Summary: God isn’t as impressed with our pious religiosity as he is about the way we live our lives.
Now the Israelites had a problem. They practiced their religion faithfully, and they did everything that was expected, but God didn’t seem to be listening to them. What was the problem?
This is a good question. And it’s an important question to ask ourselves as well. God, through his prophet, tells the Israelites what the problem is, and thankfully, he tells them how to fix it. Let’s see if we can learn some lessons.
*Fasting the wrong way.*
Don’t get this wrong – the Israelites were very religious people!
? They worshipped God at the right place, at the right time.
? They observed all the sacrifices required of them.
? They sometimes even stopped worshipping idols!
? They fasted regularly.
o Fasting is one of those day to day type of
religious activities. Unless you were a priest who lived in Jerusalem, you didn’t take part in sacrifices very often. Fasting, however, was something everyone could do.
o Fasting was important at certain times. As well as at set days of the year when fasting was
required, national fasts may have been called in times of calamity and distress. Fasting was the act of going without something good in order to better hear the voice of God – usually food, but sometimes other things as well.
Isaiah was writing to set the people straight about their fasting. Up to a certain point, they had the right idea. They knew they had displeased God. They wanted to hear from him. Verse two tells us that they sought after God, and they wanted to know his ways.
This is all very good. But they had a problem. God didn’t seem to respond! God didn’t seem to notice their fasting, and they must have felt they were wasting their time.
The problem was they were prepared to make all of the big sacrifices, but weren’t prepared to live their lives the way God wanted them to. Isaiah points out several things they were doing wrong.
? First, their motives weren’t as good as they seemed (Verse 4).
? Second, they were taking advantage of others, even while they were fasting. Verse 3 talks about how these apparently religious people would still exploit their workers.
? Third, they thought the more they abused themselves during their fasting, the more likely God was to hear them (v.5). There may have been base motives here, too.
These people thought that if they went through the motions, God would hear them. Sadly, we do this today. We do it in all sorts of ways!
? Uniform wearing [Note - Salvation Army cong.! ;-)]
? Keeping our strict dietary laws (abstinence fronm alcohol, etc)
? Attend all the right meetings during the week.
But Christians are good at doing the same things that the Israelites did.
? We do it to be seen, not to seek after God.
? We look for fights
o Infighting between churches
o Malicious gossip
o Trying to get all the best jobs in front of others.
? We can take advantage of others
o I know Christians, working in Christian
Ministries, who exploit their workers quite unashamedly, and use the Great Commission as an excuse.
*Fasting the right way.*
So no matter how hard the people tried, they couldn’t get their fast right. So how did Isaiah tell them to fix the problem?
The fast required by God lay not in giving up certain foods, but in acting the right way toward other people.
? First, they had to stop doing the wrong things they had done. They couldn’t bully people any more! They couldn’t make a show of their fasting any more!
? Second, they had to fix the problems they had made. - Shelter the homeless, feed the hungry.
Of course, this meant sacrifice. Isn’t that what fasting is all about?
The New Testament teaches a very similar thing to what Isaiah is talking about here – and it is summed up in the word love. The fast that God requires is love towards one another. In 1 Cor. 13 we read that love should be our motivation for everything. Don’t do things for show. When you deal with other people, have their best interests in mind, not your own.
You see, the Israelites had forgotten that their religion was a twenty four hour a day, seven day a week business. They could be very religious when they had to be, but outside of that time they did what they wanted.
Isaiah knew better. We must be Christians all of the time! We don’t take our Christianity off when we go to work or school. We don’t put it on just to go to church. We are always Christians!
*What is the fasting God requires of us?*
? We don’t really practice fasting as a congregation, but we do other things that could be considered similar.