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Summary: Though the people wanted the blessings of God, they were not interested in allowing God to change their heart, their attitude & their actions. They wanted their religion to gain them special favor with God so that they would win the dog eat dog struggle

ISAIAH 58:3-12

TRUE FASTING

Job 32:17-20 / Matthew 23:13-36

Going through the motions of religion, even those of sacrifice and fasting, does not move God. A true and vital relationship with God does not come through external religion and ritual. What brings the response of God into life is a genuine compassion for the poor, the helpless, and the oppressed. A true seeking after relationship with God will result in seeking justice for the oppressed and acting compassionately toward the needy.

Though the people wanted the blessings of God, they were not interested in allowing God to change their heart, their attitude, and their actions. They wanted their religion to gain them special favor with God so that they would win the dog eat dog struggle for power, position, and possessions. God though wants to fill their hear with compassion.

I. THE PERSISTENT PROBLEM, 1-2.

II. THE PEOPLE’S PRESSURE, 3-5.

III. THE PROPER PATTERN, 6-7.

IV. THE PRECIOUS PROMISES , 8-12.

[The seriousness of the people’s self-absorbed religion is proclaimed in verse 1. "Cry loudly, do not hold back; Raise your voice like a trumpet, and declare to My people their transgression and to the house of Jacob their sins. (2) "Yet they seek Me day by day and delight to know My ways, as a nation that has done righteousness and has not forsaken the ordinance of their God. They ask Me for just decisions. They delight in the nearness of God. The people thought themselves right with God. They performed the prescribed ritual observations as if this was the way to right relationship with God. God will reveal the futility of perfunctory religious formalities.]

II. THE PEOPLE’S PRESSURE, 3-5.

In verse 3 the people voice their complaint that they were in difficulty though they were doing what the Law required. ‘Why have we fasted and You do not see? Why have we humbled ourselves and You do not notice?’ Behold, on the day of your fast you find your desire, and drive hard all your workers.

The people now present how they view their religion. They had observed their prescribed religious activity, even engaging in fasting (Lev. 16:29; Zech 7:5-6). They thought their act of fasting in itself was humbling themselves before the Lord. Their fasting though was thoughtless or done as an attempt to obtain a selfish end. It was employed only for religious show or to engage God to act on their behalf. (See Mt. 6:16-18).

Fasting is an act of self-denial to draw closer to God, to hear God better. The prescribed annual fast on the Day of Atonement (Lev. 16:29) was to afflict one’s soul for the purpose of mediation on the seriousness of one’s sins and the greatness of God in making a way of atonement for them [Oswalt, NIC, Isaiah, 497]. They saw fasting as denying themselves some food so that they might gain something worldly of God in return. Their religious behavior was in order to get something from God in return. Neither repentance nor fasting should be to get God to do anything. They are expressions of the conviction that my ways are wrong and God’s ways are right, whether He does anything for me or not [ibid, 497].

Their fast was simply an affliction of body and not an affliction of soul. They fasted to obtain their desire, not the desire of God for them or others.

Verse 4 continues to lay bare the real motive behind their behavior. "Behold, you fast for contention and strife and to strike with a wicked fist. You do not fast like you do today to make your voice heard on high.

The reason for their fasting was to make their oppressive, contentious acts more successful. Fasting was to be the cause for God to effect or enact their covetous desires. [Or it could mean that they took out their bodily affliction caused by their fast on the others.] When it became obvious that their fasting wasn’t having the desire effect, they then fasted to know why not. So God told they that the purpose of their religion was to acquire more, not to improve their closeness, their relationship with Him, as it was originally intended.

Verse 5 relays that they have been focusing on external ritual rather than on the realization that they need to be changed. "Is it a fast like this which I choose, a day for a man to humble himself? Is it for bowing one’s head like a reed and for spreading out sackcloth and ashes as a bed? Will you call this a fast, even an acceptable day to the Lord?

Because they have been focusing on their selfish ends (even in their fasting) rather than the desire for a change of heart, attitude, and action their prayers remain unanswered. The sacrifices of God are a broken heart and a contrite spirit. If they call their bodily sacrifice alone a fast they are badly mistaken. They need to take a long serious look at their attitude and their actions.

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