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"My soul thirsts for God" (Isa 55)

This chapter presents ideas very far removed from traditional Judaism. It speaks of "seeking the Lord" when the "pious" Jews of Christ's time claimed the right to special benefits -- simply because they were natural descendants of Abraham. It speaks of faith, humility, and repentance as the only proper basis of approach to the Supreme Being. These traits, and nothing else, are the essentials of true religion. Any services done only mechanically or with the idea of impressing others are worse than no service at all. God gave warnings against such false, hypocritical religion in Hos 6:6: "For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings." This was quoted by Jesus once as he spoke to his countrymen.

In Jer 6:19,20, God said,

"Hear, O earth: behold, I will bring evil upon this people, even the fruits of their thoughts, because they have not hearkened unto My words, nor to My law, but rejected it. To what purpose cometh there to Me incense from Sheba, and the sweet cane from a far country? your burnt offerings are not acceptable, nor your sacrifices sweet unto Me."
And here is a lesson for us today: As a community of believers of the gospel, Christadelphians have flourished for more than 100 years. As we get further and further from our "roots", there may be the tendency to forget the reasons we separated ourselves in the beginning. There may be tendencies to join in worship automatically, with lip-service but not heart-service!

We have before us the example of the Christian ecclesias of the first and second centuries. With the apostles all deceased by the year 100 or so, the early Christians were left to find their own leaders. They began to forget their original objectives. They came to see more and more in the pleasures of the Gentiles around them and gradually forgot their role as strangers and pilgrims in the earth. They tried to make themselves and their curious practices more palatable to a heathen world in which they should have had no part.

And so, as the years passed, first one vital doctrine and then another was dropped from the Faith, just as parts of a mighty building are allowed slowly to crumble away. Pagan ideas of heaven-going, immortal-soulism, and the Trinity crept in to fill the void. Such materialistic and worldly ideas were questioned at first, but gradually any barriers that existed fell away. True faith in and reliance upon the Scriptures were submerged and finally drowned in the elaborate rituals and pretensions of a church fast growing into Catholicism.

Truly this Is a frightful picture, and we are tempted to say that this can never happen to us. But let us remember that the believers of the first century were more privileged than us in knowing of Christ through men who had seen and lived with him. Our only link with the beginnings of Christianity and our only source of true faith is the Bible. We should always revere the Bible as God's word and use it to ensure that our faith is steadfast and living within us, and not only in external ceremonies.

"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" (Isa 55:1).
In Psa 42:1,2: "As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after Thee, O God. My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God..."

The thirst to which the prophet alludes is a thirst for God, for the knowledge of His ways and the assurance He can bring to us while we live in the midst of spiritual desolation:

"O God, Thou art my God; early will I seek Thee: my soul thirsteth for Thee, my flesh longeth for Thee in a dry and thirsty land, where no water is; to see Thy power and Thy glory, so as I have seen Thee in the sanctuary. Because Thy lovingkindness is better than life, my lips shall praise Thee" (Psa 63:1-3).
Because water is something which naturally brings life, to plants and animals alike, it is a fitting symbol of the teachings of Christ, the only means whereby we may be brought to eternal life:

In John 4:14, Jesus says, "Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again: But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life."

We are told that we may come to these waters and buy, although we have no money. The woman of Samaria did just this merely by asking that Jesus give her the water. But, although the teachings of Jesus cannot be bought with money, they are by no means easy to obtain. Jesus' parable of the merchant who gave up all he possessed for the one pearl of great price is a good picture of what we must do to buy those "living waters".

But what we pay to God is... our time, our energy and our devotion, not our wealth. This is quite apparent when we read the words of David. After the people had brought great riches for God's temple, he said:

"But who am I, and what is my people, that we should be able to offer so willingly after this sort? for all things come of Thee, and of Thine own have we given Thee. For we are strangers before Thee, and sojourners, as were all our fathers: our days on the earth are as a shadow, and there is none abiding" (1Ch 29:14,15).
Our money and our other worldly possessions are of no use to God. The importance of any gift to God is the sentiment behind it. It must represent a voluntary, loving submission of our desires to God's wishes.

Jesus told men to forsake father or mother or whatever hindered them, and to take up their crosses and follow him. This is part of that "price" we do pay -- something in many ways much more difficult to give than mere money. The truth is free for the taking, but there are no promises that it will be easy or that it will require something less than an all-out effort.

Both the "wine" and "milk" are also fitting symbols of Christ in one respect or another. To the Jews, wine showed God's love for His people in providing them with abundant harvests, indeed with everything necessary for their daily well-being. In return, the Jews were to dedicate a substantial part of what they gathered to God, for it all belonged to Him in the first place.

We find the same significance in Jesus' crucifixion and indeed throughout his life. More than anything else, JESUS shows God's love for us in providing us with an acceptable sacrifice to cover our sins.
"For God so loved the world, that He gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life" (John 3:16).

We are "justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood" (Rom 3:24,25).

In our memorial service, the wine represents Christ's blood, or life (the comparison between the two being made in Lev 17:11). Throughout his life (and by his death), Jesus showed a complete dedication to God that should always accompany a knowledge of the truth. Consequently, we are told to present our bodies as living sacrifices. As Paul did, we are to strive to know the "fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable to his death".

Wine in symbol thus shows God's love for us, shown through Christ, and reminds us of the need to reciprocate God's love through a life of holiness and obedience. We remember this each Sunday as we partake of the wine "in remembrance of" Christ.

Milk is the simplest, most nutritious food. It represents the basic teachings of Christ's gospel (1Pe 2:2). In studying and attempting to teach our brethren and others, we should show a humility before God's word. It is not something to be cleverly manipulated to demonstrate our own intelligence, but rather something to handle with caution and reverence.

Verse 2

"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" (Isa 55:2).
There is nothing sadder than God's words about His people in Jeremiah 2:13: "For My people have committed two evils; they have forsaken Me the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water." Israel's omissions hold warnings for us today. There are goals connected with the gospel which are always the same, goals which we are likely to put aside and forget. We should continually evaluate our position to see that our labor is in the right direction. In Jer 6:16: "Thus saith the Lord, Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls. But they said, We will not walk therein."

Verse 3

"Incline your ear, and come unto me."
Jesus said much the same thing in Mat 11:28-30:

"Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart; and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light."
It might seem to us that our burden is not light. But we are forgetting to rely upon God for strength, to ask His help. "If God be for us, who can be against us?"

We are told that, if we hear, our soul shall live; that is, live eternally. This, therefore, involves immortality, as seen in 2Sa 23:5, in which David says that God "hath made with me an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things, and sure: for this is all my salvation, and all my desire..."

It is a sure, or certain, promise, as seen in Jer 33:25,26:

"Thus saith the Lord: If My covenant be not with day and night, and if I have not appointed the ordinances of heaven and earth; Then will I cast away the seed of Jacob, and David My servant, so that I will not take any of his seed to be rulers over the seed of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob: for I will cause their captivity to return, and have mercy on them."
Verse 4

In verse 4, God has given him (that is, David) for a witness. Here is a direct reference to Christ. As "David" means "beloved", and as David was "a man after God's own heart", so he represents Christ, "a leader and a commander to the people". "And in that day there shall be a root of Jesse, which shall stand for an ensign of the people; to it shall the Gentiles seek: and his rest shall be glorious" (Isa 11:10).

Verse 5

Verse 5 brings all the Gentiles into the picture, as "nations that knew not Thee". In his letter to the Galatians, Paul explains how God's sure mercies and covenants apply to the Gentiles as well as to the Jews:

"Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. And if ye be Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise" (Gal 3:16,27-29).
There is then no reason that the Gentiles cannot be fellow-heirs of the Kingdom of God. Here is a basic part of the gospel, hidden (we might say) in the Old Testament.

Here is the mystery: "Even the mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to his saints: To whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles: Which is Christ in you, the hope of glory..." (Col 1:26-27).

For the Old Testament view, we might refer also to Isaiah 60:5: "Then thou shall see, and flow together, and thine heart shall fear, and be enlarged; because the abundance of the sea shall be converted unto thee, the forces of the Gentiles shall come unto thee."

And especially might we read Zec 8:21-23: "And the inhabitants of one city shall go to another, saying, Let us go speedily to pray before the Lord, and to seek the Lord of Hosts: I will go also. Yea, many people and strong nations shall come to seek the Lord of Hosts in Jerusalem, and to pray before the Lord. Thus saith the Lord of Hosts: In those days it shall come to pass, that ten men shall take hold out of all languages of the nations, even shall take hold of the skirt of him that is a Jew, saying, we will go with you: for we have heard that God is with you."

Here is something the Jews never accepted: that the Gentiles could be God's people also. This is quite an unhealthy attitude: We should never question God's motives nor judge Him as we would a mere man -- but only submit meekly to the majesty and authority of His revealed word. For us, there is Christ's injunction in Mat 7:1,2: "Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged; and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again."

Verses 6,7

"Seek ye the Lord while He may be found, call ye upon Him while He is near; 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."
Here is repentance and humility, traits which are all too uncommon to modern man -- to natural man of any time. In Ecclesiastes 7:29, there is a true-to-life picture of natural man: "Lo, this only have I found, that God hath made man upright; but they have sought out many inventions." This has been true since the time of Adam. Virtually everything God has given to man has been polluted and corrupted, in disregard for his obligations to God.

If we are to approach to God, we must abandon all our previous life and all our misdirected ambitions. This is true Biblical "repentance" -- not simply feeling sorry for wrong deeds, but actively determining to correct them. This is difficult: but if we have the determination, then we have the assurance that God will abundantly pardon.

Verses 8,9

"For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways, saith 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".
Mankind is inherently evil. This is the plain teaching of numerous passages of Scripture: "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?" (Jer 17:9). "The heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil" (Ecc 8:11).

Even more plain is the truth that God is inherently good: "Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God..." (Mat 19:17). "The Lord is righteous..." (Psalm 129:4).

One of the principal fallacies of popular religion is the idea that man is by nature an immortal being living only temporarily in a body of flesh, and that he is entitled without question to special privileges from his Creator. For believers in such a theory, it is quite impossible to understand the true positions of God and man in respect to one another -- the best possible relation being that of a benevolent master to an humble servant.

There is never a question of "human rights", but only of God's rights "Shall the clay say to him that fashioned it, What makest thou? or thy work, He hath no hands?" (Isa 45:9).

Between the two, God and man, is a vast chasm, steadily growing wider since the first sin of man. The preaching of the gospel is an invitation from God, leaving man the free choice -- once he realizes the consequences -- of accepting or rejecting it. It is for us to make the move to close the gap. Only if we draw nigh unto God will He draw nigh to us.

Verses 10,11

"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; 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."

God's purpose cannot fail, no matter how men feel or what they do to prevent it. God will not be frustrated. As we read in Rev 1:9, the kingdom of Jesus Christ may suffer tribulation -- for a time, but not forever. God's word is backed up with all the power in the universe. All we can do finally is to find ourselves rightly associated with God.
"For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rom 8:38,39).

Verses 12,13

The last two verses of Isaiah 55 are among the most beautiful in the Bible:

"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. 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".
This reminds us of many wonderful passages detailing the blessings which, as a natural consequence, follow an earnest belief in God's truth and acceptance of His invitation:

"I will sing of the mercies of the Lord for ever: with my mouth will I make known Thy faithfulness to all generations. For I have said, Mercy shall be built up for ever: Thy faithfulness shalt Thou establish in the very heavens. 'I have made a covenant with My chosen, I have sworn unto David My servant, thy seed will I establish for ever, and build up thy throne to all generations'" (Psa 89:1-4).
And in special relation to the life-giving waters of Isaiah 55:1 are the promises of Psa 1 and Rev 22:

"Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful. But his delight is in the law of the Lord: and in His law doth he meditate day and night. And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper."
"And he shewed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb. In the midst of the street of it, and on either side of the river, was there the tree of life, which bare twelve manner of fruits, and yielded her fruit every month: and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations."
In Pro 9, wisdom is personified as a woman crying through the streets, offering the way of righteousness to the foolish. May we only stop to realize our positions unless God stoops to help us, and may we always be thankful for His loving invitation to us through the Gospel of the Kingdom.

"O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments, and His ways past finding out! For who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been His counselor? Or who hath first given to Him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again? For of Him, and through Him, and to Him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen."
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