Isaiah 58:6
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?
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(6) To loose the bands of wickedness.—The words do not exclude abstinence from food as an act of discipline and victory over self-indulgence, but declare its insufficiency by itself. So in the practice of the ancient Church fasting and almsgiving were closely connected, as indeed they are in Matthew 6:1; Matthew 6:16. The history of the emancipation of the slaves and of their subsequent return to bondage presents a curious illustration of the prophet’s words (Jeremiah 34:8-22). The truth which he proclaimed was recognised in the hour of danger and forgotten in that of safety. Comp. Joel 2:13.

To undo the heavy burdens.—Literally, the thongs of the yoke, the leather straps which fastened the yoke on the head of the oxen as they ploughed. Again we trace an echo of the thought and almost of the phraseology in our Lord’s teaching (Matthew 11:29-30; Matthew 23:4). The Pharisees who fasted laid heavy burdens on men’s shoulders. He, who was thought not to fast, relieved them of their two-fold yoke of evil selfishness and ceremonial formalism.

Isaiah 58:6. Is not this the fast that I have chosen? — Or approve, as before, Isaiah 58:5. Or ought not such a fast to be accompanied with such things as these? He now proceeds to show the concomitants of a true fast; namely, to exercise works of justice and charity. To loose the bands of wickedness — Namely, the cruel obligations of usury and oppression. To undo the heavy burdens — Hebrew, the bundles of the yoke, as in the margin; by which may possibly be intended bundles of writings, acknowledgments, bonds, mortgages, &c., which the usurers had lying by them. The former are thought to relate to unjust and unlawful obligations, extorted by force or fear, which the prophet would have cancelled: this latter, to just debts contracted through poverty and necessity, the rigour whereof he would have abated. And to let the oppressed go free — Those grieved or vexed, whether by the griping of usury or the bonds of slavery, accompanied with cruel usage; or those confined or shut up in prisons; and that ye break every yoke — Namely, which is grievous; that you free your dependants and servants, and all that are under your power, from all sorts of vexations and oppressions.

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.Is not this the fast that I have chosen? - Fasting is right and proper; but that which God approves will prompt to, and will be followed by, deeds of justice, kindness, charity. The prophet proceeds to specify very particularly what God required, and when the observance of seasons of fasting would be acceptable to him.

To loose the bands of wickedness - This is the first thing to be done in order that their fasting might be acceptable to the Lord. The idea is, that they were to dissolve every tie which unjustly bound their fellowmen. The Chaldee renders it, 'Separate the congregation of impiety;' but the more probable sense is, that if they were exercising any unjust and cruel authority over others; if they had bound them in any way contrary to the laws of God and the interests of justice, they were to release them. This might refer to their compelling others to servitude more rigidly than the law of Moses allowed; or to holding them to contracts which had been fraudulently made; or to their exacting strict payment from persons wholly incapacitated to meet their obligations; or it might refer to their subjecting others to more rigid service than was allowed by the laws of Moses, but it would not require a very ardent imagination for anyone to see, that if he held slaves at all, that this came fairly under the description of the prophet. A man with a tender conscience who held slaves would have been likely to suppose that this part of the injunction applied to himself.

To undo the heavy burdens - Margin, 'Bundles of the yoke.' The Septuagint renders it, 'Dissolve the obligations of onerous contracts.' The Chaldee, 'Loose the obligations of the writings of unjust judgment.' The Hebrew means, 'Loose the bands of the yoke,' a figure taken from the yoke which was borne by oxen, and which seems to have been attached to the neck by cords or bands (see Fragments to Taylor's Calmer. No. xxviii.) The yoke, in the Scripture, is usually regarded as an emblem of oppression, or compulsory toil, and is undoubtedy so used here. The same word is used to denote 'burden' (מוטה môṭâh), which in the subsequent member is rendered 'yoke,' and the word which is rendered 'undo (התר hatı̂r from נתי nātar), is elsewhere employed to denote emancipation from servitude. The phrase here employed would properly denote the release of captives or slaves, and would doubtless be so understood by those whom the prophet addressed. Thus, in Psalm 105:17-20 :

He sent a man before them, even Joseph,

Who was sold for a servant;

Whose feet they hurt with fetters;

He was laid in iron:

Until the time when his word came,

The word of the Lord tried him.

The king sent and loosed him (ויתירהוּ vaytı̂yrēhû),

Even the ruler of the people, and let him go free.

And let the oppressed go free - Margin, 'Broken.' The Hebrew word רצוצים retsûtsı̂ym is from the word רצץ rātsats, meaning "to break, to break down" (see the notes at Isaiah 42:3); to treat with violence, to oppress. It may be applied to those who are treated with violence in any way, or who are broken down by bard usage. It may refer, therefore, to slaves who are oppressed by bondage and toil; or to inferiors of any kind who are subjected to hard usage by those who are above them; or to the subjects of a tyrant groaning under his yoke. The use of the phrase here, 'go free,' however, seems to limit its application in this place to those who were held in bondage. Jerome renders it, 'Free those who are broken' (confracti). The Septuagint Τεθρασμένος Tethrasmenos - 'Set at liberty those who are broken down.' If slavery existed at the time here referred to, this word would be appropriately understood as including that - at least would be so understood by the slaves themselves - for if any institution deserves to be called oppression, it is theft of slavery.

This interpretation would be confirmed by the use of the word rendered free. That word (חפשׁים chophshı̂ym) evidently refers to the act of freeing a slave. The person who had once been a slave, and who had afterward obtained his freedom, was denominated חפשׁי chophshı̂y (see Jahn, Bib. Ant. Section 171). This word occurs, and is so used, in the following places; Exodus 21:12, 'And the seventh (year) he shall go free;' Exodus 21:5, 'I will not go out free;' Exodus 26:27, 'He shall let him go free;' Deuteronomy 15:12, 'Thou shalt let him go free;' Deuteronomy 15:13, 'When thou sendest him out free' Deuteronomy 15:18, 'When thou sendest him away free;' Job 3:19, 'The servant is free from his master;' that is, in the grave, where there is universal emancipation. Compare Jeremiah 34:9-11, Jeremiah 34:14, Jeremiah 34:16 where the same Hebrew word is used, and is applied expressly to the emancipation of slaves. The word is used in other places in the Bible except the following: 1 Samuel 17:25, 'And make his father's house free in Israel,' referring to the favor which was promised to the one who would slay Goliath of Gath. Job 39:5 : 'Who hath sent out the wild donkey free?' Psalm 88:5 : 'Free among the dead.' The usage, therefore, is settled that the word properly refers to deliverance from servitude. It would be naturally understood by a Hebrew as referring to that, and unless there was something in the connection which made it necessary to adopt a different interpretation, a Hebrew would so understand it of course. In the case before us, such an interpretation would be obvious, and it is difficult to see how a Jew could understand this direction in any other way, if he was an owner. of slaves, than that be should set them at once at liberty.

And that ye break every yoke - A yoke, in the Scriptures, is a symbol of oppression, and the idea here is, that they were to cease all oppressions, and to restore all to their lust and equal rights. The prophet demanded, in order that there might be an acceptable 'fast,' that everything which could properly be described as a 'yoke' should be broken. How could this command be complied with by a Hebrew if he continued to retain his fellow-men in bondage? Would not its fair application be to lead him to emancipate those who were held as slaves? Could it be true, whatever else he might do, that he would fully comply with this injunction, unless this were done? If now this whole injunction were fairly complied with in his land, who can doubt that it would lead to the emancipation of the slaves? The language is such that it cannot well be misunderstood. The prophet undoubtedly specifies those things which properly denote slavery, and demands that they should all be abandoned in order to an acceptable 'fast to the Lord,' and the fair application of this injunction would soon extinguish slavery throughout the world.

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.

Is not this the fast that I have chosen? or, approve, as before, Isaiah 58:5: or, Ought not such a fast to be accompanied with such things as these? where he is now about to show the concomitants of a true fast, with reference to the thing in hand, namely, to exercise works of charity, consisting partly in acts of self-denial, in this verse, and partly in doing good to those in distress, in the next. In this verse he instanceth in some particulars, and closeth with a general.

The bands of wickedness, viz. the cruel obligations of usury and oppression.

The heavy burdens, Heb. bundles; a metaphor possibly pointing at those many bundles of writings, as bills, bonds, mortgages, and acknowledgments, which the usurers had lying by them: The former may relate to unjust and unlawful obligations extorted by force or fear, which he would have cancelled; this latter to just debts contracted through poverty and necessity, the rigour whereof he would have abated, reason of loans upon too hard conditions, called a drawing them into a net, Psalm 10:9, and so much is implied, Proverbs 6:5; or under too hard circumstances, whether they were loans of food or money, of which the people so bitterly complained, Nehemiah 5:1-4, and is expressly forbid, Exodus 22:25. For debts may be called burdens,

1. Because they lie as a great load upon the debtor’s spirits, under which whoever can walk up and down easily doth not so much excel in fortitude as in folly.

2. Because they usually introduce poverty, slavery, imprisonment, &c.

The oppressed; either in a large sense, viz. any ways grieved or vexed, whether by the gripings of usury, or the bondage of slavery accompanied with cruel usage; or more peculiarly (according to some) relating to their being confined and shut up in prisons, which latter sense the word

free may possibly seem to favour, the former being comprised in that general expression that follows of

breaking every yoke. Heb. broken, i.e. like a bruised reed, so crushed and weakened, that they have no consistency or ability, either to satisfy their creditors, or support themselves; and we usually call such insolvent persons broken that cannot look upon themselves to be sui juris, but wholly at another’s mercy: you have the same kind of oppression, and the same words used, Amos 4:1.

That ye break every yoke, namely, that is grievous, a metaphor; i.e. free them from all sorts of vexation, whatever it is that held them under any bondage. The LXX. refer it to bonds and writings; but it seems more general: the word properly signifies that stick or cord that holds both ends of the yoke, that it spring not out, or fall off from the neck on which it is laid, Exodus 25:14, where the same word is used for staves; and called the bands of the yoke, Leviticus 26:13, I have broken the bands of your yoke, and made you go upright; the same thing that God would have them do here.

Is not this the fast that I have chosen?.... Which God has appointed, he approves of, and is well pleasing in his sight; these are works and services more agreeable to him, which follow, without which the rest will be rejected:

to loose the bands of wickedness; which some understand of combinations in courts of judicature to oppress and distress the poor; others of bonds and contracts unjustly made, or rigorously demanded and insisted on, when they cannot be answered; rather of those things with which the consciences of men are bound in religious matters; impositions upon conscience; binding to the use of stinted forms, and to habits in divine worship, which the word of God has not made necessary:

to undo the heavy burdens. The Septuagint render it, "dissolve the obligations of violent contracts"; such as are obtained by violence; so the Arabic version; or by fraud, as the Syriac version, which translates it, bonds of fraud. The Targum is,

"loose the bonds of writings of a depraved judgment;''

all referring it to unjust bonds and contracts in a civil sense: but rather it regards the loosing or freeing men from all obligation to all human prescriptions and precepts; whatever is after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ; so the traditions of the Scribes and Pharisees are called "heavy burdens, grievous to be borne", Matthew 23:4 these should not be laid and bound on men's shoulders, but should be done and taken off of them, as well as all penal laws with which they have been enforced:

and to let the oppressed go free; such as have been broken by oppression, not only in their spirits, but in their purses, by mulcts and fines, and confiscation of goods; and who have been cast into prisons, and detained a long time in filthy dungeons; and where many have perished for the sake of religion, even in Protestant countries:

and that ye break every yoke; of church power and tyranny; everything that is not enjoined and authorized by the word of God; every yoke but the yoke of Christ; all human precepts, and obedience to them; all but the commands of Christ, and obedience to them; no other yoke should be put upon the neck of his disciples but his own.

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 {f} yoke?

(f) That you leave off all your extortions.

6, 7. Description of the true fast in which Jehovah delights. The duties enjoined fall under two heads: (1) abstinence from every form of oppression (Isaiah 58:6), and (2) the exercise of positive beneficence towards the destitute (Isaiah 58:7). In naming these things as the moral essence of fasting, the prophet may be guided by the principle so often inculcated by our Lord, that he who would obtain mercy from God must shew a merciful disposition towards his fellow-men (Matthew 5:7; Matthew 6:12; Matthew 18:35 &c.). Or the idea may be that the spirit of self-denial possesses no value before God unless it be carried into the sphere of social duty.

the bands (R.V. bonds) of wickedness] i.e. unjust and oppressive obligations.

to undo the heavy burdens] Lit. to untie the Bands of the yoke.

the oppressed is literally the “broken” (Deuteronomy 28:33; ch. Isaiah 42:3),—bankrupts, whose liberty had been forfeited to their creditors (cf. Nehemiah 5:5).

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. Isaiah 58:6Whilst the people on the fast-day are carrying on their worldly, selfish, everyday business, the fasting is perverted from a means of divine worship and absorption in the spiritual character of the day to the most thoroughly selfish purposes: it is supposed to be of some worth and to merit some reward. This work-holy delusion, behind which self-righteousness and unrighteousness were concealed, is met thus by Jehovah through His prophet: "Can such things as these pass for a fast that I have pleasure in, as a day for a man to afflict his soul? To bow down his head like a bulrush, and spread sackcloth and ashes under him - dost thou call this a fast and an acceptable day for Jehovah? Is not this a fast that I have pleasure in: To loose coils of wickedness, to untie the bands of the yoke, and for sending away the oppressed as free, and that ye break every kind of yoke? Is it not this, to break thy bread to the hungry, and to take the poor and houseless to thy home; when thou seest a naked man that thou clothest him, and dost not deny thyself before thine own flesh?" The true worship, which consists in works of merciful love to one's brethren, and its great promises are here placed in contrast with the false worship just described. הכזה points backwards: is such a fast as this a fast after Jehovah's mind, a day on which it can be said in truth that a man afflicts his soul (Leviticus 16:29)? The ה of הלכף is resumed in הלזה; the second ל is the object to תּקרא expressed as a dative. The first ל answers to our preposition "to" with the infinitive, which stands here at the beginning like a casus absol. (to hang down; for which the inf. abs. הכפוף might also be used), and as in most other cases passes over into the finite (et quod saccum et cinerem substernit, viz., sibi: Ges. 132, Anm. 2). To hang down the head and sit in sackcloth and ashes - this does not in itself deserve the name of fasting and of a day of gracious reception (Isaiah 56:7; Isaiah 61:2) on the part of Jehovah (ליהוה for a subjective genitive).

Isaiah 58:6 and Isaiah 58:7 affirm that the fasting which is pleasant to Jehovah consists in something very different from this, namely, in releasing the oppressed, and in kindness to the helpless; not in abstinence form eating as such, but in sympathetic acts of that self-denying love, which gives up bread or any other possession for the sake of doing good to the needy.

(Note: The ancient church connected fasting with almsgiving by law. Dressel, Patr. Ap. p. 493.)

There is a bitter irony in these words, just as when the ancients said, "not eating is a natural fast, but abstaining form sin is a spiritual fast." During the siege of Jerusalem by the Chaldeans a general emancipation of the slaves of Israelitish descent (who were to be set free, according to the law, every three years) was resolved upon and carried out; but as soon as the Chaldeans were gone, the masters fetched their liberated slaves back into servitude again (Jeremiah 34:8-22). And as Isaiah 58:6 shows, they carried the same selfish and despotic disposition with them into captivity. The זה which points forwards is expanded into infin. absolutes, which are carried on quite regularly in the finite tense. Mōtâh, which is repeated palindromically, signifies in both cases a yoke, lit., vectis, the cross wood which formed the most important part of the yoke, and which was fastened to the animal's head, and so connected with the plough by means of a cord or strap (Sir. 30:13; 33:27).

(Note: I have already observed at Isaiah 47:6, in vindication of what was stated at Isaiah 10:27, that the yoke was not in the form of a collar. I brought the subject under the notice of Prof. Schegg, who wrote to me immediately after his return from his journey to Palestine to the following effect: "I saw many oxen ploughing in Egypt, Palestine, Syria, and the neighbourhood of Ephesus; and in every case the yoke was a cross piece of wood laid upon the neck of the animal, and fastened to the pole of the plough by a cord which passed under the neck of the animal.")

It is to this that אגדּות, knots, refers. We cannot connect it with mutteh, a state of perverted right (Ezekiel 9:9), as Hitzig does. רצוּצים are persons unjustly and forcibly oppressed even with cruelty; רצץ is a stronger synonym to עשׂק (e.g., Amos 4:1). In Isaiah 58:7 we have the same spirit of general humanity as in Job 31:13-23; Ezekiel 18:7-8 (compare what James describes in James 1:27 as "pure religion and undefiled"). לחם (פרשׂ) פרץ is the usual phrase for κλᾶν (κλάζειν) ἄρτον. מרוּדים is the adjective to עניּים, and apparently therefore must be derived from מרד: miserable men who have shown themselves refractory towards despotic rulers. But the participle mârūd cannot be found elsewhere; and the recommendation to receive political fugitives has a modern look. The parallels in Lamentations 1:7 and Lamentations 3:19 are conclusive evidence, that the word is intended as a derivative of רוּד, to wander about, and it is so rendered in the lxx, Targ., and Jerome (vagos). But מרוד, pl. מרוּדים, is no adjective; and there is nothing to recommend the opinion, that by "wanderers" we are to understand Israelitish men. Ewald supposes that מרוּדים may be taken as a part. hoph. for מוּרדים, hunted away, like הממותים in 2 Kings 11:2 (Keri המּמתים); but it cannot be shown that the language allowed of this shifting of a vowel-sound. We prefer to assume that מרוּדים (persecuted) is regarded as part. pass., even if only per metaplasmum, from מרד, a secondary form of רוּד (cf., מכס, מלץ, מצח, makuna). Isaiah 58:7 is still the virtual subject to אבחרהוּ צום. The apodosis to the hypothetical כּי commences with a perf. consec., which then passes into the pausal future תתעלּם. In hsilgnE:egaugnaL\&מבשׂרך (from thine own flesh) it is presupposed that all men form one united whole as being of the same flesh and blood, and that they form one family, owing to one another mutual love.

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