The third of a triad of chapters, in which the glad tidings go
These three chapters, 53, 54 and 55, form in themselves one of those significant triads that characterize our book. The first—chapter 53—gives the groundwork in the sufferings of the Cross; then, in chapter 54, the efficacy of those sufferings announced to Israel; and now in chapter 55 we come to their world-wide proclamation to all men.
1: Ho! Every thirsty one, come ye to the waters;Now the Spirit of God lifts up voice loudly, for this is no whispering word of prophecy, but a call as from a silver trumpet. It begins with a cry of a "Ho!" for now the glad tidings of what those sufferings have effected must go to the furthest bounds of human dwelling, and wherever there is a burdened, a sorrowing, a dissatisfied heart, there this silvery invitation is welcomed.
Is it not beautifully appropriate that such a call should be broadcast with trumpet-strength that it may reach afar to all, awaken the attention of all? Thus the "Ho" must not be overlooked. Nor is it less appropriate that the intimate communications of prophecy should be, as it were, whispered, that only those that are near the divine Speaker can hear them—they are not meant for the careless at all.
Let us listen then, as if we had never heard the melody of this tender and gracious invitation before. Who are the guests here invited? All who thirst! All that is needed to be welcome then, is—not to need (for that is true of all)—but to want what is offered. Am I utterly dissatisfied with myself? I thirst! Am I dissatisfied with all the world can offer me, and of which I have tasted? I thirst! Is my spirit altogether dissatisfied with all the formalism of religion; then do I thirst! Blessed thirst! It is the only prerequisite to enjoyment! Let us then delight ourselves, not only in the freedom, but in the gracious insistency seen here in the threefold cry of "Come!" "Come!" "Come!" First for "water," of which there is such an abundance that the word must be in the dual. No one can live long without water; it is really man's life; and so symbolizes the Spirit as Life-Giver, for He alone gives and maintains it, and that by the Word of God, which is therefore included in the symbol. Water thus comes first, as the first need is to infuse our spirits with divine life. Then "wine" for the soul, to fill it with joy; for wine2 is itself the very symbol of joy. Finally, come for "milk," for we must not forget that we need constantly that "milk of the Word, that we may grow thereby." All three are quite free now, for all have been paid for by Him who holds them out to us for our acceptance. Do you not recognize the voice of the Speaker as His who cried: "If any man thirst let him come unto Me and drink" (John 7:37). We are like those water-pots in Cana, quite empty, but let us be filled with the "water" of life, and instantly this becomes through His divine alchemy, the "wine" of joy.
What gracious, what convincing reasoning! You are spending all the labor of your one short life, and for what? For wealth, pleasure, name and fame? Why, that is not "bread"—these will not satisfy. Do we not all know it?
We have within us what nothing of that kind will ever satisfy. Then wherefore toil for such? When this one short span of life is passed, and there is nothing to show for the pursuits in which we have passed it, but the soul departs, still hungering and, alas, to hunger forever, is it not a reasonable question: "Why weigh ye out your silver for that which is not bread? Why spend the fruit of all your toil in what gives no content?"
In contrast with this vain spending, just listen—do nothing but listen; and if the heart takes in what the ear hears, then shall it be drinking of the very waters of life. How quick the God of all grace is to respond even to the inclination of the ear!
So incline your ear to Me, saith the Lord. Shut out all the vain babble of the world; listen not to its promises, have you not proved them false? Heed not its threats nor its contempt! Lend Me your ears, and listen; for more than your natural life depends upon it.
Have you never heard an address being given, but without awakening any special interest, till a subject is touched that instantly controls the attention of every listener? A strange hush comes over the audience, not a foot moves, not a rustle of a garment breaks the spell, so that one "may hear a pin drop." Just so, this Speaker has that to tell which none in the universe but He can tell—secrets of the very Bosom of God in which He has dwelt from all eternity, and whence He comes to tell them—shall we not listen, spellbound?
What then does He say? "I will make an everlasting covenant with you, even the sure mercies of David!" Are you disappointed? Did you expect something simpler than that? That is to prove whether we are really thirsty, and want the water, are really hungry, and long for the milk: if so, we shall not go away offended, but stop and ponder the words.
Let us then turn to 2 Samuel 7:1-6. David is ashamed to be living in a house of cedar whilst the Ark is dwelling in curtains. The Lord sees and interprets according to His grace the desire of that faithful heart; but forbids the building, since David's hands have shed much blood, and well-established Peace is the only ground on which the House of God can be built, and David's son, whose very name, Solomon, means Peace, shall build that house.
But how often do we see the near-by fulfilment of a prophecy pass away as a shadow, and leave the true definitive fulfilment still to come. So was it with Solomon. The throne that he passed on to his sons was overturned; the house that he built was soon in ruins; he was but the shadow, the Substance was still to come.
And in due time He comes, presents Himself to Israel as their true Messiah, Jesus, David's Son, but also David's Lord. He is rejected, slain, and Israel's hopes seem forever buried in that tomb of Joseph of Arimathea, Where now is that "everlasting covenant ordered in all things and sure"? Where now are the "sure mercies of David"?
Let us go to Antioch of Pisidia and listen to a preacher in the Jewish synagogue. He says: "We declare unto you glad tidings, how that the promise which was made unto the fathers, God hath fulfilled the same unto us their children, in that He hath raised up3 Jesus; as it is also written in the second psalm, Thou art My Son, this day have I begotten Thee. And as concerning that He raised Him up from the dead, no more to return to corruption, He said on this wise, I will give you the sure mercies of David" (Acts 13:32-34).
Do we not see that no "mercy" could be made "sure" for poor sinning Jews, still less such poor sinners of the Gentiles as you and I are, my fellow-sinner—my fellow-saint—except in our sins being forever put away in sternest justice; and they have—they have! "He was delivered for our offences, and was raised for our justification": and high above principalities and powers, He sits, whose sacred Head was weighted with our sins; the sins are gone forever, and "mercies" are so founded on justice that they are forever "sure." No justice is marred; no stain is on the Throne of God in embracing in an everlasting clasp such creatures as we! Verses 4 and 5 tell us that those mercies go far beyond Israel, for "He is not the God of the Jews only, but of the Gentiles also," and those Gentiles are thirsty and hungry to know the disposition of their God towards them. Neither the beauties of nature nor the marvels of Providence can afford a satisfactory testimony as to that. But here is One who has been given to be just the needed Witness, and eagerly does every awakened conscience run to Him, who alone meets their deepest needs.
6: Seek ye Jehovah while He may be found,There are those who object to the use of these words as a gospel-call on the ground that God seeks man, and not man God. But God seeks men by leading them to seek Him, as John 6:37: "All that the Father giveth Me shall come to Me, and him that cometh to Me I will in no wise cast out." And again, "Every man that hath heard and learned of the Father cometh unto Me" (verse 45). Human responsibility has its place; human will has its power in the gospel. It is not only God quickening dead souls, but men hearing God's voice, believing and acting on that belief, "By grace are ye saved through faith"; yet is it impossible to place these in any order of time. When God is seen coming in Christ in such unparalleled grace, not to judge, condemn, strike, curse, or damn; but to bless, save, at awful cost, and love everlastingly, then men will as inevitably seek Him as a hungry babe flies to its mother's breast.
Beloved reader, we may boldly assert that no man of all the myriads that have lived—let him be the wisest, as Solomon, the very best, as Job—not one could have possibly invented from his own "thoughts" this gospel. It is thus that our apostle challenges refutation when he cries: "But I certify you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached of me, is not after man" (Gal. 1:11). That means that it was absolutely impossible for such a plan of salvation ever to have been devised by man's thoughts. It is utterly at variance with those thoughts. It is infinitely too intricate in all its marvelous adaptations to all the involved problems that have to be met, so that no careless, thoughtless one could ever have conceived it. He would cease to be careless! But that eliminates the greater part of mankind; for, alas, are not the majority careless? But could a proud man, let him be never so thoughtful and intelligent, have invented it? Most assuredly not, for it humbles him to nothing, telling him that he is ungodly and without strength and only as in heart confessing this can he be saved. Must he not have ceased to be proud in order to have conceived that, to have been its author?
That certainly shuts out a large number of those left. There only remains the poor in spirit, the conscious confessed sinner. Could such have invented the idea that the Creator of all, glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders, that so High, so Holy a One should give up His dearest Treasure to bear the sins of one like himself, so conscious as he is of his utter unworthiness? Would it be "after" a humble mind to invent such a plan? How proud—how blasphemously proud—would such an one be! He must have ceased to be humble to have invented it! Then it remains proved that since no man—careless or thoughtful, proud or humble, bad or good—could have conceived it, it must have been a divine revelation, the result of God's thoughts and not man's. And from our hearts we own that His thoughts are not as our thoughts; His ways are not as ours! Indeed, they are not.
Verses 10 and 11 present another parable of nature, and how surrounded we are by these preachers of the gospel! Evangelists are they, that speak truly in parables, but parables that are intended to be understood, and so to preach. In that magnificent call for all creation to join in one melodious diapason of praise in Psalm 148, we read: "Fire and hail, snow and vapour, stormy wind fulfilling His word." And do they not do that in a very profound sense? Let us consider the rain that is called to witness here. It descends from heaven, which is, we may say, its source: so the word that God speaks comes from Him—He is its Source. The rain falls on the thirsty earth, so the Word falls on man's dry and thirsty spirit. Rain falls indifferently on mountain and on valley, but the hard, lofty mountain casts it off, and the valleys receive and profit by it. So the Word of God is for all; but lofty pride casts it off, and lowly penitence takes it in. The rain softens the clods, and this permits the seed to suck its nourishment from the earth, and thus the earth is rendered—what it could not be at all, but for the rain—fertile, and so is covered with every form of vegetable life, grass, herb and tree. So where the Word is received the fruit of love, joy, and peace abounds. Then the harvest provides for a future reproduction as well as for the present nourishment of men. So the Word of God wherever it falls and sinks in, not only produces a corresponding harvest, and there is bread for the hungry, but there is, too, seed for further sowing. No one truly receives the gospel without wanting to propagate it. It must flow on, it cannot stagnate. Finally, the rain is drawn back to the heavens, and so the Word of the Gospel goes back to God, accompanied as it were, by the singing joy of those who have partaken of its blessing. Thus the last verses go on:
12: With joy shall ye go forth; in peace shall ye be led;Truly a refreshing picture, telling in the highest style of poetry, the effect of an inward change on external scenes. In grief even the twinkling of the stars is sad and ghastly, and the rippling of the brooks loses all its cheeriness, its laughter sounds as mockery, for the heart within is not attuned, and would fain have the sights and sounds of nature to accord with its own misery. But let strong emotion fill the heart with delight, the witchery of that joy changes all the external scene into harmony with itself. I expect some of my readers can remember how all nature appeared to share their joy when the Lord revealed Himself to them in His love; did not everything sing?
With no haste, as if in flight, with no fighting, as if opposed, but in festal joy, those who were but now in the lowest depths of distress, leave the gloom and come forth with such melody of heart, such hand-clapping of the spirit, that it overflows all their own being, and the surrounding woods and hills share the joy and its expression.
This is of course poetry, yet well may we feel sure that this poor earth, in one spot at least, will be in perfect harmony with the redeemed Israel of that day. The evidences of the curse, the frown of God—thorn and brier—shall disappear, and trees that in their dignity and beauty tell of God's smile, take their place. The nations of the earth mark the mighty change, and it becomes a "Name," that is, expressing what Jehovah really is—it tells Him out as does a name, and becomes a permanent Sign, forever bearing its witness to Jehovah from age to age, just as today, sorrow, sighing, pain, suffering, disaster, injustice and oppression rightly express the reign of a usurper upon the throne of this earth.
In the place of the noxious thorn springs up a
tree that has found a place in that Temple in which "every whit of it
uttereth His glory" (Ps. 29:9, marg.). In the place of that
pride-expressing brier that would reign over the trees (Judges 9:8-15)
there shall spring up the lowly myrtle which ever speaks of the
penitence that characterizes all that is of God among men, whether in
the Gentile or, more directly, in the beloved Remnant of Israel. This
"myrtle" spirit is what alone, even this day, makes any of us "meet for
the Master's use," and beyond all question it is alone the spirit He
does ever use. Let His poor servant lie helpless upon a bed of
sickness, still he may be a very useful servant, by whom the Lord
expresses the power of His grace; and that is for a "Name" to our Lord
Jesus; the very best evidence that He is risen, and that the servant is
abiding in Him. Not always is it the most active who is the most useful.
1 It is very emphatic: "listening, listen," justifying the repetition.
2 Here the word for wine is yayin, which many insist is always the pernicious kind of wine; could it be that here?
3 [F. C. Jennings, a man, says:] "Again" should be omitted. See R.V.