“Is such the fast that I choose,
a day to humble oneself?”
~Isaiah 58:5a-b (NRSV).
False and true worship are known by motives.
Fasting, certainly for Christians and Jews — as it’s known — is an outward sign, and an inward reality, of an act of worship; of seeking the Lord, generally in association with prayer.
It can be kept to oneself, but most fasts will involve other people knowing about them. Like baptism, it’s quite demonstrative regarding ‘what’ we’re about. Seemingly the most fervent believers practice it.
Fasting’s Bad Copy
But the hypocritical religious leaders of Jesus’ time were known to be partial to it as a symbol of their godliness (Matthew 6:16-18), just like those Isaiah prophesied about.
They would fast in devoutness, but oppress their workers (Isaiah 58:3). Yet, holiness and violence cannot coexist, and this is what God’s saying through the prophet.
They sliced and diced it in ways that brought God not honour, but conceit in the eyes of the nations. Their motives were external — thought of impressions created; not what it was designed to do.
Honing in on the Presence of God, and living by Divine will, is the God-imperative for humankind; always was and ever will be.
Fasting can take us directly there, especially when it’s personally sacrosanct and offered as a secret sacrifice in the godliest way we can.
We use it when we hear the Holy Spirit suggest or command it, and we associate with it a mind for the Lord, again, usually via prayer.
The More Integral Message of Isaiah 58
This article is not really about fasting, per se.
Isaiah 58, likewise, is not really about fasting. It’s about worship, or alignment with the agenda that God sets, from the beginning.
The hinge is verse 6, with the Lord speaking through Isaiah:
“Is not this the fast that I choose;
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and break every yoke?”
It’s the mood for justice, righteousness and fairness — the Proverbial triple-horn (Proverbs 1:3; 2:9) — that draws upon the blessing of the Lord. It’s nothing, really, to do with fasting, for sacrifice is pointless without right measure.
Beyond the Hinge – Right Worship and the Results
Verses 8 onward are tremendously hope-filled, but they’re trickled with guidance, for instance, on keeping the Sabbath; that is, respect for the day of the Lord.
When we get our approach to worship right we’re living right and vice versa.
Beyond the abovementioned hinge, verse 6, is the ushering also of another key: verse 10. This one talks of offering food to the hungry and satisfying the needs of the afflicted. In other words, the concern is love for others, not self-centredness.
Love for others is love for God, besides respecting God alone, which is, together, right worship. It commences from the heart, yet is embellished via fruitful works.
Ours is to choose the fast of the Lord’s choosing; to walk with humility.
© 2011 S. J. Wickham.