Seek the LORD while He may be found, Call upon Him while He is near.
Let the wicked forsake his way, And the unrighteous man his thoughts; Let him return to the LORD, And He will have mercy on him; And to our God, For He will abundantly pardon.
“For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,” says the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways, And My thoughts than your thoughts.”
“For as the rain comes down, and the snow from heaven, And do not return there, But water the earth, And make it bring forth and bud, That it may give seed to the sower And bread to the eater, so shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; It shall not return to Me void, But it shall accomplish what I please, And it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it.
Verse 6: Seek the LORD while He may be found, Call upon Him while He is near. Isaiah is rich with prophesy – – why wouldn’t it be, since Isaiah was in fact a prophet. If you read through chapters 53 and 54, you find that these chapters are prophesying about Jesus Christ, his death for our salvation and then Him gathering His bride. Chapter 55 begins with a call to those who thirst, those who hunger or as we understand today, those who are in need of a Savior. Yet it is more than only a call to salvation. It is a call to an intimate and personal walk with the Lord Jesus Christ. Seek is a word implying action – – some of the other words used to describe this Hebrew word include: to inquire with care, to consult, to practice, to study, to follow, to ask for, to search. These are all words implying active participation. I have a part and I have a certain amount of responsibility. On the other hand, this verse doesn’t simply say, “seek the Lord.” It says “seek the Lord while He may be found. Some godly men and women argue that this means that Jesus cannot be found by all men, and while I agree that Jesus won’t be found by all men, my belief is that scriptures such as 1 Timothy 2:3&4 teach differently. 1 Timothy says, “This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” When I study the nature of God, I see a God that desires all men to be saved and therefore enables all men to be saved yet chooses to place a small amount of responsibility in their hands giving them the ability to reject His salvation. A more biblical interpretation, in my opinion is that while God desires all people to be saved, there will come a time when He no longer can be found. There will come a point when salvation is no longer offered to all men and instead all men will be judged. Luke 16:25 says, “When once the master of the house has risen and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, open to us,’ then he will answer you, ‘I do not know where you come from.’” This parable and other parables teach us that at some point, the free gift of salvation will no longer be offered. As we study other verses we see this happening as either death when we are instantly standing before the throne or the return of Christ coming to claim His bride.
Another biblical interpretation that many godly bible scholars agree about is also reading this verse as, “seek the Lord in the place where He may be found.” In the Old Testament, there were places where the Lord could be found – – rituals that had to be followed that included the tabernacle and the temple. However, Isaiah 55 is prophesying of a personal relationship with Jesus that doesn’t require the law that we won’t have in the New Testament. Isaiah is talking about a time when all places will be alike and wherever the people of God meet together, there He will be found. Matthew 18:20 says, “For where two or three have gathered together in My name, there I am in their midst.”
As believers we also understand that He can be found outside of church and chapel. Verse six ends with, “…call upon Him while He is near.” The men and women of the Old Testament were not able to understand this quite yet. I will interject that scriptures such as Genesis 15:6 (“…then he [Abraham] believed in the Lord; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness”) and Acts 13:22 (“…I have found in David the son of Jesse a man after my heart”) do imply that some men and women of the Old Testament did find personal relationships with the Lord. As a whole, however, the Old Testament was a time of rituals and the law where there were different parts of the tabernacle that only certain priests could enter and so forth. Isaiah was prophesying of a time when Jesus would come to have redeem His bride through a very intimate relationship. The idea is that Jesus is very near and we only need to call upon Him and He is there with us.
As a believer, I have sought the Lord while He could be found and I did find Him. Yet, it doesn’t just stop there. I heard an example once by one of my senior pastors. He explained salvation as getting on the baseball team and sitting on the bench – – seek Jesus and find Him – – and be justified immediately. Justified, meaning “just as if I’d never sinned.” It’s continued calling on Him that’s the sanctification aspect. I don’t just become a Christian and go back to life and pretend like nothing happened. I have to pursue Jesus in my every day. I have to seek out a relationship. I have to call upon Him. I can’t just get married and then never go on a date with my husband, never sit and have a conversation with him, never snuggle on the sofa and chat. I have to get to know my husband a little more every day if I am going to have an intimate and personal marriage with him. My walk with Jesus is a lot like that. I have to call upon Him every day. I have to get in His Word and seek His face. I have to get on my knees and cry out to Him for the grace to get through the day.
Verse 7: Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the LORD, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
The call to forsake our previous sinful life is found throughout scriptures, Old and New Testament. In the Old Testament, it was the prophets, crying out to Judah and Israel to change their ways, to return to their God, to repent of their sinful choices. In the New Testament, it started with John the Baptist, crying, “prepare the way for the Lord” followed by Jesus’ teaching here on earth to repent and be saved.
A cry to change our lifestyle is not new – – it’s a core ingredient of the Word of God. I want to spend a little time talking about the word, forsake. It is a strong word, so to speak. It doesn’t mean just to stop doing something. To forsake is to completely leave behind, to turn and run away from our previous lifestyles, to destroy our past life. It sounds a little humorous but it makes me think of bu` rning secular music CDs back in junior high. A little drastic, yes, but you definitely can’t go back and listen to burned CDs! We are all called to forsake our past sins, but the calls are sometimes applied differently.
This verse has a two-fold call to repentance. The first part is to the wicked, to forsake their actual ways but the second part is to the unrighteous to forsake their thoughts. As I read this part, I think of the various conversion stories. Some of us, before we were saved, were living “wild” lifestyles and everything, including our actions were grievous to the Lord. The call is for those people, to forsake, literally turn and run away from their past lifestyle. Often there is a lot of baggage to deal with and often it takes time to learn how to life an entirely different lifestyle.
What about this command for the unrighteous man to forsake his thoughts then? I read this passage and think about the quieter, sinful folk amongst us. I know I was and am that “type” of sinner, so to speak. My actions have never been horrifically sinful, but quietly my thoughts have been just as sinful. Yup, some of us will always be the quieter sinners and yet the Lord calls these “types” of sinners out also and commands them to also forsake their lifestyle, even if it is mostly through their thoughts. (Don’t forget that in Matthew, we are taught that if a man even thinks about a woman lustfully, he has committed adultery!)
The following section adds a word of interest – – let him RETURN to the Lord. This simple word helps us realize that this is not only a scripture about conversion and salvation. This verse applies to me even as a Christian. Are there things I am doing that I need to forsake? Are there thoughts I am thinking that I need to repent about? It is a call for each and every one of us to return to the God that we have abandoned, that we have sinned against and is the only one that can save us. We need to admit our wayward paths and beg for mercy and grace.
It is such a beautiful passage though, because it does end with a reassuring promise. If we return to our Lord, He will have compassion on us. One of the definitions in a bible dictionary for compassion that caught my eye was “to have a gentle emotion against someone.” It amazes me at how beautiful God’s language is for us and how God is truly to be feared (or reverenced) and yet at the same time He is a daddy and a mama towards us. Don’t worry; I am not getting too post-modern here. We know that God took his very nature and represented it within man AND woman, which is why in Genesis 2:24, God institutes marriage (…”therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh”). I think most would agree that this gentler emotion of compassion is very reflective of a mother’s gentle love for her children. It really is a beautiful picture and promise for us.
In addition to that, if we return to our God, He will pardon us. Not only will he have compassion and treat us gently, he will forgive us. The word pardon is rich with meaning because it implies forgiveness (and forgetting our transgressions the way Psalms 103:12 says, “…as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us). However, it also implies a weight-lifting relief or as a bible lexicon explains, “the primary idea seems to be that of lightness, or lifting up.” What an awesome picture of us kneeling before the cross and Jesus completely removing our burdens of sin from us! It brings to mind Matthew 11:28-30, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
I want to camp on these verses and this idea of returning to the Lord and allowing Him to pardon us. As Christians, we “get” the idea, right? We know that when we first surrendered our lives to the Lord, we repented of our past lifestyle, asked His to forgive us and strived to turn from our previous ways. It’s so straightforward, right? Down the road, however, when we start making a few mistakes or living for the flesh, do we still have that attitude that it’s still just as simple? Or do we need to “fix” it on our own? I know, for me that messing up is much harder because somewhere in my mind I think I should have it figured out. I should know how NOT to sin. Yet I sin and I sin daily.
But this verse is easy to understand. Return to the Lord God and He will welcome you gently AND He will completely forgive you and remove that sin from weighting you down. Do I try and bear my own burdens of sin, telling myself that I can fix it somehow? Do I try and make things right on my own accord, or try and hide them out of embarrassment? I am made of flesh and I need to grasp the idea that sometimes the flesh is going to win yet my Savior is waiting right there for me to turn around and run back to Him and allow Him to make me pure and clean again. Or as Isaiah 1:18 says, “Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.” What a beautiful picture that is?
Verses 8&9: “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,” says the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways, And My thoughts than your thoughts.”
I need these verses today. I don’t understand what is going on around me and sometimes in the midst of it, I just have to acknowledge that my thoughts and my ways are very different from my God’s and that is GOOD. It also is a reminder to me that my plans are not the best thing for me to follow. I need to be willing to trust the Lord’s thoughts and ways for my life.
We translate this word as “thoughts” but looking into it more, we see that it is a very rich word. A bible lexicon describes it as, “that which anyone meditates, purposes or plots.” Meditate, in my opinion seems more involved that thoughts. When I look into the word meditate, I see that it is full of meaning. The general idea is of course to think, study or ponder something. This makes sense, that the way I think, study or ponder something is not the way God thinks, studies or ponders something. Yet the definition goes even deeper and describes meditating as producing, bringing forth, germinating, flourishing, putting forth buds or shoots. It’s this visual of gardening and growing.
God is doing a work and that work is not my work. God wants to grow in me and develop in my godly characteristics and traits. All too often, I try and pursue what I think will be good for me but the Lord is clearly teaching us here that His methods are better. He wants to be the one to “garden” us, so to speak. I like this analogy – – that I am the soil and He is the gardener. He wants to be the one to plow the soil and plant the seeds. He wants to be the one that causes the produce to grow and flourish. Ultimately, He wants to be the one that harvests the bountiful crops.
In addition to His ways not being my ways, God wants to teach us what His ways are for us. I have heard godly men teach that if you are obeying the word of God and leading a godly life, then you just need to make logical choices and do what you want to do as long as it isn’t sinful. I don’t agree with this concept. I believe with my whole heart that the Lord wants to direct even our daily activities. I believe He is trying to teach us that every second of our day can be directed and led by His amazing Holy Spirit. The bible dictionary describes our way as our direction, journey and path. Picture the layers of this definition. The Holy Spirit directs the actual direction I am headed. This year, I am headed east to Moldova. He directs our journey along the way. As I head east, I am moving to Moldova to plant a church with my family. And finally, He directs our paths, which in my case would be church planting in the capital city, Chisinau.
One final thought about this verse also comes from the definition of “ways.” This word was also used to describe ones “manners, habits or moral character.” In other words, “…nor are your manners, habits or moral character my manners, habits or moral character.” That is challenging yet encouraging to me. On one hand, Matthew 5:48 says, “you therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” On the other hand, I know this is impossible for me to do on my own. I cannot change my own manner or thoughts or moral character to be like Jesus’ and therefore be perfect. However, I also know that 1 Corinthians 1:30&31 teach us, “and because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.’” Because of this, I know that I can be perfect if I, through my salvation, allow Jesus to impute his righteousness onto me, removing my manners, habits and moral character and instead giving me his manners, habits and moral character.
I heard Psalms 37:4 explained this way: If you so delight yourself in the Lord. If you completely walk, talk and breathe Him. If everything you do is intimately intertwined with Him. If you are completely wrapped up in His Word. If you are knit together with Him through prayer and communing with His Holy Spirit. THEN, your desires will be His desires for your life. It isn’t my own selfish desires fulfilled, it’s my desires taking on the very nature of His desires for my life. It is my mannerism mimicking my Savior’s mannerisms. It is my habits actually becoming the habits of Jesus. It’s my character becoming the character of the Lord’s. Through that, I am becoming perfect like my Heavenly Father is perfect. I’m just going to make mistakes here and there until I actually get to heaven.
Verse nine is the same comparisons only with a slightly different mental image. Heaven is far above the earth. I can’t get there on my own. I can try; scientists have tried. I can take a space shuttle as far into the sky as possible (I was born November 12th, 1981, the day of the first successful space shuttle launch and trip!). It will be useless though, because I will never get to heaven on my own. That mental picture, me trying to travel to heaven all on my own, well that seems a little silly, doesn’t it? That is how foolish it looks when I try to figure out the Lord’s ways and thoughts on my own. When I think to myself, I will do what He would do, but I will do it on my own. It would be as foolish as me saying, “I want to get to heaven, but I don’t want to go the route Jesus laid out. I will just take an space shuttle in the sky and see if I can get there on my own.” We know that is just outright silly, but do we realize that when we are blindly making decisions, stuck in our own human way of thinking, we are doing the exact same thing?
So what does this look like on a daily basis, if I am to change? To me, it looks like walking and talking with Jesus every minute I am awake. I think of a beautiful and godly woman in my home church. Everything she says is either a prayer, a praise or a petition of the Lord. I truly believe every word out of her mouth is talking to the Lord and she just allows the rest of us to hear her sometimes. She isn’t walking her own way or thinking her own thoughts. She is communing so intimately with the Holy Spirit, what every word out of her mouth is spoken as a vessel of the Holy Spirit. I have heard her say something “in the flesh,” gasp and immediately repent right then and there. When you ask her advice, she gives you straight up scripture without her own thoughts. That is the walk I desire to emulate. Lord, help me to walk that intimately with you.
Verses 10&11: “For as the rain comes down, and the snow from heaven, And do not return there, But water the earth, And make it bring forth and bud, That it may give seed to the sower And bread to the eater, so shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; It shall not return to Me void, But it shall accomplish what I please, And it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it.
I have to get a little “scientist-like” to understand these verses and of course, I love it! Science was by far one of my favorite subjects in school. The water cycle is something we study at a early grade, but it’s worth refreshing. In science class we call it the “cycle of evaporation and precipitation” when we are younger and the “hydrologic cycle” when we are older. It’s a cycle because it truly has no beginning or end – – and it probably has been going since the flood (which was most likely the first time it rained, but that’s a different story).
We can begin with rain, since the verse does. Basically, water condenses in the sky until the clouds become heavy enough that the rain starts to fall down. Sometimes the result is simply raindrops. Other times, the temperature is low enough and as the rain falls, it freezes into snow instead. If the wind blows the water up before it falls down, the result is hail (water that was frozen quickly, unlike snow that was frozen slowly). The scripture says, “…and do not return there,” meaning once the water falls onto the earth, it has a job. First, it waters the earth. It falls to the ground, soaks into the dirt and plants and trees “drink” it through their roots. We see the effects of rain all around us or sometimes we see the lack of rain. In California, the end of the summer is visible through many fields of brown grass that will turn green as soon as fall and winter bring rain.
It doesn’t just stay in the ground however. The trees and plants drink what they need and some of the water collects in ground wells, but the rest flows into creeks and little rivers which we know flow into big rivers which eventually end up in the ocean. When the sun hits the ocean, the top layer of water heats up and evaporates into the sky. As that steam rises higher and higher into the sky, it begins to cool and condense into clouds once again. Pretty soon those clouds will become too heavy and yes, once again rain will fall. I could go on and on, talking about seasons and droughts, but now it’s time to understand the scriptures.
We need the rain. Genesis teaches us a little about rain. We know that in the Garden of Eden, it had not yet rained. Instead a mist rose up from the ground and watered everything and most likely the atmosphere was thick and moist like the ultimate humidity except cool and pleasant. At least, that is what we think it was like in the Garden of Eden. We also know that Noah probably witnessed the very first rain, when in Genesis 7:11 when it says, “…on that day all the fountains of the great deep were broken up, and the windows of heaven were opened.” We also know that in Genesis 8:22, God says, “…while the earth remains, Seedtime and harvest, Cold and heat, Winter and summer, And day and night Shall not cease.” Here we have most likely the beginning of the hydrologic cycle and the need for rain to water the earth.
Why do we need the hydrologic cycle? If the earth does not get watered, plants would not grow and bud. Verse ten tells us that when the earth is watered, plants grow and bud, the sower harvests the crops and the eater makes bread and eats it. It is a cycle of life and ultimately it could result in death if something goes wrong with it. We read throughout the bible about different droughts that the Lord allowed to happen and what happened through them – – James 5:17 tells us that Elijah was a man of God and prayed that it would not rain and it didn’t for 3 and a half years, causing a drought. In Southern California, we are very familiar with droughts and have rules about the amount of water we can use to water our grass, wash our cars, etc. This picture of life, through water falling from heaven, is the picture God is giving us to understand His plan and desire for His word.
Verse eleven compares rain to the word of God. The word here is the verbal word of God, because at this point in scriptures, God is speaking through His prophets to His people. However, we also know that by the time we get to the New Testament, the scriptures will start to be compiled and soon this will include the written word of God. Ultimately we know that the word of God will become flesh and dwell among us, which of course is Jesus Christ. The picture here is Jesus Christ, salvation and repentance. From the very beginning, God had a plan of redemption. He knew in the Garden of Eden that Adam and Eve would sin and separate themselves from God. He knew that He would send countless prophets to proclaim truth, but the truth would fall on empty ears. He knew that He would send His Son and shed the last drop of blood necessary to restore our relationship with Him. He knew He would offer salvation to all men and women.
God’s sovereignty is a pretty deep and complex subject. Man’s responsibility is a highly debated subject that many godly men and women have very different opinions about. I don’t want to spend a lot of time getting into the little details of the “argument.” The key words I read here are “go forth,” “not return void” and “accomplish what I please.” The word is going to go forth and because we now have the New Testament and the Old Testament as the entire bible, like I was mentioning earlier we understand that now the word has gone forth through Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection, ultimately salvation. It will not return void, because God is all-knowing and all-powerful and He has a plan for His Word. Void doesn’t mean that some men and women won’t reject it – – to be offered salvation but choose not to accept it doesn’t change God’s plan because He knew already who would reject His free offer of redemption and who would accept it.
The bottom line is that Jesus Christ dying on the cross will accomplish what pleases God. When I study the scriptures, the verses that teach me about the nature of God show me that offering salvation to all men is what pleases God. 1 Timothy 2:3&4 says, “This is good and acceptable in the sight of our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” John 3:16&17 says, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world should be saved through Him.” We know that all will not be saved when we read scriptures such as Matthew 7:13&14, “Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide, and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and many are those who enter by it. For the gate is small, and the way is narrow that leads to life, and few are those who find it.” Yet we know that it will prosper in the thing for which God sent it – – redemption will not be thwarted by man and Jesus Christ will continue to prepare His bride until the day God has ordained for the rapture.
What am I doing in the meantime? Am I helping the hydrologic cycle or hindering it? Am I taking the word and proclaiming it from the mountaintops or am I enjoying life my own way? It is my opinion that it is very tempting to receive salvation and then selfishly go on with my own life, trying to mix my salvation with my American lifestyle and dream. It makes me think about C.S. Lewis’ book “The Screwtape Letters” when the “higher” demon tells the “lower” demon that a new convert is not necessarily dangerous if the demon can simply get him comfortable and hesitant about sharing his faith. I don’t want to become the kind of believer that isn’t even dangerous to Satan! I want to be the kind of Christian that Satan and the demons fear and dread. Lord, help me take every new day you give me as an opportunity to spread your word and your message of redemption and salvation. Help me to become the kind of Christian that Satan fears! Make me bold about witnessing to anyone and everyone that I come across!