Summary of passage: God directs Isaiah to shout out to His people, the house of Jacob, their sins. Day after day they seek me (God) and are eager to know His ways as if they were a righteous and law-abiding nation. They ask for just decisions and for God to be near.
Yet the people ask, “Why have we fasted and humbled ourselves if you (God) have not noticed?”
God answers, “You do as you please and exploit your workers. You quarrel and strike each other. You cannot fast as you do today and expect to be heard.” In essence, the people’s hearts were not God’s heart. They fasted for wrong reasons and with evil hearts.
God asks, “Is this the kind of fast I have chosen where you bow your head and lie on sackcloth and ashes? Is this acceptable to the Lord?” The answer is No. God reveals the fast He desires:
“To loose the chains of injustice, set the oppressed free, and break every yoke. To share your food with the hungry and provide the poor with shelter. To clothe the naked and not abandon your relatives.”
Then your light will break forth like the dawn, your healing will appear, you will be righteous with the glory of the Lord at your rear.
Then when you call I will answer: Here am I. [So when you fast with a heart of God, He will answer.] Your light will rise in the darkness if you do away with oppression, malicious talk, and satisfy the needs of the oppressed.
The Lord will guide you always and satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and strengthen you. You will be a well-watered garden whose waters never fail. You will rebuild and build up things.
If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath and doing what you please on God’s holy day then you will find joy in the Lord and He will cause you to ride on the heights of the land and feast on the inheritance of Jacob.
3a) The Israelites fasted, sought God day after day, seemed eager to know His ways, portrayed righteousness and obedience.
b) They sought to please themselves. On the day of the fasting, they did as they pleased and exploited all their workers. They quarreled and hit each other. They fasted without their heart on God. They went through the motions of bowing their heads and putting on sackcloth and ashes but still their heart remained aloof.
c) He did not answer their prayers and He told them what fasting He has chosen: to see the oppressed free and break every yoke, to share your food with the hungry and provide shelter to the wanderer, to clothe the naked, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood. Only then will He say: Here am I.
d) Personal Question. My answer: I’m working on praising God more in prayer and praying more for others. When I feel far away from Him, I tend to pray less so I’m working on praying no matter what mood I am in. Sometimes I do pray and my heart is not in it (mainly because my brain is elsewhere, dwelling on something I should have let go which I haven’t yet or on future events) but I feel it’s better than not praying at all and in time God will turn my mind and heart to Him again as long as I am seeking.
4a) The purpose was to make atonement to God for your sins and to cleanse yourself of sins so you will be clean before the Lord. The attitude was strict: it must be on the tenth day of the seventh month and the people must fast (deny themselves) and not do any work. Everyone had to do this–whether native Israelites or foreigners living amongst them who did not necessarily believe in the Lord. This was to be the Sabbath, the day of rest and to be a lasting ordinance.
b) God desires an authentic fast: one where we obeyed His commands and were eager to know Him. We are to set the oppressed free, share with others what God has given us, and follow His will, not ours. We are to do what pleases God, not ourselves. And only then when we call will He answer.
c) Donate to the poor or serve in soup kitchens. Find charities that work with the poor and support them. Help your relatives when they are on hard times (this could also be members of the church or Christian body as your own flesh and blood since we are all the body of Christ). Give to your church to help your sisters and brothers who are struggling. God ultimately wants our heart to lie where His does–which is with those struggling.
Conclusions: God is so good! This was EXACTLY what I needed to hear in this time in my life. “The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame.” So, no matter where I go, I will have no fear or inhibitions because God is guiding me and He will satisfy my needs in that place. He will build things, which I constantly see in my work.
If I honor God by not doing my own thing or going my own way, then I will be filled with joy in the Lord, ride on the heights of the land, and feast on the inheritance of Jacob.
What better message right now in my life than one of Hope. I think this is my favorite message in the Bible for I know I can’t live without it.
End note: We are no longer required to do no work on the Sabbath since we now find rest in Jesus. This was only required before Jesus died for us. Hebrews 4 explains it best. We enter a Sabbath-rest: “There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God.” Hebrews 4:9 which is not necessarily on Sundays. Or we are free to not technically “rest” at all. But I think most Christians rest with God through prayer and in His word–essentially in God since His spirit now dwells in us. See also Colossians 2:16-17 and Galatians 4:9-11