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“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 (ESV)

What does Isaiah 55:1 mean by "buying without money" ?

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  • Have you tried checking any sources yourself? – Yosef Weiner Sep 10 '15 at 5:04
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    @SkinnyJ, I read commentaries and it seem to say that 'buying without money' (a paradox) spiritually means 'receiving X by grace.' – Radz Matthew C. Brown Sep 10 '15 at 6:18
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    @RadzMatthewCoBrown I think that's your answer. This appears to just be an illustration of grace. You're receiving something good for free. – sbunny Oct 5 '15 at 21:06
  • @Radz Matthew Brown, money signifies faith, the laws of sacrifice required not faith, the laws of the spirit require faith. That was the buying without 'money.' But there's buying which has uses money, the new ways of Messiah require faith, that is the buying with money. To eat signifies to practice..John 6:56. Buy and then eat denotes to pick up from where they left off in performing the sacrificial laws as required. – Ted O Feb 19 '17 at 17:55
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This is a question about Hebrew idiom and translation. There is no Grand Theological Revelation in this expression.

The first step in understanding the expression is to understand that in Hebrew, the concepts of acquisition, contract, and payment are separate, with different words for each. This is unlike English which conflates the three concepts into one, "buy".

The second step is to understand the word used in Isaiah 55:1, שברו, the verb form of שבר, "supply" in second person plural imperative. It would better translated "requisition" or "be supplied", but in active voice. There is also a secondary implication of satiation in the semantic field of שבר, but there is no connotation of contract or payment.

The third step is to understand the translation problem that leads the use of "buy", which is that there is no adequate verb form in English for "to be supplied, satisfied" that can be rendered in second person plural imperative active voice.

So, the use of "buy" in this translation is a compromise that leads to a contradiction for the English reader that does not exist in the MT, how can one buy without money. And this contradiction can then become fertile ground for misguided spiritual speculation - a pity.

A less misleading translation into current American idiom, albeit unfit for a printed Bible, might be something like

Hey! Anyone who is thirsty [can] go to the water [and drink]! No money? [No problem] go fill up and eat! - no payment [required]. Wine and milk for free!

The allusion to this verse in Revelations 22:17 noted by Abstraction is everything is a indeed revealing.

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  • +1 I like your translation and think Jesus has the same meaning in mind when speaking to the woman at the well. – Revelation Lad Jan 9 '17 at 17:05
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“Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy (שִׁבְרוּ֙) and eat! Come, buy (שִׁבְר֗וּ) wine and milk without money and without price. (ESV)

The form of the verb buy שִׁבְרוּ֙ is used 4 times: twice in Isaiah 55:1 and twice in Genesis. The first use is when Jacob tells his sons to go a second time to Egypt and buy grain:

And when they had eaten the grain that they had brought from Egypt, their father said to them, “Go again, buy (שִׁבְרוּ) us a little food.” (Genesis 43:2 ESV)

The second is by Judah when he recounts those instructions:

And when our father said, ‘Go again, buy (שִׁבְרוּ) us a little food,’ (Genesis 44:25 ESV)

The use in Isaiah is alluding to those events in Genesis.

The first time the brothers went to Egypt for grain they paid for it but Joseph returned thier money. While making the transaction, Joseph pretended to believe they were spies and eventually held Simeon as collateral until they returned with Benjamin:

if you are honest men, let one of your brothers remain confined where you are in custody, and let the rest go and carry grain for the famine of your households...(Genesis 42:19 ESV)
...And he took Simeon from them and bound him before their eyes. (Genesis 42:24 ESV)

By returning the money, Joseph made Simeon's life the "purchase price" for the first grain. He also set the terms for any future transactions:

and bring your youngest brother to me. So your words will be verified, and you shall not die.” And they did so. (Genesis 42:2 ESV)

After the brothers return with Benjamin, they get grain and Joseph once again returns their money. This time he takes Benjamin into custody. So in both cases the brothers got grain without using money; instead the "purchases" were "transacted" with a brother's life.

The use in Isaiah is prophetic of Christ.

Christ paid with His life and by believing a person is able to be fed by Him. His food does not cost money: payment has been made by Him with life. By calling Jesus Lord, a person becomes a child of God and as such is able to eat with Him. Like the manna that fed a person without price, the Bread of Life can feed a person without price.

As Abu Munir Ibn Ibrahim shows, Isaiah 55:1 could be translated into everyday English:

Hey! Anyone who is thirsty [can] go to the water [and drink]! No money? [No problem] go fill up and eat! - no payment [required]. Wine and milk for free!

Jesus draws on this understanding of Isaiah when speaking to the woman at the well:

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 ESV)

As Abstraction is everything comments, the New Testament ends on this same note:

The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price. (Revelation 22:17 ESV)

How does one buy without money? By accepting the invitation to become a child of God which gains access to His table, where like Joseph's brothers eating and drinking is a family affair:

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God. (Ephesians 2:8 ESV)

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  • (+1) Also, Rev 3:18 I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eye-salve, that thou mayest see. – Abstraction is everything. Jan 9 '17 at 4:05
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    Sorry, one more. Rev 22:17 And 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 the water of life freely. – Abstraction is everything. Jan 9 '17 at 4:12

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