Why Have We Fasted and God Has Not Noticed?
Day after day the Jewish people came to the temple asking God to bless them. And day after day they fasted and prayed and waited. And fasted again They lay on beds of sackcloth and ashes and day after day they bowed low before God begging for Him to come near – but still their prayers were not answered and God seemed very far away.
What was the matter? Why was God not answering their prayers when they tried so hard? God had called them to fast and they had obeyed. They asked God: “Why God have we fasted and You have not noticed? Why have we humbled ourselves and you have not seen it?” (Isaiah 58:3a).
God hears their grumblings and answers them: “On the day of your fasting you do as you please and exploit all of your workers. Your fasting ends in quarreling and fist fights. You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high. Is this the kind of fast I have chosen, only a day for a man to humble himself? ……(Isaiah 58:3b,4,5)
Then God tells them the kind of fast He really wants from them. “Is this not the kind of fast that I have chosen? To loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke? To set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry? And to provide the poor wanderer with shelter. And when you see the naked, to clothe him, And not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? “(Isaiah 58:6-7)
God had brought the children of Israel out of the bondage of slavery in Egypt! And because God brought the Jewish people out from the bondage of slavery, He wants them never to hold others under the bondage of slavery. As God was bringing the Jewish people from their bondage in Egypt He commanded the Jewish leaders never to have permanent workers but to have each seventh year the year to set workers free.
If a poor person asked the owner of an estate for a job, and the owner agreed, then the owner would take the poor person in. In exchange for the poor persons’ work, the master would agree to protect, clothe, feed and house his new worker. The owner would be in charge or the worker and have power over him/her. The worker would not be free to leave. But according to God’s command, the owner should allow the worker his freedom and allow her to leave after six years of work, if he/she wished.
In ancient days when there were no banks or credit cards, different arrangements were made between worker and employer. In ancient days there were no welfare checks for people who had emergencies or fell on hard times. And no Goodwill or Salvation Army to pass out clothing and food to the needy. Naked, homeless and hungry people were left out in the cold. And God wanted His people to be merciful as He is merciful.
God was asking the Jewish people here in this Scripture passage to free their slaves and to be fair to their workers. To “loose the chains of injustice” and “untie the cords of the yoke.” And to “set the oppressed free.” Several other times we read in Scripture where God commands the Jewish people to free their slaves. (Jeremiah 34:8-21)
It would seem that God has not accepted the fast of His people because the same ones that were fasting were also oppressing their workers! Not feeding the hungry or even caring for their own families. These religious Jewish people were going through all of the proper religious motions. They were saying all of the right words. Talking the talk but not walking the walk. We humans see the outward appearance, but God sees the heart. And God is telling them to shape up and then He will hear them when they call.
Let’s hear what God promises these Jewish people if they will change their ways and be fair and merciful to their workers and to the poor. “When you do these things then your light will break forth like the dawn. And your healing will quickly appear. Then your righteousness will go before you. And the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard. Then you will call, and the Lord will answer: You will cry for help, and he will say: Here I am.” (Isaiah 58:8-9)
The Lord promises His people even more if they will be fair to their workers and help the poor. Here is what He promises: “And if you spend yourself in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday. The glory of the Lord will guide you always: He will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land. And He will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.” (Isaiah 58:10-11)
Good people who want to do God’s will are safe on all sides. Their defense is their righteousness (Christ is our righteousness) and the “glory of the Lord” (Christ) is our reward on whom alone we can depend for safety when our sins are overwhelming us. While we are here in the wilderness of this world we need continual direction as to where to go. And God constantly gives wisdom and knowledge and joy. When we call upon our God, He answers, “Here I am”. (Isaiah 58:11) And He is near to us in all things. (Deuteronomy 4:7)
We modern Christians are facing the same battles today that those Jewish people were facing so long ago. We beg God to answer our prayers and sing praises to Him in church but we turn our backs on desperate people because we rationalize that they brought their troubles on themselves. We pay our workers the lowest wage we can get away with, believing that that is good business. And we say we love God, but we hate our brother. We are impressed with how much money a person has instead of how kind and generous he/she is. But God keeps calling us to leave all of that behind and follow Him To forgive and love. To be fair and merciful and generous. It looks like it will be hard to do, but there is great joy along the way.
There are still two fasts today like there were back in those ancient days described in Isaiah 58.. We still have the man made fast of outward appearances and the fast that God desires, which is the fast of losing the chains of injustice and untying the cords of the yoke and setting the oppressed free. And the fast of feeding the hungry and being merciful to others. Still two choices for us to make We can choose to lose it all for Christ or we can choose to keep it all for ourselves. Which fast will you choose?