Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
Ch. 55. A Call to Individuals to embrace the coming Salvation
(i) Isaiah 55:1-5. A gracious invitation to the blessings of the new Covenant.
(1) Salvation freely offered to the thirsty. Addressing those who are engaged in the pursuit of earthly good, the prophet, in the name of Jehovah, promises them the complete satisfaction of their wants by accepting a share in the kingdom of God (Isaiah 55:1-2).
(2) On the condition of obedience Jehovah will make an everlasting Covenant with them, incorporating them in the Messianic community, in which the promises made to the house of David shall be realised (Isaiah 55:3-5).
(ii) Isaiah 55:6-13. This kingdom is at hand.
(1) The summons (Isaiah 55:1 ff.) is urgent, for Jehovah is near; now is the day of grace when He may be sought and found, and when even the wicked may obtain pardon through repentance (Isaiah 55:6-7).
(2) Jehovah is in truth near, although His thoughts and purposes are too exalted to be apprehended by the narrow and earth-bound vision of selfish men (Isaiah 55:8-9).
(3) Already the word has gone forth which is to renew the world and bring in the eternal redemption; it shall no more return empty than the rain and the snow return to heaven without having fertilized the earth (Isaiah 55:10-11).
(4) The prophet here reverts to an image frequent in the earlier discourses. The great deliverance is on the eve of being accomplished; the exiles shall go out (from Babylon) with joy, and the noble trees which spring up along their desert journey shall remain as an everlasting memorial of Jehovah’s power (Isaiah 55:12-13).
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.1. every one that thirsteth] in a figurative sense, primarily of the weariness and discontent of exile (cf. Isaiah 41:17, Isaiah 44:3), but also of conscious need in general.
come (lit. “go” and so throughout) ye to the waters] The image is probably connected with Isaiah 41:18, the miraculous fountain opened by Jehovah for the relief of His people (“wells of salvation,” ch. Isaiah 12:3). A reference to the cry of the water-sellers in the streets of an Oriental city is less natural.
and he that hath no money] In the East access to a well has often to be paid for. According to the Heb. accents this clause should be joined to the preceding,—“even he that hath no money”—in apposition with “thirsty.” The word for buy is connected with a noun meaning “grain” and is only used of buying corn. It should probably be so understood in both cases here, although in the second its government extends over two similar objects. The last clause must then be rendered, buy corn without money, and without price wine and milk.
1, 2. The invitation. The message of the Gospel—its freeness, its appeal to the individual, its answer to the cravings of the heart—is nowhere in the O.T. more clearly foreshadowed than in this truly evangelical passage (cf. John 4:10 ff; John 6:35 ff; John 7:37 f.; Revelation 21:6; Revelation 22:17; also Proverbs 9:1 ff.; Sir 15:3). The promises are of course not to be materialised, as if water, bread, wine, milk were meant literally, or merely as symbols of comfortable earthly existence in Palestine. At the same time when we seek to recover the original historical sense of the words, there is a possibility of spiritualising over-much. The images used do, indeed, typify the blessings of salvation; but salvation itself in the O.T. is never without a national and therefore earthly element. Those here addressed are exiles (see Isaiah 55:12), many of whom had doubtless carried out only too thoroughly the injunction of Jeremiah to “build houses and dwell in them; to plant gardens and eat the fruit of them; to take wives &c.” in Babylon (Jeremiah 29:6). They were in danger of losing their nationality, and with it their religion and their own souls through devotion to selfish and material aims. This is the fate against which the prophet warns them in Isaiah 55:2; and the salvation he offers is a personal interest in the new covenant, or membership in the kingdom of God. To this they are freely invited, with the assurance that there they shall find the satisfaction and blessedness that a life of worldliness can never yield.
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.2. Whilst the religious life is a receiving without spending, the worldly life is a continual spending without lasting profit or satisfaction.
spend money] lit. “weigh silver.” your labour] your earnings (as ch. Isaiah 45:14).
hearken diligently &c.] Or, if ye but hearken to me ye shall eat good, and your soul shall &c. (see Davidson’s Syntax, § 86 c; and § 132 b).
delight itself (ch. Isaiah 58:14, Isaiah 66:11) in fatness] the choicest and most nourishing food (cf. ch. Isaiah 25:6).
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.3–5. The offer of Isaiah 55:1-2 is summed up in the promise of an everlasting covenant. see ch. Isaiah 42:6, Isaiah 49:8; and cf. Isaiah 61:8; Jeremiah 32:40; Jeremiah 31:31-33.
Incline your ear &c.] The condition imposed is simply the consent and submission of the heart to the divine will.
an everlasting covenant … the sure mercies of David] i.e. the mercies (lovingkindnesses) irrevocably promised to David and his house. Comp. the “Last Words of David,” 2 Samuel 23:5 (“an everlasting covenant ordered in all things and secured”), Psalm 18:50 (“shewing lovingkindness … to David and to his seed for ever”), Psalm 89:28 (“for ever will I keep my lovingkindness to him, and my covenant is sure to him”), and Psalm 89:49; and the great promise to which all these passages point, 2 Samuel 7:8-16. The comparison of the everlasting covenant to these Davidic “mercies” cannot mean simply that the one is as sure as the other. It is identity rather than comparison that is implied, the idea being that the contents of the covenant are the same as the mercies promised to David, and that it will be the fulfilment of the hopes that clustered round the Davidic dynasty. But an intricate question arises with respect to the sense in which this fulfilment is to be understood in the next two verses.
Behold, I have given him for a witness to the people, a leader and commander to the people.4. Behold, I have given him] Better, I have appointed him; or, if we adopt the view (a) above, “I set him” (aorist).
for a witness] of Jehovah’s power and faithfulness (cf. Isaiah 43:10, Isaiah 44:8).
to the people] peoples (as R.V.).
a leader] The word nâgîd (ruler or prince) is used in 2 Samuel 7:8 of David’s kingship over Israel.
4, 5. (a) Most modern authorities hold that the person spoken of in Isaiah 55:4 is the historical David, and that Isaiah 55:4-5 institute a parallel between the position he occupied in the heathen world of his time and that which Israel shall occupy in the future; the thought expressed, therefore, is that the Messianic hope is transferred from the dynasty to the nation. The view is thus succinctly stated by Driver; “as David became ruler of subject nations (2 Samuel 8), a knowledge of his religion, however imperfect, spread among them; thus he was a ‘witness’ to them. This position of David is idealised in Psalm 18:43 (‘Thou makest me a head of nations; a people whom I have not known shall serve me’); and the position, as thus idealised, is here enlarged, and extended in a spiritual sense to Israel (Isaiah 55:5).” (Isaiah 2, p. 156.) (b) Others think that the reference in Isaiah 55:4 is to the future Messianic king (who is called David in Jeremiah 30:9; Ezekiel 34:23 f.), so that the two verses represent under two aspects the future greatness of Israel. (c) An intermediate position is taken by some, viz., that Isaiah 55:4 goes back to the promise made to David, but regards it as one destined to be fulfilled in the person of his son the Messiah. It is very difficult to decide between these conflicting explanations. Against (b) and (c) it is urged (1) that the tenses in Isaiah 55:4 are perfects and are naturally understood of the historic past, since those of Isaiah 55:5 are futures. (2) The idea of a personal Messiah appears nowhere else in the prophecy. (3) A further objection, which however savours of fastidiousness, is that the Messiah is never named David absolutely, even in Jeremiah 30 and Ezekiel 34. On the other side it may be said, (1) that the distinction of tense is accounted for by the fact that Isaiah 55:4 speaks of what is really past (viz. Jehovah’s decree concerning the Messiah), whereas Isaiah 55:5 refers to a consequence still to be manifested. (2) Although the idea of the Messiah is not found elsewhere in the book, there is nothing in the prophet’s conceptions inconsistent with it; where he thinks of Israel as a restored nation he will naturally think of it as represented by a Davidic king. (3) Neither in the fundamental passage (2 Samuel 7) nor in any of those which point back to it (2 Samuel 23; Psalms 18, 89) is anything said of David being a “witness” to the true religion; and it could hardly occur to anyone to think of him as in the first instance a witness and in the second a prince. The third view (c) seems on the whole the best; the original covenant guarantees an endless dominion to the family of David, and after the restoration this will assume a spiritual character and expand into universal empire in the reign of the Messiah. This interpretation, however, is complicated by the further question as to the relation of the Messiah to the Servant of the Lord. If the Servant be the ideal Israel there is of course no difficulty; the two conceptions stand side by side and are independent. But if he be an individual, he is almost necessarily to be identified with the ideal king, although features are thus introduced into the portrait of the Messiah of which hardly a trace is found in the subsequent literature, until the conception of Messiahship through suffering and death was realised in Christ.
Behold, 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.5. thou (Israel) shalt call a nation &c.] i.e. many a nation (see on ch. Isaiah 25:3) hitherto unknown to thee.
because of the Lord &c.] Cf. ch. Isaiah 49:7.
glorified thee] Cf. Isaiah 44:23, Isaiah 49:3.
Seek ye the LORD while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near:6, 7. The call to repentance, because of the nearness of the kingdom of God.
while he may be found … while he is near] in the “acceptable time” the “day of salvation” (ch. Isaiah 49:8). Comp. further Jeremiah 29:12-14.
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.7. the unrighteous man] lit., “the man of evil” or falsehood.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD.8, 9. Jehovah’s thoughts transcend those of man as much as the heaven is higher than the earth. The point of the contrast is not the moral quality of the Divine thoughts as opposed to those of the “wicked”; the thoughts and ways of Jehovah are His purposes of redemption, which are too vast and sublime to be measured by the narrow conceptions of despairing minds (Isaiah 40:27 f.). Comp. Jeremiah 29:11 (“I know the thoughts that I entertain towards you, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope”), Micah 4:12. The verses, therefore, furnish a motive not merely for repentance but also for eager and expectant hope.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.
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:10, 11. This purpose of salvation is embodied in the word which goes forth from Jehovah’s mouth. The “word” is conceived as endowed with a self-fulfilling energy (see on ch. Isaiah 9:8); and its silent but irresistible efficacy is set forth by a beautiful comparison from nature. The same idea was expressed in ch. Isaiah 40:8.
as the rain cometh down &c.] The image is suggested by “the heavens” in Isaiah 55:9.
but watereth] Rather, without having watered &c.
seed to the sower and bread to the eater] Cf. 2 Corinthians 9:10.
So 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.11. return … void] empty, having achieved nothing, as 2 Samuel 1:22.
but it shall accomplish] without having accomplished, as in Isaiah 55:10.
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.12, 13. The joyful exodus from Babylon; this is the “thing whereto Jehovah has sent” His word.
and be led forth] by Jehovah in person, ch. Isaiah 40:10, Isaiah 52:12. Cf. Micah 2:13.
shall clap their hands] Psalm 98:8; Ezekiel 25:6.
Instead 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.13. The word for thorn occurs again only in ch. Isaiah 7:19. That for brier (s̬irpâd) is unknown. LXX. renders κόνυζα (fleabane). All that can be said is that some desert plant is meant. On fir-tree (cypress) and myrtle tree, see on ch. Isaiah 41:19.
for a name … for a sign] i.e. a memorial to His praise. The meaning appears to be that the marvellous vegetation so often alluded to as springing up in the desert as the procession of the redeemed passes through, shall remain throughout the future ages as a monument to Jehovah. It shews at least (Dillmann, etc.) that the conception is not to be regarded as a mere poetical figure.