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58. True Fasting
Cry aloud, spare not, lift up thy voice like a trumpet, and shew my people their transgression, and the house of Jacob their sins. 2Yet they seek me daily, and delight to know my ways, as a nation that did righteousness, and forsook not the ordinance of their God: they ask of me the ordinances of justice; they take delight in approaching to God.
3Wherefore have we fasted, say they, and thou seest not? wherefore have we afflicted our soul, and thou takest no knowledge? Behold, in the day of your fast ye find pleasure, and exact all your labours. 4Behold, ye fast for strife and debate, and to smite with the fist of wickedness: ye shall not fast as ye do this day, to make your voice to be heard on high. 5Is it such a fast that I have chosen? a day for a man to afflict his soul? is it to bow down his head as a bulrush, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? wilt thou call this a fast, and an acceptable day to the Lord? 6Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke? 7Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house? when thou seest the naked, that thou cover him; and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh?
8Then shall thy light break forth as the morning, and thine health shall spring forth speedily: and thy righteousness shall go before thee; the glory of the Lord shall be thy rereward. 9Then shalt thou call, and the Lord shall answer; thou shalt cry, and he shall say, Here I am. If thou take away from the midst of thee the yoke, the putting forth of the finger, and speaking vanity; 10And if thou draw out thy soul to the hungry, and satisfy the afflicted soul; then shall thy light rise in obscurity, and thy darkness be as the noonday: 11And the Lord shall guide thee continually, and satisfy thy soul in drought, and make fat thy bones: and thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters fail not. 12And they that shall be of thee shall build the old waste places: thou shalt raise up the foundations of many generations; and thou shalt be called, The repairer of the breach, The restorer of paths to dwell in.
13If thou turn away thy foot from the sabbath, from doing thy pleasure on my holy day; and call the sabbath a delight, the holy of the Lord, honourable; and shalt honour him, not doing thine own ways, nor finding thine own pleasure, nor speaking thine own words: 14Then shalt thou delight thyself in the Lord; and I will cause thee to ride upon the high places of the earth, and feed thee with the heritage of Jacob thy father: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.
Isa 58:1-14. Reproof of the Jews for Their Dependence on Mere Outward Forms of Worship.
1. aloud—Hebrew, "with the throat," that is, with full voice, not merely from the lips (1Sa 1:13). Speak loud enough to arrest attention.
my people—the Jews in Isaiah's time, and again in the time of our Lord, more zealous for externals than for inward holiness. Rosenmuller thinks the reference to be to the Jews in the captivity practising their rites to gain God's favor and a release; and that hence, sacrifices are not mentioned, but only fasting and Sabbath observance, which they could keep though far away from the temple in Jerusalem. The same also applies to their present dispersion, in which they cannot offer sacrifices, but can only show their zeal in fastings, &c. Compare as to our Lord's time, Mt 6:16, 23; Lu 18:12.
2. Put the stop at "ways"; and connect "as a nation that," &c. with what follows; "As a nation that did righteousness," thus answers to, "they ask of Me just judgments" (that is, as a matter of justice due to them, salvation to themselves, and destruction to their enemies); and "forsook not the ordinance of their God," answers to "they desire the drawing near of God" (that God would draw near to exercise those "just judgments" in behalf of them, and against their enemies) [Maurer]. So Jerome, "In the confidence, as it were, of a good conscience, they demand a just judgment, in the language of the saints: Judge me, O Lord, for I have walked in mine integrity." So in Mal 2:17, they affect to be scandalized at the impunity of the wicked, and impugn God's justice [Horsley]. Thus, "seek Me daily, and desire (English Version not so well, 'delight') to know My ways," refers to their requiring to know why God delayed so long in helping them. English Version gives a good, though different sense; namely, dispelling the delusion that God would be satisfied with outward observances, while the spirit of the law, was violated and the heart unchanged (Isa 58:3-14; Eze 33:31, 32; compare Joh 18:28), scrupulosity side by side with murder. The prophets were the commentators on the law, as their Magna Charta, in its inward spirit and not the mere letter.
afflicted … soul—(Le 16:29).
pleasure—in antithesis to their boast of having "afflicted their soul"; it was only in outward show they really enjoyed themselves. Gesenius not so well translates, "business."
4. ye shall not fast—rather, "ye do not fast at this time, so as to make your voice to be heard on high," that is, in heaven; your aim in fasting is strife, not to gain the ear of God [Maurer] (1Ki 21:9, 12, 13). In English Version the sense is, If you wish acceptance with God, ye must not fast as ye now do, to make your voice heard high in strife.
6. loose … bands of wickedness—that is, to dissolve every tie wherewith one has unjustly bound his fellow men (Le 25:49, &c.). Servitude, a fraudulent contract, &c.
undo … heavy burdens—Hebrew, "loose the bands of the yoke."
oppressed—literally, "the broken." The expression, "to let go free," implies that those "broken" with the yoke of slavery, are meant (Ne 5:10-12; Jer 34:9-11, 14, 16). Jerome interprets it, broken with poverty; bankrupt.
7. deal—distribute (Job 31:16-21).
cast out—rather, reduced [Horsley].
naked … cover him—(Mt 25:36).
hide … thyself—means to be strange towards them, and not to relieve them in their poverty (Mt 15:5).
health—literally, a long bandage, applied by surgeons to heal a wound (compare Isa 1:6). Hence restoration from all past calamities.
go before thee—Thy conformity to the divine covenant acts as a leader, conducting thee to peace and prosperity.
putting forth of … finger—the finger of scorn pointed at simple-minded godly men. The middle finger was so used by the Romans.
speaking vanity—every injurious speech [Lowth].
10. draw out thy soul—"impart of thine own subsistence," or "sustenance" [Horsley]. "Soul" is figurative for "that wherewith thou sustainest thy soul," or "life."
light … in obscurity—Calamities shall be suddenly succeeded by prosperity (Ps 112:4).
make fat—rather, "strengthen" [Noyes]. "Give thee the free use of thy bones" [Jerome], or, "of thy strength" [Horsley].
watered garden—an Oriental picture of happiness.
fail not—Hebrew, "deceive not"; as streams that disappoint the caravan which had expected to find water, as formerly, but find it dried up (Job 6:15-17).
12. they … of thee—thy people, the Israelites.
foundations of many generations—that is, the buildings which had lain in ruins, even to their foundations, for many ages; called in the parallel passage (Isa 61:4), "the former desolations"; and in the preceding clause here, "the old waste places." The literal and spiritual restoration of Israel is meant, which shall produce like blessed results on the Gentile world (Am 9:11, 12; Ac 15:16, 17).
be called—appropriately: the name truly designating what thou shalt do.
paths to dwell in—not that the paths were to be dwelt in, but the paths leading to their dwellings were to be restored; "paths, so as to dwell in the land" [Maurer].
foot—the instrument of motion (compare Pr 4:27); men are not to travel for mere pleasure on the Sabbath (Ac 1:12). The Jews were forbidden to travel on it farther than the tabernacle or temple. If thou keep thy foot from going on thy own ways and "doing thy pleasure," &c. (Ex 20:10, 11).
my holy day—God claims it as His day; to take it for our pleasure is to rob Him of His own. This is the very way in which the Sabbath is mostly broken; it is made a day of carnal pleasure instead of spiritual "delight."
holy of the Lord—not the predicate, but the subject; "if thou call the holy (day) of Jehovah honorable"; if thou treat it as a day to be honored.
him—or else, it, the Sabbath.
not doing … own way—answering to, "turn away thy foot from the Sabbath."
nor finding … pleasure—answering to, "doing thy pleasure." "To keep the Sabbath in an idle manner is the sabbath of oxen and asses; to pass it in a jovial manner is the sabbath of the golden calf, when the people sat down to eat and drink, and rose again to play; to keep it in surfeiting and wantonness is the sabbath of Satan, the devil's holiday" [Bishop Andrewes].
nor speaking … words—answering to, "call Sabbath a delight … honorable." Man's "own words" would "call" it a "weariness"; it is the spiritual nature given from above which "calls it a delight" (Am 8:5; Mal 1:13).
ride upon … high places—I will make thee supreme lord of the land; the phrase is taken from a conqueror riding in his chariot, and occupying the hills and fastnesses of a country [Vitringa], (De 32:13; Mic 1:3; Hab 3:19). Judea was a land of hills; the idea thus is, "I will restore thee to thine own land" [Calvin]. The parallel words, "heritage of Jacob," confirm this (Ge 27:28, 29; 28:13-15).
mouth of … Lord … spoken it—a formula to assure men of the fulfilment of any solemn promise which God has made (Isa 40:5).