“Ho, every one who thirsts, come to the waters . . . “ Thus Isaiah 55 begins with these welcoming words, an invitation we can overhear as we enter the third week of Lent. This rich section of Isaiah reminds the people of God of their true longing: a quenching relationship with God. Warning against laboring for that “which does not satisfy,” this exilic voice knows where true life is to be found.
While the setting of this portion of Second Isaiah is uncertain, the glad news is that exile is not God’s final word. Even while feeling at a great distance from God, the people receive notice of God’s provision.
In an arid climate, thirst is a pressing human need. It is no wonder that spiritual needs are often described in this most basic requirement. Like a deer panting for water, so human hearts must find refreshment in God. If one is to be secure, he or she must frequent “the wells of salvation” (Isaiah 12:3). Blessedly, in Isaiah 55 “the waters” do not refer to the destruction in the days of Noah, but to God’s willingness to preserve the people.
Although the prophet begins with drink and food, he quickly turns to issues of covenant, which include expectations of listening for God, forsaking the way of wickedness, and returning to the Lord. These instructions construct a helpful Lenten pathway, and they offer assurance that God wants to be found through faithful seeking.
Listening for God takes practice, for God does not always speak in recognizable patterns. It is in silence that we most often bump into God, as a friend reminded me recently. If we grow quiet enough, we can hear the competing voices in our minds for what they are: temptations to assuage our deeper hunger and thirst with temporal goods.
The prophet also beckons repentance, for the wicked travel a way of destruction. I recently read James Nelson’s book Thirst, which chronicles his recovery from alcoholism. While attending to the best medical insights about addictions, he rightly acknowledges that the thirst that drove him to a precipitous edge, at bottom, was a spiritual longing. Thirst for God is ingredient to most addictions, he argues; sin and disease interface as one tries to quench thirst with other than “living water.”
Identifying our attachments, our perfectionism, and our need for forgiveness is part of discerning our true desire. God will provide that which slakes our thirst in the present—and for all eternity.
Molly T. Marshall
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