Three Chapters in a Nutshell
If I were asked to write a headline summary of Septuagint Isaiah 53-55, I would write the following:
The Lord Calls His Bride
In Isaiah 55 the Lord calls his people. The Servant has accomplished salvation (chapter 53). God has expressed his vows of love and forgiveness for his wayward children (chapter 54). Now, in chapter 55, the Lord invites those who will to come and live with him.
- The Lord sends out his invitation to everyone who is needy (verses 1-3).
- He presents the foundation of the invitation (verses 4-5).
- He calls again (verses 6-7).
- The Lord provides his character references (verses 8-11a).
- Finally, the Lord describes the blessings of prosperity for those who respond to his love (verses 11b-13).
1 You that thirst, go to the water, and all that have no money, go and buy; and eat and drink wine and fat without money or price. 2 Therefore do you value at the price of money, and give your labor for that which will not satisfy? listen to me, and you shall eat that which is good, and your soul shall feast itself on good things. 3 Give heed with your ears, and follow my ways: listen to me, and your soul shall live in prosperity; and I will make with you an everlasting covenant, the sure mercies of David. (LXE 55)
The Lord Christ, God’s incarnated Servant, offers similar invitations to those who will.
John 7:37 On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.'” 39 Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified. (ESV)
John 6:35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” (ESV)
Matthew 11:28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (ESV)
Verse three of Isaiah 55 refers to “an everlasting covenant, the sure mercies of David” (LXE 55). Both God’s Servant in Isaiah and Christ descended from King David. God had made an “everlasting covenant” with David (2 Samuel 7:12-16). Paul declares in Acts 13:34 that God fulfills this everlasting covenant with Christ, the descendant of David.
Acts 13:34 And as for the fact that he raised him from the dead, no more to return to corruption, he has spoken in this way, “‘I will give you the holy and sure blessings of David.’ (ESV)
How do we know that Isaiah has the Servant in mind? Verse 4, immediately following the mention of God’s covenant with David, says “Behold I have made him a testimony among the Gentiles, a prince and commander to the Gentiles.” The “him,” when used this way in the last several chapters of Isaiah, refers to God’s Servant. (See Journal 2.60.)
Foundation of the Invitation
The Lord extends his invitation to the whole world.
4 Behold I have made him a testimony among the Gentiles, a prince and commander to the Gentiles. 5 Nations which know you not, shall call upon you, and peoples which are not acquainted with you, shall flee to you for refuge, for the sake of the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel; for he has glorified you. (LXE Isaiah 55)
As previously mentioned, in the context of the last dozen or so chapters, the “him” that God has made “a testimony among the Gentiles” is, of course, his Servant. See, for example, Septuagint Isaiah 42:1, 4, 6; 49:1, 6, 8, 22; 51:4-5; and 54:1-3.
Interestingly, God’s speech in verse 5 (LXE 55) could be directed to God’s Servant or to his people. In the first scenario, verse 4 refers to the Servant. Then, in verse 5, God could simply turn towards the Servant and speak directly to him. In the second scenario, verse 5 can refer to those whom God calls in verses 1-3. Those who respond to his invitation in those verses are his people. God then announces inclusion of Gentiles in verse 4. In verse 5, God can be addressing all those who respond to his invitation. These are all of God’s people, that is, the formerly barren woman (54:1). This is the group whom he addresses for the bulk of the chapter. Both interpretations are possible.
SIGNIFICANCE OF VERSE 5
In Scripture, when God joins a man and woman in marriage, they become one (Genesis 2:24; Matthew 19:5). When Christ the Servant “marries” his people, he and his people become one. This is what Paul teaches so explicitly in Ephesians 5:23, 30-31 and 1 Corinthians 12:27. So, here, in this verse in Isaiah (LXE 55), the wording of the text makes the interpretation possible that the Servant and his people are one. God glorifies both the risen Servant (Isaiah 52:13 [“glorified exceedingly”–Septuagint]) and his fulness, the people who respond to his call (Isaiah 55:5). The glory of the followers of the Servant resides in the Servant’s glory. Without the work of the Servant, there would be no glory for Israel.
The Lord Repeats the Call
6 Seek you the Lord, and when you find him, call upon him; and when he shall draw near to you, 7 let the ungodly leave his ways, and the transgressor his counsels: and let him return to the Lord, and he shall find mercy; for he shall abundantly pardon your sins. (LXE 55)
God first calls the thirsty and the impoverished–those who have no money (verses 1-2). In his initial call, God promises prosperity, an everlasting covenant, and the sure mercies of David (verse 3). He includes Gentiles in verses 4-5. Then, in verses 6-7, the Lord repeats his call. Readers can assume from the prior verses (4 and 5) that this second invitation goes forth to everyone.
In verse 6, the Lord promises to respond with fellowship to those who seek him. In verse 7, the text clearly states that God calls the “ungodly” and the “transgressor.” God’s Servant in the New Testament repeats these calls.
Revelation 3:20 Listen! I am standing at the door and knocking! If anyone hears my voice and opens the door I will come into his home and share a meal with him, and he with me. (NET)
Matthew 9:13 Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” (ESV)
Both the call of the Lord in Isaiah (see verses 6-7 above) and the call of God’s Servant/Messiah in the New Testament require a turning away from previous ungodly ways.
Isaiah 55:7 let the ungodly leave his ways, and the transgressor his counsels: (Septuagint)
Matthew 4:17 From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (ESV)
John 8:10 Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 11 She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.” (ESV)
Luke 24:45 Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, 46 and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, 47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.” (ESV)
The Lord Gives His Character References
In verses 8-11, the Lord describes his powers. When they consider his power, those who hear the Lord’s call will know that he is able to perform all that he promises. There is none other like the Lord.
8 For my counsels are not as your counsels, nor are my ways as your ways, says the Lord. 9 But as the heaven is distant from the earth, so is my way distant from your ways, and your thoughts from my mind. 10 For as rain shall come down, or snow, from heaven, and shall not return until it has saturated the earth, and it bring forth, and bud, and give seed to the sower, and bread for food: 11 so shall my word be, whatever shall proceed out of my mouth, it shall by no means turn back, until all the things which I willed shall have been accomplished; and I will make your ways prosperous, and will effect my commands. (LXE Isaiah 55)
Promises of Joy and Prosperity
Isaiah closes the chapter with the Lord’s promise of joy and prosperity for those who respond to his call (1).
11 … and I will make your ways prosperous, and will effect my commands. 12 For you shall go forth with joy, and shall be taught with gladness: for the mountains and the hills shall exult to welcome you with joy, and all the trees of the field shall applaud with their branches. 13 And instead of the bramble shall come up the cypress, and instead of the nettle shall come up the myrtle: and the Lord shall be for a name, and for an everlasting sign, and shall not fail. (LXE Isaiah 55)
Notice the similarity between the imagery of nature in these verses and the figure of speech God employs when he calls his faithful responders the “barren” and the “desolate” in 54:1. Those who repent in Israel and return to God throughout Isaiah are a small number, a mere remnant. In this sense, they are like a desolate desert. Plants such as the bramble and nettle grow in deserted places.
The metaphor of fruitfulness the Lord chooses in these verses is truly beautiful. Paul seems to recall these verses when he speaks of the new creation in Romans 8.
Romans 8:19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. (ESV)
As we wait for the final, eternal revelation of Christ in his church, in Spirit now those who receive God’s Servant in their hearts experience a rejuvenation similar to brambles being replaced by the cypress and nettles being replaced by the gentle, peaceful myrtle. Surely, those whose hearts have been softened to repent and know the Lord do go out with joy and are taught with gladness. Praise and bless You, Lord.
1 The Lord throughout this chapter never addresses the nation of “Israel” as a whole. In Isaiah 54:1, the Lord speaks to the “barren,” commanding her to “Rejoice!” Previous chapters reveal that the “barren” are those of Israel who display the faith in God of Abraham and Sarah. To this group, God joins Gentiles who believe. Various speech tags indicate that the Lord continues to speak to the barren woman throughout chapter 54 and for the entirety of chapter 55. These speech tags include the following: 1) “you barren”–54:1, 2) “thy seed shall inherit the Gentiles”–54:3, 3) “There is an inheritance to them that serve the Lord, and you shall be righteous before me”–54:17, 4) “You that thirst…and all that have no money”–55:1, 5) “Give heed…and follow my ways: listen to me and your soul shall live in prosperity” [i.e., those who are willing to obey]–54:3, 6) “Nations which know you not, shall call upon you” [Gentiles]–54:5, 7) “Seek you the Lord” [i.e., those who desire the Lord; the nation as a whole rejects God in Isaiah (see, for example, Isaiah 48:18-19 Septuagint)]–55:6, 8) “Let the ungodly leave his ways, and the transgressor his counsels: and let him return to the Lord…” [i.e., those who repent, which the bulk of national Israel does not do]–55:7.
For those who may have difficulty accepting that the Lord’s promise of prosperity is not a blanket, unconditional promise to national Israel, please let me offer this thought. In the Christian church, extremely few, if any, pastors teach that all humanity will be saved. No, God’s promise in Christ is for “whosoever” (anyone and everyone) who is willing to receive Christ by faith. Why would the Lord treat a particular nation or race of people differently than he treats all humanity? In other words, why would the precepts that distinguish God’s relationship with the people of a nation (Israel) be different than his precepts for the people of his world-wide church? God, let us remember, shows no “partiality” (Ephesians 6:9 NET). Our prayers should always be that people of Jewish ethnicity (and people the world over of all ethnicities) would come to know the Lord.