Isaiah 41:17
The poor and needy seek water, but there is none; their tongues are parched with thirst. I, the LORD, will answer them; I, the God of Israel, will not forsake them.
An Image of God's CareProf. S. R. Driver, D. D.Isaiah 41:17-18
God's Faithfulness TestedJ. Hall, LL. D.Isaiah 41:17-18
God's Promise to the Poor and NeedyC. Rawlings, B. A.Isaiah 41:17-18
God's Tenderness to the Poor and NeedyHomiletic ReviewIsaiah 41:17-18
Spiritual ThirstJ. R. Macduff, D. D.Isaiah 41:17-18
Supply for the Poor and NeedyIsaiah 41:17-18
Water for the NeedyJ. H. Evans, M. A.Isaiah 41:17-18
Wordless Prayers Heard in HeavenIsaiah 41:17-18
The Pity and the Purpose of Christ and His Church: a Missionary SermonW. Clarkson Isaiah 41:17-20
The Claims of JehovahE. Johnson Isaiah 41:17-29

The thought seems to resume the thread broken off at the beginning of the chapter. Jehovah appeals to what he has done and to what he is.

I. HIS MERCIFUL DEALINGS WITH HIS PEOPLE. The scene and state of exile is brought before us. They are dwelling in the "tents of Kedar." They are in the midst of a flourishing commercial empire; yet it is to them as a desert where no water is (cf. Psalm 63:1). The true desert is the soul without the sense of God's presence. But God is not limited by place; and why, in lands of exile, should not the spiritual be as near as at home? The mind is its own place, and can be made happy if it only possesses God. This highest happiness is figured as abundance of streams among the bare hills and the highland plains. In the Orient, water is synonymous with relief from intense suffering, deliverance from death - in a word, with gladness, salvation, life itself; and the sight of lovely Paradises as they were called, i.e. parks of trees - the stately cedar, and the brilliant plane and others. Such scenery enters into pictures of the Greek Elysium, and probably of the happiness of the future life among other nations, and doubtless with a correspondence to the truth. Trees and living water: what more beautiful parable can Nature offer of the eternal energy of the living God? what better hint of the future state reserved for his chosen? The design of all these merciful and wonderful deliverances is that Jehovah's nature may be unveiled, and that the nations may contemplate it with reverence and joy - "that they may at once see, and acknowledge, and consider, and understand, that Jehovah's hand hath performed this, and Israel's Holy One hath created it."

II. JEHOVAH'S CHALLENGE. Let the gods of the heathen bring forward their cause; let them point out the bulwarks of argument behind which they entrench themselves. The "King of Jacob" calls these daemonic patrons and kings of other peoples to confront him. Have they insight into the future? Can they predict the coming event? Can they "declare the roots of the future in the past, or give a direct forecast of the future? God alone can reveal the secrets of the past. If the idols can do this, they are Jehovah's equals, and may be trusted for their ability to predict the future" (according to some, this is the meaning). Or let them do some signal deed, whether of good or evil, and prove at least that they are alive. Some wonder should be performed, at which. mankind may gaze, and by which they may be convinced. But judgment must go by default. The gods "can show no prophecies, cannot so much as speak, are dumb, not gods (Habakkuk 2:18)." And they must be known for what they are - "nothing in the world."

III. SUMMARY OF EVIDENCE. Jehovah raised up Cyrus. When called from the north, he came; and from the east, he shall proclaim Jehovah's Name, and diffuse his worship. Some see (combining this oracle with that in Isaiah 65:3-7) the announcement of a spiritual change in Cyrus. He is made to say that Jehovah gave him all the kingdoms of the earth, and charged him to build a house at Jerusalem (Ezra 1:2). He may have come to believe in the God of the Jews, and so to be their brother. The Persians were monotheists, and held a missionary religion. And the Jews may have recognized such a religion as that of Jehovah (cf. Malachi 1:11; Acts 10:35; Acts 17:23). And projecting themselves to the time of the fulfilment of the prediction, Jehovah and his worshippers point to it as evidence of the truth of the religion. And while Jehovah announces the good news of his return to Zion, that is, of Israel's redemption, the idols are dumb. They have no help, no counsel, to give; for they are vanity, nothingness, wind and chaos. Compare with this nothingness the sentences of Jehovah in Isaiah 10:12; Jeremiah 25:12. Such is the conclusion of the trial. The idols are utterly destitute of strength to aid their friends or distress their foes. Jehovah alone is worthy of confidence and regard, as the true God, Protector, and Guide. In times of deepest distress be can raise up a deliverer like Cyrus, and in his own way and time rescue his people from all their calamities. - J.

When the poor and needy seek water.
The thought of the caravans returning homewards through the thirsty desert suggests to the prophet an effective image symbolising the Divine care which will attend them: the ground at their side bursts into waterpools, and noble trees cast their shade about them!

(Prof. S. R. Driver, D. D.)

I. By the "POOR AND NEEDY" are not meant those who are poor and needy in the things of this world; but in a spiritual point of view.

1. The life of the Christian may be compared to a barren wilderness, leading from this world to that which is to come; in their journey through this wilderness the Lord's people often feel themselves to be "poor and needy" without the cheering presence of their God, destitute of the usual manifestations of His love and the consolations of His Spirit. Water is an emblem frequently employed in Scripture to represent Divine influences, which refresh, gladden, and cleanse the soul, as water does the body. The children of God are sometimes reduced to straits; they "seek water, and there is none, and their tongue faileth for thirst." They realise the feeling of David whilst they are constrained to adopt his language in the Forty-second Psalm, "As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God," etc.

2. But there is another sense in which the Lord's people may be represented as "poor and needy, seeking water and finding none"; it is when they are anxiously desirous of larger measures of grace and knowledge, increasing holiness and spirituality of mind, more complete superiority to the world with the affections and lusts of the flesh, and a growing conformity to the precepts of the Gospel It is a striking feature in the character of every real Christian, that he is never satisfied with present attainments in religion. The real Christian will daily labour to abound yet more and more in the fair and beautiful "fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ unto the glory and praise of God." Here is the difference between nominal Christianity and real Christianity.

II. THE CONSOLATORY PROMISE. The Lord assures His people that they shall not be disappointed in the objects of their desire: in their extremity of distress, and when they are almost without hope, the Lord will hear their cry. Prayer, which is the earnest expression of the desires of the heart, shall never be offered up in vain. Nothing is impossible with God; possessed of infinite power and infinite love, He can and will do for His people more than they ask or think. But further, He is represented as "the God of Israel." The history of the saints in all ages will "bear testimony" to the truth of that Scripture, "He giveth power to the faint, and to them that have no might, He increaseth strength."

(C. Rawlings, B. A.)

The first sense of this passage belongs to God's ancient people, and was partially accomplished after their return from Babylon, partially when the kingdom of heaven was spiritually set up at Jerusalem, but was to be still more gloriously fulfilled hereafter. But a child of God claims all the promises.


1. "Poor, and needy." All creatures are poor compared with God — even the pure spirits, the highest angel, yea, archangels themselves. Especially must this be true of a fallen creature, yea, a restored creature.

2. "They seek water." This spiritually sets forth the sacred influences of the Holy Spirit. They want refreshing views of God's love, realising apprehensions of an interest in Christ, more of the real power of religion, more faith, more repentance, more love, more uprightness, more purity of heart, more humility, more true prayer, more gratitude and praise, more brokenness, more joy, more devotedness. They seek this water. Sometimes with great ardour, sometimes, alas! with little. In the means of grace they seek it, and it seems as if "there is none." They strive, they fight, but they only find their own weakness, their enemies, darkness, and deadness in their souls.

3. "Their tongue faileth for thirst." Few states are so disconsolate. It is vast discouragement. That this is a state into which the soul has brought itself through its own sin, I am led to conclude —(1) By considering the state in which this promise finds the Jews, to whom it primarily belongs.(2) By remembering the promise which sets forth God's usual dealings (Matthew 7:7-9).(3) By retracing the history of one's own experience. If this be so, beware of the steps which lead to this desolate region.

II. THE VAST ENCOURAGEMENT. my people are honestly, uprightly seeking Me. Out of Infinite love, Infinite wisdom, Infinite grace and mercy, I have delayed the answer. Their faith is small, their strength little, their souls discouraged. But I have not forgotten. "I, the Lord, will hear them." The subject is one of unutterable sweetness and consolation to a true child of God. In few things, perhaps, are we more tried than in prayer. But the words of the text encourage not only persevering prayer, they do more. They encourage expecting prayer. Be not afraid of seasons of need. They are usually seasons of prayer, and these are our greatest seasons of happiness.

(J. H. Evans, M. A.)

Homiletic Review.
I. GOD HAS LEFT PECULIARLY TENDER AND GRACIOUS PROMISES TO THE POOR AND NEEDY. It is not the healthy and strong,child of the family around whom the father's love is most closely entwined. Like as a father pitieth his children," etc.

II. GOD HAS PLEDGED HIS ALMIGHTY POWER TO WORK MIRACLES, IF NECESSARY, TO SUPPLY THEIR NEED. "I will open rivers in high places," etc. This would be reversing the order of nature. Rivers do not flow in high places; fountains do not spring in the depths of valleys. God simply says that, ere the poor and needy shall lack water, He will reverse the order of nature and turn the world upside down.

III. THE PROMISES ARE MADE ONLY TO THOSE WHO SEEK AND CRY UNTO GOD FOR HIS HELP. God's unchanging tenderness does not make prayer unnecessary. There must be expectation, desire, and confidence.

(Homiletic Review.)

The application is world-wide. Who is there to whom this description, more or less, does not apply — "The or and needy seek water — there is none — their tongue faileth for thirst"? Is it not the too faithful delineation of weary humanity? It is a commonplace saying, but its truthfulness redeems its triteness, that there is nothing in this world which can satisfy immortal longings. "Thirst again," is the too frequent verdict after its sweetest fountains have been drained. Its best joys leave behind them aching voids, unfulfilled aspirations. After the thirst of its votaries has apparently been quenched at their favourite rills, of riches, honours, ambition, glory, — their name is the same as before, "Poor and needy"; their search is the same as ever, "They seek water"; the epitaph they write over every fresh grave of their hopes is the same, "There is none — their tongue faileth them for thirst." And where, then, is that thirst to be quenched; where else are the wells of water to be had, "springing up into everlasting life," but in the grace and promises of God as revealed in His blessed Word? And, like the waters seen by Ezekiel bursting from the threshold of the sanctuary, "Everything lives whither the river cometh."

(J. R. Macduff, D. D.)

This double promise to the poor and needy stands in connection with other great promises which guarantee the gift of wonderful strength and blessing to God's people. These promises seem to be such as the mightiest servant of God might well desire to have fulfilled in himself. Look, for instance, at the one in verses 15, 16. I think that the promise of our text specially comes in, not for you mountain-threshers, — not for you who are made so strong in the Lord, but for some who cannot as yet get a grip of that grand word of His. "When the poor and needy are not trying to thresh mountains, but are looking for that which is needful for the supply of their own personal wants, — seeking water; when they are in too low a condition to be able to rise to the dignity of service, but are just like poor Hagar and Ishmael in the wilderness, seeking water; when they have fallen into such a sad and sorrowful state of heart that, instead of testifying to the goodness of God they cannot testify to anything, for "their tongue faileth for thirst"; — it is then, in their extremity, that the blessed promises shall come to them: "I the Lord will hear them, I the God of Israel will not forsake them."

( C. H. Spurgeon.)

I. Here is POVERTY OF CONDITION. "Poor and needy." This description applies to poverty of spiritual condition.

1. Most of us would take the position of great poverty as to anything like merit.

2. We have poverty as to anything like strength.

3. As to grace, many of the children of God are, to their shame, obliged to confess that they are poor and needy where they ought to be rich, and where they might be rich; poor in patience, in courage, in faith, in hope, in love, in private prayer, in public influence, poor in every way. There axe many of God's children who seem scarcely to have a penny of spending-money, and they never appear to go to the King s treasury, and dip their hand in, and take out great handfuls of the precious gold of grace.

II. URGENCY OF NEED. "When the poor and needy seek" — what? Money? No; that is only to be poor and needy. Bread? Ay; that shows a harder poverty than merely being "poor and needy." But it is not bread that these poor and needy ones are seeking, but "water." Why, that is generally to be had for nothing, — a drink of water. It must be very hard times indeed when poor souls are in such a state that they axe longing for water, and seeking for it afar, as though there were none near at hand. Are any of you in such a condition, sighing after the living water? Though you have drunk of it before, you are still sighing for more of it, and feel as if you could not tell where to find it.

1. This is an urgent necessity, for it touches a vital point. A man can exist without money, he can live without garments, he could live longer without bread than without water.

2. Do I address one in whom this vital necessity has become an agonising thirst?

3. Further, there is an immediate necessity. When a man's tongue faileth for thirst, and he seeks water, he wants it at once.

III. The third step down — and it is a very long one — is this, DISAPPOINTMENT OF HOPE. "There is none."

1. "There is none" even where they have found it before. Have not some of you at times found it so in attending the means of grace?

2. It makes their case even more disappointing when they have, side by side with them, others who are seeking water, and finding it. Have you never been to the Lord's table, — say, with your own wife, — and when she has been going home, she has said, "Oh, what a precious communion service! Was not the Lord manifestly among His people in the breaking of bread?" — and you have hardly liked to tell her that you have not seen the Lord even in His own ordinance?

3. If you go to places where there is none of the living water, then you have only yourself to blame when you cannot find it.

IV. THE NECESSITY OF PRAYER. "And their tongue faileth for thirst."

1. They cannot speak; they cannot tell their fellow-Christians about their trouble. They are ashamed to tell others what they feel If a hymn is given out, they feel as if they must not sing it. If there is a promise quoted, they feel as if they could not appropriate it, and sometimes the prayer of a joyous brother seems to shoot over their head, — they cannot attain to his experience.

2. If they were called upon to state their own feelings and convictions before the living God, it may be that they have become so mournful that they could not describe themselves. I think we have gone about as low as we can. Here is a man who, to begin with, is poor and needy. Here is a man who is wanting water, who has sought it, but who cannot find it. Here is a man whose tongue is so parched with thirst that he cannot now say a single word, he must sit down in sorrowful silence.

V. Yet, strange to say, now is the time that he learns that SALVATION IS OF GOD. "I the Lord will hear them." What? Why, they cannot speak: "their tongue faileth for thirst."

1. That brings me to this point, that God's great object in bringing His people down so low as this, is to make them pray directly to Himself; that now they may not seek any water, but just cry to Him who is the Fountain of living waters; that now they may not tell their friends about their need, nor even tell it to themselves, but just, in the very silence of their soul, speak with God, for there is a kind of speech which is perfectly consistent with silence, — the speech of sorrow, — the exhibition of the wounds of misery, — the opening up of the brokenness of the heart, — the setting before God, not in eloquent descriptions, but in indescribable revelation, the intolerable want which lies within the soul. The text does not even say that they pray; because, sometimes, even prayer becomes a mechanical act, and we are apt to rely upon it for comfort, instead of upon our God.

2. The prayer which is hidden away in the text — for although there is no mention of prayer in it, yet it is hidden away there — is the prayer of inward thirst.

3. This is the prayer of one who despairs of all means.

4. This is the prayer of faintness.

5. Now comes the declaration of God. "I the Lord will hear them, I the God of Israel will not forsake them." Is it not something that God hears you? I have frequently had to explain this word by speaking of the poor woman who was so pleased to see her minister. She was very poor, and so was her minister; what good, then, did he do her? Did he speak to her a very comforting word? No. The good man did not happen that day to be in much of a mood to do so, yet he did that sister a deal of good, she said. Why? Because he let her talk, and she just told out all her trouble, and he looked sympathetic, for that is how he felt, and that was just what she wanted. She wanted somebody who would listen to her. It is wonderfully condescending on God's part to listen to us. Many of our complaints are only rubbish, yet He hears them patiently. Sometimes, when people begin groaning and grumbling, I wish I was down the next street; but God is so patient and long-suffering, that He hears all that His people say.

6. You know that you have only to get a hearing from God, and you know what the consequence will be when your Heavenly Father knoweth what things you have need of.

( C. H. Spurgeon.)

The late Dr. Parsons, of York, had a tea-caddy which he inherited from his father, who was also a spiritual preacher. Its history was curious. A husband and father, reduced to abject poverty, set out on a Sabbath morning to drown himself, and so escape the agony of looking at starving wife and children. A crowd was entering the Tottenham Court Road Chapel, London, and the man somehow was drawn along with the crowd. Mr. Parsons preached from Isaiah 41:17, "When the poor and needy seek water," etc. He appealed to his hearers needing temporal and spiritual blessings, "Have you put the God of Jacob to the test?" "No," thought the desperate man, "I have not." He went back, told his wife, joined in prayer, and all day seemingly in vain. But next morning temporary aid came, with directions as to work, which he found, did faithfully, and rose to comfort and notable prosperity. He offered a large gift to the good preacher, but it was declined. He sent the tea-caddy as a memento of his gratitude, which he felt could not be refused.

(J. Hall, LL. D.)

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