“Behold, in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure,
and oppress all your workers.
Behold, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to hit with a wicked fist.
Fasting like yours this day will not make your voice to be heard on high.
Is such the fast that I choose,
a day for a person to humble himself?
Is it to bow down his head like a reed,
and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him?
Will you call this a fast,
and a day acceptable to the LORD?
Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of wickedness,
to undo the straps of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
(Isaiah 58: 3b-6)
In the original context, this passage is describing how ancient Israel was fasting in a way that did not please the LORD. They went through the motions, the ritual of fasting but in their hearts they did not truly fast and repent of their sins before God. Repentance involves agreeing with God about the moral evil of sin, praying to God for forgiveness, and taking steps to kill sin with the strength that God can provide.
In essence, it is acknowledging actions that contradict God’s character, rejecting them, and then pursuing actions that are consistent with God’s character.
For the ancient Israelites of Isaiah’s time however, they treated fasting as if it could pressure God into complying with their wishes in spite of the fact that they had not rejected their sins against God. They used fasting as an effort to avoid the harder responsibility of owning up to their sin and taking steps to forsake sin and pursue God in true righteousness and holiness.
Now I have occasionally wondered about the situation of those who do good works but do not do it for the LORD’s sake.
How are we to understand people who pursue social justice but are atheists for example?
In my own situation, for example, I know that some of my classmates in med school do not have a saving relationship with the LORD, but the profession that they chose is a noble one. It is a rare and great privilege to play a part in healing and restoring the human body from the various maladies that plague this world. Even so, healing our neighbor without any reference to the LORD is problematic.
I think some key phrases to help us understand would be the lines: “Behold, in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure,” and “Will you call this a fast, and a day acceptable to the LORD?”
From these two lines came my opening question: “Who are you doing good works for?”
The Bible assumes essentially only two ways to answer this question.
-Doing good works for the LORD and thus have “a day acceptable to the LORD”
-Doing good works without any reference to the LORD, but instead to anything other than him (yourself, others, another god, reputation, an ideal, etc), “seek[ing] your own pleasure.”
Through this thought process, I came to the conclusion that
even though social justice and healing is a good pursuit to have, it is nothing if it has no reference to the LORD.
Justice without the LORD is not justice.
Seeking the good of others without the LORD will not serve them in the long run.
Healing the body without looking after the soul will not help our neighbor eternally.
Also note that the passage specifically says “LORD,” which denotes Yahweh, the covenental name of the God who made heaven and earth and revealed himself to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and to Moses. It is not to any other god or conception of God that other religions possess, but specifically this one true living God, that we owe our allegiance.
To do good works without any reference to the God who revealed Himself in covenant, the Bible, and His Son, to His creation, would be great folly for us.
Yet, should we do good works for the LORD, that will be a blessing and glory to us because we would then be acting in line with the purpose with which God made us.