Two Fasts – the One that Pleases God and the One that Doesn’t---Isaiah 58
The 58th chapter of Isaiah begins almost immediately by describing some of God’s people. “—they seek Me daily, and delight to know My ways, As a nation that did righteousness, and did not forsake the ordinance of their God. They ask of Me the ordinances of justice: They take delight in approaching God” -Isaiah 58:2. You would be happy if God’s Word described you in this way wouldn’t you? From reading this brief description of God’s people you would think that He was pleased with them, right? No you are wrong!!
Isaiah continues to prophesy God’s Word concerning His people – about their worship and their fasting. “In the day of your fast you find pleasure and exploit all of your laborers. Indeed you fast for strife and debate. And to strike with the fist of wickedness. You will not fast as you do this day, to make your voice heard on high.” – Isaiah 58:3b-4.
God’s prophecy continues against His people: “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,---“ -Isaiah 58:9b-10.
The 58th chapter of Isaiah shows us a picture of the religious Jews and their lives at around 760 B.C. During this period both the northern and southern kingdoms had experienced nearly 50 years of increasing prosperity and power. And perhaps that increasing power had gone to their heads. The rich got rich and the poor got poorer. And the religious community seemed to side with the powerful and the wealthy at the expense of the poor.
In Isaiah 58 verse 3 the religious community is asking God why He doesn’t reward them when they do all of their fasting. Hasn’t God seen all of their good deeds, all of their worship observances, their liturgies? They have worked hard and stayed away from the bars. They have gone to church and saved their money. They drive big cars and they have family values. God’s people point their fingers at all of the losers around them. All those lazy folks that mess up their lives. Look at how much better they are than their neighbors! Why they fast every week and let everyone around them know how righteous they are when they fast. Isn’t God impressed with them? Why isn’t He rewarding them more?
After God comes and tells His children why He isn’t pleased with their defective worship, and their “look at me” fasts, He lovingly describes the kind of fast that will please Him! “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? 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?” Isaiah 58:6-7.
So there it is! God wants our whole life – not just lip service and outward appearance. We find so many places in Scripture where He tells us to reach out to the poor. And here it is again. The fast and the life that please Him is the one that tries to level the playing field for the less fortunate. In Isaiah 58:12 He calls the person who lives and fasts this way the “Repairer of the Breach,” and “the one who raises up the foundations of many generations.”
This amazing 58th chapter goes on to call God’s people to follow His loving Ways and not their own. He urges them to join Him in having compassion for the needy. He asks them to be His hands in “building up the old waste places.” And then He tells them what will happen if they change from their old pattern of fasting, the one that makes them feel so superior: and practice His new unselfish fast.
Verses 8-11 promise, “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. Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer, you shall cry and He will say, ‘Here I am.’ ----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.”
God’s words for His people so long ago can speak to us today too. We may have some of the same temptations that the religious community had back then. It is still easy for God’s people to stay busy going to church and doing religious things. Still easy to vote to disregard the poor and the sick. Our grandchildren may have to pay if we extend aid – and our pride and freedom are more important than trying to have compassion on the desperate. If we put the Ten Commandments up in a public place and put Bible verses on our guns then folks will be impressed with our virtue.
There are still two fasts today. The fast where God’s people are critical and proud and lust after power while using God’s Name. And the fast that pleases God. The fast where God’s people are humble and generous and caring. A fast where God’s people reach out to the poor and the sick. A fast where those who follow in it can be called the “Repairer of the Breach.” God is still calling. He still cares about which fast we observe. Which fast will you choose?