Key passage

“Come, everyone who is thirsty,
come to the water;
and you without silver,
come, buy, and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without silver and without cost!
Why do you spend silver on what is not food?
and your wages on what does not satisfy?
Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good,
and you will enjoy the choicest of foods.
Pay attention and come to me;
listen, so that you will live.
I will make a permanent covenant with you
on the basis of the faithful kindness of David.
Since I have made him a witness to the peoples,
a leader and commander for the peoples,
so you will summon a nation you do not know,
and nations who do not know you will run to you.
For the Lord your God,
even the Holy One of Israel,
has glorified you.”

Seek the Lord while he may be found;
call to him while he is near.
Let the wicked one abandon his way
and the sinful one his thoughts;
let him return to the Lord,
so he may have compassion on him,
and to our God, for he will freely forgive.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
and your ways are not my ways.”
This is the Lord’s declaration.
“For as heaven is higher than earth,
so my ways are higher than your ways,
and my thoughts than your thoughts.
For just as rain and snow fall from heaven
and do not return there
without saturating the earth
and making it germinate and sprout,
and providing seed to sow
and food to eat,
so my word that comes from my mouth
will not return to me empty,
but it will accomplish what I please
and will prosper in what I send it to do.”

You will indeed go out with joy
and be peacefully guided;
the mountains and the hills will break into singing before you,
and all the trees of the field will clap their hands.
Instead of the thornbush, a cypress will come up;
this will stand as a monument for the Lord,
an everlasting sign that will not be destroyed.

Isaiah 55:1–13

Quotes from Chapter 17

My thoughts are not your thoughts.

Isaiah 55:8

We tend to project our natural expectations about who God is onto him instead of fighting to let the Bible surprise us into what God himself says.

The passage in which we find “his ways are not our ways” comes from Isaiah 55. It is a statement not of the surprise of God’s mysterious providence but of the surprise of God’s compassionate heart.

Seek the Lord while he may be found;
call to him while he is near.
Let the wicked one abandon his way
and the sinful one his thoughts;
let him return to the Lord,
so he may have compassion on him,
and to our God, for he will freely forgive.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
and your ways are not my ways.”
This is the Lord’s declaration.
“For as heaven is higher than earth,
so my ways are higher than your ways,
and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

Isaiah 55:6–9

The first part of this passage tells us what to do. The second part tells why.

God calls us to seek him, to call on him, and invites even the wicked to return to the Lord. What will happen when we do this? God will “have compassion on” us. This is profound consolation for us as we find ourselves time and again wandering away from the Father, looking for soul calm anywhere but in his embrace and instruction. Returning to God in fresh contrition, however ashamed and disgusted with ourselves, he will not tepidly pardon. He will abundantly pardon. He does not merely accept us. He sweeps us up in his arms again.

God knows that even when we hear of his compassionate pardon, we latch on to that promise with a diminished view of the heart from which that compassionate pardon flows. This is why the Lord continues:

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
and your ways are not my ways.”
This is the Lord’s declaration.
“For as heaven is higher than earth,
so my ways are higher than your ways,
and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

Isaiah 55:8, 9

We cannot view his expressions of his mercy with our old eyes. Our very view of God must change.

For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his faithful love
toward those who fear him.

Psalm 103:11

God’s ways and thoughts are not our ways and thoughts in that his are thoughts of love and ways of compassion that stretch to a degree beyond our mental horizon.

Some interpret the phrase “my thoughts are not your thoughts” to be a sheer distancing between God and us, expression the enormous gulf between sacred divinity and profane humanity. The flow of the passage is in exactly the opposite direction. There is indeed a great distance between God and us; we think small thoughts of God’s heart, but he knows his heart is inviolably, expansively, invincibly set on us.

For I will declare,
“Faithful love is built up forever;
you establish your faithfulness in the heavens.”

Psalm 89:2

Never will a man freely open his mouth to praise God, unless he is fully persuaded that God, even when he is angry with his people, never lays aside his fatherly affection towards them.1

John Calvin

When we speak of God’s heart, we’re speaking of the spring-loaded tilt of his affections, his natural bent, the regular flow of who he is and what he does.

Even the most intense of human love is but the faintest echo of heaven’s cascading abundance. His heartful thoughts for you outstrip what you can conceive. He intends to restore you into the radiant resplendence for which you were created. And that is dependent not on you keeping yourself clean but on you taking your mess to him. His power runs so deep that he is able to redeem the very worst parts of our past into the most radiant parts of our future. But we need to take those dark miseries to him.

You will indeed go out with joy
and be peacefully guided;
the mountains and the hills will break into singing before you,
and all the trees of the field will clap their hands.
Instead of the thornbush, a cypress will come up,
and instead of the brier, a myrtle will come up;
this will stand as a monument for the Lord,
an everlasting sign that will not be destroyed.

Isaiah 55:12, 13

God’s thoughts are so much higher than ours that not only does he abundantly pardon the penitent; he has determined to bring his people into a future so glorious we can hardly bring ourselves to dare hope for it. God’s heart for his people is building toward a crescendo as the generations roll by, preparing to explode onto human history at the end of all things.

Although his ways are higher than our ways, the way in which his thoughts are higher than ours is that we do not realize just how low he delights to come.

For the High and Exalted One,
who lives forever, whose name is holy, says this:
“I live in a high and holy place,
and with the oppressed and lowly of spirit,
to revive the spirit of the lowly
and revive the heart of the oppressed.”

Isaiah 57:15

Where is the heart of God, the unspeakably exalted one, naturally drawn to, according to Isaiah 57:15? To the lowly. Gentle lowliness is indeed where God loves to dwell. It is what he does. It is who he is. His ways are not our ways.


  1. John Calvin, Commentary on the Book of Psalms, vol. 3, trans. James Anderson (repr., Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2003), 420.

Questions

  • Explain the concepts: People are made in God’s image. People make God in their image.
  • What does Isaiah 55:6-9 tell us to do and why?
  • How will God respond when we turn to him in fresh contrition?
  • How are God’s ways and thoughts different than our ways and thoughts?
  • What are we speaking of when we speak of God’s heart?
  • Compare human love to God’s love.
  • Consider the author’s statement that people diminish the heart of God’s pardon. Do you agree with that statement? Why?
  • What do we need to do with our dark miseries?
  • Where is the heart of God naturally drawn to according to Isaiah 57:15?

This article is adapted from: Gentle and Lowly by Dane Ortlund and Gentle and Lowly Study Guide by Robert Zink.