God's Promise to the Poor

Francis Bourdillon, 1864

Isaiah 41:17-18.
"When the poor and needy seek water, and there is none, and their tongue fails for thirst then 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."

Even in our country we know what it is, in a dry season, to suffer from the lack of water; but in some parts of the middle East that lack is both more commonly and more severely felt. The climate is hotter, and the air more dry; if rain does not fall as usual then the streams of water fail, the grass withers, and the cattle die, and the people are brought to great distress.

Besides this, there are large tracts of sandy desert where no water at all is to be found, and where travelers have to carry with them water enough to last from one well or stream to the next. If the water should not hold out or if they should find any well or stream dry then they would suffer greatly.

Water being so necessary a thing to life and comfort everywhere, and especially in the middle East we find it often used in the Bible as a figure. The lack of water is put for lack in general, and a supply of water often means the supply of help and comfort of various kinds. We may take this passage in this sense.

Water means here, whatever we greatly stand in need of at any time, whether of a temporal or a spiritual kind, but especially spiritual. By the poor and needy, we may understand those who are in any kind of need or distress, but chiefly with regard to their souls. Taken thus, how encouraging are these words! God promises to hear us and not forsake us, to supply our wants, to help us at our greatest need.

A man may be in great distress through poverty. Bad times have come; he has been thrown out of work; he has had sickness in his family. As hard as he strives he yet finds himself behind in his payments. And things seem to get worse instead of better. No work is available. Food is dearer and dearer. How are the little ones to be fed? How is he to keep his home? He is like the poor and needy seeking water and there is none. He is quite destitute. He can see no means by which his needs are to be supplied.

Another man is struck down by sickness. His strength is gone; his pain is great; the disorder worsens upon him, and all the medicine that the doctors give him, seems to have no power to stop it. He can get no rest, and day by day he feels himself sinking. Who can help him? Who can do him good?

A third is in trouble about his soul. He has been brought to sore distress on account of his sins; he is weighed down by a sense of guilt and harassed by fears. It may be that sickness also is upon him at the same time. He lies on his bed of pain, uneasy in his mind, anxious and fearful. He looks back with sadness on his past life thinks mournfully of his present state and trembles to look forward. Oh! If he might but be forgiven! This is all his thought and all his desire.

To all such, God speaks comfort in this passage. All the poor and needy who seek Him, He will help. Let the poor man seek God in his distress. God knows his poverty and need already; yet let him lay it before Him in prayer, the prayer of faith.

"Is anything too hard for the Lord?" (Genesis 18:14). Are not all things subject to His ordering? And will He not help those who seek Him? Words cannot be plainer: "I the Lord will hear them I the God of Israel will not forsake them."

Let the sick man raise his thoughts to God. In weakness, helplessness, and pain let him lift up his heart and pray. Human means fail; medicines seem to do no good but nothing is beyond the power of God. Only let him lay his case before God again and again, in humble faith. "I the Lord will hear them I the God of Israel will not forsake them." God will hear him; God will not forsake him. The cry for help when sharp pain is upon him, the prayer for ease, for sleep, for patience, for recovery all will be heard; not one request, not one word, will be lost. God will hear and help.

In many cases, the very thing that was asked for is given. The pain is abated; the sufferer sinks into a quiet sleep and wakes refreshed. In others, the blessing asked for does not seem to come. Yet the asking has not been in vain. The prayer has been heard, and it will be answered in God's way. Health may not be restored; strength may decline; life itself may be cut off yet those sick-bed prayers have not been unheeded. The promise cannot fail. In the world to come, it will be known how full and gracious has been the answer to many a prayer that seemed to go without a blessing.

And, above all, let him who feels the lack of spiritual comfort look upward in faith. Christ is the only refuge from the stings of conscience, the only source of comfort to the burdened soul. His blood has been shed to wash away our sins, to make our peace, and to reconcile us to God and that blood is all-prevailing. The great atonement has been made. "It is finished!"

Let everyone who is weary and heavy laden, seek the Savior at His bidding, and find in Him rest to his soul. The promise is to those who seek; the very words, "I the Lord will hear them," imply prayer. There must be prayer humble, earnest, persevering prayer; the prayer of faith; prayer through Jesus Christ, our Mediator and Advocate; prayer that seeks and expects a blessing only for His sake.

And the promise is expressly made to those who are without all other help. "When the poor and needy seek water, and there is none, and their tongue fails for thirst." They are in deep distress, "their tongue fails for thirst"; the need is a real, and not an imagined need; they "seek water, and there is none." Then it is, that God will help.

In spiritual things especially we must cast aside all other hope; we must feel that we are nothing and have nothing, that the need of our souls is such as none but God can supply, and that Christ is our all in all: "Nothing in my hand I bring Simply to Your cross I cling." There is no merit in those to whom this promise is made; no merit, nothing but need. The only description of them is that they are "poor and needy," that they "seek water and there is none," and that "their tongue fails them for thirst." God asks not for merit in us when we seek Him. Alas! If He did, who could hope to receive? Our only plea in drawing near to the throne of grace must be the Name of Jesus.

The need is ours and the merit is all His. How effectually and how plentifully does God bless! "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." Rivers in the most unlikely places! Pools in the wilderness! The dry land itself becoming springs of water! No difficulty stops almighty grace and power. Nor does He help by halves. His supplies are full and bountiful. He sends to the thirsty, not drops merely but rivers and fountains and pools and springs.

Thus bountifully will He give us, in answer to our prayers, all that is really for our good. In the face of all unlikelihood and all hindrances He will abundantly provide for us. The poor man who seeks Him, will often find unlooked-for help. The sick will experience such ease and comfort as he hardly dared to look for. To the contrite heart "the peace of God, which passes all understanding" will be given; and that blessing which is expressly spoken of under the figure of water will certainly not be withheld; God will "give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him" (Luke 11:13).