Wrestling with Fasting and Isaiah 58
Recently, chapter 58 of Isaiah gripped and challenged me. The LORD is speaking to Israel. He tells Isaiah to cry aloud a sin of the people. What sin did they commit? He says in verses 2-3 the people seek him daily, they delight to know his ways. They fast often, observe the Sabbath, and ask God for righteous judgement. So what is the problem? The LORD says they sin by fasting and keeping the Sabbath wrongly.
Verse 3 begins “Behold, in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure…” In verse 5, he even seems to criticize those who merely sit under sackcloth and ashes (a symbol for acknowledging sin and repenting). While reading, I felt puzzled and confused. I thought keeping the Sabbath was about us resting, and that fasting was a time to acknowledge and repent of sin. So if that misses the point, what does the LORD say about true fasting?
In verses 6-7 the LORD says, “Is this not the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your break with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?”
His major issue with the people is that they have the appearance of godliness, but not the heart of God. All those good things I mentioned earlier in verses 2-3 are scorned by the LORD because they do not care about the things the LORD cares about. “Yet they seek me daily and delight to know my ways, as if they were a nation that did righteousness…” (Emphasis added). The LORD says that if his people stop seeking their pleasure on His holy day, that he will be with them.
I’m still wrestling and praying for wisdom in the application of this truth, but here are some of my takeaways:
- Fasting is not about me. It is about God’s kingdom and his glory.
- Repenting of sin is good and necessary, but I cannot focus only on my own sin/salvation. I am made to glorify the LORD by seeking justice for the oppressed.
- As I prepare for our Church fast, I am challenged to think about ways to stop seeking my own pleasure, or hide in my room all day, but to seek to build the LORD’s kingdom for His glory.
Sarah Evans has been part of the Grace Church family for three years. She and her husband, Keith, serve with Disciplemakers at Lebanon Valley College.