Paint or Get off the Ladder

1 "Cry aloud, spare not; Lift up your voice like a trumpet; declare to My people their transgressions, And the house of Jacob their sins.

2 Yet they seek Me daily, And delight to know My ways, As if they were a nation that did righteousness, and did not forsake the ordinance of their God. They ask of Me righteous judgments; They take delight in approaching God.

3 'Why have we fasted,' they say, 'and You have not seen? Why have we afflicted our souls, and You take no notice?' In fact, in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure, And exploit all your laborers.

4 Indeed you fast for strife and debate, And to strike with the fist of wickedness. You will not fast as you do this day, in order to make your voice heard on high.

5 Is it a fast that I have chosen, A day for a man to afflict his soul? Is it to bow down his head like a bulrush, And to spread out sackcloth and ashes? Will you call this a fast, And an acceptable day to the LORD?

6 Is this not the fast that I have chosen: To loose the bonds of wickedness, To undo the heavy burdens, To let the oppressed go free, And that you break every yoke?

7 Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, And that you bring to your house the poor who are cast out; When you see the naked, that you cover him, And not hide yourself from your own flesh?

8 Then your light shall break forth like the morning, Your healing shall spring forth speedily, And your righteousness shall go before you; The glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.

9 Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer; You shall cry, and He will say, 'Here I am.' If you take away the yoke from your midst, The pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness,

10 If you extend your soul to the hungry And satisfy the afflicted soul, Then your light shall dawn in the darkness, And your darkness shall be as the noonday.

11 The LORD will guide you continually, And satisfy your soul in drought, And strengthen your bones; You shall be like a watered garden, And like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail.

12 Those from among you shall build the ancient ruins; You shall raise up the foundations of many generations; You shall be called the Repairer of the Breach, The Restorer of Streets to Dwell In.

13 If you turn away your foot from the Sabbath, From doing your pleasure on My holy day, And call the Sabbath a delight, The holy day of the LORD honorable, And shall honor Him, not doing your own ways, Nor seeking your own pleasure, Nor speaking your own words,

14 Then you shall delight yourself in the LORD; And I will cause you to ride on the high hills of the earth, And feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father. The mouth of the LORD has spoken."

God loved the people of Israel for hundreds and hundreds of years, but apparently it did not do very much good. God's pain, as the rejected Lover--Israel's spiritual adulteries, are frequent themes in the writings of the Prophets. A powerful "sermon" by Isaiah to Jerusalem and Judah was given about 125 years before the destruction of the city by Nebuchadnezzar in 586 BC. Chapter 58 is part of a series of presentations from the Lord to His people which cover the entire second half of Isaiah (40-66). The central theme of this chapter is "true religion" versus "false religion" (or worship).

Isaiah served the Lord in Jerusalem for 50 or perhaps even 60 years. He began his public ministry late in the reign of good King Uzziah who died in 740 BC. Isaiah lived to see five wars: civil war with the Northern tribes, war with Syria, Assyria, Edom and Philistia. In 722 BC, the Assyrians took the Northern Tribes captive and destroyed the capital at Samaria. Uzziah was succeeded by Jotham, then bad king Ahaz, then Hezekiah--one of Judah's very best kings. According to tradition Isaiah was martyred by Manasseh. We have the advantage of being able to see all of Israel's long history after the death of King David. The deterioration of Israel's national moral and spiritual life was inexorable. The reforms of the good kings such as Hezekiah were never enough to turn the nation back to God though they delayed the final judgment. In 586 BC Nebuchadnezzar destroyed Jerusalem and took the survivors captive to Babylon.

Above all other sins, God hates hypocrisy. Yahweh is a personal God and wants His people to know their God personally and to interact with Him daily on an intimate basis. What does it means to know and to serve God? What is the difference between an external religion which God finds meaningless, and a lifestyle which does please Him?

The chapter begins with God telling Isaiah to assemble the people and to deliver a personal message to them from the Lord. The prophet was to shout, to speak as if a loud trumpet of alarm were sounding. Isaiah was to pull out all the stops and speak the truth frankly and boldly. The conduct of "His people" and the way they were living was unacceptable to the Lord. The strongest possible warning was called for.

In this message, God calls the nation "His people" and then "the house of Jacob." Jacob and Israel are the same man in the Bible. When Jacob wrestled with The Angel of the Lord at the Brook Jabbok, (Genesis 32:24-32) his name was changed from Jacob ("supplanter") to Israel ("he who strives with God and prevails"). Previously deceitful, cunning and manipulative, Israel had become a prince before God. Later, when the people lapsed into their old ways, God frequently addressed the nation as "Jacob," but on rare occasions when the nation responded, God called them "Israel" once again. Jacob is a type of the ordinary believer, so we can see ourselves easily in this chapter.

The heart is deceitful above all things,
And desperately wicked;
Who can know it?" (Jeremiah 17:9)

From of old no one has heard or perceived by the ear, no eye has seen a God besides thee, who works for those who wait for him. Thou meetest him that joyfully works righteousness, those that remember thee in thy ways. Behold, thou wast angry, and we sinned; in our sins we have been a long time, and shall we be saved? We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. There is no one that calls upon thy name, that bestirs himself to take hold of thee; for thou hast hid thy face from us, and hast delivered us into the hand of our iniquities. Yet, O LORD, thou art our Father; we are the clay, and thou art our potter; we are all the work of thy hand. Be not exceedingly angry, O LORD, and remember not iniquity for ever. Behold, consider, we are all thy people. (Isaiah 64:4-9)

"Come now, let us reason together," says the LORD: "though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool." (Isaiah 1:18)

Beginning at verse 2 God notes that Israel is a religious people. They are quite happy with the externals of religion--with prayers, and temple sacrifices and worship services. They are proud to be God's own, special, chosen people. But God is not experientially real to them. Their lives are boring and dull. Their carefully crafted and opt-repeated prayers go unanswered. Their fasting brings no results. The heavens are shut and their religion is empty. From all outward appearances their religious house would seem to be in order. But that is not how the Lord see things.

Israel is not really righteous on the inside. The two great commandments which sum up the entire Law and all that God desires of man were not in reality observed in everyday life:

Jesus said..."You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.' This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets." (Matthew 22:37-40)

Before they can truly be blessed and enjoy God again, Israel must be taken to the Court of the Lord to hear the case against them.

For the Lord sees not as man sees. For man looks on the outward appearance, but God looks upon the heart. (1 Samuel 16:7)

God's purpose for Israel was that they should be a righteous nation, a light to the gentiles. By the way they lived they were to model the character and the Person of the true and living God--for all the world to see. God had attached His name to this people and it was His holy name that they had repeatedly dishonored. God's purpose for the world was being thwarted by the unavailability of His people Israel to fulfill His objectives. The nations around had no reason to be attracted to the God of Israel because they saw the constant hypocrisy of Yahweh's people.

God's first charge in His indictment is that the people are busy pursuing their own pleasures and pursuing their own business as first priority. It was each man for himself. "It is OK for me to be a believer as long as God doesn't interfere with my plans and the way I want to live my life." "God helps those who help themselves, I'm only looking out for Number One."

 False Worship

  • Religion that is impersonal, formal turned-inward, purely liturgical, program centered.
  • Comes into place by habit and tradition. "This is the way we have always done things here." Seems logical, reasonable.
  • Self-serving (what can God do for us?)
  • Isolationist, Escapist (God will save us out of this awful evil world). Country-club Christianity
  • Predictable, comfortable, controlled, orchestrated, no surprises, runs on autopilot
  • Passive involvement by most of the members, (ignoring the reality that God is a deeply personal Being)

"...a religion which assumes a relationship with God while discounting a relationships with the people."

J Vernon McGee calls this section of Isaiah "playing church."

"Religion that it pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to visit widows and orphans in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained by the world." (James)

Ray Stedman says "the ultimate test of faith has always been: does it lead you to serve, to help somebody in need? Do you feel motivated to act? If you do, your faith is real. Otherwise, as James says, it is a "dead faith." The acid test is not, "What does my religion do for me?" but, "What does it make me do for others?"

A selfish life brings inevitable clashes with friends and family alike. We can not do things our way without violating the rights and boundaries of others. In the New Testament, James says that wars and violence are a direct consequence of a life lived hedonistically for one's own pleasures and goals. A self-centered life takes advantage of others--pressing onward and upward oblivious to the needs of others around us who are less fortunate than ourselves. But, a self-centered life brings frustration--it runs contrary to the way things were created. When we reach our goals we find them hollow and empty. The resulting frustration leaves us angry, resentful, and even murderous in our hearts. "I want 'my rights,'" "I deserve a good life, I earned it."

What causes wars, and what causes fightings among you? Is it not your passions that are at war in your members? You desire and do not have; so you kill. And you covet and cannot obtain; so you fight and wage war. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. You adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you suppose it is in vain that the scripture says, "He yearns jealously over the spirit which he has made to dwell in us"? But he gives more grace; therefore it says, "God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble." Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you men of double mind. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to dejection. Humble yourselves before the Lord and he will exalt you. (James 4:1-10)

God, however, is a self-giving Being. He can not act selfishly. When He calls us to be His people, His call comes with the reminder, you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God's. (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)

It was on His last visit to Jerusalem with His disciples, when He was about to be delivered over to the Romans for execution, that Jesus spoke clearly of the cost of following Him:

The hour has come that the Son of Man should be glorified. Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain. He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves Me, let him follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also. If anyone serves Me, him My Father will honor. (John 12:23-26)

Then Jesus said to His disciples, "If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? For the Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then He will reward each according to his works. (Matthew 16:24-27)

Head knowledge about God is of no value in and of itself. Truth which is not acted upon is lost. God cares nothing for our self-effort, our religion. We can not please Him by trying harder and by mere lip service.

The Law of Moses provided for only one annual Fast for Israel--on the day of Atonement. Fasting at other times was certainly permissible. But the Fast the Lord observes in His people does not go hand in hand with a changed life style. In spite of their fasting the people continue to "pursue their own pleasure (life-styles), and it is "business as usual.'"

False religion does not work because God--who sees our hearts--does not show up! He can not be coerced into endorsing our self-serving religion. He has His own agenda.

Nothing Had Changed: Isaiah's First Sermon to the People

Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth! For the LORD has spoken: "I have nourished and brought up children, And they have rebelled against Me;

The ox knows its owner And the donkey its master's crib; But Israel does not know, My people do not consider

Alas, sinful nation, A people laden with iniquity, A brood of evildoers, Children who are corrupters! They have forsaken the LORD, They have provoked to anger The Holy One of Israel, They have turned away backward.

Why should you be stricken again? You will revolt more and more. The whole head is sick, And the whole heart faints.

From the sole of the foot even to the head, There is no soundness in it, But wounds and bruises and putrefying sores; They have not been closed or bound up, Or soothed with ointment.

Your country is desolate, Your cities are burned with fire; Strangers devour your land in your presence; And it is desolate, as overthrown by strangers.

So the daughter of Zion is left as a booth in a vineyard, As a hut in a garden of cucumbers, As a besieged city.

Unless the LORD of hosts Had left to us a very small remnant, We would have become like Sodom, We would have been made like Gomorrah.

Hear the word of the LORD, You rulers of Sodom; Give ear to the law of our God, You people of Gomorrah:

"To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices to Me?" Says the LORD. "I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams And the fat of fed cattle. I do not delight in the blood of bulls, Or of lambs or goats.

"When you come to appear before Me, Who has required this from your hand, To trample My courts?

Bring no more futile sacrifices; Incense is an abomination to Me. The New Moons, the Sabbaths, and the calling of assemblies--I cannot endure iniquity and the sacred meeting.

Your New Moons and your appointed feasts My soul hates; They are a trouble to Me, I am weary of bearing them.

When you spread out your hands, I will hide My eyes from you; Even though you make many prayers, I will not hear. Your hands are full of blood.

"Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; Put away the evil of your doings from before My eyes. Cease to do evil,

Learn to do good; Seek justice, Rebuke the oppressor; Defend the fatherless, Plead for the widow.

"Come now, and let us reason together," Says the LORD, "Though your sins are like scarlet, They shall be as white as snow; Though they are red like crimson, They shall be as wool.

If you are willing and obedient, You shall eat the good of the land;

But if you refuse and rebel, You shall be devoured by the sword"; For the mouth of the LORD has spoken. (Isaiah 1:2-21)

After speaking briefly but sharply to Israel God graciously outlined for them the kind of life styles that would gain His favor and merit His blessings. Wonderful promises are spelled out for anyone who will take Him seriously in this regard.

First, there is a way of true fasting that does have God's approval. It has nothing to do with outwardly appearing pious and humble. It is practical as well. God's heart of compassion longs that people everywhere should be set free from sin and made new in Christ. Verses 4 and 5 of Isaiah Chapter 58 spoke of fasting which is merely ceremonial and pretentious. In verse 6 God says,

Is this not the fast that I have chosen: To loose the bonds of wickedness, To undo the heavy burdens, To let the oppressed go free, And that you break every yoke?

God's people should be busy doing the work their Master came to do:

The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good tidings to the afflicted; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the LORD's favor..." (Isaiah 61:1-2a)

The son of man came to seek and to save that which is lost. (Matthew 18:11)

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. (John 3:16-17)

A Pattern in Isaiah

The second half of Isaiah contains the following pattern: First, Israel the nation is revealed to be the Servant of the Lord. Then Israel's failure to live up to her calling is discussed--along with calls from the Lord for repentance. Third, Messiah is shown to be True Israel who will Himself fulfill the calling of God. Finally, because of Messiah's perfect obedience, Israel, the nation, can be saved and will find her ultimate fulfillment and salvation. Chapter 58 belongs to the second of these categories. God is here calling his servant Israel to repentance.

In Chapter 61, the true Messiah announces His purposes in coming to earth to live among men in a future day,

"The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good tidings to the afflicted; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the LORD's favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; to grant to those who mourn in Zion--to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he may be glorified...."

Clearly this Chapter of Isaiah encompasses Messiah's work during both His First and His Second Advents.

When Jesus began His ministry he spoke in the synagogue at Nazareth:

"...And Jesus came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up; and he went to the synagogue, as his custom was, on the sabbath day. And he stood up to read; and there was given to him the book of the prophet Isaiah. He opened the book and found the place where it was written, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord..." And he closed the book, and gave it back to the attendant, and sat down; and the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing." (Luke 4:16-21)

By quoting only the first verse and part of the second verse of Isaiah 61, Jesus clearly indicated that His First Coming was to offer good news, healing, and salvation to mankind. Judgment and the final redemption would wait until He returned a second time.

People who do not know God are said to be "dead in trespasses and sins," i.e., unresponsive to God--without a connection to Him. They are said to be "lost," "without hope," and "under the (continual) wrath of God." They are not righteous by God's standards, and can not please Him by good deeds or by their moral efforts. People who do not know God are actually enemies of God and need to be reconciled to Him.

And you, who once were estranged and hostile in mind, and, as a result, doing evil deeds, He has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him... (Colossians 1:21-22)

 As it is written: "There is none righteous, no, not one;
There is none who understands;
There is none who seeks after God.
They have all turned aside;
They have together become unprofitable;
There is none who does good, no, not one."
"Their throat is an open tomb;
With their tongues they have practiced deceit";
"The poison of asps is under their lips";
"Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness."
"Their feet are swift to shed blood;
Destruction and misery are in their ways;
And the way of peace they have not known."
"There is no fear of God before their eyes."
Now we know that whatever the law says,
it says to those who are under the law,
that every mouth may be stopped,
and all the world may become guilty before God.
(Romans 3:10-19)

God continues speaking encouragement to his people, Isaiah 58 verse 7:

"Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, And that you bring to your house the poor who are cast out; When you see the naked, that you cover him, And not hide yourself from your own flesh?"

Where is God's heart in the world today? Obviously He cares about widows and orphans, the poor and disenfranchised, the weak and those who would like to find a way to be free from sin and its bondages. God wants to use his people in this work. Jude speaks of this at the close of his epistle:

"But you, beloved, build yourselves up on your most holy faith; pray in the Holy Spirit; keep yourselves in the love of God; wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life. And convince some, who doubt; save some, by snatching them out of the fire; on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment spotted by the flesh. Now to him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you without blemish before the presence of his glory with rejoicing, to the only God, our Savior through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and for ever. Amen. (Jude 20-25)

Those who begin to join forces with their Savior and work alongside Him in the world soon find,

Then your light shall break forth like the morning, Your healing shall spring forth speedily, And your righteousness shall go before you; The glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard. (Isaiah 58 verse 8),

The people in Isaiah's day complained of unanswered prayer, of daily lives that had become dull and mundane. They had not been healed and their was no light for them to follow.

 Locking up the Holy Spirit in a Closet

The gospels show that Jesus did not come to overthrow the Roman Empire nor to bring in the long-expected Kingdom rule of God on earth. Instead, "The Son of man came to seek and to save that which was lost."

And Jesus went on from there and passed along the Sea of Galilee...And great crowds came to him, bringing with them the lame, the maimed, the blind, the dumb, and many others, and they put them at his feet, and he healed them, so that the throng wondered, when they saw the dumb speaking, the maimed whole, the lame walking, and the blind seeing; and they glorified the God of Israel. (Matthew 15:29-31)

Jesus called His disciples to the exact same task, and after He had trained them, the Lord sent them into the villages of Israel all alone to do the same work He had been doing. The disciples went out and sure enough: "the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is he who takes no offense at me." (Matthew 11:5,6)

But there is more: At the Last Supper, on the night of His betrayal, Jesus told His disciples that it was necessary that He go away:

"Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes to you, he will convince the world of sin and of righteousness and of judgment:" (John 16:7-8 RCS Version)

Ray Stedman says this about the work of the Holy Spirit through us in this present age:

You see, the Holy Spirit is not coming to the world; he is coming to you, to the church, to the Christian. And when he comes to the Christian, this will convince the world of sin and of righteousness and of judgment. That is what he is saying. In fact, back in Chapter 14, Jesus had said specifically to these disciples that when the Spirit of truth would come, the world would not be able to receive him. It does not receive him -- it cannot receive him -- because it neither sees him nor knows him. Therefore he does not come to the world; he comes to us. But when he comes to us and operates in us as he intends, he will have this three-fold effect upon the world.

What effect? There are three things the world ought to see when it looks at the church. If it does not see these three things, then the church is not a Spirit-filled church. It is not operating in the way it is intended. You can bring that down to the individual as well. There are three things the world ought to see when it looks at you, as a Christian. If it does not see these three things, then you are not filled with the Spirit. You are not being led by, and operating by means of, the Spirit of God, as the Lord intended for you to do.

The first thing the world ought to see when it looks at us is that the issue of life is Jesus. It ought to be convicted of sin, "because they believe not on him." I am convinced that if the church had not reflected Jesus, and spoken of him, the world would soon have forgotten him. In fact, by now he would have become some dim name in history, for the world desperately wants to forget that Jesus ever came and lived among us. It desperately wants to relegate his name and all his teachings to the farthest reaches of ancient history and to forget about him. If you do not believe that, just listen to the teachers of today. They tell you that undoubtedly Jesus was a great man, but he lived in the far distant past. What he said has no relevancy to our day and so we need not be concerned about him. What is the church for? It is to bring Jesus consistently before the world. It is no accident that the great spiritual awakening of our day, in which the Spirit has been moving in great power, has been labeled "the Jesus Movement." That is what the church ought to be doing constantly talking about Jesus.

When I travel around the country I visit many different churches. And so many times I find that the thing most emphasized by the church in its attempts to reach out to the world is the church! The church presents the program of the church, and what the church will do, and offers the church to society. The early Christians never wasted their time in that. They never talked about the church; they talked about the Lord. The church doesn't save anybody. The church doesn't help anybody. It is the Lord who does it. He redeems, he changes, he revolutionizes, he forgives, he restores, he heals -- not the church! When the church is Spirit-filled it talks about Jesus. And when the world hears that, then it is finally convinced that its most basic and fundamental sin is not the evil things it does but the fact that it does not believe in Jesus.

The second thing they are to be convinced of is righteousness, Jesus says, "because I go to the Father, and you will see me no more." That is, when the world looks at the church it ought to see a different way of life, a different standard of behavior. What it once saw in Jesus it is now to see in the church. And this is what convinces the world there are absolutes in life. Secular writers and philosophers will tell you that there are no absolutes, no standards. Whatever anyone wants to do is right for him to do. There is nothing inherently right or wrong; it is only good or bad in terms of how it affects an individual. We are deluged today by "situational ethics," the idea that the situation alone determines whether a thing is right or wrong. And the world will believe that until it sees in the church a standard of behavior which makes it realize that some things are always helpful, but that others always blast and ruin, that there is clear-cut righteousness and there is absolute evil.

Last Sunday night during the Body Life service there was some wonderful sharing, a wonderful openness, and a sense of the Lord's presence at work manifesting itself in our love and concern for one another. I met a man afterward who was standing on the platform looking out over the congregation as people were talking and sharing and visiting and praying. He shook his head and said, "I don't understand this. I don't get it. I can't get over it. All these young people -- what do they want to come here for? I don't understand." I said, "It's because here they can hear the truth. And there is one thing young people want more than anything else -- truth, honesty, reality, the way things are. Here they can hear it, and it is truth about Jesus." He said, "Well, maybe so, I'll say one thing: these are the most beautiful young people I've ever seen."

That is what the world ought to see when it looks at the church: beauty. It is what the Old Testament calls "the beauty of holiness." When the Word of God is fulfilled, and the Lord Jesus is reigning in an individual's life, and that person is obedient to the Lord and to his word, there is a beauty about that life which captures attention. It is righteousness, the beauty of holiness, and it captivates others. They understand there is a difference, and they want to be like that.

The third thing the world is to see as it looks at the church is judgment, "because the ruler of this world is judged." That is, as they look at the church they ought to see that there is coming a head-on clash between the philosophy of the world and the philosophy of Jesus Christ, and that the one who is going to win is Jesus. All that the world lives by will ultimately be demolished, destroyed. A judgment is coming. And the sign of it to the world is that the power of Satan is already broken in the lives they are observing. Here are people who live by different standards. They follow a different system of morals. They know how to love, how to reach out. They no longer are tied up in themselves, bound up within, tortured by tensions and fears. This is not seen perfectly in any one of us, but the world sees it beginning and growing and happening, and it shows them that the power of evil is broken, that the prince of this world is judged, that this is the goal toward which history is moving. This is what the world is to see when it looks at the church. But it is only when the church is living this way that the world can see it. If they don't see it, it is because we are denying the reality of that judgment. (Secrets of the Spirit)

False religion which calls Christians to pull out and withdraw from the world does two things: Society is denied the salt and light of God's people and affective Christian witness. But even worse, the sovereign work of the Holy Spirit is hindered. It is as if apathetic, uninvolved Christians were locking the Spirit away in a closet in some obscure corner of the church, preventing Him from doing the work he has been called to do in this age.

Isaiah continues,

Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer; You shall cry, and He will say, 'Here I am.' If you take away the yoke from your midst, The pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness,

If you extend your soul to the hungry And satisfy the afflicted soul, Then your light shall dawn in the darkness, And your darkness shall be as the noonday.

The LORD will guide you continually, And satisfy your soul in drought, And strengthen your bones; You shall be like a watered garden, And like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail.

Those from among you shall build the ancient ruins; You shall raise up the foundations of many generations; You shall be called the Repairer of the Breach, The Restorer of Streets to Dwell In. (verses 9-11)

God answers prayers swiftly when His people are engaged in His work. As Hudson Taylor once said, "God's work done in God's way never lacks God's supply." Isaiah moves on to describe eloquently what is commonly called "the Spirit-filled life." He speaks of the healing and repair of society, the reduction of violence and crime in the streets, of wholeness for families, and a safe, godly posterity, and of a nation having true righteousness, protected by God Himself.

"When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command the locust to devour the land, or send pestilence among my people, if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land." (2 Chronicles 7:13-14)

Finally Isaiah speaks of the true Sabbath Rest of God:

If you turn away your foot from the Sabbath, From doing your pleasure on My holy day, And call the Sabbath a delight, The holy day of the LORD honorable, And shall honor Him, not doing your own ways, Nor seeking your own pleasure, Nor speaking your own words,

Then you shall delight yourself in the LORD; And I will cause you to ride on the high hills of the earth, And feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father. The mouth of the LORD has spoken." (verses 13-14)

In the New Testament, observing the Sabbath has nothing to do with worshiping God on a particular day of the week. We can not serve God in the energy of our own flesh and this is one of the lessons we have a hard time understanding. The Sabbath symbolizes the priorities of God in life. Second, Jesus is our Sabbath rest. This means that in order to save our lives we must lose them. This means no longer going our own ways, nor pursuing our own life, dreams, ambitions, pleasures but being available to be used of God for His saving work in the world 24/7/365.25. Isaiah stresses the Sabbath as in a sense the heart of true devotion to God. He who keeps the Sabbath as it is intended to be kept will be happy in the Lord of the Sabbath.

Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a sabbath. These are only a shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ. Let no one disqualify you, insisting on self-abasement and worship of angels, taking his stand on visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God. If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the universe, why do you live as if you still belonged to the world? (Colossians 2:16-20)

The Apostle Paul urges God's people in Corinth to follow his example so that God can use them in His pursuit of the lost of this world. As Hebrews Chapters 3 and 4 explain,

"He who has entered God's (sabbath) rest has ceased from his own efforts as God did from His." (Hebrews 4:10)

That is, the Sabbath Day of the Old Testament points to an invisible reality--to the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. Our Lord Jesus calls His people to stop serving Him in the energy of the flesh and to allow Him to live His endless life through them,

All things have been delivered to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and any one to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." (Matthew 11:27-30)

"I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God; for if justification were through the law, then Christ died to no purpose." (Galatians 2:20-21)

(For more on the topic of the underlying meaning of the Sabbath Day see Entering God's Rest).

Isaiah 58 is intensely practical for the Christian. Here is a great Old Testament passage which sets us free to be all we were designed to be. Here is practical advice which liberates from churchianity and allows us to live exciting lives in the daily service of our God. If Jesus wept over Jerusalem, can we not weep with Him over out own local cities and our nation?

But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumph, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things? For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God's word; but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ. (2 Corinthians 2:14-17)

Audio version by Lambert Dolphin -- Isaiah 58, July 28, 2002.

Study Notes:

1. Call with the throat, spare not, like the trumpet raise thy voice; and tell to my people their transgression and to the house of Jacob their sins.

2 And me day by day they will seek, and the knowledge of my ways they will desire, like a nation that has done righteousness and has not forsaken the judgment of its God; they will ask of me righteous judgments, the approach of God they will desire.

v1 Although the present passage marks the beginning of the third part of the second main section of Isaiah's prophecy, it is also a continuation of the message just presented. The language calls to mind the early verses of chapter forty. Here the message is one of punishment, there of comfort. Here mention is made of the house of Jacob, there of Jerusalem. In both passages call is used and also my people. Then too, the command lift up thy voice is found in both places. It is God who speaks, but whether He is addressing the prophet or simply uttering a general command is difficult to determine.

To cry with the throat means to cry at the top of one's voice.

The prohibition is not absolute, but is used with the negative 'al (not); and we may render, you should not spare. Here then is no whispering, no mere conversational tone, but a crying aloud with the full voice, that the hypocrisy of the people might clearly be revealed. To make the thought perfectly clear, the phrase is added like the trumpet lift up thy voice. Trumpet is emphatic.

In the second half of the verse the content of the message is stated, and is introduced by a command, tell to my people. Parallel with the expression my people is the house of Jacob. The messenger is to be faithful in pointing out to the people of God what their sin is. And no messenger of God that fails to do this is faithful to the divine command.

v2 The introductory And gives the reason why the cry is to be strong, namely, the people are daily seeking God as though they were a righteous nation. The conjunction may possibly be rendered for. The definite object me is emphatic. The worship is insulting, and the emphatic me makes clear that it is the holy God who is insulted. "Me from whom they have fallen away, they daily seek in worship." It is a constant seeking, day, day, i.e. every day. The word seek suggests a coming to God in devotion (cf. 55:6). Furthermore, men desire to know the ways of God. The verb desire is strong and perhaps suggests a delighting in.

These things Israel does like a nation that has done righteousness; hence the implication is that Israel itself is not such a nation. There are two principal interpretations of the verse. One, which is generally espoused today, maintains that the people are acting as they do to discover when God will act and how He will act. They are discontented with His slowness and want to know what He will do. Such desire on their part is more a concern for themselves than a true worship of God. Another interpretation is that the people are simply hypocritical in their approach to God. They act like a nation that actually has done righteousness and has not forsaken the judgment of its God, whereas as a matter of fact they themselves have not done righteousness and have forsaken His judgments. This latter interpretation is more natural. The final sentence is chiastically arranged, beginning and concluding with a verb. A nation that did righteousness might be expected to ask God for righteous judgments, and one that had not forsaken the judgment of its God might also be expected to take pleasure in His approach. Each of the verbs ends in the paragogic Nun, and the final syllable receives the stress. Delitzsch interestingly suggests that this answers the people's self-righteous presumption. An Isaianic trait appears in the repetition of they will take pleasure.

v3 Why have we fasted and thou hast not seen, afflicted our soul and thou wilt not know? Behold! in the day of your fast ye will find pleasure, and all your toilers ye drive on.

4 Behold! for strife and contention ye will fast, and to smite with the fist of wickedness; ye will not fast today to make your voices heard on high.

5 Will it be like this, the fast that I shall choose, the day of a man humbling himself? Is it to bow his head like a bulrush and make sackcloth and ashes his bed? Wilt thou call this a fast, and a day of acceptance to the LORD?

v3 In the first half of this verse we have the complaint of the hypocritical worshipers, and in the second God's reply. The construction of the question (2) is similar to that in 5:4 and 50:2. The meaning is: "Why is it that when we fasted thou didst not see it?" or "Why didst thou not see when we fasted?" Fasting (3) may have been prescribed for the Day of Atonement (cf. Lev. 16:29ff.; 23:17ff.; Numbers 29:7). Later other fasts were observed (Zechariah 7:3; 8:19). From these passages it will be seen that the following clause, we have afflicted ourselves, is probably a technical term for fasting (cf. also Ezra 9:5, where a different word is used). Nephesh in this context does not refer to man's soul, but probably to the entire person, inasmuch as the affliction mentioned, namely fasting, is of a corporeal nature. The people complain that God has neither seen nor does He know (the change in the tenses is significant) of their actions, and thus they accuse Him of indifference. Actually God has seen and does know their action; but He has not seen it with favor, nor does He know it in the sense of accepting it, inasmuch as their worship did not flow from a heart of devotion to Him, but was merely external. They were trusting in the outward merit of religious exercises and not in the living God. The question also reveals pride. "Why," they ask in effect "should God not be pleased with our worship? Have we not done all that His law prescribes?" They murmur at God's providence and complain of His not accepting their worship; hence they are placing more confidence in that worship than in God Himself.

In the second half of the verse the Lord states why He has not seen nor known their worship. They have combined worship with their own pleasure. On the day of their fast, when the heart should be directed in meditation toward God, they have found a time for their own pleasure. In addition they drive on their toilers. The root of the verb is found in the Amharic title of the king of Ethiopia, the Negus; and the root is used of the oppression of the Israelites in Egypt. These hypocritical worshipers regarded the day of fast as an ordinary day of work. The service of God was not going to interfere in any way with the service that they felt was due themselves. They could worship God and carry on their own pleasure and work at the same time (it is well to note that Isaiah mentions pleasure before work) . To be noted also is the force of the verb, which suggests that these employers demanded from their workers all that they could get.

v4 This verse probably sets forth the results rather than the purpose of the fasting, although the preposition le (to, for) does seem to suggest purpose. The tragic results of the fasting are introduced with Behold! as though to say, "This is what your fasting results in." The words quarrel and strife receive emphasis. The fasting of the hypocrites does not prepare their mind for prayer to God but produces contention and strife. Instead of the heart looking to God, the fasters became irritable and upset; and no doubt this was contagious. Indeed, this strife led to striking with the clenched fist, i.e. to fighting, lit., with the fist of wickedness. The chiastic arrangement is interesting. The reason for the fasting is stated negatively. The Israelites do not engage in this practice that their voice may be heard on high, for if they did so their entire approach to fasting would be different, While one cannot be dogmatic, it is quite likely that the phrase on high refers to heaven.

v5 By means of rhetorical questions the Lord points out that the worshipers have not properly worshiped Him. The general sense of the verse is clear, although the details are difficult. The heart of the question is: "The fast that God has chosen as a day of humiliation and abasement, is it such as this one, merely an external fast alone?" Is it like this (i.e. what has just been described) will be the fast I shall choose it? i.e. "Will the fast that I shall choose be like this?" The question is paralleled by the expression, the day of the afflicting of a man himself, i.e. the day in which a man afflicts himself. This expression is a synonym for fasting.

The second question, introduced by the interrogative particle, points out that mock repentance is not acceptance with the Lord. Is it for bending like a rush his head? The straight rush is easily bent, and furnishes a suitable figure for the bent over worshiper. Along with this mock humility the worshiper makes his couch sackcloth and ashes. An extreme of outward humiliation is pictured. It is true that sackcloth and ashes can be signs of repentance (cf. Jon. 3:5-9; 1 Kings 21:27-29), but unless they are accompanied by an inward repentance they avail nothing. We may render the last question: Dost thou call this a fast, and a day of acceptance to the Lord? If one regards this type of worship as acceptable to the Lord, he is grossly mistaken.

6 Is not this the fast that I will choose, to loosen bands of wickedness, to undo the fastenings of the yoke; and to send away the crushed free, and every yoke ye shall break?

7 Is it not to break unto the hungry thy bread, and the afflicted, the homeless, thou shalt bring home? For thou shalt see one naked and shalt clothe him, and from thine own flesh thou shalt not hide thyself.

v6 There is, however, a fast that the Lord does choose, and that fast is now described negatively. The question demands an affirmative answer, and the mere mention of what God does approve makes clear that the opposite is not approved of Him. Even though tzom (fast) is without the definite article, the following verb with its relative force shows that we are to translate the fast that I choose.

That the character of the true fast is set forth by means of infinitives suggests the permanence of the divine requirements, and the imperfect that concludes the sentence lends variety and life to the mode of expression. To loosen (lit., to open) the fetters of wickedness is to remove the wicked bonds or fetters that one has placed upon someone else. It is possible that this and the other phrases refer to the release of unjustly held slaves. According to the law, slaves of Israelitish descent were to be emancipated every three years. Jeremiah 34:8-22 presents an instance of a gross violation of this principle.

The second clause may be rendered, to loosen or undo the bands of the yoke bar; like the first clause it is a general figure of unjust oppression. Delitzsch points out that the motah was the cross wood that formed the chief part of the yoke. When these bands were loosed the yoke animal was free. The same thought is expressed in different language in the third clause, to send the crushed ones free. These crushed ones have been unjustly and even forcibly oppressed. As a concluding statement there is a phrase with an imperfect, and the yoke bar they will snap. The picture is one of complete destruction of the means of oppression.

Isaiah here depicts in figurative language the actions that will characterize those who truly fast. These cover the whole range of attitude toward those oppressed. If one has oppressed another in any way, he will remove that oppression and set free the one whom he has harmed. The reference may possibly be largely to the social sphere, but it is not confined to that. Furthermore, it must be remembered that the actions herein mentioned reflect the attitude of one whose heart delights in the Lord and who serves Him with unfeignedness. Indeed, unless there is a true love of God in the heart, there can in reality be no true service to those who are oppressed. One cannot even rightly diagnose the ills of mankind unless he has first learned their true nature from the Lord. The setting free of those whom we have wrongly oppressed only occurs when our own hearts are filled with God's love.

v7 The description of the true day of fasting is continued, but in this verse the positive side of the picture is prominent. The infinitives still depend upon "This is the fast that I shall choose" in the previous verse.7 The first clause signifies a sharing of one's own food with those that have nothing. Clothing is often associated with food as constituting the bare essentials of life. Here the two are connected by a beautiful chiasm, the first member of which is an infinitive absolute and the second an imperfect singular. The afflicted, even the wandering ones, are to be provided with the shelter of one's own home. The reference is evidently to those who because of oppression or victimization are homeless.

Likewise, when one sees another naked he is to provide covering for him. And he is not to hide himself from his own flesh, i.e. his own kindred (cf. Gen. 29:14; 37:27; 2 Sam. 5:1). It is also possible that flesh simply denotes mankind generally, for all men are flesh; hence, to hide oneself from one's flesh is to refuse to act humanely toward any who are in need. Love toward all men is a hallmark of those who belong to the Lord, and this love will manifest itself in a true concern for their welfare.

8 Then shall break forth as the dawn thy light, and thy healing speedily shall spring up: then shall go up before thee thy righteousness, the glory of the LORD shall be thy rear guard.

9 Then thou wilt call, and the LORD will answer; thou wilt cry, and he will say, Behold me! if thou wilt put away from the midst of thee the yoke, the pointing of the finger, and the speaking of vanity.

v8 The introductory Then is of tremendous significance, for it points to the time when the glorious change will have occurred and God's people will do those things just described.8 In these first two clauses the emphasis falls upon speed. Elsewhere Isaiah uses the verb break forth of the hatching of eggs (59:5) and of water gushing forth (35:6). The word seems to suggest suddenness, swiftness, and novelty. In the Near East the light of day follows almost immediately upon the darkness of night. Hence, as the light suddenly breaks forth, replacing the night, so will break forth (the future is to be preferred to the conditional in translation) the people's light, i.e. their felicity of well-being, salvation (cf. 9:2; 60:1, 3) .

The second member is introduced in chiastic order, the noun coming first and the verb concluding the clause. The word 1,rukah signifies the healing of a wound, or, if employed figuratively as here, the restoration of something. This healing is compared to a plant that quickly sprouts forth. In these two clauses the emphasis falls upon light and life and the rapidity of their appearance.

The second half of the verse also consists of two chiastically arranged clauses, in which a progression is suggested. Righteousness and the glory of the Lord are intended as parallel expressions, and therefore the significance of the first must be determined by the latter. The righteousness of the people is their Lord Himself, as Jeremiah says (cf. Jeremiah 23:6; 33:16 and also Isa. 54:17). The glory of the Lord is His declarative glory manifested in His works, or perhaps the Lord Himself in glorious manifestation. As in the wilderness He preceded His people in the pillar of cloud and fire, so now He brings up the rear of their march into newness of life. Thus the redeemed are surrounded by the divine protection. He in whom their righteousness is found precedes them, and His glory is their rear guard.

v9 This verse appears to relate to the complaint uttered in verses 2 and 3. Continuing to address the people as an individual, the prophet indicates God's nearness by assuring that when the people cry out in prayer the Lord will give answer. The parallel verb means "to cry for help," and the expression here I am is used to declare that one is present, as at a roll call.9

The introductory 'az (Then) points out that God only answers the call inf His people after they have turned from their evil ways and repented. If God showered blessings upon us while we continued to sin, we should take His blessings for granted and cease to pray for them. It is after we have awakened from the deadness of our sin that in time of need we call out to God.

The second part of the verse speaks of the putting away of oppression, first in a summary fashion and then with two particulars. The yoke is a symbol of oppression generally. Sending (i.e. pointing) the finger was evidently a gesture of contempt,10 and speaking of vanity is the speaking of falsehood (cf. Zechariah 10:2), although there may be a particular allusion to the strife and contention of verse 4.

10 And if thou wilt let out thy soul to the hungry, and the afflicted soul wilt satisfy, then shall thy light arise in the darkness and thy gloom as the noon.

11 And the LORD Will guide thee continually, and satisfy thy soul in scorched regions, and lie will invigorate thy bones; and thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water whose waters will not fail.

12 And they will build from thee the ruins of old, foundations of generation to generation thou shalt raise up; and it shall be called to thee Repairer of the breach, Restorer of paths for dwelling.

13 If thou wilt turn away thy foot from the sabbath to do thy pleasure on my holy day: and wilt call the sabbath a delight. the holy day of the LORD, honorable, and wilt honor it by not doing thy own ways, by not finding thy pleasure and talking talk.

14 Then thou shalt be happy in the LORD, and I shall cause thee to ride upon the high places of the earth; and I shall cause thee to eat the heritage of Jacob, thy father, for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it.

This verse continues the preceding thought, which began with the conditional particle in the midst of verse 9. In summary form the prophet brings together the heart of what he had stated in verse 7. If thou wilt furnish for the hungry thyself" sums up the manner in which one is to serve others. It is not a mere providing of material substances, but a giving of oneself to those in need, for "the gift without the giver is bare." One must provide for the needs of the destitute from a heart of love to them, and there can be no true love to them unless there is first the true love of God in the heart.

The juxtaposition of the two words thyself and soul is striking. Isaiah adds to the strength of the first two clauses by placing them in chiastic arrangement. The afflicted soul is parallel to the hungry, and probably designates those who have suffered an unjust oppression. It is the duty of God's people to satisfy such souls so that their needs are lovingly provided for.

Should God's people do these things their light will shine in the darkness, and the gloominess will be as the noon. These figures refer to the blessedness that comes after sorrow, the second word, aphelah (gloominess), perhaps being stronger than the first, hoshek (darkness).

v11 In clear language the prophet states what the nature of the future blessing will be, namely, that the Lord will always lead His people. More than that (there is a gradation) , He will satisfy their soul in scorched regions.12 In 57:18 God had already promised guidance, and now the fullness of that guidance is depicted. Here is a picture of the superabundant free grace of God. In regions where one can expect only to perish from lack of food, the soul is satisfied by God Himself. Such a blessing causes one to depend upon Him, for there is nowhere else to turn. A third statement indicates the rejuvenation and recuperation of strength that God will give His people in that He will brace up or invigorate their bones. Each statement of blessing proceeds a step beyond the preceding.

The result of God's action is that Israel will be like a watered garden. This water is a figure of blessing and richness; in the Near East water is not plentiful, and to discover a watered garden is to find a place of pleasant refreshment and delight. Isaiah often used the figure (cf. 30:25; 33:21; 35:6, 7; 41:17; 43:20; 44:4; 48:21; 49: 10) . In chapter one the prophet had set forth the obverse, like a garden in which there was no water, there depicting the spiritual desolation to come.

Furthermore, the people were to become like a spring of water (lit., like the place of the going out of water) , and this spring is so rich and abundant (an unlikely feature in the scorched regions) that its waters will never fail nor disappoint. Thus, ever abounding continuous grace comes to man from the God of all bounty. It is only man's sin, as Calvin points out, that can stop its course. The boldness of the figure can only be appreciated by those who know the great dryness of the Near East. But then the grace of God is bold; what is impossible with man is possible with God, and the blessed fact, too good not to be true, is that the grace of God has appeared bringing salvation.

v12 In this verse the prophet depicts salvation under the figure of the building up again of the broken down walls of the city of Jerusalem. As the preceding verse began with a verb setting forth God's action, so this one commences with a verb stating the action of the people. But what is the subject of the verb? The difficulty appears because of the words from thee. Do they refer to that which goes forth from Israel into other lands and so to the conversion of the heathen? If so, we should paraphrase, "And they who go out from thee (as missionaries?) will build the ruins of antiquity." This is possible; but there is another possibility, namely that the words from thee refer to descendants. On this interpretation the reference is to those descended from the Israelites who will build again the ruined walls of Jerusalem. If this interpretation is correct, it does not fit in well with the idea of a "second" Isaiah addressing exiles who are soon to return to Palestine and themselves to have part in the rebuilding of Jerusalem's walls; but it does fit in very well with the times of the eighth century Isaiah. The description of the ruins seems to suggest that they are well known ruins, and so those of the city itself. If there is any actual reference to the physical rebuilding of Jerusalem's walls, this is only the first stage in the greater restoration introduced through Christ. The thought is the same as that found in Amos 9:11 ff.

Ruins of antiquity are ruins that have existed for a long time, perhaps ruins of perpetuity; and the foundations of generation and generation are those which have existed through one generation after another. Both designations stress the great age of the foundations. The verb (thou shalt raise up) makes more vivid the fact that the foundations are in ruin.

Inasmuch as rebuilding is the central activity of those who have received the abundant grace of God, they will be called (the word is indefinite) repairers (lit., one who builds a wall) of breaches (the word has collective force). The final clause designates the people as restorers of paths for dwelling. The phrase for dwelling probably signifies that the paths will be restored so that the land may again be inhabited. The thought is that on these paths, now obliterated, men may one day walk in order that again they may inhabit the land.

In vv. 13-14 Isaiah teaches that if the people obey the sabbath they will be happy in the Lord. Duhm, Elliger, and others insist that these verses must be very late in the period of Judaism, possibly the time of Nehemiah, for the sabbath was stressed at that time, which was supposedly a time when emphasis fell upon externals. Whenever, therefore, a passage is found in earlier books that exalts the sabbath, it is assumed to be late. If one grant the presupposition that the sabbath was stressed only late in Israel's history, then there may be some merit to denying the present passage to Isaiah (or to "second" Isaiah, or even "third" Isaiah, the willowy figures who are supposed to have had something to do with chapters 40-66). Smart, however, denies this passage to "second" Isaiah on the ground that it makes nonsense of the prophet's sermon to have him reject fasting as a substitute for works of love and mercy and then to insist that if only the people observe the sabbath, all will be well. Hence, he concludes that these verses come not from "second" Isaiah but from a later orthodox community which had an enthusiasm for the sabbath. With this introduction we may examine the text itself, and then seek to discover the reason why the sabbath is stressed at this particular point in the argument.

v13 Isaiah evidently intends the first clause to be understood figuratively. To cause to turn one's foot from the sabbath (13) seems to imply that the Sabbath is a place upon which one walks. Possibly the thought is that the Sabbath is holy ground and therefore the unsanctified foot is not to walk upon it, which would be a figurative way of saying that one is not to profane the holy day. Or it may be that there is present the idea of treading down or suppressing the Sabbath. The two ideas are not far removed, and the basic thought is that of refraining from desecrating the day, i.e. from doing thine own pleasure. Thy pleasure is that which pleases man instead of God. It is a gross misunderstanding to interpret as though the words meant "that which is pleasant" and to conclude from this that the prophet's only concern is that the Sabbath be a day not of pleasure but of gloom. Rather, it is the pleasure of man in contrast to that of God that is brought to the fore, and in this fact we may see the beginning of an answer to the position of Smart mentioned above. Isaiah is not saying that fasting is no substitute for love and mercy whereas the Sabbath is. Rather, he is inveighing against a false observance of the Sabbath as well as against a neglect thereof. A proper observance of the Sabbath is an exemplification of the fact that there is love and mercy. The reason for this command is that the day belongs to God and is holy. At the creation He set it apart and sanctified it, and therefore it is to be observed only in the manner pleasing to Him.

In the first part of the verse the stress was negative, but it now becomes positive. Instead of regarding the Sabbath as a day for the doing of one's own pleasure, men are to call it (i.e. to regard it) a day of delight (lit., exquisite delight, daintiness) . Instead of repeating the word sabbath, Isaiah uses an adjective as a parallel, holy, i.e. holy day, and this word is joined to the Lord again to emphasize the fact that this holy day is the Lord's. The designation that Israel is to give to the Lord's holy day is "To Be Honored." Israel is thus to regard the day as honorable and to be treated as honorable. Merely to acknowledge the Sabbath as a delight and honorable, however, is not sufficient. The acknowledgment must be translated into action, and the Sabbath must receive the honor it deserves.

In three ways Isaiah points out how the Sabbath is to be honored. The first of these, not doing thy ways, is parallel in thought to the earlier doing thy pleasure. There is no need to restrict these phrases to matters of business. The "way" is a course of conduct k, and refers to all courses and actions that men choose in preference to the commands of God. These courses and actions may be right and legitimate on other days, but when they obtrude in the place of that delight, which is to find expression in the observance of the sabbath, they are to be refrained from. Secondly, not finding thy pleasure (14) also refers to one's own pleasure in distinction from what pleases God; and the third expression, speaking words (the noun is best understood as collective), probably refers to idle and vain talk, in which God is forgotten or ignored. What is mentioned tends to draw the heart away from God to the consideration of one's own occupations. This is wrong conduct on the holy Sabbath.

Why, however, is there mention of the Sabbath at this point? Is it not that the Sabbath was a unifying ordinance which at all times (and particularly in times of apostasy and the exile) would bind the people together as no other ordinance would do? For the Sabbath was not merely a Mosaic ordinance; it was far more. It was instituted at the creation, and is a pattern of the heavenly Sabbath rest which the redeemed are to enjoy in the presence of their eternal God. In the great calamity of the exile that was to come upon them, Isaiah stresses the Sabbath as in a sense the heart of true devotion to God. He who keeps the Sabbath as it is intended to be kept will be happy in the Lord of the Sabbath.

v14 "Then thou shalt take exquisite delight not just in the Sabbath itself, but in the Lord." Israel will enjoy God, for with a redeemed heart men will delight to do God's will; and His law, instead of being a burden, will become a delightful thing to them. To indicate the abundance and richness of the spiritual prosperity Israel will receive, the prophet uses a figure, and I shall cause thee to ride upon the high places of the earth. As triumphant conquerors the people ride forth. Possibly there is an allusion to the high places of Palestine, but this is questionable.

Lastly, the heritage promised to Jacob, the nation's father, now becomes the possession of the people; and they are to enjoy it in all the fullness and richness that it brings. By eating this heritage they will find their delight therein and also their subsistence. Upon this heritage they will truly live. But there must be repentance. The present love for idolatry and false repentance must give way to a true abhorrence of evil, and a true turning unto the God who alone can bring the blessing and can make of Israel the triumphal nation.

(from The Book of Isaiah, A Commentary by Edward J. Young, Eerdsmans, Grand Rapids, 1992).

For the love of Christ compels us, because we judge thus: that if One died for all, then all died; and He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again. Therefore, from now on, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ's behalf, be reconciled to God. For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. (2 Corinthians 5:14-21)

Additional Reading: Authentic Christianity by Ray C. Stedman

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