“The heritage of the servants of Yahweh” set forth in Isaiah 54, is the fruit of the Servant’s work. In Isaiah 55 and 56 three clarion calls are broadcast to all men to compare their present labours and rewards with what is now on offer:

“Ho, every one that thirsteth…” (55:1)
“Seek ye Yahweh while he may be found” (55:6), and
“Keep ye judgment … for my salvation is near” (56:1).
This is an exciting section in which the precise nature of the blessings is set forth, as well as the need to cease from fruitless travail. There is also offered the surety of an everlasting covenant, envisaging the gift of eternal life, as encapsulated in that ‘mystical’ phrase, “the sure mercies of David”. We are introduced to the new leader whose call rallies men of all nations to his side. In the emotion of this awesome invitation, even the wicked are admonished to heed and seek a God Who will abundantly pardon (v6–9). God’s Word is invincible; His purpose having been declared, no power can thwart its accomplishment (v10–11). In the last two verses we are given a glimpse of Eden restored. The leader, the Lord Jesus Christ, brings the redeemed into a world relieved of the curse which came by Adam’s sin (v12–13).

Isaiah 55

55:1–3 The first call

Salvation is freely offered to the thirsty. Those absorbed in the pursuit of material gain are called upon to compare this with the offer of complete satisfaction, an everlasting covenant of life and peace.

Verse 1 “Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price” (cp 53:3; Prov 9:1–6).

“Ho, every one that thirsteth” This is the loud clarion call that goes out to all passers-by; it is in a sense like the impassioned urgent cries of street vendors, but the intent is so much more noble! The appeal is to the “thirsty”, and there are no exceptions, for all have sinned and are in need. Hence the call is to “every one”, a term which also embraces all nations; and consistent with this, verse 5 tells us that “nations that knew not thee [Gentiles] shall run unto thee”, as indeed we who are Gentiles have!

Taking up the sense of these words, the Lord said, “Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled” (Matt 5:6); and on the occasion of the Feast of Tabernacles he “stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink” (John 7:37). See also John 4:14; 6:35; Revelation 21:6; 22:17.

“come ye to the waters” The call does not discriminate, is not exclusive, and is also persistent. Four times, be it noted, we have the invitation, the imperative, “Come” (three times in verse 1, and once in verse 3). It is one of the hallmarks of the Lord’s ministry that he did not turn men away but invited them to come to him: “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest …” (Matt 11:28–30).

At the beginning of his ministry two disciples were sent by John the Baptist to Jesus. They asked, “Rabbi … where dwellest thou?” and were invited to “Come and see” (John 1:38–39); see also John 6:35–37; Matt 19:14, 16).

“and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price” Poverty is to be no barrier. This is emphasised three times. But then strangely there is twice mention of the need “to buy”?!

This is a purchase which is somehow free to the purchaser! Indeed the person with no money is a welcome customer who can fare sumptuously! Why is this emphasis on freeness set alongside the verb “to buy”? The thought of purchase is not set aside, even though the clients are beggars! Why is this so? “There is a purchase and a price, though not theirs to pay. They bring their poverty to a transaction already completed” (JA Motyer). As in the case of God’s people, all men have “sold” themselves for nought and “shall be redeemed without money” (52:3). The ransom price was the Lord’s life: we have been “bought with a price” (Mark 10:45; 1 Pet 1:18,19; 1 Cor 6:20). Salvation offered by God to man cannot be equated to money: “freely ye have received, freely give” (Matt 10:8); the “gift of God may (not) be purchased with money” (Acts 8:20). “buy wine and milk” There is a feast to be had, a marriage feast prepared by the Father for His Son (Matt 22:1–14; 26:26–29: Rev 19:9; Isa 25:6). It is a “love feast” (rsv Jude 12), in which there is mercy and forgiveness (v7), the result of the Servant’s work.

Not just water but wine and milk are on offer. Thereby its richness is highlighted, as well as by its freeness. The abundance and freeness of the water of refreshment (44:3), the wine of gladness (25:6–8) and the milk of richness (Exod 3:8) exemplify the salvation available through Yahweh’s Servant. Interestingly “bread” is mentioned in verse 3, but it is not mere bread, though money has been spent to purchase it: it is what Jesus called “meat indeed”, “the bread of life” (John 6:35, 55). So both bread and wine are in view, the symbols of the new covenant and of the Lord’s body and blood, of which his servants partake in remembrance of him, and in anticipation of the “marriage supper of the Lamb”.

Verse 2 “Wherefore do ye spend money [lit ‘weigh silver’] for that which is not bread? and your labour for that which satisfieth not? hearken diligently [ml b ‘listen carefully’] unto me, and eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness.”

Here worldly wisdom and practice are questioned, and compared with what the Father offers to mankind. The world offers continual labour, and spending without any lasting profit or satisfaction. God offers receiving and complete satisfaction with neither labour nor spending! How evident this is in this perilous and materialistic age. Men are devoted to the dollar but find no lasting happiness or contentment no matter how much they spend and accumulate. ‘Much’ leads to a desire for more; success generates envy in one’s fellows and there is not the mental joy and rejoicing experienced in Christ (cp the “peace” the “joy” and the “rest” exclusive to him, John 14:27; 16:20, 33; Matt 11:28–29).

“hearken diligently unto me” (ml b ‘listen carefully’) This is the way the blessing can be received, per medium of the hearing, or rather, the listening ear. This is emphasised for a second and even a third time in verse 3, “Incline your ear …” and “hear and your soul shall live.” It is a message, a gospel that has to be spoken or preached and heard (51:1, 4,7; 53:1); “Who hath believed our report [Heb hearing]?” Jesus continually called upon men to hear (Matt 13:9; Rev 2:7,17 etc; Mark 16:15–16), for faith comes by hearing or listening and without it God cannot be pleased (Rom 10:17; Heb 11:6).

“and let your soul delight itself in fatness” This phrase denotes satisfaction of the heart, the mental contentment of those who listen. It contrasts with “that which satisfieth not”. It is what the Lord meant when he said, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn [by hearing] of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matt 11:29–30).

Verse 3 “Incline your ear, and come unto me: hear, and your soul shall live; and I will make an everlasting covenant with you, even the sure mercies of David.”

Emphasis has been laid upon the crucially important ear, the conduit for receiving the good news. It was no different for the Servant himself: his ear was the preserve of His Master: “he wakeneth mine ear to hear as the learned” (50:4).

“and your soul shall live; and I will make an everlasting covenant with you” The conjunction of thoughts here is instructive: ‘living’ is associated with an “everlasting covenant”. Clearly the essence of the reward, the gift, is “eternal life”, and this is defined in the verse, “even the sure mercies of David.” The following exposition explains “the sure mercies of David”, and is reproduced from The Lampstand Volume 4, No 3, April – May 1998 pages 121–123.

The sure mercies of David

There is an interesting train of thought linking the promise made to David with the Psalm he wrote as a consequence (Psalm 16), and the words of the prophet Isaiah: “Incline your ear, and come unto me: hear and your soul shall live; and I will make an everlasting covenant with you, even the sure mercies of David” (55:3). These last words are picked up in turn and quoted as proof of the resurrection of Messiah by the Apostle Paul in the synagogue in Antioch: “and as concerning that he raised him up from the dead, now no more to return to corruption, he said on this wise, I will give you the sure mercies of David” (Acts 13:34). It is also notable that Paul adds Psalm 16:10 as a second proof that Messiah had to be a resurrected man, “Wherefore he saith also in another psalm, Thou shalt not suffer thine Holy One to see corruption” (Acts 13:35).

We shall commence our enquiry by ascertaining what is meant by the words “the sure mercies of David”. Two words used many times to describe the character of the God of heaven are put in juxtaposition by the prophet and associated with David. The two words are amen (translated “sure”) and chesed (translated “mercies”). They are found together in Exodus 34:6 where Yahweh declares He is “abundant in goodness [chesed] and truth [emeth]”.

A brief analysis of these words will be helpful in order to see the breadth and importance of them. Further information is to be had from a series of articles in The Christadelphian under the title “The Knowledge of God” by Brother F T Pearce, Volume 104 page 253ff.

Chesed

Applied to the relationship of individuals it means “loyalty, faithfulness”, especially to a covenant entered into (see 2 Sam 9:7; 10:2; 16:17; Gen 32:10; Exod 15:13 “mercy”). Many times it is associated with the word “covenant” as in Deuteronomy 7:9 “keepeth covenant and mercy”. See also Isaiah 54:10.

Associated with the idea of loyalty and faithfulness are the ideas of love, pity and kindness. Picking this up, the rsv translators put both ideas together and translate chesed as “steadfast love”, as in Isaiah 55:3, “My steadfast, sure love for David”.

It is linked with another noun forty three times and in no fewer than twenty three times it is with emeth, translated “truth” in the av; and seven times with “covenant” (refer Psalm 89:33–34).

Emeth

This word comes from the verb aman meaning “to build up, support” and hence “assurance, trust, steadfastness” (cp Isa 22:23, “a sure place”; 1Sam 2:35, “a faithful priest”; 2 Kings 22:7 “dealt faithfully”). Hence it signifies “truth, certainty, trustworthiness”.

God is steadfast, utterly trustworthy and will not be moved (Psa 36:5 “thy faithfulness unto the clouds”; Isa 65:16 “God of truth”; see also 1 Cor 1:9; Rev 3:14).

While this word is not the same as chesed which signifies “steadfast covenant love”, when used of God it does mean that He is not arbitrary and does not alter His standards in His dealings with men. He remains utterly self-consistent and so can be relied on completely.

Thus chesed and emeth have the common factor of “steadfastness” and so it is not surprising to find that they are frequently parallel terms (eg Psa 25:10; 40:10; 89:1).

Chesed and God’s covenant with David

It is significant that in the midst of God’s promise to His servant David the word chesed occurs: “If he [the seed of David] commit iniquity, I will chasten him with the rod of men … But my mercy [chesed] shall not depart away from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away before thee” (2 Sam 7:14–15). Here there is every assurance by God that David’s dynasty would continue despite the possible iniquity of some of his regal descendants, who would be punished accordingly. This is in contrast to Saul’s dynasty which terminated with his death, God’s mercy being withdrawn.

The word God uses to give this assurance is chesed – His steadfast love would act as the guarantee that His words of promise to David would not fail. It is highly significant that in Psalm 89 where the promise to David is expounded, both words, chesed and emeth, each occur seven times! In verses 33, 34 for example God affirms: “Nevertheless my lovingkindness [chesed] will I not utterly take from him [David’s seed] nor suffer my faithfulness [emeth] to fail. My covenant will I not break nor alter the thing that is gone out of my lips.”

Resurrection and the Davidic covenant

The words of promise given to David involve eternity and eternal life. They are implicit in it so far as David himself is concerned and also his seed. How could his “house and … kingdom” be established forever before him, or in his presence, unless he was resurrected from the dead (2Sam 7:16)? This David worked out and his words in Psalm 71 reveal his hope: “Thou, which hast shewed me great and sore troubles, shalt quicken me again, and shalt bring me up again from the depths of the earth” (v20).

Also his seed, a flesh and blood descendant of his (2 Sam 7:12), would have the throne of his kingdom established forever (v13). This is a conundrum and the only solution is resurrection. David thought about this and came to the conclusion that, as in his own case, so also with the seed of promise, resurrection to eternal life was crucial. This is not an assumption on the part of the writer, but is what the Spirit tells us in the mouth of Peter in Acts 2:29–31: “Men and brethren, let me freely speak unto you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his sepulchre is with us unto this day. Therefore being a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him, that of the fruit of his loins, according to the flesh [ie he would be a mortal man], he would raise up Christ to sit on his throne; He seeing this before spake of the resurrection of Christ, that his soul was not left in hell, neither his flesh did see corruption”.

The last words are taken from Psalm 16:10. Peter had just quoted from Psalm 16 extensively. He affirms that David taught that the Messiah, his promised seed, would have to be a resurrected man, his soul (body) would not see corruption. These words were not written by David about himself, for he had died and the presence of his sepulchre and remains in Jerusalem testified that he “saw corruption”.

“Thy Holy One”

In Psalm 16:10 Messiah is designated the “Holy One”. In the New Testament this is a translation of the Greek word osia which follows the Septuagint version. But in the Hebrew the word is chasid, a cognate of chesed, and refers to one who is the recipient of chesed, or steadfast love. Hence Rotherham’s translation reads, “Neither wilt thou suffer thy man of lovingkindness to see corruption.”

Thus again we have this word chesed or its cognate chasid associated with resurrection! Is it not therefore highly significant that the reward promised those who respond to the Messiah’s cry is: “your soul shall live; and I will make an everlasting covenant with you, even the sure [emeth] mercies [chesed] of David” (rsv ‘My steadfast sure love for David’).

How could an “everlasting covenant” be made and not involve the gift of eternal life.

So again the ideas of resurrection and eternal life are associated with David and Messiah in conjunction with the word chesed.

We can now see why the Apostle Paul quoted the words of Isaiah 55:3 in Acts 13:34 to prove the resurrection of Messiah; and also why he reinforces his argument by also citing from Psalm 16:10, written by David, about the resurrection of the one from whom the mercy of God would “not depart” (2 Sam 7:15). There is a consistent and beautiful harmony in these quotations.

An interesting question

In Isaiah 55:3 the “sure mercies of David” are promised to all who heed the call to salvation, but in Acts 13:34 they are specifically applied to the resurrection of Messiah. On the surface there appears to be a contradiction. A little thought is sufficient, however, to reconcile the apparent anomaly. Messiah, David’s son and God’s, is the one from whom God’s mercy (chesed) would not depart (2 Sam 7:15). He would experience resurrection as God’s Holy One (chasid). God has given him the power and authority to raise and judge the dead and grant eternal life to whomsoever he will (John 5:26–29). So he can offer the “sure mercies” of David to others, having himself been the recipient of them in the first place.

Summary

The following diagram shows how the main Scriptures referred to in this article relate to each other:

Conclusion

The remarkable word chesed, twice used in Exodus 34:6–8 (translated “goodness” v6, and “mercy” v7) to describe the steadfast love and mercy of Yahweh, is used of David’s seed. The ultimate expression of this chesed is seen in Messiah’s resurrection, and in this lies the guarantee that others who respond to the Divine invitation of Isaiah 55 will also have an everlasting covenant made with them, even “the sure mercies of David”.