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This chapter examines our motivation for all of our religious activity. Certainly there should be the expectation that blessing will be associated with obedient worship. But religious people down thru the ages have perverted God’s instructions regarding how to approach Him in genuine worship. They have put the emphasis on the externals instead of on internal righteousness. They have engaged in the external rites to try to demonstrate their spirituality to themselves and to others; or have engaged in the external rites to try to manipulate God to produce selfish results.

But God sees our motivation for all of our religious activity. Only Genuine Worship that seeks God with a contrite heart is pleasing to Him. He condemns all those who draw near with the lips but whose heart is far from Him. The Pharisees are the clearest illustration of Jew who could be so dedicated to external requirements and yet so far from any fellowship with a holy God. At the same time they made a show of bringing tithes and offerings, they had no regard for the practical needs of widows in their midst or even their own parents. They were immersed in ritual but devoid of righteousness. Jesus used the Sermon on the Mount to condemn their practices and expose their hypocrisy.

Oswalt: With heavy irony similar to that employed in 1:10-15, the prophet declares that although the people think their behavior should win them special favor with God, its real purpose is to gain ground in the dog-eat-dog struggle for power, position, and possessions. Why did God institute the forms of religion? As ends in themselves? No, but as symbols of an attitude of submission, surrender, and trust that will manifest itself in changed behavior. Without that attitude as evidenced by the behavior, the forms are sources not for divine pleasure but of divine disgust. . . what pleases God is the true combination of both external and internal religion, when his nature has become so much a part of a person’s being that worship expresses a love for God which is so deep that it must overflow in our treatment of others, especially those weaker than we.

Illustration: Christmas catalog – can only pick 1 present; with God we get the full catalog of blessings



A. Public Reminder

“Cry loudly, do not hold back;

Raise your voice like a trumpet,”

Young: to cry with the throat means to cry at the top of one’s voice; trumpet is emphatic

The prophetic voice; not called to deliver popular messages

Oswalt: The sopar, a musical instrument made from a ram’s horn, was the primary device used to gain communitywide attention in ancient Israel, whether for alarm (18:3) or for communal activity (27:3). Its piercing blast was a sign to stop all other activity and pay attention.

[like our Emergency Broadcast System]

We need a reminder of our sins; we forget that one of the characteristics of a genuine believer is that we continue to confess our sinfulness – in fact as we mature, we see more clearly the depths of our depravity

B. Painful Reminder

“And declare to My people their transgression,

And to the house of Jacob their sins.”

Get a grip on reality

The rejection by God of His sinful people should be no surprise to them

Many preachers today think it is harsh and not helping people to call attention to their sins

David Thompson: Loudly announce to My people that you transgressed and sinned against God. Unless you are willing to admit this reality, you will go nowhere in your relationship with God.

As John Calvin said, when you are dealing with religious hypocrisy, what you need are “thunderbolts” of heavenly words (Isaiah, pp. 223-224).


A. (:2-3a) Counterfeit Religious Activity Creates Confusion

1. (:2a) Outwardly Looking Loyal to God

“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.”

– Day by day implies consistent religious practices; they are applying themselves to religious externals

– Know My ways — Studying and learning God’s Word

– Done righteousness — Involved with acts of outward piety and charity

– Not forsaken the ordinance – Participation in sacrifices and feasts and festivals

2. (:2b) Outwardly Seeking God’s Counsel

“They ask Me for just decisions,”

3. (:2b) Outwardly Drawing Near to God

“They delight in the nearness of God.”

Young: the people are simply hypocritical in their approach to God. They act like a nation that actually has done righteousness and has not forsaken the judgment of its God, whereas as a matter of fact they themselves have not done righteousness and have forsaken His judgments.

4. (:3a) Confused Over God’s Rejection

“Why have we fasted and Thou dost not see?

Why have we humbled ourselves and Thou dost not notice?”

Similar to book of Malachi

Beall: same type of question is asked in Mal 3:14 (“You have said,`It is useless to serve God; What profit is it that we have kept His ordinance, And that we have walked as mourners Before the LORD of hosts?”). In a sense, the very fact that such a question is asked betrays the true heart of the Israelites: they are only fasting to be noticed, similar to the Pharisees in Jesus’ day (Matt 6:16-18 [Moreover, when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. 17 “But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, 18 “so that you do not appear to men to be fasting, but to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.]; Luke 18:12).

Motyer: The only fast commanded by law was the Day of Atonement (Lv. 23:26-32), which was “a holy convocation”, a time of self-abasement, free of work, a “Sabbath of solemn rest.”

Parunak: But there were other occasional fasts before then, occasioned by times of national disaster:

Defeat of Israel by Benjamin: Jdg 20:26 Then all the children of Israel, and all the people, went up, and came unto the house of God, and wept, and sat there before the LORD, and fasted that day until even, and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings before the LORD.

Threat from the Philistines: 1Sa 7:6 And they gathered together to Mizpeh, and drew water, and poured it out before the LORD, and fasted on that day, and said there, We have sinned against the LORD.

After the death of Saul and his sons: 1Sa 31:13 And they took their bones, and buried them under a tree at Jabesh, and fasted seven days.

David, seeking the healing of his son: 2Sa 12:22 And he said, While the child was yet alive, I fasted and wept: for I said, Who can tell whether GOD will be gracious to me, that the child may live? 23 But now he is dead, wherefore should I fast? can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me.

Ahab, when Elijah told him of coming judgment: 1Ki 21:27 And it came to pass, when Ahab heard those words, that he rent his clothes, and put sackcloth upon his flesh, and fasted, and lay in sackcloth, and went softly.

There is a difference between these fasts and that of the Day of Atonement. The latter was intended to show the people’s awareness of their sin and their rejection of it. These other fasts are all done in order to get something from God, to solicit some protection or favor. Many times he graciously granted what they asked. But they came to see the fast as a magic wand to get God to act. These words reflect their frustration when they wave their wand and he doesn’t act.

David Thompson: God does not accept any form of worship that is out to please us. God is looking for worship that pleases Him.

B. (:3b-7) Contrast Between Rejected and Approved Fasting

1. (:3b-5) Rejected Fasting Exposed

a. Ungodly Motivations for Fasting

1) Selfishness – Pursuing Personal Pleasure

“Behold, on the day of your fast you find your desire,”

2) Exploitation – Pursuing Profitable Work

“And drive hard all your workers.”

same word used of the Egyptian taskmasters in Exodus

3) Oppression – Striking Others Instead of Serving Others

“Behold, you fast for contention and strife

and to strike with a wicked fist.”

Parunak: They fast in order to get God to support their desire in ungodly competition with others.

Two NT parallels illustrate this ungodly approach to God.

James describes the futility of selfish prayer:

Jam 4:1-3 From whence come wars and fightings among you? come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members? 2 Ye lust, and have not: ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not. 3 Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts.

When Paul was arrested, a group of Pharisees undertook a fast as part of their plan to assassinate him, perhaps to seek God’s support:

Act 23:12 And when it was day, certain of the Jews banded together, and bound themselves under a curse, saying that they would neither eat nor drink till they had killed Paul.

b. Godly Motivations for Fasting

1) Seeking God

“You do not fast like you do today

to make your voice heard on high.”

2) Humbling Yourself

“Is it a fast like this which I choose,

a day for a man to humble himself?”

c. Hypocritical Practices

1) False Humility – trying to look humble before others

“Is it for bowing one’s head like a reed,

And for spreading out sackcloth and ashes as a bed?”

2) External Show – trying to dictate to God what external practices constitute genuine worship

“Will you call this a fast, even an acceptable day to the LORD?”

David Thompson: Every year this country calls for a national day of prayer. Some of the leaders who propagate this concept are not at all interested in dealing with their own sin. I am not sure that a national day of prayer means much of anything to God. I don’t think it is even acceptable to God.

2. (:6-7) Approved Fasting Explained

“Is this not the fast which I choose,”

God must have the final say on what constitutes appropriate worship

a. Addressing Social Injustice – Surprising emphasis

“To loosen the bonds of wickedness,

To undo the bands of the yoke,

And to let the oppressed go free,

And break every yoke?”

Young: could refer to the release of unjustly held slaves. According to the law, slaves of Israelitish descent were to be emancipated every three years. Jeremiah 34:8-22 presents an instance of a gross violation of this principle.

b. Addressing Practical Needs of Others

“Is it not to divide your bread with the hungry,

And bring the homeless poor into the house;

When you see the naked, to cover him;

And not to hide yourself from your own flesh?”

Emphasis on how you minister to others rather than on how spiritual you look to others

Food, shelter and clothing are essentials of life

Parunak: These obligations are particularly strong toward those to whom we have a familial bond. Israel’s first responsibility was toward other Israelites, the orphan and widow, though they also had a duty to the stranger who dwelt among them.

Young: Love toward all men is a hallmark of those who belong to the Lord, and this love will manifest itself in a true concern for their welfare.

Oswalt: your own flesh – All humans are off the same stuff; why should I conceal myself from one whose condition is different from mine, but whose essence is the same?

C. (:8-12) Catalog of Blessings for Genuine Obedience (With 2 Conditions inserted)

1. (:8) Blessing #1 — Renewing

“Then your light will break out like the dawn, — Renewal of Life

And your recovery will speedily spring forth; — Renewal of Health

And your righteousness will go before you; — Renewal of Security:

The glory of the LORD will be your rear guard.” — Righteousness / Glory

Emphasis on speed

Oswalt: As the vanguard and the rearguard offer protection (like the pillar of the fire and cloud, Exod. 13:21-22; 14:19-20), so the righteousness and the glory that the Lord gives to his people will be proof against anything the world can hurl at them.

2. (:9a) Blessing #2 — Relating

“Then you will call, and the LORD will answer;

You will cry, and He will say, ‘Here I am.’”

(:9b-10a) Heart of the Matter — Two Conditions

a. Condition #1 – Addressing Social Injustice

“If you remove the yoke from your midst,

The pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness,”

Parunak: So here, the prophet does not condemn simple pointing, but use of gestures to qualify words. Our word should be clear, simple, and straightforward, without any qualifying gestures, crossed fingers, or winks. Anything else is an attempt to oppress our fellows.

b. Condition #2 – Addressing Practical Needs of Others

“And if you give yourself to the hungry,

And satisfy the desire of the afflicted,”

3. (:10b) Blessing #3 — Reinvigorating

“Then your light will rise in darkness,

And your gloom will become like midday.”

Constable: Making self the focus of life, in contrast, results in darkness (cf. 5:20; 8:20; 47:5; 60:2), disease (cf. 1:5), defeat (cf. 1:7), and separation (cf. 1:4).

4. (:11a) Blessing #4 — Rejoicing

“And the LORD will continually guide you,

And satisfy your desire in scorched places,

And give strength to your bones;”

Parunak: As often in this book, Isaiah draws on the imagery of the Exodus. “Guide” is a common verb for God’s leadership of the people through the wilderness, where he fed them and gave them drink in a desert land.

It also recalls Psa 23, where (as here) it is combined with physical provision. Isaiah echoes each of the four clauses of Ps 23:2-3:

Psa 23:2-3 He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. 3 He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

Oswalt: The idea of making the bones strong is in contrast to all those references where terror makes the bones tremble and shake (Job 4:14; Ps. 6:2; Jer. 23:9; Hab. 3:16), or sorrow or guilt makes them waste away (Ps. 31:10; 32:3; 38:3; 102:5). In contrast, see Isa. 66:14; Job 21:24; Prov. 15:30; 16:24. This is the truth that all physicians know: when the spirit is at peace the chances for the body to be well are vastly increased.

5. (:11b) Blessing #5 — Refreshing

“And you will be like a watered garden,

And like a spring of water whose waters do not fail.”

Beall: The contrast between the garden of the opening chapter of Isaiah and the one described here is striking: in 1:29, the people chose the gardens to practice idolatry, and therefore God had to cause them to become like “a garden that has no water” (1:30); now, if the people obey, they will be “like a watered garden” (58:11).

6. (:12) Blessing #6 — Rebuilding

“And those from among you will rebuild the ancient ruins;

You will raise up the age-old foundations;

And you will be called the repairer of the breach,

The restorer of the streets in which to dwell.”


A. (:13) Commitment to Genuine Sabbath Keeping

1. Forsake Personal Pleasure

“If because of the sabbath,

you turn your foot from doing your own pleasure on My holy day,”

2. Honor the Sabbath in Word and Deed

“And call the sabbath a delight, the holy day of the LORD honorable,

And shall honor it,”

3. Forsake Personal Pleasure

“desisting from your own ways,

From seeking your own pleasure,

And speaking your own word”

B. (:14) Consummation of Enjoying God’s Blessings

1. Supreme Delight – You will delight in the Lord

“Then you will take delight in the LORD,”

Like Piper’s URL – — God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him

2. Supreme Exaltation – You will be lifted up

“And I will make you ride on the heights of the earth;”

God is the one who both casts one down and lifts one up

Ps. 3:3 “My Glory and the One who lifts my head”

3. Supreme Nourishment – You will be fed

“And I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father,”

Beall: Most seem to spiritualize these promises to the blessings enjoyed by the church; but why then is there such an emphasis on Jacob, their father? It seems best to take the reference to Israel enjoying the blessings of their land in the Millennium.

Constable: If they would give themselves to God and others rather than pursuing selfish goals, they would experience personal and national fulfillment and receive His rewards. This was a promise from the mouth of Yahweh.

Oswalt: Here is the golden key of all biblical revelation: those who give themselves away find themselves; those who relinquish the throne receive the crown.


“For the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”


How Genuine is our worship this morning?

Does our professed love for God manifest itself in genuine regard for the practical needs of the weak among us – like the orphans and widows?

Are we just trying to look spiritual to ourselves and others?

Are we trying to manipulate God like a rabbit’s foot for our own personal pleasures?

Or are we truly approaching God with a humble and contrite heart to offer up worship that is pleasing in His sight?

To God be the Glory!