When any of us go about merrily riding a bike, few of us take the time to appreciate the smooth and usually paved road or pathway that makes riding a bicycle so much joy. My wife of some 50 years, Marjorie, recalls her childhood having been raised on her parents’ farm in rural Iowa. Bike riding was far more difficult as the roads consisted of loose gravel or she was trying to ride in grassy areas such as lawns and at times, pastures. Avoidance of the occasional “cow-pie” was also a concern. Obviously, it is harder to pedal and balance on a bicycle in such conditions. In Marjorie’s case the choice of transportation either for fun or for getting somewhere at times resulted in her riding her pony, an old pony named Major.
For those who might live in the third world, roads and paved surfaces are not as nearly common or available. The problem boils down to the realization that bike riding for most becomes either difficult or even impossible if the way has not been prepared. In the third world, the means of transportation might be by way of horse, or camel, or just plain walking. There is little wonder that water played such a role in travel, as ships could be used for journeys, often carrying cargo, along a river, or along a coastline or even over open seas from country to country. Even if the river or stream was too narrow or hazardous, the stream provided a path of least resistance, because it would often be easier to walk along the stream, say, as opposed to climbing over rugged terrain.
Even in our modern society, there are times when bicycle riding can be outright dangerous, as bike riders are at risk of being struck down by speeding traffic. Some highways, notably our Eisenhower Interstate Highway System posts signs specifically prohibiting bicycles. Inner cities are yet an additional concern, in that the highway or riding surface might be smooth and paved, but dangers lurk. Said in a few words, a bicyclist needs to select his/her routing with some care to avoid areas where unfriendly people might attack a vulnerable lone rider.
Isaiah speaks prophetic words as he told the ancient Biblical people
“A voice of one calling: prepare a way for the Lord; make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God.” Isaiah 40:3
The meaning of the word “prepare” is to remove all obstacles, hazards, and obstructions. In the days of Isaiah, it was common or understood that if a very important person were to come, such as king from a neighboring kingdom, then the roads would be leveled and made safe. In Biblical days the process of preparation usually meant that the pathway was cleared of physical obstacles and made level. Even today we see such preparation whenever some dignitary of high rank comes, be it the President, the Pope, or a similar dignitary. Nothing is left to chance. Side roads are blocked. Police guards are positioned on over passes. Manholes along the way are inspected in advance and then sealed lest an attacker try to detonate the motorcade. Once all is declared safe and secure, only then the caravan or motorcade in modern times with the dignitary passes. Nothing else even moves or crosses the motorcade route until the dignitary has passed through and is onto his/her designation. The way is prepared and made safe.
Isaiah is saying, in effect, make way in the wilderness a highway by which God would lead the people of Judah back to resettle their land. Through the prophet Isaiah, God spoke
“Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain.” Isaiah 40:4
As way of a metaphor, this imagery points to the need for an ethical and spiritual preparation for the Lord’s coming.
Malichi 3:1 echoed the Isaiah passage by noting that the messenger of the Lord “will prepare the way before” him. Luke 1:17 appears to be referring to the Malachi passage and the coming of the Messiah by also calling for an ethical and religious reformation as the way to prepare. In those Biblical days, it was the custom for a country to call for an ethical and religious reformation – to make ready a people prepared for the Lord. God had even more in mind when He spoke of “every valley” being “raised up” and “every mountain and hill being laid low.” This highway imagery had appeared in Isaiah 35:8, and reoccurs in the Bible. Isaiah was enabled to see that future time when the Lord Himself would appear.
The simple act of riding a bike is analogous to being a very special person – a person for whom the way has been prepared. When a child is empowered and able to ride a bike – on the prepared path – the child is then able to get a glimpse of the power and glory of the Lord.