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As you read through this passage, it will probably remind you the parable of the prayers of the Pharisees and tax collectors. That is one of the parables spoken by Jesus and it is for those who become prideful believing that they are righteous and looking down on others. The parable is written in Luke 18:9-14. (Reference; Pastor Kitawaza’s message) It is a story of a Pharisee and a tax collector who went up to the temple to pray. The Pharisees prayed like this, “God, I thank you that I am not like other people or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week… (Verse 11)” It is a prayer that emphasizes on the justification of his actions. It seems that fasting twice a week was a religious ritual followed by fervent Pharisees. What is the faith of such person, no matter how religious he might be, he lost his mercy toward others? Isaiah prophesies about such heart of people, who justify themselves and look down on others.
In the last part of Isaiah 58:1, “Declare to my people their rebellion and to the descendants of Jacob their sins.” It shows that all of them including leaders had problems on the worship. Verse 2 says, “For day after day they seek me out; they seem eager to know my ways,” They had worship day after day, and they sought after God. Sometimes, they were led by false prophets, and they offered animal sacrifices through priests. They took pride in obeying the Law. They did say, “I want to get closer to God” (Verse 2). Furthermore, they said, “why have we fasted, and you have not seen it?”(Verse 3) They want God to see them fasting and see how religious they are. Fasting has become a religious ritual that shows other believers how serious and passionate they are about the religion. However, the original purpose of fasting is something precious and valuable. The blessing of fasting is to free yourself from all the worries and anxieties of your meal time, including its preparation, and to focus on the one and only God. Turning our hearts toward the Word of God, giving thanks to God, praying for ourselves and others, and seeking God’s guidance are the ways to take time for fasting. If their fasting was something like that, God might have paid more attention to such prayers.
However, fasting that is not focused on God becomes a religious ritual that justifies themselves. It even causes judgmental attitudes towards others thinking “Unlike you, I make such an effort!”
Verses 3-5 describe the Israelites at the time, fasting while self-justifying and hurting others. The last part of verse 3 says, “Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please and exploit all your workers.”(Isaiah 58:3 NIV) The focus is not on God. Because he fasts, he is willing to leave what he should be doing to others. Fasting that is not focused on God can also cause conflict and quarrel. Even if it looks humble on the outside, it is not accompanied by genuine heart.
From verse 6, the original intention of fasting is expressed. ”Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?”(Isaiah 58:6 NIV) “To loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke” refers to the hard labors of slavery. Just like salves being free from hard labors, we are also free from sins, and we give thanks to God for His forgiveness. Including time to eat, each time we remember the redemption of Christ on the cross, and we give thanks to God as much as possible. We rejoice with God in freedom He gave us. We also pray for others, and for their needs. Through prayer, we pay attention to the pain and poverty of others. We pay attention to our own parents, and try to meet their needs. Paying attention to others and doing the action of love, that is the kind of fasting that God loves. That kind of fasting and worship is what we aim for. Verse 8 says, ”Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.”(Isaiah 58:8 NIV) The Lord will go before and after you, just as the Israelites were liberated from Egypt.
Verse 9 says, “Then you will call, and the LORD will answer;” Moreover, verse 11 says, “The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame..” We put our faith in the God of love. It is a faith that believes in Jesus who has accomplished the work of redemption on the cross. Let us give our utmost gratitude to Jesus. Let’s unite our hearts and worship God. There is no need for formal fasting anymore. God is listening to our prayer. Let us believe in this word that the Lord will guide us. Jesus is with us, even among two or three believers. Jesus guides each step of our lives. In addition, we would like to believe in this promise that we will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.
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