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Bible Commentaries

Benson's Commentary of the Old and New Testaments

Isaiah 58

A.M. 3298. B.C. 706.

The prophet, having, in the preceding chapter, marked and censured divers miscarriages and corrupt practices of the apostate church, whether Jewish or Christian, is here commanded of God to proceed on the same subject, and still more fully to set their sins in order before them, Isaiah 58:1 . He therefore,

(1,) Expostulates with them, in the name of God, on their hypocrisy, self- righteousness, and pride in their religious exercises, and especially in their fasting, Isaiah 58:2 , Isaiah 58:3 .

(2,) Charges them with having unholy and malicious ends in view in that duty, and making it a cloak for their wickedness, Isaiah 58:4 , Isaiah 58:5 .

(3,) He instructs them how to keep fasts aright, Isaiah 58:6 , Isaiah 58:7 .

(4,) Makes great and precious promises to those who should so keep them, Isaiah 58:8-12 .

(5,) Makes the like promises to those who should sanctify the sabbath aright, Isaiah 58:13 , Isaiah 58:14 .

Verse 1

Isaiah 58:1. Cry aloud Be faithful, plain, and earnest in thy addresses, remonstrances, reproofs, and exhortations to and among my people; and spare not Forbear not to speak whatsoever I command thee for their conviction and reformation. Lift up thy voice like a trumpet Be not afraid to exert thy voice and spend thy strength in this work. Give an alarm which all may hear. Show my people their transgressions Set their sins, all their sins, before them, in a true point of view, and with all their aggravations, especially the iniquities of their holy things, and the hypocrisy of their religious services, (Isaiah 58:2,) that they may be brought to true repentance for them.

Verse 2

Isaiah 58:2. Yet they seek me daily They cover all their wickedness with a profession of religion, from time to time resorting to my house, pretending to ask counsel of me, and to desire and seek my favour and blessing. And delight to know my ways That is, either, 1st, They seem to delight to know them, men being often said in Scripture to be or do that which they seem or profess to be or do: or, 2d, They really delight; for there are many men who take some pleasure in knowing God’s will and word, and yet do not conform their lives to them. As a nation that did righteousness As if they really were a righteous people; and forsook not the ordinance, &c. As if they were not guilty of any apostacy from God, or neglect of, or disobedience to, his precepts. They ask of me the ordinances of justice As if they desired and resolved to observe them. They delight In appearance or reality; in approaching unto God In coming to my temple to pray to me, receive instruction, or offer sacrifices.

Verse 3

Isaiah 58:3. Wherefore have we fasted, &c. They complain of hard usage from God; that although they prayed, and fasted, and observed the rest of his ordinances, all which are comprehended under the title of fasting, all their labour was lost, and God neither delivered nor regarded them. Wherefore have we afflicted our soul Defrauded our appetites with fasting, of which this phrase is used, Leviticus 16:29; Leviticus 23:27; Leviticus 23:29. Behold, in the day of your fast In those solemn days of fasting which I have appointed; or, in those times when I have called you, by the course of my providence, and counsels of my prophets, unto fasting, and weeping, and mourning, Isaiah 22:12; ye find pleasure, and exact, &c. Or, as the words may be more significantly rendered, You find wherewithal to please yourselves, and are rigorous in grieving, or burdening, others: that is, You gratify your own passions, especially your covetousness, and you oppress the poor, and so are defective in the duties of justice and charity. By labours may be meant money gotten by labour, and lent to others, either for their need or the lender’s advantage. For labour is often put for the fruit of labour, as Deuteronomy 28:33; Isaiah 45:14. But the Hebrew here, עצביכם , is literally, your griefs, namely, the things which cause griefs, which are grievous and burdensome to others, as either, 1st, Hard service required of servants above their strength, or beyond the time limited by God for their service, of which see Jeremiah 34:13-16: or, 2d, Debts, which they required, either with usury or with rigour and cruelty, when the general law of charity, or God’s particular law, enjoined the release, or, at least, the forbearance of them. See Nehemiah 5:1-2.

Verses 4-5

Isaiah 58:4-5. Behold, ye fast for strife Your fasting days, wherein you ought, in a special manner, to implore the mercy of God, and to show compassion to men, you employ in injuring or quarrelling with your brethren, your servants, or debtors, or in contriving mischief against them. Or the meaning is, that “their fasting increased their self-preference, and excited them to fierce controversies or bitter resentments.” And to smite with the fist of wickedness It was “the cloak of, and commutation for, their exactions and oppressions of the poor, whom they most unjustly smote and abused for not complying in every thing with their inclinations.” Scott. Ye shall not fast as ye do this day Such a fast as this I cannot accept of as an act of worship, or bless as a means of grace. To make your voice to be heard on high In strife and debate, or by way of ostentation. Is it such a fast that I have chosen? That is, which I approve of, accept, or delight in, because we delight in what we freely choose. A day for a man to afflict his soul To keep himself low, or to chastise himself by depriving his body of food, as a means to produce inward sorrow for sin, and true humiliation of soul before God. The prophet seems to have delivered this discourse upon, or to have intended it for, some extraordinary day of humiliation, when it was usual for the prophets to give public exhortations to the people. Is it to bow down his head as a bulrush? Here the prophet notices those external gestures, postures, and signs of penitence, which the Jews of his time, and in after ages, (Matthew 6:16,) joined with their hypocritical fasts. And to spread sackcloth and ashes under him The Jews, to express their sorrow, made use of sackcloth and ashes two ways: 1st, Sometimes by putting sackcloth upon their bodies, as 1 Kings 21:27; Psalms 69:11; and casting ashes upon their heads, 2 Samuel 13:19: and, 2d, By spreading sackcloth under them, and lying down upon ashes, Esther 4:3; Job 2:8. The intent of putting on sackcloth was to afflict the body by its unpleasing harshness, and the ashes were meant to represent their own vileness, as being but dust and ashes; and their lying on them to signify that they abhorred and were ashamed of themselves. Wilt thou call this a fast? Canst thou, upon rational grounds, believe or suppose it to be so? Surely it has nothing in it but the lifeless form, empty shadow, or dumb signs of a fast: nothing of deep humiliation appearing in it, or real reformation proceeding from it. Not that the prophet blames them for afflicting themselves by these external rites, for these are elsewhere commanded of God; but that which he condemns is their hypocrisy in separating true humiliation from them, and contenting themselves with using these signs, while they stopped short of the thing signified by them. And an acceptable day to the Lord A day that God will approve of. Hebrew, ויום רצון , A day of acceptance, or that will turn to a good account on your behalf.

Verse 6

Isaiah 58:6. Is not this the fast that I have chosen? Or approve, as before, Isaiah 58:5. Or ought not such a fast to be accompanied with such things as these? He now proceeds to show the concomitants of a true fast; namely, to exercise works of justice and charity. To loose the bands of wickedness Namely, the cruel obligations of usury and oppression. To undo the heavy burdens Hebrew, the bundles of the yoke, as in the margin; by which may possibly be intended bundles of writings, acknowledgments, bonds, mortgages, &c., which the usurers had lying by them. The former are thought to relate to unjust and unlawful obligations, extorted by force or fear, which the prophet would have cancelled: this latter, to just debts contracted through poverty and necessity, the rigour whereof he would have abated. And to let the oppressed go free Those grieved or vexed, whether by the griping of usury or the bonds of slavery, accompanied with cruel usage; or those confined or shut up in prisons; and that ye break every yoke Namely, which is grievous; that you free your dependants and servants, and all that are under your power, from all sorts of vexations and oppressions.

Verse 7

Isaiah 58:7. Is it not Namely, the fast that pleases me. Having shown the evil they were to abstain from in order to keep an acceptable fast, namely, every species of cruelty, he here proceeds to speak of the duty that was required, namely, the exercise of every kind of mercy, as a necessary fruit of true repentance, Daniel 4:27; Luke 19:8. For there are two parts of righteousness toward our neighbour; one, to do wrong to no man; the other, to do good to all: which two must always go together, and never be separated from each other, especially in acts and seasons of humiliation. And, as under the evils here mentioned are comprehended all other evils whatsoever, all which men must abstain from if they would give evidence of true humiliation and godly sorrow, so in the duties here spoken of are comprised all the duties, to the practice of which they ought to apply themselves as the effects of true repentance. To deal The word פרס properly signifies to divide, or to break into parts; thy bread to the hungry Bread is here put for all things necessary for the support of human life, any or every kind of food. And that thou bring the poor Those that are not only needy, as to their present condition, but helpless, and utterly unable to support themselves; that are cast out Forced from their dwellings, deprived of house and harbour by the injustice of the powerful, or by persecution for conscience’ sake, and who are thereby become wanderers, and have no abiding place; to thy house That thou be hospitable, and make thy house a shelter to them, or provide lodging for them. When thou seest the naked Those that either have no clothes, or are so poorly clothed that their clothing is not sufficient to preserve them from perishing by cold; that thou cover him That thou give them raiment suited to these wants, James 2:15-16. And that thou hide not thyself That thou not only seek no occasion to excuse thyself, but that, out of compassion, thou apply thyself heartily and speedily to his relief; that thou be not like the priest and Levite, but like the good Samaritan, Luke 10:31-35. From thine own flesh Some restrain this to our own kindred, but this would confine our charity within too narrow a compass, inasmuch as often, nay, perhaps most commonly, the necessities of others are greater than those of our own relations; neither is it congruous, that the other words here should be taken in the greatest latitude, and this alone be confined within such narrow limits. Our Saviour teaches us to consider every man as our neighbour. And surely we can look on no man but there we contemplate our own flesh; and therefore it is barbarous, not only to tear, but not to love and succour him. Therefore feed him as thou wouldest feed thyself, or be fed; shelter him as thou wouldest shelter thyself, or be sheltered; clothe him as thou wouldest clothe thyself, or be clothed, if in any of these respects thou wert in his circumstances.

Verse 8

Isaiah 58:8. Then shall thy light Matter or cause of rejoicing, break forth as the morning Arise as certainly and speedily as in the morning the light arises out of darkness. It shall not only appear, but break, or dart itself forth, notwithstanding all obstructions, as the sun breaks and pierces through a cloud. So ready is God to help his people when they are truly humbled! Thus quickly and clearly does salvation break forth upon them! And thy health shall spring forth speedily The recovery of thy former prosperous condition. Another metaphor to express the same thing. And thy righteousness shall go before thee To prepare thy way to safety and happiness; ensuring to thee, O my church, the peculiar direction and care of thy God, and the favour and approbation of wise and good men; see Romans 14:17-18. Or manifold blessings shall be bestowed upon thee, upon all occasions, as the reward of thy righteousness. The glory of the Lord shall be thy rereward The glorious presence, power, and providence of God shall protect and secure thee. Thus the angel of his presence secured the Israelites when they came up out of Egypt. Or, the meaning may be, A glorious state shall succeed this thy present calamitous condition.

Verses 9-10

Isaiah 58:9-10. Then shalt thou call, &c. They made great complaint, Isaiah 58:3, that God took no notice of their services, which complaint he seems now to refer to, as if he had said, These conditions being observed, call upon me, and thou shalt see I will regard, Psalms 34:15. The Lord shall answer He will give an effectual demonstration that he hears thee. He shall say, Here I am A phrase that signifies a person to be ready at hand to help. If thou take away from the midst of thee From among you; the yoke All those pressures and grievances before mentioned. The putting forth of the finger Done by way of scoff, or disdainful insulting; and speaking vanity Any kind of evil words. Bishop Lowth renders it, “The pointing of the finger, and the injurious speech.” If thou draw out Open, as when we open a store to satisfy the wants of the needy; thy soul to the hungry Thy affection, that is, thy pity and compassion, to those in want of the necessaries of life; and satisfy the afflicted soul With a real, substantial benefit, not contenting thyself with giving him merely kind words. For here the prophet expresses the work that is to be done, as in the former clause the affection wherewith it is to be done; otherwise it would only be what the Apostle James reproves, James 2:15-16. Then shall thy light rise in obscurity See on Isaiah 58:8; and thy darkness be as the noon-day In the very darkness of the affliction itself, thou shalt have comfort, Psalms 112:4. There it shall be as the morning, still increasing, here as the noon-day, in its zenith, and height of perfection.

Verses 11-12

Isaiah 58:11-12. And the Lord shall guide thee Namely, as a shepherd leads his sheep. He adds continually, to show that his conduct and blessing should not be momentary, or of a short continuance, but all along as it was to Israel in the wilderness. And satisfy thy soul in drought Thou shalt have plenty, when others are in scarcity. And make fat thy bones This may be spoken in opposition to the sad effects of famine, whereby the flesh is consumed away, that it cannot be seen, and the bones that were not seen, stick out. Thou shalt be like a garden If thou relieve the poor, thou shalt never be poor, but as a well-watered garden, always flourishing. Like a spring, whose waters fail not Hebrew, deceive not, a metaphor which further signifies also the continuance of this flourishing state, that it should not be like a land-flood, or brooks, that are soon dried up with drought. Thou shalt be fed with a spring of blessings, that will never fail. And they of thee A remnant of thee, or rather, thy posterity, shall build the old waste places The places which have long lain waste. Bishop Lowth renders it, The ancient ruins. If understood of the Jews returned from Babylon, the meaning is, that they should rebuild Jerusalem and the temple, with the other cities and towns of Judea. The foundations of many generations Either the foundations that were laid many generations ago, or that should continue for many generations yet to come. And thou shalt be called That is, deservedly, and to thine honour, the repairer of the breach Or, breaches; for the word is put here collectively for those breaches which God’s judgments had made among them, by suffering their enemies to demolish their cities and towns, and to destroy their state. The restorer of paths Those paths that led from city to city, which, being now laid desolate and uninhabited, were grown over with grass and weeds; to dwell in These accommodations being recovered, their ancient cities might be fit to be re-inhabited. According to Vitringa, who considers the whole of this and the preceding verse as being metaphorical, the meaning is, “That from the city of God, (the spiritual Jerusalem,) flourishing in the manner above described, should go forth, those who should renew and restore the churches long laid waste, as immersed in thick darkness and superstition, and governed by faithless pastors, and so unworthy the name of the churches of God; and who should collect together, erect, and build anew the foundations of those churches; that is, the heads of Christian doctrine delivered by the prophets and apostles, which, though they had retained them in the confession of their faith, they had mixed with heterogeneous doctrines; so that they might be esteemed as wholly subverted and overthrown.”

Verse 13

Isaiah 58:13. If thou turn away If thou take no unnecessary journeys, nor do any servile works on the sabbath day; or, metaphorically, if thou keep thy mind and affections disengaged, and free from secular cares and concerns, and restrain thyself from whatever might profane it; from doing thy pleasure on my holy day From taking the liberty of doing what thou pleasest, without the control and restraint of conscience and the law of God; or from indulging thyself in the pleasures of sense and carnal delights; and call the sabbath a delight Not looking on the duties of it as a burden and drudgery, but performing them with cheerfulness, and delighting in all its ordinances and services; the holy of the Lord Or, to the Lord, that is, dedicated to him, consecrated to his service; honourable Namely, the chief of days, worthy of all honour, and therefore honourable because holy: and shalt honour him That is, The Lord, whose day it is; not doing thine own ways Or works, or pursuing thy usual course of life, or thy worldly business; nor speaking thine own words The words that are thine own, in opposition to what God commands to be spoken; words proceeding from the corruption of human nature, or the vanity of the human mind; or, not speaking words unsuitable to the work of the day, tending neither to thy edification nor comfort.

Verse 14

Isaiah 58:14 . Then shalt thou delight thyself in the Lord This refers to the preceding verse, as if he had said, If thou wilt delight thyself in the sabbath, then thou shalt delight in the God of the sabbath, namely, in his goodness and faithfulness to thee, and in the assurance of his love and favour. I will cause thee to ride, &c. Thou shalt be above the reach of danger. And feed thee with the heritage of Jacob Thou shalt enjoy the good of the land of Canaan, which God promised as a heritage to Jacob and his seed, Genesis 35:12. Or, figuratively understood, thou shalt enjoy temporal as well as spiritual blessings. The Lord will withhold from thee no manner of thing which he sees to be for thy prosperity and happiness. For the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it The promise is sure, and shall infallibly be fulfilled, having proceeded from the mouth of him who cannot lie.

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Bibliographical Information
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Isaiah 58". Benson's Commentary. 1857.