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Bible Commentaries

Lange's Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical
Isaiah 55

 

 

Verses 1-13

VII.—THE SEVENTH DISCOURSE

The New Way of appropriating Salvation

Isaiah 55:1-5

When we contemplate the contents of our chapters, one could almost outdo the modern criticism and exclaim: This was never written in the Exile ! It must have been written after Christ, by a disciple of Paul who read the epistles to the Romans and Galatians! But on closer inspection one observes that our Prophet describes, not what he lived to see and learned to know by experience, but future things that were still enigmatical to himself. A Frenchman would say: il ne voit pas, il entrevoit seulment les chose futures. I can only understand the contents of our chapter in its relation to what precedes, as representing in what a new and hitherto unknown way Israel is to obtain a countless posterity and a salvation extending in every direction. That Isaiah, in connection with Isaiah 54, our Isaiah 55. shows, that the mode of subjective appropriation of salvation will be a new one. No longer by doing works, but by believing acceptance shall one put himself in possession of that salvation, which a new David, as a new mediator of a covenant, shall offer to the world, not by force of arms, but by His direct and indirect testimony. But this testimony must meet with a timely acceptance, and sincere repentance must prepare an entrance for the mercy of God. Also no one should regard the new way of salvation as unreasonable and impracticable, for not only Israel, but the entire creation, shall quite certainly partake of this salvation.

The chapter has two parts. The first is positive in its contents. It designates believing acceptance of the word as the essence of the new way of salvation. The second part is negative. It points with warning to the obstacles and scruples that must be set aside in order not to frustrate the new way of salvation.

____________________

1. THE POSITIVE NATURE OF THE NEW WAY OF APPROPRIATING THE SALVATION OF GOD

Isaiah 55:1-5

1 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.

2 Wherefore do ye [FN1]spend money for that which is not bread?

And your [FN2]labor for that which satisfieth not?

[FN3]Hearken diligently unto me, and eat ye that which is good,

[FN4]And let your soul delight itself in fatness.

3 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.

4 Behold, I have given him for a witness to the people,

A leader and commander to the people.

5 Behold, thou shalt call a nation that thou knowest not,

And [FN5]nations that knew not thee shall run unto thee

[FN6]Because of the Lord thy God,

And [FN7]for the Holy One of Israel; for he hath glorified thee.

TEXTUAL AND GRAMMATICAL

Isaiah 55:1-2. שָׁבַר is here denom. from שֵׁבֶר annona [from שֶׁבֶר see Fuerst. Lex.—Tr.], (comp. Isaiah 42:7; Isaiah 42:10; Isaiah 47:14, etc..). In Isaiah the word is found in this sense only here.—לוא־לחם is Oxymoron as לא־עָם,לֹא־אֵל, ( Deuteronomy 32:21), לֹא־עֵץ ( Isaiah 10:15), לאֹ־אָדָם,לֹא־אִישׁ, ( Isaiah 31:8).

Isaiah 55:3. The expression כָּרַת בְּרִית לְ is almost as common in the Old Testament as עִםor כָּרַת בְּרִית אֵת It occurs Exodus 23:32; Exodus 34:12; Exodus 34:15; Deuteronomy 7:2; Joshua 9:6-7; Joshua 9:11; Joshua 9:15-16; Joshua 24:25; Judges 2:2; 1 Samuel 9:1-2; 2 Samuel 5:3; 1 Kings 20:34; 2 Kings 11:4; Hosea 2:20; Isaiah 61:8; Jeremiah 32:40; Ezekiel 34:25; Ezekiel 37:26; Job 31:1; Psalm 89:4; 1 Chronicles 11:13; 2 Chronicles 7:18 (without ברית); Isaiah 21:1; Isaiah 29:10. It is true that the expression is chiefly used in the case of a covenant that a superior concludes with an inferior as a benefaction or imposing a duty for the latter (see e.g. Job 31:1). Once ( 2 Chronicles 29:10) it is used in the case of a covenant that the man concludes with God. The expression is evidently in its origin a pregnant construction, as the preposition לְ depends on the verb, not according to its verbal meaning, but according to some, latent meaning in the verb This meaning may be that of laying on, assuring, or offering, according to the context—The expression in חַסְדֵי דָוִד is found again 2 Chronicles 6:42 in Solomon’s prayer of consecration. It does not occur its the corresponding passage, 1 Kings 8, as indeed none of 2 Chronicles 6:40-42 does (comp. Zoeckler in loc.). It seems to me that the author of 2 Chron. borrowed the words חסדי דוד from our text, and thereby bears testimony to its having relation to 2 Samuel7. As regards the construction, it is zeugmatic. For the accusative חסדי ד depends on the latent idea of giving in, אכרתה בדית, and in fact Paul so renders the words Acts 13:34 : on ὃτι δώσω ὑμῖν τὰ ὅσια Δαυῖδ.

Isaiah 55:4. The grammatical construction of נָגִיד וּמְצַוֵּה לאמים is not normal. It ought at least to read נְגיד וגו (comp. Ezekiel 31:16 מִבְחַר וְטוֹב לְבָנוֹן Daniel 1:4). The expressions נִבְזֶה וַחֲדַל אִישִׁים Isaiah 53:3, and נָגוּעַ מֻכֵּה אֱלהִים Isaiah 53:4, are not at all to be compared as Ewald supposes (Gram., § 339,6; see above the comm. in loc.). This construction is therefore an unicum, if indeed the pointing be correct Moreover מְצַוֶּה in a substantive sense occurs only here. It seems me that the choice of expression was occasioned by the Prophet having in. mind 2 Samuel 6:21, where David says to Michal: the Lord chose me before thy father לְצַוֹּת אֹתּי נָגִיד עַל־עַם י

EXEGETICAL AND CRITICAL

1. In chap55 the Lord promised Israel a blessing that would extend on every hand. As if in a well supplied market, all these blessed possessions shall be spread out before Israel. Now the people are summoned to come up and buy, but—without money ( Isaiah 55:1)! It is no longer as it once was when one must do a hard work in order to get food, which—still did not satisfy. One sees at once that the Prophet does not mean corporeal nourishment, for he calls on men to hear. By that one shall receive dainty nourishment ( Isaiah 55:2). And that the importance of this hearing may be felt, he repeats his summons to hear twice. By virtue of this hearing the soul shall live and be capable of entering into the everlasting covenant with the Lord, that shall procure the sure mercies of David ( Isaiah 55:3). The David that is to be the mediator of this grace will be first of all a witness, and hearing will be the condition of partaking of His grace. By His testimony to the truth He will however become also prince and commander of nations ( Isaiah 55:4). But the great chief witness will avail himself of Israel in order to bring his testimony to the nations. Israel shall call nations that it did not know, and these nations will hasten to Israel that heretofore remained unknown to them. But they will hasten up in order to come to Jehovah and to the Holy One of Israel, who also glorifies His people in this way ( Isaiah 55:5). Thus the chief emphasis in this section rests upon the inward, believing inclination to the word of the Lord, something high as heaven above outward merit of works. This believing inclination Israel should bring to the word of the Lord that announces to it the glory of David’s kingdom. Then it will itself dare to preach this word, and, by means of the faith that it will find, it will gather the nations to it, which, according to Isaiah 54:1 sqq, will be its seed, and also the basis of the new, eternal Davidic kingdom.

2. Hosea, every one——mercies of David.

Isaiah 55:1-3. Before the gaze of the Prophet stands Israel, made inwardly and outwardly free from the chains of the world-power by the Servant of God. According to chap54. a rich blessing from the Lord is promised to it. But it cannot partake of it without more ado. Like the old Israel it must fulfill a condition. To the old Israel it was said ( Deuteronomy 28:1 sq.): “And it shall come to pass, if thou shalt hearken diligently unto the voice of the Lord thy God, to observe and to do all His commandments which I command thee this day, that the Lord thy God will set thee on high above all nations of the earth: and all these blessings shall come upon thee, and overtake thee.” Here, therefore, the fulfilment of the law was set up as a condition of obtaining the blessing. It is otherwise in the new kingdom that the Prophet sees from afar with the eye of the spirit. There nothing is demanded but hunger and thirst, and yet, of course, such as is contented with the gratification that the Lord offers. Stier justly calls attention to the fact that our Lord must have had in mind our text when He said: “blessed are they that hunger and thirst after righteousness for they shall be filled” ( Matthew 5:6). Comp. also Matthew 11:28; John 7:37. הוֹי does not depart here from its fundamental meaning. It must not be taken here as a cry merely summoning together, any more than in Isaiah 17:1; Isaiah 18:1, or like Zechariah 2:10-11, where Koehler appropriately translates “Hui” [“ Hosea,” “quick”]. In our passage, the cry of woe has reference only to the suffering condition of those addressed. It is an expression of compassion for their lamentable fate, that offers only an illusory satisfaction for their wants. It is as if we were to say: Alas, ye poor needy ones! Thus Maurer, with whom Stier needed not to find fault.—What sort of hunger and thirst the Prophet means first appears from his offering to satisfy it without compensation. The rationalistic expositors will have it that only earthly blessings are meant. Thus they would understand that the exiles are indirectly summoned to return home by painting up the possessions that would follow on that, which were to be had as water for the thirsty and without sacrifice (Gesenius, Hitzig). Others think only of eating and drinking. Canaan would be incomparably more than in former days a land flowing with milk and honey (Seinecke, Knobel). But construed in this way the words contain a disgraceful deception. No emigration agent ever sought to seduce ignorant peasants to emigrate to Brazil or Texas with such lies as this would-be Prophet Isaiah would have used, if these expositors were correct. For did he represent to them “the restoration of the state under the image of refreshing food and drink,” or did he promise them literally “food and drink, and that for nothing,” then both were unblushing lies, as in general the passages that speak of an easy, safe return over a convenient road well supplied with every thing needful ( Isaiah 35:6 sqq.; Isaiah 41:17 sqq.; Isaiah 43:18 sqq.; Isaiah 49:8 sqq.; Isaiah 51:11; Isaiah 52:8 sqq.), would contain nothing but fraud, if they are referred in the ordinary sense to the return from the Babylonian captivity. For what ever justified such an agitator in promising to the Israelites splendid political relations, support without cost? The outward relations of the returning exiles were by no means splendid. They continued to be under the Persian rule. In that prayer at their feast recorded in Nehemiah 9 we find them complaining ( Nehemiah 9:36): “Behold, we are servants this day, and for the land that thou gavest unto our fathers to eat the fruit thereof and the good thereof, behold, we are servants in it.” And we see that they were obliged to pay taxes as much as in the land of exile; for Nehemiah 9:37 says: “And it (the land) yieldeth much increase unto the kings whom thou hast set over us because of our sins; also they have dominion over our bodies, and over our cattle, at their pleasure, and we are in great distress.” And the same appears still more clearly from Ezra 4:13, where in the accusing letter of Rehum and Shimshai we read: “Be it known now unto the king, that, if this city be builded, and the walls set up again, then will they (the Israelites) not pay toll, tribute and custom, and so thou shalt endamage the revenue of the kings.” According to Ezra 7:24, King Artasasta [Artaxeres] released only the priests and the other servants of the Temple from all taxes.—From Nehemiah 5:1-5 we see that the returning Israelites, at least the poorer among them, had hunger and distress enough to suffer in the promised land, for the poor among those engaged in building the walls beg for a distribution of grain, because otherwise, in order to keep their numerous families, they must pawn their lands, or even, where that had already been done, surrender their children to servitude. Thus it is seen that the returned exiles experienced neither a restoration of the commonwealth, nor was their daily bread given either in abundance or without cost. And yet we do not find in the historical books of this period a trace of their considering themselves cheated. They themselves certainly did not take the words of our Prophet in the sense in which the rationalistic expounders would understand them. For why then did so many, in fact the majority of the exiles remain in exile? If the taxes in the Exile were so oppressive, as some suppose, and the condition of wages so unfavorable, why did not all return to Palestine? Was then the return more advantageous in every respect? According to Ezra 1:5 only those resolved to return “whose spirit God raised” (aroused). The resolve to return was thus a victory of the spirit over the flesh. Therefore they knew well that they would not find the flesh pots of Egypt in desolate Palestine. Thus they were far from regarding the words of our Prophet as promising these flesh pots. We see, accordingly, that if the Prophet was no enthusiast or cheat, but would say the truth, it was impossible that he could mean to promise to the returning exiles fortunate outward circumstances. Now since, as is well known, the expressions “to thirst, hunger, eat, drink, bread, wine,” are very often used in a spiritual sense (comp. Isaiah 25:6; Isaiah 44:3; Isaiah 65:13; Amos 8:11; Psalm 42:3; Psalm 63:2; Matthew 5:6; John 6:35, etc.), so it is manifest that the Prophet means them in this sense. In addition to this the Prophet afterwards in Isaiah 55:2-3 expressly designates the satisfaction as the fruit of hearing: on which more hereafter, לְכוּ is used three times in Isaiah 55:1 not meaning “go,” but “come hither,” because the speaker himself has in possession the things he invites others to receive. The word, therefore, stands here, as often elsewhere (comp. Isaiah 2:3-5) in the sense of a particula excitandi, as age, δεῦρο, δεῦτε “come on, here!”

The second member of the verse contains a completion of the first. It adds, that satisfaction will be given not only to those thirsty ones that have money, but also to those that have none. ואשׁר אין־לו כסף is thus a second subject of לכו and nearer definition of כל־צמא. Vav before אשׁר, therefore, involves the idea of “and indeed.” In the third member come bay and eat a third particular is introduced, namely that of hunger and its correlative bread. The fourth member repeats and intensifies: not only is “for not money” strengthened by the further “for not wages” (מְחִיר comp. Isaiah 45:13), but wine and milk are named in addition as things to be bought. They are costlier and nobler means of nourishment than water. Milk is the wine of infancy, wine the milk of maturity. Thus not merely bare necessities, but the daintiest, noblest gratification, is offered to those craving it (comp. on Isaiah 55:2 b).

Isaiah 55:2. The question: why are you weighing out money? intimates that the man in this case, has a certain inclination to weigh out his money, and that effort is needed to prevent him. And such is actually the fact. The hardest law is easier for a man than the gospel. He would rather put himself to the rack like a fakir or a Trappist, than receive the gift of God for nothing. He will not have any thing for nothing. He does not want grace, but wages, for his merit. And yet what he gets in this way is not bread, not satiety.—For one’s own works are not able to give the true righteousness, and Song of Solomon, too, cannot give true peace. Recall Luther’s monastic life, and then what he found when he had learned to believe. It may at first sight appear objectionable that the Prophet even in Isaiah 55:1, makes use of the oxymoron (see Text, and Gram.), by saying “buy for not-gold, for not wages,” whereas one expects “buy not for money, not for wages,” as, indeed, before he invited every one אשׁר אין לו כסף to come on. Thus one expects ּלא בכסף ּולא במחיר. But the Prophet would evidently say, that of course they should buy. שׁבְרוּ does not stand before ואכלו to no purpose. There shall indeed be a purchase price paid, but it shall consist of לא־כסף and לא־מחיר. That Isaiah, of course, something odd. For לא־לחם explained by לוא לשׂבעה evidently denotes a nourishment that does not deserve the name of bread, that is worse than bread. Therefore לא־לחם is a contemptuous expression. Accordingly לא־כסף and לא־מחיר must designate a price that is worse than money or wages, that does not deserve this name. The sense of שׁברו בלוא־כסף וגו׳ could not be then: “buy, but not with gold, but with a higher, better price.” These words must rather mean: “buy for a price that has not even the value of money or of any other sort material compensation.” Can the Prophet mean to say that? Shall the purchase price that he demands be worse than money, not even money? That cannot possibly be his meaning. Thus we see that we cannot take לא־כסף and לא־לחם in quite the same sense. Now such a negative expression formed by the use of לא may have a various antithesis according to the context; a superius or inferius may be its antithesis. Thus in Isaiah 10:15 we were obliged to take לֹא־עֵץ = “not wood but something much higher; and just so in Isaiah 31:8, לא־אישׁ and לא־אדם = “not a Prayer of Manasseh, but something higher,” whereas לא־אָֹדָם,לאֹ־אֵל designate something that is less than God, less than a nation. The evangelist of the Old Testament gives here ( Isaiah 55:2) a genuine evangelical counsel, whose meaning and long range was certainly concealed from himself. Israel shall no more bring money, and labor (one could construe יְגִיעַ‍ also in the sense of “res labore parta, gains of labor” Isaiah 45:14). For legal works are as money that one has paid for food that deserves not the name of bread, because it does not satisfy. For legal works a man receives his own deserts! But that is just לא־לחם! It does not satisfy, it gives no peace. It does not procure for us the wedding garment, but only our own clothes, with which one will be cast out ( Matthew 22:12-13). In contrast with weighing out money, the Prophet now says what Israel should do in order to get satiety. He names therefore now the true purchasing price, the לא־כסף and לא־מחיר. It consists in hearkening to the Lord. There can be no doubt about the sort of hearing that is meant. It must any way be a very significant hearing, for the Prophet exhorts to it three times by saying שמעו שׁמוע, then הטו אזנכם and finally שׁמעו ( Isaiah 55:3). He cannot mean the hearing with the outward ear, for the Lord would not be satisfied with that. Hearing with the inward ear, the receptivety of the heart, faith must be meant. Amos 8:11, to which Kimchi text refers us, is nearly related to ours. It is not impossible that it hovered in the mind of the Prophet. There it is said: “Behold the days come, saith the Lord God, that I will send a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord.” Receiving the word, the message of salvation, the gospel, such is the price that is better than money and wages (בסף and יגיע). Thus in eat good and your soul shall delight itself in fatness, “eat” and “enjoy itself” are meant in a spiritual sense. טוֹכ. meaning “good” in general has a physical or spiritual sense according to the context (comp. Jeremiah 31:12; Jeremiah 31:14; Proverbs 19:8; Proverbs 24:25, etc.). On the expression תתעוג בדשׁן נ׳ comp. Isaiah 58:14; Isaiah 66:11; Psalm 37:4; Job 22:26; Job 27:10, and with respect to דשׁן Psalm 36:4 to Psalm 63:6), and תחי נפשׁכם, comp. Ezekiel 18:27; Psalm 119:175.

Isaiah 55:3. The Lord then demands faith in His word. But this word is extraordinary: for it announces the salvation that the Servant of Jehovah acquired by His suffering and death (53). Those to whom the gospel of Jesus Christ is no foolishness, no offence, receive the mercies of David. In the Crucified One David is latent. The inscription above the cross unconsciously spoke the truth. The thief is a type to us of the faith that is demanded here. He saw in the Crucified the king. Therefore he is also promised a participation in the kingly glory. On כָּרַת בְּרִית לְ “to make a covenant,” see Text, and Gram.). Covenant making is an ancient thing in the relation between Jehovah and the people Israel. The Lord foretold to the people salvation and the Saviour in a gradual way, always increasing in definiteness and clearness, until at last He informs the chosen king David that He will found for him an everlasting, all-comprehending kingdom on the basis of the sonship of God ( 2 Samuel 7:12 sqq.). This promise is the highest and most glorious of all the promises ever yet made to Abraham and his seed, in this respect, that it comprehends all preceding promises, frees them from their generality, lays them on a definite head, and defines them as a promise of a dominion that shall far excel all others in extent, duration, title and power. This promise is also the foundation of all later promises. For all of them add nothing essentially new. Although they add the nearer definition that Israel itself, and the promised Son of David shall become servants of God, i.e., must pass through suffering to glory, and although they at later periods refine and paint up both these particulars more in detail and in a variety of ways, still that word of the Prophet Nathan continues to be the principal stock around which all later Messianic prophecies are grouped. The mercies of David therefore are those promises of mercy that were given to David in respect to an other, higher David. These mercies of David are also a covenant, as the promises given to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob are called a “covenant” (comp. Genesis 15:18; Genesis 17:2 sqq.; Exodus 2:24; Leviticus 26:42; 2 Kings 13:23, etc.). For in them God not only makes a gift, but requires a corresponding performance. It is true that this covenant has the peculiarity, that it is not broken by single acts of unfaithfulness on the part of men. For it is an everlasting covenant. Such acts of backsliding cause the Lord to use severity, but not to break the covenant Such also is doubtless the meaning of the word נאמנים [“sure”]. At least it should be noted that Psalm 89. after saying in Psalm 89:29-30 ( Psalm 89:28-29): “My mercy will I keep for him forevermore, and my covenant shall stand fast with him (נֶֽאֱמֶנֶת לוֹ). His seed also will I make to endure forever, and his throne as the days of heaven,” it proceeds to say Psalm 89:31 sqq. ( Psalm 89:30); “if his children forsake my law, and walk not in my judgments; if they break my statutes, and keep not my commandments; then will I visit their transgression with the rod, and their iniquity with stripes. Nevertheless my loving-kindness will I not utterly take from him, nor suffer my faithfulness to fail [lie. Marg.],” etc It is in the highest degree probable that Psalm 89. hovered in the mind of the Prophet as he wrote these words. Koester says in regard to this: “ Psalm 89. fere commentarii instar est ad nostrum locum. Similitudo tanta Esther, ut prophetam nostrum psalmi hujus auetorem esse conjicere liceat” (comp. Stier p548, Anm.), Although the latter idea is inadmissible, still the expression חסדי יהיה with which Psalm 89. begins, (and which occurs beside only Psalm 107:43; Isaiah 63:7; Lamentations 3:22), reminds one of our text, as do also Psalm 89:4; Psalm 89:29; Psalm 89:38; Psalm 89:50 ( Psalm 89:3; Psalm 89:27; Psalm 89:37; Psalm 89:49); and in general the object of the whole Psalm is to hold up to God the promises given to David, and on the ground of them to implore protection in pressing need. Comp. remarks below on Isaiah 55:4, and Text, and Gram, on Isaiah 55:3, חסדי דוד.

Isaiah 55:4. If in Isaiah 55:1-3, the Prophet has in mind the time when no longer personal works, but the believing acceptance of God’s word is decisive in respect to receiving salvation, then he stands with his thought in the midst of the Messianic period. And, indeed, the further particularpressed upon him, that not Israel alone will receive that salvation, but also the Gentile world. He sees the barriers broken down that separate Israel from the Gentiles. The David that was promised to the first David is made by the Lorda witness of the nations,i.e., one that shall testify salvation to the nations. That the suffix in נְתַתִּיו (“I have given him”) refers to David Isaiah 55:3, is certain. But the one made a witness cannot possibly be the first David. How would a statement come into this context concerning the task to be fulfilled by the successor of Saul in his time? According to Isaiah 55:1-3, the Prophet’s thoughts are in the future when the marvellous change will take place, that God will no longer require giving from men but only receiving. Therefore I take the expression “mercies of David” as having a double meaning, viz.: not only the promises given to David, but also pointing to David. This of course assumes that the name David may be applied to the Messiah also. But this assumption is fully justified, since not only later, but also earlier prophets expressly designate the Messiah by the name of David ( Hosea 3:5; Jeremiah 30:9; Ezekiel 34:23-24; Ezekiel 37:24-25). The expression עִדִ (“witness”) likewise appears to me to be borrowed from Psalm 89. For in Psalm 89:38 of this Psalm the author concludes the representation of the promise given to David with the words: וְעֵד בַּשַּׁחַק נֶֽאֱמָן. I share the view of Maurer, Hitzig, Delitzsch, Moll,etc., that by עד בשׁחק we are to understand God Himself (comp. Job 16:19, and regarding the expression שׁחק, Psalm 89:7). In our text, then, David, who fulfills “the mercies of David,” is called a witness of the nations, because He testifies also to the Gentile world what God had testified to the people Israel, because He carries out to the Gentiles that same gospel to whose believing acceptance Israel was summoned in Isaiah 55:2-3. In this peaceful way, not by force of arms, shall the other David also become a prince and commander of the nations. To take עֵד in the sense of “lawgiver,” with Hitzig, is altogether arbitrary. On the construction of Isaiah 55:4 b see Text, and Gram. Any way it would express, that the second David shall be the same in respect to the nations that the first was in respect to the people Israel.

Isaiah 55:5. But the manner in which the second David will be a witness of God to the nations will be, not that He will personally and directly exercise the office of witness, but He will let it be exercised by His people Israel to whom He immediately belongs. Although I regard the “witness” of Isaiah 55:4 as being the second and not the first David, still I believe that the Prophet here has in mind those words of the first David in Psalm 18:43 sqq. where, speaking primarily of His activity as an earthly conqueror, he also certainly as a “prophet” ( Acts 2:30), speaks of the call of His kingdom to make spiritual conquests. Especially our words “a nation whom thou knewest not,” recall the words Psalm 18:44 (43): “a people whom I have not known shall serve me.” The disciples and Apostles of the Lord, who received the command to preach the gospel to all nations, were, in fact, Israelites. Through them Israel called nations that it previously did not know, and nations, that before knew nothing of Israel hastened to it ( Isaiah 2:2-3). Israel and the Gentile world have even found in the second David a common centre that draws one to the other. This thought is so expressed in Isaiah 55:5 b, that there Jehovah is designated as the object and goal of this running hither. They came, not for Israel’s sake, but for the sake of Jehovah its God, and not to Israel, but to the Holy One of Israel. But it is nevertheless an honor of a high and unique sort, that Israel is favored with being the instrument of calling the nations to Jehovah. And the honor that the Lord has purposed for Israel, has its root just therein; for this reason it is עֶלְיוֹן עַל כָּל־הַגּוֹיִם (“high above all nations” ( Deuteronomy 4:6 sqq.; Deuteronomy 26:19; Deuteronomy 28:1; 2 Samuel 7:23 sq.) and “servant of Jehovah,” so far as this expression also designates the call of Israel to be the medium of salvation (“salvation is of the Jews,” John 4:22, comp. Isaiah 43:19). And it belongs also to this, that Israel is repeatedly called directly the “witness of Jehovah” ( Isaiah 43:10; Isaiah 44:8). Besides, this clause of the verse is repeated verbatim Isaiah 60:9. As Israel is everywhere thought of as masculine (אֱלֹהֶיךָ,אֵלֶיךָ,יְדָעוּךָ) the suffix of פֵּאֲרָךְ cannot be a fem. suffix, but is a masculine pausal form, as in עָנָךְ Isaiah 30:19.

Footnotes:

FN#1 - Heb. weigh.

FN#2 - acquisition.

FN#3 - Hearken, hearken.

FN#4 - And your soul shall.

FN#5 - a nation.

FN#6 - For the sake of.

FN#7 - to.

2. WHAT HINDERANCES AND SCRUPLES ARE TO BE REMOVED, THAT THE NEW WAY OF APPROPRIATING SELVATION MAY OBTAIN

Isaiah 55:6-13

6 Seek ye the Lord while he may be found,

Call ye upon him while he is near:

7 Let the wicked forsake his way,

And [FN8]the unrighteous man his thoughts:

And let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him;

And to our God, for [FN9]he will abundantly pardon.

8 For my thoughts are not your thoughts,

Neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord.

9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth,

So are my ways higher than your ways,

And my thoughts than your thoughts.

10 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:

11 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.

12 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.

13 Instead of the thorn shall come up the [FN10]fir tree,

And instead of the [FN11]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.

TEXTUAL AND GRAMMATICAL

Isaiah 55:9. Before גבהו the particle of comparison is omitted; comp. Jeremiah 3:20.

Isaiah 55:10. נתן, subject גשׁם and שׁלג.——The imperf. יֵרֵד designates what happens continuously; יָשׁוּב that which is supposed, not actual; הולידה,הרוה נתן,הצמיחה, on the other hand designate simple objective facts.

Isaiah 55:11. The accusative אֲשׁר before שָׁלַחְתִּי is quite normal. Verbs of teaching, commanding, commissioning, as is well known, stand with a double accusative; comp. Exodus 4:28; 1 Samuel 21:3, etc.

Isaiah 55:13. היה is to be construed neutrally.——One might take שֵׁם here as meaning “monumentum,” as in 2 Samuel 8:13, and as Isaiah uses it Isaiah 56:5. But one does better to take it in the sense of “renown” (comp. Deuteronomy 26:19; Zephaniah 3:19); but אות, on account of the addition אשׁר לא יכרת, had better be taken in the sense of “signum, monumentum” that which, as it were, bears and preserves the renown (comp. Isaiah 19:20; Deuteronomy 28:46; Numbers 17:3, etc.).

EXEGETICAL AND CRITICAL

1. Seek the Lord——abundantly pardon.

Isaiah 55:6-7. The entire section Isaiah 55:6-11 deals with the difficulties that actually, or in human opinion, oppose that “hearing” that the Lord has demanded in Isaiah 55:2-3. The first difficulty Isaiah, that so many men are unable to make up their minds to lay hold, i.e., to respond to the Lord’s call, and on their side to desire and seek what offers itself to them. For, of course, the soul must on its part incline to the Lord, who inclines Himself to it. This is the “seeking” and “calling” of which verse6 speaks. Believing is a hard matter. Hence many hesitate until it is too late. And hence the Prophet’s warning, to turn to the Lord in season, to seek and call on Him. For the Lord is not near and able to be found without limitation. Hast thou suffered thy heart to harden or become callous, or hast thou suffered the time to lapse wherein believing is any way possible, i.e., the period of earthly life, that ends with death and with the world beyond which begins the seeing,—then thou findest the Lord no more, He withdraws. Thou canst then no more believe, even though wishing painfully to do Song of Solomon, as Esau who found no room for repentance though he sought it with tears ( Hebrews 12:17), or as those who have slipped past the fateful “to-day” (comp. Hebrews 3:7 sqq.; Hebrews 4:7 and the parables of the invited guests Luke 14:17 sqq, and the laborers in the vineyard Matthew 2:1 sqq.). The second and chiefest hinderance to believing is this, that men cleave too much to evil. They love it too much; all their imagining and doing is directed to it. They cannot get rid of sin, they are under the ban and constraint of it. Hence the Prophet warns, that the wicked first of all must forsake his wicked way and the man of iniquity ( Proverbs 6:12; Proverbs 6:18, which likely was in the Prophet’s mind) his thoughts. This is the negative side of the exhortation. With this is joined the positive; the wicked should turn to Jehovah a. to the end that He may have mercy on him, b. for the reason that Jehovah is (not a strange but) Israel’s (“our”) God, and is inclined and accustomed to pardon abundantly.

2. For My thoughts——whereto I sent it.

Isaiah 55:8-11. These verses reply to those objections that the natural man opposes to the new way of salvation proposed by God in Isaiah 55:1-3. The first objection runs: it is inconceivable that man can obtain salvation simply by believing and not by his own works. The Prophet declares that this objection is groundless. For, he says, My thoughts are not your thoughts,etc. What is foolishness with men is wisdom with God, 1 Corinthians 1:18 sqq. God is great in littleness, strong in weakness, glorious in lowliness, wise in foolishness. Just for that reason He is approachable. The poor and lowly do not take offence at this form of His appearance. No, just thus He is comprehensible to them. But the wise and prudent are sifted by it as through a sieve. Whoever holds his head so high that he cannot go through the narrow gate, must remain without. He is not fit to be in the kingdom of God. But whoever is not offended at the gospel of the manger and of the cross, will be sensible that there is in it a power and wisdom that is as high as heaven above all the wisdom of both scribes and philosophers. The second objection runs: the sermon that, according to Isaiah 55:1-3, demands only hearing and accepting must remain without effect. This objection also is groundless. For it is with the word that announces God’s lofty thoughts, as it is with the products of the physical atmosphere that descend to the earth, in order to render the latter capable of unfolding its life forces. Rain and snow do not return without accomplishing their ends, but they fructify (הוליד cause to give birth, comp. Isaiah 66:9; 1 Chronicles 2:18) the earth, and cause it to bring forthצֶמַח (sprouts comp. on Isaiah 4:2) and give seed to the sower and bread to the eater. The efficiency of the word should be designated as (see Text and G.) an actual certainty. I translate כי אם simply by “but.” The word of God (and one may think here of all that is called λόγος θεοῦ), does not return empty. Thus it is expressly said of it that it does return. And in fact every thing that goes out from God, also that word spoken or written by men by the power of His Spirit, must, as an eternal, real, divine existence, unite itself again with its original source; or more correctly: what comes out of God remains also eternally in God.

3. For ye shall——not be cut off.

Isaiah 55:12-13. כִּי, “for”, beginning Isaiah 55:12, introduces the proof of the statement of Isaiah 55:11. The word of God shall return, not unsuccessful, but wholly successful. For Israel shall go forth and be led with joy. Such is just the efficiency of that word of God that is meant, Isaiah 55:1-3. It is clear that. the Prophet cannot mean the future departure out of the Babylonian exile. But he does mean an exodus of which that physical exodus is only the type. For the historical redemption out of the Exile is both a type and a pledge of the redemption out of the exile of sin, out of the bondage of the devil. The same God that would and could redeem “the fleshly Israel” out of the corporeal exile, will by force of the same love and power redeem the spiritual Israel out of the spiritual exile. And in that exodus Israel will rejoice, and be led in peace. And the non-personal creation will share in Israel’s joy: the mountains, and the hills will break forth into singing, and all trees clap their hands. That this could not be on the occasion of the corporeal exodus from Babylon, is clear. It is manifest, then, that the Prophet intends a much higher, a spiritual exodus. But this latter also has its gradations. When once nature itself is penetrated with spirit and glorified ( Isaiah 65:17; Isaiah 66:22; Romans 8:21), then, what in the word of the Prophet is not merely poetic imagery, but real contents of life, will at last receive its entire accomplishment. In the time the Prophet thinks of, noxious growths will give place to noble growths that bring a blessing with them. Instead of נעצוץ (again only Isaiah 7:19, therefore a genuine Isaianic word) shall grow up the cypress (comp. on Isaiah 41:19), instead of the flea-bane (סִרְפָּד, ἅπ. λεγ., its meaning is debated, comp. Gesen,Thes., and Herz,R-Enc. XIV, p666. I translate, with Delitzsch, after the LXX, Aqu. Theod,κόνυζα, flea-wort, flea-bane), the myrtle (see on Isaiah 41:19). We had similar expressions, Isaiah 35:1 sqq.; Isaiah 41:18 sq.; Isaiah 44:23; Isaiah 49:13; Isaiah 52:9. This glorious act of salvation shall redound to the Lord’s everlasting renown, and be an everlasting monument of His love, power, and wisdom.

Footnotes:

FN#8 - Heb. the man of iniquity.

FN#9 - Heb. he will multiply to pardon.

FN#10 - cypress.

FN#11 - flea-wort.

DOCTRINAL AND ETHICAL

1. On Isaiah 55:1-3. “Hoc periphrasi allegorica (sitiendi et carendi pecunia) notantur ii, quibus arida est conscientia ex aestu irae divinae propter peccata, quique anxie sitiunt gratiam Dei ac remissionem peccatorum, quam se propriis operibus consequi posse plane desperant.”—Foerster.

2. On Isaiah 55:1. “It is no legal commanding and ordering, that gives nothing of which it speaks, but an evangelical offer and invitation, that also gives what it demands. He who gives the command to come, also gives the strength to enable one to come, i. e., faith ( Matthew 11:23; John 6:27; John 6:44).”—Starke.

3. On Isaiah 55:1. Robustis, qui tentationibus peccati et mortis exercentur, datur vinum ad consolationem; rudibus autem et infirmis datur lac ad alimentum, quo instituuntur et docentur.”—Luther. “In Proconsular Africa the ancient church had a custom of offering to those baptized milk and honey for the new childhood and childishness. But Jerome informs us that they took also wine and milk.”—Stier: Offering milk and honey was an oriental custom.

4. On Isaiah 55:1-2. “The salvation of Christ cannot be bought for money, as Peter let Simon know when he offered money for it: ‘Thy money perish with thee, because thou hast thought that the gift of God may be purchased with money’ ( Acts 8:20). It is not to be obtained by any sort of personal merit or work, trouble, or labor (whoever would have it thus fatigues himself in vain, and can never be satisfied, nor find any comfort for his soul), but by the pure, undeserved divine grace ( Romans 3:23 sq.; Ephesians 2:8).”—Renner.

5. On Isaiah 55:2. “Est confutatio et abrogatio omnium aliarum, religionum, doctrinarum et operum. Quod omnes religiones, omnes doctrinae et studia omnia extra hanc gratiae doctrinam sint frustranea et tamen laboriosa, quae non tranquillum faciant animum sed affligant. Diligenter autem notabis hoc praedicatum, quod tribuit omnibus justitiis, quae sunt extra gratiam, quod scilicet sint laboriosae et tamen frustraneae, sicut sub papa experti sumus”—Luther.

“The Papists make God a sun shop-keeper, who would sell his heaven.”—Foerster.

6. On Isaiah 55:3. The peculiarity of “the sure mercies of David” consists in this, that under no circumstances can they be withdrawn from the throne and kingdom of David. Individuals, yea, even whole races and generations, that belonged to those entitled to them, may be excluded on account of their sin. But taking all together, David’s throne and kingdom shall stand and develop, grow and increase to the elevation and extent that God has determined for it. It is to regard the matter from another side when one says: “No man should doubt the grace of God or despair of it. And when we are assaulted by the doubt whether God will even preserve us in the knowledge of Himself, we should oppose to it the sure mercies of David. For mountains and hills may fall away, but His grace shall not remove from us ( Isaiah 54:10).”—Cramer.

7. On Isaiah 55:3-4. “But what is the contents of the sure mercies promised to David? It is this High, Wonderful One, whom God has set for a Witness to men, in whom they should see the divinity, yea, whom He has made Head of the nations! Therefore a Person? Yes, indeed; the Messiah, the God- Prayer of Manasseh, of whom Isaiah has so long spoken mysteriously, as of the Servant of Jehovah. He is a Person! For I (myself even a person) am surely not to go down beneath myself and find my soul’s contents and life in a thing! That were utterly heathenish. No. A Person is the sure mercy of David, and, indeed, the greatest of all: He in whom God bears witness of Himself to mankind, and in whom God comprehends all mankind as in their Head, Son of God, Son of Prayer of Manasseh, the eternally youthful Lord of mankind, and also her, the Virgin Mary’s, Son. Of such a Lord the virgin mother, and mankind will not have to complain. Since this one must arise in Israel, the true Israel, the Apostle choir, shall draw the remotest heathen to itself, and the latter shall run up with joy because they recognize the almighty, eternal God in His church, as He glorifies it.”—Diedrich.

8. On Isaiah 55:6. “Quaerite eum, dum estis in corpore, dum datur locus poenitentiae, et quaerite non loco sed fide… … Appropinquat autem appropinquantibus sibi (Jac4:8), et filio longo post tempore revertenti laetus occurrit.” Jerome.

9. On Isaiah 55:7. “That is the only way of salvation. First, for a man to turn away from his own will of evil thoughts, and then conversion to God who is rich in pardon, and His pity will not tarry.” Umbreit.

10. On Isaiah 55:8. “One of the most sublime passages of Scripture, where more than commonly the נאם יהוה should evince itself as a truth to every conscience… … Whoever in such discourses is unable to hear the speaking Person of God, lacks something in his own personality; he has not yet become a thou that the greatest I may address.” Stier.

11. On Isaiah 55:8-9. The human heart comprehends with difficulty the doctrine that “God hath concluded all in unbelief, that He might have mercy upon all.” But such as do comprehend it exclaim with Paul: “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are His judgments, and His ways past finding out!” ( Romans 11:32 sq.).—“Quanto sum sublimior, tanto et clementior.” Grotius in Stier.—“Not merely the thoughts of an adulterer, fornicator, thief, are deep beneath the divine thoughts, but also those that to reason are good, holy human thoughts of reformation, of the way of salvation and righteousness, are not good for anything, until they attain the elevation of compassion and pardon. Especially in respect to justification, God declares all דְּרָכִים [“ways”], i. e. even religions, doctrines and wise ones among men, basely false, because in the best case they ever obstinately wish to bring price and money for His grace! They ever wish to help themselves, though it is before their eyes that even in nature nothing grows on earth without rain from above.” Stier.

12. On Isaiah 55:10-11. “The prophetic preaching since Deuteronomy 32:1 is frequently compared to rain, and the word is also conceived of as a messenger, envoy of God, Isaiah 9:7 (8); Psalm 107:20; Psalm 147:15 sqq. The personification assumes that the word is no mere sound or letter. Emitted from the mouth of God, it acquires form, and in this form it conceals divine life by reason of its divine origin, and so it runs, alive of God, endued with divine power, charged with divine commissions, as a swift messenger through nature and the world of men, there for instance to melt the ice, here to protect and save, nor does it come back from its round of errands until it has made the will of its Sender operative. This return of the word of God also presupposes a divine essence in that word. The will of God that is concrete and audible in the word is the expression of His essence, and resolves itself into this again as soon as it is fulfilled. The images chosen are rich with allusions. As snow and rain are the mediate cause of growth, and thus also of the enjoyment of what is harvested, so also by the word of God the ground and soil of the human heart is softened, refreshed and made fertile and vegetative, and this word gives the Prophet, who is like the sower, the seed which he scatters, and it brings with it bread that nourishes the soul; for every word that proceeds from the mouth of God is also bread ( Deuteronomy 8:3). The particular point of comparison, however, is the energy with which the word converts itself into reality.”—Delitzsch.

13. On Isaiah 55:12-13. “Away with the base, stale thoughts, as if God the Lord were here only letting lofty words sound through His Prophet, about all the conveniences of the journey for the small number of Jews of that time! This Exodus, this return home of the redeemed, is something quite different, extends indeed in the long perspective through much and various till the goal is reached. The first exodus from the world and sin is meant, thus indeed from Israel that has become unholy, into the reproach of Christ—furthermore the whole way of the church since that time, with all its recurring goings forth, presenting themselves in such variety of ways, finally, and indeed in the most perfect sense, the last redemption to the glory of the children. For again Israel’s return out of obduracy will furnish the last prelude that will be the reconciliation of type and reality.” Stier.

HOMILETICAL HINTS

1. On Isaiah 55:1-5. The LORD a merchant. 1) He invites the whole world to buy2) The price He demands is not money nor performance, but that men will let Him present His wares to them3) His wares; He offers the mercy of David, that gives peace to all the world.

2. On Isaiah 55:1-5. Missionary Sermon. “God’s invitation to the sure mercies in Christ. 1) We hear in it the call of a love that wills that help be extended to all men2) We see in it the law of a wisdom that has resolved to save all nations by a Mediator3) We find in it the reminder of a promise that continues still to-day to be fulfilled among the nations”—“Missions the best glorifying of the kingdom of Christ. For1) They help the constitution of the kingdom to attain its rights2) They set the Lord of the kingdom in the full light3) They bring the distant members of the kingdom into full course.” Dr. Zapff.

3. On Isaiah 55:1. “What God does not work in us Himself He does not recognize as His own. Therefore no compelling law is needed here, no command nor prohibition. For faith does all that is to be done in a free spirit. That Isaiah, it surrenders itself to God, who works everything in us out of grace. And that, also, is what Isaiah preaches, that we should come to the Lord in order to hear Him and to buy wine and milk for nothing.” Arndt, Wahres Christenthum, III:2, 4.

4. [On Isaiah 55:1. “Our buying without money intimates, (1) That the gifts offered us are invaluable and such as no price can be set upon. Wisdom is that which cannot be gotten for gold. (2) That He who offers them has no need of us, nor of any returns we can make Him. He makes us these proposals, not because He has occasion to sell, but because He has a disposition to give. (3) That the things offered are already bought and paid for. Christ purchased them at the full value, with price, not with money, but with His own blood, 1 Peter 1:19. (4) That we shall be welcome to the benefits of the promise, though we are utterly unworthy of them, and cannot make a tender of anything that looks like a valuable consideration.” M. Henry].

5. On Isaiah 55:6. “God has neither time nor place, is ever ready to help and to give, stands every moment before our door ( Revelation 3:20). His time is all time, but our time is not all time” ( Psalm 95:8; Hebrews 3:7; Hebrews 3:13; Hebrews 3:15; Hebrews 4:7). Arndt, ibid. II, 34, 12.

6. [On Isaiah 55:7. A call to repent. I. What it is to repent. (1) It is to turn from sin; it is to forsake it, and with loathing, “forsake his way.” There must be not only a change of way, but a change of mind, “forsake his thoughts.” Repentance, if it be true, strikes at the root and washes the heart from wickedness. (2)It is to return to the Lord: as to our sovereign Lord against whom we have rebelled; as to the fountain of life-giving waters.—II. The encouragement to repent. (1) God will have mercy. Misery is the object of mercy. Now the consequences of sin, by which we have become truly miserable ( Ezekiel 16:5-6), and the nature of repentance, by which we are made sensible of our misery and are brought to bemoan ourselves ( Jeremiah 31:18) make us objects of pity, and with God these are tender mercies. (2) He will abundantly pardon. Though our sins have been very great and very many, and oft repeated, and we are still prone to offend. After M. Henry].

7. On Isaiah 55:8-9. “The consolations afforded by these words. 1) We learn from them self-renunciation2) We learn faith from them3) We gain from them the right hope.” Ed. Engelhardt, in Manch. Gaben, etc., III. Jahrg., p602.

8. On Isaiah 55:8-11. “The comparison of the divine thoughts and ways with ours. 1) They are different from ours2) They are more efficient than ours.” Nesselmann, Ibid, 1870, p477.

9. On Isaiah 55:8-9. “One must take care that an exhortation to repentance with the promise of the gracious forgiveness of sins precede. . . . Thus the meaning is: do not wonder that I say, with God is much forgiveness, and He will have compassion even on the wicked and malicious, if they turn to Him. For ye men are so minded that ye do not willingly forgive and forget, when one has treated you roughly and often offended you. Therefore ye judge me according to your sentiment and thoughts, as if I too were so hard and unwilling to forgive. But my thoughts and my sentiment are in this respect as far from yours as heaven from earth.” Scriver, Seelenschatz, II, Th. 8 Pred. § 13.

10. On Isaiah 55:10-11. Comparison of the word with rain and snow. 1) Both come down from heaven2) Both operate fruitfully upon the earth3) Both return to heaven, but not without having successfully done their work on earth.

11. On Isaiah 55:12-13. The departure of the people of God out of the exile of sin, and evil. 1) That such a thing is to be looked for2) When it is to be looked for3) How it will be accomplished (in joy which shall be felt not only by redeemed mankind, but also by the impersonal creation).

 


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Bibliography Information
Lange, Johann Peter. "Commentary on Isaiah 55:4". "Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/lcc/isaiah-55.html. 1857-84.

Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, September 22nd, 2019
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25
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