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Friday, June 14th, 2024
the Week of Proper 5 / Ordinary 10
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Bible Commentaries
Isaiah 55

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes


Yahweh’s gracious invitation ch. 55

This chapter is part two of Isaiah’s celebration of the Servant’s work of redemption. In view of what God would do for humankind (ch. 54), people would need to appropriate the salvation that he provided (ch. 55).

"All things are ready; the guests are invited; and nothing is required of them except to come." [Note: Delitzsch, 2:353. Cf. Matthew 22:4; Romans 11:6.]

As in the preceding sections (Isaiah 52:13 to Isaiah 54:17), the people of God in view are primarily Israel but not exclusively Israel. As the Lord’s salvation extends to all people, so do the benefits of that salvation-for as many as take advantage of it. This chapter contains one of the warmest gospel invitations in the whole Bible. It forms a fitting climax to this section of Isaiah that deals with God’s provision of salvation (chs. 49-55).

"Redemption has been accomplished. Both in the introduction and in the conclusion of the fourth servant passage it was predicted that the heathen would belong to the servant [Isaiah 52:15; Isaiah 53:11-12]. The Blessings the servant has obtained for his people have been set forth abundantly (chap. 54), and now the invitation is extended to all that are in need to come and to partake of the salvation the Lord offers." [Note: Young, 3:374.]

Verse 1

"The introductory particle (hoi) is mainly an attention-getting device, but it expresses a slight tone of pity. The prophet is an evangelist with a concern for the souls of men and a realization of their desperate condition without the blessings that the servant has obtained." [Note: Ibid.]

After getting their attention, Isaiah, speaking as God and for God, called the thirsty to come and drink freely, and to the hungry to enjoy a free meal (cf. Proverbs 9:5-6; Matthew 5:6; John 4:13-14; John 6:32-35; Revelation 22:17). Water, that formerly represented the Holy Spirit (cf. Isaiah 32:15; Isaiah 44:3), was now available to the people because of the Servant’s work. Jesus extended a similar invitation to those in His day to come to Him to receive this water (i.e., eternal life through the Spirit; John 4:10-14; John 7:37-38). The Lord’s offer was to buy what was free. The only way to do this is to use someone else’s money to purchase it. It was the Servant’s payment for sin that made salvation free for those who count His "money" good.

"The abundance and freeness of the water of refreshment (Isaiah 44:3), the wine of joy (Isaiah 25:6-8) and the milk of richness ([nourishment] Exodus 3:8) and supremacy (Isaiah 60:16) is figurative of the Lord’s salvation with the Servant at its centre (see Isaiah 55:3-5)." [Note: Motyer, p. 453.]

Verses 1-5

Free salvation 55:1-5

The people would need to listen to and rely on God’s unconditional promise, but their salvation would cost them nothing.

Verse 2

It is ridiculous to spend one’s hard-earned money for what does not satisfy, yet that is what multitudes of people do when they pursue things of only temporal value. The Lord urged the hearers to listen carefully to Him. They should choose what was satisfying and what would yield true abundance (cf. Matthew 6:19-21). People can either work for nothing or receive for nothing (cf. Romans 6:23).

Verse 3

Again the Lord urged the hearers (everyone) to come to Him. He pressed them to listen to what He was saying, twice. God Himself is the feast. The result for them would be life, real life as opposed to the vain life described above (Isaiah 55:2). Real life would involve living under an everlasting covenant that God would make with His people. This is probably a reference to the New Covenant, since the implication is that God would make it in the future (cf. Isaiah 54:10).

While Jeremiah 31:31 says that Yahweh would make a new covenant "with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah," that covenant is the one under which all the people of God have lived since Jesus ratified it (2 Corinthians 3:6; Hebrews 8:8-12). Its benefits are not all exclusively for Israel, though some of its benefits are exclusively for Israel and these benefits will only come into Israel’s possession in the Millennium. Jesus terminated the Mosaic Covenant (Mark 7:19; Romans 10:4; Romans 14:14; Hebrews 8:6 to Hebrews 9:22; et al.) and ratified the New Covenant (Luke 22:20; 1 Corinthians 11:25) with His blood when He died on the Cross.

However, this could be a reference to the Davidic Covenant, which is also eternal (cf. 2 Samuel 7:16). [Note: J. Martin, p. 1110; Dyer, in The Old . . ., p. 576.] This new covenant would be in full harmony with God’s promises to David, in the Davidic Covenant, regarding David’s descendant who would rule over his house forever (2 Samuel 7:12-16; 1 Chronicles 17:23-26; Psalms 89:35-38; cf. Isaiah 9:6; Luke 1:32-33; Acts 13:34).

Verse 4

"Behold" introduces this verse and the next, and suggests comparison of them. The readers are not only to listen to what the Lord says but to look at what He presents. God is the speaker, but who is the "him" that is a witness to the nations and a leader and commander for the peoples? It could be David (Isaiah 55:3), who witnessed to the character of Yahweh in his ministry. It could be Messiah, who would be a witness (light) to the nations and lead them. It is probably not Israel, since "him" is an unusual way of referring to Israel in this context. Nor is it the people of God more generally. I think the witness is the Servant Messiah, whom David anticipated and prefigured. Watts believed he was Darius. [Note: Watts, Isaiah 34-66, p. 246.] "The faithful mercies of David" (Isaiah 55:3) point beyond David; they are the faithful mercies promised to David.

". . . the book of the King ([Isaiah] chapters 1-37) portrayed the Messiah as the fulfilment [sic] of the ideal in its royal aspects, but now Isaiah brings the values of the Servant-Messiah within the basic Davidic-Messianic model. It is the Servant, with his prophetic task (Isaiah 42:1-4; Isaiah 49:2-3; Isaiah 50:4), who fulfils the role of Davidic witness to the world [cf. Isaiah 49:1]." [Note: Motyer, pp. 454-55.]

Verse 5

The problem in this verse is the identity of "you" (sing.). It does not refer to the "anyone" addressed in Isaiah 55:3 since this is too broad a field of reference for what the verse describes. It could be the people of God generally, since what the verse describes could apply-to some extent-to all the redeemed. It could be the Servant, in which case the verse means that the whole world would be flocking to David’s Great Son. It could also refer to Israel. In the Millennium, glorified Israel will appeal to Gentile nations (a collective singular goi) that would run to her because of her God. It is clear that more than one nation is in view, because the verbs translated "knows" and "run" are plural in the Hebrew text. The last interpretation harmonizes with what Isaiah wrote elsewhere that Israel would do (cf. Isaiah 2:3; Isaiah 35:2; Isaiah 42:4; Isaiah 46:13; Isaiah 49:3; Isaiah 60:9; Isaiah 60:21; Isaiah 61:3; Isaiah 62:3; Isaiah 66:18; Isaiah 66:21). Perhaps the Servant as the leader of Israel, which also would call the nations, is the solution.

Verse 6

The Lord had reached out to humanity by promising free salvation through His prophet. The listeners needed to respond to Him because those promises would not always be available to them.

"We could translate while he may be found as ’while he permits himself to be found’ (tolerative niphal), indicating a divinely determined day of grace and salvation." [Note: Motyer, p. 456.]

"God cannot be found at any time but only when He desires to be found. What is implied is that the present, when these commands are given, is the time of salvation. The thought is similar to that expressed in 2 Corinthians 6:2 and John 12:35." [Note: Young, 3:380.]

Seeking and calling on the Lord represent reaching out to Him in faith (cf. Acts 2:21; Acts 15:17; Acts 17:27; Acts 22:16; Romans 3:11; Romans 10:14; 2 Timothy 2:22). This is necessary because there is no peace for the wicked (Isaiah 48:22; Isaiah 57:21).

Verses 6-13

Transforming salvation 55:6-13

This pericope repeats and refocuses the invitation just extended (Isaiah 55:1-3). The offer continues to be to come to God, but the focus shifts from receiving satisfaction to resting in faith, and from salvation’s freeness to its transforming power.

Verse 7

The way was open for anyone to return to the Lord who may have wandered away from Him or rebelled against Him. The promise of a compassionate reception and abundant pardon applied, even to the wicked in act and the unrighteous in thought-in other words: to any sinner (cf. Matthew 5:21-22; Matthew 5:27-28).

Repentance is not something a person must do before God will accept him or her. It is simply a description of what seeking the Lord looks like. In other words, cleaning up one’s life is not a precondition for acceptance by God. The person who genuinely seeks the Lord and calls on His name has come to grips with his or her sin and is willing to turn it over to the Lord. After all, an unsaved person cannot forsake sin-or even desire to do so-without the Lord’s help.

God can pardon sinners because of the Servant’s work in paying the debt of their sins in their place. Clearly, a way back from Babylonian exile is not what Isaiah was describing here-but a way back to God.

Verses 8-9

Sinners need to forsake their ways and thoughts (actions and attitudes, Isaiah 55:7) because they are not God’s ways and thoughts. God’s way is forgiveness and His thoughts are compassionate (Isaiah 55:7), as far different from those of sinners as the heavens are higher than the earth. Sinners must make a break with their thoughts and ways to have fellowship with a holy God. The Servant’s work makes relationship with a holy God possible, but our work, having appropriated the Servant’s work by faith, makes intimate fellowship with a holy God possible.

Verses 10-11

There is a second reason sinners need to change their ways and thoughts, with the Lord’s help, and that is because the Word of the Lord is absolutely dependable. All that God has said is reliable, including His promise of pardon and compassion (Isaiah 55:7; cf. Isaiah 53:10). God’s Word is like the rain and snow, the gifts of God from heaven to earth (cf. Isaiah 55:9). Rain and snow are water in its two forms as it normally comes from heaven to Palestine. Isaiah’s use of both rain and snow may indicate the totality of His blessing; every time God sends water from heaven, in whatever form, it brings blessing because it nourishes the earth. Both rain and snow achieve their purpose of bringing life, nourishment, and blessing to humanity (cf. Jeremiah 29:11; Mark 4:1-20; Hebrews 6:7-8). Therefore, since God has promised compassion and forgiveness for those who seek Him, people can count on the fact that if they seek Him, this will be His response.

"As the rain furnishes both seed and bread, so the word of God plants the seed of repentance in the heart and feeds the returning sinner with the blessed consequences repentance produces." [Note: Motyer, p. 458. Cf. Delitzsch, 2:359.]

Verse 12

The "For" (Heb. ki) that begins this verse serves to introduce the conclusion to this pericope (Isaiah 55:6-13), and the entire section dealing with God’s atonement (chs. 40-55). "Surely" (the asseverative use of ki) would be a good translation.

Throughout this section Isaiah was describing another exodus, a redemption from sin, that the Servant would make possible. In view of that redemption, sinners need to seek the Lord, to come to Him for it (Isaiah 55:6-11). Now the prophet concluded, by describing the redeemed, led forth from their "Egypt," going out on their journey to their "Promised Land." They would do so with joy and peace because of the redemption that the Lamb of God would provide. As they would do so, all creation would rejoice because sin had been dealt with for all eternity. This description also fits the return of God’s people to the Promised Land, in the Millennium, that the prophet spoke of earlier (Isaiah 51:11).

Verse 13

The replanting of productive, desirable trees and shrubs (representing all creation), in place of plants bearing the marks of the Fall and its curse, symbolizes the rejuvenation of creation. This transformation, and behind it the redemption accomplished by the Servant, would be a memorial that would honor Yahweh. It would be an everlasting sign of God’s salvation that would remain forever.

Isaiah mentioned three things that would be everlasting in chapters 54 and 55: His lovingkindness (Heb. hesed, Isaiah 54:8), His covenant with His people (Isaiah 55:3), and this sign. This sign recalls the sign of the child to come (Isaiah 7:14). As that sign would be an immediate and physical proof that Messiah would come, so this sign would be the same kind of proof that the Servant had come.

The transformation of the world following the lifting of the curse will be observable. While this description is obviously figurative-hills do not shout for joy, and trees do not clap their hands literally-it represents a real change in nature, not just the joy that will pervade all creation. This is a description of millennial conditions on the earth after Jesus Christ returns to the earth to rule and reign (cf. Isaiah 35:1-2; Isaiah 41:18-19; Isaiah 44:3). If it were not so, there would be no everlasting sign. As the Passover was a sign to the Israelites of God’s first redemption of them from Egyptian bondage, the transformed earth and people will be a sign to all God’s people of His second redemption of them from Satan’s bondage.

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Isaiah 55". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/isaiah-55.html. 2012.
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