Isaiah 55:1-13

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55:1. Masoretic Text: Hey, every thirsty one, come to the waters. And he who has no silver, come, buy, and eat. Come, buy wine and milk without silver and without price.

Septuagint: O thirsty ones, go to the water, and as many as do not have silver, go, buy, and drink wine and fat without silver and price.

According to the Targum of Isaiah, this is an invitation to all desiring to learn so that they might receive instruction that is better than wine and milk.

The Septuagint reference to “fat” is possibly to be understood as meaning rich milk.


YHWH is represented as extending an appeal to all who are desirous of refreshment and nourishment. This is not an invitation to partake of literal water and food but an invitation to share in his provisions for bringing refreshment, satisfying needs, and effecting liberation from all forms of affliction. (See John 7:37 regarding the same appeal that Jesus Christ made.) Those who ardently desired an approved relationship with YHWH could accept his invitation by repentantly turning to him and looking to him as the one who would supply everything they needed.

Silver was the common medium of exchange at that time. YHWH offered his generous provisions without cost. Persons without silver or lacking the means for making purchases did not find themselves at a disadvantage. All those wishing to do so could avail themselves of the generous offer to obtain all that would bring lasting joy (comparable to the cheering effect of wine), and that would serve to strengthen them (comparable to being able to partake of “milk,” “fat,” or rich and nourishing fare).

55:2. Masoretic Text: Why do you weigh out silver for [what is] not bread and [give] your labor for what does not satisfy? Listen to listen to me, and eat [what is] good, and delight your soul in fatness.

Septuagint: What do you value for silver, and [why do you expend] your toil not for satisfaction? Listen to me and you will eat [what is] good, and your soul will delight in good things.

The literal reading “listen, to listen,” denotes to listen attentively, and the expression “your [plural] soul” denotes “you yourselves.”


The Israelites had looked to sources other than YHWH as the means for assuring their well-being and had done so at a high cost. Prior to the exile, they had engaged in idolatrous practices and made alliances with foreign powers. They used silver and gold to fashion images of nonexistent deities and a variety of cultic objects, and they paid tribute to procure the protection of foreign powers. (2 Kings 16:7-9; Hosea 2:8)

Although they had weighed out silver to obtain what they thought would benefit them, they received nothing of value, nothing that was comparable to the bread or food that is essential for sustaining life. They labored, but the wages from their labor did not serve to acquire what filled their needs.

The people needed to consider why they had been willing to expend resources and energies for what had brought them no satisfaction and then to change their ways. If they listened to YHWH, responded to his guidance and commands, they would be richly blessed. Their situation would then be like that of persons who would be able to partake of food that is good for them and would find joy in “fatness,” in “good things” (LXX), or in the abundance that YHWH would supply for them to live in the fullest sense as his approved people.

The Septuagint question as to what the people valued for silver could be understood to refer to things they considered to be of sufficient value in order to pay money for them.

55:3. Masoretic Text: Incline your ear and come to me. Listen, and your soul may live. And I will conclude a covenant with you for limitless time, the enduring kindnesses [chésed] to David, the ones [that are] true.

Septuagint: Pay attention with your ears and follow my ways. Listen to me, and your soul will live in good things, and I will conclude an eternal covenant with you, the holy things of David, the trustworthy things.


To enjoy the well-being resulting from an approved relationship with YHWH, individuals needed to abandon their former ways, to pay attention to his law and the guidance he provided through his prophets, and to come to him as repentant persons. Listening would denote obediently responding to YHWH’s commands. For the individual doing so, this would mean life for his “soul” or for himself. This would not signify just a mere continuance of life but would be a meaningful life as a person enjoying YHWH’s love, care, and safeguarding. According to the Septuagint, the “soul” would “live in good things” or be in a state of well-being and a recipient of God’s abundant blessings.

The plural form of the Hebrew word chésed, here rendered “enduring kindnesses,” is descriptive of a compassionate concern that is manifest in positive action and can always be depended upon. These enduring kindnesses relate to the covenant promises YHWH conveyed to David through the prophet Nathan. They included the promise that his royal line would continue, implying that the Messiah would come through David’s line of descent. (2 Samuel 7:4-16) The covenant promises were, as rendered in the Septuagint, “holy things,” for they had YHWH, the Holy One of Israel, as their source. They were certain to be fulfilled, for they were “true” or “trustworthy.”

All who repentantly return to YHWH would be brought into an enduring covenant with him, a covenant that is directly linked to the one made with David and which ultimately found its fulfillment in Jesus, the promised Messiah. Accordingly, one may rightly conclude that the covenant is the new covenant. The beneficiaries of the new covenant are forgiven of their sins and reconciled to God as beloved children. (Jeremiah 31:31-34)

55:4. Masoretic Text: Look! I have given him as a witness to the peoples, a leader and commander for the peoples.

Septuagint: Look! I have given him as a witness among the nations, a ruler and one commanding for nations.


A number of translations render the words of this verse so as to apply to David. “I made David a witness of my power for all nations, a ruler and commander of many nations.” (NCV) “As I made him a witness to peoples, a leader and commander of peoples, so shall you summon a nation you knew not.” (NAB)

It appears preferable, however, to regard these words as pointing to the promised Messiah. The link to the Messiah fits the previous reference to the “enduring kindnesses of David,” for these kindnesses related to future developments. Jesus, as the promised Messiah, did serve as a witness. By his life course, teaching, sacrificial death, and resurrection, he confirmed undeniably that the covenant promises made to David were true. As the benefits of what he accomplished were not limited to the Israelites but were made available to people of all the nations, he proved to be a witness to the nations. As King of kings and Lord of lords, he is both a ruler and a commander for them.

55:5. Masoretic Text: Look! A nation that you do not know you will call, and a nation that does not know you will run to you, because of YHWH your God, and the Holy One of Israel, for he has glorified you.

Septuagint: Nations that did not know you will call upon you, and peoples that are unacquainted with you will flee to you because of your God, the Holy One of Israel, for he has glorified you.

According to the interpretation in the Targum of Isaiah, the reason for a nation’s running is to pay tribute.


In verse 3, the plural “you” applies to those with whom the covenant is concluded. Here, in verse 5, the “you” is singular. The change from the plural “you” to the singular “you” may be taken to indicate that it is not a collective singular designating Jacob or Israel, or those whom YHWH recognizes as being his people. In case both verses did refer to those who come to have a divinely approved standing, one would expect the “you” to be plural in both occurrences. When regarded as applying to the Messiah in the royal line of David, the words of verse 5 may be understood to be YHWH’s expression concerning him.

People of the nations did not know about the coming Messiah. So he did not know them as having any relationship with him. Nevertheless, initially, through his Jewish disciples, Jesus, the promised Messiah or Christ, called or invited people of the nations to be reconciled to God on the basis of their faith in him and the forgiveness of sins that his sacrificial death for them made possible. According to the Septuagint rendering, people of the nations, although not knowing about him previously as the Messiah to come, would call upon him or put faith in him when presented with the message concerning him. They would “run” to him or “flee” (LXX) to him. This does not refer to literal running or fleeing, but indicates that they would not hesitate to avail themselves of the provision through Jesus Christ to have their sins forgiven and to be liberated from the condemnation to which sin leads. Though they previously had no acquaintance with him as the Messiah who was foretold to come, they took this decisive action.

The reason for this action is because of what YHWH has done, glorifying the Messiah. He highly exalted him upon raising him from the dead, granting him all authority in heaven and on earth. (Matthew 28:18)

55:6. Masoretic Text: Seek YHWH while he may be found. Call upon him while he is near.

Septuagint: Seek God and, when finding [him], call upon him; but whenever he draws near to you, let the impious one forsake his ways …

In Rahlfs’ printed text, the sentence is not completed until the end of the next verse. A few words from verse 7 are included here to complete the thought and will be repeated for the rendering of that verse.

The Targum of Isaiah indicates that the seeking is to be done while one is still alive.


In this context, seeking YHWH signifies wanting to do what is needed to have an approved relationship with him as persons forgiven of their trespasses. The individual must seek YHWH while he can be found or while the opportunity still exists to return to him as a repentant person. When the time comes for him to express his judgment, YHWH can no longer be found. He is then at a distance, not near, and any appeal to him for forgiveness and favorable attention would not get a hearing. To have his compassionate response, the individual must do the “calling” upon YHWH before he distances himself and ends the opportunity for returning to him. The Septuagint rendering represents God as the one who draws near and directs transgressors to abandon their lawless ways.

55:7. Masoretic Text: Let the wicked one forsake his way and the iniquitous man his thoughts, and let him return to YHWH, and he will have mercy on him, and to our God, for abundantly he will forgive.

Septuagint: … let the impious one forsake his ways and the lawless man his counsels, and let him return to the Lord, and he will have mercy, for abundantly he will forgive your sins.

The Septuagint rendering completes the sentence that began in the previous verse.


Persons who have conducted themselves contrary to God’s ways and whose “thoughts,” “counsels” (LXX), plans or aims have been out of harmony with his will are encouraged to return to him. This called for them to repent and to abandon their God-dishonoring practices. The individual who repented is assured of becoming the recipient of YHWH’s mercy, being granted forgiveness for his sins. This forgiveness would be abundant, for YHWH, the God of his people, pardons freely and without limitation all who return to him.

55:8. Masoretic Text: For my thoughts [are] not your thoughts, and your ways [are] not my ways, says YHWH.

Septuagint: For my counsels are not like your counsels, nor [are] your ways like my ways, says the Lord.

The Targum of Isaiah refers to the ways of the lawless ones as not being “upright” like the ways of God’s “goodness.”


The thinking of those being called upon to repent was contrary to YHWH’s thoughts or what he had in mind for persons whom he would approve. Their ways were corrupt, whereas the ways of YHWH are always upright, for he, as the Holy One, is pure in every respect. The Septuagint rendering expresses the contrast by indicating that God’s counsels, or the things he purposes, are not like the counsels, plans, or aims of those who disregarded his commands. His ways were not like their ways, for their ways deviated from what was right or just.

55:9. Masoretic Text: For [as] the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.

Septuagint: But as the heaven is distant from the earth, so my way is distant from your ways and your notions from my thought.

Although missing in the Masoretic Text, a Hebrew word for “as” is included in the Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah.

The Targum of Isaiah refers to the elevated nature of the uprightness of the ways of God’s goodness and his thoughts.


The difference between YHWH’s upright ways and pure thoughts and the corrupt ways and thoughts of lawless ones is incomprehensibly great. It is as far away as are the heavens from the earth. For the ancients, the sky or celestial dome above them was the highest point. They could not have imagined the vastness of the universe and its billions of galaxies, and this should not be read into this passage.

55:10. Masoretic Text: For as the rain comes down, and the snow, from the heavens and does not return there until saturating the earth and making it bring forth and sprout, and giving seed to the sower and bread to the one eating, …

Septuagint: For as the rain or snow comes down from the heaven and will by no means return until whenever it has saturated the earth and brought forth and caused to sprout and given seed to the one sowing and bread for food, …

In the Masoretic Text, the Hebrew word translated “one eating” is a participle but is an infinitive in the Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah. In connection with bread, the text of this scroll can be rendered “bread for eating.”

The rendering “by no means” preserves the emphatic sense of the two Greek words for “not.”


Precipitation, whether in the form of rain or snow, provides the water that plants need to grow and flourish. Once the rain or snow descends from the sky, this vital purpose will be served. In its season, seed will begin to bring forth new growth that will start to sprout from the soil. Crops will mature, and harvested grain will furnish seed for the sower and seed for people to grind into flour for making bread.

55:11. Masoretic Text: so will be my word that goes forth from my mouth. It will not return to me empty, but it will accomplish that in which I have delighted, and it will prosper in that for which I have sent it.

Septuagint: so will be my word, which whenever it will come forth from my mouth, it will by no means return until whenever shall be accomplished as much as I wanted, and I will prosper your ways and my commands.

The Targum refers to the “word” as the “word of my [YHWH’s] goodness.”


Just as precipitation is certain to accomplish its vital function in providing essential water for vegetation to grow, so YHWH’s word, his promises, and his revelations are sure to be fulfilled. The expressions of his “mouth,” or whatever his revealed purpose may be, will never prove to be something that is “empty,” returning to him as if it had been unsuccessful in carrying out his will. His word will always bring about everything in which he may find pleasure and succeed in fulfilling the purpose for which he sent it forth or expressed it.

The concluding part of the Septuagint rendering may be understood to mean that God would prosper the ways of those whom he approves and that his commands, when heeded, would result in lasting benefits.

55:12. Masoretic Text: For with rejoicing, you will go out; and in peace, you will be led forth. The mountains and the hills will break out before you [literally, “your faces”] with a [joyful] shout, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands.

Septuagint: For with rejoicing, you will go out; and with joy, you will be taught. For the mountains and the hills will leap, welcoming you with joy, and all the trees of the field will clap [their] branches.

Instead of “led forth” or “led back,” the Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah contains a verb that may be rendered “come back.”


According to the interpretation in the Targum of Isaiah, this applies to the return of the exiled Israelites to their land. With joy, they would depart from among the nations and be brought back to their land in peace, safe and secure. As applying to the Israelite exiles, there would be no obstacles like mountains and hills hindering their return. Instead, such obstacles would be transformed into welcoming elements, as if the mountains and hills gave way to rejoicing when the exiles returned. Moreover, during the period of the exile, the land was desolate, and mountains and hills presented a sad spectacle in their devastated condition. Upon the return of the exiles, the desolate condition would come to an end. Hills and mountain slopes would be transformed into flourishing productive areas, replacing the sad neglected appearance with the cheer-inspiring state of well-cared-for land.

The trees are portrayed as being in full agreement with the joyous spirit, for they add their applause. According to the Septuagint, they clap their “branches.” The Hebrew expression about clapping their hands may be understood to refer to the rustling of leaves and branches when the wind blows.

The Septuagint rendering suggests that those going out or departing would receive divine instruction and accept it with joy. This instruction would impart to the recipients essential guidance for making their way successful. The leaping of the mountains and hills refers to their rejoicing, as if jumping for joy.

If linked to the promised Messiah, the departure as from exile may denote the liberation from the captivity of sin and the joy that would come from being forgiven of transgressions and having been reconciled to God as his beloved children. All who are thus liberated would benefit from God’s aid and guidance through the Messiah, the Anointed One, or the Christ, Jesus. This guiding or leading would be “in peace,” for it would assure lasting well-being. All creation, including the mountains, hills, and trees, would share in the joy, benefiting from the end of the harm resulting from human sinfulness. (Compare Romans 8:20, 21.)

55:13. Masoretic Text: Instead of the thorny plant [na‘atsúts] will come up the juniper [beróhsh]; instead of the nettle [sirpád] will come up the myrtle. And it will be to YHWH for a name, for a sign to limitless time, [one that] will not be cut off.

Septuagint: And instead of a thornbush [stoibé] will come up a cypress; but instead of a nettle [kónyza] will come up a myrtle. And the Lord will be for a name and for an eternal sign, and it will not cease.

The Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah includes the conjunction “and” after the word beróhsh, here rendered “juniper.” In this scroll, the concluding phrase may be rendered, “And they will be to YHWH for a sign and for a name to limitless time, [one that] will not be cut off.”

In its interpretation, the Targum of Isaiah does not mention any plants but indicates that, instead of the wicked and the transgressors, the righteous and those who fear to commit sin will be established in the land.


The Hebrew word na‘atsúts may designate a variety of thorny plants, with no specific identification being possible. In the Vulgate, the corresponding Latin term is saliunca, a plant that has been identified with Valeriana celtica, also known as Celtic spikenard, Alpine valerian, and valerian spikenard. The Latin rendering provides no aid in arriving at a more definitive meaning for the Hebrew word na‘atsúts and neither does the Greek word stoibé, which is here translated “thornbush,” but which basically means “heap” or “pile.”

The rendering “juniper” for the Hebrew word beróhsh is based on the Akkadian word for “juniper” (burāšu), whereas the corresponding Greek rendering is “cypress” (kypárissos) and the Latin rendering of the Vulgate is “fir” (abies).

The Hebrew word sirpád may mean nettle, as does the Latin term urtica found in the Vulgate and is one definition given in lexicons for the Greek word kónyza.

Thorny plants or weeds would not have been considered as having any value. The juniper, however, is a source of durable timber, and the myrtle is a source of a fragrant oil, and its berries are edible. Accordingly, when linked to the promised Messiah, the remarkable change in the natural world may here represent the marvelous transformation that will take place when repentant ones are forgiven of their sins and reconciled to God. The credit for this transformation will go to YHWH, it being for his “name” or as a memorial to him. The transformation on account of the deliverance of humans from their sinful state would be a sign for all time to come, testifying to what God has done for the human family. That this sign is permanent is further emphasized by the reference to its not being cut off.

Initially, when the Israelite exiles returned to the desolated land, it began to be transformed from a land overgrown with thorny plants and weeds to a cultivated land with thriving crops and valuable trees. As YHWH had made it possible, this development was also a memorial and a sign to him.

According to the Septuagint rendering, God, by what he does, makes a name for himself. His actions reveal that he alone is the true God and, through his dealings, he himself becomes the confirmatory eternal sign to this effect.