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Go to Bible: Isaiah 58
“shofar.” The ram’s horn trumpet, not the metal trumpet.(top)
“delight to know my ways.” This is irony. It is obvious from the context that the people sought God to get what they wanted, not sought Him to know and obey His ways. This is one of the many places where totally selfish people seek God to get things from Him without giving a thought about whether they themselves are obeying God.
“a nation.” God usually refers to Israel as His people or the people. But here he refers to them as a nation, a word that He regularly uses for the pagan nations. Thus there is buried in the vocabulary God’s assessment of Israel: they were acting like pagans.
“did righteousness.” That is, did righteous things. (See commentary on Matthew 5:6).(top)
“Behold.” God starts speaking here. That would have been clearer if this sentence was the first part of verse four instead of the last sentence in verse three.(top)
“you fast.” The people fasted, but like the Pharisees in the time of Jesus, they did not fast out of a genuine and righteous love for God, but for their own pride and position, and then they used their religious scruples to berate and beat down everyone that did not fast like they did. That is why they fasted only “to strike others with the fist of wickedness.”
“You cannot fast as you do this day and make your voice heard on high.” This is an important truth that people must understand. God is not impressed with the works that people do if they do not do them with the right heart. If we want God to hear our prayers or respond to the sacrifices we make, we must do them with the purpose of humbly and honesty honoring and glorifying God. God does not listen to the prayers of the wicked or respond to the sacrifices of the wicked as if just praying or giving an offering somehow pleased God in and of itself. God does not need those things; He wants us to genuinely love Him and obey Him.
[For more information about the sacrifices of wicked people being of no value, see commentary on Amos 5:22.](top)
|Isa 58:5||- (top)|
“Isn’t 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, “Isn’t 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.(top)
“your own flesh.” Meaning, other human beings. All humans are of the same flesh, descended from Adam and Eve, and we must recognize the value of every person.(top)
“the glory of Yahweh will be your rear guard.” The glory of Yahweh is the brilliant cloud of light surrounding Yahweh, so if the glory of Yahweh is our rear guard, then God follows behind us guarding our backs from the enemy. [For more on the glory of God, see commentary on Ezekiel 1:28].(top)
“Then you will call and Yahweh will answer.” If a person is evil or unrepentant, God will not hear his prayers (cp. Job 35:12-13; Prov. 15:29; Isa. 1:15; 59:1-2; Ezek. 8:17-18; Micah 3:4; Zech. 7:12-13; James 4:3). But the prayer of a righteous person accomplishes much (James 5:16). Isaiah 58:1-8 is a powerful section of Scripture on the value of being humble and obeying God.
“finger-pointing.” There is nothing new under the sun. This is not a biblical custom, because finger pointing and blaming has always been a part of human culture.(top)
|Isa 58:10||- (top)|
|Isa 58:11||- (top)|
“Some of you.” The Hebrew text is more literally, “Those from among you,” but it means “some of you.”(top)
“turn back your foot from breaking the Sabbath.” God wanted people to refrain from traveling on the Sabbath and focus on Him, resting, and being with family (cp. Exod. 16:29; Exod. 20:11 and Deut. 5:14 say God “rested” on the Sabbath). By the time of Jesus, this travel restriction was codified in law to a distance of 2,000 cubits (slightly less than .6 mile), a “Sabbath day’s journey.”(top)
“feed you with the inheritance of Jacob.” “The inheritance of Jacob” is the land of Israel, which was promised to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Israel. In this verse, “the inheritance of Jacob” is put by metonymy for the abundance of food produced in the land of Israel—God would feed Israel with an abundance of food produced in the land. Many verses in the Old Testament foretell a time when the land of Israel and waters there will be healed and the deserts will bloom (indeed, this will happen to the whole earth) so food and wine will be abundant for both man and animals (Isa. 25:6; 30:23-26; 32:15; 35:1-7; 41:18-20; 44:3; 51:3; Jer. 31:5, 11-14; Ezek. 47:1, 2, 7-12; Hos. 2:21-22; Joel 2:18-26; 3:18; Amos 9:13). The time this will happen will be in the Messianic Kingdom (the “Millennial Kingdom”) when Jesus rules the earth after he conquers it in the Battle of Armageddon. Many Scriptures foretell the time when Jesus will rule over the whole earth (cp. Ps. 2:8; 72:8-11; Dan. 2:35; 7:14; Micah 5:4; Zech. 9:10; Rev. 2:8; 19:11-21), and his palace will be in Jerusalem (Ps. 2:6; 110:2; Zech. 9:9).
The abundance of the food in the Messianic Kingdom is linked to the feast that God will throw for the people of the Kingdom.
[For more on the promise of the land to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as an inheritance, see commentary on Genesis 15:18. For more on the great feast in the Kingdom of Heaven, the Messianic Kingdom on earth, see commentary on Matthew 8:12. For more on the future kingdom of Christ on earth, the Millennial Kingdom, see Appendix 3, “Christ’s Future Kingdom on Earth"].(top)