"When the poor and needy seek water, and there is none, and their tongue faileth for thirst, I the Lord will hear them; I the God of Israel will not forsake them. I will open rivers in high places, and fountains in the midst of the valleys: I will make the wilderness a pool of water, and the dry land springs of water." (Isaiah 41:17,18)
All around us, even the weather itself, is apparently preaching from this text; telling us that however any and all things may fail, God will take care of us if we seek His face. You may be brought perhaps to feel as if there is nothing now, no comfort for you, you are like a traveler in the desert, or in the wilderness, you have had no water for hours or days, and you feel death creeping through you, you must die of thirst; and then the Lord appears for you and promises you an abundance of all you stand in need of. Then you see, in connection with this, we have the sad state into which the children of Israel were brought, through great trials of various sorts. Therefore we must not suppose that our forefathers had no trials. The church has always been a tried church. They were so weak too, and it is said: "Fear not, thou worm Jacob, and ye men of Israel" (Isaiah 41:14) (brought down to that state of prostration, and they were but few; and practically speaking the church has always been few, compared with the multitudes that are rushing down to hell.) "Fear not, thou worm Jacob, and ye men of Israel: I will help thee, saith the Lord, and thy Redeemer the Holy One of Israel." You see he was a helpless one, and then God came to his help. Have you and I been brought into this state experimentally? to feel that if the Lord does not bless us we shall get no blessing. Poor wanderer, hast thou thought of this, and felt this? "I am in a sad plight, I do not know what to do, I am sure my strength seems gone and my comfort fled, and I do not know which way to turn. That is just the time when the Lord appears for His people; and depend upon it, if we are brought to seek the Lord in these circumstances, He will appear for us. Religion that is not experimental is no religion at all! How can it be? Something, said the poet, must be known and felt. God's people feel this. Weak as they were in themselves, the Lord said: "Behold I will make thee a new sharp threshing instrument" (they hadn't one of their own, and they had no money to purchase one with, so the Lord said He would make them one) "having teeth: thou shalt thresh the mountains and beat them small and shalt make the hills as chaff" (Isaiah 41:15) (all this done by this one that was so weak in himself but in Jesus strong.) "Thou shalt fan them, and the wind shall carry them away" (these were the enemies of the children of Israel; they should be like chaff,) "and the whirlwind shall scatter them: and thou shall rejoice in the Lord, and shalt glory in the Holy One of Israel." (Isaiah 41:16) Do you not hope He may scatter all your vain thoughts and wrong desires today; and scatter all your fears and doubts, that they may fly away like chaff before the whirlwind? Then what will you do? "Rejoice in the Lord and glory in the Holy One of Israel." It appears that this person that was so weak had this labor to perform, and it brought about a sad state of thirst: "When the poor and needy seek water and there is none." They were very thirsty.
We shall first notice the state of these persons, their desolation and disappointment.
Secondly, the Lord's great goodness to them, when they were in this sad state of trial, seeking water but finding none, their tongue failed for thirst. They could not have been in a worse plight than that.
Thirdly, the goodness of the Lord to these people, "I the Lord will hear them." Dost thou believe it, tried saint? "I the God of Israel will not forsake them." There is a promise to God's people when they are in this state of prostration and desolation.
Lastly, that which the Lord had promised them. There was no water because they were in the desert, but "I will open rivers in high places." Never expected that in bare hills, said someone, Bishop Lowth, perhaps. In bare hills, where there is nothing but stone and sand. "And fountains in the midst of the valleys. I will make the wilderness a pool of water and the dry land springs of water." If the Lord did that for His people then He can do it for us now. When Israel had almost fainted and thought they would die of thirst in the wilderness, what an unlikely course the Lord took to supply them. They could not dig wells there, if so, they would have to go very deep into the earth for water, but in compassion for their sad condition, the Lord commanded Moses, and he spake to the rock; in one place it said he smote the rock, and the waters gushed out, and they ran in the dry places like a river. What did they do to make the waters flow? It was a state of thirst. They felt they could do nothing but look to the Lord, and from a most unlikely source the Lord brought forth a river of water; yea, the Psalmist said it was a flinty rock. Infidel! You may throw the Bible aside, but God's people know it is true, and will abide by it. Our God can do all things, except deny Himself.
First we have to notice these people, their desolation and disappointment. They were in the wilderness you see, because it is said that the Lord promised them that in the wilderness these waters should spring forth. What is this world at its best; with all the mercies that surround us of a providential nature, is there anything that can satisfy the cravings of the soul? That something within the bosom which tells us that there is a God, a Divine Being, and by which we seek His face. What is it? Some of you have thought, perhaps, after a few years of labor and attention to business you shall retire. Yes! And whither will you go to find all peace and no trouble? I do not know! The Psalmist said, "Oh, that I had wings like a dove for then I would fly away and be at rest." (Psalm 55:6) Where would he find it? He declared he would make his way into the wilderness somewhere, far from all his foes. He might think so, but at the same time he knew there was no rest out of his God and away from his Christ, and you and I know it too. We have quiet sinless pleasures, but at the same time they do not satisfy the soul. Often do we say:--
"There's nothing here deserves my joy,
There's nothing like my God."
Can you and I live without God? Let conscience speak! Conscience knows! Something in the bosom will tell us. Perhaps some are saying, "I have tried to make my rest in other things, but it is not to be found." My young friends, you expect much pleasure, I dare say, from the world; you expect much pleasure from time things. May the Lord give it you, if it be sinless pleasure, but at the same time you will find, if you are a child of God, that you want something more than this. Solomon had an opportunity of trying it, and he tells us that he sought for this pleasure, and he was some years about it because he made orchards and many wonderful buildings, and built the Temple of the Lord at a vast cost. It must have taken him many years, but he found no comfort in it, and at last sat down and said, "vanity of vanities," "all is vanity." (Ecclesiastes 1:2) My soul, take notice of that! Without the presence of Jesus, without enjoying divine things, all is vanity and vexation of spirit. These people set forth here were in a very dry and thirsty land where there was no water. That was their position. Look at their desolation and disappointment. They were thirsty and very poor and needy. It does not mean that there were no wealthy people amongst them. Some of the children of Israel were abundantly rich, but at the same time, whatever their position in life might have been, being called by grace, they felt poor and needy. Do we not find many such in the Scriptures? In the day of Christ many did not want Him; they would like to put Him out of the way if they could, before His time came; they did not want a Saviour; they did not believe that He was the Christ. No concern of theirs who He was; He was not their Christ, and they did not want Him. These were not poor and needy, but some of that day were so. The disciples, for instance, Peter (forward in his conversation, like some of us) said, "Lord, we have left all and followed thee." (Luke 18:28) It is true we are not called upon, as they were, to leave our homes, wives, and families, and so on; but in regard to merit, in regard to anything of our own, we have made a renunciation of all.
"Nothing in my hand I bring,
Simply to Thy cross I cling;
Naked come to Thee for dress,
Helpless look to Thee for grace."
Isn't it so? It is all so plainly put in God's Holy Word. It was the sick that really stood in need of help and healing that prized the Saviour, and if there were many that did not value Him and did not believe in Him, some did so. The disciples did, and these poor afflicted people did. There was a blind man there. It appears Christ and His disciples were going along the high road, and he asked what it meant. They said, Jesus of Nazareth passeth by, and he cried out, "Jesus, thou son of David, have mercy on me." (Luke 18:38) He was a poor man; he wanted help! This is how you and I feel. It does not say that those that were with Him were all poor and needy, but this one was because he was blind and could not obtain his sight. The Lord appeared and gave him his sight. I venture to say he is grateful to this day wherever he is. Depend on it he will bless Christ for ever. That was a poor man, and others came with various complaints. A man with a withered hand, and I daresay they told him he must work or he would never get to heaven; and I was thinking the other day that if I were to tell people to do what I know they cannot do, they would listen to that and approve it too. What can poor weak sinners do? What can you and I do? These people in the wilderness, so poor and needy, they were very thirsty because they could not find any water. Do you and I thirst for Christ? Do we thirst for the Saviour? Do we really want Him? Nothing but water can satisfy thirst. None but Jesus can do helpless sinners good! I ask my own heart do I want Him? Bless His name I want him every day! Do you want Him every day? "When the poor and needy seek water." That is what they want! We recollect whilst Hagar was in Abraham's house they did not get on comfortably together. Hagar ran away from her home. Gen. 16 "And the angel of the Lord found her by a fountain of water in the wilderness by the fountain in the way to Shur." You notice this woman, when she went away, and when she was sent away, always went toward Egypt, because she was an Egyptian, and the bond children always want to get back to Egypt; they do not like the land of Canaan. How is it with yourself? If we read on to the 21st chapter we find Abraham sent her away. Abraham could not send her away till he had a word from God. Not likely. "And the thing was very grievous in Abraham's sight, because of his son. And God said unto Abraham, Let it not be grievous because of the lad, and because of thy bondswoman; in all that Sarah hath said unto thee, hearken unto her voice; for in Isaac shall thy seed be called. And Abraham rose up early in the morning, and took bread and a bottle of water and gave it unto Hagar, putting it on her shoulder and the child, and sent her away: and she departed and wandered in the wilderness of Beer-sheba. And the water was spent in the bottle." (How is it with you? Do you feel thirsty today--thirsting for Christ? All comforts gone, and no new added yet. You know how comfortable you have been when worshipping Christ sometimes. It is gone now!) "And she cast the child under one of the shrubs. And she went and sat her down over against him a good way off as it were a bowshot: for she said: Let me not see the death of the child. And she sat over against him, and lift up her voice and wept." (What sad circumstances for this poor woman to be in. No one to bring her any help or anything of the sort.) "And God heard the voice of the lad, and the angel of God called to Hagar out of heaven and said unto her, What aileth thee, Hagar? (The voice came down into the wilderness. I dare say it attracted her attention instantly.) "Fear not, for God hath heard the voice of the lad where he is. Arise, lift up the lad, and hold him in thine hand: for I will make him a great nation. And God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water (what a strange place) and she went and filled the bottle with water and gave the lad drink." Poor child of God seeking the water of life, thirsting today, if the Lord would only open your eyes you would see there is a well of living water close by you, even in Jesus, the Son of His love. Hagar could not see it until the Lord opened her eyes. No doubt with great surprise and gratitude she partook of that water, and thus saved her life and the life of her son. So in our text, "when the poor and needy seek water." Did we come here today hoping we might taste the love of Christ: enjoy a little of His presence? Do you know what it is? Have you tasted that the Lord is gracious? Has your poor heart ever been refreshed by the love of Christ in the Scriptures? You came hoping, and have perhaps come several Lord's days hoping that you might get comfort, and you went away saying, "There is none, I cannot get the things of God; I have heard the Gospel so many times, but I want its power, I desire it, I thirst for it." Then if we are only in that position we are very like the man after God's own heart, even David, when he said, "My soul longeth, yea, even fainteth for the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh crieth out for the living God (Psalm 84:2) (none else, not idols!) And so the people of God find it from time to time. "O God, thou art my God; early will I seek thee, my soul thirsteth for thee, my flesh longeth for thee in a dry and thirsty land where no water is." (Ps. 63:1) Was this the experience of David, the man after God's own heart? Certainly it was. Then we begin to hope that we have the same religion, the same desires, that he had. Who wrought those desires in the heart of the psalmist? God himself! Who put those desires into thy heart, poor doubting one? It was the Lord who did that--we should never have desired Him, we should never have thirsted for Him if He Himself had not put them there--we have the same experience that David had.
I know we want the bright side this seems to be rather the dark side,
"I thirst, but not as once I did,
The vain delights of earth to share;
Thy wounds, Immanuel, forbid
That I should seek my treasure there.
I want that grace that springs from Thee,
That quickens all things where if flows;
And makes a wretched thorn like me
Bloom as the myrtle or the rose."
We want that! We thirst for it. These persons in our text thirsted and prayed and sought, but they found none, till at last, it is said, their tongue failed for thirst. It seemed to be near the end of life, then they thought it is of no use to pray for it again, and the devil said, No it is not for you, you are not one of the Elect, I say it is an evidence of belonging to the family. None thirst for Jesus but His own people. You say, "Is that true? May I hope that I am one of the Lord's people?" You may, and that hope will never be cut off; never be put to shame--You see the tongue fails for thirst, that is being cut down entirely, is it not? You get into that state where you cannot pray, and perhaps some have discontinued prayer and made the devil happy; if he ever can be. But you will find the Lord will not leave us even then when we get like that, if we are thirsting for His love; and if we have experienced that thirst for a communication from Himself, thirsted for spiritual comfort, these are the best hearers wherever they worship; for God is sure to bless them; the Lord always takes care of such. You have not said anything about it; perhaps you had better not, some will say you cannot know you are the Lord's, but the psalmist said, "O! God, thou art my God, my soul thirsteth for thee." He knew the Lord was his God. We want the same comfort given, but the tongue faileth for thirst and there is no praise and no prayer. "Praise waiteth for thee, O God, in Zion, and unto thee shall the vow be performed." (Psalm 65:1) Silent waiting; and the Lord will keep you in this position though your tongue may fail for thirst, and you feel as if you cannot pray, you do not know what to do, and you think you will give it all up; but even if the tongue fails for thirst, according to our text, the heart will pray; something within you, if you cannot make use of words, is saying, "Lord help me! I am a poor needy man." Some of our young friends know this and they will be satisfied by and bye. But they think it is of no use, I am too young, perhaps, to be a Christian. Jesus was a Saviour from His birth--some of God's people, like Jeremiah, are ordained and consecrated from the birth--I mean, the Lord begins a work of grace in the heart--you may perhaps remember when you were smitten down, but there was grace in your heart before that.
"When the poor and needy seek water" (they have no goodness, no merit, nothing!) "Ho, every one that thirsteth come ye to the waters" (we begin to look up, and say, That is beautiful, but how are we to obtain it?) "and ye that hath no money (so poor and destitute) "come ye buy and eat" (that is the Lord's way of dealing with His people, He calls it buying, but takes none of their merit for it) "yea, come buy wine and milk without money and without price. Wherefore do ye spend money (spend your labor, and all you have) for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which satisfieth not? Hearken diligently unto me and eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness." (Isaiah 55:1,2)
Come, poor needy, destitute sin-stricken one, come! Has it not been a comfort to many of us, and to many that are now in glory that found the water of life. "The Spirit and the bride say, come, and let him that heareth say, come, and let him that is athirst come, and whosoever will let him take of the water of life freely." (Revelation 22:17) Oh! That is beautiful; and we must come to that, because, as with these poor people, we are quite exhausted, our tongues fail for thirst. I think I see them drop one after another, thinking they must all die, but when there is no one else to help or hear them, then,
Look at the Lord's great goodness to them, "I the Lord will hear them; I the God of Israel will not forsake them." When we are comfortable we believe that He will not forsake us, but when we get into trial we fear that we have done something to cause Him to leave us; but He has said, I will not forsake them. When they are in this state of destitution in the wilderness, and all things seem combined to add to their thirst and sorrow, "I the Lord will hear them; I the God of Israel will not forsake them." Bless His precious name! He does not forsake us; and if any of us think He will, we ought to be ashamed of it, for were we not singing just now
"The soul that on Jesus hath leaned for repose,
I will not, I cannot desert to his foes;
That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake,
I'll never, no never, no never forsake."
Shall we be unbelievers now; shall we say He will forsake us? He has repeated it in the Scriptures many times as it is in our text, "I the God of Israel will not forsake them." I heard them pray; though there were no words, I heard the spirit breathe; I heard their hearts pray to Me; I heard their sighing for Me, and for mercy; I heard, "and I will not forsake them." What a sweet, precious, faithful covenant God we have. We rejoice in His immutability, in His unchanging nature--we rejoice that He is the Lord, the Jehovah. I Jehovah will hear them. I the God of Israel will not forsake them. What are they thirsting for? Pardon, peace, comfort and heaven? In the Targum it reads, thirst for doctrine. They do thirst for doctrine, for the sweet doctrines of the Bible, in all their sighings and feelings, that they may enjoy the peace of God; and the promise of God to them is: "I will open rivers in high places and fountains in the midst of the valleys." Oh! What an abundance of grace there is. "Afterward he brought me again unto the door of the house, and behold waters issued out from under the threshold of the house eastward, for the forefront of the house stood toward the east and the waters came down from under the right side of the house at the south side of the altar." (Ezek. 47:1) All flowing from the sacrifice slain, flowing from our precious once crucified One, flowing to us from Calvary. It came down and it comes down to us now in our low estate, and Ezekiel found a river to swim in--a river that could not be passed over. Blessed be God, if we have enjoyed His love we are surrounded; it is a sea of love, a sea of pleasure and of delight. We can never pass over it, some of us first went into this river a good many years ago, and we cannot pass over it, because there is no other side. "I will open rivers in high places and fountains in the midst of the valleys. I will make the wilderness a pool of water and the dry land springs of water." Here, thirsty one, we may stoop and drink and live; rejoice in the Lord, and joy in the God of our salvation.
May it spring forth today. May the thirsty one be comforted, and God shall have the glory.
"I heard the voice of Jesus say,
Come unto Me and rest,
Lay down, thou weary one, lay down
Thy head upon My breast.
I came to Jesus as I was,
Weary, and worn and sad,
I found in Him a resting place,
And He has made me glad."
"I heard the voice of Jesus say,
Behold I freely give
The Living Water--thirsty one,
Stoop down and drink and live.
I came to Jesus, and I drank
Of that Life-giving stream,
My thirst was quenched, my soul revived,
And now I live in Him."
Praise ye the Lord.