7. Transformation

Studies in Isaiah 55: 7. Transformation

Isa 55:12   You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you,

Looking Back:  To sense the enormity of the final two verses of this chapter we really need to do a quick recap of chapters 54 & 55. Chapter 54 brought us the picture of Israel as a barren woman (54:1a) who the Lord promised to bless (54:1b-10) Then came the picture of Jerusalem as a thrashed city (54:11a) who will be gloriously rebuilt (54:11b-17) Two terrible pictures but both being utterly transformed by the Lord. Both pictures of transformation are in general terms. Nothing is said about how the Lord will do that. Chapter 55 brings calls to action on Israel’s behalf. Some might suggest that the end results of chapter 54 are coming from the future sovereign activity of the Lord, maybe even only at the end times. Others might suggest that chapter 55 is God’s call to Israel in order for them to change and be transformed. The call is to recognize hunger and thirst and to come to the Lord for those needs to be met. (55:1-7) There is a call to recognize that God’s ways and thinking are very different from ours (55:8,9) and so to understand His will we need to seek Him, listen to Him, and learn from Him. In all this we are to understand that when He speaks it is with a purpose and what He says, will come about (55:10,11). What we now have is the fulfillment or implementation or culmination of God’s ultimate heart for them.

A Celebrating Creation: There are occasional prophetic verses that stand out in Scripture – largely in Isaiah – concerning the ultimate fulfillment of God’s intent for the human race. For example earlier in Isaiah we find, “The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them. The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox.  The infant will play near the cobra’s den, and the young child will put its hand into the viper’s nest.  They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” (Isa 11:6-9) What an amazingly graphic picture of peace and harmony at the end, just like it must have been at the beginning in the Garden of Eden.

There is a link here between that picture and the one that follows shortly: “You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace.” (v.12a) This is the future experience of the people of God. Instead of the sense of desolation (54:1) or the feeling of affliction (54:11) that is so often our experience in this fallen world, the future holds joy and peace. Note we experience these in a measure in the kingdom of God as we experience the Holy Spirit (see Rom 14:17, 15:13, Gal 5:22) but it is only ‘a measure’; the unlimited fulfilment will come sat the end.

So now we have this other amazingly graphic picture of the way the whole of creation celebrates the wonder of the fulfillment of the Lord’s plans. Yes, it is not literal but catch the wonder of the personification that is here: “the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands.” The Living Bible simply puts it, The mountains and hills, the trees of the field—all the world around you—will rejoice.” The sight of the redeemed of the Lord coming into their eternal inheritance will mean that the new heaven and new earth and new Jerusalem will all rejoice at the shear wonder of this conclusion. (Read Isa 35 in its entirety for a similar picture of rejoicing).

Yet there is more, a picture of the transformation from harsh living to a wonderful provision:  “Instead of the thorn-bush will grow the juniper, and instead of briers the myrtle will grow.” (v.13a) Thorn bushes and briers that are harsh and unpleasant will be replaced by evergreen trees, the juniper and myrtle. Everything about this new world speaks of glorious transformation.

The Impact: The ultimate purpose is finally revealed: “This will be for the Lord’s renown, for an everlasting sign, that will endure forever,” (v.13b) or, as other versions put it, “Monuments to me, to God,  living and lasting evidence of God,” (Msg) and, This miracle will make the Lord’s name very great and be an everlasting sign of God’s power and love.” (Living). Great rulers of ancient times set up monuments to their victories, their triumphs, reminders of their power and might.

At the end, all of us who have entered into the wonder of being the people of God, who have entered into this inheritance planned before the foundation of the world, will look at the wonder of what is, reflect back on what we know of our past and the past of the old world, and we will not only rejoice at being part of the wonder of it, but we will worship the One who had it on His heart from the beginning and who, through the centuries of the history of mankind, worked to draw people to Himself, out of their lives of sinful rebellion, to become instead children of God. Apart from the wonder of the end creation itself, there will be hanging over it, if you like, the reminder that this is all the work of an incredible God, the Creator of the world who is also its Redeemer, an everlasting testimony to His love, grace and mercy.

Hope Given:  And so to sum up, to finalize the thoughts in these two chapters, in the face of the trials and tribulations of the present, we are given from heaven a glorious picture of hope. Among the songs negro slaves sung is found:

Oh freedom, oh freedom,

Oh Freedom over me.

And before I’ll be a slave,

I’ll be buried in my grave,

And go home to my Lord and be free.

There it is – “go home to my Lord.” Our future in eternity with the Lord, experiencing the new heaven and the new earth and the new Jerusalem, this is the life we are promised and in these chapters some of the wonder of it shines through and strengthens that hope. Reassurance comes from heaven in various ways and the one we have had placed before us by Isaiah is of an incredible future that makes the present pale almost into insignificance by comparison. But it is not insignificant for how we respond in the present always determines what we will receive in the future. Yet, fortunately, His grace and mercy means will we receive infinitely more than we ever deserve. Hallelujah!

6. The Accomplishing Word

Studies in Isaiah 55: 6. The Accomplishing Word

Isa 55:8,9   my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire  and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.

The Ongoing Flow:  The initial call in this chapter was, “Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost.” This, we said, was a call that was opened up to, “Seek the Lord while he may be found; call on him while he is near,”  because, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,”  declares the Lord.”  i.e. come and seek me out, listen to what I have to say, because my ways are so different from yours that if you want to prosper you need to change. This is His word and what He further has to say is, to state the obvious, His word. Now He wants us to realize something very important about what He has to say.

A Weather & Nature Analogy:  He presents us with a picture and we should see that this picture conveys truths that are important: “As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater…” (v.10) Such an obvious picture, one with which we would all be familiar. It rains (or snows). We see it fall. It comes from above and it will not go back up but will achieve something when it hits the ground. It waters the earth, it provides that which is needed to make plants grow. But watch the order – and it is slow – as the water is absorbed by the plant it strengthens and then buds and blossom is formed and fruit follows. In respect of the crops it makes them grow and produce the seed which in turn is turned into bread which in turn provides us with sustenance. It all happens because the rain falls. No rain = drought. Drought means plants die. Dead plants mean no provision for mankind. That is how important this water is.

The Analogy Applied: “Come to the waters.” (the rain that falls). Come and receive God’s word, because, this we will shortly see, is what the analogy is all about. The water is God’s word. See the analogy: it comes down from above, from God in heaven. It comes to the earth where we live. As we absorb it and take it in, it makes us grow, it strengthens us, we flourish and bear fruit and bless the world with God’s provision. Such a simple and obvious picture but how many of us, I wonder, absorb God’s word on a daily basis and allow it to change us?

God’s Declaration: So the Lord applies this analogy: “so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.” (v.11)  Now note the key points here. It is God’s word that comes directly from Him. The unbelieving world in their folly may not realise that but you and I should. Moreover when God speaks, He speaks with a purpose so that what He says WILL come about. We see it from the very beginning: “God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.” (Gen 1:3)  Sometimes when it requires our response, it is conditional upon that response but other times, as here, it is a declaration of intent and that intent is in respect of what He is about to do, and that we’ll see in the following verses in the next study.

God’s Purposes: We need to go back over some well-trod ground. The apostle Paul wrote about God’s word, All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Tim 3:16,17) This Bible (as it has now become, then only what we call the Old Testament in the forming), he says, is inspired because it is ‘God-breathed’ or ‘breathed out by God’ as one modern version says. i.e. as God breathed out His Holy Spirit in the lives of the forty-plus writers, they were inspired to write. But the point he goes on to make is that God’s word does stuff, it speaks to people, challenges them and changes them – teaching rebuking, correcting, training – so they become more fruitful – for re-setting the direction of a man’s life and training him in good living,” as the JBP version puts it.

To put it another way, God speaks to get us back on the right tracks. After the Fall we were doing our own thing and that meant getting off the tracks of God’s will, God’s design, and that meant self-harm and harm to others, as well as offending and grieving God Himself. That’s what God’s word is all about, that’s why we read it, not just to find out what God has done, but also why He has done it. That latter thing, the ‘why’ of God’s purposes, is to restore us to Himself. Our Sin alienated us from Him but now, we are reconciled to him through the death of his Son,” (Rom 5:10) but the reality is that we can drift away which is why Paul appealed to the Corinthians, “We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.” (2 Cor 5:20)

Always Hope: Yet although we have to face this negative trend – our ability to get it wrong and drift away from God – the Lord Himself is always working to bring us back, to draw us back to Himself, so  back in verse 3 we saw, “I will make an everlasting covenant with you, my faithful love promised to David,” which was a restatement of what He had declared to David. The Living Bible puts it well: “I am ready to make an everlasting covenant with you, to give you all the unfailing mercies and love that I had for King David.  He proved my power by conquering foreign nations. You also will command the nations, and they will come running to obey, not because of your own power or virtue, but because I, the Lord your God, have glorified you.” The Lord always reaches out a hand of love and grace for whoever will take it, but of course the truth is that not everyone does. Yet that is what we find here in this chapter, yes, a likely continuation of the thoughts of chapter 54, that although Israel were down, the Lord was reaching out to them, calling them to listen to Him, to take His hand and be restored to something glorious as He offered in verse 3 and which we will see in a different way in verses 12 and 13 to come.

5. Getting a God Perspective

Studies in Isaiah 55: 5. Getting a God Perspective

Isa 55:8,9  “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,”  declares the Lord.  “As the heavens are higher than the earth,  so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.

The Flow:  The word ‘For’ indicates a continuation or flow of thought from what has just been said. In the previous pair of verses we saw a challenge to “Seek the Lord”, and “call on him” with a specific following challenge: “Let the wicked forsake their ways and the unrighteous their thoughts.” Note specifically the word ‘thoughts’ which is now picked up in verse 8 above. It is as if the Lord is saying, come to me, search for me and learn to listen to me, especially you unrighteous people. You need to listen to me because your way of thinking is so different from mine that unless you realize this and change you’ll be in trouble! (implied) i.e. you need to get a new perspective.

The Bigger Perspective: First there is this double comparison / challenge:  “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” It’s not only thinking but ways of living that need to be reassessed. The truth is that, ever since the Fall, mankind has done its own thing, each individual determining how they will live and so their thinking is instinctively at odds with God’s thoughts.  In creating ‘Israel’ the Lord gave them ‘the Law’ as a guidance package of how to live as individuals and as a community. It recognized the fallenness of mankind in that, as well as laying down guidelines for good actions, it also showed ways of putting right wrong actions, how to deal with what we would call ‘crimes’, yet it did not stop those ‘crimes’ happening, people still continued to do wrong. Nevertheless, it was God’s way of revealing a right path through life. By the time of Jesus’ arriving, certain parts of the community (the Pharisees) had taken and formalized the Law in its outward appearance yet failed to keep its heart. Again and again, we as mankind, and specifically Israel as mankind under the microscope, failed to understand God’s heart, God’s thoughts, God’s ways.

The Modern Expression of this Failure: So Jesus came and died for us and the Holy Spirit was poured out on believers. The way of the new covenant was opened and yet we still very much remain fallen humanity, even if greatly improved through the work of Christ and of the Holy Spirit. Individually redemption is a learning and changing experience and even the great apostles revealed it – Peter struggled with being sent to the Gentiles (Acts 10) and Paul and Barnabas disagreed over John Mark (Acts 15) leaving an unpleasant taste in the mouth over their parting. But in the modern church there are signs that we are so often more concerned with rules, ritual and liturgy than we are with the life, love and power of God pouring through us to transform the world, with the result that unquestionably the Church loses ground in terms of community or national impact. We are often more concerned on how we ‘run’ church than we are in seeking God and letting His Spirit empower and lead us so that we become a community-changing force in our world.

The Call again: The Lord had declared it: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,”  and we have just been observing the outworking of that. But, as if to emphasis it in case we hadn’t taken it in, he adds, “As the heavens are higher than the earth,  so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”   It’s like God says through the prophet, look up at the skies. See that ‘up there’, as compared to ‘down here’.  That’s how much higher my thoughts and ideas and ways are higher than yours. My thoughts are divine and heavenly, yours are human and earthly. That is how different our ways of thinking are.

Outworking 1: Now there are several things that flow out of this that we should think about. First, the thing to recognize (and forgive me for stating the obvious) is that we don’t think like God. I keep find myself saying in respect of modern Western life, look at the fruits of modern thinking, the harmful things that are the outworkings of unfettered human behaviour seen in modern life.

Outworking 2: The second thing to note is that our thinking differently from God leads us to express our thoughts as deeds and those deeds are increasingly showing that these thoughts, ideas, attitudes, ways of living, don’t work. Observe characteristics of modern godless western society. In politics alienation, hostility, fake news, lie telling and demonising of the opposition have become norms on both sides of the Atlantic.  In our economies we are still suffering from the financial collapse of 2008 that came about from unfettered greed. Many voices are being raised that we are ripe for a further collapse. In our communities crime continues to rise, drug taking continues to be a major problem that is mostly swept under the carpet. On our streets violence, theft and wanton destruction are not uncommon (I heard only yesterday that in a street not a quarter of a mile away, ‘someone’ went down the entire street at night and slashed the tyres on every single car). Family life suffers constant breakdown, divorces prevail where there are marriages, separation where there is cohabitation, and children suffer, become angry and slash tyres!   And so we could go on and on and on. At long last there are voices being raised from the very top of the medical profession that say such things as, pornography is harmful for individuals, families and communities, divorces are harmful for individual, families and communities, and so on.

Outworking 3: We need to listen to God. That is what this is all about. It is God saying, ”Listen to me!” We will only do that when we come to our senses and realise that the descriptions of the barren woman and the thrashed city of chapter 54 are descriptions of us today, that we are left spiritually hungry and thirsty, and we’re putting a wrong focus on what is meaningful. So, when He reaches out a hand offering a fresh start as we seek Him afresh, we need to grab it.

Outworking 4: There is another aspect to be considered here. The danger that we have in this part of history is that we have greater technology, greater medical facilities, more food, more provision than any previous generation in history, and this leads us to self-deception. The knowledge and information on our mobile phones gives us a sense of being in charge in a way never known before – and there’s more to come. This breeds a false optimism that covers over all of those other failures I mentioned in Outworking 2 above. We can cope with them as the cost of this brave new world. No we can’t; they will undermine our societies they will breed contempt for truth that leads the way for abuse of all this technology. Distraction ad deception are things that say, “Oh, this is all scare mongering. We don’t need to listen to God, to seek Him out.” We do. This is a call to wake up. It started in chapter 54 and continues in chapter 55. Let’s heed it for today.

4. Getting Right with God

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.

3. The Example of David

Studies in Isaiah 55: 3. The Example of David

Isa 55:3b   I will make an everlasting covenant with you, my faithful love promised to David.

Recap:  The call at the beginning of this chapter is to those who are hungry and thirsty to come to the waters and drink and buy provisions without money. We concluded this was a call to receive these spiritual provisions through listening to the Lord. The challenge also came to consider what we are doing with our lives, do we have a right focus so we don’t just work for that which never satisfies. Instead if we listen to the Lord and take in what He says, it will be like receiving a feast for the soul that will not only feed and nourish us but give us eternal life.

Old Covenants: Now consider the living waters that will nourish and feed them. It comes in the form of a promise of a new covenant: “I will make an everlasting covenant with you, my faithful love promised to David.” The first covenant mentioned in the Bible was that given to Noah (Gen 9:9-) never to flood the earth again. It was an ‘everlasting covenant’ (9:16). The next covenant was that given to Abram: “I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you.” (Gen 17:7, reiterated in 17:19 and extended to the priesthood in Num 18:19 and to limit the covenant to the circumcised Gen 17:13). The next was at Sinai (Ex 19:5 and subsequent chapters) that Israel be God’s ‘treasured possession… a kingdom of priests’ which implies to the rest of the world. When later in Isaiah He speaks of them as a ‘light to the nations’ (Isa 42:6) it is clear that that covenant was not only a relational one between God and His people, but it was also intended to reveal God through them to the rest of the world. That still stood.

New Covenant: Through Isaiah now comes this mention of a new and everlasting covenant. Now the reference here is to David: “I will make an everlasting covenant with you, my faithful love promised to David.“  It is a covenant to the readers (listeners) and the subject of it is the Lord’s love that He promised to David. Now when we go back to David we find the Lord promised him, Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever.’” (2 Sam 7:16) Now the Lord says of David,  See, I have made him a witness to the peoples, a ruler and commander of the peoples.” (v.4) or as an expanded version puts it, “I made David a witness of my power for all.” i.e. under his rule God expressed His power that raised David up and made him a victorious ruler who brought peace to Israel throughout his reign in respect of the surrounding nations (except later when the Lord disciplined David).

Current Application: He has just declared this new covenant of love, a covenant reflecting all that had been said to David, and now Isaiah goes on to explain what impact that will have on Israel: “Surely you will summon nations you know not, and nations you do not know will come running to you, because of the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, for he has endowed you with splendor.” (v.5) As we said at the beginning, these verse thoughts tend to go in pairs and so these two verses point us first to David (v.4) and then show how the Lord applies that to Israel in that day (v.5). Even as He had made David victorious (because of his heart for God), so the Lord will make this future ‘woman’ (54:1), this future ‘city’ (54:11) – assuming we accept the link between the two chapters – not only great in number but victorious in the earth. It is a word that comes up a number of times in such prophecies.

Wider Application: Again and again – with Abraham and with David – we can see, in the bigger picture, the promises made have a much wider application than simply the one ‘biological nation’. The promises of blessing to all nations – “all peoples on earth will be blessed through you” (Gen 12:3) – is about people of faith who can become God’s people, not merely people of faith within ‘biological Israel’, but also from the Gentiles across the whole world as well, all of whom comprise the real faith ‘people of God’, who express the kingdom of God. When the Lord spoke to David about one who, “is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever,” (2 Sam 7:13) although, no doubt, David understood that to mean Solomon, it is clear from Scripture that in the bigger picture it referred to the coming of Jesus, for in him only, do the words about an everlasting kingdom come true.

Earlier in Isaiah we read of a coming son, “Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it  with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever.” (Isa 9:7) This child, will be God in the flesh (v.6). David demonstrated a rule of righteousness, peace and victory, and now the Son of God rules over a kingdom even today and will continue to rule until the time when he has achieved all that is on God’s heart to be done: “when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” (1 Cor 15:24-26) What are the enemies of the kingdom of God? Unrighteousness, ungodliness, rebellion, disobedience, expressed in all the ways the apostles spoke about – e.g. Col 3:5-9, Eph 4:17-19,29-31, Jas 1:14,15, 5:1-6, 1 Pet 2:1,11,  4:3,4,21, 1 Jn 2:16, 3:4. These are the enemies of Christ, the things he works against today and will finally vanquish when he returns again (see Rev 19).

And So? What have we seen so far here? The Lord seeks to encourage His people by declaring a new covenant of love, patterned on the rule of David. His intent was that all His people who had an open heart to Him could experience something of this rule in the present day. Yet there would be a greater fulfillment of this word with the coming of Jesus (for us, now two thousand years ago) and an even greater fulfillment when he returns a second time. God’s intent is that we know and experience this love that has so many practical outworkings. For us today, we need to remind ourselves that we live in the kingdom that is only partially here: sometimes we sense His close presence, sometimes we don’t. Sometimes we pray and see answers, sometimes we don’t. Sometimes we pray for healing or deliverance and see it, sometimes we don’t. Sometimes when we witness, people get saved, sometimes they don’t. And so it is, but let the positive things encourage you to press on until the day when He comes in glory and all WILL be submitted to Him, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth.” (Phil 2:10) Amen!

2. Reject the Fruitless Life

Studies in Isaiah 55: 2. Reject the Fruitless Life

Isa 55:2 Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy?

Awareness:  Isaiah (the Lord) has just asked us who are thirsty and hungry to come to the waters to drink and to buy provisions without money. That we considered in the first study, but to do those things we have to be aware of having a thirst and being hungry, of wanting these things, which raises the thought, how often are we conscious of being spiritually hungry and thirsty. Jesus taught, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they will be satisfied.” (Mt 5:6) In Psalm 1 the psalmist writes, “Blessed is the man … (whose) delight is in the law of the Lord,” and goes on to speak of the value or good outcomes of that. In both cases there is this thought of hunger and thirsting, explicit in the former, implicit in the latter. The reality, I suggest, is that for most of us we are happy to potter through life and even though we are Christians, we rarely give a thought to desiring more of the Lord; complacency seems to rule in much of the Christian world.

Why? The causes are, I suspect, contentment with our material comforts in this modern world, possibly an absence of teaching that imparts vision of the possibilities of something more, or shear laziness. It is so easy in this age to settle in this contentedness that does not hunger and thirst for more of the Lord. Only the other day my wife and I were discussing why we were feeling frustrated with our current ‘church life’ and we came to this conclusion: there is little reality of faith and certainly no hungering for more from the Lord. That doesn’t mean the people are not really nice Christians, they are, but it does mean that there is no leadership that leads the flock on in the Lord. As we pondered on this, we realized that in the past we have benefited from apostolic and prophetic ministries from whom came, a “What’s next?” attitude and outlook on life.

The absence of those ministries often means the local church is left with good and well-meaning leaders but who have little vision for corporate and individual life. All that so often leaves us with is neatly preplanned services (often with little room given to the Holy Spirit) that are designed to comfort a weary flock who struggle with the ways of the twenty-first century, but rarely to envision them, equip them, empower them and enable them to grow in character and service and knowledge of the Lord. Is it any wonder that the apostle Paul wrote, “I keep asking that… God …may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better.” (Eph 1:17). He then went on to talk about knowing hope, the riches of our inheritance, and God’s power.  They are all things to be reached out for, hungered for, thirsted for.

A Modern Challenge: Verse 2 comes as a direct challenge to this modern-day complacency: “Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy?” I say it is a modern-day challenge because it specifically challenges the use of money. Modernity got value from things, post-modernity got value from experiences, but all of them still are summed up in the way we spend our money. There are always those who have little left over to spend on holidays (vacations) but increasingly we are part of a growing generation of older people who are relatively well off and therefore travel a lot. Whether it be on cruises, hire of holiday homes (at home or abroad), towing a caravan (trailer) or whatever else Google search can come up with, we do this a lot today.

Competition! And there is the problem: church gets in the way! That, I am certain, is a common almost subconscious attitude in many. To compete, ‘church’ has to be alive and vibrant and full of the life of the Lord – and so often it isn’t, to our shame. Be honest, do you have the feeling on a Sunday (or other times for that matter) that “if I’m not there I’m going to be missing out on encountering the wonderful presence of the Lord”? The well-meaning author seeks to allay our guilt by saying, ‘well, you can’t expect to get a spiritual buzz every Sunday,’ but why not if the living Lord is present? Some of us ‘enjoy’ the wonder of liturgy or the old building (which may be god) and so on, but how about the reality of the presence of the living God? If we look to Him, yearn for Him, hunger and thirst for Him, make ourselves available to Him, surely we should expect to meet Him when we gather?

But is ‘life’ all about ‘church’? No, but it certainly should play a part, for where else are you going to encounter the Lord in other believers, where else are you going to encounter the presence of the Holy Spirit in the worship? (you won’t in Christian TV, videos or tapes in your front room on your own!), where else will you hear the now word of the Lord that challenges, feeds, builds, envisions and releases?

So?  So listen to the call of Isaiah: “Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and you will delight in the richest of fare.”  Condition and Outcome. The condition – that we listen to God and (there it is again) listening involves taking in (eating) what we hear from God and as we do we will find a sense of delight growing in us with this ‘richest of fare’ that feeds the soul like nothing else does. But in the parallelism that follows, there is something more: “Give ear and come to me; listen, that you may live.” Yes, there is the call to “give ear” and to “listen” but there is the thing we take for granted of forget: “come to me.” The come to God means we purposefully turn our hearts and minds towards Him, turning away from our daily events, that we make time and space to sit alone with Him, turning our hearts towards Him and waiting upon Him. No, you won’t do it in the car driving to work or sitting on the crowded train (well perhaps a few of us might be able to shut out the surroundings on a train!). This says, take time to come aside and listen to the Lord, make time to be still and listen, and when we do, life will flow, His life, His presence, flowing to us.

To conclude: So, the challenge is, will we face up to our modern approach to life that uses money to get meaning, money to get escape, money to get rest, money to get experience, and yet money spending which, two months later, makes you question it’s wisdom. Why spend money on … what does not satisfy?   Time for fresh assessment of our lives?  Perhaps.  Time for new vision of what could be? Maybe.

1. A Call to the Thirsty

Studies in Isaiah 55: 1. A Call to the Thirsty

Isa 55:1 Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost.

Overall Approach:  Whether this chapter flows on from the previous one or stands on its own, I leave you to decide. I am going to take it as it stands, on its own, for the moment at least. Reading the whole chapter, it seems that most of the time Isaiah is linking thoughts in pairs, two verses at a time, although because there is a steady flow of thought from one piece to the next, that is not always the case. I’m going to suggest from the outset the following structure:

v.1  Call to come

v.2,3a  Consider & listen

v.3b,4 The covenant of David

v.5  The outcome – victory

v.6,7  Call to seek the Lord & live righteously

v.8,9  The Lord’s way of thinking

v.10,11  Confidence in the Lord’s word

v.12,13  Promise of blessing

The studies in this small series within Isaiah 55 will be as follows:

  1. A Call to the Thirsty Isa 55:1
  2. Reject the Fruitless Life Isa 55:2
  3. The Example of David Isa 55:3b
  4. Getting Right with God Isa 55:6
  5. Getting a God Perspective Isa 55:8,9
  6. The Accomplishing Word Isa 55:8,9
  7. Transformation Isa 55:12

Fourfold invitation: Let’s note, first of all, what is here in v.1 and then when it means. There are two separate ‘calls’ here with a fourfold invitation to ‘come’. Interestingly, both the ‘calls’ are to those who are needy. The first are those who are thirsty and the second are those who are poor, without money, and yet both end up offering provision. The first two invitations are to come to a place where you can drink. The first one acknowledges need – thirst – and the second one the means of satisfying that need – water. The second two invitations are more intriguing because they take us beyond merely drinking, to first of all buying food without money, but then drink without money. The twofold acknowledgment of absence of money is what must surely grab our attention. How can you buy when you have no money?

Further clarification?  Let’s recap what is here. The call is to needy people, those who are thirsty and (by implication within the text) who also have no food. The call is to change the circumstances by first of all finding water to drink, but then buying wine and milk. Perhaps we should also note a progression here. Water is a basic need, a fundamental need to sustain life. Wine and milk are the products of farming and are indicative of a higher standard of living than just sustainability. The twice use of the word ‘buy’ implies taking action to barter or purchase, i.e. taking action to legitimately obtain the required provisions.

The Twofold action. The first is a call to acknowledge your need – thirst – and then simply seek the resource that satisfies that particular need. It is that simple. What are the ‘waters’ that are initially referred to? Well, rather than make unfounded assumptions, let’s just hold on to these thoughts and see how the chapter opens up. Finding the waters is the first thing. But then there is this call to buy (without money) food and drink that makes life more manageable. Somehow this requires a greater action than simply finding water and drinking. ‘Buying’ requires interaction with another, the provider of the resource.  Who is that provider? If you jump to the conclusion, the Lord, why? Imagine you have never seen the Bible before and all you have is this chapter. To whom does it guide you?

The Provider: We have to assume, surely, that the provider is the one speaking and making these calls. Is the speaker just Isaiah or is it one beyond him, the one inspiring him to prophesy?  In verse 3 we find, “come to me” and this person says, “I will make an everlasting covenant with you,”  and then goes on to speak about how He (yes, it has to be God) made David a witness to Him to all the peoples.  The verses that follow are a real mix in terms of origin and the best one can say is that the prophet is so attuned to his Lord that it is difficult to know when one begins and the other ends. But it is God!

Eating & Drinking? Now here’s the strange thing: there are no further references to eating or drinking in the rest of the chapter except in verse 2 where it is as if the whole picture pivots about and the eating and drinking is transformed into listening: “Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and you will delight in the richest of fare. Give ear and come to me; listen, that you may live.” If you listen to God, “you will delight in the richest of fare.”  i.e. what you hear will act as wonderful food that will (by implication in the light of what has gone) utterly satisfy you. So how do you drink? You come to the Lord acknowledging your thirst and wait on Him and listen to all He says. How do you ‘buy’? You give Him your attention, your will, your time. That is the cost if you are to receive from Him.

Water, Wine & Milk: Note the three provisions that picture the work of God’s words in our lives. Water provides the basics for life. Wine makes the heart merry, the scriptures say. Milk provides nourishment.  When we listen to the Lord, His word provides sustenance, the basics we need. But it also fills us with joy as the wonder of it captures our hearts. But is doesn’t stop there, it feeds us, it nourishes us and it builds us up and strengthens us. Pray as you come to Him, as you read His word, as you seek to hear, pray that the reality of it will sustain you, bring joy to you and feed you so that you are stronger. May this be so every time we do that.