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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

Isaiah 58


From the time of the close of the captivity at Babylon direct idol-worship almost wholly disappeared. But self-righteous formalism, another grievous evil, more subtle in its nature, set in, and reached its height when our Lord began his ministry. ( Birks.) To all the phases of the Jewish people, from his own times to the times of Christ, the prophet Isaiah applied his instructions and predictions. His outlook in the following chapter seems aptly to light upon the state of things as seen by John Baptist. The theory that Isaiah lived in quiet in his latest years, and wrote his prophecies for private instruction, chiefly to his disciples, and for preservation in the archives of his school at Jerusalem, does not hinder our supposing he wrote on the spur of occasions, as with prophetic eye he saw them transpiring during the public life of the people. Dr. Kay, of the “Speaker’s Commentary,” a writer specially observant of the part which different sections in this book play in the Jewish ritual, regards this and the 59th chapter as suited to the occasion of the great day of atonement. He says: “The promise of reconciliation was made in Isaiah 57:15-19. The present chapter stands like a homily for the day of atonement, (see Isaiah 58:3,) while the confession suited for that day follows in chap. 59.”

Verses 1-2

1, 2. Cry aloud Literally, with open, full throat. It is an alarm-cry that is called for, against sins common, indeed, in the prophet’s time, but peculiarly common just as the Messiah’s advent approaches.

Spare not Lay on reproach without stint or reserve.

Lift up… like a trumpet Earnestly show up Jewish iniquities to the extreme end, notwithstanding they pretend to be very religious.

They seek me daily They make ado about it; pretend great delight in justice, as if they were indeed a righteous nation; as if their professed delight in approaching God were real.

Verses 3-4

3, 4. Wherefore have we fasted, (say they,) and thou seest not They turn to complaining of God. He does not honour their work-righteousness; does not see it; gives it no attention. The answer is, Ye deserve it not. While pretending solemn devotion, ye exact all your labours Your grievous tasks. ( Gesenius.) Ye do all this for gain. Your devotion to me is all hypocrisy. More than this: ye fast for strife Your fasting and self-imposed inflictions make you no better. All of it, with the spirit you have, renders you contentious. And… smite with the fist of wickedness. Exodus 21:18. Your servants suffer by your fasting. This requires you to be mild, patient to all, and humble before all. Nerves rasped by abstinence should be better under control. Your fasting is an offence “I cannot away with.” Isaiah 1:11-15.

Verses 5-7

5-7. Is it such a fast That is, the one chosen fast which I have appointed through my servant Moses? Only the fast connected with the day of atonement had been thus duly appointed. With this annual great day of atonement were prescribed many and various ceremonial duties, all having symbolic importance, not needful to be here defined. At various times in the history of Israel other fasts were established, especially from the time of the exile onward. With classes of Jews who affected much religiousness, fasting became merely an outward asceticism, and this is what is here condemned. The moral intent of a fast is expressed by the deepest humiliation, penitence, a whole self-surrender to God, heart-felt love for others, and a round of sincerely compassionate acts such as the wants of our fellow men call for. For the lack of these the prophet characterizes the fasting of his times, and of times foreseen far into the future, as dumb show and hypocrisy. The kind of pretended humiliation he condemns does not tend to radical reformation of life. This demands that they should loose the bands of wickedness, and undo heavy burdens: or, in other words, should cease to be unjust to debtors and others. Break every yoke, etc. That is, the manumission of slaves, (Leviticus 25:0,) and the cessation of every sort of oppressiveness, etc. See Jeremiah 34:8-22. The kind of character required before God embraces, moreover, forgiveness of enemies, unfeigned sympathy with sufferers, and pure, general beneficence.

Verse 8

8. The blessings here mentioned follow true obedience.

Thy light Spiritual light, in which the obedient walk, is as the hopeful morning dawn.

Health… spring forth Thy spiritual growth shall be rapid.

Thy righteousness Abstract for the concrete, much as St. Paul uses the word in Romans; sometimes a moral rightness of character, leading one to do what pleases God; sometimes, thy Righteous One, who justifies, shall go before thee.

Verse 9

9. Then On ceasing to oppress, and engaging in works of kindness and helpfulness.

Call… answer The one party having the confidence to “call,” and the other both the disposition and legally the power to “ answer,” seeing that right actions proceeding from right motives had taken the place of wrong ones.

Verses 10-11

10, 11. If thou draw out thy soul Not merely imparting needed assistance, but doing heartily the sentiment of Isaiah 58:7-8. Readiness to do acts of love to others makes God ready to dispense richly in return.

Make fat thy bones Or, increase thy strength.

Verse 12

12. Build the old waste places The beautiful figures used here are unsurpassable. The prose of it is, Thy children or posterity shall inherit your renewed character, and build up Zion in the far future, and in and through them, thyself shall be called the repairer of the breach, so fearfully made in the spiritual Zion.

The restorer of paths That is, the old paths. Jeremiah 6:16.

To dwell in The figure relates, most likely, to the demoralized Jerusalem which, on the return from Babylon, is to be rebuilt, and its streets and walks restored.

Verses 13-14

13, 14. To the foregoing duties of love is added the duty of sabbath observance. See Isaiah 54:2; Isaiah 54:4. For preserving the unity of a theocratic nation this was a vital duty. It is singled out here from other commands (Exodus 20:0) to represent the whole first table of the decalogue.

If thou turn away thy foot Namely, from walking in its usual paths from pursuing its customary avocations.

From doing thy pleasure That in which thou usually delightest, and lovest. A lesson of self-denial for God’s sake.

And call the sabbath a delight Under the Old Testament dispensation, the holy observance of the weekly “sabbath” was one of the most significant marks of a God-fearing people. Such, and none else, would term the “sabbath a delight.” To the irreligious it would, because of its largely enforced abstinence from mere secular pursuits, be a day of weariness rather than of delight.

Cause thee to ride upon the high places of the earth “High places” stand for security: hence, fortresses were usually built on elevated ground. Metaphorically, then, the expression denotes a position of safety and honour. To such exaltation would God raise his people, if trustful in him, and honouring his holy laws.

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Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Isaiah 58". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". 1874-1909.