THE BOOK OF ISAIAH
This is pure and undefiled Religion
Isaiah 58 SCC 1/19/14
RELIGION CAN BE A BARRIER TO TRUE PERSONAL FAITH 58:1-5:
Many of the Israelites were relying on their practice of the Mosaic rites to satisfy God. The true meaning of the rites had not affected their lives. God intended the system of worship He prescribed to illustrate the importance of heart relationship with Himself that should affect interpersonal relationships.
58:1: The first verse informs the reader that this chapter is an indictment of Israel for her sins. The hypocrisy of Israel’s religious rituals is soon to be revealed. The nation’s sins in relation to fasting and the Sabbath are the reason why her prayers remain unanswered. The transgressions and sins that the Lord called Isaiah to proclaim to His people were so serious that the prophet needed to grab their attention with loud announcements. The name “the house of Jacob” calls attention to the Jacob-like quality of the nation that God would expose, namely, the people’s attempts to manipulate God while fasting!
First, it was not really a time of self-denial, but a time of self-satisfaction.
58:2: The first sin that God exposes with regard to Israel’s fasting is hypocrisy. They wish to appear pious, but they are not. Israel was play-acting; their religious celebrations were not genuine. They sought to give the impression that their hearts were right with God, and that they were sincerely seeking to know His will, so that they could walk in it. Notice how the false faith is characterized. They claimed to be a righteous people enquiring of God who had observed the Mosaic Law carefully. This is sarcasm. All of this sounds great but it was a show, a farce, a religious game; words, not deeds.
58:3a: They were practicing religious ritual to try to manipulate God into blessing them. Israel’s fasting was manipulative, as well as hypocritical. They assumed that any prayer offered with fasting must be answered. Fasting was a way to get God to do what they wanted. But God did not give them what they prayed for, and they felt cheated. Why was God ignoring their petitions? They could not understand why God had not blessed them because they had fasted and humbled themselves. They thought God must bless their religious acts. The only fast that the Mosaic Law commanded was on the Day of Atonement. But the Israelites also fasted voluntarily, even in Isaiah’s day. During the Exile the Jews had multiplied this to four fast days to commemorate tragic events in their national life (i.e., the fall of Jerusalem, the destruction of the Temple, Zech 7:4-7).
Second, fasting was done at the expense of others 3b-4
58:3b: They continued to treat other people inconsiderately. They pursued their personal interests and worked when they fasted, and they insisted that their employees keep on working.
58:4: In addition, it somehow results in violence – in fistfights. Those who were fasting were satisfying their own desires while at the same time their workers were suffering oppression. The spiritually insensitive Israelites did not consciously fast so they could be contentious and strive and beat each other up, but these were the results of their fasts. Fasting made them grouchy and belligerent, and they took these sinful feelings out on their neighbors. It would have been better for their neighbors if they had not fasted at all.
Third, fasting was an empty external ritual, without any of the reality it was intended to symbolize.
58:5: This was not the type of fasting God approved. It consisted only in His people bowing their heads, not their hearts. Bowing the head like a reed expresses formal worship, like a reed automatically bending in response to wind. The people sat in sackcloth and ashes, but they did not really mourn over their disobedience to the Lord. They thought their outward fasting, bowing, dressing, and adorning were more important than their attitudes and behavior, though they probably did not realize it and certainly did not admit it. They were merely putting on a show much like the NT Pharisees Jesus called hypocrites.
THE KIND OF FAITH GOD DESIRES ORIGINATES FROM THE HEART 58:6-14:
58:6: Godly fasting should remove the chains of bondage, so as to set free the oppressed. Fasting is self-denial with a higher purpose in mind. Merely doing without food for a short time in order to indulge later is hardly noble. Doing without food so that you can give it to those in need is noble. Somehow the “fasting” of the people of Israel was of no benefit to others, but rather to their detriment. So Isaiah contrasted God’s conception of fasting with theirs and lists what He really wants from His people:
The type of fasting that pleases God is giving up wickedness, oppression, enslavement, and binding of other people, not just food. Isaiah did not mean, of course, that God had no concern about His people going without food. If they want to deprive themselves, let them do it for the sake of the oppressed, the needy, and the helpless, not for the sake of their own religiosity. God’s nature is to give himself away to those who can never repay him. To loose the chains of injustice and to untie the cords of the yoke is why He liberated the Israelites from Egypt and Babylon. He wants His people to set others free too.
58:7: Let the hungry be fed by the righteous doing without. Let me do without for those who truly are without. This is what touches the heart of God. I should also be touched by the needs of the homeless. He continues this list: Likewise helping the poor is more important than helping oneself. Feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, and clothing the naked are more important to God than living well oneself. What is the point of fasting if we do not give what we would eat to others? Self-denial is for others, not for oneself.
58:8: This type of reality would produce many good consequences. Light would dispel the Israelites’ darkness. They would recover their spiritual wholeness quickly. Their righteousness (God Himself) and their right conduct would precede them, and God’s glory would protect them. The piling up of blessings for repentance is clear in the “then . . . and” lists in verses 8-14.
58:9: The Lord would hear their prayers, and they would enjoy His presence. Making self the focus of life, in contrast, results in darkness, disease, defeat, and separation. For these blessings to come, God’s people needed to stop oppressing others, and to stop mocking and showing contempt for others pointing their fingers and condemning with wicked speech.
58:10: Positively, God’s people needed to alleviate hunger in others (more than creating it in themselves by fasting), and to pour out their lives for others. Then they would have light even in gloom because God would be with them, and God is light.
58:11: God would also guide and sustain His people in their desert experiences. Strong bones contrast with bones that tremble or waste away because of fear, sorrow, or guilt. Physical health is often a byproduct of spiritual health. Truly repentant people will also be a pleasant source of delight, encouragement, and nourishment to others. They will refresh others as well as themselves because God, the source of life within them will manifest Himself through them.
58:12: True worshippers would also rebuild what their sin had previously torn down. This refers not only to the return and rebuilding of Jerusalem and Judah following the exile. It also refers to the Promised Land in the Millennium and to the restoration of other types of ruins caused by sin.
58:13: keeping the Sabbath is a form of fasting. If the Israelites practiced the Mosaic legislation with the right attitude and applied it properly to their lives, God would be happy. The Sabbath day provided an opportunity for them to reorient themselves to spiritual reality once a week. Fasting is the setting aside of certain desires and satisfactions for the fulfillment of higher desires and satisfactions. Fasting is setting aside some of my personal pleasures, so that one might serve others, freeing them from bondage and meeting their physical needs.
58:14: Turning from a false approach to the Sabbath would mean turning to the Lord with the proper attitude of delight. Then the Israelites would experience the exaltation of being His partners and would enjoy the inheritance promised to their all-too-human ancestor Jacob. If they would give themselves to God and others rather than pursuing selfish goals, they would experience personal and national fulfillment and receive His rewards. This was a promise from the mouth of The Lord. The Sabbath is not merely a mandatory cessation of our daily labors (though it is that); the Sabbath is the setting aside of our pursuit of certain earthly pleasures in order to better pursue the higher goal of finding pleasure in God.
1. A basic, consistent, regular, dominant, characteristic deception we will struggle with is that a religious outward performance we manufacture is a sufficient and acceptable expression of our devotion to God.
2. We assume then that God is obliged to accept our religious rituals even though they are manipulative, hypocritical, phony, fake, and dishonest.
3. God is not stupid. He sees right through our fake acts of devotion—our apathetic expressions of sincerity. They are the product of abandoning God, forgetting him, forsaking him and worthy of God judgment of them. He cannot be manipulated.
4. The spiritual life can be defined by ‘setting your mind on God’s interests rather than man’s. When you take delight in the Lord v 14 is the pivot point of all morality. Desire a heart after God.
5. When you do and your life matches your devotion, then expect God’s favor to follow during your lifetime. But remember God is opposed to the proud.