The Lord, through the prophet Isaiah, invites all who are “thirsty” to come to Him (Isaiah 55:1). In His goodness, the Lord offers them “wine and milk without money and without cost.” God then highlights the foolishness of chasing after that which doesn’t satisfy, asking, “Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and you will delight in the richest of fare” (verse 2). Only God can truly give His people what they are striving after. The irony is that we often squander our resources on things of no spiritual value, rather than take what God offers for free.
The “bread” mentioned in Isaiah 55:2 is a metaphor for spiritual sustenance—what our souls truly need. To “spend money” on something other than this “bread” is to ignore our malnourished spiritual condition and seek satisfaction in things that can never feed the soul. Commentator Matthew Poole defines the “not bread” as “those vain or foolish things which can never nourish or satisfy yea, such as worldly goods, or your own inventions, superstitions, and idolatries” (A Commentary on the Holy Bible, entry for Isaiah 55:2).
A simpler translation renders part of Isaiah 55:2 this way: “Why spend money on what does not satisfy?” (GNT). God’s people were running after things that could not satisfy, such as worthless idols (see Jeremiah 2:5). Today, people do the same by seeking after wealth, fame, or material goods to make themselves happy and fulfilled. The problem is that none of these things can truly satisfy. Only God can satisfy the need of our souls, for He offers the gift that will sustain a person forever: salvation. Unlike the costly and vain pursuits that people run after, God’s gift of salvation is offered freely (Isaiah 55:6–7; Ephesians 2:8–9). All people can partake in this offer by placing faith in Jesus’ death and resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:1–4).
Isaiah 55 shows the heart of God to save His people. Jesus’ later invitations for all to come to Him similarly reflect God’s desire to save (Matthew 5:6; 11:28; John 6:37). Using the metaphor of Isaiah 55:2, Jesus refers to Himself as the “bread of life” (John 6:32, 35), a sharp contrast to “that which is not bread.” Jesus declared, “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you” (John 6:27, ESV). Jesus promised true satisfaction; those who come to Him “will never go hungry” (verse 35). Additionally, Jesus repeats the idea of satiating spiritual thirst in John 4:10 and 13–14 (cf. Revelation 22:17.
The “richest fare” God offers in Isaiah 55:2 represents His lavish blessings on His people. He is ready to save, if only people would turn to Him in repentance and faith. When people come to Him for salvation, they find that He is “forgiving and good, abounding in love to all who call to [Him]” (Psalm 86:5).
The question in Isaiah, “Why spend money on what is not bread?” is worthy of serious consideration. Working for things in this world that will not satisfy is as pointless as purchasing food that will not nourish. Chasing after fleeting pleasures, material goods, and accomplishments is futile; none of those things will last (Ecclesiastes 1:14; Matthew 24:35; 1 John 2:17). The apostle Paul recognized all his prior religious accomplishments as rubbish or garbage in comparison to knowing Christ (Philippians 3:4–8). Only Jesus can provide what we need.
It is possible to live a life of continual spending without ever finding satisfaction. Thankfully, it is also possible to live a life of constant receiving without spending anything. It’s the worldly life of unbelief versus the godly life of faith. The Lord continues to call people to come to Him for salvation and rest from their striving (Hebrews 4:1–11). Believers should examine their lives to see if they are resting in God’s provision or wasting time in temporary pursuits. How foolish to spend money on what is not “bread”! How wise to invest our resources in laying up treasures in heaven (Matthew 6:19–21)!