Isaiah 55:2
Why do you spend money for that which is not bread? and your labor for that which satisfies not? listen diligently to me, and eat you that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(2) Wherefore do ye spend money . . .—Here again the “bread” is that which sustains the true life of the soul. “Labour”-stands for the “earnings of labour.” Israel had given her money for that which was “not-bread,” she is called to accept the true bread for that which is “not-money,” scil., as the next verse shows, for the simple “hearing of faith.” “Fatness,” as in Isaiah 25:6, and the “fatted calf” of Luke 15:23, represents the exuberance of spiritual joy.

Isaiah

THE CALL TO THE THIRSTY

Isaiah 55:1 - Isaiah 55:13
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The call to partake of the blessings of the Messianic salvation worthily follows the great prophecy of the suffering Servant. No doubt the immediate application of this chapter is to the exiled nation, who in it are summoned from their vain attempts to find satisfaction in the material prosperity realised in exile, and to make the only true blessedness their own by obedience to God’s voice. But if ever the prophet spoke to the world he does so here. It is no unwarranted spiritualising of his invitation which hears in it the voice which invites all mankind to share the blessings of the gospel feast.

The glorious words need little exposition. What we have to do is to see that they do not fall on our ears in vain. They may be roughly divided into two sections-the invitation to the feast, with the promises to the obedient Israel {Isaiah 55:1 - Isaiah 55:5}, and the summons to the necessary preparation for the feast, namely, repentance, with the reason for its necessity, and the encouragements to it in the might of God’s faithful promises {Isaiah 55:6 - Isaiah 55:13}.

I. Whose voice sounds so beseechingly and welcoming in this great call, which rings out to all thirsty souls? If we note the ‘Me’ and ‘I’ which follow, we shall hear God Himself thus taking the office of summoner to His own feast. By whatever media the gospel call reaches us, it is in reality God’s own voice to our hearts, and that makes the responsibility of hearing more tremendous, and the folly of refusing more inexcusable.

Who are invited? There are but two conditions expressed in Isaiah 55:1, and these are fulfilled in every soul. All are summoned who are thirsty and penniless. If we have in our souls desires that all the broken cisterns of earth can never slake-and we all have these-and if we have nothing by which we can procure what will still the gnawing hunger and burning thirst of our souls-and none of us has-then we are included in the call. Universal as are the craving for blessedness and the powerlessness to satisfy it, are the adaptation and destination of the gospel.

What is offered? Water, wine, milk-all the beverages of a simple civilisation, differing in their operation, but all precious to a thirsty palate. Water revives, wine gladdens and inspirits, milk nourishes. All that any man needs or desires is to be found in Christ. We shall not understand the nature of the feast unless we remember that He Himself is the ‘gift of God.’ What these three draughts mean is best perceived when we listen to Him saying, in a plain quotation of this call, ‘If any man thirst, let him come unto Me and drink.’ Nothing short of Himself can satisfy the thirst of one soul, much less of all the thirsty. Like the flow from the magic fountain of the legend, Jesus becomes to each what each most desires.

How does He become ours? The paradox of buying with what is not money is meant, by its very appearance of contradiction, to put in strongest fashion that the possession of Him depends on nothing in us but the sense of need and the willingness to accept. We buy Christ when we part with self, which is all that we have, in order to win Him. We must be full of conscious emptiness and desire, if we are to be filled with His fulness. Jesus interpreted the meaning of ‘come to the waters’ when He said, ‘He that cometh to Me shall never hunger, and he that believeth on Me shall never thirst.’ Faith is coming, faith is drinking, faith is buying.

The universal call, with is clear setting forth of blessing and conditions of possessing, is followed by a pleading remonstrance as to the folly of lavishing effort and money on what is not bread. It is strange that men will cheerfully take more pains to continue thirsty than to accept the satisfaction which God provides. They toil and continue unsatisfied. Experience does not teach them, and all the while the one real good is waiting to be theirs for nothing.

‘‘Tis heaven alone that is given away;

‘Tis only God may be had for the asking.’

Christ goes a-begging, and we spend our strength in vain toil to acquire what we turn away from when it is offered us in Him. When the great Father offers bread for nothing, we will not have it, but we are ready to give any price for a stone. It is not the wickedness, but the folly, of unbelief, which is the marvel.

The contrast between the heavy price at which men buy hunger, and the easy rate at which they may have full satisfaction, is further set forth by the call to ‘incline the ear,’ which is all that is needed in order that life and nourishment which delights the soul may be ours. ‘Hearken, and eat’ is equivalent to ‘Hearken, and ye shall eat.’ The real ‘good’ for man is only to be found in listening to and obeying the divine voice, whether it sound in invitation, promise, or command. The true life of the soul lies in that listening receptiveness which takes for one’s own God’s great gift of Christ, and yields glad obedience to His every word.

The exiled Israel was promised an ‘everlasting covenant’ as the result of their acceptance of the invitation; and we know whose blood it is that has sealed the new covenant, which abides as long as Christ’s fulness and men’s need shall last. That covenant, of which we seldom hear in Isaiah, but which fills a prominent place in Jeremiah and Ezekiel, is further explained as being ‘the sure mercies of David.’ This phrase and its context are difficult, but the general meaning is clear. The great promises of God’s unfailing mercy, made to the historical founder of the royal house, shall be transferred and continued, with inviolable faithfulness, to those who drink of the gift of God.

This parallel between the great King and the whole mass of the true Israel is further set forth in Isaiah 55:4 - Isaiah 55:5. Each begins with ‘Behold,’ and the similar form indicates similarity in contents. The son of Jesse was in some degree God’s witness to the heathen nations, as is expressed in several psalms; and, what he was imperfectly, the ransomed Israel would be to the world. The office of the Christian Church is to draw nations that it knew not, to follow in the blessed path, in which it has found satisfaction and the dawnings of a more than natural glory transfiguring it. They who have themselves drunk of the unfailing fountain in Christ are thereby fitted and called to cry to others, ‘Come ye to the waters.’ Experience of Christ’s preciousness, and of the rest of soul which comes from partaking of His salvation, impels and obliges to call others to share the bliss.

II. The second part of the chapter begins with an urgent call to repentance, based upon the difference between God’s ways and man’s, and on the certainty that the divine promises will be fulfilled. The summons in Isaiah 55:6 - Isaiah 55:7 is first couched in most general terms, which are then more closely defined. To ‘seek the Lord’ is to direct conduct and heart to obtain possession of God as one’s own. Of that seeking, the chief element is calling upon Him; since such is His desire to be found of us that it only needs our asking in order to receive. As surely as the mother hears her child’s cry, so surely does He catch the faintest voice addressed to Him. But, men being what they are, a change of ways and of their root in thoughts is indispensable. Seeking which is not accompanied by forsaking self and an evil past is no genuine seeking, and will end in no finding. But this forsaking is only one side of true repentance; the other is return to God, as is expressed in the New Testament word for it, which implies a change of mind, purpose, and conduct. The faces which were turned earthward and averted from God are to be turned God-ward and diverted from earth. Whosoever thus seeks may be confident of finding and of abundant pardon. The belief in God’s loving forgivingness is the strongest motive to repentance, and the most melting argument to listen to the call to seek Him. But there is another motive of a more awful kind; namely, the consideration that the period of mercy is limited, and that a time may come, and that soon, when God no longer ‘may be found’ nor ‘is near.’

The need for such a radical change in conduct and mind is further enforced, in Isaiah 55:8 - Isaiah 55:9, by the emphatic statement of present discord between the exiled Israel and God. Mark that the deepest seat of the discord is first dealt with, and then the manifestation of it in active life. Mark also that the order of comparison is inverted in the two successive clauses in Isaiah 55:8. God’s thoughts have not entered into Israel’s mind and become theirs. The ‘thinkings’ not being regulated according to God’s truth, nor the desires and sentiments brought into accord with His will and mind, a contrariety of ‘ways’ must follow, and the paths which men choose for themselves cannot run parallel with God’s, nor be pleasing to Him. Therefore the stringent urgency of the call to forsake ‘the crooked, wandering ways in which we live,’ and to come back to the path of righteousness which is traced by God for our feet.

But divergence which necessitates repentance is not the only relation between our ways and God’s. There is elevation, transcendency, like that of the eternal heavens, high, boundless, the home of light, the storehouse of beneficent influences which fertilise. If we think of the dreary, flat plains where the exiles were, and the magnificent sweep of the sky over them, we shall feel the beauty of the figure. If ‘My thoughts are not your thoughts’ was all that was to be said, repentance would be of little use, and there would be little to encourage to it; but if God’s thoughts of love and ways of blessing arch themselves above our low lives as the sky bends, pitying and bestowing, above squalor, barrenness, and darkness, then penitence is not in vain, and the low earth may be visited with gifts from the highest heaven.

The certainty that such gifts will be bestowed is the last thought of this magnificent summons. The prophet dilates on that assurance to the end of the chapter. He seems to catch fire, as it were, from the introduction of that grand figure of the lofty heavens domed above the flat earth. In effect, what he says is: They are high and inaccessible, but think what pours down from them, and how all fertility depends on their gifts of rain and snow, and how the moisture which they drop is turned into ‘seed to the sower, and bread to the eater.’ Thinking of that continuous benefaction and miracle, we should see in it a symbol of the better gifts from the higher heavens. So does God’s word come down from His throne. So does it turn barrenness into nodding harvest. So does it quicken undreamed of powers of fruitfulness in human nature and among the forces of the world. So does it supply nourishment for hungry souls, and germs which shall bear fruit in coming years. No complicated machinery nor the most careful culture can work what the gentle dropping rain effects. There is mightier force in it than in many thunder-clouds. The gospel does with ease and in silence what nothing else can do. It makes barren souls fruitful in all good works, and in all happiness worthy of men. Therefore the summons to drink of the springing fountain and to turn from evil ways and thoughts is recommended by the assurance that God’s word is faithful, and all His promises firm.

The final verses {Isaiah 55:12 - Isaiah 55:13} give the glowing picture of the return from exile amid the jubilation of a transformed world, as the strongest motive to the obedient hearkening to God’s voice, to which the chapter has summoned, and as the great instance of God’s keeping His word.

The flight from Egypt was ‘in haste’ {Deuteronomy 16:3}; but this shall be a triumphal exodus, without conflict or alarms. All nature shall participate in the joy. Mountains and hills shall raise the shrill note of rejoicing, and the trees wave their branches, as if clapping hands in delight. This is more than mere poetic rhetoric. A redeemed humanity implies a glorified world. Nature has been involved in the consequences of sin, and will share in the results of redemption, and have some humble reflected light from ‘the liberty of the glory of the sons of God.’

The fulfilment of this final promise is not yet. All earlier returns of the exiled Israel from the Babylon of their bondage to God and the city of God, such as the historical one which the prophet foretold, and the spiritual one which is repeated age by age in the history of the Christian Church and of single penitent souls, point on to that last triumphant day when ‘the ransomed of the Lord shall return,’ and the world be transfigured to match the glory that they inherit. That fair world without poison or offence, and the nations of the saved who inhabit its peaceful spaces, shall be, in the fullest stretch of the words, ‘to the Lord for a name, and for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.’ The redemption of man and his establishing amid the felicities of a state correspondent to His God-given glory shall be to all eternity and to all possible creations the highest evidence of what God is, and His token to all beings.Isaiah 55:2-3. Wherefore do ye spend money — All your time, and strength, and cost; for that which is not bread — For those things which can never nourish or satisfy you, such as worldly goods or pleasures. Hearken diligently unto me — Unto my doctrine and counsel; and eat ye that which is good — And not such things as, though they be called and seem to be good, yet really are evil and most pernicious to men. And let your soul delight itself, &c. — In this pleasant food of gospel enjoyments. Hear, and your soul shall live — Hearken attentively and obediently to my counsels, and your immortal souls shall not only be saved from perishing eternally, but shall be eternally blessed and happy. And I will make an everlasting covenant with you — That everlasting covenant of grace and peace which I made with Abraham and his seed. The sure mercies of David — Even that covenant which was made first with Abraham, and then with David, concerning those glorious and sure blessings which I have promised to my people; one, and the chief, of which was the giving Christ to die for their sins. David here seems to be put for Christ the son of David.55:1-5 All are welcome to the blessings of salvation, to whom those blessings are welcome. In Christ there is enough for all, and enough for each. Those satisfied with the world, that see no need of Christ, do not thirst. They are in no uneasiness about their souls: but where God gives grace, he gives a thirst after it; and where he has given a thirst after it, he will give it. Come to Christ, for he is the Fountain opened, he is the Rock smitten. Come to holy ordinances, to the streams that make glad the city of our God. Come to the healing waters, come to the living waters, Re 22:17. Our Saviour referred to this, Joh 7:37. Come, and buy; make it your own by application of the grace of the gospel to yourselves. Come, and eat; make it still more your own, and enjoy it. The world comes short of our expectations; we promise ourselves, at least, water in it, and we are disappointed; but Christ outdoes our expectations. We come to him, and we find wine and milk. The gifts offered to us are such as no price can be set upon. The things offered are already paid for; for Christ purchased them at the full price of his own blood, 1Pe 1:19. Our wants are beyond number, and we have nothing to supply them; if Christ and heaven are ours, we see ourselves for ever indebted to free grace. Hearken diligently; let the proud heart stoop; not only come, but accept God's offers. All the wealth and pleasure in the world, will not yield solid comfort and content to the soul. They do not satisfy even the appetites of the body; for all is vanity and vexation. Let the disappointments we meet with in the world, help to drive us to Christ, and to seek for satisfaction in him only. Then, and not before, we shall find rest for our souls. Hear, and your soul shall live. On what easy terms is happiness offered us! By the sure mercies of David, we are to understand the Messiah. All his mercies are covenant mercies; they are purchased by him, they are promised in him, and out of his hand they are dispensed to us. We know not how to find the way to the waters, but Christ is given to be a Leader, a Commander, to show us what to do, and enable us to do it. Our business is to obey him, and follow him. And there is no coming to the Father but by him. He is the Holy One of Israel, true to his promises; and he has promised to glorify Christ, by giving him the heathen for his inheritance.Wherefore do ye spend money - Margin, 'Weigh.' That is, in Hebrew, 'weigh silver.' Before money was coined, the precious metals were weighed, and hence, to make a payment is represented as weighing out silver Genesis 23:16.

For that which is not bread - The idea here is, that people are endeavoring to purchase happiness, and are disappointed. Bread is the support of life; it is therefore emblematic of whatever contributes to support and comfort. And in regard to the pursuit of happiness in the pleasures of life, and in ambition, vanity, and vice, people are as much disappointed, as he would be who should spend his money, and procure nothing that would sustain life.

And your labor for that which satisfieth not - You toil, and expend the avails of your labor for that which does not produce satisfaction. What a striking description of the condition of the world! The immortal mind will not be satisfied with wealth, pleasure, or honor. It never has been. Where is the man who is satisfied with his wealth, and who says it is enough? Where is there one who is satisfied with pleasure, and vanity, and gaiety? There is a void in the heart which these things do not, cannot fill. There is a consciousness that the soul was made for higher and nobler purposes, and that nothing but God can meet its boundless desires. Where is the man who has ever been satisfied with ambition? Alexander wept on the throne of the world; and though Diocletian and Charles V descended voluntarily from the throne to private life, it was because there was nothing in royalty to satisfy the soul, and not because they found happiness enough there. There never was a more simple and true description of this whole world than in this expression of Isaiah, that people are spending their money and their labor for that which satisfieth not.

Hearken diligently unto me - The idea is, that by attending to his words and embracing his offers, they would find that without money or price which they were vainly seeking at so much expense and with so much toil.

And eat ... - The prophet here returns to the image in the former verse. They were invited to partake of that which would nourish the soul, and which would fill it with joy.

And let your soul delight itself in fatness - 'Fatness in the Scriptures is used to denote the richest food Genesis 27:28-39; Job 36:16; Psalm 65:11, and hence, is an emblem of the rich and abundant blessings resulting from the favor of God Psalm 36:9; Psalm 63:5.

2. not bread—(Hab 2:13). "Bread of deceit" (Pr 20:17). Contrast this with the "bread of life" (Joh 6:32, 35; also Lu 14:16-20).

satisfieth not—(Ec 1:8; 4:8).

hearken … and eat—When two imperatives are joined, the second expresses the consequence of obeying the command in the first (Ge 42:18). By hearkening ye shall eat. So in Isa 55:1, "buy and eat." By buying, and so making it your own, ye shall eat, that is, experimentally enjoy it (Joh 6:53). Compare the invitation (Pr 9:5, 6; Mt 22:4).

fatness—(Ps 36:8; 63:5).

Money; all your time, and strength, and cost in seeking it.

For that which is not bread; for those vain or foolish things which can never nourish or satisfy yea, such as worldly goods, or your own inventions, superstitions, and idolatries.

Hearken diligently unto me; unto my doctrine and counsel.

Eat ye that which is good; that which is truly, and solidly, and everlastingly good, and not such things which though they be called and seem to be good, yet really are evil, and most pernicious to men.

In fatness; in this fat and most pleasant food of gospel enjoyments. Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread?.... Lavish away time, opportunities, and strength, in reading and hearing false doctrine, which is not bread, but chaff; is not wholesome, does not nourish, but is harmful and destructive; eats as does a canker, instead of feeding and refreshing; such as the vain philosophy of the Gentiles, the traditions of the Jews, and the errors and heresies of false teachers:

and your labour for that which satisfieth not? labouring to seek for happiness in worldly things, which is not to be had; or to obtain righteousness by the works of the law, which is not to be attained to in that way; all such labour is in vain, no satisfaction is enjoyed, nor peace and comfort had, nor any solid food; these are husks which swine eat:

hearken diligently unto me; not the prophet, but the Lord himself. The Targum renders it,

"my Word;''

the essential Word, Christ Jesus, hearken to his doctrine, which is bread, and of a satisfying nature:

and eat ye that which is good; not the law, as the Jewish commentators; but the good word of God, the Gospel, which being found and eaten by faith, or mixed with faith by them that hear it, and so digested, is the joy and rejoicing of the heart:

and let your soul delight itself in fatness; in the goodness and fatness of the Lord's house, attending on the word and ordinances with spiritual pleasure and delight; and which is the way to become fat and flourishing in spiritual things; see Psalm 36:8.

Why do ye spend money for that which is not bread? {d} and your labour for that which satisfieth not? hearken diligently to me, and eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in {e} fatness.

(d) He reproves their ingratitude, who refuse those things that God offers willingly, and in the mean time spare neither cost nor labour to obtain those which are not profitable.

(e) You will be fed abundantly.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
2. Whilst the religious life is a receiving without spending, the worldly life is a continual spending without lasting profit or satisfaction.

spend money] lit. “weigh silver.” your labour] your earnings (as ch. Isaiah 45:14).

hearken diligently &c.] Or, if ye but hearken to me ye shall eat good, and your soul shall &c. (see Davidson’s Syntax, § 86 c; and § 132 b).

delight itself (ch. Isaiah 58:14, Isaiah 66:11) in fatness] the choicest and most nourishing food (cf. ch. Isaiah 25:6).Verse 2. - Wherefore do ye spend money? literally, wherefore do ye weigh silver?-silver being the ordinary currency, and money transactions, in default of a coinage, being by weight (cf. Genesis 23:16; Zechariah 11:12). For that which is not bread; i.e. "for that which has no real value - which cannot sustain you, which will do you no good." The affections of the great mass of the Israelites were set on worldly things, on enriching themselves - adding field to field, and house to house (Isaiah 5:8). They did not care for spiritual blessings, much less "hunger and thirst" after them. That which satisfieth not. Worldly things can never satisfy the heart, not even the heart of the worldly. "What fruit had ye then in those things," says St. Paul, "whereof ye are now ashamed?" (Romans 6:21). Hearken diligently unto me; rather, hearken, oh, hearken unto me. The phrase is one of earnest exhortation. It implies the strong disinclination of Israel to listen, and seeks to overcome it (compare the opening words of the next verse). Let your soul delight itself in fatness (comp. Psalm 36:8; Psalm 63:5; and Isaiah 25:6). The spiritual blessings of the Messianic kingdom are richer dainties than any that this world has to offer. The soul that obtains them "delights" in them, and is satisfied with them (Psalm 17:15). The outward glory of the city is only the manifestation, which strikes the senses, of the spiritual glory of the church dwelling therein. "And all thy children will be the learned of Jehovah; and great the peace of thy children." We translate both halves of the v. as substantive clauses, although they might be accusatives of both the object and predicate, dependent upon שׂמתּי. ה למּוּדי are disciples of Jehovah, but, as in Isaiah 50:4, with the subordinate idea of both docility and learning. The children of Jerusalem will need no instruction from man, but carry within them the teaching of heaven, as those who are "taught of God" (διδακτοὶ Θεοῦ, John 6:45; θεοδίδακτοι, 1 Thessalonians 4:9). Essentially the same promise is given in Joel 3:1-2, and Jeremiah 31:34; and represented in 1 John 2:20 ("Ye have the anointing of the Holy One, and know all things") as already fulfilled. In the place of the former inward and outward distress, there has no entered shâlōm, perfect inward and outward peace, complete salvation, and blessedness as its result. רב is an adjective, for this form cannot be shown to have existed as a syncopated third pers. praet., like שׁח, חי ( equals חיי). The v. closes palindromically.
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