Water, Milk, and Wine

Three Promises for the Thirsty

Come, everyone who thirsts,
come to the waters;
     and he who has no money,
come, buy and eat!
     Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without price.” (Isaiah 55:1)

God’s invitation to his great banquet cuts across ethnic and socioeconomic lines — to “everyone who thirsts” — and appeals to two groups: one has money and one does not.

To those who are thirsty and broke (Isaiah 55:1), come to the waters. And to those spending what they have on all the wrong things (Isaiah 55:2), listen to this offer, turn from your folly, and come to the waters. One group is spiritually poor and empty, and acknowledges it. The other is pretending as if human effort and expenditures can secure lasting satisfaction. Maybe even a third group had money, spent it poorly, and now has none.

Whatever the circumstances of the summoned, the good news in this great invitation is that God offers a true banquet to the human soul — and it is provided, remarkably, “without money and without price.”

Free of Charge, at Great Cost

God offers his feast free of charge, but that doesn’t mean it’s cheap. Providing such rich fare is costly, and that cost, as Isaiah has foretold, will be borne by God’s Servant (Isaiah 53:4–6, 12). Astoundingly, this banquet, with its promise to truly satisfy, comes without cost to all who are willing to admit their poverty and powerlessness, and come humbly to receive.

Three times God beckons all who will hear, “Come.” Three times he entreats, “Listen.” He pours three promises for the thirsty: an everlasting covenant, a benevolent king, and finally himself (verses 3–5). And he compares this true satisfaction of soul he offers to the substance and sweetness of three beverages: water, milk, and wine.

Water for Life

First, God offers water, to quench our soul’s thirst. “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters.” He appeals to those with the most basic of human needs unmet, those dying from dehydration, to come receive the refreshment for which they pant.

For those wasting away of thirst in the desert, all they can think of is water. And so God’s offer begins with the most essential need: life. His water revives the faint. His water restores the weary. The good shepherd “leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul” (Psalm 23:2–3).

When God’s long-awaited Servant arrives on the scene, he will announce that the water he gives is “living water.” Not only will he quench our soul’s thirst in the moment, but “whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:14).

Milk for Strength

But this God not only offers life and refreshment, but also nourishment and strength. We feed babies an endless diet of milk to help them grow, to give them the nutrients needed to develop and be healthy and stable.

A hungry newborn may try to latch onto anything close enough to its mouth. In Christ, God offers to gratify the appetite for such growth and goodness. “Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation — if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good” (1 Peter 2:2–3). This Lord not only gives us life but growth, health, stability, and strength.

Wine for Joy

Third, then, is the sparkling offer of wine. Throughout the Scriptures, wine is associated with joy (1 Chronicles 12:40; Nehemiah 8:10; Psalm 4:7; Isaiah 16:10; 22:13; 24:11; Jeremiah 48:33; Zechariah 10:7).

God made “wine to gladden the heart of man” (Psalm 104:15). Wine is a powerful image, an exhilarating beverage that is God’s idea — and like others of his best gifts, not without its serious and documented dangers in the hands of sinners. It’s difficult to abuse water. Some abuse milk (and cream). Many abuse wine. And yet God incurs the risk to make his point dazzle.

Wine, in all its perils and pleasantness, has something to tell us about the one who offers this feast. His provision of water, milk, and wine shows us not just the life he gives but the God he is. John Piper writes,

God is not just for emergencies and mountain peaks. He is for health in the long haul. He invites you not only to come alive with water, but also to be stable and strong with milk. . . .

But that is not all we need in life. No matter how stoic, unemotional, phlegmatic, laid-back, or poker-faced we may seem to others, there is a child inside of every one of us that God made for exhilaration — for shouting and singing and dancing and playing and skipping and running and jumping and laughing. . . .

God is willing to revive us from the heat of Death Valley with the miracle of his water; and make us strong and healthy and stable with the miracle of his milk; and then give us endless and ever-fresh exhilaration with the miracle of his wine. (“The Great Invitation”)

Alive, Strong, Exhilarated

When the poor and powerless incline their ear to this humbling and wonderful invitation and come, they find that the one who has laid out this banquet is not stingy. He doesn’t cut corners on cost. He is lavishly generous. He offers abundance, and his abundance demonstrates the largeness of his heart. And as he invites us to enjoy his bounty, he woos us to delight in his person.

Even now, in this incomplete age, he offers to refresh your soul. He offers to strengthen your heart in his Son. He offers to thrill your spirit in his Spirit.

Come to this God and his suffering Servant, and taste the joy of thirst quenched, of hunger gratified, and of your deepest longing satisfied. Truly now — and fully at the great banquet to come.

“In that day
the mountains shall drip sweet wine,
      and the hills shall flow with milk,
and all the streambeds of Judah
      shall flow with water.” (Joel 3:18)