Isaiah 58 – The Blessing of True Worship
A. The Lord exposes the shallow worship of His people.
1. (1-3a) God’s people ask: “Why do our prayers go unanswered?”
Cry aloud, spare not; lift up your voice like a trumpet; tell My people their transgression, and the house of Jacob their sins. Yet they seek Me daily, and delight to know My ways, as a nation that did righteousness, and did not forsake the ordinance of their God. They ask of Me the ordinances of justice; they take delight in approaching God. “Why have we fasted,” they say, “and You have not seen? Why have we afflicted our souls, and You take no notice?”
a. Cry aloud, spare not . . . tell My people their transgression: God speaks loudly and directly. His people need to hear their transgression – but will they hear?
b. First, God describes the appearance: They seek Me daily, and delight to know My ways. On the surface, it seemed that God’s people loved Him and were devoted to Him. They had the reputation of a nation that did righteousness, and the looked like people who would take delight in approaching God.
c. Why have we fasted . . . and You have not seen? With this spiritual veneer, they felt God was unfair to them. “Lord, we have fasted, but You still don’t answer our prayer. Don’t you know that we seek you daily, delight to know Your ways, do righteousness, and take delight in approaching You? Yet You do not answer our prayers!”
2. (3b-5) God exposes the shallow worship of His people.
In fact, in the day of your fast you find pleasure, and exploit all your laborers. Indeed you fast for strife and debate, and to strike with the fist of wickedness. You will not fast as you do this day, to make your voice heard on high. Is it a fast that I have chosen, a day for a man to afflict his soul? Is it to bow down his head like a bulrush, and to spread out sackcloth and ashes? Would you call this a fast, and an acceptable day to the Lord?
a. In fact, in the day of your fast you find pleasure, and exploit all your laborers: Enough with the image; now God exposes the reality. The reality was that His people didn’t fast with the right heart, and did it only as an empty ritual. The reality was that even on a day when they fasted, they still exploited their employees. God didn’t accept their fasting when it wasn’t connect with a sincere heart of obedience.
i. “How can any nation pretend to fast or worship God at all, or dare to profess that they believe in the existence of such a Being, while they carry on the slave trade, and traffic in the souls, blood, and bodies of men! O ye most flagitious of knaves, and worst of hypocrites, cast off at once the mask of your religion; and deepen not your endless perdition by professing the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, while ye continue in this traffic!” (Adam Clarke, writing in 1823)
b. Indeed you fast for strife and debate, and to strike with the fist of wickedness: They fasted for needs, certainly; but selfish needs like “Lord, help me win this argument.” “Lord, help me defeat this person.” Though their prayer was accompanied with fasting, it was still a selfish, even wicked prayer – so God did not answer.
c. You will not fast as you do this day, to make your voice heard on high: The purpose of their fasting was to glorify themselves, to make their voice heard on high. God says, “No more. You will not fast as you do this day.”
d. Is it a fast that I have chosen? The kind of fasting God rebukes here is a hollow, empty, show, without the spiritual substance behind it. This isn’t the kind of fast God has chosen. Even though they do all the right things in fasting (bow down his head like a bulrush . . . spread out sackcloth and ashes), God does not even call this a fast.
i. The people of Isaiah’s day had the same problem as the Pharisees of Jesus’ day. They trusted in empty ritual, apart from the spiritual reality. Real fasting – fasting that is partnered with real repentance, and isn’t only about image – has great power before God (Matthew 17:21). But God sees through the hypocrisy of empty religious ritual, including fasting. In Jesus’ parable of the Pharisee and the Publican, He told how the self-righteous Pharisee made a special point to say, “I fast twice a week” (Luke 18:9-14).
ii. It isn’t that Isaiah or the Lord are down on fasting. They are down on any empty religious ritual. The answer isn’t to stop fasting, but to get right with God and make your fasting more than superficial. As Jesus said to His people about the empty religious rituals of the Pharisees, These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone (Matthew 23:23).
B. The character and blessings of true worship.
1. (6-7) The kind of worship and fasting most acceptable to God.
Is this not the fast that I have chosen: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, to let the oppressed go free, and that you break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and that you bring to your house the poor who are cast out; when you see the naked, that you cover him, and not hide yourself from your own flesh?
a. Is this not the fast that I have chosen: To loose the bonds of wickedness: God tells His people, “If you want to fast the way that pleases Me, begin with getting right with your brothers and sisters. Stop oppressing others, and reach out to help others.”
b. First, they had to stop acting wickedly towards others (loose the bonds of wickedness . . . undo the heavy burdens . . . let the oppressed go free . . . break every yoke). Getting right with God begins by stopping the evil we do towards others.
c. Then, they had to start acting lovingly towards others (share your bread with the hungry . . . cover those without clothing, and to not hide yourself from your own flesh). Getting right with God continues by doing loving things for other people.
2. (8-12) The blessings God promises for the true worshipper.
Then your light shall break forth like the morning, your healing shall spring forth speedily, and your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry, and He will say, “Here I am.” If you take away the yoke from your midst, the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness, if you extend your soul to the hungry and satisfy the afflicted soul, then your light shall dawn in the darkness, and your darkness shall be as the noonday. The Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your soul in drought, and strengthen your bones; you shall be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail. Those from among you shall build the old waste places; You shall raise up the foundations of many generations; and you shall be called the Repairer of the Breach, the Restorer of Streets to Dwell In.
a. Then your light shall break forth like the morning: If God’s people would couple their fasting with lives of righteousness and love, then they would see their prayers answered. They would have lives full of light, full of healing, full of righteousness, full of the glory of the Lord. When they called out to God, then the Lord will answer.
b. If you take away the yoke from your midst, the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness: Again, the Lord gives them three things to stop doing. They must stop oppressing others, treating them as animals bound with a yoke. They must stoppointing . . . the finger at others, and see where they are to blame. They must stopspeaking wickedness.
i. These are sins of commission. They are sins that we go out and do against the Lord and against others. If we will walk right with God, we must stop and guard against sins of commission.
c. If you extend your soul to the hungry and satisfy the afflicted soul: Again, the Lord gives them two things to start doing. They needed to minister to the hungry with more than food; they had to extend their soul to the hungry. They had to look for the afflicted soul and seek to satisfy it.
i. Failing to do these are sins of omission. They are things that we should have done, yet we have not. If we will walk right with God, we must open our eyes and do what is our loving duty before Him.
ii. This prayer, “A General Confession of Sin,” from the Book of Common Prayer (1559 edition), expresses repentance for both sins of commission and omission:
Almighty and most merciful Father, we have erred and strayed from thy ways, like lost sheep. We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts. We have offended against thy holy laws. We have left undone those things which we ought to have done, and we have done those things which we ought not to have done, and there is no health in us. But thou, O Lord, have mercy upon us miserable offenders. Spare thou them, O God, which confess their faults. Restore thou them that be penitent, according to thy promises declared unto mankind, in Christ Jesu our Lord. And grant, O most merciful Father, for his sake, that we may hereafter live a godly, righteous, and sober life, to the glory of thy holy name.
d. Then your light shall down in the darkness, and your darkness shall be as the noonday: To the repentant, God promises blessing. Not only will they have light, but even their darkness shall be as the noonday!
e. The Lord will guide you continually: This is a promise for those who do more than just empty religious rituals. To have the guidance of the Lord, empty religious ritual isn’t enough. We need to seek God with both sincere hearts and sincere actions.
f. And satisfy your soul in drought, and strengthen your bones: Those who serve God with sincere hearts and actions enjoy a health and life of the soul that is impossible for the superficial follower of God to know.
g. Those from among you shall build the old waste places: Those who serve God with sincere hearts and actions also accomplish things for God’s kingdom. They build, and are called the Repairer of the Breach, the Restorer of Streets to Dwell in. You can’t build anything for God’s kingdom on the foundation of a superficial walk with God.
i. How there needs to be a rebuilding work today! “We live in a broken world. In every direction there are breaches which are wide and deep. There are broken hearts and broken homes, and that which once was sacred is but a waste place. Whereas once there was a carefully guarded fence around the sanctity of family life, sex life, and the right to personal privacy, now there is just a waste place. The wall of protection is in ruins, and life has lost all its meaning.” (Redpath)
h. This passage shows several characteristics of a life right with God.
· It is an enlightened life: Your light shall down in the darkness.
· It is a guided life: The Lord will guide you continually.
· It is a satisfied life: And satisfy your soul in drought.
· It is a fragrant life: Like a watered garden.
· It is a freshly sustained life: Like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail.
· It is a productive, healing life: You shall build up the old waste places.
3. (13-14) True Sabbath keeping and the blessings of it.
If you turn away your foot from the Sabbath, from doing your pleasure on My holy day, and call the Sabbath a delight, the holy day of the Lord honorable, and shall honor Him, not doing your own ways, nor finding your own pleasure, nor speaking your own words, then you shall delight yourself in the Lord; and I will cause you to ride on the high hills of the earth, and feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father. The mouth of the Lord has spoken.
a. Call the Sabbath a delight . . . the holy day of the Lord honorable: The Sabbath was another empty religious observance for the Jewish people of Isaiah’s day. God calls them to take a delight in the heart and in the purpose of the Sabbath – to honor Him, not doing your own ways.
i. This fits in perfectly with the fulfillment of the Sabbath in light of the finished work of Jesus. We keep the Sabbath when we set aside every day to honor Him, and by not doing your own ways as a means of justifying ourselves.
ii. Are Christians required to keep the Sabbath today? The New Testament makes it clear that Christians are not under obligation to observe a Sabbath day (Colossians 2:16-17; Galatians 4:9-11), because Jesus fulfills the purpose and plan of the Sabbath for us and in us (Hebrews 4:9-11).
iii. Galatians 4:10 tells us that Christians are not bound to observe days and months and seasons and years. The rest we enter into as Christians is something to experience every day, not just one day a week – the rest of knowing we don’t have to work to save ourselves, but that our salvation was accomplished in Jesus (Hebrews 4:9-10).
iv. The Sabbath commanded here and observed by Israel was a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ (Colossians 2:16-17). We have a rest in Jesus that is ours to live in every day. Therefore, since the shadow of the Sabbath is fulfilled in Jesus, we are free to keep any day – or no day – as a Sabbath after the custom of ancient Israel. However, though we are free from the legal obligation of the Sabbath, we dare not ignore the importance of a day of rest – God has built us so that we need one.
v. If anyone would insist on the Sabbath, they must also insist on the six-day work week. Exodus 20:9, in the command regarding the Sabbath, says Six days you shall labor and do all your work. Adam Clarke says on that passage, “He who idles his time away in the six days is equally culpable in the sight of God as he who works on the seventh.” (Clarke)
b. When we keep the meaning of the Sabbath, not merely as an empty religious ritual, then you shall delight yourself in the Lord. God will bless us, and we shall delight, not only in the blessings, but in the Lord Himself. We know it is sure, because the mouth of the Lord has spoken.
c. In this chapter, God exposed the emptiness of two religious rituals as practiced in Isaiah’s day: fasting and Sabbath keeping. Both of these are expressions of not doing things. In fasting, you don’t eat. In Sabbath keeping, you don’t work. An important aspect to this chapter is showing us that what we don’t do isn’t enough to make us right before God. Our walk with God shouldn’t only be defined by what we don’t do. What do we do for the Lord?
© 2001 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission