascinating prophecy which seems to be coming into focus in our days. All is rumbling and shaking, changing and moving in the Middle East at the moment. On the one hand, it’s as volatile and (literally) explosive as a tinderbox. On the other, the peace accords seem to be unstoppable in their spread. Saudi Arabia? Whatever next! And there’s a groundswell of voices from Iraq to Kuwait asking why normalizing ties with Israel is so bad. Of course, these are drowned out by detractors with varying levels of force, but it’s a discernible trend. What are we seeing here? Is this part of Bible prophecy?

Whether through war or peace, the enemy’s desire is to take the Middle East, including the Holy Land, and have God’s chosen city as his own counterfeit capital. And maybe he’ll get it at some point. But not for long. The Lord of all the Universe knows the end from the beginning, and we know from His book that He wins in the end. There’s a very important prophecy about the Middle East that often goes unnoticed at the end of Isaiah 19. See what you make of this:

And the Lord will make himself known to the Egyptians, and the Egyptians will know the Lord in that day and worship with sacrifice and offering, and they will make vows to the Lord and perform them… In that day there will be a highway from Egypt to Assyria, and Assyria will come into Egypt, and Egypt into Assyria, and the Egyptians will worship with the Assyrians. In that day Israel will be the third with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing in the midst of the earth, whom the Lord of hosts has blessed, saying, “Blessed be Egypt my people, and Assyria the work of my hands, and Israel my inheritance.” (Isaiah 19:21-25)

The peoples of the Middle East worshiping the God of Israel together? Unity between Egypt, Israel and Assyria, joined by a highway with freedom to travel to and fro? A blessing to the whole earth? Clearly, this has not yet happened, but what an amazing picture! What incredible hope lies before us! This is God’s own pathway to peace. Let’s break it down a bit.

HIGHWAY IN HEBREW

The word for highway in Hebrew is מְסִלָּה (mesilah) which means railway in modern Hebrew. And for good reason. We are told there will be a highway from Egypt (to the southwest of Israel) to Assyria (an area mostly to the north and east of Israel: the old Assyrian Empire including Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, northern Iran, Armenia, and even Cyprus) enabling travel between those countries. Obviously there were no trains in Isaiah’s time, but the word carries with it connotations of fixed destiny. A train track is fixed in its destination—the train cannot go wherever it pleases, unlike a car. You cannot go off-roading in a locomotive! It is a set path. Funnily enough, there really was a physical railway running throughout the Middle East in the Ottoman era, connecting those very countries! But while that might have been a physical hint of what was to come in the spiritual, God has designed this mesilah spoken of in Isaiah. This is His Highway, and it will happen according to His plan.

Another aspect of the word highway is the fact that it means a raised up or cast up road, hence the “high” bit. The way is higher than the regular terrain. Highways were made by casting up earth to create another level which was elevated. I was at a gathering of Jewish and Arab young adults in Jerusalem and heard an Arab pastor share about how they took gifts to Jewish families near the Gaza border, as tokens of love, encouragement, and support from his church. He explained to a single mother surrounded by children that the toys were from Arabs who love the Jewish people. “Where are these Arabs?!” She exclaimed in amazement. He told her that she was talking to one. She wanted to know more about this remarkable love and found her way to a congregation shortly after that. Political embroilment and furious arguing on the internet was banned in their church, and they were encouraged to take the higher road. “We need to operate on a higher level”, he said. Above the fray and the fighting, above the identities cherished in an almost idolatrous manner, and above the myopic viewpoints of earthbound people at war. They had chosen to live on God’s highway, and as a result, were clearing out the stumbling blocks for others.

And it will be said: “Build up, build up, prepare the road! Remove the obstacles out of the way of my people.” (Isaiah 57:14) 

LITERAL, SPIRITUAL, OR METAPHORICAL?

So a cast-up, elevated road that is set in its direction and destiny… but what does it mean in the context of biblical prophecy?

Are we to expect a literal fulfillment? An actual road connecting the Middle East? Or is it just supposed to be a metaphor about connectedness in worship of the God of Israel?

Often biblical prophecy is fulfilled in cycles. The fact that it comes to pass in one manner does not mean it will not also come to pass in another. Often it is both-and, rather than either-or. As we’ve said, the literal train tracks might be seen as some sort of pre-fulfillment but there is much more to come. It seems, looking at the text, that the fullness of the prophecy in its greatest sense must be when Jesus is sitting on His throne in Jerusalem, but we are seeing aspects of it coming to pass in our days.

There is certainly good reason to interpret it metaphorically. When we read, “remove every obstruction from my people’s way” in Isaiah 57:14 it is more than reasonable to see it as a metaphor. We often talk about removing stumbling blocks and obstacles to faith as we seek to lead people to God, just as the Arab pastor did to the Jewish mother under rocket fire. It clears the way to a path of peace with God and each other. Similarly, in Isaiah 40:3-4, the prophet proclaims:

“In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain.”

Will we really see valleys rise up? Mountains made low? Earthquakes and extraordinary events are certainly sure to come, and I for one will not rule out a literal future fulfillment. Who knows what the end will bring? However it seems reasonable to interpret this in a more figurative sense in our days, which opens up great opportunities for us to help in this highway building enterprise.

VALLEYS RAISED UP AND MOUNTAINS MADE LOW

We can join God in helping to raise those in valleys and bring down lofty heights through our prayers, giving, and partnership. Immediately after the encouragement to build up and prepare the way in Isaiah 57:14, God talks about His eagerness to lift up those who are contrite.

We can partner with God by helping to lift up the oppressed.

Whether it’s by supporting mercy ministries to the poor along God’s highway, or encouraging persecuted believers practically, spiritually, or emotionally, there are many ways to help. It might mean campaigning for the (practically non-existent) rights of believers in Iran, Saudi Arabia, and places where following Jesus can be fatal. It might mean lifting up the downcast in places like Egypt, where believers are treated as second-class citizens, or sending aid to ministries serving refugees in places like Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan. Joel Rosenberg, a dear friend of our ministry, runs the Joshua Fund which helps such causes while blessing Israel at the same time. You’d be amazed how much difference international pressure and aid from people like you can make in these dark places. We can serve as God’s hands and feet to elevate the downtrodden, and be His vessels of mercy. I want you to know this is happening. God’s people really are stepping up to serve. An extraordinarily high percentage of care for refugees, for example, is coming from the hands of believers.

On the other end of the spectrum we have mountains being brought down. Mountains often represent governing authorities or powers, and there are plenty of examples of ungodly mountains that need to be brought low in the Middle East!

In addition to despotic principalities and powers, the puffed up pride of antisemitism must come down.

Do not boast against the branches. But if you do boast, remember that you do not support the root, but the root supports you (Romans 11:18).

Arrogance against Israel is so displeasing to God, who considers Israel the apple of His eye. Many believers in the countries surrounding Israel are locked into the error of replacement theology, believing that the Church has replaced Israel and that the promises and prophecies no longer apply to God’s chosen people. There is deep hostility from generations of familial enmity, so it is a wondrous and beautiful thing when Israel’s neighbors embrace God’s heart for the Jewish people. And it goes both ways. It can be costly and uncomfortable, but God is bringing revelation to those who love Him up and down the Highway, from Egypt to Assyria. This, too, is happening. More than you might imagine.

PREPARE THE HIGHWAY OF THE LORD!

I heard someone say that “God travels along the highway of the voluntary agreement of His people”, and there is certainly a good spiritual principle here. God loves to work with us, with our cooperation and involvement. He wants us to join with His purposes and align with His heart, but He will not force us. We can help prepare the way by praying for brothers and sisters in the Middle East to love one another as Jesus has loved us as a witness to the world. It takes great humility and trust in God for Middle East Christians to accept God’s sovereign choice of Israel, while believing they are no less loved. And it takes courage and love for Israeli believers to embrace the family of God in nations that seem to hate them. But this is the sort of miracle that God specializes in!! Transformations of heart are happening up and down the highway, and have been especially over the last 30 years or so. Movements based on the prophecy of Isaiah 19 have been springing up all over the place, birthed by the Spirit of God. Today Jews and Arabs from these nations meet and gather where they can to worship together, work together, and build the Kingdom of God together. If you have followed ONE FOR ISRAEL for any length of time you will know that ministry to both Jew and Arab is at the heart of what we do.

Jerusalem is the Headquarters of the Messiah’s kingdom rule, so join us as we pray fervently for revelation to come, for that zeal for Zion to arise, and for believers in the Isaiah 19 highway countries to fully align with God’s prophetic purposes with Israel in the right place. We are making the path ready for the coming King.

עִבְרוּ עִבְרוּ בַּשְּׁעָרִים, פַּנּוּ דֶּרֶךְ הָעָם; סֹלּוּ סֹלּוּ הַמְסִלָּה סַקְּלוּ מֵאֶבֶן, הָרִימוּ נֵס עַל-הָעַמִּים. יְשַׁעְיָהוּ סב

Go through, go through the gates, clear ye the way of the people; cast up, cast up the highway, gather out the stones; lift up an ensign over the peoples. (Isaiah 62:10)

 اعبروا اعبروا بالأبواب هيئوا طريق الشعب اعدوا اعدوا السبيل نقوه من الحجارة ارفعوا الرآية للشعب . أشعياء ١٠:٦٢

This article originally appeared on One For Israel and is reposted with permission.