They were committed to their religious rituals. Daily they went through the motions of seeking the LORD. They acted in ways intended to convey a desire to know His ways. They wanted God to intervene with “righteous judgments” so they followed the script for demonstrating their “delight to draw near to God.” And yet, nothing. Zip. Zero. Zilch. Nada.
“Why have we fasted, and You see it not? Why have we humbled ourselves, and You take no knowledge of it?”
(Isaiah 58:3a ESV)
They were doing their part, why wasn’t God doing His? As far as they knew, they were pulling all the right strings, why wasn’t He dancing? They were fasting, why wasn’t God acting?
I’m captured this morning by God’s rebuke of the ancient Israelites in Isaiah 58. He says that true fasting isn’t necessarily marked by outward acts of humility such as heads bowed like weakened reeds or sackcloth and ashes spread about in abundance (58:5a).
“Will you call this a fast, and a day acceptable to the LORD?”
(Isaiah 58:5b ESV)
Then, through His prophet, the God of Israel reveals the fast He chooses (58:6a).
He points to what we might refer to today as acts of “social justice” as being the appropriate markers of a people who truly are seeking their God. To loose the bonds of the oppressed. Share bread with the hungry. Bring into their homes the homeless. Cover the naked with clothes. Stop ignoring and isolating themselves from the plight of others also subject to the weakness of the flesh (58:6-7). Then, says the LORD, because of these earthly efforts they would see heavenly results.
“Then shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up speedily; your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer; you shall cry, and He will say, ‘Here I am.’ ”
(Isaiah 58:8-9a ESV)
And it’s not just that God demands a “you do” then “I will do” protocol. It’s not that the grace of God is dependent on our efforts to clean up society’s woes. It’s that their lack of caring for the needy was symptomatic of a deeper lack of caring for their God because of a deepening desire to live only for themselves.
“If you turn back your foot from the Sabbath, from doing your pleasure on my holy day, and call the Sabbath a delight and the holy day of the LORD honorable; if you honor it, not going your own ways, or seeking your own pleasure, or talking idly; then you shall take delight in the LORD, and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth.”
(Isaiah 58:13-14a ESV)
At the heart of their social “injustice” was a heart of going their own ways, seeking their own pleasures, and giving only lip service to any transcendent context. Having put their own needs, wants, and desires above the Creator’s decrees it manifest itself in little regard for the suffering of those bearing the Creator’s image.
Not sure exactly what I’m to do as I chew on Isaiah 58. But can’t get away from what I think I am to know. Authentic love for God will manifest itself in active love for others. A fading compassion for others may indicate a diminishing devotion to God and may be the result of an increasing promotion of self.
Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.
(James 1:27 ESV)
Lord, search my heart.
By Your grace. For You glory.