“Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have 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 carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food.” (Isaiah 55:1-2)
In our household we use a lot of milk. Not very much wine – hardly any! But we use a lot of milk. We try to keep at least one full gallon of milk in the refrigerator because an open gallon of milk is usually an empty gallon of milk. We go through a lot of bread too. It seems like each member of the family likes a different type of bread; not just brown or white. But country white and 100% grain brown, and the more mundane as well. That does not count the rolls and buns we also use. Yes, milk and bread are frequent purchases; a purchase means someone has to have “labored” for it. We are no different, in that respect, than the writer of Isaiah’s audience.
The writer of Isaiah (using the voice of the Lord) goes on to talk about food items more rich and tasty than just bread and milk. And at no price! Well, sign us up! Of course, bread and milk, and other delicious food are just metaphors for living a contented and well-provided life. Still the question remains – what do we need to do (if not labor) to acquire this life?
“Incline your ear, and come to me; listen, so that you may live. I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David. See, I made him a witness to the peoples, a leader and commander for the peoples.” (Verses 3 – 4)
If we just listen to the Lord, we will be the recipients of the same sort of covenant that the Divine made with King David?! We that sounds pretty good! However . . . . if one stops to think about all that King David went through, maybe it is not as simple and straightforward as it first appears.
Listening to the Lord and living for the Lord comes with its own set of priorities and statutes. It is not a life that is lived out quietly and unobtrusively as it first sounds.
“See, you shall call nations that you do not know, and nations that do not know you shall run to you, because of the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, for he has glorified you.” (Verses 5)
King David lived a life that was constantly on public display. When he did things correctly, his people demanded more of him. And when he did not live correctly all of his mistakes were on display. The writer of Isaiah does not disclose the “price” of the Divine’s bread, milk, and wine. The price is not dollars and cents but living a life that confirms to the Divine, and not to our human frail will. The writer of Isaiah is correct though – our human frail will does not “satisfy”. We labor and pine after things that are not good for us, or more precisely not good for our human spirit and soul.
“Seek the LORD while he may be found, call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake their way, and the unrighteous their thoughts; let them return to the LORD, that he may have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.” (Verses 6 – 7)
And it is these last two verses the outline the difference between our thinking and the Divine’s thinking.
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Verses 8 – 9)
As I remembered and anticipated these last two verses I could not help but think they explain so much about the difference I see in the Almighty that strides through the story of the Israelites and Judahites. Did the writers (the ones that wrote the history of the Israelites and Judahites) assume they knew the “ways of the Lord”? Did Isaiah, then, have a more accurate and attuned perception of the Divine?
Wondering about this, I went back to check in on the biblical commentators. And discovered I differ from them entirely on the meaning of these last two verses. The biblical commentators (actually I only looked up Albert Barnes, but I am sure the others come from the same perspective) take these last two verses as referring to forgiveness and pardon, and that the Divine forgives, pardons, and is merciful in ways that humanity is not. But that does not really connect with how this passage starts – seeking the wrong types of things, listening to the Lord and entering into a covenant like the one David had with God, and having attention brought to you because of the way you live.
What do you think beloved reader? I am not sure that anyone can, or should, say that one interpretation is more correct than another. The ways of the Divine encompass more than just forgiveness and pardon. If that were the case, the only case, we would be free to do whatever we want and still be assured of a pardon. No, it is more complex than that.
Lent is a complex season; recognition of sin and the way we have erred. The example set down by Jesus Christ. The expectations that the Lord God the Divine has. The gnarled and tangled road of the called and chosen people of the Old Testament. The new revelations and teachings in the New Testament. All of it seems to come together during Lent. And we are had pressed to discern it all.
I guess for me, I have to go back to the beginning of the passage. Listen carefully to the Divine. Chose the best way to live according to the example of Jesus Christ. And delight one’s self in living a Godly life. Selah!