In the days of Isaiah the prophet, there were many who were performing acts of religious devotion like fasting and Sabbath-keeping. Though they “seek Me daily,” the Lord did not consider them faithful. What was the problem? “In the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure, and oppress all your workers.”
The Lord confronted these worshipers in their double-mindedness, not to leave them condemned, but to show them a healthier way of life. In Isaiah 58 God described true religion and then encouraged His hearers with promised blessings that would come to those who would listen to His Word.
The best devotion was more than ceremonial. It was not merely an inward contemplation or a display for the approval of God or neighbor. True religion that would be heaven-sent would touch the lives of others in ways that would bring life and freedom. The person who knew and loved the Almighty would “loose the bonds of wickedness” that were holding others back. He would “let the oppressed go free.” Godliness would find appropriate expression not in taking advantage of the weak, but in feeding the hungry and clothing the naked.
If Israel would live this way, the Lord promised them gifts from on high—blessings of “light” and of “healing.” He committed to their protection and care. As Isaiah promised, “Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry, and He will say, ‘Here I am.’”
God intended that His children would be generous. As the Lord of grace, He would lead His family not in “the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness,” but in caring for “the afflicted.”
A life of heavenly mercy expressed among the needy was to begin in their own households and clans. They were “not to hide” themselves from their “own flesh.” Having begun at home, their charity would not end there. They would be “like a watered garden” in their villages. Societal rescue would be possible by the power of God working through them. “You shall raise up the foundations of many generations.”
To enjoy this great privilege of meaningful service, they needed to begin with a sincere delight in God, the Author of every good gift. The Lord who gave them one day a week to rest in Him was worthy of their worship. If they took no joy in Him, only longing to return to their own businesses, they could never show others around them a better way. But if they would love the Lord and rest in Him, God would make them “ride on the heights of the earth.”
Jesus was the perfect fulfillment of the life of love described by Isaiah. His way of devotion and Sabbath-keeping was so unusual that many of His neighbors believed that He was breaking God’s Law by healing on the Sabbath those who were stuck in disease and demonic oppression. He became for us the perfect embodiment of what it means to obey God. He was our salvation and our guide. He has paid our debt and He uses us now as agents of His generosity, not only in Israel, but all over the earth.
Prayer from A Book of Prayers
Lord of the Sabbath, we have done foolish things. We pretend to seek You and to serve You, we have even fasted and prayed, and yet we have sought our own way and boasted in our own names. We yell at those we should be gentle with, and we have turned away from Your goodness and Your life. We should share our bread with the hungry and clothe the naked. We should love our families near and far. But we have looked on the poor and done nothing to help. We have ignored Your good promises. We want close communion with You. We want the bright joy of Your holiness and the fruitfulness of a watered garden. We must follow Your Word again, that we might be repairers of the breach all around us. We will take our delight in You, and You will rescue us.