In the ESVTM Classic Reference Bible, this section heading appears over Isaiah 55: “The Compassion of the Lord.” Although the heading is not part of the text, the editors at Crossway Bibles hit the nail on the head.
Here are the first three verses of Isaiah 55:
“Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.
Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food.
Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live; and I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David.”
First, let me acknowledge the influence my pastor, Bill Bradford at Lawndale Presbyterian Church in Tupelo Mississippi, my former pastor Tim Fortner, Paul David Tripp, and others whose insights, illustrations, and language have seeped into my own.
From this passage, here are three things that God has impressed on me in recent years.
1) Our confusion in searching for contentment and satisfaction in life
2) God’s clarity in His purposes and designs
3) His covenant that moves us from confusion to clarity and ultimately to Christ
If you’re old enough to remember the 1980 John Travolta movie, Urban Cowboy, that spawned a mechanical bull-riding craze, you will remember the hit country song “Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places.”
While we may not be guilty of the song’s title, we all tend to look in all the wrong places – not for love – but for life. What I mean by life are those things in the world that we think will satisfy our deepest longing. Paul Tripp calls these our if-only list.
If only my marriage was better; if only I made more money; if only I was smarter; if only I had a better job, a bigger house, or a cooler car; if only I had more well-behaved or successful children; if only my 401K balance was larger; if only I lost 30 pounds; if only I could make a mark in my career and impress my peers … then, I would be content.
But what happens when you do get that raise or when your 401K is growing? What happens when your kid wins that award, or you finally move into that nicer house?
It’s not that those things are somehow inherently evil. Indeed, they are blessings. But do they satisfy?
In Isaiah 55, God says they do not. In fact these can be the kind of things that God describes as “spending money for that which is not bread.” In contrast, the passage encourages us to come and buy wine and milk – symbols of things that do satisfy.
So, what drives our discontentment? Why is it that I can never own enough guitars? Why is it that eventually that 50” TV must be replaced by an 80” version? Why do our jobs, or even our churches or our theology, become idols that define our purpose and identity in life? Why does our search of earthly things always leave us wanting more?
Because the world was never intended to be our savior. The creation was not designed to bring the kind of satisfaction that you and I so deeply hunger for. God never intended the world and all the wonderful things in it to make our hearts content.
God offers clarity
Rather, the purpose of every aspect of creation is to function as one big finger that points to the only place that offers the kind of everlasting peace and well-being that’s wrapped up in the Hebrew word shalom. That place – or rather that person – is God and God alone.
Psalm 19:1 tell us “The heavens declare His glory.” And so does a molecule of DNA, a subatomic particle, a mathematical equation, a sublime musical performance, a journey to another place or culture, a remarkable athlete, an excellent book or movie, a loving circle of family and friends, a wonderful local body of believers, your God-given gifts and talents, your body, and your intellect.
You see, as profound and wonderful as all these things are – they are not game changers but only signs or pointers aimed at the One who offers the ultimate change from dust to glory and yields “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding” (Philippians 4:7). That One is Christ Jesus. Anything or anyone less, the Isaiah passage tells us, is like buying food that we think will nourish but turns out to be empty calories; or toiling all day at a task and accomplishing nothing.
I have experienced that delusion, and I’ll bet you have too. And yet, the world still draws me. If I am honest about my own heart, I know that I cannot resist the temptation to search for my satisfaction in the creation rather than in the Creator. I need help beyond myself. To some degree, are we not all among those who spend money “for that which is not bread?”
So what do we do? First, if you feel the tension of being pulled between satisfaction in God and satisfaction in the world, be thankful. It means He is at work in your life. Without His initiating work, you and I just wouldn’t “get it.” So, even in that tug of war there is hope. There is light and a way forward toward the shalom that only Christ can bring.
In the passage, we see a God who, rather than wagging a scolding finger, comes to us as a loving father. He says:
“Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters.”
“Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food.”
“Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live.” (Emphasis added.)
Those words reveal a compassionate, fatherly God who understands our struggle. And so, rather than wrath, He extends grace as he implores us to “Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price;” “eat what is good,” and delight in the rich bread of life.
Finally, underscoring His mercy, God expresses His covenant of grace as a “steadfast, sure love for David.” If you know the story of David you know that he was a sinful human, an adulterer, a murderer – one who did, in fact, look for love in all the wrong places, and yet the Scripture describes David as a man after God’s own heart (1 Samuel 13:14).
And that is good news for struggling sinners like you and me. That is mercy. That is grace. That is the gospel. And that is the way forward to true peace and contentment, today on March 9 and forever.
Editor’s Note: The above was offered as a staff devotional at AFA on March 9, 2016.