Q&A: The Meaning of Isaiah 55:8-9

The Meaning of Isaiah 55:8-9

Question

What does Isaiah 55:8-9 mean?

Answer

In Isaiah 55 the Lord is appealing to Israel to return to him. Overall, the chapter forms a chiasm (please see "What are Biblical Chiasms?" below). A chiasm is a style of writing that uses a unique repetition pattern for clarification and / or emphasis. Applying this to Isaiah 55:1-13, it would be as follows:

  • A. Individual repentance, needs met (Isa. 55:1)
    • B. Hear the word of the Lord (Isa. 55:2-3)
      • C. The certainty of God’s promises (Isa. 55:3-5)
        • D. A call to repent (Isa. 55:6-7)
      • C.’ The weightiness of God’s call (Isa. 55:8-9)
    • B.’ The efficacious word of the Lord (Isa. 55:10-11)
  • A.’ Joy of repentance, curse lifted (Isa. 55:12-13)

We observe in A & D & A’ that the main point of the chapter is repentance. Notice the strength of the appeal by the use of such terms as "come" (Isa. 55:1, 3, 5), "listen" (Isa. 55:2, 3), and "give ear" (Isa. 55:3) followed by the words "seek" and "call" in Isaiah 55:6, and "forsake" and "turn" in Isaiah 55:7. We can also sense the urgency of the Lord’s appeal with the use of the phrases "while he may be found" and "while he is near" (Isa. 55:6). Clearly this is a serious appeal and one to be heeded. Only then does the Lord compare the surpassing heights of his thoughts and ways to all others in Isaiah 55:8-9 where these verses also form a chiastic structure:

  • A. For my thoughts are not your thoughts (Isa. 55:8)
    • B. Neither are your ways my ways, says the Lord (Isa. 55:8)
      • C. For as the heavens are higher than the earth (Isa. 55:9)
    • B.' So are my ways higher than your ways (Isa. 55:9)
  • A.' And my thoughts than your thoughts (Isa. 55:9)

God’s idea of holy living is far different ("higher") than mans. From the context, anything that is not God’s thoughts and God’s ways alienates us from our Creator, and is ultimately devastating. Since thoughts and ways that are not from above result in spiritual drought, famine and death (cf. Isa. 55:10), a call to repentance is necessary (cf. Isa. 55:6-7). However, notice that just any kind of repentance is not sufficient. Only genuine repentance is — one that is in alignment with God’s thoughts and ways. Isaiah 55:3 tells us of the everlasting covenant and the sure mercies of David, which are examples of how he accomplishes repentance in our hearts.

It is a repentance given by God alone that leads us to Jesus!

"For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death" (2 Cor. 7:10; cf. 2 Tim. 2:24-26).

Related Topics

What are Biblical Chiasms?

Answer by Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr.

Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (Thirdmill).