Pastor Steve Ellison: The Fast God Chooses
In Isaiah 58, we find God answering a question from His people with a question of His own to them. That is not a back-and-forth you can expect to win. You are not adequately equipped for that sort of contest.
In verses two and three, God gives us the background to His upcoming question. God says that the nation of Israel is attempting to ask questions based on their righteousness and obedience to Him. God wastes no time in quickly putting them in their place. Their claim to deserve justice does not even merit an answer because they are far from righteous or obedient.
Their complaint that despite their fasting and humility God has not responded to them appropriately is patently false. They are merely going through ritual without any humility of heart and without any real obedience to the commands of God.
Isaiah 58:3b-7 answers their complaint with brutal honesty, Behold, on the day of your fast you find your desire, And drive hard all your workers. Behold, you fast for contention and strife and to strike with a wicked fist. You do not fast like you do today to make your voice heard on high. Is it a fast like this which I choose, a day for a man to humble himself? Is it for bowing one's head like a reed And for spreading out sackcloth and ashes as a bed? Will you call this a fast, even an acceptable day to the Lord? Is this not the fast which I choose, To loosen the bonds of wickedness, To undo the bands of the yoke, And to let the oppressed go free And break every yoke? Is it not to divide your bread with the hungry And bring the homeless poor into the house; When you see the naked, to cover him; And not to hide yourself from your own flesh? (NASU)
The people of Israel were asking for the favor and blessing of God while ignoring His clear commands about not taking advantage of and oppressing the weak among them. Beyond not oppressing, God had commanded them to help the destitute among them.
Isaiah 58:8-11 answers the question of “when would God help them.”
Then your light will break out like the dawn, And your recovery will speedily spring forth; And your righteousness will go before you; The glory of the Lord will be your rear guard. Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; You will cry, and He will say, 'Here I am.' If you remove the yoke from your midst, The pointing of the finger and speaking wickedness, And if you give yourself to the hungry And satisfy the desire of the afflicted, Then your light will rise in darkness And your gloom will become like midday. And the Lord will continually guide you, And satisfy your desire in scorched places, And give strength to your bones; And you will be like a watered garden, And like a spring of water whose waters do not fail. Those from among you will rebuild the ancient ruins; You will raise up the age-old foundations; And you will be called the repairer of the breach, The restorer of the streets in which to dwell. (NASU)
In both Testaments of His revelation of Himself, God is abundantly clear about His expectations of how the weak among us are to be treated. God’s people are called to have the highest possible standards regarding how they treat employees, widows, orphans, poor people, aliens, etc. Our religious rituals mean nothing if we disobey these commands. Perhaps faith is best seen as the ability to trust that God will call us to account and punish or reward accordingly.