Isaiah 55
Pulpit Commentary
Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.
Verses 1-7. - AN EXHORTATION TO SPIRITUALITY AND REPENTANCE. The prophet passes from the ideal to the actual, from the glorious future to the unsatisfactory present. The people are not ripe for the blessings of the Messianic kingdom - they do not sufficiently value them. Hence a tender exhortation is addressed to them by God himself, inviting them to become more spiritually minded (vers. 1-3), and fresh promises are held out to the obedient (vers. 3-5). The disobedient are then somewhat sternly exhorted to turn from their evil ways and repent (vers. 6, 7). Verse 1. - Ho, every one that thirsteth! Though the mass are gross and carnally minded, there will ever be some who have higher aspirations - who hunger and thirst after righteousness" (Matthew 5:6), and desire spiritual blessings. These are invited, first of all, to come and partake of the good things provided for them in Messiah's kingdom. Come ye to the waters (on the spiritual symbolism of water, see the homiletics on Isaiah 44:3, 4). Here the "peace" and "righteousness" of the Messianic kingdom (Isaiah 54:13, 14) are especially intended. Our Lord's cry on the last day of the Feast of Tabernacles (John 7:7) is clearly an echo of this. Wine and milk. These are not symbols of temporal blessings, as many have thought. "Wine, water, and milk are," as Delitzsch says, "figurative representations of spiritual revival, re-creation, and nourishment." Without money and without price. God's spiritual gifts are freely given to men; they cannot be purchased. Being in their own nature "more precious than rubies," their value transcends human means of payment. They cannot even be earned by man's best works; for man's best works are comprised in his duty to God, and have, therefore, no purchasing power. God may choose to reward them; but if he does it is of his free grace.
Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread? and your labour for that which satisfieth not? hearken diligently unto me, and eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness.
Verse 2. - Wherefore do ye spend money? literally, wherefore do ye weigh silver?-silver being the ordinary currency, and money transactions, in default of a coinage, being by weight (cf. Genesis 23:16; Zechariah 11:12). For that which is not bread; i.e. "for that which has no real value - which cannot sustain you, which will do you no good." The affections of the great mass of the Israelites were set on worldly things, on enriching themselves - adding field to field, and house to house (Isaiah 5:8). They did not care for spiritual blessings, much less "hunger and thirst" after them. That which satisfieth not. Worldly things can never satisfy the heart, not even the heart of the worldly. "What fruit had ye then in those things," says St. Paul, "whereof ye are now ashamed?" (Romans 6:21). Hearken diligently unto me; rather, hearken, oh, hearken unto me. The phrase is one of earnest exhortation. It implies the strong disinclination of Israel to listen, and seeks to overcome it (compare the opening words of the next verse). Let your soul delight itself in fatness (comp. Psalm 36:8; Psalm 63:5; and Isaiah 25:6). The spiritual blessings of the Messianic kingdom are richer dainties than any that this world has to offer. The soul that obtains them "delights" in them, and is satisfied with them (Psalm 17:15).
Incline your ear, and come unto me: hear, and your soul shall live; and I will make an everlasting covenant with you, even the sure mercies of David.
Verse 3. - Come unto me (comp. ver. 1, "Come ye to the waters"). God dispenses the waters (see Isaiah 44:3). I will make an everlasting covenant with you. That the "everlasting covenant" once made between God and man had been broken by man, and by Israel especially, is a part of the teaching contained in the earlier portion of Isaiah (Isaiah 24:5). We find the same asserted in the prophecies of his contemporary, Hosea (Hosea 6:7). It would naturally follow from this that, unless God gave up man altogether, he would enter into a new covenant with him. Accordingly, this new covenant is announced, both in Hosea (Hosea 2:18-20) and in the later chapters of Isaiah, repeatedly (Isaiah 42:6; Isaiah 49:8; Isaiah 54:10; Isaiah 4:3; Isaiah 56:4, 6; Isaiah 59:21; Isaiah 61:8). Having been thus set before the nation, it is further enlarged upon by Jeremiah (Jeremiah 31:31-33; Jeremiah 32:40; Jeremiah 11:5) and Ezekiel (Ezekiel 16:60-62; Ezekiel 34:25; Ezekiel 37:26-28). Almost all commentators allow that the Christian covenant is intended - that "new covenant" (Hebrews 9:15) under which man obtains pardon and salvation through the Mediatorship of Christ. Even the sure mercies of David. The "sure mercies of David" are the loving and merciful promises which God made to him. These included the promise that the Messiah should come of his seed, and sit on his throne, and establish an everlasting kingdom (Psalm 89:2-5, 19-37), and triumph over death and hell (Psalm 16:9, 10), and give peace and happiness to Israel (Psalm 132:15-18). The promises made to David, rightly understood, involve all the essential points of the Christian covenant.
Behold, I have given him for a witness to the people, a leader and commander to the people.
Verse 4. - Behold, I have given him for a witness. By ordinary rules of grammar, the pronoun "him" should refer to David; and so the passage is understood by Gesenius, Maurer, Hitzig, Ewald, Knobel, Delitzsch, and Mr. Cheyne. But, as Isaiah frequently sets aside ordinary grammatical rules, and as the position to the person here spoken of seems too high for the historical David, a large number of commentators, including Vitringa, Michaelis, Dathe, Rosenmuller, Umbreit, and Dr. Kay, consider that the Messiah is intended. It is certainly difficult to see how the historical David could be, at this time and in the future, a "leader and commander to the peoples" who were about to flock into the Messianic kingdom. A witness... a leader and commander. Christ was all these. He "came to bear witness to the truth" (John 18:37), and "before Pilate witnessed a good confession" (1 Timothy 6:13). He "feeds and leads" his people (Revelation 7:17), and is the "Commander" under whose banner they serve (2 Timothy 2:3, 4). What he is to his people, he is also of the "peoples" generally; for they have been called into his kingdom, People... people; rather, peoples.
Behold, thou shalt call a nation that thou knowest not, and nations that knew not thee shall run unto thee because of the LORD thy God, and for the Holy One of Israel; for he hath glorified thee.
Verse 5. - Thou shalt call a nation that thou knowest not (comp. Psalm 18:43). The object of address in this verse appears to be the Messiah. He, at his coming, will "call" into his kingdom "a nation," or rather, "people," with whom he has had no covenant hitherto; and they will readily and gladly obey the call. Thus God's kingdom will be enlarged, and Israel's glory will be increased, Because of the Lord... for he hath glorified thee. The great cause of the attraction will be the "glory" which God the Father has bestowed upon his Son, by raising him from the dead, and exalting him to a seat at his right hand in heaven (Acts 2:32-35; Acts 3:13-15).
Seek ye the LORD while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near:
Verse 6. - Seek ye the Lord. Again the strain changes. The people are once more addressed, but in a tone of reproach. Israel must "seek the Lord" without delay, or the opportunity will be past; God will have withdrawn himself from them. He "will not alway be chiding, neither keepeth he his anger for ever" (Psalm 103:9).
Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the LORD, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
Verse 7. - Let the wicked forsake his way; i.e. his mode of life. A general promise of forgiveness of sin upon repentance and amendment of life was first given to Israel through Solomon (2 Chronicles 7:14). The doctrine is largely preached by the prophets; but is nowhere more distinctly and emphatically laid down than in this place. God's will is to "multiply pardon," if man will only turn to him.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD.
Verses 8-13. - A FRESH ASSURANCE or DELIVERANCE FROM BABYLON. Man can scarcely conceive of the deliverance which God designs; but God's thoughts are not as man's (vers. 8, 9). God's word, once pronounced, is potent to effect its purpose (vers. 10, 11). Deliverance from Babylon, having been promised, will take place, and will be accompanied by all manner of spiritual blessings (vers. 12, 13). Verses 8, 9. - My thoughts are not your thoughts. Though man is made in God's image (Genesis 1:27), yet the nature of God in every way infinitely transcends that of man. Both the thoughts and the acts of God surpass man's understanding. Men find it hard to pardon those who have offended them; God can pardon, and "pardon abundantly." Men cannot conceive of coming changes, when they pass certain limits. God knows assuredly what changes are approaching, since they are his doing.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.
For as the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater:
Verse 10. - As the rain... and the snow. The rain and the snow are God's ministers (Psalm 148:8), and go forth from him, just as his word does. They have an appointed work to do, and do not return to him, whose ministers they are, until they have done it. It is best to translate, with Delitzsch and Mr. Cheyne, "As the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, except it hath watered the earth," etc. The writer is, apparently, aware, as the writer of Ecclesiastes is, that the water which falls from heaven in the shape of rain does return thither again in the shape of vapour (see Ecclesiastes 1:7).
So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.
Verse 11. - So shall my word be. God's word is creative. With the utterance the result is achieved. Hence the sublime passage, which even heathenism could admire (Longin., 'De Sublim.,' § 9), "And God said, Let there be light: and there was light" (Genesis 1:3). Hence, too, the more general statement, "By the Word of the Lord were the heavens made; and all the host of them by the breath of his mouth" (Psalm 33:6; comp. Psalm 148:5). But it shall accomplish; rather, unless it has accomplished. There is a mixture of two constructions, "It shall not return void," and "It shall not return unless it has accomplished," etc. It shall prosper. Every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God has a prosperous course. It is endued with life from God, and (as Delitzsch says) "runs like a swift messenger through nature and the world of man, there to melt the ice, as it were, and here to heal and to save; and it does not return from its course till it has given effect to the will of the Sender. "The special "word" which the prophet has here in mind is the promise, so frequently given, of deliverance from Babylon and return in peace and joy to Palestine. But he carries his teaching beyond the immediate occasion, for the benefit of the people of God in all ages.
For ye shall go out with joy, and be led forth with peace: the mountains and the hills shall break forth before you into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.
Verse 12. - Ye shall go out with joy, and be led forth with peace (comp. Isaiah 35:10; Isaiah 40:9-11; Isaiah 43:3-6, 19-21, etc.). A strong contrast is frequently drawn between the exodus from Babylon and that from Egypt. On the former occasion all was hurry, alarm, disquiet, danger. The later exodus will be accompanied with "peace" and "joy" (see Isaiah 51:9 - 16, etc.). (For the fulfilment, see Ezra 1, 2, and 7, 8.) The mountains and the hills shall break forth before you into singing. All nature shall rejoice at your deliverance, especially the noblest and the grandest parts of nature - "the mountains and the hills." Isaiah's admiration of mountains continually reveals itself throughout the work (Isaiah 5:25; Isaiah 13:2, 4; Isaiah 14:25; Isaiah 22:5; Isaiah 30:17, 25; Isaiah 34:3; Isaiah 40:4, 9, 12; Isaiah 42:11, 15, etc.). It is quite in his manner to speak of nature as bursting forth into singing (Isaiah 35:2; Isaiah 44:23; Isaiah 49:13). All the trees of the field shall clap their hands. The metaphor is not found elsewhere in Isaiah, but appears in Psalm 98:8.
Instead of the thorn shall come up the fir tree, and instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle tree: and it shall be to the LORD for a name, for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.
Verse 13. - Instead of the thorn shall come up the fir tree. "Briars and thorns" were to overgrow the unfruitful vineyard, according to Isaiah 5:6; and to cover the land of God's people, according to Isaiah 32:13. This would be literally the case to a large extent, while the land was allowed to lie waste. The literal meaning is not, however, the whole meaning, or even the main meaning, here. "Briars and thorns" represent a general state of wretchedness and sin. The "fir" and "myrtle" represent a happy external condition of life, in which men "do righteously." It shall be to the Lord for a name. This "regenerated creation" will show forth the glory of God to mankind at large, and "get him a name" among them (comp. Isaiah 63:12; Jeremiah 13:11). For an everlasting sign. It will also he to God himself an enduring sign of the covenant of peace which he has made with his people, not to hide his face from them any more, but to have mercy on them "with everlasting kindness" (Isaiah 54:7-10).

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