Introduction to Isaiah 55:4–13

In the opening verses of this section we are told of the response to the call and offer made in 55:1–3. There is a wide-ranging acceptance as men of all nations rally to the preaching of the gospel based on the resurrection of the Servant who has become witness, leader and commander, the Messiah of Israel (55:4–5). So important is it for men, even the wicked, to return to Yahweh, to change their ways and accept His pardon, that a second call is made (v6–7). In this the unthinkable has happened, for the thoughts and ways of Yahweh transcend the thoughts of men as much as the heavens do the earth (v8–9). The inevitability of Yahweh’s Word accomplishing His purpose is made tangible by considering the effect of rain and snow, both heaven sent, fertilizing the earth and providing nurture for man (v10–11). Finally there is a picture of the ultimate result, the consequence of the sufferings of the Servant, now the Leader: it is a picture of joy and peace, of all nature breaking forth into singing, of Eden restored and the thorn and brier that came by sin being replaced by evergreens; it will be the superlative expression of the Name of Yahweh, an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off (v12,13).

55:4–5 The universal call receives a universal response – men rally behind the new David, glorified by Yahweh.

55:4 “Behold, I have given him [rsv ‘made him’] for a witness [lxx marturion] to the people [rsv, niv, ‘peoples’], a leader [lxx archonta] and commander to the people [‘peoples’].”

“Behold, I have given him” Yahweh speaks and makes it clear that He is the One behind the Servant’s redemptive work. This statement is in accord with Jesus’ own words in John 3:16, “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” These words of the Lord are in harmony with other thoughts in the immediate context, the word “whosoever” with the universality of the call, and “everlasting life” with “your soul shall live; and I will make an everlasting covenant with you …” (55:3). See also Acts 2:36; Rom 1:3; Phil 2:6–7; Gal 4:4.

“for a witness to the people [‘peoples’], a leader [lxx archonta] and commander to the people [peoples]” In the Septuagint version the Greek word translated “witness” is marturion; and it is used of the Lord in 1 Timothy 6:13, “who before Pontius Pilate witnessed [martureo] a good confession”; and in Revelation 3:14, “These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness [martus] …”

As the national servant Israel was a witness (43:10; 44:8), so the individual Servant is God’s witness to all nations.

In Revelation 1:5 the Lord introduces himself as “the faithful witness” [martus], and the first begotten from the dead, and the prince [Grk archon]; so there are in this verse two words closely related to Isaiah 55:4. The Hebrew word for leader (nagid) is used thirteen times of the kings of Israel and Judah, and seven of those occasions of David. It stresses the divine appointment of a king and so here it signifies that another David, great David’s greater Son, has been divinely appointed to rule and lead. The Hebrew word for “commander” (tsavah) is used as a title, “signifying the authoritative nature of the royal voice”.

It should be observed also that “peoples” occurs at the beginning and end of this verse, emphasising the Servant’s worldwide sway. This point is strengthened in the following verse, as it has been throughout the Servant Prophecies (42:4, 10; 45:22; 49:1, 6; 51:5; 52:15).

55:5 “Behold, thou shalt call a nation [goy] that thou knowest not, and nations [goyim] that knew not thee shall run unto thee because of Yahweh thy God, and for the Holy One of Israel; for he hath glorified thee.”

The speaker is no longer Yahweh but an informed, inspired observer who forecasts the response to the Leader’s call, and provides us with the reason for it. The Leader himself is addressed.

“Thou” or “you” (niv) is singular and the subject is the Leader, the Servant, the Lord Jesus Christ. Goy (goyim plural) is the word used for nations other than Israel, the Gentiles. The opening part of the verse demonstrates the extensive response to the call, going beyond the borders of Israel unto all nations. As the Lord said, “this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness to all nations.” The apostles of the Lord, and particularly the Apostle Paul, the apostle of “the uncircumcision”, would sound abroad the call (Rom 10:11–18). In these last days it is our responsibility to “go … into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15), and this is taking place as the Truth has been taken to lands that have never before heard it. Effectively today the Leader calls by means of the ecclesias, as he did through the preachers in the first century.

“a nation that thou knowest not, and nations that knew not thee” This is an interesting way of stressing how broad the gospel net would be cast. Though all nations are clearly “known” to God, He says of Israel, “You only have I known of all the families of the earth” (Amos 3:2). His close bonds with the fathers of Israel account for this statement. And “nations that knew not thee” is another way of saying all Gentile nations. Their response is not passive; they are pictured as running to Messiah, anxious to receive the gracious offer of mercy, forgiveness and life. The words of Paul on Mars’ hill fit into this verse when he spoke to the Athenians of the Unknown God, Whom they ignorantly worshipped! The time for enlightenment had come, for “the times of this ignorance God winked at [overlooked]; but now commandeth all men everywhere to repent …” (Acts 17:22–23, 30).

Looking back to David, the Servant’s illustrious forefather, we find he uses the same language when speaking of the time when Yahweh would exalt His greater Son. “Thou hast made me the head of the heathen: a people whom I have not known shall serve me” (Psa 18:43, 49).

“because of Yahweh thy God, and for the Holy One of Israel; for he hath glorified thee [niv ‘endowed you with splendour’]” Here is the rationale that explains why the Leader had drawn men of all nations to him: Yahweh his God has “glorified him”. What is meant by this expression and how has this made the Servant the magnet drawing men of all nations, despite their prejudices, to him? The answer lies in his resurrection by the Holy One of Israel, his Father and his God. Citing these words of the risen Christ, the Apostle Peter said, “The God of Abraham … hath glorified his Son [Gk paida, servant] Jesus …” and he gave witness to his resurrection, “… whom God hath raised from the dead; whereof we are witnesses” (Acts 3:13–15; see also Isa 49:3; John 13:31–32; 17:1–5 etc).

The resurrection of Jesus was the essential ingredient of apostolic preaching and it cannot be over emphasised. It transformed the apostles, making them fearless, irrepressible witnesses, as the book of Acts reveals. Their conviction, their forthright preaching “turned the world upside down” and caused men of all nations to rally behind the banner of the new Leader, the risen Christ.

It should also be noted that the false doctrine of the Trinity is confounded utterly by this verse, as with so much of the Servant Prophecy.

55:6–7 A second call to participate. An urgent summons to the wicked. Pardon is extended even to them if they repent.

55:6 “Seek ye Yahweh while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near.”

The idea is not that of seeking what is lost but of coming with commitment to that which is known to be there: as Jesus said, “seek, and ye shall find” (Matt 7:7).

The “while he may be found … while he is near” speaks of urgency and the need to act straightaway; ‘opportunity doesn’t knock twice!’ Procrastination may see the narrow window of opportunity close: “behold, now is the accepted time; behold now is the day of salvation” (2 Cor 6:2; Psa 69:13).

The word for “near” is the one used of the next of kin in the Law (Lev 25:25; cp Ruth 2:20; 3:12; 4:4) and is associated with the Redeemer (goel). The point is that the time is limited in which the Lord may be found as the Redeemer of them that seek Him.

55:7 “Let the wicked [rasha] forsake his way, and the unrighteous [aven] man [ish] his thoughts: and let him return unto Yahweh, and he will have mercy [racham] upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon [mrg Heb ‘he will multiply to pardon’].

Both aspects of repentance are called for here, the forsaking of wicked ways and also returning to Yahweh. Both words used of sinners, the wicked (rasha) and the unrighteous (aven) can have broad meanings but the former generally refers to “the rebellious”, and the latter to “the perverse”.

“Way” and “thoughts” speak of lifestyle and the thinking, the philosophy behind it: thoughts are the precursors of words and deeds (entertained in the mind they become formulated into plans; and it is here that the victory over sin, the forsaking of evil must be won).

It is notable here that both words are picked up in the following verse – Yahweh’s thoughts and ways transcend those of man in a remarkable way – whereas men find forgiveness and mercy hard to extend to those who have wronged them, these attributes are intrinsic, are part of God’s nature.

Turning back to Yahweh will reap His mercy (racham, the tender feelings of a parent for a child; 49:15 compassions; 54:7,10 mercy; Psa 103:13 pity). He will abundantly pardon (cp Mic 7:18–19; Psa 130:7–8).

His ‘unhuman’, unfathomable love toward men is repeated in even stronger terms: “and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.” This provides absolute assurance for the wayward. There can be no doubting His love should they return. This has come about as a consequence of the work of His obedient Servant (53:12, 4, 5), and the new covenant in his blood (Jer 31:31; Heb 8:8; 10:15–18; Matt 26:28; Eph 4:32).

55:8–9 The Divine and the human – contrasting thinking

55:8,9 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith Yahweh.

For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

The word “For” makes the connection between verses 6 and 7 and verses 8 and 9. Forgiveness, mercy and pardon, and that “abundantly”, are not in evidence among men, even among mortals who are all equals, and who have all sinned and are in need! But Yahweh offers pardon to men who have offended His righteousness and flagrantly sinned against Him! There is a great gulf between man’s ways and God’s ways. Jeremiah expressed it thus: “… I [Yahweh] … will perform my good The essence of this article is to be found in the words of Hymn 272 in our Hymn Book.

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word toward you, in causing you to return to this place. For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith Yahweh, thoughts of peace, and not of  evil, to give you an expected end” (29:10, 11); and  Micah stood in awe of God: “Who is a God like unto thee [the meaning of the prophet’s name!], that pardoneth iniquity, and passeth by the transgression  of the remnant of his heritage? he retaineth not his anger for ever, because he delighteth in mercy. He will turn again, he will have compassion upon us; he will subdue our iniquities; and thou wilt cast all their sins into the depths of the sea…” (7:18–20).

What this teaches us is the value of repentance, of both forsaking sins and returning to Yahweh. What a bridge it builds, for by it the floodgates of  His mercy are thrown open in a way we cannot comprehend. Perhaps we have a glimpse of it when we consider what the Lord said in Luke 15:10, “I  say unto you, there is joy in the presence of the  angels of God over one sinner that repenteth.” We should never underestimate the mercies of our  loving Father because we can never overestimate  them (2 Cor 1:3; Rom 12:1; John 3:16).

“For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher …” Here we have the first of two analogies drawn from nature (see v10). The imponderable height of the heavens above the earth is the standard, the only measure by which we can assess the loftiness of God’s ways. Related thoughts are expressed in Isaiah 57:15 and 66:1–2 where the immensity of the Creator is no barrier to Him showing grace to humble man. Again David in Psalm 103, digging deep into the vicissitudes of his eventful life, expresses the same thoughts, “For as the heaven is high above the earth, so great is his mercy toward them that fear him. As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us.”

Our next study will complete Isaiah 55 and include an analysis of the references in the Gospel of John chapters 6 and 7 from it. How many citations and allusions can you find?