Isaiah 55: God’s Higher Thoughts and Ways

PODCAST: Isaiah 55 – God’s Higher Thoughts and Ways

READ: Isaiah 55 – Notes

STUDY: Isaiah 55 – Worksheet


Where we are:

Part 1: Judgment Part 2: Historical Interlude Part 3: Salvation
Chapters 1-35 Chapters 36-39 Chapters 40-66

When this takes place:

Chapter 55 is part of the second major section of Isaiah and deals less with Judah’s immediate plight than with its future deliverance from Babylonian exile and ultimate glory.

Key verses:

Isa. 55:8-9 – “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, and your ways are not My ways.” This is the Lord’s declaration. “For as heaven is higher than earth, so My ways are higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.”

Quick summary:

Because the Servant has accomplished His mission, all who are thirsty are invited to drink from the waters of salvation. But there is urgency in this invitation. “Seek the Lord while He may be found; call to Him while He is near,” the reader is admonished in verse 6. All are welcome – Jew and Gentile alike – but they must forsake their wicked ways and abandon their pride. In so doing, they will find great joy. Even the ones unsure of their ability to proclaim God’s truths are assured that His word “will not return to Me empty” (v. 11).

Take note:

The word “thirsty” in verse 1 is used throughout Scripture as a metaphor for spiritual longing. Here are a few examples:

  • Ps. 42:1-2: As a deer longs for streams of water, so I long for You, God. I thirst for God, the living God. When can I come and appear before God?
  • Ps. 63:1: God, You are my God; I eagerly seek You. I thirst for You; my body faints for You in a land that is dry, desolate, and without water.
  • John 4:13-14: Jesus said, “Everyone who drinks from this water will get thirsty again. But whoever drinks from the water that I will give him will never get thirsty again—ever! In fact, the water I will give him will become a well of water springing up within him for eternal life.”
  • John 7:37-39: On the last and most important day of the festival, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone is thirsty, he should come to Me and drink! The one who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, will have streams of living water flow from deep within him.” He said this about the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were going to receive, for the Spirit had not yet been received, because Jesus had not yet been glorified.
  • Rev. 21:6: And He said to me, “It is done! I am  the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. I will give to the thirsty from the spring of living water as a gift.”

An Invitation (Isa. 55:1-2)

The Lord issues an invitation to “everyone who is thirsty” to come to Him and be satisfied. Water is a precious commodity in many parts of the East, and an abundance of water is a special blessing (Isa. 41:17, 44:3). In addition, wine, milk and bread are dietary staples. People labor to provide these for themselves and their families, digging wells, tending crops and watching over their livestock. Yet many continue to go hungry and thirsty – an apt analogy for the busyness of religious works that fail to satisfy the deepest longings of the human heart. While many gladly would pay for the food that sustains spiritual life, Yahweh beckons us to come and buy “without money and without cost” (v. 1). Salvation is God’s gift to mankind. It may not be earned, bought, traded for or stolen; it is available freely to all who receive it in faith (John 5:24; Rom. 4:4-5; Eph. 2:8-9; Titus 3:5).

Warren W. Wiersbe notes, “In Scripture, both water and wine are pictures of the Holy Spirit (John 7:37–39; Eph. 5:18). Jesus is the ‘bread of life’ (John 6:32–35), and His living Word is like milk (1 Peter 2:2). Our Lord probably had Isaiah 55:2 in mind when He said, ‘Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life’ (John 6:27, NKJV)” (Be Comforted, An Old Testament Study, S. Is 55:1).

An Everlasting Covenant (Isa. 55:3)

By coming to the Lord, people will have life and enjoy the benefits of the Davidic Covenant, in which God promises that David’s line will continue forever (2 Sam. 7:11b-16). Some interpreters say this is a reference to the New Covenant (Jer. 32:40; Heb. 13:20). While this may apply in some respects, the immediate context specifically mentions David. Of course, the Davidic Covenant is fulfilled in the Messiah (Luke 1:30-33; Acts 13:34-39), who reigns forever and who, through His blood, provides eternal life for all who enter into the New Covenant by faith. That’s why Jesus makes it abundantly clear that eternal life is found only in Him: “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6).

The Nations and Messiah (Isa. 55:4-5)

The reference to “him” in verse 4 speaks not of David, but the Messiah, who will be the world’s “leader and commander.” The word “you” in verse 5 likely means the people of Israel, who will summon the nations to worship the one true and living God. “Isaiah 55:5 indicates that God will use Israel to call the Gentiles to salvation, which was certainly true in the early days of the church (Acts 10:1ff; 11:19ff; 13:1ff) and will be true during the kingdom (Isa. 2:2–4; 45:14; Zech. 8:22). Jerusalem will be the center for worship in the world, and God will be glorified as the nations meet together with Israel to honor the Lord” (Wiersbe, S. Is 55:1).

Robert Jamieson, A.R. Fausset and David Brown make an interesting observation about the order of Isaiah’s words in verse 5, which states, “so you will summon a nation you do not know, and nations you do not know will run to you.” They remark, “God must call, before man can, or will, run (So 1:4; Jn 6:44). Not merely come, but run eagerly” (A Commentary, Critical and Explanatory, on the Old and New Testaments, S. Is 55:5). Salvation is from the Lord (Jonah 2:9). Unless He takes the initiative to send His Son; unless the Son pays our sin debt through His death, burial and resurrection; unless the Holy Spirit draws unbelievers to Christ; and unless God grants saving faith to those who are dead in trespasses and sins, there is no hope of redemption for any human being.

Salvation Offered to All (Isa. 55:6-13)

Isaiah calls on his fellow countrymen to seek the Lord while He may be found, for when judgment falls it will be too late. While this plea has an immediate application for Judah, it also speaks to individuals in all generations concerning salvation. Although the Jews are God’s covenant people, they are granted forgiveness of sins and eternal life only by trusting in Him. The message is the same today to all people, as the apostle Paul writes: “there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, since the same Lord of all is rich to all who call on Him. For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Rom. 10:12b-13). But God’s gracious invitation is limited in time. “[I]t is appointed for people to die once—and after this, judgment,” writes the author of Hebrews (9:27), so it is crucial for sinners to receive the Lord by faith today, for tomorrow is promised to no one. “Look, now is the acceptable time; look, now is the day of salvation” (2 Cor. 6:2).

The wicked who turn from their evil ways and abandon their sinful thoughts will find the Lord compassionate and forgiving. Because all people are natural-born sinners, their thoughts and deeds are independent of God and lead to earthly distress and eternal judgment. But Isaiah has a message from the Lord: “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, and your ways are not My ways.” [This is] the LORD’S declaration. “For as heaven is higher than earth, so My ways are higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts” (Isa. 55:8-9).

Believers today are assured of higher thoughts and ways because we have “the mind of Christ” (1 Cor. 2:16). No longer enslaved to sin, we have the freedom to be the eyes, ears, mouth and hands of our Savior, encouraging one another in the faith and testifying of God’s power to a lost world. The apostle Paul goes ever further in describing the power and promise of the Christian life: “So if you have been raised with the  Messiah, seek what is above, where the Messiah is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on what is above, not on what is on the earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with the Messiah in God. When the Messiah, who is your life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory” (Col. 3:1-4).

The Lord also reminds us that just as the rain and snow water the earth, resulting in an abundance of food, His word brings life and peace to those who receive it: “My word that comes from My mouth will not return to Me empty, but it will accomplish what I please, and will prosper in what I send it to do” (v. 11). Jamieson, Fausset and Brown note, “Rain may to us seem lost when it falls on a desert, but it fulfils some purpose of God. So the gospel word falling on the hard heart; it sometimes works a change at last; and even if so, it leaves men without excuse” (S. Is 55:11). John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck add: “In the Near East dry hard ground can seemingly overnight sprout with vegetation after the first rains of the rainy season. Similarly when God speaks His Word, it brings forth spiritual life, thus accomplishing His purpose” (The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, S. 1:1111).

The chapter closes with a description of the joy of the exiles when they go out of Babylonian captivity and, longer term, the joy of Israel in the Messianic age. When Christ sits on the throne of David and His people are gathered before Him, all nature will rejoice in the Lord (see also Isa. 35:1-2, 44.23). After Adam and Eve sinned in the garden, thorns and thistles grew up and the earth yielded her fruit grudgingly. With the return of Christ, however, the effects of the fall will be reversed and instead of the thornbush, a cypress will spring up, and instead of the brier, a myrtle will grow. The creation itself will rejoice in the redeeming work of our great God and Savior.

Closing Thought

Matthew Henry comments: “What is the qualification required in those that shall be welcome – they must thirst. All shall be welcome to gospel grace upon those terms only that gospel grace be welcome to them. Those that are satisfied with the world and its enjoyments for a portion, and seek not for a happiness in the favour of God – those that depend upon the merit of their own works for a righteousness, and see no need they have of Christ and his righteousness – these do not thirst; they have no sense of their need, are in no pain or uneasiness about their souls, and therefore will not condescend so far as to be beholden to Christ. But those that thirst are invited to the waters, as those that labour, and are heavy-laden, are invited to Christ for rest. Note, Where God gives grace he first gives a thirsting after it; and, where he has given a thirsting after it, he will give it, Ps. 81:10” (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume, S. Is 55:1).