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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
Isaiah 55

 

 

Introduction

Chapter 55 A Call To Respond To The Witness of the Servant And The Certainty Of Its Success.

God (or the Servant) now sends out a call to Israel and the nations to respond to what is on offer through the Servant. They must come and eat and drink, and enjoy the portion that He has obtained (Isaiah 53:12) and offers to share with all. It is guaranteed by an everlasting covenant (Isaiah 55:3), and in the presentation of the work and splendour of the Servant through Whom it is obtained (Isaiah 55:4-5). And its success is guaranteed (Isaiah 55:5). Let men then seek Yahweh, turning from sin and coming to Him (Isaiah 55:6-7), and they will find mercy and abundant pardon.

And in the end the success of what He has done will not depend on man. His word will go out and be effective and fulfil all His will because of its intrinsic power as His word (Isaiah 55:9-13) revealing the everlasting greatness of Yahweh (Isaiah 55:13).


Verses 1-3

The Call To Respond (Isaiah 55:1-3).

What follows must not be isolated from the context. This appeal is possible because of the work of the Servant. Now salvation is freely open to all.

Isaiah 55:1

‘Ho, every one who thirsts,

Come to the waters,

And he who has no money

Come, buy and eat,

Yes, come, buy wine and milk,

Without money and without price.

The cry is possibly modelled on that of a water-seller or a street vendor as he goes through the streets with his wares. Good drinkable water was not a cheap commodity, and the water-seller had plenty of trade. But here one comes offering a different water, it is the water of life. And we may see the offerer as God, or as the Servant.

This water has been described in Isaiah 44:3-5. It is life-giving water, the water of the Spirit, the water of Yahweh’s blessing. And it produces fruit and brings men in submission to Yahweh. And it is on offer to all who will receive it. And it is water that will satisfy their thirst (compare John 4:14).

And because of the Servant’s work all may come for this water. There is no limit. There is no cost. Even those who have no money are welcome, for it is without price. And there is not only water, but wine and milk and food. God’s abundant provision is for all who will come. They are invited to God’s feast (compare Isaiah 25:6), and it is a feast of mercy and abundant pardon (Isaiah 55:7). It is a call to receive righteousness.

In Proverbs 9:5 it is wisdom that calls men to, ‘Come, eat of my bread and drink of my wine’. Here the Servant offers even more. They may eat and drink of what He has done for them, and receive life through the Spirit.

Isaiah 55:2-3

‘Why do you spend money for that which is not bread?

And your labour for that which does not satisfy?

Listen carefully to me, and eat that which is good,

And let your soul delight itself in fatness.

Incline your ear and come to me,

Hear, and your soul will live.’

The challenge then goes out as to why men spend money on that which is not bread, that which does not really feed and fill them, and why they work so hard to obtain what does not satisfy. For that is what life is for many, working hard and spending money. But they are no better off for it. They are still unsatisfied. They are concentrating their efforts on the wrong thing. They do not find life, and peace and joy. And yet, if they would only listen, God’s Servant is offering them what is good, what will feed and satisfy them to the full. It is something that, if they hear and respond to it, will bring life deep within them.

And what is this wonderful offer? It is to respond to God, to respond to His word and covenant. It is to recognise the work of the Servant. It is to come and be declared righteous through His sacrifice. It is to eat the food of forgiveness, and to drink of God’s mercy and receive new life. It can all be summarised in Isaiah 1:16-19, with the added fact of what the Servant has accomplished.

Isaiah 52:3

And I will make an everlasting covenant with you,

Even the sure mercies of David.’

Here is the essence of it. If His people seek Him truly God will enter into a new covenant with them, an everlasting covenant. This must include the covenant of peace (Isaiah 54:10), which comes from His everlasting covenant love (Isaiah 54:8), whereby they are made right with God and are brought to be at peace with Him, but it also includes the sure promises made to David, the certainty of His worldwide rule under God.

This covenant of peace was sealed through the Servant. It is He Who has enabled peace, and, as the mediator (making intercession and atonement - Isaiah 53:10-12) between God in His antipathy against sin, and man in His sinfulness, has, through the sacrifice of Himself, bearing their sin on Himself where God ‘made it to meet’ (Isaiah 53:6), made it possible for them to become guiltless before God and partake in His resurrection (Isaiah 53:10; Isaiah 26:19; Isaiah 25:8).

But it is more. It is a covenant which includes the sure mercies of David, the promise that God will establish David’s seed for ever on the throne which will be established for ever (2 Samuel 7:16) and that He will give Him the nations for His inheritance and the uttermost parts of the earth for His possession (Psalms 2:8). It is a promise of worldwide blessing (Genesis 12:3) and worldwide rule, under the Kingly Rule of God. What began with a promise to Abraham has resulted in this glorious fulfilment through the One Who is the Seed of Abraham.

So the covenant that the Servant makes includes the Davidic covenant, and the Servant proves to be in the Davidic line. And this covenant involves His being called Wonderful, Counsellor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father and the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6), established by God and given worldwide dominion for ever (Isaiah 9:7) as He divides the spoil of what He has accomplished to all in the nations who respond to Him (Isaiah 53:12).

Much of what this covenant meant for Israel has already been considered. See Isaiah 11:1-9; Isaiah 32:1-2; Isaiah 32:15-17; Isaiah 33:17; Isaiah 33:20-24. But now the cost of it has been revealed (Isaiah 52:13 to Isaiah 53:12) as well as its worldwide success (compare Isaiah 9:7; Isaiah 42:6; Isaiah 49:6).


Verse 4-5

The Witness to The Peoples (Isaiah 55:4-5).

Isaiah 55:4

‘Behold, I have given him for a witness to the peoples,

A prince (nagid) and commander to the peoples.’

In Isaiah 11:10 the seed of Jesse was given as an ensign, a banner, to the peoples, to which the nations would seek. Here He is, as the Servant, given as a witness to the peoples, with the result that He becomes their prince (nagid - God-appointed leader) and commander. God’s purpose originally for His Servant was that he should be a witness to the peoples (Isaiah 43:10; Isaiah 43:12), but in his Israel/Jacob form that witness failed. Now, however, the Servant in His form as the suffering Servant and Davidic king, has become that witness, and as a result receives leadership and command over them under God. The Servant and the Davidic king have become revealed as One, and His kingship will be accomplished by His witness, and not by force.

Isaiah 55:5

‘Behold you will call a nation that you know not,

And a nation that did not know you will run to you,

Because of Yahweh your God, and for the Holy One of Israel,

For he has glorified you.’

This may be intended as referring to the Servant, the leader and commander of the peoples. Not only will Israel be called back to God by Him, but other nations too will experience the call of God, just as Israel had at Sinai. They too will become His chosen (see Isaiah 49:6-7). And that response is due to the fact that God Himself has glorified His Servant. The singular ‘nation’ may be intended to cover all nations outside Israel. Compare Psalms 18:43 where a similar thing is said of the Davidic king.

Psalms 18:43 suggests that ‘a people whom I have not known shall serve me’ is a way of expressing supremacy and overlordship, and the almost instantaneous speed with which that supremacy will be obtained, ‘as soon as they hear of me they will obey me’ (Psalms 18:44). It indicates one who is ‘the head of the nations’ and to whom each nation will speedily and gladly come in order to learn of Yahweh (compare 1 Kings 8:41-42).

Thus here the idea seems to be that this ruler of the nations will find that as ‘unknown’ nations are first contacted at the edge of His world (the Ancient Near Eastern world), so will they immediately respond to His witness, thus expressing the speed at which the Servant’s message will spread and its total supremacy (compare Zechariah 8:21-23). And this will occur because Yahweh is with Him, and the Holy One of Israel glorifies Him and reveals His splendour.

The general idea does not alter if we see ‘you’ as faithful Israel, for they go out in the authority of God and of the Servant as His representative.


Verse 6-7

The Command to Seek Yahweh (Isaiah 55:6-7).

And now as a result of the triumph of the Servant and of the Davidic King the call of mercy can go out to all.

Isaiah 55:6-7

‘Seek Yahweh while he may be found,

Call on him while he is near,

Let the wicked forsake his way,

And the unrighteous man his thoughts,

And let him return to Yahweh,

And he will have mercy on him,

And to our God,

For he will abundantly pardon.’

Now all are called on to seek Yahweh in this time of opportunity, and to call on Him. Emphasis is laid on the importance of responding while there is yet time. God has brought His Servant into the world and the opportunity of knowing God has been opened up, but it should not be missed for its time is limited.

‘Seeking’ does not involve ‘searching for’. The point is that He has been presented through His Servant and men must now respond to Him and seek His face and call on Him (see Deuteronomy 12:5). The ‘being near’ of God is a comparatively rare expression. It is usually man who comes near to God. It can have in mind His coming near in judgment (Malachi 3:5), but in Deuteronomy 4:7 the nearness of God is a distinguishing feature that reveals the difference between Israel and the nations, He is near whenever they call on Him. In Psalms 34:18 God is near to those who call on Him with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, and in Psalms 75:1 His name is near when His wondrous works are revealed, while in Psalms 145:18 He is near to all those who call on Him in truth. It is probably the idea in Psalms 75:1 that is in mind, combined with the thoughts in Isaiah 51:5; Isaiah 56:1 where His righteousness and His salvation are seen as near, for the nearness is seen as something that will at some stage come to an end, when God will cease to be approachable. The thought, however, may be that He is near as a near Kinsman (see Leviticus 25:25; Ruth 2:20; Ruth 3:12; Ruth 4:4), and the opportunity must be taken while it is there.

So let the wicked, those who are guilty of breaking God’s instruction, turn from their sinful own way (Isaiah 53:6) into the way of Yahweh, the way of holiness (Isaiah 35:8). ‘The way’ is a permanent set of mind resulting in a continuing walk. And let the unrighteous man turn from his thoughts. The Biblical emphasis on the importance of the thoughts of men comes out strongly here. Among the ten commandments one concentrated on men’s thoughts, “You shall not covet”. It matters not only what a man does but what he thinks (compare Matthew 5:28). The word ‘unrighteous’ often contains within it the thought of one who causes trouble, ‘doers of unrighteousness’, thus the unrighteous man is always planning how he can cause trouble and mischief, which is why his thoughts must be forsaken. It can also refer to false worship.

Then let them turn, or return, (shub can include both), to Yahweh and there, through what the Servant has done, they will find mercy and abundant pardon. Thus there is involved a seeking, a turning from and a turning to (1 Thessalonians 1:9). For turning or returning to Yahweh compare Isaiah 44:22. See also Isaiah 1:27; Isaiah 7:3; Isaiah 35:10; Isaiah 51:11; Isaiah 59:20.

‘Mercy -- pardon.’ Mercy (compassion) is God’s overflowing love and compassion revealed to the unworthy (Isaiah 54:7-8). Pardon or forgiveness is the act of God whereby He removes the barrier between Himself and those who have offended against Him, and the word is used only of God’s forgiveness. It is possible here because Another has borne their sin (Isaiah 53:4-6; Isaiah 53:8; Isaiah 53:11).


Verses 8-13

The Certain Fulfilment of What Yahweh Has Purposed Through The Power Of His Word (Isaiah 55:8-13).

Isaiah now concludes this section from Isaiah 40:1 onwards by a final statement of the triumph of God’s powerful word as it goes forward to do His will bringing new birth to creation and finally establishing victory to His people, bringing glory to His name.

Thus will His purposes triumph. Beginning with the call of Abraham (chapter 41) and advancing through to the victory of God’s Davidic King and Servant and the triumph of His people (Isaiah 52:13 to Isaiah 55:5), His word has been effective throughout.

Isaiah 55:8-9

‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts,

Nor are your ways my ways, says Yahweh.

For as the heavens are higher than the earth,

So are my ways higher than your ways,

And my thoughts than your thoughts.’

These words summarise all that has gone before. Strange as it may seem to man God is working through His Servant, from the first triumphal entry into the land by His servant Abraham (Isaiah 41:1-8), through His Servant faithful Israel (Isaiah 41:8 and often), right through to the Suffering and disfigured Servant (Isaiah 52:13 to Isaiah 53:12) Who is finally glorified and established as world ruler (Isaiah 55:4-5), and it is through that work that He will finally be exalted. For God does not work as man works. He does not think as man thinks. His ways are not man’s ways. They are above and beyond all that man can conceive.

Who would have thought that the coming into Canaan of a small tribal leader uniquely called by God; that the establishing in that land of a small, struggling nation as His witness, which sadly proved itself mainly unworthy but produced its spiritual heroes; and that the final coming of One Who would end His life in great suffering, followed by resurrection; all scarcely noticed while the tide of history flowed on, could have achieved the new birth of the world and the establishing of God’s final purposes? But it will. And that is Isaiah’s glorious message.

Such is beyond men’s thoughts. Such would not be man’s ways. But they are God’s thoughts and God’s ways. The same idea is to be found in the temptation of Jesus. Satan came with man’s thoughts and man’s ways, bribery, worldly power, religious manifestations, Jesus countered with God’s thoughts and God’s ways, obedience, submission, humility, response to His word. And it was Jesus Who finally triumphed.

Note carefully the connection with the following verses. The first part of what follows could be seen as describing man’s ways, although even there its source comes from God, from heaven, the second part reveals God’s ways without any intervention by man, although coming to man. But even in the first part man is seen as on the whole the recipient. All is provided by God, man simply uses it to produce food and enjoy it, which he can only do because of God’s provision of rain (firmly reflecting conditions in Palestine).

Isaiah 55:10-11

‘For as the rain comes down, and the snow from heaven,

And does not return there, but waters the earth,

And makes it bring to birth, and bud,

And gives seed to the sower and bread to the eater,

So will my word be that goes forth out of my mouth,

It will not return to me empty,

But it will accomplish that which I please,

And it will prosper in the thing to which I sent it.

The illustration brings out man’s dependence on God for everything. He is dependent on the God-given rain, he is dependent on the God-given earth, he is dependent on the God-given process, and then he uses and eats what is provided. His part is so small. He comes as it were at the very tail end, having a small part in the whole, and continually receives God’s blessings.

Then God declares that His powerful word works like the God-given rain and snow, and it is all under His control. Just as the rain goes forth and does not immediately return, so it is with His word. It continues its work day by day, season by season, it waters and feeds, it brings about new birth, it produces, first buds, and then full grain, which reproduce themselves both to provide further grain and to feed men’s bodies, and it will finally result in a forested, evergreen, thorn-free world that bears testimony to its Creator (Isaiah 55:13). (The trees are pictures of permanence). This is also what God’s word accomplishes. It too brings about His will and prospers in His purposes. And the Paradise that will result will be all His work

Here as elsewhere in the Scripture the word of God is seen as a powerful and living, almost personal, force that goes forth to accomplish what it wants to do. As in the account of creation, God speaks, and His purpose is fulfilled. This is the Creator again in action. That is one reason why Jesus was called ‘the Word’.

Note that the hiphil ‘bring to birth, cause to be born’ is rarely used elsewhere of anything but human birth. Behind this verse therefore lies the idea of the new birth that is so prominent in the New Testament (John 3:1-6; James 1:18), the result of God at work in the world.

So God’s world is an orderly world, superbly planned to provide for man’s continued existence and prosperity, and dependent on God’s gift of rain. And it should be noted that the illustration is one that would readily spring to the mind of someone writing in Palestine, where all depended on rain, but not so in Babylon where he would have spoken of irrigation channels and rivers, and snow would have been very unlikely.

But the word that goes out from God does not just produce a semi-automatic response like nature does in its response to rain, it is living and active, it does what He pleases, it accomplishes what He wills. It is positive and powerful and subject always to His purposes and His control. But it does bring men spiritually to birth and it does feed men’s lives. And it does bring about all His will. And nothing can thwart it. And its process has been especially described from chapter 41 to this present chapter. The Servant is uniquely God’s word going forth.

Isaiah 55:12

‘For you will go forth with joy,

And be led forth in peace,

The mountains and the hills will break forth before you into singing,

And all the trees of the field will clap their hands,

Instead of the thorn will come up the fir tree,

And instead of the briar will come up the myrtle tree,

And it will be to Yahweh for a name,

For an everlasting sign that will never be cut off.

And the result will be joy and peace and rejoicing. We note here that ideally man both goes forth and is led forth. On the one hand he is in control of his activity, he is free, but on the other he is subject to control, he is led. And the wise men, as these are, ensure that when they are led they are led by God. The verb ‘go forth’, as used also in Isaiah 55:11, is neutral. It simply means ‘go’. It has no necessary exilic connections. The going forth is of God’s people through all eternity just as that into which they go forth also symbolises the heavenly Paradise.

Here the thought is of godly men. As they ‘go forth’ they will be filled with joy, and they will be led forth in peace. These are the two great blessings of redeemed man. Joy is the expression of what he has received, peace is its core. It is to peace that we have been brought, peace with God, peace from God, the peace of God; reconciled to Him, at one with Him, inwardly enjoying what He is to us and what He has given us, and all through the work of the Servant (Isaiah 53:5; Isaiah 54:10). These blessings all come to us through His covenant of peace (Isaiah 54:10). Peace is an Isaianic key word and is central to the coming everlasting glory (Isaiah 9:6-7; Isaiah 26:3; Isaiah 26:12; Isaiah 27:5; Isaiah 32:17-18; Isaiah 45:7; Isaiah 48:18; Isaiah 48:22; Isaiah 52:7; Isaiah 53:5; Isaiah 54:10; Isaiah 54:13; Isaiah 57:2; Isaiah 57:19; Isaiah 57:21; Isaiah 59:8; Isaiah 66:12).

It is in this context that we are to work out our own salvation with greatest care, because it is God Who is at work in us to will and to do of His good pleasure (Philippians 2:12-13). And it will come to its glorious final fulfilment when we are presented before Him, holy, unblameable and unreproveable in His sight (Colossians 1:22).

And as they are led forth by God they will finally sing. Yes, even the mountains and hills will break out in singing, and the fields will accompany it with the clapping of hands. It will be like one great festival. And the curse of Eden will be reversed. The briars and the thorns will be replaced by glorious evergreen trees, and the whole transformation of creation will fully enhance God’s reputation, it will be to Him for a name, and it will be an everlasting sign, a symbol of His triumph similar to the monuments of the great kings, that in His case will not be cut off or toppled. Here is something that will last for ever bringing great glory to God. So is the work of the Servant fulfilled.

Note carefully the everlastingness of it all. Everlastingness is constantly in Isaiah’s mind and vocabulary. Not for him some temporary future state, but a state that lasts for all eternity.

Such promises as we find here, and in for example Isaiah 41:19; Isaiah 35:1-2, and such calling on creation to sing as we find in Isaiah 44:23; Isaiah 49:13; Isaiah 52:9, arise from the consciousness, which was common to both prophets and apostles, that those who truly know their God will joy with joy unspeakable and full of glory (1 Peter 1:8), and that one day the whole creation will share in the liberty of the glory of the children of God (Romans 8:21). They describe both the continual blessing which the redeemed will experience as they enjoy eternal life in this life (John 5:24; John 10:10; 1 John 5:13), and above all as they enjoy the wonderful perfection of eternity.

Final note on the Servant.

To us is the privilege of a full understanding of Who the Servant is and what His ministry and function would be. But the genius of Isaiah lies in the fact that his words could be an encouragement to his people even before the Servant came. They could still hear the call and encouragement of Yahweh to be His Servant in their time. They could still look forward with joy and hope towards the coming King. Through the centuries before Christ came his ideas were a continual encouragement to His people. They were the seed of Abraham His friend. But now for us who have seen the glorious fulfilment it is a joy beyond all measure. God having provided some better thing for us, that without us they could not have been made perfect (Hebrews 11:40). For we are the seed of His even Greater Friend. ‘I will no longer call you servants, I will call you friends’ (John 15:15). End of note.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Isaiah 55:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/isaiah-55.html. 2013.

Lectionary Calendar
Monday, October 21st, 2019
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
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