“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. 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.” Isaiah 55.1-2.
In the KJV, this morning’s reading starts of with “Ho!” … and that “Ho!” is important. It is there in the Hebrew — “Hoy! Everyone who’s thirsty! Come to the water!” (not “waters” — mayim is a plural singular). For this is the cry of the sakkah, the water-seller. In the Eastern world of Isaiah’s day, water was not readily available. The nearest well or spring could be 20 miles away, so (particularly in the hot, dry months from the end of April through to December) water was very scarce and precious; and the itinerant water-sellers (sakkahs) who wandered the streets of the towns and villages were very important. They carried their water in vessel of porous clay which kept the water cool by a process of evaporation, and they poured it out over their shoulder through a long spout into metal cups they carried in their hands. The water seller would tinkle the cups together as he shouted: “Hoy! Everyone who’s thirsty. Come to the water!” But in the street markets, there was not only water but food on sale (“and eat”) as well as milk and wine that was kept in skin bottles (Judges 4.19, Matthew 9.17).
So God speaks here, through the prophet Isaiah, to the Jews exiled in Babylon where, in the Jewish enclaves, cries such as that of the water-seller are heard every day. “Water! Figs! Dates! Bread! Milk! Pomegranites! Wine! Roll up, roll up. Ho! Hoy!” For he sees that his people are settling down there … starting to prosper … getting comfortable in that distant land. And he knows that if they get too comfortable they will lose their passion for him. They will begin to buy luxury goods (“what is not bread”) which can bring no lasting satisfaction. So God now cries out too in the market place in Babylon for anyone who has ears to hear. And his cry to them is to buy things in which their souls can delight. Water, milk and wine.
In The Message it reads: “Hey there! All who are thirsty, come to the water! Are you penniless? Come anyway — buy and eat! Come, buy your drinks, buy wine and milk. Buy without money — everything’s free! Why do you spend your money on junk food, your hard-earned cash on candyfloss? Listen to me, listen well: Eat only the best, fill yourself with only the finest.”
But here’s the first question that occurs to me. How do you “buy without money”?
Perhaps it is a way of saying that God’s gifts are never just give-aways that he showers on people whether they want them or not — like free sample sachets of some new mayonnaise that are pushed through the letterbox. I have to want his good things enough to be prepared to buy them. In the Gospel we are told that it’s the hungry he fills with good things, but the rich he sends empty away (Luke 1.53). Psalm 81.10 says “Open your mouth wide and I will fill it” and, by implication, if I have a closed mouth it will remain empty and I’ll remain hungry. God will not push food through the tight lips of stubborn babies in high-chairs. Hence the “everyone who’s thirsty”. It’s the same cry that is taken up by Jesus in John 7.37: “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink.” And it is a cry that is universal in its invitation: “The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come!’ And let him who hears say, ‘Come!’ Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life” (Revelation 22.17).
That is, perhaps, a good point at which to stop today; though there is so much in this reading that I think I will return to it tomorrow.
Seek ye the Lord all ye people,
tum to Him while He is near;
let the wicked forsake his own way,
and call on Him while He may hear.
Ho everyone who is thirsty,
come to the waters of life;
come and drink of the milk and the wine,
come without money and price.
And there is peace like a river,
and glory divine,
if you’ll come to the water,
if you’ll taste of His wine.
There is love ever flowing,
and joy ever full;
and there’s life everlasting
for us all.