Today: [Isaiah 58] God’s Chosen Fast. In Isa. 58 Isaiah continues to reprove the people of their idolatrous and pagan practices that they have mixed with great outward expressions of love for God. In the midst of indulging in ritual pagan practices the people saw themselves as those that delighted to know God’s ways and to seek Him in fasting and prayer. Isaiah challenges their idea of fasting as something they did to get over on their enemies rather than fasting according to a manner that actually pleased God. Is fasting still for today? Is there a difference between fasting under the Old Covenant and the New Testament dispensation? What is God really after in our hearts when it comes to fasting? Is it even necessary to fast at all, or is God seeking something deeper from us?
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[Isa 58:1-14 KJV] 1 Cry aloud, spare not, lift up thy voice like a trumpet, and shew my people their transgression, and the house of Jacob their sins. 2 Yet 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. 3 Wherefore 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. 4 Behold, 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. 5 Is 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? 6 [Is] 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? 7 [Is 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? 8 Then 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. 9 Then 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; 10 And [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: 11 And 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. 12 And [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. 13 If 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: 14 Then 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].
In the previous chapter Isaiah reproves the people for continued practices of idolatry in spite of many deliverances by God’s hand. In verse 1 Isaiah is commanded to cry aloud and to show the people their transgression because in spite of repeated warnings and corrections the inhabitants of Jerusalem simply do not accept that God could possibly be displeased with their conduct or lifestyle choices. What is it about the culture of the southern kingdom that made them so resistant to the clear rebuke and warning of God in their behalf?
In verse 2 we get some sense of what the problem is. This is a people who were given to idolatry but they also sought the Lord daily and delighted to know His ways. They were in pursuit of the knowledge of God as though the fact that they forsook His ordinances was not a factor in their standing before Him. In other words, there was a total disconnect between the religious practices and spiritual pursuits of the people and their actual lifestyle. Even though they worshipped other gods and practiced ritual prostitution and other pagan rites they did not feel there was anything in their lifestyle choices that actually contradicted or could possibly be an offense to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
In verse 3 the people content with Isaiah, pointing out the sacrifices they have made in fasting and prayer. They suggest that if God could possibly be angry with them – it was because He wasn’t taking the time to notice how spiritual they were and how devoted they were in religious practice to worship Jehovah. Isaiah points out the error that the fasting they are practicing is superficial only and not an expression of any true contrition on the part of the people.
Beginning in verse 6 we see the Lord speaking through Isaiah about the true purpose of fasting which is in reality no fast at all. God is saying in this passage that He isn’t seeking outward religious constraint or self-denial but something much deeper and much more impactful upon their lives. The people were fasting, and humiliating themselves with acts of religious contrition but it was all outward for the purpose of getting over on others they are in strife and conflict with.
The chosen fast of God is a fast of the heart just as in the New Testament we are exhorted that God is not asking us to be circumcised outwardly but rather in the fleshly tables of our heart. If we are disposed to fast let us then follow the prescription of God in Isaiah 58, that we:
1. Loose the bands of wickedness over others.
2. Undo heavy burdens of demand and expectation we have imposed upon those around us.
3. Let those who are oppressed by our demanding attitudes and unforgiveness to go free.
4. Break every yoke of control in the lives of others that originates with our actions, or decisions we have made that have burdened others down in life.
5. Deal our bread (figuratively and literally) to the hungry.
6. House the poor.
7. Cover the naked.
8. Be restored to family members that we have neglected and to stop ignoring their needs that it is possible for us to meet.
How can we look at the practice of fasting and see these mandates other than if God shows them to us. We have to learn to read between the lines of God’s word and obey the spirit of what is being commanded and not just adopt a practice of outward conformity that doesn’t move the hand of God and in fact offends Him by the hypocrisy of outward show and not inward transformation.
In verse 8 the promise of God is enunciated in behalf of those who choose to respond to the deeper mandate of personal transformation in exchange for outward religious vanities. When we practice fasting from the heart according to God’s prescription then the promise is that:
1. Our light will break forth as the morning.
2. Our health will spring forth speedily.
3. Our righteousness will go before us.
4. The glory of the Lord will be our rear guard.
5. We shall call and the Lord will answer.
6. The Lord will guide us continually.
7. Our light will right in obscurity.
8. Our darkness will be as noonday.
9. The Lord will satisfy our soul in drought.
10. The Lord will make our bones fat.
11. We shall be like a well-watered garden.
12. We will build up the old waste places.
13. We will raise up the foundations of many generations.
14. We shall be called the restorer of paths to dwell in, the repairer of the breach.
All of this will be our reward and our testimony if:
1. We draw our soul out to the hungry.
2. We satisfy the afflicted soul.
3. Turn away from doing our own pleasure.
4. Call the Sabbath a delight.
5. Not speaking our own words but the words of God.
Then our delight will be in the Lord and He will cause us to come to promotion and to “ride upon the high places of the earth” and feed on the heritage of His promises to Jacob. In short this is one of the most potent, promise packed passages in all of scripture – yet how many people read it and then attempt to fast outwardly according to the manner that God is actually correcting the people telling them not to do so?
Does this mean we are not to fast? Jesus made a statement in the gospels that bears consideration about the subject of fasting:
[Mar 2:19-20 KJV] 19 And Jesus said unto them, Can the children of the bridechamber fast, while the bridegroom is with them? as long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. 20 But the days will come, when the bridegroom shall be taken away from them, and then shall they fast in those days.
Let me ask you a question: Has is Jesus with you? Has Jesus been taken away from you? Or is He living on the inside of you? Eph. 3:17 tells us that Christ dwells in our hearts by faith. If then the bridegroom is with us and actually dwelling in us then where is fasting brought in as a strategy? Fasting does not move the hand of God or change God’s mind about you or your situation. Fasting has an impact upon you. Paul spoke of fasting in 2 Cor. 6:5 when he was in prison and had been beaten with many stripes, and suffered tumult, labors, watchings and many difficulites. In 2 Cor. 11:27 he spoke of fasting when he was weary, in pain, in hunger, thirst, cold and nakedness. In other words when you have been impacted by the sudden and intense assault of the enemy then there is a place for short term fasting.
Most fasting in the bible was not much longer that 1 – 3 days. Many times fasts of 1 – 3 days brought salvation to whole nations and cities. Yet the caution of Isaiah 58 is clear that we must not fall into a performance based level of thinking that fasting somehow will move God in a way that the death, burial and resurrection of Christ does not – in your behalf. You cannot add your fasting to the work of the cross and think that somehow that gives you an edge in prayer. Fasting before the cross is one thing, fasting after the cross and after the indwelling of Christ in our hearts is something else altogether.
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