Committed to Seeking God
2 Corinthians 9:10–15
After participating in this lesson, each student will be able to:
1. Tell what Isaiah says God expects of a holy people.
2. Compare the moral climate called forth in Isaiah 55 with the moral climate of his or her own society.
3. Create a prayer list of people who need to heed the invitation to accept Christ.
How to Say It
Ezekiel. Ee-ZEEK-ee-ul or Ee-ZEEK-yul.
Daily Bible Readings
Monday, June 18—Parable of the Great Banquet (Luke 14:15–24)
Tuesday, June 19—God’s Banquet (Isaiah 25:6–10)
Wednesday, June 20—The Year of the Lord (Isaiah 61:1–6)
Thursday, June 21—Delight in the Lord (Isaiah 61:7–11)
Friday, June 22—Blessed to Bless (2 Corinthians 9:10–15)
Saturday, June 23—God Invites Us (Isaiah 55:1–5)
Sunday, June 24—Seek the Lord (Isaiah 55:6–11)
Seek the Lord while he may be found; call on him while he is near.
Why Teach this Lesson?
Your students probably already know many words and phrases that describe the heavenly father’s character. He abounds in goodness, loving-kindness, and mercy. He is just, righteous, and holy. Despite this magnificent list, most of us don’t trust him as much as we could. Why don’t we seek him more? Why don’t we follow him more faithfully? Today’s lesson sketches for us more fully the character of our heavenly father. It will encourage your students to seek him in ever deeper ways.
A. The Dream Team
The film The Dream Team is a 1989 comedy about mental patients who meet for group therapy. When their psychiatrist takes them on an outing, he witnesses a slaying and is nearly killed by the perpetrators. The group, not knowing what happened to their doctor, is left in New York City alone. They soon learn they are wanted both for the slaying and for the attempted murder of their doctor, who has ended up in a hospital.
The humor results from the need of this “dream team” to grapple with reality. How will they find their way out of the trouble they are in? In our days of psychiatrists, support groups, and self-help books, it sometimes makes us wonder where previous generations got mental and emotional help. What did Christians do in all those centuries before professional Christian counselors came along?
Once I came across an ancient work entitled Conferences. It was written by John Cassian, a monk who lived about a.d. 365–433. In this book, monastery leaders are portrayed as meeting with Cassian in groups to discuss issues of how to live the Christian life. In other words, they would counsel together for the spiritual benefit of themselves and for those to whom they ministered. Those with greater spiritual maturity could help guide others.
Today’s lesson also offers us a picture of members of a group coming together for counseling. Chief among the group members are the future Jewish exiles. The prophet Isaiah writes 100 years before the Babylonian exile, but Isaiah knows that the Judeans will find themselves in deep trouble. They will not know where to turn.
The counselor, however, is the Lord himself. His wisdom and knowledge are infallible. We often wonder, as though in a dream, where to turn in times of trouble. God often uses our Christian friends who are wise enough to help us deal with reality. At other times he provides those with professional training to help. But behind any of these counselors must be the wisdom of the Lord, who alone can bring hope from despair.
B. Lesson Background
In last week’s text, the Lord sought to shock Judah into repentance. Their acts of worship were in vain unless their lives demonstrated inward purity and outward righteousness. Isaiah’s ministry was a call to repentance. Failure to repent meant destruction. Isaiah was told two things about Judah. First, since his preaching would fall on deaf ears, destruction would occur. (In fact, it did in 586 b.c.) Second, in order to keep his covenant, the Lord would preserve a remnant of faithful people in spite of this destruction (Isaiah 6:8–13). This remnant was the exiles surviving the Babylonian captivity, which ended in 539 b.c. This week’s lesson stresses that message again.
The first section of Isaiah, chapters 1–39, is mostly judgment. The second section, chapters 40–66, is mostly blessing; almost all of it is poetry (except for 66:17–24), which means there is much use of figures of speech. Commentators have proposed many different outlines of these last 27 chapters, but most see 3 units of 9 chapters each. Isaiah 55 falls within the second unit, namely Isaiah 49–57. One way to look at these chapters is as a group discussion involving five parties: the Lord, the Messiah, Isaiah, Zion, and the Gentile nations.
The fourth party requires a little discussion. Zion can refer specifically to the city of Jerusalem, but also may be used to refer to the nation as a whole. In this part of Isaiah, Zion probably refers to the faithful remnant in the (to them, future) Babylonian exile. This remnant is idealized in those who accept the Messiah.
During the discussion, the Lord reveals the fact, method, and scope of his salvation. In Isaiah 55, the reader must identify speakers and those being addressed by carefully noting the pronouns and then identifying the main point.
I. Blessing Offered (Isaiah 55:1–5)
A. Invitation (vv. 1, 2)
1. “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.
The phrase “come to me” in verse 3 (below) leaves no doubt that it is the Lord speaking. He is the one offering the covenant. The people of Judah are the ones being addressed as the plural all you shows.
The first address, to those who are thirsty, describes those who are invited to come to the waters; those who have need will be satisfied (compare Revelation 21:6; 22:17). The second address, to those who have no money, refers to those who are in abject poverty; they will need no money to buy what they need. What a future the Lord promises!
The word wine is used in both positive and negative ways in the Old Testament. Isaiah 56:12 offers us a negative sense, but in the verse before us the image is plainly positive. Milk also symbolizes great blessing (compare Exodus 3:8). Wine and milk are found together in Song of Songs 5:1 as a great delicacy. The Lord is calling his people to buy these desirable things at no cost to them, a symbol of plenty provided by the Lord.
Guaranteed water is comfort for the poor and needy (Isaiah 41:17–20); wine is a part of the feast that celebrates for all people the end of death forever (Isaiah 25:6–8); milk is a symbol of blessing in the promised kingdom of the one born of a virgin (Isaiah 7:14, 22). Isaiah 55:2, 3 (below) make clear that these are symbols here as well. To recognize these as figures of speech is not to make them unreal. On the contrary, what they symbolize is very real and very important.
Though water, wine, and milk will have literal significance for the future returnees from the Babylonian exile, Isaiah can use these images to symbolize spiritual blessing. The return from the Babylonian exile many years after Isaiah writes will indeed be a blessing for God’s people.
The church age, inaugurated at Christ’s first coming, is the beginning of a much more profound period of blessing. Being saved from the guilt and sickness of sin is something no one has money enough to buy. Thanks be to God for his gracious free gift that saves us from our spiritual poverty!
What Do You Think?
How has God quenched your own spiritual hunger and thirst? Did you find this surprising? Explain.
Buy Without Money
There was a time in my younger days when I had a powerful financial fantasy. We were struggling with money problems, as happens often to young couples raising a family on one income. My fantasy was that I had become a personal friend to the owner of a major department store, and I had been given a special card that permitted me to enter the store at any time. I could take whatever I wanted and never be charged for it. All my money problems would magically disappear, since I could now acquire whatever I needed (or wanted!) and never have to pay for it.
Then I realized that some people believe they have a card like this. It’s called a credit card. They can go into any store, acquire whatever they need (or want!) and not have to pay for it. The major difference, however, is that ultimately they do have to pay for it. That’s the reality of credit cards.
But Isaiah describes a situation much more like my original fantasy. God gives us a situation where we can buy without money. In fact, the items do not even have prices and there will never be a monthly statement. God supplies all the spiritual items we could ever need or want, and his credit covers them all. Do you live with that truth in mind? —J. B. N.
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 your soul will delight in the richest of fare.
To spend money or exert one’s own labor summarizes the human pursuit for happiness. The Lord uses a rhetorical question to stress that these yield what is not really bread. Whatever the Judeans are striving for is not food that truly nourishes. It does not satisfy the deepest human need.
What Do You Think?
What are some ways that people today spend money for that which does not satisfy? How can we guard ourselves against stumbling into such foolishness?
The urgently repeated command to listen means to understand and heed. The structure of the Hebrew indicates that both of the next two statements will be the results of obeying him. First, the readers will eat what is good. Second, they will experience delight in the richest of fare.
These images may be taken in a physical sense, since the future exiles will return physically to “the land of milk and honey” that the Lord provides. But as figures of speech the implications are much more profound: godly living will bring great spiritual blessings. To take the promise merely in a physical sense would be to miss the main message.
B. Benefits (v. 3)
3. “Give ear and come to me;
hear me, that your soul may live.
I will make an everlasting covenant with you,
my faithful love promised to David.
Every parent knows the frustration of giving instructions and warnings to a child, only to have the child blithely skip off to do whatever he or she wants to do anyway. That must be how God feels on occasion. The people will behave sinfully right in the midst of the exile itself! Yet the result of their coming back to the Lord will be that he will make an everlasting covenant.
That which is promised to David is mentioned also in Acts 13:34. There the idea is applied to the resurrection of the Messiah. The name David usually refers to the human king in historical writings. David may also stand for his royal descendant. However, David is sometimes used by the prophets in an ultimate sense as a title for the Messiah (see Jeremiah 30:9; Ezekiel 34:23, 24; 37:24, 25; Hosea 3:5). The next two verses offer clues as to which the Lord intends here.
Visual for Lesson 4
Keep this map of the Babylonian Empire posted for several lessons to help your students gain a geographical perspective.
C. Agent (vv. 4, 5)
4. “See, I have made him a witness to the peoples,
a leader and commander of the peoples.
The tense of have made does not rule out a later event; the context is future. Therefore the historical King David cannot be in view. A strictly human king of the line of David could be possible, except that no such ruler is ever the cause of the actions in verse 5, below. Therefore, the name David as used in verse 3 (him here in v. 4) seems to refer to the ideal, ultimate one: the Messiah. As witness to the love of God, the Messiah will make plain God’s love to his people. As leader and commander, the Messiah is qualified to rule the peoples.
5. “Surely you will summon nations you know not,
and nations that do not know you will hasten to you,
because of the Lord your God,
the Holy One of Israel,
for he has endowed you with splendor.”
As we work through our lesson text, remember that we are trying to figure out who is speaking and who is being spoken to at every point. Here the word you may refer to Zion being spoken to. If so, then the Lord’s future kingdom, redeemed Zion, will call a nation it previously did not know. This seems to look forward to the time when redeemed Zion is the church.
If you refers ultimately to the church, then will summon refers to the preaching of the gospel by the church, and will hasten refers to the Gentiles’ inclusion into the church. From Isaiah’s perspective, this will happen because of the Lord your God. From our perspective, this has indeed happened and continues to happen.
The phrase for he has endowed you with splendor probably also refers to redeemed Zion and to the church. Isaiah 46:13 predicts the glorification of redeemed Zion (Israel; see also Isaiah 61:3). Romans 11:11–24 describes the glorification of the church in terms of a restored relationship between God and all believers, both Jewish and Gentile.
We should realize, however, that it is also attractive to understand you as indicating that the Lord now turns to speak to “David,” meaning the Messiah, while in the presence of Zion. If this is the case, then it is the Messiah who will call nations to the Lord; the nations will run to the Lord because he will have glorified his Son (see Acts 3:13; Hebrews 1:1–3). Hebrews 5:5 implies that the Son was glorified by the Father. Under this idea, the divine Messiah calls a nation that you know not and nations that do not know you in the sense of establishing relationships. The Messiah will indeed have that relationship with the Gentiles under the new covenant. That relationship was not really a part of the old covenant (Hosea 1:10; 2:23; both quoted in Romans 9:25-26; see also 1 Peter 2:10).
II. Acceptance Urged (Isaiah 55:6-7)
A. Seeking Required (v. 6)
6. Seek the Lord while he may be found;
call on him while he is near.
The speaker is now the prophet Isaiah. This is indicated in verse 7 (below), where he refers to “our God.” The idea in the verse before us is not that the reader should seek God before God moves away and becomes distant. Rather, the idea is for the readers to seek God while their hearts are soft and willing to believe. They need to seek him and grow in their faith. In Hebrew poetry, the center of a poem often is the main point. Isaiah’s urge to Zion is the center of the chapter. Therefore, this appeal to seek the Lord is the main point.
B. Forsaking Required (v. 7)
7. Let the wicked forsake his way
and the evil man his thoughts.
Let him turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on him,
and to our God, for he will freely pardon.
Isaiah tells Zion that two things are involved in seeking the Lord. First, the wicked must forsake his way; that means that unrighteous lifestyles are to be left behind. Second, the evil man must forsake his thoughts; this is a challenge to abandon the internal sins of the heart. These are summarized with the challenge to turn to the Lord … and to our God. The results of returning to the Lord are twofold: first, the Lord will have mercy on the one who does so. Second, the Lord will freely pardon.
What comfort this must bring the exiles while they are suffering! They will be in exile some 70 years. When that time comes (in about 100 years from Isaiah’s perspective), many will see no hope of restoration. The years will drag on and on. Well may they wonder, “Has the Lord rejected us forever?”
The Lord affirms that there is abundant forgiveness. Even so, every individual outside of Christ today is God’s enemy. Once one learns the reality and depth of the life of sin—a life governed by self without God—one asks the same question, “Is there no hope for what I have done in rejecting God?” The good news is that there is the “wonderful grace of Jesus, greater than all my sin.”
What Do You Think?
Was there a time when God restored you after you returned to him? What did the restoration involve?
III. Unfailing Word Affirmed (Isaiah 55:8–11)
A. Thoughts and Ways (vv. 8, 9)
8, 9. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.
Clearly the Lord has resumed as speaker because it is the Lord’s thoughts that are unsurpassed. That he is speaking to Zion is clear because the pronoun your in Hebrew is plural.
What Do You Think?
What are some specific areas in which you have had to admit that God’s thoughts and ways surpass your own? What happened when you finally made that admission?
The fact that God’s thoughts are so far beyond ours has at least two applications. First, this fact can give us hope when we see no way out of trouble. God can see a way out when we can’t. Second, this fact should make us humble about our own ability to know. When we are “sure” that we know the motives of others who have hurt us, we ought to remember that only God truly knows the human heart (Jeremiah 17:9-10).
His Thoughts, And Ours
Enrico Fermi (1901–1954) was an Italian immigrant and nuclear physicist who played an important role in building America’s atomic bomb. His brilliance was evident early in his career. He received his PhD in 1922 at the age of 21. At his graduation ceremony he gave a lecture that put some of his professors to sleep; it was more intricate than they could follow.
He was present at the explosion of the first atomic bomb on July 16, 1945. With others, he was safely some distance away at the moment of explosion. Most of the witnesses were transfixed by the nature of the explosion itself. But Fermi was focused on determining the amount of power that the explosion released. Fermi dropped pieces of paper before, during, and after the passage of the blast wave. By measuring their displacement, he was able to estimate the strength of the blast.
We can see the grandeur of God’s creation, and that is well and good as far as it goes (Psalm 19:1). Yet we can miss the power and force of his values if we’re not careful. His thoughts and ways are indeed far beyond our own, and one of his highest values is the repentance of the sinner and the power of forgiveness. Though none of us saw the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, the immeasurable power of the cross still reaches us. —J. B. N.
B. Intent and Outcome (vv. 10, 11)
10, 11. “As the rain and the snow
come down from heaven,
and do not return to it
without watering the earth
and making it bud and flourish,
so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,
so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.”
The Lord illustrates the certainty of his word by referring to rain and snow … from heaven in relationship to what gives life on earth. The phrase do not return to it brings out the point that the precipitation does not go back into heaven without having a useful effect.
Verse 11 is the lesson to be learned from the illustration. Precipitation from above corresponds to the Lord’s Word that goes out from his mouth. He sends it down to earth through his prophets, but his word does not return to him without effect. Rather, it accomplishes what he intends.
What Do You Think?
What purposes of God’s Word are being accomplished right now in your life? in your church?
I do not have a reputation in my family for always being able instinctively to find my way around while traveling. Since I know this, I (unlike many men) do not have any qualms about stopping to ask directions. However, some people are better at giving directions than others. Upon finishing the description, he or she may utter those often-heard words, “You can’t miss it.” Since on occasion I have indeed “missed it,” those words do not offer me much comfort!
However, the Lord is saying to the exiles who will experience his punishment, “If you listen to what I say, if you give up trusting in your own ways, and if you seek me, then restoration will occur. Its scope will be beyond anything you can imagine. And this restoration is as certain as my word: you can’t miss it.”
His directions are clear: seek him. This always leads home. This was comfort to the faithful remnant. It is comfort to all who seek the Lord today.
Thought to Remember
“How great is the love the Father has lavished on us” (1 John 3:1).
Dear Father, We thank you for being absolutely trustworthy and effective. For all the times we still struggle with wanting to run our own lives apart from you, we ask your forgiveness. We, the most defiled, thank you for the relationship you have built with us through Christ, the Messiah, in whose name we pray, amen.
Underwood, Jonathan ; Nickelson, Ronald L. ; Underwood, Jonathan: New International Version Standard Lesson Commentary : 2006-2007. Cincinnati : Standard Publishing