SPECIAL NOTE: This post is a tad longer than what I have been posting of late. However, the topic was just too short I felt to break-up into a two-post series. You may want to download the PDF version below.
In my last post, we concluded our series on Justice and Judgment ~ Part 4 in Yesha’yahu 57:14-21. In this post, we look at the subject of Fasting & the Shabbat in Yesha’yahu 58:1-14.
The last section of Yesha’yahu’s book puts the final pieces in place for Adonai’s work of salvation and restoration both for Israel and for all of creation. The beginning of that restoration, from Adonai’s standpoint, is the re-establishment of proper worship. Once more, the Prophet is commissioned to shout out, and this time to call the people to repentance. Such will be the case during the time of the end. The first advent of the Lord was heralded by John the Baptist, who called the nation to repentance. Another call to repentance will precede the second advent. It is before us in this chapter. In this, we will have all the great future blessings of the converted remnant of Israel described.
1 Shout out loud! Don’t hold back! Raise your voice like a shofar! Proclaim to My people what rebels they are, to the house of Ya’akov their sins. 2 “Oh yes, they seek Me day after day and [claim to] delight in knowing My ways. As if they were an upright nation that had not abandoned the rulings of their God, they ask Me for just rulings and [claim] to take pleasure in closeness to God,
Adonai instructs Yesha’yahu to shout out the message that His people were sinning even though they came to the Temple and delighted in seeking His ways. In other words, these were people who loved to study the Word, to fellowship together, to worship Adonai – and yet Adonai indicts them. Why? Because, although they loved to learn about Adonai, they weren’t interested in obeying Him. How much is that like so many of us today. When the Ruach begins to convict us, when the Word of Adonai starts to speak to us, we usually only think of it in terms of how it applies to others.
3 [asking,] ‘Why should we fast, if you don’t see? Why mortify ourselves, if You don’t notice?’ “Here is My answer: when you fast, you go about doing whatever you like, while keeping your laborers hard at work. 4 Your fasts lead to quarreling and fighting, to lashing out with violent blows. On a day like today, fasting like yours will not make your voice heard on high. 5 “Is this the sort of fast I want, a day when a person mortifies himself? Is the object to hang your head like a reed and spread sackcloth and ashes under yourself? Is this what you call a fast, a day that pleases Adonai?
Adonai responded to His people’s challenges. He did not respond to their fasting because it was superficial and inauthentic. It led to divisions in the community and exploitative behavior toward underlings, as well as self-absorption. Adonai’s idea of fasting extended far beyond public expressions of mourning. Yeshua said the same thing in Matthew 6 when He said, “Now when you fast, don’t go around looking miserable, like the hypocrites. They make sour faces so that people will know they are fasting. Yes! I tell you; they have their reward already! 17 But you, when you fast, wash your face and groom yourself, 18 so that no one will know you are fasting – except your Father, who is with you in secret. Your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” ~ Matthew 6:16-18 (CJB)
6 “Here is the sort of fast I want – releasing those unjustly bound, untying the thongs of the yoke, letting the oppressed go free, breaking every yoke,
After condemning the people’s idea of fasting, Adonai defined what He understood to be legitimate and effective fasting. The emphasis is on social justice. Fasting must be connected to behavior that helps the exploited find freedom. The yoke is often an image of exploitation and bondage.
It should be noted that the only fasting that Adonai commanded was regarding Yom Kippur. All the rest are rabbinical mandates or personal acts of piety (see Leviticus 23:28).
7 sharing your food with the hungry, taking the homeless poor into your house, clothing the naked when you see them, fulfilling your duty to your kinsmen!”
What Adonai wanted was religious practice offered from truly humble hearts. Seeking to worship with false motives and with no concern for righteousness is not true worship. So, what does true religion look like? What is proper behavior for the subjects of the King? Believers are to help the oppressed (v.6), give food to the hungry, provide shelter to the homeless, and clothing the naked. As Believers, we are to “care for orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being contaminated by the world” ~ James 1:27 (CJB). Fasting for a day would provide some extra funding to fulfill this need.
8 Then your light will burst forth like the morning; your new skin will quickly grow over your wound; your righteousness will precede you, and Adonai’s glory will follow you. 9 Then you will call, and Adonai will answer; you will cry, and He will say, “Here I am.” If you will remove the yoke from among you, stop false accusation and slander,
The people began by complaining that Adonai did not respond to their fasting. Fasting seems self-denying, but Adonai recognized that the fasting of His people had been manipulative. True self-denial means helping others, and behavior that is other-centered rather than self-directed will be rewarded. Adonai will remove the yoke upon us mentioned in v.3.
10 generously offer food to the hungry and meet the needs of the person in trouble; then your light will rise in the darkness, and your gloom become like noon.
Light and darkness stand for prosperity and need. Faithful obedience and a turning from evil will transform darkness into light.
11 Adonai will always guide you; He will satisfy your needs in the desert, He will renew the strength in your limbs; so that you will be like a watered garden, like a spring whose water never fails.
Abundant, comprehensive blessings of physical health, answered prayer, and continual guidance is promised to those with a heart for the poor and afflicted of society.
12 You will rebuild the ancient ruins, raise foundations from ages past, and be called “Repairer of broken walls, Restorer of streets to live in.”
The prophecy looks forward to the restoration when Adonai’s people will leave their captivity and return to the land, but the land and its cities, especially Yerushalayim. Obedience will lead to prosperity and fertility. The parched land will turn into a watered garden. Obedience and faithful piety will also lead to the strength needed to rebuild the city of Yerushalayim and its defenses. This would be fulfilled when, under the leadership of Ezra and Nehemiah, the people rebuilt the Temple and walls of Yerushalayim following their Babylonian captivity.
13 “If you hold back your foot on Shabbat from pursuing your own interests on My holy day; if you call Shabbat a delight, Adonai’s holy day, worth honoring; then honor it by not doing your usual things or pursuing your interests or speaking about them.
According to later rabbinic writings, the Shabbat in the postexilic period took on the idea of laying aside the day to worship Adonai. The Shabbat became one of the primary means of showing loyalty to Adonai and His statutes.
14 If you do, you will find delight in Adonai – I will make you ride on the heights of the land and feed you with the heritage of your ancestor Ya’akov, for the mouth of Adonai has spoken.” ~ Isaiah 58:1-14 (CJB)
In the ancient Near East, cities were typically built on hills because of their natural defensibility, and armies chose hills as strategic points of control. The metaphor to ride on the heights of the land speaks of victory and security.
In my next post, we will begin to explore the issue of Sin, Confession & Redemption ~ Part 1 in Yesha’yahu 59:1-11.