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Bible Commentaries
Isaiah 55

Keil & Delitzsch Old Testament CommentaryKeil & Delitzsch

Verses 1-2

All things are ready; the guests are invited; and nothing is required of them except to come. “Alas, all ye thirsty ones, come ye to the water; and ye that have no silver, come ye, buy, and eat! Yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without payment! Wherefore do ye weigh silver for that which is not bread, and the result of your labour for that which satisfieth not? O hearken ye to me, and eat the good, and let your soul delight itself in fat.” Hitzig and Knobel understand by water, wine, and milk, the rich material blessings which awaited the exiles on their return to their fatherland, whereas they were now paying tribute and performing service inf Babylon without receiving anything in return. But the prophet was acquainted with something higher than either natural water (Isaiah 54:3, cf., Isaiah 41:17) or natural wine (Isaiah 25:6). He knew of an eating and drinking which reached beyond the mere material enjoyment (Isaiah 65:13); and the expression ה טּוּב , whilst it includes material blessings (Jeremiah 31:12), is not exhausted by them (Isaiah 63:7, cf., Psalms 27:13), just as התענּג in Isaiah 58:14 (cf., Psalms 37:4, Psalms 37:11) does not denote a feeling or worldly, but of spiritual joy. Water, wine, and milk, as the fact that water is placed first clearly shows, are not the produce of the Holy Land, but figurative representations of spiritual revival, recreation, and nourishment (cf., 1 Peter 2:2, “the sincere milk of the word”). The whole appeal is framed accordingly. When Jehovah summons the thirsty ones of His people to come to the water, the summons must have reference to something more than the water to which a shepherd leads his flock. And as buying without money or any other medium of exchange is an idea which neutralizes itself in the sphere of natural objects, wine and ilk are here blessings and gifts of divine grace, which are obtained by grace ( χάριτι , gratis ), their reception being dependent upon nothing but a sense of need, and a readiness to accept the blessings offered. Again, the use of the verb שׁברוּ , which is confined in other passages to the purchase of cereals, is a sufficient proof that the reference is not to natural objects, but to such objects as could properly be compared to cereals. The bread and other provisions, which Israel obtained in its present state of punishment, are called “not bread,” and “not serving to satisfy,” because that which truly satisfies the soul comes from above, and being of no earthly nature, is to be obtained by those who are the most destitute of earthly supplies. Can any Christian reader fail to recall, when reading the invitation in Isaiah 55:1, the words of the parable in Matthew 22:4, “All things are now ready?” And does not Isaiah 55:2 equally suggest the words of Paul in Romans 11:6, “If by grace, then is it no more of works?” Even the exclamation hoi (alas! see Isaiah 18:1), with which the passage commences, expresses deep sorrow on account of the unsatisfied thirst, and the toilsome labour which affords nothing but seeming satisfaction. The way to true satisfaction is indicated in the words, “Hearken unto me:” it is the way of the obedience of faith. In this way alone can the satisfaction of the soul be obtained.

Verses 3-5

And in this way it is possible to obtain not only the satisfaction of absolute need, but a superabundant enjoyment, and an overflowing fulfilment of the promise. “Incline your ear, and come to me: hear, and let your soul revive; and I will make an everlasting covenant with you, the true mercies of David. Behold, I have set him as a witness for nations, a prince and commander of nations. Behold, thou wilt call a mass of people that thou knowest not; and a mass of people that knoweth thee not will hasten to thee, for the sake of Jehovah thy God, and for the Holy One of Israel, that He hath made thee glorious.” The expression “make a covenant” ( kârath b e rı̄th ) is not always applied to a superior in relation to an inferior (compare, on the contrary, Ezra 10:3); but here the double-sided idea implied in pactio is confined to one side alone, in the sense of a spontaneous sponsio having all the force of a covenant (Isaiah 61:8; compare 2 Chronicles 7:18, where kârath by itself signifies “to promise with the force of a covenant”), and also of the offer of a covenant or anticipated conclusion of a covenant, as in Ezekiel 34:25, and in the case before us, where “the true mercies of David” are attached to the idea of offering or granting involved in the expression, “I will make an everlasting covenant with you,” as a more precise definition of the object. All that is required on the part of Israel is hearing, and coming, and taking: let it do this, and it will be pervaded by new life; and Jehovah will meet with with an everlasting covenant, viz., the unchangeable mercies of David. Our interpretation of this must be dependent chiefly upon whether Isaiah 55:4 is regarded as looking back to the history of David, or looking forward to something future. In the latter case we are either to understand by “David” the second David (according to Hosea 3:5; Jeremiah 30:9; Ezekiel 34:24), so that the allusion is to the mercies granted in the Messiah, and according to Isaiah 9:7, enduring “from henceforth even for ever;” or else David is the son of Jesse, and “the mercies of David” are the mercies bestowed upon him, which are called “the true mercies” as mercies promised and running into the future (Psalms 89:50; 2 Chronicles 6:42), in which case Isaiah 55:4 explains what David will become in the person of his antitype the second David. The directly Messianic application of the name “David” is to be objected to, on the ground that the Messiah is never so called without further remark; whilst the following objections may be adduced to the indirectly Messianic interpretation of Isaiah 55:4 (David in the Messiah). (1.) The change of the tense in Isaiah 55:4, Isaiah 55:5, which requires that we should assume that Isaiah 55:4 points backwards into the past, and Isaiah 55:5 forwards into the future.

(Note: F. Philippi observes that הן , which refers to the future in Isaiah 55:5 at any rate, must be taken as referring to the same sphere of time as that which immediately precedes. But hēn in Isaiah points sometimes backwards (Isaiah 50:1; Isaiah 64:4), sometimes forwards; and where two follow one another, of which the one points backwards and the other forwards, the former is followed by the perfect, the latter by the future (Isaiah 50:1-2). But if they both point to the future, the future tense is used in both instances (Isaiah 50:9). A better argument in favour of the prophetic interpretation of Isaiah 55:4 might be drawn from the fact that נתתּי הן may mean “I give (set, lay, or make) even now” (e.g., Jeremiah 1:9). But what we have said above is sufficient proof that this is not the meaning here (if this were the meaning, we should rather expect נתתּיו הן ) .)

(2.) That the choice of the expression in Isaiah 55:4, Isaiah 55:5 is designed to represent what Israel has to look for in the future as going beyond what was historically realized in David; for in Isaiah 55:5 the mass of the heathen world, which has hitherto stood out of all relation to Israel, answers to the לאמּי ם . (3.) That the juxtaposition of the Messiah and Israel would be altogether without parallel in these prophecies (chapters 40-66), and contrary to their peculiar character; for the earlier stereotype idea of the Messiah is here resolved into the idea of the “servant of Jehovah,” from which it returns again to its primary use, i.e., from the national basis to the individual, by means of the ascending variations through which this expression passes, and thus reaches a more comprehensive, spiritual, and glorified form. The personal “servant of Jehovah” is undoubtedly no other than the “Son of David” of the earlier prophecy; but the premises, from which we arrive at this conclusion in connection with our prophet, are not that the “servant of Jehovah” is of the seed of David and the final personal realization of the promise of a future king, but that he is of the nation of Israel, and the final personal realization of the idea of Israel, both in its inward nature, and in its calling in relation to the whole world of nations.

Consequently Isaiah 55:4 and Isaiah 55:5 stand to one another in the relation of type and antitype, and the “mercies of David” are called “the true mercies” (Probably with an allusion to 2 Samuel 7:16; cf., Psalms 89:29-30), as being inviolable-mercies which had both been realized in the case of David himself, and would be realized still further, inasmuch as they must endure for an everlasting future, and therefore be further and further fulfilled, until they have reached that lofty height, on the summit of which they will remain unchangeable for ever. It is of David the son of Jesse that Jehovah says in Isaiah 55:4, “I have given him for a witness to peoples, a leader and commander to the peoples.” So far as the sense is concerned, נגיד is as much a construct as מצוּה . In the application to David of the term עד , which never means anything but testis , witness, in these prophecies, we may clearly see the bent of the prophet's mind towards what is spiritual. David had subdued nations by the force of arms, but his true and loftiest greatness consisted in the fact that he was a witness of the nations - a witness by the victorious power of his word, the conquering might of his Psalms, the attractive force of his typical life. What he expresses so frequently in the Psalms as a resolution and a vow, viz., that he will proclaim the name of Jehovah among the nations (Psalms 18:50; Psalms 57:10), he has really fulfilled: he has not only overcome them by bloody warfare, but by the might of his testimony, more especially as “the sweet psalmist of Israel” (2 Samuel 23:1). What David himself was able to say in Psalms 18:43, “People that I did not know served me,” will be fulfilled to a still wider extent in the experience of Israel. Having been presented with the promised “inviolable mercies of David,” it will effect a spiritual conquest over the heathen world, even over that portion which has hitherto stood in no reciprocal relation to it, and gain possession of it for itself for the sake of Jehovah, whom it has for its God, and to the Holy One of Israel ( ל of the object, in relation to which, or at the instigation of which, anything is done), because He hath glorified it (His people: פאר ך is not a pausal form for פאר ך , cf., Isaiah 54:6, but for פאר ך , פאר ך , hence = פאר ך , cf., ענ ך , Isaiah 30:19); so that joining themselves to Israel is the same as joining themselves to God and to the church of the God of revelation (cf., Isaiah 60:9, where Isaiah 55:5 is repeated almost word for word).

Verses 6-7

So gracious is the offer which Jehovah now makes to His people, so great are the promises that He makes to it, viz., the regal glory of David, and the government of the world by virtue of the religion of Jehovah. Hence the exhortation is addressed to it in Isaiah 55:6 and Isaiah 55:7: “Seek ye Jehovah while He may be found, call ye upon Him while He is near. Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return to Jehovah, and He will have compassion upon him; and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon.” They are to seek to press into the fellowship of Jehovah ( dârash with the radical meaning terere , to acquire experimental knowledge or confidential acquaintance with anything) now that He is to be found (Isaiah 65:1, compare the parallelism of words and things in Jeremiah 29:14), and to call upon Him, viz., for a share in that superabundant grace, ow that He is near, i.e., now that He approaches Israel, and offers it. In the admonition to repentance introduced in Isaiah 55:7, both sides of the μετάνοια find expression, viz., turning away from sinful self-will, and turning to the God of salvation. The apodosis with its promises commences with וירחמהוּ - then will He have compassion upon such a man; and consequently לסלוח כּי־ירבּה (with כּי because the fragmentary sentence ואל־אלהינוּ did not admit of the continuation with ו ) has not a general, but an individual meaning (vid., Psalms 130:4, Psalms 130:7), and is to be translated as a future (for the expression, compare Isaiah 26:17).

Verses 8-9

The appeal, to leave their own way and their own thoughts, and yield themselves to God the Redeemer, and to His word, is now urged on the ground of the heaven-wide difference between the ways and thoughts of this God and the despairing thoughts of men (Isaiah 40:27; Isaiah 49:24), and their aimless labyrinthine ways. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith Jehovah: no, heaven is high above the earth; so high are my ways above your ways, and my thoughts above your thoughts.” The kı̄ ( imo ) introduces the undeniable statement of a fact patent to the senses, for the purpose of clearly setting forth, by way of comparison, the relation in which the ways and thoughts of God stand to those of man. There is no necessity to supply כאשׁר after כּי , as Hitzig and Knobel do. It is simply omitted, as in Isaiah 62:5 and Jeremiah 3:20, or like כּן in Proverbs 26:11, etc. On what side the heaven-wide elevation is to be seen, is shown in what follows. They are not so fickle, so unreliable, or so powerless.

Verses 10-11

This is set forth under a figure drawn from the rain and the snow. “For as the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, till it has moistened the earth, and fertilized it, and made it green, and offered seed to the sower and bread to the eater; so will my word be which goeth forth out of my mouth: it will not return to me fruitless, till it has accomplished that which I willed, and prosperously carried out that for which I sent it.” The rain and snow come down from the sky, and return not thither till they have .... The perfects after אם כּי are all to be understood as such (Ewald, §356, a). Rain and snow return as vapour to the sky, but not without having first of all accomplished the purpose of their descent. And so with the word of Jehovah, which goeth forth out of His mouth ( יצא , not יצא , Isaiah 45:23, because it is thought of as still going on in the preaching of the prophet): it will not return without having effected its object, i.e., without having accomplished what was Jehovah's counsel, or “good pleasure” - without having attained the end for which it was sent by Jehovah (constr. as in 2 Samuel 11:22; 1 Kings 14:6). The word is represented in other places as the messenger of God (Isaiah 9:8; Psalms 107:20; Psalms 147:15.). The personification presupposes that it is not a mere sound or letter. As it goeth forth out of the mouth of God it acquires shape, and in this shape is hidden a divine life, because of its divine origin; and so it runs, with life from God, endowed with divine power, supplied with divine commissions, 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 does not return from its course till it has given effect to the will of the sender. This return of the word to God also presupposes its divine nature. The will of God, which becomes concrete and audible in the word, is the utterance of His nature, and is resolved into that nature again as soon as it is fulfilled. The figures chosen are rich in analogies. As snow and rain are the mediating causes of growth, and therefore the enjoyment of what is reaped; so is the soil of the human heart softened, refreshed, and rendered productive or prolific by the word out of the mouth of Jehovah; and this word furnishes the prophet, who resembles the sower, with the seed which he scatters, and brings with it bread which feeds the souls: for every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God is bread (Deuteronomy 8:3).

Verses 12-13

The true point of comparison, however, is the energy with which the word is realized. Assuredly and irresistibly will the word of redemption be fulfilled. “For ye will go out with joy, and be led forth in peace: the mountains and the hills will break out before you into shouting, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands. Instead of the thorn will cypresses shoot up, and instead of the fleabane will myrtles shoot up: and it will be to Jehovah for a name, for an everlasting memorial that will not be swept away.” “With joy,” i.e., without the hurry of fear (Isaiah 52:12); “in peace,” i.e., without having to fight their way through or flee. The idea of the sufferer falls back in הוּבל behind that of a festal procession (Psalms 45:15-16). In applying the term kaph (hand) to the trees, the prophet had in his mind their kippōth , or branches. The psalmist in Psalms 98:8 transfers the figure created by our prophet to the waves of the streams. Na‛ătsūts (from nâ‛ats , to sting) is probably no particular kind of thorn, such, for example, as the fuller's thistle, but, as in Isaiah 7:19, briers and thorns generally. On sirpad , see Ges. Thes.; we have followed the rendering, κόυζα , of the lxx. That this transformation of the vegetation of the desert is not to be taken literally, any more than in Isaiah 41:17-20, is evident from the shouting of the mountains, and the clapping of hands on the part of the trees. On the other hand, however, the prophet says something more than that Israel will return home with such feelings of joy as will cause everything to appear transformed. Such promises as those which we find here and in Isaiah 41:19 and Isaiah 35:1-2, and such exhortations as those which we find in Isaiah 44:23; Isaiah 49:13, and Isaiah 52:9, arise from the consciousness, which was common to both prophets and apostles, that the whole creation will one day share in the liberty and glory of the children of God (Romans 8:21). This thought is dressed up sometimes in one for, and sometimes in another. The psalmists after the captivity borrowed the colours in which they painted it from our prophet (see at Psalms 96:1-13 and Psalms 98:1-9). והיה is construed as a neuter (cf., בּראתיו , Isaiah 45:8), referring to this festal transformation of the outer world on the festive return of the redeemed. אות is treated in the attributive clause as a masculine, as if it came from אוּת , to make an incision, to crimp, as we have already indicated; but the Arabic âyat , shows that it comes from אוה , to point out, and is contracted from ăwăyat , and therefore was originally a feminine.

Bibliographical Information
Keil, Carl Friedrich & Delitzsch, Franz. "Commentary on Isaiah 55". Keil & Delitzsch Old Testament Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/kdo/isaiah-55.html. 1854-1889.
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