Isaiah 55:13
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.
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Isaiah 55:1 - Isaiah 55:13

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.

55:6-13 Here is a gracious offer of pardon, and peace, and of all happiness. It shall not be in vain to seek God, now his word is calling to us, and his Spirit is striving with us. But there is a day coming when he will not be found. There may come such a time in this life; it is certain that at death and judgment the door will be shut. There must be not only a change of the way, but a change of the mind. We must alter our judgments about persons and things. It is not enough to break off from evil practices, we must strive against evil thoughts. To repent is to return to our Lord, against whom we have rebelled. If we do so, God will multiply to pardon, as we have multiplied to offend. But let none trifle with this plenteous mercy, or use it as an occasion to sin. Men's thoughts concerning sin, Christ, and holiness, concerning this world and the other, vastly differ from God's; but in nothing more than in the matter of pardon. We forgive, and cannot forget; but when God forgives sin, he remembers it no more. The power of his word in the kingdoms of providence and grace, is as certain as in that of nature. Sacred truth produces a spiritual change in the mind of men, which neither rain nor snow can make on the earth. It shall not return to the Lord without producing important effects. If we take a special view of the church, we shall find what great things God has done, and will do for it. The Jews shall come to their own land; this shall represent the blessings promised. Gospel grace will make a great change in men. Delivered from the wrath to come, the converted sinner finds peace in his conscience; and love constrains him to devote himself to the service of his Redeemer. Instead of being profane, contentious, selfish, or sensual, behold him patient, humble, kind, and peaceable. The hope of helping in such a work should urge us to spread the gospel of salvation. And do thou help us, O Spirit of all truth, to have such views of the fulness, freeness, and greatness of the rich mercy in Christ, as may remove from us all narrow views of sovereign grace.Instead of the thorn - (Compare the notes at Isaiah 11:6-8; Isaiah 35:1-2; Isaiah 41:19; Isaiah 42:20). The word rendered 'thorn' (נעצוּץ na‛ătsûts) occurs only here and in Isaiah 7:19. It evidently means a thorn, hedge, or thorny-bush.

Shall come up the fir tree - (ברושׁ berôsh; see the notes at Isaiah 14:8; Isaiah 37:24; Isaiah 60:13; Zechariah 11:2). A change would be produced in the moral condition of man as great as if in the natural world the rough and useless thorn should be succeeded by the beautiful and useful cypress (compare Isaiah 60:13).

And instead of the brier - The brier is everywhere an emblem of desolation, and of an uncultivated country (see Isaiah 5:6; Isaiah 7:23-24).

The myrtle-tree - (see the notes at Isaiah 41:19). The idea here is, that under the gospel the change would be as great in the moral world as if a field all overrun with briers should at once become thick set with myrtles.

And it shall be to the Lord - The reference here is to all that had been said in the chapter. The gift of the Messiah; the universal offer of the gospel; the bestowing of pardon; the turning of the wicked unto God; and the great and salutary changes produced by the gospel, would all be a memorial of the benevolence and glory of Yahweh.

For a name - It should tend to diffuse his name; to spread abroad a knowledge of himself.

An everlasting sign - On the meaning of the word rendered 'sign,' see the notes at Isaiah 7:14, Here it means that it would be an eternal memorial of the mercy and goodness of Yahweh.

That shall not be cut off - The gospel with its rich and varied blessings shall erect enduring monuments in the earth, to the praise and honor of God. It will be more enduring as a memorial of him than all altars and statues, and temples erected to celebrate and perpetuate idolatry; as wide-diffused as are his works of creation, and more fruitful of blessings than anything elsewhere conferred on man.

13. thorn—emblem of the wicked (2Sa 23:6; Mic 7:4).

fir tree—the godly (Isa 60:13; Ps 92:12). Compare as to the change wrought, Ro 6:19.

brier—emblem of uncultivation (Isa 5:6).

myrtle—Hebrew, Hedes, from which comes Hedassah, the original name of Esther. Type of the Christian Church; for it is a lowly, though beautiful, fragrant, and evergreen shrub (Ps 92:13, 14).

for a name … everlasting sign—a perpetual memorial to the glory of Jehovah (Jer 13:11; 33:9).

Instead of the thorn shall come up the fir tree, and instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle tree; whereas your land was filled with thorns and briers, as was foretold, Isaiah 7:24, they shall be rooted out, and it shall be planted with fir trees and myrtle trees, and such other trees which are useful either for fruit or for delight. Or this promise may be answerable to that Ezekiel 28:24, There shall be no more a pricking brier unto the house of Israel, nor any grieving thorn, &c., but instead of them shall be such trees as shall yield shade and refreshment. The meaning is, The church shall be delivered from pernicious men and things, and replenished with sincere and serious believers, and with all sorts of Divine graces and blessings.

It shall be to the Lord for a name; this wonderful change shall bring much honour to that God by whom it is wrought.

For an everlasting sign; for a monument or evident and glorious token of God’s infinite power, and faithfulness, and love to his people unto all succeeding generations.

That shall not be cut off; which shall never be abolished, but shall always live and flourish in the minds and mouths of men.

Instead of the thorn shall come up the fir tree, and instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle tree,.... The meaning of which either is, that instead of wicked men, comparable to briers and thorns for their being fruitless and useless, harmful and pernicious, under a curse, and their end to be burned, there good men, comparable to fruitful and beautiful trees, shall be; which was eminently true when the Gospel was preached in the Gentile world; see Isaiah 35:1 so the Targum,

"instead of the ungodly shall rise up righteous persons, and instead of sinners shall rise up such as are afraid to sin;''

or else the sense is, that such who are like briers and thorns in their nature state, being no better than others, but children of wrath, even as others, shall by the grace of God be made like fir and myrtle trees; as great a change shall be wrought in them as if briers and thorns were changed into fir and myrtle trees; to which the saints are sometimes compared, particularly to myrtle trees, Zechariah 1:10, because goodly to look at, of a sweet smell, ever green, flourish in watery places, and bring forth fruit:

and it shall be to the Lord for a name, for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off; that is, these persons, who are become and made like to fir and myrtle trees, shall be called by the name of the Lord, shall bear his name, support his Gospel and interest, and be for his praise, and to the glory of his grace, who has done such great and wonderful things for them;

and shall be for an everlasting sign and monument of the love, grace, power, and faithfulness of God, and for a sure token that the church and people of God shall not be cut off, but that God will have a people to serve him as long as the sun and moon endure.

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 {o} for a name, for an everlasting {p} sign that shall not be cut off.

(o) To set forth his glory.

(p) Of God's deliverance, and that he will never forsake his Church.

13. The word for thorn occurs again only in ch. Isaiah 7:19. That for brier (s̬irpâd) is unknown. LXX. renders κόνυζα (fleabane). All that can be said is that some desert plant is meant. On fir-tree (cypress) and myrtle tree, see on ch. Isaiah 41:19.

for a name … for a sign] i.e. a memorial to His praise. The meaning appears to be that the marvellous vegetation so often alluded to as springing up in the desert as the procession of the redeemed passes through, shall remain throughout the future ages as a monument to Jehovah. It shews at least (Dillmann, etc.) that the conception is not to be regarded as a mere poetical figure.

Verse 13. - Instead of the thorn shall come up the fir tree. "Briars and thorns" were to overgrow the unfruitful vineyard, according to Isaiah 5:6; and to cover the land of God's people, according to Isaiah 32:13. This would be literally the case to a large extent, while the land was allowed to lie waste. The literal meaning is not, however, the whole meaning, or even the main meaning, here. "Briars and thorns" represent a general state of wretchedness and sin. The "fir" and "myrtle" represent a happy external condition of life, in which men "do righteously." It shall be to the Lord for a name. This "regenerated creation" will show forth the glory of God to mankind at large, and "get him a name" among them (comp. Isaiah 63:12; Jeremiah 13:11). For an everlasting sign. It will also he to God himself an enduring sign of the covenant of peace which he has made with his people, not to hide his face from them any more, but to have mercy on them "with everlasting kindness" (Isaiah 54:7-10).

Isaiah 55:13The true point of comparison, however, is the energy with which the word is realized. Assuredly and irresistibly will the word of redemption be fulfilled. "For ye will go out with joy, and be led forth in peace: the mountains and the hills will break out before you into shouting, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands. Instead of the thorn will cypresses shoot up, and instead of the fleabane will myrtles shoot up: and it will be to Jehovah for a name, for an everlasting memorial that will not be swept away." "With joy," i.e., without the hurry of fear (Isaiah 52:12); "in peace," i.e., without having to fight their way through or flee. The idea of the sufferer falls back in הוּבל behind that of a festal procession (Psalm 45:15-16). In applying the term kaph (hand) to the trees, the prophet had in his mind their kippōth, or branches. The psalmist in Psalm 98:8 transfers the figure created by our prophet to the waves of the streams. Na‛ătsūts (from nâ‛ats, to sting) is probably no particular kind of thorn, such, for example, as the fuller's thistle, but, as in Isaiah 7:19, briers and thorns generally. On sirpad, see Ges. Thes.; we have followed the rendering, κόυζα, of the lxx. That this transformation of the vegetation of the desert is not to be taken literally, any more than in Isaiah 41:17-20, is evident from the shouting of the mountains, and the clapping of hands on the part of the trees. On the other hand, however, the prophet says something more than that Israel will return home with such feelings of joy as will cause everything to appear transformed. Such promises as those which we find here and in Isaiah 41:19 and Isaiah 35:1-2, and such exhortations as those which we find in Isaiah 44:23; Isaiah 49:13, and Isaiah 52:9, arise from the consciousness, which was common to both prophets and apostles, that the whole creation will one day share in the liberty and glory of the children of God (Romans 8:21). This thought is dressed up sometimes in one for, and sometimes in another. The psalmists after the captivity borrowed the colours in which they painted it from our prophet (see at Psalm 96:1-13 and Psalm 98:1-9). והיה is construed as a neuter (cf., בּראתיו, Isaiah 45:8), referring to this festal transformation of the outer world on the festive return of the redeemed. אות is treated in the attributive clause as a masculine, as if it came from אוּת, to make an incision, to crimp, as we have already indicated; but the Arabic âyat, shows that it comes from אוה, to point out, and is contracted from ăwăyat, and therefore was originally a feminine.
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