The passage below is from the Old Testament, Isaiah 58:3-12. God, Almighty is addressing his people. The people had fasted and sacrificed in a way and they expected God to come through and answer their prayers. They probably gave up certain foods or all food for a certain period of time. They probably dressed in clothing that was not attractive or comfortable. They probably did not do things they considered “luxuries” of those days. In any case, they “sacrificed” and they expected some results from God.
3 ‘Why have we fasted,’ they say,
‘and you have not seen it?
Why have we humbled ourselves,
and you have not noticed?’
God pointed out to the people that even though you fasted, “You do as you please.” He said that they exploited their workers – cheated them and took advantage of them. He said that “Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife, and in striking each other with wicked fists.” See below. God is saying that fasting involves doing what he wants from us, not just what we please. He also is saying that “true fasting” involves a heart of doing right by those you may have “charge” over and it also means that you are not quarreling but practicing love.
“Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please
and exploit all your workers.
4 Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife,
and in striking each other with wicked fists.
You cannot fast as you do today
and expect your voice to be heard on high.
5 Is this the kind of fast I have chosen,
only a day for people to humble themselves?
Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed
and for lying in sackcloth and ashes?
Is that what you call a fast,
a day acceptable to the Lord?
Below we see what God’s preferred fasting really entails. When you look at what God lists below, it takes a great deal of selflessness and sacrifice to actually accomplish these things. It takes self-denial and a decision that “you” want to meet the needs of those who are less fortunate than you. This kind of “fast” is a decision to put your comfort at risk, so that you could help others who may not have what you have. Remember Moses: “He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a short time” (see Hebrews 11:25). Consider the great men and women of history who stood up for justice and fought oppression. Many of them were threatened, attached and eventually killed for taking action in the areas that God calls “true fasting.”
God said that a true fast involves loosening the “chains of injustice.” He said it involves untying the cords of the yoke, set the oppressed free and break every yoke (physical and spiritual)! These are areas that I believe that many Christians shy away from, yet they are so important to our God! God is a just God and he wants people who follow him to stop injustice, oppression, and slavery of every kind.
6 “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?
True fasting also involves sharing our food with the hungry. Providing shelter for the wanderer. Cloth the naked. See below.
7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
God says that when we fast as he prescribes, then we will shine. We will be transformed and we will be healed. Somehow, taking care of people transforms us and heals us and draws us closer to God. I’m not talking about just the traditional (still very important), feed and cloth people, I’m also talking about those who are being unjustly treated by anyone or a government. It applies to those being oppressed at home and abroad. It applies to those being oppressed by a job, sitution or a government regualtion. God says take care of these issues; that is true fasting!
8 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.
9 Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.
“If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
10 and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
and your night will become like the noonday.
11 The Lord will guide you always;
he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
like a spring whose waters never fail.
12 Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins
and will raise up the age-old foundations;
you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls,
Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.
God’s people; anyone who professes to follow God should heed these passages and put them into practice and “own them.” Christians should, more than anybody, be the first people to have compassion on those who are oppressed. They should not just have compassion but also look for ways to remove the oppression. Christians should also be looking for ways to remove injustice wherever it may exist. It is a big task, but God expects his people to do it.
Isaiah 58 started out in verse one with this line: “Declare to my people their rebellion…” God was talking to his people. Anyone who claims to follow God should seek ways to put these verses into practice. It may be through prayer, awareness campaigns, changing laws, voting, being a leader or anything that God has designed the individual to do. But know this, God does expect his people to “fast” this way.
What do you think?
See also Psalm 82