“Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.” Isaiah 55:1
It was common in the Bible lands to come across vendors selling water. Water was often scarce in the Bible lands. And so venders would sell water, calling out to those who were thirsty to come and buy their water.
The word of God before us compares the Lord to such a vendor selling water.
“Ho, every one that thirsteth.” This is what the vendors would call out to the crowds. “Ho” means, “let me have your attention.” They would call out to the thirsty. This was what the Lord was doing in Isaiah’s day. He was calling out to those who were thirsty in Judah to whom He had sent His prophet. He is doing this today—calling out to all who are thirsty.
The call of the Lord to the thirsty is, “Come ye to the waters.” We understand that this water is not earthly, physical water. The Lord is not in the business of pedaling earthly water. The water of this passage is obviously the water of salvation. The Lord calls all who are thirsty to come to the waters of salvation to drink deeply of them unto life eternal.
But the thirsty to whom the Lord calls out have no money to buy the waters of salvation. And so the Lord calls out to them to come and buy without money. This water is free to all who are thirsty.
We must come as those who are thirsty but have no money to buy the waters of salvation.
The water of salvation!
Some view the water in this passage to be no more that the physical blessing of God upon Judah with her return to Canaan from the Babylonian captivity. In the first part of his prophecy, Isaiah foretold Judah’s captivity in Babylon on account of her sins. In the latter part Isaiah speaks of Judah’s restoration to Canaan. Some see the water in this passage as referring to the earthly blessings of Canaan for Judah upon her return from captivity. The Lord would return Judah to Canaan, a land well-watered, a land of milk and honey.
However, the water in this passage looks beyond the earthly blessings of Canaan to the greater blessings of salvation through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.
Earlier in his prophecy Isaiah connected the earthly showers that the Lord would bring upon the land to the Spirit whom the Lord would pour out upon the people. “For I will pour water upon him [that is, the land] that is thirsty, and floods upon the dry ground: I will pour my spirit upon thy seed, and my blessing upon thine offspring” (Is. 44:3).
This prophecy of the pouring out of the Spirit was fulfilled on the Jewish day of Pentecost immediately following Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension into heaven.
Consider the following passages.
To the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well Jesus indicated that He possessed the water of salvation. In fact, He claimed to be a well of water springing up unto eternal life, which if a man drank he would never thirst again (John 4:14).
Then, during the Feast of Tabernacles, in which Israel commemorated her wilderness wanderings, “Jesus stood [in the temple] and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink. He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water.” The inspired writer John added by way of explanation, “But this spake he of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive: for the Holy Ghost was not yet given; because that Jesus was not yet glorified” (John 7:37-39).
Finally, some unusual events took place in Jerusalem on the Feast of Pentecost following Jesus’ death. There were the sound of a mighty wind, cloven tongues of fire appearing on the heads of Jesus’ followers, and the gift of speaking the word of God in different tongues. The apostle Peter interpreted these as signs of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit as foretold by the prophet Joel (Acts 2:16-18). The Jesus whose crucifixion the crowd had sought was now risen and glorified. And now He had poured of the Holy Spirit with rich blessings of salvation upon the church, the likes of which the church never before enjoyed.
These rich blessings of salvation through the work of the Spirit are the waters to which the thirsty are called to buy without money and without price. They include the forgiveness of sins and reconciliation with God in the blood of the cross. They include a new life of fellowship and friendship with God in the power of Jesus’ resurrection. They include being kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. They include the final resurrection of the body into glory in the day of the Lord.
To show the richness and fullness of these blessings Isaiah also makes mention of milk and wine. Those who are called to buy water are also called to buy wine and milk. Wine and milk are symbols in Scripture of luxurious living. Water is necessary to sustain life. Wine and milk speak of the riches and luxury of life. The salvation that God provides in Jesus Christ is a life overflowing with the wine and milk of joy and feasting.
The thirst of faith!
One who thirsts for water has a craving for water. We all need water. When we lack water, we become thirsty and desire water. Thirst is one of the greatest cravings that man can experience.
Isaiah is speaking about those who thirst for the waters of salvation. We all have need of the waters of salvation. In Adam we all fell so that we are hopelessly lost in sin, headed for eternal destruction. Without the water of salvation in Jesus Christ we will most certainly perish. However, many do not see their need for this water, do not thirst for it and, in fact, despise it. This is evident from Isaiah’s rebuke to Judah immediately after the call to the thirsty to come to the water of life. “Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread? and your labour for that which satisfieth not?” (Is. 55:2). Here Isaiah expands on the idea of water to include also the bread of life. In Judah there were those who labored for and spent their money not in the pursuit of the water and bread of life but on that which satisfied not, namely, the pleasures of this world. This is due to the depravity of sin. It blinds a person to his real needs.
One thirsts for the water of salvation only when God works faith in the heart of a person. Faith gives one eyes to see the reality of sin and the need for the water of salvation. In that faith one also thirsts for these waters.
But those who thirst for the waters of salvation have no money to buy it. Those who bought water from the vendors in Bible lands needed money. The vendors were in business to make money. Without money you could not have their water. But we have no money to purchase the water of salvation. In our fallen state we are spiritually bankrupt and are not capable of purchasing the water of salvation. Neither our money nor our works are sufficient to purchase the water of salvation. Nor are we deserving of it anyway. We deserve to perish in our sin. Those who have the thirst of faith see this clearly. Many think they can earn or merit the salvation of God by their works and efforts. Others think they are deserving of the water of God’s salvation because of their birth, their baptism, or membership in the church. But those who have faith see that they have nothing with which to purchase the water of salvation. They thirst for it. But they are deeply aware that they can bring nothing to God to purchase it.
The call of God!
The Lord calls to these thirsty, bankrupt souls to come anyway to buy water without price.
To buy something without money or price means to receive it free.
Certainly the waters of salvation have a price. In fact, the price is very high. The price of the waters of salvation is twofold. There must be a bearing away of the terrible wrath of God against sin. And there must be a perfect obedience rendered to God that meets His approval. Since we are not able to pay this price, God did it for His people in Jesus Christ. He caused Jesus Christ to bear away the full penalty of sin all His life long but especially at the cross. And during it all Jesus walked in the perfect obedience we did not and could not. In this way God has purchased and secured the waters of salvation for His elect people.
And He freely gives this precious water to His people. He calls out to His people in their thirst to come to Him to receive the waters of salvation freely, without money and without price. This is a call to acknowledge one’s sin and need for the waters of salvation. It is a call to acknowledge that one has nothing with which to pay. It is a call to seek the waters of salvation only on the basis of the perfect work of Jesus Christ.
This is God’s call to all who are thirsty. And this call is effective. It is by this call that God creates faith and thirst in the hearts and lives of His people. And it is by this call that He also brings the thirsty believer to the waters of salvation that are Jesus Christ. And as they come in faith to Him, the Lord gives freely of the waters of salvation. Freely He forgives all their sins. Graciously He strengthens them to turn from sin to the living God in loving obedience. Tenderly He cares for and preserves them as they pass through the valley of the shadow of death. Most amazingly He draws near to them in His loving friendship and fellowship.
Ho, every one that thirsteth!
Come ye to the waters!
You have no money? Come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price! God has already secured it for you in Jesus Christ!