Studies in Isaiah 55: 4. Getting Right with God
Isa 55:6 Seek the Lord while he may be found; call on him while he is near.
Approach: In our next pair of verses we have a threefold parallelism (patterns of deliberate contrast or intentional repetition) which, collectively may be summarized as, “Get right with God!” Of course there is a lot more but that essentially is the message. Here is the structure which we will go on to consider.
(1a) Seek the Lord while he may be found; (1b) call on him while he is near. (v.6)
(2a) Let the wicked forsake their ways (2b) and the unrighteous their thoughts. (v.7a)
(3a) Let them turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on them, (3b) and to our God, for he will freely pardon. (v.7b)
Seek out God: To contrast or challenge or expound (and it may be all of these) the things of the early verses, where we saw a call to satisfy our spiritual needs by recognizing the futility of focusing only on those things that never fully satisfy and instead listen to God, verse 6 now makes this blunt call to seek out God. The ‘intentional repetition’ expands it to “call on him”, i.e. this is not a passive going and sitting in a corner but a whole-hearted expression of crying out to Him. This will only come when we have a recognition of our hunger and thirst, which is why the earlier verses are so important.
Limited ‘window of opportunity’: Two sets of words here imply that the time may be short: “while he may be found,” and “while he is near”. But isn’t God always available? Well, yes, but sometimes He is more available and sometimes He is less available. There are times in Scripture, for example, when He says don’t bother to pray, don’t bother to seek Him out. Now why may that be? Well it always occurs in times when the people are so entrenched in sin, that nothing less than whole-hearted repentance will open a door of access to the Lord or, putting it the other way around, the Lord will make Himself accessible to us. Anyone who spends time regularly seeking the presence of the Lord will know that there are times when He draws particularly near and His presence is manifest or almost tangible, while there are other times when He seems to hold Himself at a distance from us (perhaps to test our ‘stickability’ and willingness to trust and keep seeking). But what He does do is give opportunity for whole-hearted repentance and those are times when He draws near in Spirit and with His word of challenge and conviction, but we can never take those times for granted and so if such a time comes and we reject His presence and His word, we may find He steps back and the opportunity has diminished.
The Path back to God: The purpose of Israel being “a light to the Gentiles” (Isa 49:6b) was that they may be restored (49:6a) in order that they might bring the opportunity of salvation (repentance and restoration) to the rest of the world. (49:6c) As someone has said, there can never be an unconditional call to blessing; it is always linked to repentance, to a recognition of our hunger and thirst that comes with our alienation from God, and a recognition of our worthless activities, which comes with conviction that changes hearts and makes available to God for Him to perform His works of salvation. Thus we now have two parallelisms that point us in this direction.
Turning from Sin: “Let the wicked forsake their ways and the unrighteous their thoughts.” (v.7a) There is a turning from and, as we shall soon see, a turning to. The turning from, is from the old life of sin. When you read verses such as Paul’s, Eph 2:1-10, he places all the emphasis on what God has done for us in this salvation process, but the bigger truth is that God only does this with repentant sinners. He cannot do it with unrepentant sinners, because the life He leads us into is so utterly different. Again and again in the Old Testament we find the prophets denouncing the people who appeared to be making religious or spiritual noises but while still living lives very contrary to the ways of God. In a few chapters’ time, in chapter 58, Isaiah will denounce the people who appear to seek out God (v.2a), appear to want Him to draw near (v.2c), who have fasted (v.3a) and humbled themselves (v.3b) and yet, despite all this, continue to exploit their workers, fight among themselves (v.3c,4) and are generally living such unrighteous lives. No, says Isaiah here, let the wicked change what they do, let the unrighteous change their bad thoughts. Yes, let the changes be both outward and inward. That is what God looks for.
Turning to God: When you turn to God it means coming into His presence with a totally honest and transparent heart, hiding nothing from Him, and seeking with total honesty to know Him and suffer His gaze that sees everything, and His will that demands we change to come in line with His will. So the first half of this third parallelism is to “turn to the Lord” and then comes what will happen: “and he will have mercy on them” If we come to the Lord like this, as we’ve just described then the promise is that we will receive His mercy, which is His undeserved clemency or, as the second half puts it, “and (return) to our God, for he will freely pardon.” We cannot just hope this will happen in a vacuum, we need to come in repentance into His presence, making a conscious effort to ‘stand before God’ so to speak. It is only as we make ourselves available to Him in this way can we receive His mercy expressed as a pardon for all our past.
And So? These two verses shatter the false illusions of the unrepentant, that all will be well, as long as they just hope for the best. No they won’t! God’s mercy and pardon are granted to the repentant, those who acknowledge their past folly, their reliance upon their self-efforts which led to an increasing sense of hunger and thirst, with a recognition that their efforts had been spent on things that achieved little in the greater economy of God. Recognition of the truth, acknowledgement of my state of hopelessness and helplessness, these are the things that, when challenged by the Spirit and by His word, bring us to our knees in Holy Spirit conviction and cause us to repent. As this path is rolled out, the light at the end is mercy, pardon, forgiveness, cleansing, adoption and empowering by the indwelling Holy Spirit. This, as Paul said in Eph 2, is His work but it can only come as our hearts respond to Him in these ways. May it be so.