The Prophet Isaiah Issues an Explanation and a Promise

Isaiah 58

The Bible is a continuous story on the relationship between man and God. When man pulls away and makes his own decisions, the relationship is broken. When the relationship is broken man no longer benefits from all of the blessings, protections and gifts of God. In Chapter 58 of his Book, Isaiah brings this into focus.

The United States, like so many nations, has enjoyed the benefits from this relationship, yet even with a free and open society, freedom to worship, freedom to express opinions, the USA is hardly a Christian nation, a Jewish nation, or a nation that worships God in any significant fashion.

There are churches in every community, yet only a small percentage of people are Biblical believers. Even those who claim Biblical beliefs will argue against the statements of the Biblical writers. Christian people will deny the Biblical account of creation. I have known so many people who go to church or synagogue and don’t believe in God at all.

So much of the world now is secular and sadly, man is worshiping man, forsaking the Word of God in favor of believing any alternative narrative that comes along.

Isaiah is talking about the breakdown of trust and faith. Of course, when something bad happens, like the attack of the World Trade Center, or when the Pentagon had the downing of a passenger flight headed for the U.S. Capitol on September 11, 2001, people pull together. They ask God to help. For a brief moment there is a turning back to God, perhaps even repentance for bad behavior, but it is only temporary.

People get comfortable again and immediately go back to their own way. The Bible is the story of that constant back and forth. People turn to God, turn away, turn back to God, etc.

As much as God is a loving and gracious God, there are consequences to this constant double mindedness. God loves unconditionally, but he also will punish sin. He is a Holy and righteous God, whose Word is absolute. If God were to allow sin to flourish without consequence, he would go against His own nature and character. That will not happen.

Through Isaiah, God gives an admonishment, but at the same time, a promise of love and fulfillment. God desires the relationship, He seeks out man, He makes the first move. Then He patiently waits for man to respond.

Shout it aloud, do not hold back. Raise your voice like a trumpet. Declare to my people their rebellion and to the descendants of Jacob their sins. For day after day they seek me out; they seem eager to know my ways, as if they were a nation that does what is right and has not forsaken the commands of its God. They ask me for just decisions and seem eager for God to come near them. ‘Why have we fasted,’ they say, ‘and you have not seen it? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you have not noticed?’

Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please and exploit all your workers. Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife, and in striking each other with wicked fists. You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high. Is this the kind of fast I have chosen, only a day for people to humble themselves? Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed and for lying in sackcloth and ashes? Is that what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord?

Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter— when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard. Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.

If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday. The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail. Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the age-old foundations; you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.

If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath and from doing as you please on my holy day, if you call the Sabbath a delight and the Lord’s holy day honorable, and if you honor it by not going your own way and not doing as you please or speaking idle words, then you will find your joy in the Lord, and I will cause you to ride in triumph on the heights of the land and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob.” For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.

Isaiah 58 Featured

In his homily at the presidential inauguration prayer service, the Rev. William Barber II, co-chair of the Poor Peoples Campaign, cited Isaiah 58, where the prophet calls on his people to:

“loose the bands of wickedness, … let the oppressed go free,” and become “the repairer of the breach.”

“The breach is when we say, ‘One nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all,’ with our lips, while we see the rich and the poor living in two different Americas,” Barber said, hoping that we as a nation face difficult issues and don’t again turn our backs on these problems.