Cry aloud, spare not, lift up thy voice like a trumpet, and shew my people their transgression, and the house of Jacob their sins.
I. The Hebrew prophet's deliverance here is not in condemnation or disparagement of all fasting. The people of his day were in the habit, it appears, of denying themselves food, and assuming postures of mourning and humiliation as an offering to the Almighty, and an appeal to Him for His recognition and regard, while they were living, and persisted in living, unrighteously and unlovingly. Ever and anon, they would set apart a time in which to make themselves generally uncomfortable, by going without their meals, and spreading sackcloth and ashes over themselves, as an act towards Jehovah, and a call upon Him for His favour, while their lives were rank with injustice and selfishness. This was what their religious teacher inveighed against so sharply: the idea that to stop once and again in a course of bad conduct, and lie in the dust, with bent heads, and empty, unfed mouths, was a ceremony acceptable to God, and would suffice to atone in a measure for their habitual covetousness and cruelty.
II. While Isaiah is denouncing the superstition of his countrymen in thinking to compound for their transgressions by bodily abstinences and austerities, he is led, it would appear, to consider the practice of fasting with outward signs of humiliation and mourning, and to ask the question, "Is it ever what the Lord desires and demands? "And the answer of the prophet's soul is, "No." Men will and must fast if heavily oppressed with grief, and they may and should fast if it will help them at all in the effort to rise above false passion, and subordinate the lower nature to the higher. But to fast and lie in the dust, as an offering to God, as an exercise toward Him, for Him to look upon and be attracted by, is altogether vain and worthless. The one true repentance is to turn from the ways of sin into the ways of righteousness. The fear of the Lord is to depart from evil, and if a man be departing from evil he need not trouble about any further confession or repentance, except in so far as his own heart should compel him. In departing from evil he is fasting the fast which God chooses, which is not to afflict his soul with abstinence for a day, and to bow down his head as a bulrush, but to "loosen the bands of wickedness," and to "deal his bread to the hungry."
S. A. Tipple, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xv., p. 200.
References: Isaiah 58:4.—J. G. Rogers, Christian World Pulpit, vol. iii., p. 145. Isaiah 58:5.—F. W. Farrar, Ibid., vol. xxxi., p. 129.
Isaiah 58:6. 7
This passage is one of those in which the purity and holiness peculiar to the Gospel seem to be foretokened in the morality of the prophetic canon. Isaiah has been termed the Evangelical Prophet; and he is so, not more in the transcendent clearness of his predictions of evangelic facts, than in the corresponding brightness of his anticipations of evangelic holiness. As the inspired writers approached the great centre of purity, they became more and more deeply tinged with the glory they were approaching. The twilight clouds were red with the coming Sun.
I. Isaiah and his brother-prophets were holier and heavenlier and richer in the works of love upon an anticipated Christ than we are in a Christ already our crucified example. These men of God knew no divorce between belief and love, between living perpetually in the presence of a benevolent Lord and imitating His benevolence to their fellow-creatures. As it is the spirit of truth that has solemnised the union of the principle of faith with the works of charity, so it is, and in all ages has been, the master policy of the spirit of evil to effect their separation. This same purpose of separation which in darker ages the enemy of man sought to accomplish by making faith stand for a catalogue of superstitious observances—similar to the fasts of which the prophet speaks in the text—he now attempts to accomplish by exaggerating and perverting its more legitimate signification.
II. The whole religious providence of God towards man in every age has been a system operating by the combined influences of faith and love,—both directed towards His own perfect essence. In our existing condition, what is faith but love relying on support? What is love but faith forgetting the support in the supporter? Every progressive step in attaining habits of compassion and kindness upon earth must necessarily be a step towards estimating and loving Him who is the essential Spirit of benevolence. The love of man is the type and shadow of the love of God—the first step upon a pathway that conducts to paradise. The people of God are here engaged with the rudiments and images of those affections which are to be the duty and the happiness of their eternity.
W. Archer Butler, Sermons Doctrinal and Practical, 2nd series, p. 148.
References: Isaiah 58:6, Isaiah 58:7.—T. Dale, Penny Pulpit, No. 2977; W. M. Punshon, Sermons, 2nd series, p. 317. Isaiah 58:6-8.—S. Pearson, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xii., p. 225.
Isaiah 58:8I. That the word "prophet" should so early in our language have come to be used as a synonym for a predictor is only an instance of the prevailing error which consists in looking for signs and wonders as evidence of Divine power. If a man possesses a superhuman commission", he must be able to do superhuman acts. Such is the vulgar reasoning. And as the prophets, men inspired by God, have looked forward into the future and spoken of what they saw, these predictions have been seized upon as the characteristic feature of the speaker's mission, and the noble office of prophet has come to be regarded as that of a worker of magic. The true seer is not the magician, but the pleader for the righteousness of God.
II. The attitude of the prophet Isaiah is that of the forward-looking man. His eye is not so much lifted to heaven, or bent downwards upon the people, as it is turned ever towards the horizon, waiting for the dawn. It is for all nations that he looks forward with hope. The keynote of his song has been struck long before in the promise to Abraham, that in his seed should all nations of the world be blessed. The prophets were commissioned to instil the truth which might have saved the peculiar people from the danger of exclusiveness. They saw from the height on which they stood, alone with God, the future of the world lying like a map at their feet, and bathed in the sunshine of God's favour. The prophet was a predictor. He could not fail to be. The firmer his faith in God, the farther a man sees. The "seer" owes his power to faith. The believer sees and knows what the unbeliever cannot see or know. These are the two notes of the prophetic character,—its hopefulness and its catholicity.
A. Ainger, Sermons in the Temple Church, p. 268.
References: Isaiah 58:8.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxx., No. 1793. Isaiah 58:11.—Ibid., vol. xiii., No. 736; Ibid., Evening by Evening, p. 364. Isaiah 58:12.—Pulpit Analyst, vol. iii., p. 296. Isaiah 58:13, Isaiah 58:14.—Plain Sermons by Contributors to "Tracts for the Times," vol. ix., p. 267; G. Brooks, Outlines of Sermons, p. 257; H. F. Burder, Sermons, p. 426; H. W. Beecher, Plymouth Pulpit, 4th series, p. 213.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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?
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?
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.
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;
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:
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.
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.
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:
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.