Isaiah 58:4
Behold, you fast for strife and debate, and to smite with the fist of wickedness: you shall not fast as you do this day, to make your voice to be heard on high.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(4) Behold, ye fast for strife and debate.—The words possibly point to the psychological fact that an unspiritual fasting irritates the nerves and embitters the temper. Extremes meet, and the disputes of fasting controversialists are often as fierce as those of drunken disputants. (Comp. the conspiracy of Acts 23:21.)

Isaiah 58:4-5. Behold, ye fast for strife — Your fasting days, wherein you ought, in a special manner, to implore the mercy of God, and to show compassion to men, you employ in injuring or quarrelling with your brethren, your servants, or debtors, or in contriving mischief against them. Or the meaning is, that “their fasting increased their self-preference, and excited them to fierce controversies or bitter resentments.” And to smite with the fist of wickedness — It was “the cloak of, and commutation for, their exactions and oppressions of the poor, whom they most unjustly smote and abused for not complying in every thing with their inclinations.” — Scott. Ye shall not fast as ye do this day — Such a fast as this I cannot accept of as an act of worship, or bless as a means of grace. To make your voice to be heard on high — In strife and debate, or by way of ostentation. Is it such a fast that I have chosen? — That is, which I approve of, accept, or delight in, because we delight in what we freely choose. A day for a man to afflict his soul — To keep himself low, or to chastise himself by depriving his body of food, as a means to produce inward sorrow for sin, and true humiliation of soul before God. The prophet seems to have delivered this discourse upon, or to have intended it for, some extraordinary day of humiliation, when it was usual for the prophets to give public exhortations to the people. Is it to bow down his head as a bulrush? — Here the prophet notices those external gestures, postures, and signs of penitence, which the Jews of his time, and in after ages, (Matthew 6:16,) joined with their hypocritical fasts. And to spread sackcloth and ashes under him — The Jews, to express their sorrow, made use of sackcloth and ashes two ways: 1st, Sometimes by putting sackcloth upon their bodies, as 1 Kings 21:27; Psalm 69:11; and casting ashes upon their heads, 2 Samuel 13:19 : and, 2d, By spreading sackcloth under them, and lying down upon ashes, Esther 4:3; Job 2:8. The intent of putting on sackcloth was to afflict the body by its unpleasing harshness, and the ashes were meant to represent their own vileness, as being but dust and ashes; and their lying on them to signify that they abhorred and were ashamed of themselves. Wilt thou call this a fast? — Canst thou, upon rational grounds, believe or suppose it to be so? Surely it has nothing in it but the lifeless form, empty shadow, or dumb signs of a fast: nothing of deep humiliation appearing in it, or real reformation proceeding from it. Not that the prophet blames them for afflicting themselves by these external rites, for these are elsewhere commanded of God; but that which he condemns is their hypocrisy in separating true humiliation from them, and contenting themselves with using these signs, while they stopped short of the thing signified by them. And an acceptable day to the Lord — A day that God will approve of. Hebrew, ויום רצון, A day of acceptance, or that will turn to a good account on your behalf.58:3-12 A fast is a day to afflict the soul; if it does not express true sorrow for sin, and does not promote the putting away of sin, it is not a fast. These professors had shown sorrow on stated or occasioned fasts. But they indulged pride, covetousness, and malignant passions. To be liberal and merciful is more acceptable to God than mere fasting, which, without them, is vain and hypocritical. Many who seem humble in God's house, are hard at home, and harass their families. But no man's faith justifies, which does not work by love. Yet persons, families, neighbourhoods, churches, or nations, show repentance and sorrow for sin, by keeping a fast sincerely, and, from right motives, repenting, and doing good works. The heavy yoke of sin and oppression must be removed. As sin and sorrow dry the bones and weaken the strongest human constitution; so the duties of kindness and charity strengthen and refresh both body and mind. Those who do justly and love mercy, shall have the comfort, even in this world. Good works will bring the blessing of God, provided they are done from love to God and man, and wrought in the soul by the Holy Spirit.Behold, ye fast for strife and debate - This is a third characteristic of their manner of fasting, and a third reason why God did not regard and accept it. They were divided into parties and factions, and probably made their fastings an occasion of augmented contention and strife. How often has this been seen! Contending denominations of Christians fast, not laying aside their strifes; contending factions in the church fast in order to strengthen their party with the solemn sanctions of religion. One of the most certain ways for bigots to excite persecution against those who are opposed to them is to 'proclaim a fast;' and when together, their passions are easily inflamed, their flagging zeal excited by inflammatory harangues, and their purpose formed to regard and treat their dissentient brethren as incorrigible heretics and irreconcilable foes. It may be added, also, that it is possible thus to prostitute all the sacred institutions of religion for party and inflammatory purposes. Even the ordinance of the Lord's Supper may be thus abused, and violent partisans may come around the sacred memorials of a Saviour's body and blood, to bind themselves more closely together in some deed of persecution or violence, and to animate their drooping courage with the belief that what has been in fact commenced with a view to power, is carried on from a regard to the honor of God.

And to smite with the fist of wickedness - Lowth renders this, in accordance with the Septuagint. 'To smite with the fist the poor;' but this translation can be obtained only by a most violent and wholly unauthorized change in the Hebrew text. The idea is plain, that 'even when fasting' they were guilty of strife and personal combats. Their passions were unsubdued, and they gave vent to them in disgraceful personal encounters. This manifests a most extraordinary state of society, and is a most melancholy instance to show how much people may keep up the forms of religion, and even be punctual and exact in them, when the most violent and ungovernable passions are raging in their bosoms, and when they seem to be unconscious of any discrepancy between the religious service and the unsubdued passions of the soul.

Ye shall not fast ... - It is not acceptable to God. It must be offensive in his sight.

To make your voice to be heard on high - That is, in strife and contention. So to contend and strive, says Grotius, that your voice can be heard on the mountain top. Rosenmuller, however, supposes that it means, that their fast was so conducted that they could not expect that their prayers would ascend to heaven and be heard by God. But it seems to me that the former is the correct interpretation. Their fastings were accompanied with the loud and hoarse voice of contention and strife, and on that account could not be acceptable to God.

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. Ye fast for strife and debate; your fasting days, wherein you ought in a special manner to implore the mercy of God, and to show compassion to men, you employ in a great measure in injuring or quarrelling with your brethren, your servants, or debtors, or in contriving mischief against them, as if the design of your fasting and praying to God were only to obtain a licence to oppress men. Compare Matthew 23:14.

With the fist of wickedness; or, with a wicked fist; a genitive of the adjunct. To deal rigorously and injuriously with your servants or debtors; which servants, it may be, had sold themselves to the year of redemption, Exodus 21:2 Leviticus 25:39,40,50. You handle them with a hard hand; the word is used for fist, Exodus 21:18; the LXX. add the humble, poor, or inferior person; and that not only their debtors, with a summum jus, exact rigour, which seems elsewhere to be expressed by grinding the face; Isaiah 3:15, and in that parable by taking by the throat, Matthew 18:28; but also their servants out of mere will and pleasure, and in contempt of them, treating them opprobriously, as Christ was handled in contempt and scorn, Matthew 26:67,68 Joh 18:22.

Your voice; either,

1. In strife and debate, in which men’s passions show themselves by loud clamours. Or,

2. So as to cause the cry of the oppressed, by reason of your injuries, of what kind soever, to enter into the ears of God; which is a crying sin, whether it proceed from unmercifulness, Exodus 22:25-27, which sometimes increaseth to rage, 2 Chronicles 28:9; or from injustice, Isaiah 5:7; or from fraud and deceit, Jam 5:4. The Scripture doth frequently express whatever sin is against charity in special, as also general complex sins, by crying, Genesis 18:20,21Jo 1:2. Or,

3. By way of ostentation, to note their hypocrisy; they love to be taken notice of by others, Mt 6 2,5,16; or their folly, supposing that they shall be heard for their much speaking, upon which account Baal’s priests are mocked by Elijah, 1 Kings 18:27,28 4. Voice here relates principally to their prayer; it is a synecdoche of the kind: so the sense is, This is not the way to have your prayers heard; if you desire that, you must first in another manner, and abstain from all kind of oppression. And this seems best to suit the context, which is to show what kind of fast the Lord reproves, and what he approves in the following verses. Behold, ye fast for strife and debate,.... Brawling with their servants for not doing work enough; or quarrelling with their debtors for not paying their debts; or the main of their religion lay in contentions and strifes about words, vain hot disputations about rites and ceremonies in worship, as is well known to have been the case of the reformed churches:

and to smite with the fist of wickedness; their servants or their debtors; or rather it may design the persecution of such whose consciences would not suffer them to receive the doctrines professed; or submit to ordinances as administered; or comply with rites and ceremonies enjoined by the said churches; for which they have smitten their brethren that dissented from them with the fist, or have persecuted them in a violent manner by imprisonment, confiscation of goods, &c.; all which is no other than a fist of wickedness, and highly displeasing to God, and renders all their services unacceptable in his sight; see Matthew 24:49,

ye shall not fast as ye do this day; or, "as this day"; after this manner; this is not right:

to make your voice to be heard on high; referring either to their noisy threatening of their servants for not doing their work; or their clamorous demands upon their debtors; or to their loud prayers, joined with their fasting, which they expected to be heard in the highest heaven, but would be mistaken; for such services, attended with the above evils, are not wellpleasing to God.

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 {e} heard on high.

(e) So long as you use contention and oppression, your fasting and prayers will not be heard.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
4. ye fast for strife and contention (R.V.)] The fasting made them as irritable as Arabs in the month of Ramadan; it produced a quarrelsome temper which even led to open violence,—“smiting with godless fist.”

ye shall not fast &c.] Render: ye do not fast at present so as to make &c., i.e. “with your present mode of fasting, your prayers can never reach the ear of Jehovah.”

“My words fly up, my thoughts remain below:

Words without thoughts never to heaven go.”

Hamlet, Act iii. Scene iii. 97 f.Verse 4. - Ye fast for strife and debate. Delitzsch explains, "When fasting, they are doubly irritable and ill tempered; and this leads to quarrelling and strife, even to striking with angry fists." This is quite a possible explanation. Or there may have been two parties, one for, the other against, fasting; and those who practised fasting may have done it, as some preached Christ, "of envy and strife" (Philippians 1:15) - to provoke the opposite side. Ye shall not fast as ye do this day, to make your voice to be heard on high; i.e. "ye must not fast as ye do at present, if ye would have your voices heard in heaven." God will not hear the prayer of which such a fast is the accompaniment. But when the redemption comes, it will divide Israel into two halves, with very different prospects. "Creating fruit of the lips; Jehovah saith, 'Peace, peace to those that are far off, and to those that are near; and I heal it.' But the wicked are like the sea that is cast up for it cannot rest, and its waters cast out slime and mud. There is no peace, saith my God, for the wicked." The words of God in Isaiah 57:19 are introduced with an interpolated "inquit Jehova" (cf., Isaiah 45:24, and the ellipsis in Isaiah 41:27); and what Jehovah effects by speaking thus is placed first in a determining participial clause: "Creating fruit (נוב equals נוּב, נוב, keri ניב) of the lips," καρπὸν χείλεων (lxx, Hebrews 13:15), i.e., not of His own lips, to which בּורא would be inapplicable, but the offering of praise and thanksgiving springing from human lips (for the figure, see Psychol. p. 214, trans.; and on the root נב, to press upon forward): "Jehovah saith shâlōm, shâlōm," i.e., lasting and perfect peace (as in Isaiah 26:3), "be the portion of those of my people who are scattered far and near" (Isaiah 43:5-7; Isaiah 49:12; compare the application to heathen and Jews in Ephesians 2:17); "and I heal it" (viz., the nation, which, although scattered, is like one person in the sight of God). But the wicked, who persist in the alienation from God inherited from the fathers, are incapable of the peace which God brings to His people: they are like the sea in its tossed and stormy state (נגרשׁ pausal third pers. as an attributive clause). As this cannot rest, and as its waters cast out slime and mud, so has their natural state become one of perpetual disturbance, leading to the uninterrupted production of unclean and ungodly thoughts, words, and works. Thus, then, there is no peace for them, saith my God. With these words, which have even a more pathetic sound here than in Isaiah 48:22, the prophet seals the second book of his prophecies. The "wicked" referred to are not the heathen outside Israel, but the heathen, i.e., those estranged from God, within Israel itself.

The transition form the first to the second half of this closing prophecy is formed by ואמר in Isaiah 57:14. In the second half, from Isaiah 57:11, we find the accustomed style of our prophet; but in Isaiah 56:9-57:11a the style is so thoroughly different, that Ewald maintains that the prophet has here inserted in his book a fragment from some earlier writer of the time of Manasseh. But we regard this as very improbable. It is not required by what is stated concerning the prophets and shepherds, for the book of Ezekiel clearly shows that the prophets and shepherds of the captivity were thus debased. Still less does what is stated concerning the early death of the righteous require it; for the fundamental idea of the suffering servant of Jehovah, which is peculiar to the second book, is shadowed forth therein. Nor by what is affirmed as to the idolatrous conduct of the people; for in the very centre (Isaiah 57:4) the great mass of the people are reproached for their contemptuous treatment of the servants of Jehovah. Nor does the language itself force us to any such conjecture, for Isaiah 53:1-12 also differs from the style met with elsewhere; and yet (although Ewald regards it as an earlier, borrowed fragment) it must be written by the author of the whole, since its grandest idea finds its fullest expression there. At the same time, we may assume that the prophet described the idolatry of the people under the influences of earlier models. If he had been a prophet of the captives after the time of Isaiah, he would have rested his prophecies on Jeremiah and Ezekiel. For just as Isaiah 51:18. has the ring of the Lamentations of Jeremiah, so does Isaiah 57:3. resemble in many respects the earlier reproaches of Jeremiah (compare Jeremiah 5:7-9, Jeremiah 5:29; Jeremiah 9:8, with the expression, "Should I rest satisfied with this?"); also Jeremiah 2:25 (נואשׁ), Jeremiah 2:20; Jeremiah 3:6, Jeremiah 3:13 ("upon lofty mountains and under green trees"); also the night scene in Ezekiel 23.

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