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Isaiah 58 - True Fasting

Chapter Content | Matthew Henry’s Commentary | John Wesley’s Explanatory Notes

Isaiah 58 (NIV)

True Fasting

1 “Shout it aloud, do not hold back.
Raise your voice like a trumpet.
Declare to my people their rebellion
and to the descendants of Jacob their sins.  

2 For day after day they seek me out;
they seem eager to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that does what is right
and has not forsaken the commands of its God.
They ask me for just decisions
and seem eager for God to come near them.  

3 ‘Why have we fasted,’ they say,
‘and you have not seen it?
Why have we humbled ourselves,
and you have not noticed?’
“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?

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?  

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?  

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.

13 “If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath
and from doing as you please on my holy day,
if you call the Sabbath a delight
and the LORD’s holy day honorable,
and if you honor it by not going your own way
and not doing as you please or speaking idle words,  

14 then you will find your joy in the LORD,
and I will cause you to ride in triumph on the heights of the land
and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob.”
For the mouth of the LORD has spoken.


Matthew Henry’s Commentary on Isaiah 58

Chapter Contents

Hypocrisy reproved. (1,2) A counterfeit and a true fast, with promises to real godliness, and, (3-12) to the keeping the sabbath. (13,14)

Commentary on Isaiah 58:1,2

The Holy Spirit had hypocrites of every age in view. Self-love and timid Christians may say, Spare thyself; dislike to the cross and other motives will say, "Spare the rich and powerful;" but God says, "Spare not:" and we must obey God, not men. We all need earnestly to pray for God's assistance in examining ourselves. Men may go far toward heaven, yet come short; and they may go to hell with a good reputation.

Commentary on Isaiah 58:3-12

A fast is a day to afflict the soul; if it does not express true sorrow for sin, and does not promote the putting away of sin, it is not a fast. These professors had shown sorrow on stated or occasioned fasts. But they indulged pride, covetousness, and malignant passions. To be liberal and merciful is more acceptable to God than mere fasting, which, without them, is vain and hypocritical. Many who seem humble in God's house, are hard at home, and harass their families. But no man's faith justifies, which does not work by love. Yet persons, families, neighbourhoods, churches, or nations, show repentance and sorrow for sin, by keeping a fast sincerely, and, from right motives, repenting, and doing good works. The heavy yoke of sin and oppression must be removed. As sin and sorrow dry the bones and weaken the strongest human constitution; so the duties of kindness and charity strengthen and refresh both body and mind. Those who do justly and love mercy, shall have the comfort, even in this world. Good works will bring the blessing of God, provided they are done from love to God and man, and wrought in the soul by the Holy Spirit.

Commentary on Isaiah 58:13,14

The sabbath is a sign between God and his professing people; his appointing it is a sign of his favour to them; and their observing it is a sign of their obedience to him. We must turn from travelling on that day; from doing our pleasure on that holy day, without the control and restraint of conscience; or from indulging in the pleasures of sense. On sabbath days we must not follow our callings, or our pleasures. In all we say and do, we must put a difference between this day and other days. Even in Old Testament times the sabbath was called the Lord's day, and is fitly called so still; and for a further reason, it is the Lord Christ's day, Revelation 1:10. If we thus remember the sabbath day to keep it holy, we shall have the comfort and profit of it, and have reason to say, It is good to draw near to God.


John Wesley’s Explanatory Notes on Isaiah 58

Verse 3

[3] Wherefore have we fasted, say they, and thou seest not? wherefore have we afflicted our soul, and thou takest no knowledge? Behold, in the day of your fast ye find pleasure, and exact all your labours.

Afflicted — Defrauded our appetites with fasting, of which this phrase is used, Leviticus 16:29.

Ye find — Either you indulge yourselves in sensuality, as they did, Isaiah 22:13. But this does not agree with that afflicting of their souls which they now professed, and which God acknowledges; or you pursue and satisfy your own desires: though you abstain from bodily food, you do not mortify your sinful inclinations.

Exact — Your money, got by your labour, and lent to others, either for their need or your own advantage, which you require either with usury, or at least with rigour, when either the general law of charity, or God's particular law, commanded the release, or at least the forbearance of them.

Verse 4

[4] Behold, ye fast for strife and debate, and to smite with the fist of wickedness: ye shall not fast as ye do this day, to make your voice to be heard on high.

Behold — Your fasting days, wherein you ought in a special manner to implore the mercy of God, and to shew compassion to men, you employ in injuring or quarrelling with your brethren, your servants or debtors, or in contriving mischief against them.

Heard — In strife and debate. By way of ostentation.

Verse 5

[5] Is it such a fast that I have chosen? a day for a man to afflict his soul? is it to bow down his head as a bulrush, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? wilt thou call this a fast, and an acceptable day to the LORD?

Chosen — Approve of, accept, or delight in, by a metonymy, because we delight in what we freely chuse.

For a day — This may be understood, either for a man to take a certain time to afflict his soul in, and that either from even to even, Leviticus 23:32, or from morning to evening, or for a little time.

Wilt thou call — Canst thou suppose it to be so? A fast - It being such an one as has nothing in it, but the dumb signs of a fast, nothing of deep humiliation appearing in it, or, real reformation proceeding from it.

Acceptable day — A day that God will approve of.

Verse 6

[6] Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke?

The bands — The cruel obligations of usury and oppression.

Verse 7

[7] Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house? when thou seest the naked, that thou cover him; and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh?

Cast out — And thereby become wanderers, having no abiding place.

To thy house — That thou be hospitable, and make thy house a shelter to them that have none of their own left.

Hide not — That seek no occasion to excuse thyself.

Thy own flesh — Some confine this to our own kindred; but we can look on no man, but there we contemplate our own flesh, and therefore it is barbarous, not only to tear, but not to love and succour him. Therefore feed him as thou wouldest feed thyself, or be fed; shelter him as thou wouldest shelter thyself, or be sheltered; clothe him as thou wouldest clothe thyself, or be clothed; if in any of these respects thou wert in his circumstances.

Verse 8

[8] Then shall thy light break forth as the morning, and thine health shall spring forth speedily: and thy righteousness shall go before thee; the glory of the LORD shall be thy rereward.

Thy light — Happiness and prosperity.

Break forth — It shall not only appear, but break forth, dart itself forth, notwithstanding all difficulties, as the sun breaks, and pierces through a cloud.

Thy health — Another metaphor to express the same thing.

Righteousness — The reward of thy righteousness.

Before thee — As the morning-star goes before the sun.

The glory — His glorious power and providence.

Thy rereward — Thus the angel of his presence secured the Israelites when they came up out of Egypt.

Verse 9

[9] Then shalt thou call, and the LORD shall answer; thou shalt cry, and he shall say, Here I am. If thou take away from the midst of thee the yoke, the putting forth of the finger, and speaking vanity;

Answer — He will give an effectual demonstration, that he hears thee.

Here l am — A phrase that notes a person to be ready at hand to help.

Take away — From among you.

The yoke — All those pressures and grievances before mentioned.

Putting forth — Done by way of scoff, or disdainful insulting.

Vanity — Any kind of evil words.

Verse 10

[10] And if thou draw out thy soul to the hungry, and satisfy the afflicted soul; then shall thy light rise in obscurity, and thy darkness be as the noonday:

Draw out — Or, open, as when we open a store, to satisfy the wants of the needy.

Thy soul — Thy affection, thy pity and compassion.

Thy darkness — In the very darkness of the affliction itself thou shalt have comfort.

Verse 11

[11] And the LORD shall guide thee continually, and satisfy thy soul in drought, and make fat thy bones: and thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters fail not.

Guide thee — Like a shepherd. And he adds continually to shew that his conduct and blessing shall not be momentary, or of a short continuance, but all along as it was to Israel in the wilderness.

Satisfy — Thou shalt have plenty, when others are in scarcity.

Make fat — This may be spoken in opposition to the sad effects of famine, whereby the flesh is consumed away, that it cannot be seen, and the bones that were not seen, stick out.

A garden — If thou relieve the poor, thou shalt never be poor, but as a well-watered garden, always flourishing.

Fail not — Heb. deceive not, a metaphor which farther notes also the continuance of this flourishing state, which will not be like a land-flood, or brooks, that will soon be dried up with drought. Thou shalt be fed with a spring of blessing, that will never fail.

Verse 12

[12] And they that shall be of thee shall build the old waste places: thou shalt raise up the foundations of many generations; and thou shalt be called, The repairer of the breach, The restorer of paths to dwell in.

They shall be of thee — Thy posterity.

Waste places — Cities which have lain long waste; that shall continue for many generations to come.

The breach — Breach is put for breaches, which was made by God's judgment breaking in upon them in suffering the walls of their towns and cities to be demolished.

Paths — Those paths that led from city to city, which being now laid desolate, and uninhabited, were grown over with grass, and weeds.

To dwell in — These accommodations being recovered, their ancient cities might be fit to be re-inhabited.

Verse 13

[13] If thou turn away thy foot from the sabbath, from doing thy pleasure on my holy day; and call the sabbath a delight, the holy of the LORD, honourable; and shalt honour him, not doing thine own ways, nor finding thine own pleasure, nor speaking thine own words:

If — If thou take no unnecessary journeys, or do any servile works on the sabbath-day.

A delight — Performing the duties of it with chearfulness, delighting in the ordinances of it.

Holy — Dedicated to God, consecrated to his service.

Verse 14

[14] Then shalt thou delight thyself in the LORD; and I will cause thee to ride upon the high places of the earth, and feed thee with the heritage of Jacob thy father: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it.

In the Lord — In his goodness and faithfulness to thee, and in the assurance of his love and favour.

To ride — Thou shalt be above the reach of danger.

Feed thee — Thou shalt enjoy the good of the land of Canaan, which God promised as an heritage to Jacob, and his seed, Genesis 35:12.

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