Westminster Seminary California
Eating with Our Ears: Thoughts on Isaiah 55.1-3

Most anyone who has worked in the culinary world or watches popular competitive cooking programs such as Iron Chef America or Chopped has undoubtedly heard the expression “you eat with your eyes first.” In preparing a plate of fine food, visual presentation is important, at least in the restaurant world. A skilled chef should not only be able to transform his ingredients into a meal that tastes good, but one that looks good too, for we tend to eat with our eyes before we eat with our mouths.

The Bible, however, speaks of an eating with a different organ, the ear. God tells us that to hear his Word is to eat for the soul. Consider the opening verses of Isaiah 55 when God renewed his covenant of grace with Israel by inviting them to a meal:

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. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live; and I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David. (Isa 55.1-3)

Although Israel had broken the Mosaic covenant and would soon suffer the curse of exile, they were invited to enjoy God’s fellowship through his everlasting covenant – his covenant with Abraham (Gen 15; 17.1-14) and, subsequently, with David (2 Sam 7.1-17). Such gracious invitations to Israel are found throughout the book of Isaiah and, indeed, the whole corpus of the Prophets. What is remarkable about this one, however, is the analogy God makes of hearing to eating. He deliberately uses gastronomic imagery to describe the spiritual sustenance and delight contained in his gospel promises that are received through hearing.

The new covenant then builds on this concept of eating with our ears. Before his ascension into heaven, Jesus commissioned Peter with the words, “Feed my lambs…Feed my sheep” (Jn 21.15b, 17b). This feeding comes primarily by the ear rather than the mouth. The faith of Christ’s sheep is nourished through hearing, as the apostle Paul says, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Rom 10.17). Feeding the sheep is also the chief part of Peter’s exhortation to pastors in local churches to “shepherd the flock of God” (1 Pet 5.2a; cf. Acts 20.28). It is the very fulfillment of God’s promise in Jeremiah: “And I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will feed you with knowledge and understanding” (Jer 3.15; cf. 23.1-4; 31.10). Beyond the nourishment that food provides to the body and the enjoyment it brings to the soul, lays a deeper human need which can only be received from the Bread of Life, who is given freely to us in Word and sacrament at the local church.

Thus, in the new covenant, the local church is something like a local restaurant; it is a place where people go to eat a meal. The pastor, like a chef, works with fine ingredients and labors to prepare something excellent. Guests arrive, sit down, and a meal is served. Granted, the two belong to different kingdoms. A local restaurant belongs to the common kingdom of man; it is a business establishment frequented by customers. The local church, on the other hand, belongs to the holy kingdom of God; it is a manifestation of the body of Christ, created by his Word and Spirit. But we should not dismiss the analogy too hastily. Just as a chef’s vocation requires him to prepare meals for the body, a pastor’s vocation requires him to prepare meals for the soul. “This feeding is by the preaching of the gospel,” said John Owen. “He is no pastor who doth not feed his flock. It belongs essentially to the office.”  The local church, then, is the spot where this happens; it is where the believers go to eat with their ears.

How about you? Are eating well with your ears? Is there a good “restaurant” in your area where you can hear the Gospel every week?

By Pastor Mike Brown

Christ United Reformed Church