“The poor and needy search for water, but there is none; their tongues are parched with thirst. But I the Lord will answer them; I, the God of Israel, will not forsake them. I will make rivers flow on barren heights, and springs within the valleys. I will turn the desert into pools of water, and the parched ground into springs. I will put in the desert the cedar and the acacia, the myrtle and the olive. I will set junipers in the wasteland, the fir and the cypress together, so that people may see and know, may consider and understand, that the hand of the Lord has done this, that the Holy One of Israel has created it. “Present your case,” says the Lord . “Set forth your arguments,” says Jacob’s King. “Tell us, you idols, what is going to happen. Tell us what the former things were, so that we may consider them and know their final outcome. Or declare to us the things to come, tell us what the future holds, so we may know that you are gods. Do something, whether good or bad, so that we will be dismayed and filled with fear. But you are less than nothing and your works are utterly worthless; whoever chooses you is detestable. “I have stirred up one from the north, and he comes— one from the rising sun who calls on my name. He treads on rulers as if they were mortar, as if he were a potter treading the clay. Who told of this from the beginning, so we could know, or beforehand, so we could say, ‘He was right’? No one told of this, no one foretold it, no one heard any words from you. I was the first to tell Zion, ‘Look, here they are!’ I gave to Jerusalem a messenger of good news. I look but there is no one— no one among the gods to give counsel, no one to give answer when I ask them. See, they are all false! Their deeds amount to nothing; their images are but wind and confusion. Isaiah 41:17-29
This passage starts out with an incredible message of hope: ““The poor and needy search for water, but there is none; their tongues are parched with thirst. But I the Lord will answer them” There are several interesting aspects of this part of the passage that hold special meaning to me as a water scientist. The water imagery is rich and deep.
The first part seems to at least imply that God is the hope of all who “search for water”, especially those who recognize that they are “poor and needy”. This may have been directed at the people of Israel, but I think it applies more broadly to all those who follow God. It is similar to what Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, For they shall be filled” (Matthew 5:6). I think the meaning is similar.
All those who acknowledge their neediness and poverty will be filled by God just like He “will make rivers flow on barren heights, and springs within the valleys. I will turn the desert into pools of water, and the parched ground into springs.” The living water will fill our souls if we acknowledge that we are empty and seek after the One who can fill us. This applies especially to the “barren heights”, the “valleys”, and the “deserts” that we encounter in life.
If we look at this metaphorically it is a good description of the spiritual cycle of mountain tops and valleys we all experience as we seek after God. It is during times of spiritual drought that we become discouraged and seek after other water sources to fill our souls. God has promised to provide water for our thirst, but He also wants us to hunger and thirst for Him.
In the middle of the passage God takes on the idols that have taken His place in the lives of many in Israel “Present your case,” says the Lord . “Set forth your arguments,” says Jacob’s King. “Tell us, you idols, what is going to happen. Tell us what the former things were, so that we may consider them and know their final outcome. God is challenging the people to put the idols they have set up as gods to the test.
The verse then takes a more confusing and murky turn. God says He will send a messenger from the North, “one from the rising sun who calls on my name. He treads on rulers as if they were mortar, as if he were a potter treading the clay”. On one level this sounds like a military leader who will come and rescue the people of Israel. Perhaps it was language like this that made the leaders during Jesus’ time look for a military leader rather then the God who served by washing peoples feet. Is God referring to the coming Messiah here?
The language used to describe what this messenger from the north would do is intriguing. He is described as treading on the rulers like mortar and clay. I have never done this myself but essentially what treading on mortar and clay does is mix in water to create a new thing that is useful for building pottery and walls. Considered in that sense this actually makes a very good metaphor for what Jesus did when He came. He offered living water to mix with the longstanding traditions of the Jewish leaders to make a new thing.
The last part of the passage reinforces the messianic meaning by stating that God will give the people of Jerusalem “a messenger of good news”. I am not sure who this would be referring to if not Jesus. I suppose it could be referring to another prophet sent by God, but Jesus certainly brought Good News to all of us who are willing to acknowledge we are poor and needy. I can see why many people really like the book of Isaiah. It has many interesting stretches of water that have filled out my understanding of what the Messiah was to look like when He arrived.
Prayer: God thank You for filling all those who are willing to acknowledge their neediness and poverty of spirit.