In the book of Isaiah, there is an abrupt transition at chapter 40. After many chapters of pronouncing judgment and the need for restoration, the prophet shifts gears: “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins” (Isa. 40:1–2). So begins what has aptly been called the Book of Comfort or the Book of Consolation—Isaiah 40–66, a glorious recitation of God’s affection for His people and His promises of blessing for them.
In the midst of the Book of Comfort is one of my favorite chapters in the Bible. Isaiah 55 begins with a plea from God: “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price” (v. 1). The invitation—echoed later in Jesus’ words in John 4 and 6—is almost too good to be true. Who would believe that someone would offer food for free? And if someone did, surely the food would not be worth eating.
But no. God goes on to plead with His hearers to forsake their practice of pursuing food that does not satisfy: “Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy?” He then reveals the goodness of the food that He offers: “Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live” (Isa. 55:2–3). The food is rich, and it is good. It is no earthly food; this food, the food that truly satisfies, is the Word of God. The one who listens to God will be filled.
This is not a call to abandon all other interests than the Lord but rather a call to recognize Him as the highest pursuit. Where are we ultimately finding satisfaction? In success, money, or power? Or in the One who made us, who knows us, and who calls us to Himself? The things of this world cannot ultimately satisfy, because they were not made to. We are called to forsake our empty, unfulfilling, self-focused endeavors and to come to God and be satisfied.
God offers this rich food to His people, the Israelites. The offer is in keeping with His promises to them in the past, as He notes by referencing His covenant with David in verses 3–4. The richness of the Word of God as revealed to Israel is so attractive that other nations will come to hear it (v. 5). For Israel, it is easy to hear this Word. But still, they are urged to “seek the Lord while he may be found; call upon him while he is near” (v. 6).
But the call to seek the Lord, as hinted at in verse 5, does not go out only to Israel; it goes out to the nations as well. All nations and all peoples are called to seek the Lord. Moreover, “the wicked” are called to seek the Lord: “Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon” (v. 7). To the ancient Israelites, “the wicked” referred to those from the surrounding nations, the very people referred to in verse 5. They were the ones who did not know or serve the Creator of heaven and earth. And yet, here is a call for mercy, for pardon, for the very people who had oppressed God’s chosen nation.
Sometimes, we have a hard time thinking that God could ever reach a certain person. He is too bad or she is too far gone for God to reach, we think. This was how the Israelites thought of the gentile nations. Despite the fact that the call to minister to the nations was built into Israel’s very makeup (Gen. 12; 1 Kings 8), the Israelites had a hard time carrying out that mission. There was no way that God could reach those people. And furthermore, they didn’t deserve mercy. Their punishment was just. Right?
Wrong. God rebukes such thinking in the next verse. To those who think they know the way that God ought to operate, how He ought to dispense His mercy, God says: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares 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” (Isa. 55:9).