Verse of the Day 7.12.17 — Isaiah 55:2
2 Why spend money on what is not bread,
and your labor on what does not satisfy?
Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good,
and you will delight in the richest of fare.1
לָמָּה תִשְׁקְלוּ־כֶסֶף בְּלוֹא־לֶחֶם וִיגִיעֲכֶם בְּלוֹא לְשָׂבְעָה שִׁמְעוּ שָׁמוֹעַ אֵלַי וְאִכְלוּ־טוֹב וְתִתְעַנַּג בַּדֶּשֶׁן נַפְשְׁכֶם׃2
Since the late 19th century, it appears that the majority of scholars claim that the book of Isaiah is not the product of one person, but the product of an ‘Isaiah school’ — a group of his disciples who edited the work over the centuries. Many maintain that chapters 40-55 are from the pen of a ‘Second Isaiah’ in the latter part of Israel’s exile in Babylon. Furthermore, chapters 56-66 are thought to come from a ‘Third Isaiah’ who was writing in the post-exilic period of Israelite restoration. Such a view may serve to explain the variances in literary styles and differing historical contexts reflected in the text.3
That being said, after a far from exhaustive survey of the research, I am, at present, inclined to agree with Webb in saying the “account that the book of Isaiah itself gives of its own origins is far more plausible than any alternative that has so far been proposed.”4 As he points out, this minority view is substantiated by Jewish tradition reflected in early Jewish writings, such as The Wisdom of Ben Sira (also known as Ecclesiasticus or Sirach),5 which was most likely written between 196 BC and 175 B.C.6
What are these origins? Apparently, the book of Isaiah is “the vision concerning Judah and Jerusalem that Isaiah son of Amoz saw during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, kings of Judah” (Is 1:1)7 In addition, as Webb notes, “there is clear evidence of editorial activity in the production of the present book, and it makes good sense to attribute this to Isaiah’s disciples.”8. In the years following Isaiah’s death, his disciples plausibly, and faithfully, edited the writings of Isaiah.9
Isaiah, whose name means, “The LORD Saves,” was an 8th-century prophet in Jerusalem in the southern kingdom Judah. Often considered the greatest of the writing prophets,10 Isaiah was called to ministry the year King Uzziah (c. 783-742) died,11 and his ministry lasted until the invasion of the Assyrians in 701 BC.12 Not too long after, Isaiah, according to tradition, was martyred under the reign of king Manasseh — who reigned from around 690 B.C. to 640 B.C.13 All in all, there is good evidence that the large majority of Isaiah was completed (arranged, compiled, etc.) by his disciples within 90 years of his death — before the defeat and exile of the Israelites in Judah at the hand of the Babylonians in 586/7 BC.14
During the time of Isaiah’s ministry, the kingdoms of Israel and Judah were often caught in the crossfire of several major ancient Near Eastern military powers — Egypt, Damascus, and Assyria. When Tiglath-pileser III became the king of Assyria in 745 BC, he embarked on several expansive conquests.15 By 738 BC, Tiglath-pileser III was exacting tribute from Damascus and Israel16— for the northern kingdom (Israel) and the southern kingdom (Judah) split following the reign of King Solomon (c. 970-930 BC).17
In 734 BC, King Rezin of Damascus joined forces with King Pekah of Israel to revolt against Assyria. The two endeavored to convince King Ahaz of Judah to join their coalition, but Ahaz refused. Damascus and Israel then invaded Judah, after which Ahaz sought help directly from King Tglath-peleser III. The Assyrian King then conquered Damascus and forced Israel to become an Assyrian province.18 Eventually, Israel was conquered completely (c. 722) by Assyrian king, Shalmaneser V (reigned 726-722 BC), and its inhabitants were exiled to Assyria by Shalmaneser’s successor, King Sargon II19 (reigned 721-705 BC). 20
When King Hezekiah (reigned 715 BC – 687 BC) of Judah refused to pay the normal tribute payment to the Assyrians following the crowning of King Sennacherib in 705 BC, the Assyrians, in response, invaded Palestine (Isaiah 36, 37). On the brink of impending destruction, the people of Judah were delivered by an angel of the LORD who killed 185,000 Assyrian soldiers (Is 37:36, 37), decimating Sennacherib’s army.21
After Hezekiah showed the treasures of his palace in Judah to the messengers of the king of Babylon (Is 39:1-4), Isaiah warned that the Babylonians would one day take those very treasures (Is 39:5-6). In addition, Isaiah accurately prophesied that the Babylonians would take the very people of Judah, carrying them into exile (Is 39:7)(the period of Babylonian exile lasted from 586 BC – 539 BC). The prophet also foretold, however, that the Babylonians would be defeated, and Judah delivered, by an “anointed one” named Cyrus (Is 44:28; 45:1-5).22
A Persian king named Cyrus (reigned 559-530 BC) defeated Babylon in 539 BC and allowed all of the former exiles in Babylon to return to their homelands and worship their gods. This is supported by an inscription in the ‘Cyrus Cylinder’, which was discovered by archaeologist Hormuzd Rassam while excavating ancient Babylon from 1879-1882.23 This also corroborates the Old Testament accounts that tell of the decree King Cyrus made to allow exiles to return to rebuild Jerusalem and the temple (2 Ch 36:22-23; Ez 1:1-3; 6:2-5).24
At least part of the reason many claim that Isaiah was written by several aforementioned “Isaiahs” from before, during, and after the Babylonian exile, is to explain away the notion of divinely-inspired prophecy. However, as Webb writes, “Only a dogmatic adherence to a particular view of the nature of prophecy would allow it to decide the issue.”25 Presupposing naturalism naturally biases one’s view of any sort of evidence.
Structure: The book of Isaiah is predominantly written in poetic verse (chapters 1-35, 40-66). In the middle of the work, however, resides a pivotal section of prose containing a shift in focus from the aforementioned failed Assyrian invasion and the forthcoming Babylonian invasion.26 Some divide the book into the Book of the King (chapters 1-37), the Book of the Servant (chapters 38-55), and the Book of the Conqueror (chapters 56-66).27
Without going into too much detail, here is a possible outline of Isaiah from H.G.M. Williamson:
- Chapter 1 — Introduction
- Chapters 2-12 — Programmatic Statement
- Chapters 13-27 — Oracles Concerning the Nations
- Chapters 28-39 — Headlong to Disaster
- Chapters 40-55 — “Comfort My People!”
- Chapters 56-66 — The Reordering of a Godly Society28
After describing the ways in which Judah was almost destroyed by Sennacherib and the Assyrians in chapters 28-39, in chapters 40-48, as previously mentioned, Isaiah foretells of the coming invasion by, and deliverance from, the Babylonians at hands of Cyrus — God’s anointed shepherd (Is 44:28; 45:1).29
In chapters 49-55, in which this verse is located, Isaiah foretells of God’s servant who will restore the nation of Israel, gather the scattered tribes of the Jacob, and be a light for the Gentiles, “that [God’s] salvation may reach to the ends of the earth” (Is. 49:6). This Servant will suffer in order to bear the sins of many and make intercession for the transgressors (Is 52:13-15; 53:12).30
Isaiah 55:2 is at the end of the section in Isaiah meant to bring comfort, hope, and encouragement to the people of Israel. Its immediate context is an “Invitation to Participate in God’s Provisions and Covenant (55:1–5)”31. And, it lies in a broader section pertaining to God’s grace and covenant that causes repentant sinners to rejoice (55:1-13).
The banquet feast (Is 55:1-2):32 Here, Isaiah explains that the benefits of God’s grace and covenant are not just for the people of Israel; all the nations will be invited to the metaphorical feast. In this prophecy, The LORD says Come! Come to all who are thirsty and have no money. God is inviting everyone to buy wine and milk at no cost (Is 55:1) — for the Servant has paid the cost.33
Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy?: “spend money.” more literally translated, means: weigh out silver in order to exchange for goods.34
What sense would it make to buy food that will not nourish? To work for something that does not satisfy?35 Only the food that God provides freely will be of lasting satisfaction…
Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and you will delight in the richest of fare: …that is why God implores for people to listen, listen to Him! For the food God provides, unlike that from any other chef, affords one lasting satisfaction. So much so, one’s soul will delight in God’s abundant riches.36 This good food entails God’s mercy and pardon (Is 55:6-7).37.
Summary: The invitation to God’s eschatological (eschatology is “teaching about ‘the last things’38— the end times) banquet is being extended to all people. There is no cost for the food, and no need to spend money and labor on other, inferior food — food that does not satisfy. The food of God’s mercy and pardon are freely given to all who listen.
Want to memorize Isaiah 55:2? Using the How to Memorize Any Bible Verse in Less Than Five Minutes method, you can do so quickly and easily. Watch the video tutorial below:
Though Isaiah foresaw the coming Babylonian invasion and exile, he also foresaw the salvation of not only Israel, but ultimately of all nations. One can reasonably infer that the Suffering Servant who was pierced for our transgressions (Is 53:5) is Jesus Christ our Lord. He is the one who came that we may have life — an ultimately abundant life (Jn 10:10).
In Christ alone lies true satisfaction, godly contentment. In fact, in context, this is what Paul means when says that he can do all things through Christ who gives him strength (Php 4:12-13): Christian contentment.
So, why should we spend money on material things that do not nourish us, or work for things that will not satisfy? Why should we serve the false idols of selfish ambition, material success, popularity, temporal pleasure, and the like? Only God can satiate our spiritual hunger and thirst. We need only repent (turn away from our old ways and turn to God) and listen to God, who will freely provide abundantly satisfying food: bread of life (Jn 6:35) and living water (Jn 4:13) that affords us eternal life.
- The New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), Is 55:2.
- The Hebrew Bible: Andersen-Forbes Analyzed Text (Francis I. Andersen; A. Dean Forbes, 2008), Is 55:2.
- Barry Webb, The Message of Isaiah: On Eagles’ Wings, ed. J. A. Motyer and Derek Tidball, The Bible Speaks Today (England: Inter-Varsity Press, 1996), 33.
- Webb, 37
- D. A. deSilva, “Sirach,” ed. Craig A. Evans and Stanley E. Porter, Dictionary of New Testament Background: A Compendium of Contemporary Biblical Scholarship (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 1117.
- The New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), Is 1:1.
- Webb, 34
- Herbert M. Wolf, “Isaiah, Book Of,” Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1988), 1047.
- J. Kenneth Kuntz, “Uzziah (Person),” ed. David Noel Freemadman, The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary (New York: Doubleday, 1992), 777.
- F. L. Cross and Elizabeth A. Livingstone, eds., The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 854.
- Cross and Livingstone, 854
- Webb, 35
- B. E. Kelle and B. A. Strawn, “History of Israel 5: Assyrian Period,” ed. Bill T. Arnold and H. G. M. Williamson, Dictionary of the Old Testament: Historical Books (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2005), 467.
- Wolf, 1047
- Cross and Livingstone, 1526
- Wolf, 1047
- A. Kirk Grayson, “Shalmaneser (Person),” ed. David Noel Freedman, The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary (New York: Doubleday, 1992), 1155.
- A. Kirk Grayson, “Sargon (Person),” ed. David Noel Freedman, The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary (New York: Doubleday, 1992), 984.
- Wolf, 1047
- Wolf, 1047
- Walter A. Elwell and Barry J. Beitzel, “Cyrus the Great,” Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1988), 563-65.
- Elwell and Beitzel, 563-65
- Webb, 36
- Webb, 30
- J. Alec Motyer, Isaiah: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 20, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1999), 17-21
- H. G. M. Williamson, “Isaiah: Book of,” ed. Mark J. Boda and Gordon J. McConville, Dictionary of the Old Testament: Prophets (Downers Grove, IL; Nottingham, England: IVP Academic; Inter-Varsity Press, 2012), 364-66
- Williamson, 366
- Williamson, 366
- Gary Smith, Isaiah 40-66, vol. 15B, The New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2009), 335.
- Webb, 217
- Motyer, 217
- שָׁקַל (šā·qǎl) James Swanson, Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains : Hebrew (Old Testament) (Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997).
- Smith. 495
- Smith, 495
- Motyer, 217
- David Noel Freedman, ed., “Eschatology,” The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary (New York: Doubleday, 1992), 575.