1 “Cry aloud, spare not;
Lift up your voice like a trumpet;
Tell My people their transgression,
And the house of Jacob their sins.
2 Yet they seek Me daily,
And delight to know My ways,
As a nation that did righteousness,
And did not forsake the ordinance of their God.
They ask of Me the ordinances of justice;
They take delight in approaching God.
3 ‘ Why have we fasted,’ they say, ‘and You have not seen?
Why have we afflicted our souls, and You take no notice?’
“ In fact, in the day of your fast you find pleasure,
And exploit all your laborers.
4 Indeed you fast for strife and debate,
And to strike with the fist of wickedness.
You will not fast as you do this day,
To make your voice heard on high.
5 Is it a fast that I have chosen,
A day for a man to afflict his soul?
Is it to bow down his head like a bulrush,
And to spread out sackcloth and ashes?
Would you call this a fast,
And an acceptable day to the LORD?
6 “ Is this not the fast that I have chosen:
To loose the bonds of wickedness,
To undo the heavy burdens,
To let the oppressed go free,
And that you break every yoke?
7 Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
And that you bring to your house the poor who are cast out;
When you see the naked, that you cover him,
And not hide yourself from your own flesh?
8 Then your light shall break forth like the morning,
Your healing shall spring forth speedily,
And your righteousness shall go before you;
The glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.
9 Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer;
You shall cry, and He will say, ‘Here I am.’
“ If you take away the yoke from your midst,
The pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness,
10 If you extend your soul to the hungry
And satisfy the afflicted soul,
Then your light shall dawn in the darkness,
And your darkness shall be as the noonday.
11 The LORD will guide you continually,
And satisfy your soul in drought,
And strengthen your bones;
You shall be like a watered garden,
And like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail.
12 Those from among you
Shall build the old waste places;
You shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
And you shall be called the Repairer of the Breach,
The Restorer of Streets to Dwell In.
13 “ If you turn away your foot from the Sabbath,
From doing your pleasure on My holy day,
And call the Sabbath a delight,
The holy day of the LORD honorable,
And shall honor Him, not doing your own ways,
Nor finding your own pleasure,
Nor speaking your own words,
14 Then you shall delight yourself in the LORD;
And I will cause you to ride on the high hills of the earth,
And feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father.
The mouth of the LORD has spoken.”
58:3-5 - The people voiced their concern that they were in difficulty though they seemed to be doing what the Law required. They fasted and humbled themselves, but they feared that God had not seen it or noticed. Apparently they thought that by going through the "motions" of religion they would be blessed.
The Lord responded by pointing out that He was more interested in their obedience than their rituals. Unfortunately they, like many people, had confused rituals with relationship, outward acts with true obedience.
Their fasts did not alter their poor relationship with others. They were disregarding other peoples' needs by quarreling and fighting. Therefore their prayers would not be heard, for their kind of fasting was not what the Lord accepted.
58:6-7 - Fasting was to encourage a person to respond positively to God's commands. Ironically, on the other hand many specific commands were not being followed. So the Lord reminded the people that they should be just (v. 6) and openhanded with those in need - the hungry (v. 10), the poor...the naked (v. 7). The Israelites were to consider themselves members of one family who at one time had been slaves in Egypt. Therefore they were not to neglect each other. When someone shared with one in need, it was a reminder that everything he owned belonged to the Lord.
58:8-12 - If the people had inner righteousness then the Lord would bless them (Deut. 28:1-14) with light, healing, righteousness, protection from trouble, and answered prayer. If they would do away with oppression and gossip and would help others in need, then the Lord would bless them. He would give guidance, satisfaction, strength, fertility and physical restoration.
58:13-14 - Sabbath observance was a barometer of one's faithfulness to the Mosaic Covenant. By following the rules for the Sabbath a person acknowledged the importance of worshiping God and showed that he depended on God to bless him materially for that time he took off from work. By putting God first and not seeking to do as he wished, a person would have joy, not only in spiritual salvation but also in prosperity.
Written by Tony Woodlief
It’s a tough row to hoe, making the case that Jesus is a capitalist. For example, there is the fact that the first church appears to have adopted voluntary socialism. And that business about seeking not the treasures of this world—that hasn’t stopped conservatives from spilling gallons of ink to refine our understanding about the camel, the eye of the needle, and the rich man until that discomforting verse almost seems to cry out for leveraged buyouts and complex derivatives. When we put our minds to it, we can work the Bible around to supporting just about anything we like.
This is all to say that it’s a bit unseemly to use religion to justify one’s policy preferences. This observation would have been less welcome at the height of the Christian Coalition’s power. After all, isn’t a believer in the flat tax and a strong missile defense a believer in truth, which is another way of saying a follower of the Truth? It requires a bit of smug self-assurance, this logic, but let’s be honest: We conservatives know we’re right. And while Jesus never released a comprehensive economic plan, we can be pretty sure he didn’t favor self-delusional economic thinking and the waste of resources.
Still, we have to admit He has more important things on his mind. Whether or not we get global warming legislation is probably toward the bottom of the list. This isn’t stopping a new coalition of leftist organizations from taking their case to the pulpit, arguing that failure to enact sweeping environmental regulations is an act of poor stewardship, i.e., sin.
It’s hard to imagine, inside the echo chamber of the right, how global warming could be a real phenomenon. I mean, we all just know it’s junk science. Likewise, it’s hard for anyone inside the left’s echo chamber to imagine how global warming could be anything other than a dire emergency. We know, of course, that we’re right and they’re wrong, that we’ve considered the matter objectively while they’ve just listened to Al Gore. But still, it’s hard to fault them for making a biblical case out of this and other policy matters, given the precedent conservatives have set over the past 30 years. When prominent self-styled Christian leaders opine on everything from health care reform to “taking out” Venezuelan thug Hugo Chavez, it’s hard to put the genie back into the bottle now that liberals want to get in on the if-Jesus-were-a-presidential-cabinet-member routine.
All of which, I think, serves the name of Christ poorly. By bringing policy disputes into the faith arena, we bolster the notion that Christianity is just a bunch of self-interested talkers using the Bible to get what they want. We create divisions among brothers and sisters who ought not to be divided. This is evidenced in our affinity for political comrades over faith comrades. By way of illustration, consider whether conservative Christians you know are more favorably disposed toward Ann Coulter or Jimmy Carter. Nothing in Coulter’s behavior suggests Christian love, whereas Carter endeavors to live it out, even when this means giving a hug to every tin-pot dictator he can reach by chartered flight. When politics get elevated to the level of faith, it’s no wonder that we begin to forget who are our real brothers and sisters.
All this is not to say that Christians should be silent about public policy, especially those policies where there is a strong case for biblical guidance (e.g., protecting life, treating prisoners with humanity, caring for the elderly). In fact, maybe it’s a good thing that leftists are coming out now to argue that Christian ethics demand this or that policy prescription. It would be nice, however, if we could all do so with a bit more reverence for the flaming sword that is the Word of God, and with a good deal more charity toward people who are, after all, striving toward the same home as we.