For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.

—Isaiah 55:8-9

I want to make it very clear that when I say “far above,” I do not mean geographically or astronomically removed. It’s an analogy. Because we are human beings and live in this world, we learn to speak by analogy….

So when we say that God is far above, we’re using an analogy. We’re thinking about a star that’s way above, way out yonder in space—but that isn’t what we really mean when we think about the transcendent God.

If you miss this point, you might as well stop reading, because this is critical to understanding what follows. When we say that God’s transcendence is “farness above,” we are not thinking about astronomical distances or physical magnitude. God never thinks about the size of anything, because God contains everything. He never thinks about distance, because God is everywhere; He doesn’t have to go from one place to another, so distance doesn’t mean anything to Him. We humans use these expressions to help us to think—they’re analogies and illustrations. AOGII034-035

Lord, even our human expressions of Your greatness amaze me. How much more wonderful must You be in all Your infinite glory! Amen. [1]

55:8, 9 Men shouldn’t judge Jehovah by their own thoughts and ways. He thinks and acts in ways that transcend anything man could ever imagine. This is never more true than in the gospel plan of salvation, which is all of God’s grace and allows no glory in self-effort. William Cowper expressed it with his usual elegant English in his poem “Truth”:

O how unlike the complex works of man,

Heav’n’s easy, artless, unencumber’d plan!

No meretricious graces to beguile,

No clustering ornaments to clog the pile;

From ostentation, as from weakness, free,

It stands like the cerulian arch we see,

Majestic in its own simplicity.

Inscribed above the portal, from afar

Conspicuous as the brightness of a star,

Legible only by the light they give,

Stand the soul-quickening words—

believe, and live.[2]

55:8, 9 My thoughts … My ways. Some may doubt such willingness as is described in v. 7, but God’s grace is far beyond human comprehension, especially as manifested toward Israel.[3]

55:7–9 let the wicked forsake his way … let him return. Thorough repentance is required, for God’s thoughts are not your thoughts—that is, they are as high above man’s thoughts as the heavens are above the earth and vastly superior to the expectations of human intuitions (cf. Ps. 145:3; 1 Cor. 2:9). neither are your ways my ways. In the immediate context, this is an appeal to people to exchange their sinful “thoughts” and “ways” (Isa. 55:7) for God’s, which are higher (nobler and more magnificent). More broadly, theologians have recognized that God, the incomparable Creator, is far above his finite creatures and beyond their ability to describe him or comprehend him fully; though they may know him truly, such knowledge is always partial and imperfect. But because God is perfectly wise in all his thoughts and ways, his people can take great comfort amid hardship and when inevitably they are unable to understand the mysteries and tragedies of life.[4]

55:8 my thoughts are not your thoughts Invites trust in Yahweh’s ability to accomplish everything He has promised for His people if they repent. While people may fail in their plans or promises, God can be trusted to keep His word.

This passage in Isa 55:8–9 is often taken as a direct statement about God’s transcendence: His nature and plan are infinitely beyond human understanding. God is infinitely different from us in His thoughts and ways. The biblical portrait of God develops both transcendent and immanent aspects of His nature. The transcendent aspect is not like people and infinitely above people. The immanent aspect is intimately present with people and among people. God’s transcendence places Him beyond the limits of time and space. His nature as uncreated and separate from His creation is a fundamental concept distinguishing a biblical understanding of God from other philosophical or religious theories, such as pantheism or monism.[5]

55:8 my thoughts are not your thoughts. Specifically, God’s thoughts concerning grace exceed human imagination (64:4; 1 Cor. 2:9; Eph. 3:20; Rom. 11:33). Yet this is also true of His providence, which often leads down unexpected pathways. It is to be expected that the sheep will not always understand their Shepherd’s leading.[6]

55:8, 9 God’s gracious thoughts exceed all human imagination (64:4; Rom. 11:33; 1 Cor. 2:9; Eph. 3:20). No one can fathom the depths of His wisdom.[7]

55:8–9. God’s compassion on those who turn to Him (vv. 6–7) comes because His thoughts and ways are far superior to human thoughts and ways, which in fact are evil (cf. v. 7). God’s plan is something people would have never dreamed of.[8]

[1] Tozer, A. W., & Eggert, R. (2015). Tozer on the almighty god: a 365-day devotional. Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers.

[2] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 982). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[3] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2006). The MacArthur study Bible: New American Standard Bible. (Is 55:8). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

[4] Crossway Bibles. (2008). The ESV Study Bible (p. 1342). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[5] Barry, J. D., Mangum, D., Brown, D. R., Heiser, M. S., Custis, M., Ritzema, E., … Bomar, D. (2012, 2016). Faithlife Study Bible (Is 55:8). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

[6] Sproul, R. C. (Ed.). (2015). The Reformation Study Bible: English Standard Version (2015 Edition) (p. 1228). Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust.

[7] Radmacher, E. D., Allen, R. B., & House, H. W. (1999). Nelson’s new illustrated Bible commentary (p. 865). Nashville: T. Nelson Publishers.

[8] Martin, J. A. (1985). Isaiah. In J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck (Eds.), The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 1, p. 1111). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.


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