Isaiah 55:1-13.
Priceless Grace

Copyright 2008, American Journal of Biblical Theology   Scripture quotes from KJV

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What price will people pay for the peace that comes with the knowledge of one's security?  This may sound like a trivial question, but when one considers the hustle-and-bustle that characterizes the people of the world, the impact of this question is far more profound and far-reaching.  What do people spend the bulk of their time and energy doing?  What is their primary quest?

No degree in sociology is needed to consider these questions.  People work though almost any endeavor to obtain security.  People work long and hard hours at jobs in order to earn enough money to obtain some modicum of financial security.   People depend upon one another for some form of security.  Every human culture has created some form of religion in an effort to obtain an eternal security that God has made known to all (Rom. 1).  Religions all have one characteristic in common:  they are systems of prescribed behavior that, when obediently followed, are claimed to earn eternal security.  People dedicate their lives to these systems of earned righteousness that can only give a short-term warm-and-fuzzy feeling that will quickly be replaced with dread when the final judgment reveals these systems lacking in one simple point:  eternal security cannot be earned by any work of man, but by the free gift of grace given by God to all who place their faith and trust in Him alone.  Based upon this definition of religion, Christianity is not a religion, but rather a faith simply because Christianity does not teach that one can work their way to righteousness.

However, the world rejects the precept of faith since it simply makes no sense.  After all, do we not have to work for everything we get?  The harder we work, the more we get from our work. 

Ancient Judaism is an excellent example of a religion.  Though the covenant that God made with Abraham, Noah, Moses, and the nation of Israel was a covenant of faith, the nation turned its back on God in an effort to be more like the pagan nations, and their faith gradually changed to a complex and impossible set of rules and regulations that had to be followed in order to be considered righteous.  Even the law itself proved that righteousness cannot be obtained by law, but the Jews could not see this.  Isaiah brought his prophesy to Israel and Judah during the time of the fall of the northern nation of Israel, a fall that was predicated by their abandoning their faith in God.  The southern nation of Judah would also fall for the same reason as they abandoned faith in God in their attempt to obtain their security from their warring neighbors.  Both nations were swept up in those wars and were destroyed.  Isaiah's prophesy is a call for the nations to return to God in faith as he exposed their apostasy, called for their return to faith in God, and described the coming day when the Messiah would come.  In this passage Isaiah returns the focus to the concept of God's original covenant of faith, a covenant through which true righteousness is found (Heb. 11). 

Isaiah 55:1.

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.

Isaiah describes this quest for righteousness in a metaphor that observes the willingness of those who are hungry and thirsty to pay a great price to have their need satisfied.  Every person has a "thirst" for a relationship with God, though in some it may be repressed by adamant anger and/or rebellion.  Because of this, Paul writes that "all are without excuse (Romans 1:20).  Just as man knows of the existence of a Holy and sinless God, man is aware of his own sinfulness.  Our own human nature demands a reward system that favors good behavior and punishes sinful behavior.  The natural way to look at God as to expect the same from Him, to realize punishment for our sins and reward for our good works.  The problem is that the punishment for sin is eternal separation from God (Romans 6:23) and there is no work that man can do to pay the price for our sin.  Isaiah is watching his Jewish culture acting out a religious frenzy as they are immersed in the sinful acts that are intended to relate to the pagan Canaanite gods, while at the same time hypocritically believing that they are following the tenets of the Mosaic law that, for them, defines righteousness.  When they fast, they despise those who do not.  When they dress in ceremonial clothes, they despise those who do not.  They think of themselves as so righteous and clean that they must cleanse themselves if they even touch an individual who is "unrighteous."  Their entire world view is wrapped around a system of religion that describes a manner of work that results in righteousness, so they immerse themselves in it in an effort to atone for their true understanding of their own, hidden, sinfulness.

Isaiah illustrates an important truth:  This hunger for righteousness is not bought with works, but instead can be obtained for free, requiring no work, no price, and no penalty.  This is grace.  Isaiah understands the concept of grace, God's simple offer of forgiveness for those who will simply place their faith and trust in Him instead of the works of their own hands. 

Isaiah 55:2.

Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread? and your labour for that which satisfieth not? hearken diligently unto me, and eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness.  

Isaiah's statement points at the religious frenzy that we see all around us.  We need not look far to observe the huge variety of ways that people express their religion, ranging from conservative piety to radical violence.  We see a variety of religious cultures, each with their own set of rules, doctrines, and rites, each designed to point the way to righteousness.  Even Christians and Christian denominations can fall into a reward-punishment system and devise a set of do-s and don't-s that place a legalistic burden upon the members.  Isaiah is asking, "why do you do this?"  "What is the point of all of this religious mumbo-jumbo?  Why do you put so much effort into buying something that is not righteousness?  Why do you labor so for that which cannot truly satisfy?  Listen carefully:  embrace that which is true and good, and delight in what can truly bring righteousness." (Jack's paraphrase.)

Isaiah 55:3.

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.  

Why is it so hard to listen to and embrace the true covenant that God has made with man?  That covenant that was made with David is the same covenant that God made with Abraham, Noah, Moses, and the nation of Israel.  It is the same covenant that God has made with man as revealed by His Son, the Messiah, Jesus Christ:  place your faith and trust in God and He will be faithful to forgive your sins and cleanse you of unrighteousness (1 John 1:9, et. al.)  In the Old Testament covenants, God used the metaphor of the land to illustrate His grace.  God simply covenanted with Israel that, if they would place their trust in Him, God would provide them a land and protect them, keeping them with Him.  It was when Israel turned their back on God and chased after pagan gods and religious legalism that God removed His hand of protection as Israel chose to separate themselves from Him.  An everlasting covenant is one that does not change.  God's covenant has never changed.  Though we break the Holy Scriptures into an "Old Testament" and a "New Testament", there is no substantial difference in the covenant that is illustrated in them.  Jesus fully illustrated the meaning of the covenant, integrating it into all of His teaching, a teaching that is consistent with God's communication to mankind through the prophets as is evident here.

Isaiah 55:4-5.

Behold, I have given him for a witness to the people, a leader and commander to the people. 5Behold, thou shalt call a nation that thou knowest not, and nations that knew not thee shall run unto thee because of the LORD thy God, and for the Holy One of Israel; for he hath glorified thee.

The ancient Jews, and modern man for that fact, had great difficulty in appropriating a world view that was spiritual rather than physical.  They perceived David as a worldly king, and Israel as a nation what would someday rule all nations under a new king, a messiah.  However, Isaiah reveals a quite different purpose in David, and consequently, the Messiah: a witness, a priest, and an example of faith (v. 4).  The Hebrew words used for these three titles would be controversial to Isaiah's contemporaries who desired a military conqueror.  The Jews simply cannot recognize who David really is, and they cannot recognize who the Messiah is.  When the very nation of the faithful is formed one day, they will fail to recognize it, yet this New Israel will draw all nations into itself, not as military conquest, but rather as a refuge for all who place their trust in the LORD, the Holy One of Israel.  The Christian church today is fulfilling the evangelistic call that God originally gave to Israel.  Imagine the impact on the world today if Israel recognized Isaiah's prophesy and recognized his testimony that the Messiah is Jesus Christ.  If Israel and all modern Judaism were to place their faith and trust in God, and in Him alone, they would fulfill their calling as a "witness to the people."  The leader and commander of Israel would be Jesus Christ, "Y'shua Meshia." the Messiah who would, through Israel, show God's grace to the entire world. 

Isaiah 55:6.

Seek ye the LORD while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near:

The time for faith is now.  We only have an opportunity to turn to the LORD during this short life, a time that is just a moment in eternity.  We live like we think we will live forever, and we can always put off today what we can do tomorrow, but someday tomorrow will not come, and that someday could be today.  To miss out on an eternal relationship with God simply over the greed of today can only be described as foolishness.  God is offering forgiveness and restoration without cost to anyone who will simply turn to Him now, while such a choice is still possible.  The age of grace began with the creation of man, and will end at one's death, and at the end of the age of man.  With death comes the judgment, and those found without the mark of faith, the Holy Spirit, will find only eternal separation from God (Rev. 20), God's plan for those who chose separation from Him in life. 

How do we turn to God in saving faith?

Isaiah 55:7.

Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the LORD, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.

The answer is simply, repentance.  Repentance is not feeling sorry or mournful over sin, though sorrow and mourning over sin is certainly an appropriate response to sin.  Repentance is the actual act of turning away from that sin.  It is a volitional choice to abstain from sinful behavior as one seeks to be obedient to God, who is both Savior and LORD.  If one rejects the Lordship of God, the right that God has to be the One Ruler over us, we have rejected God.  In this way, to reject the LORD is to reject God.  It is the LORD who created all that is (John 1:1-14), and He came and dwelt among us in the life of Jesus Christ, the Messiah.  Consequently, to reject Jesus is to reject God.  Salvation comes by turning from one's wickedness and turning to God in faith. 

Do the faithful continue to sin?  Yes, they do, but Isaiah states that He sill have mercy upon the sinner, and his pardon is abundant.  This is simply because once one turns to God in repentance and faith, forgiveness is found.  Sin has lost its power to separate the faithful any longer (Romans 8:1).  Since sin can no longer condemn, sin will no longer separate one from God.  Salvation is true salvation: one is eternally saved.  

Isaiah 55:8.

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD.

The concept of eternal salvation defies all human logic.  However, the key may be understood when we understand the LORD.  To continue in sin because of the abundance of grace is to deny God's Lordship over oneself (Rom. 12:1).  We simply cannot put God into a little box that we can all understand, and we cannot ascribe God's plan or thoughts as our own.  This is the God who created the universe.  Our thoughts are riddled with sin and selfishness, greed and envy.  This is not the mind of Christ, a mind that is characterized by a love that we simply cannot fully embrace.  We try to use the Greek term, agape, to describe the unconditional love that God has for all of His creation, the same love that Christians are also to share with all people.  As much as we may try, we will never fully understand the thoughts and ways of God.  We are simply too blinded by our immersion in this sinful and pagan world, a world that is shaped by our own human nature, a nature that is quite alien to the nature of God.  

Isaiah 55:9.

For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.

How separated are God's thoughts from our own?  I am sometimes amazed at some people who consider themselves so close to God that they share the same thoughts.  When someone says, "God told me ..." I place them along-side the prophets like Isaiah and Micah, and somehow, they always seem to come up lacking.  What I am hearing is truly to be interpreted, "My opinion is ...".  We will simply never be "so spiritual" that our thoughts are God's thoughts (though we may in our spiritual pride wish it were so.) 

How different are our thoughts?  Isaiah describes the difference as that of the height of the heavens over that of the earth.  This is a ratio that boggles the human mind to that point that most humans will never consider it, nor do they choose to do so.  The distance across our KNOWN universe is about 20 billion light years, and a single light year is about 600,000,000,000,000 miles.  Ok, if we divide that distance by the width of the earth, we find that the universe is 1,400,000,000,000,000,000,000 times larger than the earth.  I hold that this is a closed universe.  That is, the expanding universe will some day cease its expansion and start collapsing (countering some modern theories that ignore both dark matter and time dilation [Google that one!]) until the "big crunch" results in another "big bang," infinitely repeating this multi-trillion year cycle.  It this theory is even close to true, the "universe" can contain an infinite number of these expanding and collapsing entities that we see as the backyard of our own "little" universe.  God created all of this for His own pleasure and holds it in the full breadth of its size and age in the "palm of his hand".  How big is God?  How much greater is He than anything we can imagine?  Any real study of the physics of cosmology reveals a true immensity to God's creation that extends far beyond what we observe in our own backyard. 

This difference between the immensity of the universe and what we see in our own backyard is a metaphor for the difference between the ways of God and the ways of man.  Like the ants who diligently work in the context of their own little anthill are ignorant of everything they cannot see or perceive, we are also diligently engaged within the context of this little backyard that we can understand.  We have no more idea of the true mind of God than the ant does of ours.  Again, how big is your God?

Isaiah 55:10-11.

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: 11So 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.

Yet, as separated as our mind is from the true mind of God, unlike the relationship of our mind to that of an ant, God reveals His purpose to us in ways that we can understand.  The metaphor that Isaiah uses is that of a gentle rain, or a soft snow that produces life.  God has revealed Himself through creation in a way that all people can see (Rom. 1).  He has revealed His plan and His purpose through the patriarchs and prophets of the Old Testament, and He has fully revealed Himself through the Son, Jesus Christ.  God's word falls upon us like a gentle rain, or like a soft snow, not like a hurricane or a blizzard.  The gospel of Christ is gentle and immersed in unconditional love.  God's word empowers eternal life just like the soft rain brings life to the physically living.  Just as the flowing water eternally feeds the tree on the riverbank (Psalm 1:3), God's word will bring forth life.  God's Word will not fail.  Though many in this world choose to rebel against God and reject this living water, the remnant of the faithful will remain until the end of the age.  People will continue to hold true to their faith and pass it on to their children.  People will continue to hold true to their faith and share it with others.  God's word will continue to prosper according to His own will.  It is His will that none would perish (2 Peter 3:9), but it is also His will that people come to him by choice.

Isaiah 55:12-13.

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. 13Instead of the thorn shall come up the fir tree, and instead of the 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.

God calls us to come to Him while He is still near.  There is coming a time when this age will come to a close.  This will be a time when the Messiah will return in glory, a time when those who have turned to God in faith will be gathered together in a celebration of rejoicing.  Imagine a world that is free of the influence of sin.  Imagine a world where satan and his demons have been removed, and the prince of this world is replaced with the Prince of Peace.  This is the metaphor that is used to describe what will take place when the time of grace on this earth comes to an end.  Isaiah describes the level of the expression of joy as one that is so pervasive that even the trees of the field will clap their hands.  The mountains and the hills will break out in singing praises for the LORD God. 

Those who seek God seek that experience of hand-clapping trees, and the promise of that joy is offered to all who will simply place their faith and trust in God.  Salvation is not found by any work of man, a principle that even God opposes because of its penchant for stimulating pride rather than faith (Eph. 2:9).  Salvation is offered to all as a free gift of grace.  Salvation cannot be purchased for any price, yet people still try to pay for that which God offers for free.  There is nothing to compare to God's grace.  While we are yet living a life that is immersed in sin, a life that is characterized by sinful actions and sinful thoughts, God provided a plan for our salvation.  The Messiah came, fulfilled the revelation of God to man, and suffered on the cross, so that those who place their faith and trust in Him can be set free from the burden and condemnation of sin.  Jesus paid the price for sin, a price that we cannot pay, so that we who do not deserve salvation can find it.  This is is grace.  How can we reject the Creator who loves us so?

As you consider the unfathomable love of God and the grace that He has offered, look into your own heart and seek out your true response to His Lordship.  Is God truly your Lord, or are you holding back part of this sinful world from Him, holding onto ungodly attitudes and actions that are separating you from the joy and peace that comes with forgiveness?  Come to God while He is near, and He will carry you the rest of the way home.  That is grace: full, saving, and free.