Isaiah 58
Pulpit Commentary
Cry aloud, spare not, lift up thy voice like a trumpet, and shew my people their transgression, and the house of Jacob their sins.
Verses 1-12. - FORMALISM REBUKED AND INSTRUCTIONS GIVEN WITH RESPECT TO FASTING. As in the last section, so here, the prophet's eye seems to rest upon his contemporaries rather than upon the exiles; and to note the vices of the time, which have a general resemblance to those rebuked in ch. 1. The whole Law seems to be in force, and the People to make a show of keeping it, and to complain that they are not properly rewarded for their religiousness. God tears the mask from their face, and shows the difference between true religion and the pretence of it. Verse 1. - Cry aloud; literally, cry from the throat; "a plein gosier," as Calvin says. The command is addressed to the prophet by Jehovah, who will have him warn the people in such sort as to compel their attention. Lift up thy voice like a trumpet (comp. Hosea 8:1; Joel 2:1). The trumpet gives a note of alarm. Show my people their transgression; i.e. "show them how they are especially offending me at this time" (see Micah 3:8).
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.
Verse 2. - They seek me daily, and delight to know my ways (compare the picture drawn in Isaiah 1:11-15). We have there exactly the same representation of a people honouring God with their lips, but whose hearts are far from him - zealous in all the outward forms of religion, even making "many prayers" (Isaiah 1:15), but yet altogether an offence to God. They are not conscious hypocrites - quite the reverse; they are bent on "doing righteousness," on not forsaking God's ordinance, on continually "approaching" him; but they are wholly without a proper sense of what religion is - they make it a matter of outward observance, and do not understand that it consists in the devotion of the heart. That did righteousness, and forsook not; rather, that hath done righteousness, and hath not forsaken. The righteousness is, of course, forensic legal righteousness-the offering of the appointed sacrifices, the abstaining from unclean meats, the avoidance of external defilement, the payment of vows, the observance of the one appointed fast, and the like. They ask of me the ordinances of justice. Either "they claim at God's hands righteous judgments on their enemies" (Delitzsch); or "they demand of God a fidelity to his covenant engagements correspondent to their own (assumed) fidelity to theirs." They take delight in approaching to God. So the LXX., the Vulgate, Calvin, Vitringa, and Kay. Others prefer to render, "they desire the approach of God" (Knobel, Delitzsch, Cheyne); i.e. they desire that he will come to help them against their foes.
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.
Verse 3. - Wherefore have we fasted, say they, and thou seest not? The fasting' spoken of is probably that of the great Day of Atonement. the only fasting commanded in the Law (Leviticus 16:29, 31). Other fasts were from time to time appointed by civil or ecclesiastical authority (1 Kings 21:9, 12:2 Chronicles 20:3; Joel 1:14; Joel 2:12, 15); but they were rare, and do not seem to be here intended. Still, the lesson is general, and would apply to all occasions of fasting. The Jews of the time expected, it would seem, some special definite result, in the way of victory or relief, to follow from their observance of the Atonement fast. As it did not follow, they regarded themselves as ill used, and accordingly made complaint. Their feelings approached to those of the Vedic worshippers, who regarded their religious observances as "not merely pleasing. the god who was the object of them, but as laying him under a binding obligation, and almost compelling him to grant the requests of the worshipper" ('Religions of the Ancient World,' pp. 143, 144). Afflicted our soul These are the exact words of Leviticus 16:29, 31, by which the fast of the great Day of Atonement was instituted. And thou takest no knowledge; rather, no notice. In the day of your fast ye find pleasure. Delitzsch and Mr. Cheyne render, "ye carry on business," which accords better with the clause which follows. The great Day of Atonement was, like the sabbath, a day on which no work was to be done (Leviticus 16:29). The Jews, while priding themselves on their observance of the day, did not really observe it in this particular. And exact all your labours; i.e. "require of your servants and subordinates all the services that they have to render on other days." Days of religious observance, even under the Law, were always intended to be days of kindly forbearance towards the poor, of the remission of burdens, or even of the actual giving of relief.
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.
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.
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?
Verse 5. - Is it such a fast that I have chosen, etc.? Do you suppose that such can be the fast commanded by me in the Law - a fast which is expressly called "a day for a man to afflict his soul"? Is afflicting one's soul simply bowing down one's head as a bulrush, and making one's couch on sackcloth and ashes? Surely it is much more than this. (On the employment of "sackcloth and ashes" in fasting, see Esther 4:3; Daniel 9:3; Jonah 3:6.)
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?
Verse 6. - Is not this the fast that I have chosen? This passage, as Dr. Kay observes, "stands like a homily for the Day of Atonement." Such homilies are found in the uninspired Jewish writings ('Taanith,' 2:1; 'Nedarim babli,' p. 10, a, etc.), and are conceived very much in the same spirit. The Jews call the true fast "the fasting of the heart." To loose the bands of wickedness. To set free those whom wicked persons have wrongfully imprisoned or entangled. To undo the heavy burdens; literally, to untie the thongs of the yoke. The liberation of a man's slaves, or of Jews captive among the heathen (Nehemiah 5:8), is probably intended. To let the oppressed (literally, the bruised) go free. Remission of debts and restoration of pledges (Nehemiah 10:31; Ezekiel 18:7) are, perhaps, the acts pointed at.
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?
Verse 7. - Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry? In the early Christian Church almsgiving was connected with fasting by law (Dressel's 'Patr. Apost.,' p. 493). It was also accepted as a moral axiom that "fasting and alms were the wings of prayer." Cast out; or, homeless ἀστέγους LXX.). That thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh. Their "flesh" were not merely their near kindred, but their countrymen generally (see Nehemiah 5:5).
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.
Verse 8. - Then. When thou hast taken this advice to heart, and adopted it, and made it the rule of thy conduct. Upon such a change in thee, all good things shall follow. Thou shalt have no more to complain of unanswered prayers or covenant promises left in abeyance (see the comment on vers. 2 and 3). Shall thy lightbreak forth; i.e. thy glorious, time shall begin (comp Isaiah 50:1). Thine health - rather, thine healing; the "healing of thy bruise," or thy recovery from the low estate to which thy sins have brought thee down - shall spring forth speedily; i.e. shall soon manifest itself; and the result will be twofold:

(1) thy own righteousness will go before thee - will be, as it were, thy vanguard; and

(2) The glory of the Lord; i.e. the glory which he will confer upon thee, will follow thee up, and be, as it were, thy rearguard (comp. Isaiah 52:12).
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;
Verse 9. - If thou take away from the midst of thee the yoke (comp. ver. 6). The putting forth of the finger. The pointing of the finger at any one in scorn. And speaking vanity; rather, speaking evil, or plotting evil, against others.
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:
Verse 10. - If thou draw out thy soul to the hungry; i.e. not merely giving him bread, but giving him sympathy and compassion with it. Then shall thy light rise in obscurity (comp. Psalm 112:4, "Unto the godly there riseth up light in the darkness;" and see above, ver. 8).
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.
Verse 11. - The Lord shall guide thee continually; i.e. "direct thee in all thy paths - teach thee the way that thou shouldst walk in." In drought. In time of spiritual depression and weariness. Make fat thy bones; i.e. sustain thy strength. Thou shall; be like a watered garden (comp. Jeremiah 31:12).
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.
Verse 12. - They that shall be of thee shall build the old waste places. Thy descendants shall restore all that has fallen into decay in Israel, whether it be cities or customs. They shall restore "breaches" of every kind, and bring back the old paths for thee to walk in. The restoration of the ruined cities of Judah may be glanced at, but is far from exhausting the writer's meaning (comp. Isaiah 61:4).
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:
Verses 13, 14. - A STRICT OBSERVANCE OF THE SABBATH ENJOINED. While the fasting of the day only required to be spiritualized, the sabbath observance needed both spiritualizing and increased strictness. From 2 Chronicles 36:21 we learn that the sabbatical years had been little observed during the later Jewish kingdom; and it would Seem from the present passage (comp. Jeremiah 17:21-23) that even the observance of the sabbath itself had been neglected. Not that the neglect was total. The sacrifices proper to the sabbath were duly offered - the "solemn assembly" was duly called and attended (Isaiah 1:13); but during the rest of the day business flowed in its usual course - the complete sanctification of the entire day was set aside. We find a similar laxity prevalent after the return from the Captivity (Nehemiah 10:31; Nehemiah 13:15, 16). Verse 13. - If thou turn away thy foot from the sabbath; i.e. treat it with reverence, as if it were "holy ground" (Exodus 3:5; Proverbs 4:27). From doing thy pleasure; rather, from doing thy business - the same expression as in ver. 3. It is by "business," not by pleasure, that the sabbath was polluted both in the time of Jeremiah (Jeremiah 17:21-23) and of Nehemiah (Nehemiah 10:31, etc.). And call the sabbath a delight. This is the spiritualization of the sabbath - "to call" and feel it "a delight," a real satisfaction to the soul, not a weariness (Amos 8:5), as it was to many. And shalt honour him; rather, and shalt honour it; i.e. the sabbath, which is made masculine here, as in Isaiah 56:2. The sabbath was to be honoured by men not pursuing their own ordinary ways, or engaging in their regular business, or even carrying on their ordinary everyday talk. Literally, the command is, not to "speak words;" but no Jews were ever such strict sabbatarians as to understand this as prohibiting all speech on the sabbath. Some have held that sabbatical talk should be scanty, limited, restrained as much as possible; but even for this there is no warrant. It is the quality, rather than the quantity, of the words uttered that is of real importance.
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.
Verse 14. - Then shalt thou delight thyself in the Lord. Then shall communion with Jehovah become a real pleasure to thee. The acts of worship shall not be done merely from a sense of duty, because commanded, but because they are congenial to the soul of the worshipper. A right use of the sabbath will help to form in men habits of devotion, which will make religion a joy and a delight to them. I will cause thee to ride upon the high places of the earth; i.e. "I will give thee a prominent position in the earth, and cause thee to occupy its high places, and hear rule over many nations." Something more than a "taking triumphal possession of Palestine" is evidently pointed at (see Deuteronomy 32:13). And feed thee with the heritage of Jacob thy father. The world itself was the "heritage of Jacob," since in him and his seed "all the families of the earth were to be blessed" (Genesis 28:14). Israel, having laid aside its formalism, and turned to God sincerely. keeping fast and sabbath as God would have them kept, not in the letter, but in the spirit, would enter upon the promised heritage, and occupy the position originally assigned to it. Israel's rejection of the gospel made the mixed Christian Church the inheritress of the old promises.

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