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.
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."
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,
...do 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.
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;
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)
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.
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.
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."
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:
Ray Stedman says this about the work of the Holy Spirit through us in this present age:
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.
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)
|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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