Prepare the Way: The Royal Background of Divine Procession in Isaiah

The phrase “prepare the way” (פַּנּוּ דֶּרֶךְ) is used three times in Isaiah (40:3; 57:14; 62:10). The passages about the way and specifically the three “prepare the way” passages have often been compared together and discussed in terms of the compositional history of Isaiah (cf. Lim 2010; Barstad 1989). Many scholars have claimed that these reference a new exodus (Sassou 2018; Cajot 2002; Klein 1979; Eddinger 1999; Fishbane 1979; Tiemeyer 2011) or a processional route from Sinai (Motyer 1999; Watts 2005; Oswalt 1998; Goldingay 1995). Others have viewed the procession as reflective of Babylonian processional routes, typically in the akītu festival (Westermann 1969; Motyer 1999; Watts 2005; Stuhlmueller 1970). Besides the question of whether it is procession or exodus imagery, scholars are divided about whether “the way” described in each of these passages is the same. Scholars who believe that Isaiah is written by multiple authors believe that “the way” is used differently in each case. For example, Westermann, among others, believes that the historical processional background of Isaiah 40:3 is spiritualized in the later passages. In another example, Motyer connects Isaiah 40:3 with Babylonian processions but does not connect 57:14 or 62:10 with Babylonian processions and only indirectly to 40:3.
In this paper, I will argue that the way being prepared is part of a single procession in three commands that build upon each other. Specifically, the passages reflect David’s cultic procession with the ark of the covenant in 2 Samuel 6:12–19 but with Yahweh as the divine king. First, the way for Yahweh to travel to the city is prepared (40:3). Second, the (cultic) people follow (57:14), and finally the gates of the cultic area are opened for the broader community to celebrate the installment of the deity in the temple (62:10).
To show this, leitwörter and thematic connections between 40:3, 57:14, and 62:10 will be explored to demonstrate the connection between these texts. Second, the description of David’s cultic processions from outside the city into the cultic area will be examined. Finally, the presence of these processional elements will be compared within the “prepare the way” passages of Isaiah as well as a brief description of royal ideology in Deuteronom(ist)ic History and the development to divine rule in Deutero- and Trito-Isaiah.

2 thoughts on “Prepare the Way: The Royal Background of Divine Procession in Isaiah”

Leave a Comment