In Isaiah 58:1 the Lord speaks, “Cry loudly, do not hold back; Raise your voice like a trumpet, and declare to My people their transgression and to the house of Jacob their sins” (NASB). Isaiah had a very thankless job as a prophet of God, for his message was often one of rebuking Israel for their sins. In fact, when he began his prophetic career, the Lord told him in Isaiah 6:9-10 that he would be preaching to a people whose hearts were so hardened that they would continually reject his message.

We learn in verses 2-5 what the chief sin of the nation was; namely, HYPOCRISY. In verse 2 we see that the people were going through all the outward motions of obeying and worshipping God. It reads, “Yet they seek Me by day and delight to know My ways, As a nation that had done righteousness and has not forsaken the ordinance of God. They ask Me for just decisions, They delight in the nearness of God.” This sounds good and I’m sure they appeared to be a pious and God-fearing people to all who saw them going through their rounds of daily rituals. But God, who sees the heart, was not responding to them and in verse 3a they accuse Him of being indifferent to their acts of devotion, “Why have we fasted and You do not see? Why have we humbled ourselves and You do not notice?” The Lord then reveals to them that their fasting was a sham, for it was NOT accompanied by righteous living, but by selfishness and contention. Verses 3b-5 says, “Behold, on the day of your fast you find your desire, and drive hard all your workers. Behold, you fast for contention and strife with a wicked fist. You do not fast like you do today to make your voice heard on high. Is it a fast like this which I choose, a day for a man to humble himself? Is it for bowing one’s head like a reed and for spreading out sackcloth and ashes as a bed? Will you call this a fast, even an acceptable day to the LORD?” Again, it was all for show; it looked good to other men, but God saw that their hearts were far from Him and they were nothing but hypocrites. Hundreds of years later the Lord Jesus would accuse the religious leaders of His day of the very same sin, for in Matthew 6:18 He told His disciples, “Moreover when ye fast, be not as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that THEY MAY APPEAR UNTO MEN TO FAST.” This is a solemn warning to us today, for the Lord desires REALITY in our lives. He wants our HEARTS, dear fellow-believer, not OUTWARD RELIGION that is done to please men and to exalt ourselves.

In verses 6-7 the Lord tells His people that a TRUE FAST would be accompanied by:  1) not oppressing the people; and 2) meeting the needs of the poor. They read, “Is this not the fast which I choose, to loosen the bonds of wickedness, to undo the bands of the yoke, and to let the oppressed go free and break every yoke? Is it not to divide your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into the house; when you see the naked, to cover him; and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?”

And finally, in verses 8-14 the Lord promises to bless them richly if they repent and replace their veneer of religion with true godliness and acts of mercy; and by honoring Him on the Sabbath instead of using that day for their own pleasure. I would encourage you to read this rather lengthy passage, and as you do keep in mind that the blessings promised to Israel will find their fulfillment in a future day when a remnant will repent and receive the Lord Jesus Christ as their Messiah. In that glorious day He will be the object of their hearts and they will be exalted among the nations. This is seen beautifully in verse 14, “Then you will take delight in the LORD, and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth; and I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”  (199.1)  (DO)