When the subject of fasting was raised – at a Men’s [Full English] Breakfast! – I thought it was time to re-visit Isaiah 58:1-14 and examine it afresh. Why not pause to read it for yourself so that you can more easily follow my discoveries?
Although Moses and Jesus each fasted for periods of forty days, we are thinking here of something more brief and routine (eg Matthew 6:16-18). If your doctor has put you on a special diet to accord with his prescribed medication, you can still forego luxuries for a while, as Daniel denied himself meat, wine, confectionaries and toiletries for three weeks (Daniel 10:2-3). Surely, if it had been around, he’d have cut down on TV too?
- The Reality in Isaiah’s time – their fasting was ineffective because:
The people were fasting from food only hypocritically.
- On themselves, they still indulged in hedonism:
‘Behold, in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure’ (verse Isaiah 58:3c).
- Before God, they performed religious legalism – mere external ritual. Indeed, they were bargaining with him (verses Isaiah 58:3a-3b, 5).
- Regarding their neighbour, they used some type of oppressive ‘ism’ (compare: racism, sexism, ageism), particularly against their workers (verses Isaiah 58:3d, 4a-4b).
- The Rules of Repentance that would make their fasting beneficial:
NB There’s hardly a hint in Isaiah 58:1-14 at self denial – certainly not as an end in itself!
- Regarding themselves, replace hedonism with provision for others –
‘share your bread with the hungry’, from your surplus through fasting; ‘bring the homeless into your house; when you see the naked, … cover him’ (verse Isaiah 58:7).
- In relation to God, instead of legalism, practise adoration of the Lord – on the Sabbath replace work with corporate worship (verse Isaiah 58:13).
- To those oppressed neighbours, offer liberation (verses Isaiah 58:6, 9c-9d,10a-10b):
‘Take away … the pointing of the finger and speaking wickedness.’
- The Results of such fasting:
- Clarity– ‘light’ (verse 8a), and guidance (verses Isaiah 58:10c-10d,11a).
- Security –‘ righteousness’ and ‘the glory of the Lord’ for all-round defence (verse Isaiah 58:8c-8d).
- Accessibility – their voice in prayer would be ‘heard on high’ (verses Isaiah 58:4c, 9a-9b).
- Quality of life – health and contentment (verses Isaiah 58:8b, 11).
- Primacy in influence (verse 14b; cf Deuteronomy Isaiah 26:16-19; 28:1; 32:13; 33:29).
- Ministry of recovery to those with broken lives (verse Isaiah 58:12).
- Continuity with the forefathers in the faith from Abraham onwards (verse Isaiah 58:14c) – a generation that will see the promises given to previous generations completely fulfilled.