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.

13. The Water Dispenser (2)

Meditating on Great Themes in John:   13. The Water Dispenser (2)

John 7:37-39  On the last and greatest day of the Feast, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.” By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive.

Back in chapter 4 we were presented by Jesus with the idea of living water – water that brings life, transforming water. We are about to see it again but this time in very significant circumstances that emphasise its importance even more.

Following his talk about his disciples needing to ‘eat him’ a number drew back. Their depth of commitment was not enough to support their lack of understanding. Indeed unbelief was common even around Jesus because when we move into chapter 7 we find Jesus’ brothers trying to encourage Jesus to go up to Jerusalem to the Feast of Tabernacles (Jn 7:2-4) and John concludes their comments with, For even his own brothers did not believe in him.” (v.5) So here we have this amazing state of affairs where Jesus performs incredible miracles and still, even some of those close to him don’t believe. Yet he goes to the Feast quietly and then part way through the Feast starts teaching and causing opposition. He is now clearly in the public eye.

And so let’s consider the Feast, one of the three big Feasts of Judaism (the others being Passover and Pentecost) when any Jewish male living within twenty miles was required to attend, and others further afield might go anyway. This Feast required everyone to construct and live in small booths (like tents or ‘tabernacles’) to remind them of the time in Israel’s history when they had wandered in tents in the wilderness before entering the Promised Land (see Lev 23:33-43 & Num 29:12-39). It was to be a period of great feasting and celebration. But it was also harvest thanksgiving (Lev 23:39,40) once the harvest had been gathered, a great time of thankfulness, therefore, for God’s provision in the wilderness and in providing now.

Part of the ceremony each day required the worshippers to bring palm and willow cuttings to the Temple to form a kind of screen or roof while they marched around the great altar. At the same time a priest took a golden pitcher and went down to the Pool of Siloam and filled it with water which was carried up through the Water Gate while the people recited, “With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.” (Isa 12:3) The water was carried up to the Temple and poured out on the altar as an offering accompanied by other chants from the psalms. This was a means of thanksgiving for God’s provision of water which gave life to the land and enabled the harvest to come about, as well as historically remembering the water that had flowed from the rock during their time in the wilderness.

And so the Feast draws near an end and we find, almost certainly as the water pouring over the altar ritual was reaching its climax, “On the last and greatest day of the Feast, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.” (v.37,38)  Suddenly the big emphasis that is being acted out before them is focused on Jesus. It is as if he is saying, “This water will never completely slake your thirst but if you are spiritually thirsty then come to me and drink of what I have to give and you will be satisfied because, just as the Scriptures say, streams of living water will flow from within you.”

Some have suggested this refers to “You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail,” (Isa 58:11) and others, “A fountain will flow out of the LORD’s house and will water the valley of acacias.” (Joel 3:18) There are no verses to specifically tie to these words of Jesus but the idea of water (life) flowing from God is certainly there in the Old Testament.

John provides his own commentary: “By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified.” (v.39) In other words Jesus was referring to the Holy Spirit welling up within the believer when he comes to Christ and is born again, a fountain of life from within.

Now to pick up on the various things said above, we may summarise Jesus’ challenge as follows:

  1. In the same way as God provided miraculous water supply in the desert, so I provide for you a miraculous supply that does not rely on natural means.
  2. In the same way as this feast (highlighted by the pouring out of water at the climax) reminds of God’s provision both in the wilderness and as a means of bringing a harvest today, so my provision will keep you in the dry places and enable you to be fruitful.
  3. This provision is conditional upon you believing in me (Jesus).
  4. This provision is not one-off but a life-long supply.
  5. This provision des not come by some outward activity or source, but from inside you, from my supply, from my Holy Spirit.

These are the things at the heart of this amazing challenge at this crucial time in Israel’s life. A big theme? Absolutely!

12. More on Relationships

Meditations in Romans, Ch.12: 12:  More on Relationships

Rom 12:13  Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another

We move on to the next block of what I have called mini-exhortations because each one s short and pithy, and there are a lot of them. As with verses 9 and 10, these are verses about how we respond to other people, and there is so much here. Each one is a mine of truth waiting to be explored, a variety of facets for Christian living.

Paul starts this block with Share with God’s people who are in need.” (v.13a) In the sixth of this series we noted the following but it is worth repeating: “If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?” (1 Jn 3:17) Jesus used meeting material needs as an indication of spiritual life and relationship: “I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.” (Mt 25:35,36)  So there we have the New Testament Church teaching first from the apostle John and then from Jesus. We are a body and members of the body care for one another but Jesus took it further to imply that we care for all who cross our path and are needy – the hungry, the thirsty, the homeless, the poor, the sick and the prisoner. Today, in the UK at least, institutional society meets all these needs, yet there is still room for the Christians to bless others.

Yet Paul’s focus here is specifically on the Christian Church – “God’s people” – where if we see needs we meet them as we are able.  It was a mark of the early church that they cared for one another: “All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need.” (Acts 2:44,45)  As they grew in numbers and they set up ‘programs’ to meet the needs of the needy among them, they had difficulties: “In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Grecian Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food.” (Acts 6:1) and thus they had to organize more carefully (Acts 6:3-6).

Sometimes we can get institutional in our thinking and we need freeing from that. I once had a lady in the church come to me as its main leader and share her concern for another lady who did outreach lunches from her home and who was short of tea towels. Couldn’t the church buy some for her, was the question asked of me. Of course, I replied, but what a lovely opportunity for you to bless her personally by getting them for her. ‘Need’ can be a very varied thing and a person ‘in need’ may simply be someone who doesn’t have the resources you do and doesn’t feel able to spend on a particular thing in their life. Over the years I am aware that I have given money to someone who need to go to Agricultural college, money to someone to have a holiday, someone money to go on a Bible retreat. None of those things are ‘basics’ of life but they were things that became ‘needs’ in the light of the will of God for that person, what He wanted to do to bless their life. Yes, as a church we gave to people with more basic needs, on one occasion we took a young man to a supermarket when he was out of work and told him to totally fill up the trolley with food for his family. Needs can be many and varied and our means of meeting them equally so.

On one occasion, as a church we were planning to take the church away for a weekend retreat but we knew that we had many people living on state benefits who just could not afford the cost of such a weekend. As we prayed about what to do, the Lord gave us the wisdom. We went to the church and told them in two month’s time we would take a one-off free-will offering. All we asked them to do was, in that two months, ask the Lord how much He wanted them each to put it. It could be nothing, it could be one pound, five pounds, fifty pounds or whatever He said. When the day come, without any fanfare or winding people up, we simply took the offering in the middle of the Sunday morning service. It came to twice as much as we actually needed to cover every man, woman and child in the church – including a couple of unsaved husbands who had trouble believing it.  The extra we put away for the next retreat. The needs of ‘the poor’ were met.

In this day of state benefits and institutional caring, it is so easy to dismiss this exhortation and we say, “We don’t have the needy with us any longer,” but that is so untrue and especially so in days of financial difficulty in this second decade of the twenty first century.  Needy people mean anyone who is struggling to make ends meet and whose lives are restricted because of it. If we have more resources than they do, this word comes to us.

But the key issue is what does God the Holy Spirit say to us? It is also so easy to become guilt-ridden because of these things and He doesn’t want that. Why not enter into a new faith dimension where you ask the Lord to put on your heart people He wants you to bless in this way – and then how He wants you to bless them. Sometimes it is right to give anonymously but sometimes it is right to give face to face to bless the person and build your relationship with them. It’s who HE wants to bless and HOW He wants you to bless. Why not ask Him now.

Sin-Bearer Exhausted

Later, knowing that all was now completed, and so that the Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.John 19:28
In the light of what we remember on this day, perhaps these three words of Jesus, uttered on the Cross at the end of the three hours of darkness, appear very mundane at first sight. That is why these are ‘meditations’ – we need to meditate, reflect and ponder on them.
If we accept the suggestions of yesterday’s meditation, then we have just come to the end of three hours when the Son of God had been carrying the sin of the world and resisting the powers of darkness.   We say resisting because if we are right in interpreting the prophetic aspect of Psa 22:12,13 as the powers of darkness raging at Christ on the Cross, then Satan’s objective would have been to break Jesus and make him curse.   Job had to resist that temptation when his wife told him, “Curse God and die!”    The spotless Lamb of God had to remain spotless – despite the fact of taking the world’s Sin upon himself.  
He had to remain the sinless Son of God and so we refer to the battle on the Cross – the challenge of Satan to try to get Jesus to break down and express himself as less than the man who was full of grace and truth (Jn 1:14). What we are suggesting therefore is that for three hours in darkness, the greatest battle was being fought for the world’s future.   On the Cross, Christ was fighting to preserve his right to be the sinless Lamb of God who alone could take our sin.   By the end of that time he would be exhausted – and that apart from the awfulness of hanging on this terrible torture machine.   A twofold battle was drawing near its end, the battle to remain true despite the utter physical anguish of the Cross, and the battle to remain true despite the railing of the powers of darkness.   Who would not be at the end of their physical strength after such an endurance trial.    It is natural then, that he is thirsty, that is the natural response of an exhausted person.
But there is more to it than that.   Note the words, “knowing that all was now completed.”    Jesus, despite the anguish, was still in complete control of his awareness. He knew the end was near, he knew he had triumphed and that the task of carrying the world’s sin as God’s Lamb was nearly over.   Yes, Jesus ‘knew’.   He was still the Lord in the midst of the most horrifying of circumstances.   How incredible!
But there is yet more.  Throughout his life and ministry he knew he had a schedule to work to, a prophetic schedule, things to be done simply because God had spoken of them, things that would act as signposts for those who were looking.  And now there was yet one more sign to be put up.   In Psa 22:15 there had been the reference to being dry-mouthed, while in Psa 69:21 there had been reference to being given vinegar for his thirst.  That has not yet happened, so the final detail must be added.  
Within this also the humanity of Jesus is revealed.  One heresy that later arose was that the physical man, Jesus, had not died.   Here in this few words the lie is revealed – this very human request (for a request is what it was) was made, revealing the total humanness of this Lamb.   It is a request of humility.   The one who is the source of living water (Jn 4:13,14, 7:38) is now at the end of himself and is only minutes away from departure.   In this final state of weakness there is no final moment of bravado, just a moment of being totally true to who he is – a man in desperate physical need.   To the last moment, he remains true without any pretence.  He is wrung out, he is thirsty – he is at the end of himself, yet gives no negative response, right to the end.
Lord, you fought the great fight of eternity and triumphed and bought my freedom. Thank you that you remained true.  You bore the burden and never gave even a hint of wrong response.  Thank you for loving me that much.  Thank you that on this day you went through all that to win my freedom, my eternal life.  Thank you so much!