Isaiah 55 – A call to salvation

Old Testament prophecy accomplished many purposes.  Sometimes it was used to rebuke God’s people and have them change their ways and return to him.  Other times it was used to encourage them to remain faithful and steadfast as they had been.  On even other occasions God’s prophetic words would move the hearts of those who did not love him to eventually come to know him.  If there is one consistent theme in all of these prophecies it is that these prophetic words indicate to us the character of God.  They show us his heart for people to turn to him not simply because He deserves worship but because it is for their good. One particular prophetic calling stands out as a picture of God’s grace, love and mercy for those who are called by his name and belong to him.  Let us review Isaiah 55 and allow scripture to remind us of the heart our Father has to see us remain in him.

vv. 1-2

Ho! Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat. Yes, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend money for what is not bread, and your wages for what does not satisfy? Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good, and let your soul delight itself in abundance.

This world is full of illusions, and it has been since the fall of man.  It will trick us into thinking we need certain things which are not only unnecessary but at times are damaging.  Many are the people who have devoted their lives to amassing great wealth and status for themselves here.  These people, however, have one critical thing in common with the rest of humanity.  No matter how much they amassed, one day each of them would have to leave it all behind.  Beyond that, even those great fortunes one day will be no more.  It is the trick of deceiving us to think that those things which are temporary could possibly fill any of the eternal longings God has placed in the hearts of humankind.  It is the great deception which tells us that something made from the hands of man could possibly be worth any value beyond the here and now. These prophetic words paint a picture which places in stark contrast the deceptions of the temporary to the promise of God’s eternity.

I used to have a big problem with shopping at discount grocery stores. There was something in my head which told me that cheaper food must be of lower quality and value.  I thought I was too good to walk into a grocery outlet because that was for people who could not afford to shop elsewhere.  It was quite a silly and egotistical thing to think, but it shows the value I placed on the quality of my physical food and what I was willing to spend for it.  This part of the prophecy rebukes those who spend their effort and their riches on things which will not satisfy because they one day will pass away.  It challenges them to think about what they are collecting during this life. If we are looking to amass only those things which money can buy, we will not be satisfied by them, and they will pass away just as these natural bodies will.  However, if we look for the real nourishment, if we seek the water and the bread which cannot be bought with money, water and bread which is free for the taking, that is where we will find satisfaction.  It is a matter of rethinking what we consider our necessary nourishment and what we will sacrifice for it.

vv. 6-7

Seek the Lord while He may be found, call upon Him while He is near. Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, and He will have mercy on him; and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon.

It has been millennia since Jesus Christ walked in this world.  His disciples were looking for his return as prophesied, but they did not see that in their lifetimes.  Generation upon generation would follow, and we remain living in this imperfect system.  We may think that the second coming of Christ will not occur during our lifetime simply because it seems like it might take forever.  We may think that there is plenty of time left to fulfill God’s calling on our lives and get serious about our faith.  The truth is that things may be much different than they appear at the moment.  These verses call upon people to seek the Lord while He may be found.  Forget about the timeline of Christ’s return, and think about the finite years of a person’s life.  No one knows if tomorrow will come for any of us.  This means that today must be viewed as the day.  There is certainly an urgency to this portion of the call because human vision and insight are incredibly limited.  We cannot know when the clock will stop on our window of grace.  That is why each one is called to turn now.

There are people who think that they might turn to God but first must make themselves a little better, a little purer.  They think that they cannot present their filthy rags to the Lord today as they are, and they think that they will have tomorrow to work that out.  They are deceived in many ways.  First is the notion that our window of grace will never close, but we know that is not so.  There will come a time when repentance no longer is an option.  Second is the notion that our wickedness has brought us to a place where God does not want to see us.  The irony is that any person would think that he or she could have the power to make themselves a little more presentable to God than they are right now.  The first time I stepped into a church as an adult who seriously was considering issues of faith, I expected that place to crumble to the ground the moment I walked on the property.  I thought for sure that I was too wicked to stand on such holy ground.  The truth was that I was no more or less wicked than anyone else who ever cried out to God for salvation.  We all come with blemishes, and it is no competition.  We must understand that God wants us to go to him no matter how filthy we have been or will be, and He wants us to do it now.  We are not guaranteed tomorrow, but we are guaranteed an abundance of mercy today.

vv. 8-9

For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,” says the Lord. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.

We all have encountered deals which seem just too good to be true. Maybe it is an incredible price on a car or a house, so we ask ourselves what could be wrong with them.  Maybe it is a really cheap vacation offer which surely must come with a catch or some required extra costs. We encounter enough deception in this world to be skeptical about what people present to us and not take much at face value, and God knows that.  This prophecy is calling people to go to him for the first time or return to him after going astray, and it says that his abundant mercy is free for the taking.  Some people might think that deal is just too good to be true, and they are looking for the catch.  They are too skeptical to say “yes” to Jesus Christ because they do not know what that means for their future, and they do not have the faith to trust without reading the fine print.  To imperfect humans like ourselves it makes no sense that God would offer salvation to us the way we are. That is a mercy and a grace we likely cannot understand because we simply do not possess it.

These verses tell us to forget about the way we think and concentrate on the way God thinks.  Our reasoning would tell us that we are not deserving of the opportunity God gives us, and that is not untrue. However, the fact that we do not deserve God’s grace does not negate that his grace still exists and strives to work in our favor.  If we try to reason through God’s desire to deliver his disobedient children, his unending love, his adoration for the unfaithful bride He chose knowing she would go astray often, we will probably drive ourselves crazy.  His thoughts are well beyond ours, and we cannot come to know them without his help.  His ways often make absolutely no sense to these minuscule minds of ours, but He has the power to reveal his purposes to us through his Spirit.  Taking the leap of faith to trust God, to accept that He can wash us clean no matter how filthy we get, to understand that despite our episodes of unfaithfulness He continually calls us to return to him, all of this requires an understanding well beyond what we have naturally.  It is not for us to come to understand the grace of God before we trust in it, but it is for God to grant us increased understanding of his grace once we have trusted in it.  

vv. 10-11

For as the rain comes down, and the snow from heaven, and do not return there, but water the earth, and make it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; it shall not return to Me void, but it shall accomplish what I please, and it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it.

A big part of understanding God’s thoughts and God’s ways is pouring over his word, particularly his spoken word.  There is not one sentence, not one syllable He has uttered which has been empty or wasted. When God speaks it is more than simply the proclamation of truth.  His words have power to actually do things.  We might not understand this because we often speak empty words.  When God talks, He is not just saying something but is doing something.  The prophecies He has given to his children to speak on his behalf are not informational in nature. These words have purpose and commitment, and they will bring forth what they declare.  When we review God’s spoken words in history, we see a picture of not only his character but also his deepest desires.  We come to understand what moves him and how we can bring him to move.  We also understand that the power of God’s words is no less than that of his hand.

Trusting in God’s words to fulfill what they say they will accomplish is integral to our Christian faith.  For example, we just discussed how the second coming of Christ might seem to many like it just will never happen.  It has been so many years He ascended, and so many generations of believers thought they surely would see him come in their time, yet He has yet to arrive.  If we look at God’s word, particularly at the spoken words of Christ himself, we know that He will come back. It may not happen during my lifetime or your lifetime, but we know that there is purposeful truth in the words He declared about his return.  These words once declared are firm and cannot be changed. A good way to increase our understanding of God is to challenge ourselves to read his words and then take a closer look at the purpose behind them.  Even if those words appear simply to state a fundamental truth, there may be much more to the statement than we know, and perhaps He wants us to discover that.

vv. 12-13 

For you shall go out with joy, and be led out with peace; the mountains and the hills shall break forth into singing before you, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress 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.

And now we have an example of the power of God’s spoken word.  He has made a declaration over his chosen people and how their lives will go.  There is much misfortune and calamity which might be spoken over us by our enemies.  We know that we have one great enemy in particular who desires nothing short of our complete and utter destruction.  He works to plant thorns and briers in our lives, to place mountains between us and our God, to bring us war and strife.  Despite these attempts at harming us, God proclaims that his people will prosper.  The obstacles placed in our way will crumble before us.  The trees of the field will signal our victory over the enemy, the fulfillment of our deliverance as proclaimed by God’s immovable word.  All of the damaging vegetation which has been planted as a way to keep our fruit from growing will be removed and thrown in the fire.  In its place will spring up only God’s good fruit.  These are words spoken by God which will accomplish their purpose and not return void.

This work that God has planned to complete for those who are called by his name will be everlasting.  The fruit of this faith is eternal.  It is to the glory of God that He not only has the power to accomplish such great things for such lowly people, but it is even more so to his glory that He would want to do so.  His power to save is eclipsed only by his merciful desire to save those who never could be worthy of anything more than destruction.  I would argue that for most, if not all, of us it is much easier to understand that God can save us than to understand why he would save us.  The first speaks of his might, and the second speaks of his glory.  It is because He is glorious that He would want to sacrifice himself so that we can be redeemed, and it is because of the character which brought this act of redemption that He has been and will continue to be glorified.  God is not worthy of glory because of what He does, but what He does surely illustrates that worth.

We will never meet a person like God, one who takes completely of himself and bears the cost to give others a free gift they could never attain on their own no matter how high a price they paid.  This is one who desires nothing but fruitfulness and prosperity for those He has chosen.  This is one who calls us to return to him despite our unfaithfulness, who desires to forgive us without hesitation.  This is one who has forgotten our trespasses and buried them deep beneath the ocean floor never to be revisited.  It is God’s glorious nature which brings forth this unmerited favor and grace over his people.  Ironically, it is unfathomable that someone so perfect and glorious would desire to remain with us despite our shortcomings and trespasses.  He gives us everything we never could deserve after we have treated him by every manner other than that which He unquestionably deserves.  We call him things like merciful, gracious, loving and long-suffering, but those words do not even begin to describe the character of a perfect God who would suffer such lowly creatures and yet plan a perfect eternity as their hope.  This is the glorious one to whom we have been called.