Question: "What does it mean to come to the waters (Isaiah 55:1)?"
Answer: Isaiah 55 is descriptive of God calling the people of Israel to come to Him. God’s words at the beginning of chapter 55 use the metaphors of water, wine, milk, and bread. The action that God desires is for the people of Israel to “come to the waters.” Specifically, God wants the people of Israel to come and receive that which they have not earned and cannot pay for (Isaiah 55:1b). God is offering a free gift.
Isaiah then records God explicitly calling Israel to come to Him (55:3). Israel is to come and listen with the purpose of having life. This same sentiment is seen in Isaiah 55:6, “Seek the LORD while he may be found; call on him while he is near.” The basic idea of the chapter is summed up in Isaiah 55:7b, “Let them turn to the LORD, and he will have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will freely pardon.”
The book of Isaiah was written to the southern kingdom of Judah. The northern kingdom of Israel had already fallen to Assyria in 722 BC. Judah was quickly following in the footsteps of their brothers to the north (Isaiah 1:2). Isaiah begins the book by declaring that the nation of Judah was a rebellious people who did not know their master. Considering the nature of Judah’s relationship with God, Isaiah 55 presents a shocking message—come to God and receive mercy; come to God and receive that which you do not deserve.
Isaiah 55:1 begins by appealing to a need: “Come, all you who are thirsty.” The people of Judah had a need for mercy and grace from God as they did not do the things God required. Judah was in a covenant relationship with God. They had agreed to follow the laws of God but had not kept them. The result of disobedience to God is a need for mercy and forgiveness (Ephesians 2:1–10). Judah had that need.
Isaiah continues with the solution: “Come to the waters.” As the context describes, God is calling the people of Judah, who need mercy, to come to God to receive the mercy that only God can provide. In the metaphor, the people are thirsty. The obvious solution to the thirst is water. So, what does it mean to “come to the waters”? In this context, it means to return to God, dependent on His mercy.
Jesus uses a similar metaphor in John 4 in His conversation with the Samaritan woman. The Samaritans were half Jewish and half Gentile. Because of this, the Jewish people looked down on the Samaritans. As Jesus purposefully passes through the land of Samaria, He addresses a Samaritan woman at a well in John 4:7–38.
The woman finds Jesus at a well where she draws water. Through conversation, Jesus offers the woman “living water,” which will quench the thirst of the woman forever. Jesus uses this metaphor of water to point to that which leads to eternal life (John 4:14). Jesus was inviting the women to come to the waters and receive what she needed—the grace of God that leads to eternal life.
The Samaritan woman was an unrighteous, rebellious woman in God’s eyes (John 4:17–18), but Jesus offered her living water that would provide for her spiritual needs. In the same way, God had offered the people of Judah the water that He would freely give them (Isaiah 55:1). The same invitation for forgiveness and restoration is extended today: “Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life” (Revelation 22:17).