Isaiah 55:1-9

This text is used for the Lectionary Year C on February 28, 2016.

Still Life - Cezanne
Still Life – Cezanne

The “gold standard,” among other things, refers to a type of economy. Every economy rests on some foundation. The bold promise of a new economic order can be underwritten only through the very distinctive nature of God. Only God could give rise to a new economy of redemption for the community of want. The other texts for the third Sunday in Lent are Psalm 63:1-8, which picks up on themes of thirst and satisfaction similar to Isaiah 55:1-9, and Luke 13:1-9, where the themes of repentance echoes Isaiah 55:1-9.

The passage contains a five part argument: First part (verse one); Second part (verses 2-3); Third part, the behold section (verses four and five); fourth section, a call to repentance (verses six through nine); and fifth section the statement of God’s otherness (verses eight and nine).

The first section begins with the prophetic call to attention, the Hebrew hoy, translated “Ho” in NRSV. The word usually introduces an expression of dismay and judgment (see Isaiah 5, 28-31, 33). The addressees of 55:1-9 are all who thirst. The theme of thirst continues through the years and will be used in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:6). The second addressee, the person who has no money, resembles the first, those who thirst. This parallelism accents the sense of want among the hearers of this word.  Could this community of want be the heirs to the suffering servant?

The passage sets before the community of want a list of imperatives. The imperatives heighten the intensity of the speech. Three imperatives – come, buy, and eat – dominate verse one. The items purchased are the word pair, “wine” and “milk”. The word pair, “wine” and “milk”, does not occur together anywhere else. The verbs of “buy” and “eat” and the nouns “milk” and “wine” indicate a mercantile and culinary context. The passage reconfigures the verb “buy”. The new situation that the prophet describes, buying without money or cost, marks a new economy.

The second section (verses two and three) indicts the community of want. The question here is rhetorical, “Why do you buy with money that which is not bread and your labor for stuff that does not satisfy?” The food sustains the physical and labor should satisfy. The writer effectively blends the question through the use of the negative.  This section also contains a collection of imperatives.  The indictment gives way to the first imperative of this section in an invitation, “carefully listen to me.”

The imperative “eat what is good” has interesting parallels. Eating from your own resources (2 Kings 18:31; 19:29; Isa 36:16; 65:21) is a theme that occurs with the imperative “eat.” Isaiah 65:21 is an interesting parallel because it is also an expression of the new economy constructed by God in the restoration of the exiles.  Command language continues, “Let yourselves delight in rich food.” The Hebrew form here connotes an ongoing, iterative action. It is not a momentary pampering but a long-term dietary pattern. The invitation continues, “Come to me and listen.” Here you will want to remember that the Hebrew verb understands that listening and obeying are two parts of the same coin.

The result of the listening is a new covenant created by God, a covenant that will last in perpetuity. The language “perpetual covenant” (berit olam) occurs in the Pentateuch in the Priestly tradition (Gen 9:16; Ex 31:16; Lev 24:8; etc.). The language and idea continued into later prophetic traditions of Isaiah (Isa 61:8), Jeremiah (32:40; 50:5), and Ezekiel (16:60; 37:20). The language “sure love of David” occurs also twice in the Hebrew Bible (Isa 55:3,2; 2 Chron 6:42). The writer invokes the covenant with David representing it as a perpetual covenant. Isaiah 55:3-4 and Psalm 89 seem to share a view of the ongoing inheritance of David (see also 2 Samuel 7; Jeremiah 33:20-22; Ps 18:50; 2 Chronicles 6:42).

The third section is a pair of “behold” sentences with a result clause. We can think of the Hebrew term Hinneh here as “notice”. The first thing that we notice in this section is that David is the antecedent of the “him” in verse four. The second thing that the writer wants the community of want to notice is that their inheritance in David’s legacy means a reconstituted identity beyond their knowing. The promise to David now is democratized. It becomes a people’s identity.  The section ends with the recognition that this is a result of the nature of God. The favor of David and the community of want is not located in want or David, but rather the God of their and our salvation.

The fourth section begins with imperative verbs “seek” and “call”. God is the object of seeking and calling. So you have a verb-object that leads into a prepositional phrase. That may not sound all that exciting but the writer uses the prepositional phrase to accent first that there is a temporal element, “while God may be found,” but also a spatial element, “while God is near.” The seeking and calling give way to another invitation. This time it is an ethical invitation to the wicked and the unrighteous to forsake their ways (often a metaphor for behavior) and thoughts.  Or is this an invitation? It could be a prediction of repentance.  Whether invitation or prediction, it leads into a result clause. The result might be their redemption. Now the language of compassion and pardon come center stage.

The first section made a bold invitation to the community of want to buy without money or cost. The divine speech contains the word pair “ways” and “thoughts” in verse seven, that occurs again in verse eight, and describes the God who makes such a new economy possible. God stands outside human categories. The prophet uses a chiastic structure.

A – Thoughts
B – Ways
C – Distance
B1 – Ways
A1 – Thoughts

The new economy that Isaiah proclaims is rooted in the God beyond human categories.

reidDr. Stephen B. Reid

Professor of Christian Scriptures
George W. Truett Theological Seminary, Waco, TX



Tags: need, want, provision, economy of God

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