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Bible Commentaries

Spurgeon's Verse Expositions of the Bible
Isaiah 58

 

 

Verses 1-11

Isaiah 58:1-2. Cry aloud, spare not, lift up thy voice like a trumpet, and shew my people their transgression, and the house of Jacob their sins. Yet they seek me daily,—

There are many nominally religious people who are full of sin. They have an external religion which allows them to live in rebellion against God. And such people are not easily convinced of sin. Hence the prophet is bidden to lift up his voice like a trumpet; yet, even if he does so, they will not hear him. There are none so deaf as those that will not hear; and these men are not wishful to hear what God has to say to them: “Yet they seek me daily,” —

Isaiah 58:2. And delight to know my ways, as a nation that did righteousness, and forsook not the ordinance of their God: they ask of me the ordinances of justice; they take delight in approaching to God.

They are always in a place of worship if possible; they cannot have too many services and sermons; yet they have no heart towards God. O my dear friends, let us always be afraid of merely external religiousness! Genuine conversion, real devotion to God, true communion with God, these are sure things; but mere outward religiousness is nothing but so much varnish and tinsel, it is indeed but the ghastly coffin of a soul that never was quickened unto spiritual life. This is the way these sham religionists talked about their religion, —

Isaiah 58:3. Wherefore have we fasted, say they, and thou seest not? wherefore have we afflicted our soul, and thou takest no knowledge?

When God rejects a man’s religion, what must be the reason of it? Here is the explanation.

Isaiah 58:3. Behold, in the day of your fast ye find pleasure, and exact all your labours.

“You fast, but you make your workmen toil on still; you determine that they shall not have one atom of their labour abated; and you make an amusement of what you call a fast: ‘In the day of your fast ye find pleasure.’”

Isaiah 58:4. Behold, ye fast for strife and debate, and to smite with the fist of wickedness: ye shall not fast as ye do this day, to make your voice to be heard on high.

The best sort of mere external religion will soon turn sour. If you do not worship the Lord in a right spirit, God will loathe the very form of your service. Why, you might, by hypocrisy, make even prayer-meetings to be hateful in the sight of God; and the ordinances may be made as abominable to God as the mass itself. You can soon degrade sermon-hearing into mere listening to oratory, and the Sabbath-day may easily become an object only of superstitious and formal observance. The heart — the heart is everything; if that be wrong, it sours the sweetest things under heaven.

Isaiah 58:5. Is it such a fast that I have chosen? a day for a man to afflict his soul? is it to bow down his head as a bulrush, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? wilt thou call this a fast, and an acceptable day to the LORD?

Does God care for the externals of worship only? Is he satisfied with sackcloth and ashes, and the hanging down of the head like a bulrush?

Isaiah 58:6. Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke?

Yes, this is true fasting before God; — not to demand your pound of flesh, and declare that you will have it; not to grind down the poor man to the last farthing; but “to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free.”

Isaiah 58:7. Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house? when thou seest the naked, that thou cover him; and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh?

That is the kind of fast that the Lord approves,— to deny yourself that you may give to those who are in need.

Isaiah 58:8-9. Then shall thy light break forth as the morning, and thine health shall spring forth speedily: and thy righteousness shall go before thee; the glory of the LORD shall be thy reward. Then shalt thou call, and the LORD shall answer; thou shalt cry, and he shall say, Here I am. If thou take away from the midst of thee the yoke, the putting forth of the finger, and speaking vanity;

That is, if thou shalt take away all oppression, all wrong-doing to men, all talking of falsehood and speaking vanity: “Then shall thy light break forth as the morning.”

Isaiah 58:10-11. And if thou draw out thy soul to the hungry, and satisfy the afflicted soul; then shall thy light rise in obscurity, and thy darkness be as the noon day: and the LORD shall guide thee continually, and satisfy thy soul in drought, and make fat thy bones: and thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters fail not.

What promises God gives to those who consider the poor and needy round about them! But if you shut your ears to the cry of the distressed, God will shut his ears to your cry.

This exposition consisted of readings from Isaiah 57:10-21; and Isaiah 58:1-11.


Verses 1-12

Isaiah 58:1-2. Cry aloud, spare not, lift up thy voice like a trumpet, and shew my people their transgression, and the house of Jacob their sins. Yet they seek me daily, and delight to know my ways as a nation that did righteousness, and forsook not the ordinance of their God: they ask of me the ordinances of justice; they take delight in approaching to God.

And what a strange thing this is, that there are some people who take delight in the ordinances of God, and yet they are living in the most shameful sin. I must confess this remains a mystery to me. But I hear of some who will attend prayer-meetings and seem to enjoy them — who are to be found in the House of God whenever the doors are opened, and yet their characters will not bear the light. One would think that they would not wish to be told of their sins, and to come under a faithful ministry, and yet they do, and the more faithful that ministry is the more they seem to like it, and yet go on in their sins. Oh! what strange blindness is this which loves the light, and yet will not see by it — men that take to themselves water and much soap and yet will not wash — that heap up the bread about them as if they built a house with bread, and yet do not eat of it. Oh! infatuation most strange, to love the gospel apparently, and yet not to receive it into the heart so as to be changed by it. See how God talks to this religious people.

Isaiah 58:3. Wherefore have we fasted, say they, and thou seest not? wherefore have we afflicted our soul, and thou takest no knowledge? Behold, in the day of your fast ye find pleasure, and exact all your labours.

They fasted, and then they said, “Why did not God accept our fasting?” Why, because they made their poor servants work up to the very last all that they could do. They never gave them any rest. They exacted all their labours, and they themselves, while they pretended to faint, were taking their pleasure,

Isaiah 58:4. Behold ye fast for strife and debate, and to smite with the fist of wickedness: ye shall not fast as ye do this day to make your voice to be heard on high.

They were fond of getting into religious disputes; and when they had a fast day they fell to loggerheads about different doctrines, and they got angry with one another, till they began to smite with the fist of wickedness, and they thought that a day spent in that manner would be acceptable to God. What kind of a God would he be?

Isaiah 58:5-6. Is it such a fast that I have chosen? a day for a man to afflict his soul? is it to bow down his head as a bulrush, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? wilt thou call this a fast, and an acceptable day to the LORD? Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness,

That is, if by any dishonesty you have got a man in your power, set him free — if you have oppressed him, give him his rights. This is God’s kind of fasting.

Isaiah 58:6. To undo the heavy burdens,

Not to exact from a man what you have no right to have, but what, perhaps, the law may allow you to get out of him. This is God’s fasting — “to undo the heavy burdens.”

Isaiah 58:6-7. And to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke? Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry,

It is God’s kind of fasting to give what you would have eaten yourselves, to let other’s feast. “To deal thy bread to the hungry.”

Isaiah 58:7. And that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house? when thou seest the naked, that thou cover him: and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh?

When you know that there are poor persons, perhaps of your own kith and kin — and, in one respect, we are all of one flesh — when we know that there are such, and yet refuse to help them, it is idle to talk about fasting. But if we would see to this, then comes this promise.

Isaiah 58:8-9. Then shall thy light break forth as the morning, and thine health shall spring forth speedily: and thy righteousness shall go before thee; the glory of the LORD shall be thy reward. Then shalt thou call, and the LORD shall answer; thou shalt cry, and he shall say, Here I am. If thou take away from the midst of thee the yoke, the putting forth of the finger,

That is, the scorning the poor man.

Isaiah 58:9-11. And speaking vanity; And if thou draw out thy soul to the hungry, and satisfy the afflicted soul; then shall thy light rise in obscurity, and thy darkness be as the noon day: And the LORD shall guide thee continually, and satisfy thy soul in drought, and make fat thy bones:

You see, by giving comes getting. According to the philosophy of God, it is by watering others that we get watered ourselves. God feeds the man that feeds others. He made fat the bones of the hungry. Now, God says he will make fat his bones. He satisfied the souls of those that were in drought as best he could, and now God will satisfy his soul in drought, and make him: —

Isaiah 58:11-12. And thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters fail not. And they that shall be of thee shall build the old waste places: thou shall raise up the foundations of many generations; and thou shalt be called, The repairer of the breach, The restorer of paths to dwell in.

God help us to obey his precept that we may partake in his promise.

This exposition consisted of readings from Isaiah 58:1-12, Jeremiah 30.


Verses 1-14

Isaiah 58:1. Cry aloud, spare not, lift up thy voice like a trumpet and shew my people their transgression, and the house of Jacob their sins.

See, friends, how stolid men are by nature. God’s messengers must not only speak, they must speak very forcibly, they must speak as with the sound of a trumpet, before men will hear them. Among the most stolid of all are those who think themselves God’s people, but who are not really and spiritually so. It is hard to reach the common sinner; but it is harder still to reach the baptized sinner, the man who professes to be a Christian, but who has only the name to live, while he is spiritually dead.

Isaiah 58:2. Yet they seek me daily, and delight to know my ways,

They are careful to offer morning prayers, they would not go into their business without bending the knee to God; and they are eager and attentive hearers in the house of the Lord.

Isaiah 58:2. As a nation that did righteousness, and forsook not the ordinance of their God: they ask of me the ordinances of justice; they take delight in approaching to God.

Is it not strange that men will often continue to take delight in the externals of religion, while they give their heart to their sins? Outwardly, they keep up with great regularity all the observances of religion; yet in heart they are far from God.

Isaiah 58:3. Wherefore have we fasted, say they, and thou seest not? wherefore have we afflicted our soul, and thou takest no knowledge?

They could not make out why they did not benefit by their religiousness.

They fasted, but they did not find themselves improved thereby. They afflicted their souls, yet they did not receive pardon for their sins, and they could not make it out. The Lord explained the mystery.

Isaiah 58:3. Behold, in the day of your fast ye fled pleasure; and exact all your labours.

It is very easy to abstain from eating food of a certain kind, yet you can make another kind of food just as palatable; and while you are yourself resting, you may be compelling others to work for you. What is this but hypocrisy? I think it is a common saying among the Arabs and Egyptians, when a man is very ugly in temper, “One would think that he was keeping a fast,” because it often happens in long fasts that men grow irritable; what is the good of fasting when that is the only result?

Isaiah 58:4. Behold, ye fast for strife and debate, and to smite with the fist of wickedness:

Even in their fasts, they disputed with one another; one said the fast should be on such a day, another would keep it on another day; and no doubt there are some professing Christians who are very zealous, mainly out of spite against other professors; they with as much zeal keep fast days or feast days the wrong way as others do the right way. It is a pity when this sort of party spirit is mixed up with the observances of religion.

Isaiah 58:4. Ye shall not fast as ye do this day,

Some fasted in order to appear very religious. “Oh!” people would say, such a man must be very good, he fasts thrice in the week.” That is a kind of fasting to which God has no respect. To feel pride while we fast with the stomach, is a poor way of showing how holy we are.

Isaiah 58:4-5. To make your voice to be heard on high. Is it such a fast that I have chosen? a day for a man to afflict his soul? is it to bow down his head us a bulrush, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? wilt thou call this a fast, and an acceptable day to the LORD?

The mere appearance of sorrow, the outward garb of mortification,-what is there in that to please the Lord?

Isaiah 58:6. Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke?

That is the kind of fasting which God cares for,-when a man leaves off oppressing those who toil for him, when he makes their tasks lighter, when he seeks their comfort, when he no longer grinds them between the millstones that threaten to crush the life out of them.

Isaiah 58:7. Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house? when thou seest the naked, that thou cover him; and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh?

For they are your own flesh and blood. Though they may he total strangers to you, yet are they men like yourself. This is the fast that God delights in, when men take care to look after the poor, and to relieve the distressed when this is done,--

Isaiah 58:8. Then shall thy light break forth as the morning, and thine health shall spring forth speedily: and thy righteousness shall go before thee; the glory of the LORD shalt be thy reward.

Do not take those promises out of their connection. Observe that they are made to those that clothe the naked, and feed the hungry, and care for the poor. If you have done this, then you can ask God to fulfill this promise, but not else. Then, when thou hast done this,-

Isaiah 58:9. Then shalt thou call, and the LORD shall answer; thou shalt cry, and he shall say, Here I am.

If you have cared for the needy, God will care for you when you are needy. Is it not his way to reward the gift of even a cup of cold water to one of his disciples? Has he not promised that he will give back again into our bosoms that which we have given to others for his sake?

Isaiah 58:9. If thou take away from the midst of thee the yoke,

If you do not oppress anybody,-

Isaiah 58:9. The putting forth of the finger,

That is, the finger pointing scornfully to people, and the contemptuous enquiry, “Who are they?” -- looking down upon your fellows, who perhaps are far better than yourself,-you must put all that away.

Isaiah 58:9. And speaking vanity;

That constant idle talk of which some are so fond, that utterance of falsehood which many practice, that also must be put away.

Isaiah 58:10. And if thou draw out thy soul to the hungry, and satisfy the afflicted soul; then shall thy light rise in obscurity, and thy darkness be as the noon day

Now mind again what I said just; do not go stealing with this promise without noticing the connection in which it is placed: “If thou draw out thy soul to the hungry, and satisfy the afflicted soul; then shall thy light rise in obscurity;” but not till then.

Isaiah 58:11. And the LORD shall guide thee continually, and satisfy thy soul in drought, and make fat thy bones: and thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters fail not.

What rich promises to the generous and the kind! There are some who scatter and yet increase, and there are others who withhold more than is meet, and it tendeth to poverty. These promises are distinctly made to those who care for the needy and suffering. My brothers and sisters, mind well what the Lord here teaches you, for these things are far better than fasting. Better than any outward ordinances whatsoever are real acts of kindness, for remember that the same God who said, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind,” made the second table of his law to run thus, “and thy neighbour as thyself.”

Isaiah 58:12. And they that shall be of thee shall build the old waste places: thou shalt raise up the foundations of many generations; and thou shalt be called, The repairer of the breach, The restorer of paths to dwell in.

God’s people are to seek to turn wildernesses into paradises. There is no part of the world so full of sorrow but the heart of the believer may bring gladness to it.

Isaiah 58:13-14. If thou turn away thy foot from the sabbath, from doing thy pleasure on my holy day; and call the sabbath a delight, the holy of the LORD, honourable; and shalt honour him, not doing thine own ways, nor finding thine own pleasure, nor speaking thine own words: then shalt thou delight thyself in the LORD

There is no doubt that a reverent, happy, joyful keeping of the Sabbath ministers greatly to spiritual advancement. Here is the promise made to those who delight in the Sabbath,-

Isaiah 58:14. And I will cause thee to ride upon the high places of the earth, and feed thee with the heritage of Jacob thy father: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it.

God help us to be observant of the precepts of this chapter that its promises may be blessedly fulfilled in our experience! Amen.

 


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Bibliography Information
Spurgeon, Charle Haddon. "Commentary on Isaiah 58:4". "Spurgeon's Verse Expositions of the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/spe/isaiah-58.html. 2011.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, October 16th, 2019
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28
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