‘Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost … Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live’ (Isaiah 55:1-3).
Five times in three verses God says, ‘Come’. We find these three verses in Isaiah 55 (a chapter of ‘exquisite beauty’, said Albert Barnes) where God tenderly calls sinners to seek him for pardon and everlasting life.
According to Hebrew scholar E. J. Young, the first ‘come’ (‘Ho’ in the AV) could be translated ‘Alas’. God sees us as desperately thirsty and hungry people and feels deep concern and compassion for us.
Invitation and command
When God says ‘come’ he issues an invitation and a command. To refuse the invitation and disobey the command is to die of spiritual thirst and hunger.
Rejection of this invitation leads to hell. Acceptance leads to heaven. This command is easy enough for a child to understand and to obey. God says, ‘Come to me’ (v. 3) – not to religious ceremony or to church attendance, but to a relationship with him.
Coming to God is depicted as drinking water, wine and milk (v. 1). Water indicates refreshment, wine speaks of exhilaration, and milk signifies nourishment. Coming to God will do our souls good!
Who may come?
God’s invitation is for those who are thirsty and hungry. ‘Come all you who are thirsty, come to the waters … Buy and eat!’ (v. 1). God is pictured as a vendor offering water in a time of scarcity – a familiar sight in the Middle East in Old Testament times.
He is talking here about the thirst and hunger of the soul, a desire to know God and his pardon of our sins.
God also offers forgiveness to those who are poor : ‘Come … you who have no money’ (v. 1). Imagine a shop displaying this notice: ‘Free food for the poor’. God says ‘I have free food for the poor’.
Spiritually we are all poor. We cannot buy God’s love. Yet God says, ‘Come’. Even the rich are poor! It is only those who admit their poverty who enter God’s kingdom.
Thirsting for God
If we are ‘poor’, how can we ‘buy and eat’? (verse 1). We do so by accepting God’s invitation. To accept God’s call we must turn from our sins to the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ (v.v. 6-7).
God invites to his feast those who are unsatisfied. ‘Why do you spend money on what is not bread, and your labour on what does not satisfy?’ (v. 2).
People try various ways to quench their spiritual thirst and to satisfy their soul’s hunger and thirst. But there is no solution until they thirst for God, and no satisfaction unless they come to God through Christ.
Why is it that unbelievers do not hunger and thirst for God? Because they are spiritually dead! God says, ‘Hear me, that your soul may live’ (v. 3). The sinner is physically alive, yet spiritually dead. He needs to be made alive.
Why does God make the poor rich and give life to the dead? The words ‘everlasting covenant’ (v. 3) answers these questions. ‘Wherever the word “covenant” occurs in Scripture’, said John Calvin, ‘we ought at the same time to call to mind the word “grace”.’
Grace means God’s free and undeserved favour and love to all who come to him for pardon – for you also when you come to the Lord.
Those who refuse to come will die of thirst and starvation. They will never know the peace of sins forgiven and the exhilaration of knowing God. They will never experience God’s tender care in their lives.
Thirst now or later
Jesus spoke of a rich man who went to hell because he would not turn from his sins, and of a poor man named Lazarus, a believer, who went to heaven.
In hell the rich man calls to Abraham: ‘Have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire’ (Luke 16:24).
He was thirsting in hell because he had never thirsted for God when he was alive.
How may we escape the plight of the rich man? We must come to God through Jesus Christ, who cried out, ‘I am thirsty’ as he suffered on the cross (John 19:28).
He endured the pains of hell for all who come to God through him. Will you not come to God, who ‘will have mercy’ and ‘freely pardon’ all who come to him in repentance and faith? (v. 7).