Isaiah 58 Devotional
by Pastor Lawrence
Fast days and feast days were designed by God for the good of his people and for the health of the nation as a whole. Yet like every other good thing created by God, sinful man found a way to pervert them, to suck the life out of them and to empty them of their meaning. There is nothing more that God hates than vain worship and empty rituals that convey spirituality but are, in reality, dead, hypocritical works. In this passage the Lord bemoans the fact that his people seek him daily and appear to be delighted to draw near to him in order to know his ways but are really being disingenuous.
On their fast days they would go to great lengths to put on a show of humility wearing very uncomfortable sackcloth and rolling around in ashes as they deprived themselves of food in order to get God’s attention. This was meant to be a sign of national repentance over their sin after God brought some judgment against them, but it was merely an act. And the Lord, who knows all things, perceived the intentions of their hearts, and he refused to hear their prayers and grant them forgiveness. His main indictment against them was that they sought their own pleasure on these holy fast days and not the pleasure of the Lord, and it was their pleasure that led to their neighbors’ pain. The bad tree was still producing bad fruit. Their fasting did not promote the welfare of the society or love for their neighbors. Oppression abounded along with quarrelling and fighting amongst the Jews.
Nevertheless, the Lord reasoned with his people explaining to them once again what he required of them that their fast days would lead to genuine righteousness, gracious charity and true liberty. Keep in mind that this was not merely a personal fast, but a national fast over national sins, and the true test of repentance in this case would be for the nation not only to seek the Lord but to delight themselves in doing the work of the Lord by loving their neighbors. The same principle applies to personal fasting when done for the sake of repentance. If one is fasting with the intention of cutting off one’s iniquity and drawing close to the Lord, he or she must consider not only their vertical sins against the Lord but also their horizontal sins against their neighbor. Remember, even Zacchaeus the tax collector when confronted with the grace of Jesus sought to make right the wrongs he had committed against his neighbors by restoring fourfold what he taken and giving to the poor.
In this passage, the Lord promises that if one takes fasting seriously and truly humbles himself before the Lord then there will be a definite reward. In vv.8-12 he promises a guiding light and a healing of wounds, a manifestation of God’s glory in their midst as well as answered prayer, a strengthening of the body as well as a refreshing of their souls, and also a rebuilding of an entire generation and hope for the generations to come. Ultimately, the Lord promises to satisfy all their good and godly desires if they refrain from doing as they please and look to delight themselves in the Lord instead.
In the same manner in vv.13-14, the Lord addresses their Sabbath, which was the greatest feast day for the Jews, promising them that if they seek to delight themselves in the worship of the Lord and give an entire day to celebrate the Lord’s works, rather than doing as they please, then the Lord will reward them for it. He says if you delight in the Sabbath and honor it, by not going your own way, or speaking about vain things, then you will indeed take delight in the Lord instead of merely feigning it, and you will ride on the heights of the earth and be fed by the Lord with the heritage of Jacob your father. In other words, the Lord will pour out an abundance of spiritual blessings upon you not only to know him, but to know the joy of the Lord, the peace of God, and the fellowship of the Spirit that comes with the great assurance of God’s love and the security of knowing Him as your rock and your refuge. Here, he is not promising that one will never experience heartache, pain or trouble, but that in every moment of life, whether in prosperity or adversity, you will enjoy both the presence and the help of the Lord.
Even though we as Gentile Christians today don’t follow the same calendar that the Jews did in terms of their particular days of fasting and feasting, the principles remain the same. We too have an opportunity in these times of worship to do merely as we please or to genuinely delight ourselves in the Lord. The Lord is not mocked. He knows our hearts and our every intention. And he holds the key to our happiness and our security. Will we take him at his word? The mouth of the Lord has spoken. Will we listen?