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Isaiah 55:1-9

Isaiah 55:1-­9 is replete with beautiful imagery for preaching during the season of Lent. The text opens with an invitation to all who are thirsty to come and ends with a reminder that God’s ways are higher than our own. In between, we are challenged to understand how a people are moved to seek God in difficult circumstances and find hope for new life. To better understand the text, it is important to grasp the larger context of Isaiah 55. As part of the second major movement in the book, chapters 40­-55 focus on Israel in exile in Babylon. Devastated by the destruction of Jerusalem, they were worn down by deportation to foreign lands. There, by the highways and byways of Babylon, the people faced economic, social, and religious pressure to assimilate to a different way of life, a life that slowly eroded their hope and belief that God remembered them. In the midst of this exilic situation, the prophet calls the weary people to return to God. The call to return is shaped by three distinct movements. First, a call to come, to drink, and eat. Second, a call to listen to the covenant God has made with the witness. Finally, a call to return because God’s ways are greater than human ways.

The first movement of the text focuses on God’s call to come. He proclaims that these weary, downtrodden people should come to the water. (v. 1) Come to the water and drink. This call is important within the larger context of Isaiah chapters 40 through 55, as the image of water has played a significant role. In these chapters, God is referenced as being the one who controls the water (40:12), the one who will not abandon the poor and needy who seek water (41:17), and who opens streams and springs in valleys and makes deserts into ponds (41:18). Later, God reminds Israel of how water is poured out for them on dry ground just as God’s spirit will be poured out on the descendants of Israel (44:3). In 49:10, God promises to lead Israel by springs of water so that they will not grow weary and in 54:9, God recalls the covenant made in the time of Noah, where God promised to never again cover the earth with water and rage against humanity.

Now, in chapter 55, God calls for the people to come and drink. One might wonder why God has to call to the people. Where are they? Why do they have no money? Why are they apparently “spending their possessions on that which does not satisfy?” Taking into consideration the context of the original hearers, it is likely that they are in exile, perhaps feeling abandoned. Perhaps, they have