Appendix XI. On the Prophecy, Isa_40:3

(See Book II. ch. xi, Note .)

According to the Synoptic Gospels, the public appearance and preaching of John was the fulfilment of the prediction with which the second part of the prophecies of Isaiah opens, called by the Rabbis, ‘the book of consolations.’ After a brief general preface (Isa_40:1, Isa_40:2), the words occur which are quoted by Matthew and Mark (Isa_40:3), and more fully by Luke (Isa_40:3-5). A more, appropriate beginning of ‘the book of consolations’ could scarcely be conceived.

The quotation of Isa_40:3 is made according to the LXX., the only difference being the change of ‘the paths of our God’ into ‘His paths.’ The divergences between the LXX. and our Hebrew text of Isa_40:4, Isa_40:5 are somewhat more numerous, but equally unimportant – the main difference from the Hebrew original lying in this, that, instead of rendering ‘all flesh shall see it together,’ we have in the LXX. and the New Testament, ‘all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’ As it can scarcely be supposed that the LXX. ישעוּ for יחדו, we must regard their rendering as Targumic. Lastly, although according to the accents in the Hebrew Bible we should read, ‘The Voice of one crying: In the wilderness prepare,’ etc., yet, as alike the LXX., the Targum, and the Synoptists render, ‘The Voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare,’ their testimony must be regarded as outweighing the authority of the accents, which are of so much later date.

But the main question is, whether Isa_40:3, etc., refers to Messianic times or not. Most modern interpreters regard it as applying to the return of the exiles from Babylon. This is not the place to enter on a critical discussion of the passage; but it may be remarked that the insertion of the word ‘salvation’ in Isa_40:5 by the LXX. seems to imply that they had viewed it as Messianic. It is, at any rate, certain that the Synoptists so understood the rendering of the LXX. But this is not all. The quotation from Isa 40 was regarded by the Evangelists as fulfilled, when John the Baptist announced the coming Kingdom of God. We have proof positive that, on the supposition of the correctness of the announcement made by John, they only took the view of their contemporaries in applying Isa_60:3, etc., to the preaching of the Baptist. The evidence here seems to be indisputable, for the Targum renders the close of Isa_40:9 (‘say unto the cities of Judah, Behold your God!’) by the words: ‘Say to the cities of the House of Judah, the Kingdom of your God shall be manifested.’

In fact, according to the Targum, ‘the good tidings’ are not brought by Zion nor by Jerusalem, but to Zion and to Jerusalem.