Read the Passage: Isaiah 55
This chapter begins with an invitation to “everyone who thirsts” (Isa. 55:1), which includes both Jew and Gentile. In giving and describing an open call to the abundant life, Isaiah is likely utilizing the image of a vendor in the market selling food and drink to passers-by. Yet, unlike street vendors who often charged exorbitant prices for their wares, the offer of salvation extended by the Suffering Servant is “without money and without price” (Isa. 55:1) for all to whom it is offered. In his illustration in Isa. 55:1–2, Isaiah mentions water, wine, milk, and bread. Observe that water is frequently used in Scripture as a metaphor for the Holy Spirit (cf. Isa. 32:15; John 4:10–14; 7:37–39; Rev. 21:6; 22:17), wine and milk are often symbolic of abundance (cf. Song 5:1; Joel 2:19; 3:18), and Jesus would later refer to Himself as the bread of life (cf. Matt. 26:26; John 6:32–35; 1 Cor. 10:17; 11:23–24).
Next, in Isa. 55:3–5 the prophet likens God’s call to salvation with the Davidic Covenant, which Isaiah refers to as God’s “sure mercies of David” (Isa. 55:3). The idea here is that just as God had been faithful to keep His covenant with David (cf. 2 Sam. 7:12–16; Ps. 89:27–29), so will He be faithful to keep the New Covenant with His people (cf. Jer. 31:31–34). Observe the connection with Jesus, as Christ is both the fulfillment of the Davidic Covenant (cf. Acts. 13:34) and the object and facilitator of the New Covenant. It is important to note that in Isa. 55:4–5 the subject is Christ; for Jesus is our witness (cf. John 8:18), our leader and commander (cf. Acts 5:31; Heb. 2:10), and the One to whom the nations will run (cf. Matt. 25:32; Rev. 7:9). Note that the citation of “nations” in Isa. 55:5 is a reference to Gentiles, which shows—as was previously noted—that the call of salvation in Isa. 55:1 includes both Jews and Gentiles.
After generally inviting all mankind to receive the Lord in Isa. 55:1–5, the prophet specifically exhorts his readers to salvation in Isa. 55:6–7. These two verses may be the most concise summary of the process of salvation in the Old Testament. In this passage Isaiah gives four clear steps toward salvation. First, man must freely “seek the Lord . . . [and] call upon Him” (Isa. 55:6). Of course, no one can seek the Lord unless they are first sought by God (cf. John 6:65). Second, “the wicked [must] forsake his way” (Isa. 55:7a). This entails repentance of sin (cf. Acts 3:19). Third, man must “return to the Lord” (Isa. 55:7b). Such a return entails repentance and the idea of admitting that we have broken our relationship with God (cf. Isa. 53:6). Fourth, the lost can know that God “will have mercy on him. . . [and] He will abundantly pardon (cf. Isa. 55:7c). Indeed, God is a merciful God (cf. Heb. 4:16).
Isa. 55:8–9 are often cited—and rightly so—to demonstrate God’s sovereignty. Here God declares, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are My ways you ways. . . . As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways.” Earlier, Isaiah gave a similar teaching, as he recorded God’s declaration, “To whom will you liken Me, and make Me equal and compare Me, that we should be alike. . . . Remember the former things of old, for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like Me” (Isa. 46:5, 9; cf. Job 23:13–15; 26:14; Ps. 50:21; 94:7–11; Acts 17:25). It is important to note, however, that Isa. 55:8–9 is not just a declaration about God’s sovereignty. Rather, in the context of this chapter, God is referring to His sovereignty in offering salvation by grace alone through faith alone, and not by works.
In Isa. 55:10–11 the prophet continues to write about the sovereignty of God in salvation, as he mentioned the means of salvation, which is the Word of God. Here God declares, “My Word . . . that goes forth from my mouth . . . shall not return to Me void, but it shall accomplish what I please” (Isa. 55:11). This is as inevitable, writes Isaiah, as the rain and snow that fall from heaven, water the earth, and produce a bountiful crop. As the New Testament repeatedly affirms, we must remember that the Word of God is the divinely designed conduit through which God births faith (cf. Rom. 10:17; 1 Cor. 1:21; Titus 1:3; Jas. 1:18, 21; 1 Pet. 1:23). In Isa. 55:12–13 Isaiah blends the present effects of salvation with the eschatological results of salvation. Presently the gospel results in joy and peace; at the end of the age the gospel will result in the “restoration of all things” (Acts 3:21).
- Why do so many who hear and know about God’s free offer of salvation reject it? Has God been faithful to you since accepting His call?
- In what sense is salvation both costly and free (cf. 1 Pet. 1:18–19)? If salvation is not by works, how can we verify the authenticity of salvation?
- What does someone need to know in order to be saved? What is the proper relationship between repentance and faith?
- Why do many people prefer an effort or works-based salvation over a free or grace-based salvation?
- In what ways do believers experience the present blessings of salvation that are a foretaste of the future restoration of all things?