Reading through the Bible together
God’s ‘Red Alert!’ “Shout as loud as you can – a ram’s horn trumpet blast!” God is warning His people of danger and calling them to a “True Fast.”
God gave Israel many rituals as a means of preparing their hearts for His work of making them holy. The Temple and its services were an audio-visual portrayal of God’s Plan of Salvation. The fast days were solemn and impressive and produced a “spiritual high.” Israel had often relied on the Temple in their midst and also on their heritage as descendants of Abraham rather on a relationship with God and heart-obedience. As with the Laodicean Church, outward conformity to God’s laws led them to believe that God was obliged to honor them; obliged to look the other way even though, in fact, they were “wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked” (Rev 3:17).
God’s warning is for the returning exiles as well as for all His people to this day. The ‘fast’ or worship done for the wrong reasons can “look good” but it leads to complacency and camouflages true worship from false worship. It is revealed by destructive behavior: power-struggles within the church, theological disputes, tensions, and the neglect of the needy as well as of our true mission. All done in the name of God (vv.1b-5)!
The “True Fast,” or worship that pleases God, will also be revealed in the way we treat others (vv 6-12). It is marked by genuine repentance and transformed lives. People stop quarreling and exploiting the weak. Self-indulgence and greed are replaced by generosity of spirit and care of the poor and the hurting. It is the behavior Jesus spoke of in Matt 25 that separates the sheep from the goats. Generous lives like these please God and release the blessings He is longing to bestow. The 10-fold blessings of vv,8,9,10b,11 are all a realization of the covenant blessings God’s children yearn for.
These lives become channels through which God’s covenant blessings flow out to others. We become places of rest and fountains of water for weary, thirsty souls. We become repairers, menders and restorers of broken lives both literally and spiritually. The love of God revealed in our lives draws the hearts of people back to the ancient paths of true worship and restores confidence in God and His laws.
Achieving a right relationship with God and the world He has entrusted to us (the True Fast) is clearly linked with Sabbath observance so it is no surprise that the final verses of Isaiah 58 call God’s people to True Sabbath observance. Jesus lived the reality of the True Fast which, at the outset of His public ministry, He linked with the Day of Atonement and the year of Jubilee, “the Year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18,19). True Sabbath-rest goes far beyond obedience to law. Lives of true Sabbath-keepers reveal complete commitment to God and His ways and complete rest in His work for us as Creator and Redeemer. They are filled with mutual delight and intimacy in each other. They are victorious lives that abound in joy and abundance.
Partners in Ministry Coordinator
Greater Sydney Conference, Australia