Hypocrisy reproved. (1,2) A counterfeit and a true fast, with promises to real godliness, and, (3-12) to the keeping the sabbath. (13,14)
Verses 1-2 The Holy Spirit had hypocrites of every age in view. Self-love and timid Christians may say, Spare thyself; dislike to the cross and other motives will say, "Spare the rich and powerful;" but God says, "Spare not:" and we must obey God, not men. We all need earnestly to pray for God's assistance in examining ourselves. Men may go far toward heaven, yet come short; and they may go to hell with a good reputation.
Verses 3-12 A fast is a day to afflict the soul; if it does not express true sorrow for sin, and does not promote the putting away of sin, it is not a fast. These professors had shown sorrow on stated or occasioned fasts. But they indulged pride, covetousness, and malignant passions. To be liberal and merciful is more acceptable to God than mere fasting, which, without them, is vain and hypocritical. Many who seem humble in God's house, are hard at home, and harass their families. But no man's faith justifies, which does not work by love. Yet persons, families, neighbourhoods, churches, or nations, show repentance and sorrow for sin, by keeping a fast sincerely, and, from right motives, repenting, and doing good works. The heavy yoke of sin and oppression must be removed. As sin and sorrow dry the bones and weaken the strongest human constitution; so the duties of kindness and charity strengthen and refresh both body and mind. Those who do justly and love mercy, shall have the comfort, even in this world. Good works will bring the blessing of God, provided they are done from love to God and man, and wrought in the soul by the Holy Spirit.
Verses 13-14 The sabbath is a sign between God and his professing people; his appointing it is a sign of his favour to them; and their observing it is a sign of their obedience to him. We must turn from travelling on that day; from doing our pleasure on that holy day, without the control and restraint of conscience; or from indulging in the pleasures of sense. On sabbath days we must not follow our callings, or our pleasures. In all we say and do, we must put a difference between this day and other days. Even in Old Testament times the sabbath was called the Lord's day, and is fitly called so still; and for a further reason, it is the Lord Christ's day, ( Revelation 1:10 ) . If we thus remember the sabbath day to keep it holy, we shall have the comfort and profit of it, and have reason to say, It is good to draw near to God.
Isaiah 58:1-14 . REPROOF OF THE JEWS FOR THEIR DEPENDENCE ON MERE OUTWARD FORMS OF WORSHIP.
1. aloud--Hebrew, "with the throat," that is, with full voice, not merely from the lips ( 1 Samuel 1:13 ). Speak loud enough to arrest attention.
my people--the Jews in Isaiah's time, and again in the time of our Lord, more zealous for externals than for inward holiness. ROSENMULLER thinks the reference to be to the Jews in the captivity practising their rites to gain God's favor and a release; and that hence, sacrifices are not mentioned, but only fasting and Sabbath observance, which they could keep though far away from the temple in Jerusalem. The same also applies to their present dispersion, in which they cannot offer sacrifices, but can only show their zeal in fastings, &c. Compare as to our Lord's time, Matthew 6:16 Matthew 6:23 , Luke 18:12 .
2. Put the stop at "ways"; and connect "as a nation that," &c. with what follows; "As a nation that did righteousness," thus answers to, "they ask of Me just judgments" (that is, as a matter of justice due to them, salvation to themselves, and destruction to their enemies); and "forsook not the ordinance of their God," answers to "they desire the drawing near of God" (that God would draw near to exercise those "just judgments" in behalf of them, and against their enemies) [MAURER]. So JEROME, "In the confidence, as it were, of a good conscience, they demand a just judgment, in the language of the saints: Judge me, O Lord, for I have walked in mine integrity." So in Malachi 2:17 , they affect to be scandalized at the impunity of the wicked, and impugn God's justice [HORSLEY]. Thus, "seek Me daily, and desire (English Version not so well, 'delight') to know My ways," refers to their requiring to know why God delayed so long in helping them. English Version gives a good, though different sense; namely, dispelling the delusion that God would be satisfied with outward observances, while the spirit of the law, was violated and the heart unchanged ( Isaiah 58:3-14 Ezekiel 33:31 Ezekiel 33:32 ; compare John 18:28 ), scrupulosity side by side with murder. The prophets were the commentators on the law, as their Magna Charta, in its inward spirit and not the mere letter.
3. Wherefore--the words of the Jews: "Why is it that, when we fast, Thou dost not notice it" (by delivering us)? They think to lay God under obligation to their fasting ( Psalms 73:13 , Malachi 3:14 ).
afflicted . . . soul--( Leviticus 16:29 ).
pleasure--in antithesis to their boast of having "afflicted their soul"; it was only in outward show they really enjoyed themselves. GESENIUS not so well translates, "business."
exact . . . labours--rather, "oppressive labors" [MAURER]. HORSLEY, with Vulgate, translates, "Exact the whole upon your debtors"; those who owe you labor ( Nehemiah 5:1-5 Nehemiah 5:8-10 , &c.).
4. ye shall not fast--rather, "ye do not fast at this time, so as to make your voice to be heard on high," .that is, in heaven; your aim in fasting is strife, not to gain the ear of God [MAURER] ( 1 Kings 21:9 1 Kings 21:12 1 Kings 21:13 ). In English Version the sense is, If you wish acceptance with God, ye must not fast as ye now do, to make your voice heard high in strife.
5. for a man to afflict his soul--The pain felt by abstinence is not the end to be sought, as if it were meritorious; it is of value only in so far as it leads us to amend our ways ( Isaiah 58:6 Isaiah 58:7 ).
bow . . . head . . . sackcloth--to affect the outward tokens, so as to "appear to men to fast" ( Matthew 6:17 Matthew 6:18 , 1 Kings 21:27 , Esther 4:3 ).
6. loose . . . bands of wickedness--that is, to dissolve every tie wherewith one has unjustly bound his fellow men ( Leviticus 25:49 , &c.). Servitude, a fraudulent contract, &c.
undo . . . heavy burdens--Hebrew, "loose the bands of the yoke."
oppressed--literally, "the broken." The expression, "to let go free," implies that those "broken" with the yoke of slavery, are meant ( Nehemiah 5:10-12 Jeremiah 34:9-11 Jeremiah 34:14 Jeremiah 34:16 ). JEROME interprets it, broken with poverty; bankrupt.
7. deal--distribute ( Job 31:16-21 ).
cast out--rather, reduced [HORSLEY].
naked . . . cover him--( Matthew 25:36 ).
hide . . . thyself--means to be strange towards them, and not to relieve them in their poverty ( Matthew 15:5 ).
flesh--kindred ( Genesis 29:14 ). Also brethren in common descent from Adam, and brethren in Christ ( James 2:15 ).
8. light--emblem of prosperity ( Isaiah 58:10 , Job 11:17 ).
health--literally, a long bandage, applied by surgeons to heal a wound (compare Isaiah 1:6 ). Hence restoration from all past calamities.
go before thee--Thy conformity to the divine covenant acts as a leader, conducting thee to peace and prosperity.
glory . . . reward--like the pillar of cloud and fire, the symbol of God's "glory," which went behind Israel, separating them from their Egyptian pursuers ( Isaiah 52:12 , Exodus 14:19 Exodus 14:20 ).
9. Then . . . call . . . answer--when sin is renounced ( Isaiah 65:24 ). When the Lord's call is not hearkened to, He will not hear our "call" ( Psalms 66:18 , Proverbs 1:24 Proverbs 1:28 , 15:29 , 28:9 ).
putting forth of . . . finger--the finger of scorn pointed at simple-minded godly men. The middle finger was so used by the Romans.
speaking vanity--every injurious speech [LOWTH].
10. draw out thy soul--"impart of thine own subsistence," or "sustenance" [HORSLEY]. "Soul" is figurative for "that wherewith thou sustainest thy soul," or "life."
light . . . in obscurity--Calamities shall be suddenly succeeded by prosperity ( Psalms 112:4 ).
11. satisfy . . . in drought--( Isaiah 41:17 Isaiah 41:18 ). Literally, "drought," that is, parched places [MAURER].
make fat--rather, "strengthen" [NOYES]. "Give thee the free use of thy bones" [JEROME], or, "of thy strength" [HORSLEY].
watered garden--an Oriental picture of happiness.
fail not--Hebrew, "deceive not"; as streams that disappoint the caravan which had expected to find water, as formerly, but find it dried up ( Job 6:15-17 ).
12. they . . . of thee--thy people, the Israelites.
old waste places--the old ruins of Jerusalem ( Isaiah 61:4 Ezekiel 36:33-36 ).
foundations of many generations--that is, the buildings which had lain in ruins, even to their foundations, for many ages; called in the parallel passage ( Isaiah 61:4 ), "the former desolations"; and in the preceding clause here, "the old waste places." The literal and spiritual restoration of Israel is meant, which shall produce like blessed results on the Gentile world ( Amos 9:11 Amos 9:12 , Acts 15:16 Acts 15:17 ).
be called--appropriately: the name truly designating what thou shalt do.
breach--the calamity wherewith God visited Israel for their sin ( Isaiah 30:26 , 1 Chronicles 15:13 ).
paths to dwell in--not that the paths were to be dwelt in, but the paths leading to their dwellings were to be restored; "paths, so as to dwell in the land" [MAURER].
13. ( Isaiah 56:2 Nehemiah 13:15-22 ). The Sabbath, even under the new dispensation, was to be obligatory ( Isaiah 66:23 ).
foot--the instrument of motion (compare Proverbs 4:27 ); men are not to travel for mere pleasure on the Sabbath ( Acts 1:12 ). The Jews were forbidden to travel on it farther than the tabernacle or temple. If thou keep thy foot from going on thy own ways and "doing thy pleasure," &c. ( Exodus 20:10 Exodus 20:11 ).
my holy day--God claims it as His day; to take it for our pleasure is to rob Him of His own. This is the very way in which the Sabbath is mostly broken; it is made a day of carnal pleasure instead of spiritual "delight."
holy of the Lord--not the predicate, but the subject; "if thou call the holy (day) of Jehovah honorable"; if thou treat it as a day to be honored.
him--or else, it, the Sabbath.
not doing . . . own way--answering to, "turn away thy foot from the Sabbath."
nor finding . . . pleasure--answering to, "doing thy pleasure." "To keep the Sabbath in an idle manner is the sabbath of oxen and asses; to pass it in a jovial manner is the sabbath of the golden calf, when the people sat down to eat and drink, and rose again to play; to keep it in surfeiting and wantonness is the sabbath of Satan, the devil's holiday" [BISHOP ANDREWES].
nor speaking . . . words--answering to, "call Sabbath a delight . . . honorable." Man's "own words" would "call" it a "weariness"; it is the spiritual nature given from above which "calls it a delight" ( Amos 8:5 , Malachi 1:13 ).
14. delight . . . in . . . Lord--God rewards in kind, as He punishes in kind. As we "delight" in keeping God's "Sabbath," so God will give us "delight" in Himself ( Genesis 15:1 , Job 22:21-26 , Psalms 37:4 ).
ride upon . . . high places--I will make thee supreme lord of the land; the phrase is taken from a conqueror riding in his chariot, and occupying the hills and fastnesses of a country [VITRINGA], ( Deuteronomy 32:13 , Micah 1:3 , Habakkuk 3:19 ). Judea was a land of hills; the idea thus is, "I will restore thee to thine own land" [CALVIN]. The parallel words, "heritage of Jacob," confirm this ( Genesis 27:28 Genesis 27:29 , 28:13-15 ).
mouth of . . . Lord . . . spoken it--a formula to assure men of the fulfilment of any solemn promise which God has made ( Isaiah 40:5 ).