8. For my thoughts are not your thoughts. This passage is expounded in various ways. Some think that it condemns universally the life of men, that they may not be satisfied with it or flatter their vices; for we cannot approach to God but by taking away a false conviction of our own righteousness. And indeed none call for physicians but those who are driven by the violence of disease to seek both health and remedies. Accordingly, this passage is compared by them to that saying of our Lord, “What ranks high among men is abomination in the sight of God.” (Luke 16:15.)
But the Prophet’s meaning, I think, is different, and is more correctly explained, according to my judgment, by other commentators, who think that he draws a distinction between God’s disposition and man’s disposition. Men are wont to judge and measure God from themselves; for their hearts are moved by angry passions, and are very difficult to be appeased; and therefore they think that they cannot be reconciled to God, when they have once offended him. But the Lord shews that he is far from resembling men. As if he had said, “I am not a mortal man, that I should shew myself to be harsh and irreconcilable to you. My thoughts are very different from yours. If you are implacable, and can with difficulty be brought back to a state of friendship with those from whom you have received an injury, I am not like you, that I should treat you so cruelly.”
9. For as the heavens are higher than the earth. This agrees well with that passage in which David, describing the mercy of God, says, (Ps. 103:11,) that it is as much more excellent “as the heavens are higher than the earth;” for although the application is different, yet the meaning is the same. In short, God is infinitely compassionate and infinitely ready to forgive; so that it ought to be ascribed exclusively to our unbelief, if we do not obtain pardon from him.
There is nothing that troubles our consciences more than when we think that God is like ourselves; for the consequence is, that we do not venture to approach to him, and flee from him as an enemy, and are never at rest. But they who measure God by themselves as a standard form a false idea and altogether contrary to his nature; and indeed they cannot do him a greater injury than this. Are men, who are corrupted and debased by sinful desires, not ashamed to compare God’s lofty and uncorrupted nature with their own, and to confine what is infinite within those narrow limits by which they feel themselves to be wretchedly restrained? In what prison could any of us be more straitly shut up than in our own unbelief?
This appears to me to be the plain and simple meaning of the Prophet. And yet I do not deny that he alludes, at the same time, to the life of men such as he formerly described it to be. In a word, he means that men must forget themselves, when they wish to be converted to God, and that no obstacle can be greater or more destructive than when we think that God is irreconcilable. We must therefore root out of our minds this false imagination.
Moreover, we learn from it how widely they err who abuse the mercy of God, so as to draw from it greater encouragement to sin. The Prophet reasons thus, “Repent, forsake your ways; for the mercy of God is infinite.” When men despair or doubt as to obtaining pardon, they usually become more hardened and obstinate; but when they feel that God is merciful, this draws and converts them. It follows, therefore, that they who do not cease to live wickedly, and who are not changed in heart, have no share in this mercy.
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.
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.
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.
55:9 — “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.”
Even when we do not understand what God is up to in our lives—which may happen frequently—He asks us to trust Him. He knows what He is doing, even if we cannot comprehend His methods or timing.
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.
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.
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.
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). See “God Sees and Knows: Divine Omniscience” at Prov. 15:3.
55:8–9 The statement that God’s ways and thoughts are different from those of human beings does not mean that people can never expect to understand anything about Him or follow His ways. He reveals what His people need to know to return to Him (vv. 6–7) and to obey Him (see Dt 29:29), and what He has in store for those who love Him (1 Co 2:9–10). The statement needs to be understood in the light of where Isaiah was carrying this thought: Unlike human ways and thoughts, God’s will produce the results He desires in the restoration of His people (Is 55:12–13). It is through His word that He will accomplish His purpose; it will “return to Me” (v. 11). God’s word does not coincide with human worldviews which are all off center. But when His people return God’s word to Him, they are changed people. They have received God’s word and it has done its work within them. It has transformed both heart and mind.
55:8–9 God is far above humanity in thought and deed. God’s people are called to turn from their sinful thoughts and deeds (v. 7) to God’s exalted thoughts and deeds.
 MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 982). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
 Stanley, C. F. (2005). The Charles F. Stanley life principles Bible: New King James Version (Is 55:9). Nashville, TN: Nelson Bibles.
 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2006). The MacArthur study Bible: New American Standard Bible. (Is 55:8). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.
 Sproul, R. C. (Ed.). (2005). The Reformation Study Bible: English Standard Version (p. 1031). Orlando, FL; Lake Mary, FL: Ligonier Ministries.
 Cabal, T., Brand, C. O., Clendenen, E. R., Copan, P., Moreland, J. P., & Powell, D. (2007). The Apologetics Study Bible: Real Questions, Straight Answers, Stronger Faith (pp. 1068–1069). Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers.