“Ho! Every one who thirsts, come to the waters; and you who have no money come, buy and eat. Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Why do you spend money for what is not bread, and your wages for what does not satisfy? Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good, and delight yourself in abundance. Incline your ear and come to Me. Listen, that you may live; and I will make an everlasting covenant with you, according to the faithful mercies shown to David” (Isaiah 55:1-3).
Imagine attending a beautiful banquet to freely feast on a huge array of delicacies, including steak, lobster, cakes, and a large selection of drinks. Thirsty and famished, you proceed to devour the table decorations of wax fruit and wash it down with sand from the jars holding the fake flowers. Ridiculous, you say? Yes, but is it unusual?
God’s gracious invitation to the thirsty and distressed exiles of Israel followed His many warnings through Isaiah and other prophets that they would be judged if they continued their idolatry and disobedience. “I have spread out My hands all day long to a rebellious people, who walk in the way which is not good, following their own thoughts, a people who continually provoke Me to My face” (Isaiah 65:2-3). But, they covered their ears and suffered the inevitable result—Babylon sacked Jerusalem and took them into exile.
Nonetheless, God never abandoned His disobedient people and graciously called them back to Himself—such is God’s way with the objects of His love. As for Israel, they had become predictable. When God blessed them with prosperity, they grew proud and self-confident and attacked God’s messengers. “Jeshurun grew fat and kicked” (Deut. 32:15). But when He judged their sin and removed His blessings they cried for mercy. And despite their chronic infidelity, God would hear, take pity, and restore His people. Time and again they suffered judgement for disobedience, and time and again God looked with compassion and called them back to Himself.
Having banished His people to Babylon, God appealed to thirsty people for the satisfaction of their souls. Jesus used similar language with the Samaritan woman at the well: “Everyone who drinks of this water shall thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give to him shall become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life” (John 4:13-14). Like the life-giving water, the wine and milk speak of the divine, abundant, and free blessings of God toward His people. They need only “come” with empty hands to receive God’s mercy.
The feast was ready, rich, and free. Yet, not only did Israel prefer that which is “not bread” and worthless, they paid for the privilege and exhausted themselves in the process.
Those who fashion a graven image are all of them futile, and their precious things are of no profit; even their own witnesses fail to see or know, so that they will be put to shame. Who has fashioned a god or cast an idol to no profit? Behold, all his companions will be put to shame, for the craftsmen themselves are mere men. Let them all assemble themselves, let them stand up, let them tremble, let them together be put to shame. The man shapes iron into a cutting tool, and does his work over the coals, fashioning it with hammers, and working it with his strong arm. He also gets hungry and his strength fails; he drinks no water and becomes weary (Isaiah 44:9-12).
They wearied themselves even as they invited judgment and calamity. How could they be so foolish? How can we? Christ tells us, “For what will a man be profited, if he gains the whole world, and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matt. 16:26). Does the world rush to bow the knee to Jesus, to partake of the eternally satisfying living water? And while we may not worship statues, our modern substitutes for God are just as common and foolish. We can make an idol out of anything, including religion, money, sex, power, sports, music, achievement, the accolades of others, comfort, pleasure, convenience, an activity, a school or institution, a role, a hope, an image, an idea, a pleasure, a hero, you name it—anything we choose to exalt over humble love to God, even if done in His name.
But, even good and necessary things will never satisfy our souls. When we give them more importance than they deserve and expect more than they can deliver, they leave us low and dry. And worse, “There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death” (Prov. 14:12). Alluring and promising, we not only bite and wind up with a mouth of wax and sand, we double down and stuff ourselves as if volume will compensate for the emptiness of it all.
Sin brought disaster to Israel. Yet, when God regained their attention, the exiles needed only to “come” and “listen” that they might “live” and delight themselves “in abundance.” And so also with us when we humbly and prayerfully listen to God speak to us in Scripture, lest He get our attention some other way. And listening we need to obey, forsaking hindrances to our relationship with our Creator and Redeemer.
Despite their rebellion and idolatry, God had mercy on His chastened exiles and invited them to feast on the abundance of His grace and be blessed according to His “faithful mercies shown to David.” Thus, He offers us rich blessings as part of His family through faith in Christ alone, calling us to abandon whatever obscures God’s excellence and dulls the satisfaction of our souls. And though we sometimes grab for the table settings, God calls us to a true feast, to forsake evil and put the good things of the world to proper use in service to Him, to be blessed by His infinite glory, forever.
Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE, © Copyright The Lockman Foundation 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1988, 1995. Used by permission.
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© 2016 Craig Biehl, author of God the Reason, The Box, The Infinite Merit of Christ, and Reading Religious Affections
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