“Is not this the kind of fast that I choose.” In Isaiah 58 the people complained that they fasted but God did not pay attention. They complained to God, “Why have we fasted, and you do not see? Why have we afflicted our soul, and you take no knowledge?” (Isa. 58:3). It is obvious from that scripture that the people were fasting to get God’s help and were upset when God did not “see” their situation and help them. But God rebuked the people and answered that they fasted to get their own way, not seek God’s way, and they fasted without humility or repentance: “Behold, you fast only to quarrel and fight, and to strike with the fist of wickedness. You cannot fast as you do this day and make your voice heard on high” (Isa. 58:4).
So we see that in Isaiah’s time the people were not fasting to learn or do the will of God, or to repent and obey God, they were fasting as a means of forcing their will upon God. Of course that will never work, but it teaches us what is perhaps one of the greatest lessons we can learn about fasting: God said that His fasts—meaning genuine fasts—were accompanied by true humility, repentance, and godly behavior. God said, “Is not this the kind of fast that I choose: to release the bonds of wickedness…Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and that you bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked person, that you cover him, and that you do not hide yourself from your own flesh?...Then you will call, and Yahweh will answer (Isa. 58:6-7, 9).
Sadly, sometimes the record in Isaiah 58:6-7 is used to try to show that God does not want people to abstain from food but instead just to do good works. As we can see from God’s command to fast on the Day of Atonement (Lev. 16:29, 31), and the many examples of godly men and women who fasted and went without food, fasting can move God and have other beneficial effects. What Isaiah 58 shows us is that going without food while still being proud, arrogant, and disobedient to God is ineffective and will not move God in any way. In that light, fasting is like prayer, the offerings and prayers of evil people are mostly ignored by God (see commentary on Amos 5:22).
Surely people fasted to get God to intervene in specific situations and to get His help, but true godly fasting was always done with humility and the idea that what the fast was supposed to help with was a godly purpose and in alignment with the will of God.