Is such a fast that I choose,
a day for a person to humble himself?
Is it to bow down his head like a reed,
and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him?
Will you call this a fast,
and a day acceptable to the LORD?
READ ISAIAH 58:6-11
Thus begins the lesson from God on what is really an acceptable fast to the LORD. It is not these things, they have little meaning to God. What does it matter to Him if we starve ourselves for a day and make gestures of false piety? While fasting in such a manner as a exercise in sacrifice and preparation of Meditation and prayer is of a benefit for us, it does not show God any blessing or importance to our servant-hood. While abstinence is a worthy exercise in personal discipline, its spiritual value is questionable.
God wants us to be a people of action and compassion. This is why He is telling the people of Israel, those in captivity in Babylon to quit being self serving fools and restore righteousness with in their community. We like to think that the Israelites were kept captive and treated as slaves in Babylon but the truth is that most were treated fairly and allowed to live unmolested within the Empire. Historical records have proven that they were merchants, money changers, bankers and even had become land owners and even had slaves of their own. They had become complacent in their situation and many never returned to Israel even when they were given the chance. In the midst of this, Isaiah comes and tells them that the ritual fasts that they have been doing are just a wasted effort and do not please God at all. He relates to them what is a true fast.
The first thing is to free the oppressed. Isaiah 58:6 “Is not this the fast I choose; to loose the bond of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free? But who are wicked, the Babylonians? The Children of Israel? Perhaps it is both. While we would think that it is the captors, Isaiah is talking to the Israelites. They are the ones who have been giving God lip service and empty rituals. They were slave owners and landlords who took advantage of weaker and susceptible people. Years later, when God has paved the way for the return to Israel, Nehemiah tells the people, “So I said the thing you are doing is not good. Ought you not walk in the fear of Our God to prevent the taunts of out enemies? More over, I and my brothers and my servants are lending them money and grain. Let us abandon this exacting of interest…..We will restore these and require nothing from them. (Nehemiah 5:9-11).“The problem of usury is still around today and many who call themselves Christians, are the very ones imposing unfair interest and high fees.
Isaiah goes on saying (Isaiah 58:7), “Is it (a fast) not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh (your kinsmen)? A true fast is not just doing without, it is to give of yourself for others. A fast is to do without food so that someone else may eat. It is to wearing worn out clothing so that you may give your best clothes to someone who has no clothing. It is to open your door to strangers and share your home with them who have no place to live. It is to make yourself available to relatives even when you do not want to. It is to do all these things as an act of Love toward God and as a sacrifice for Him. Ezekiel 18:5-9, reads, “If a man is righteous and does what is just and right-….does not oppress anyone….gives his bread to the hungry and covers the naked with a garment, does not… withhold his hand from injustice…walks in My statutes, and keeps my rules by acting faithfully- he is righteous: he will surely live, declares the LORD.” By the fast of righteousness, the fast of committing to others what is yours, we honor God. The fasts of man just to do without, to go hungry for a day or even for a month has little meaning if we still have the food in our pantries. Doing without has less merit if we do not use those resources to aid others. This is the meaning of fasting: to do without and to give to others what is ours. Jesus tells us in Matthew 25:35, “I was hungry and you gave Me food, I was thirsty and you gave Me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed Me.” Jesus was telling us that to have charity for others in His Name is to fast, to do without, in honor of God. It is clear that fast does not mean to go hungry, it means to give up of yourself for God. It is the emptying of ourselves for the welfare of others, to serve God in sacrifice for all.
I need to add here that Christ fasted, He did without to cleanse His body and to prepare Himself to the ministry that the Father had prepared Him for. I am not saying that to fast is wrong, I am saying to fast to show others your “purity” is a false fast and God will reject it as He did the postures of the Pharisees and the rich.
“Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers.” Heb. 13:2. True fasting is showing the hospitality of Christ to your fellowman, isn’t this what Christ showed us? When Jesus came down from Heaven and humbles Himself to become a man so that He could sacrifice Himself for our sins, He gave us Himself as a True Fast. God showed us the humility of the fast by giving all of Himself for us. When we do these things, Isaiah says, our light will break forth like the dawn, The LORD will hear our prayers, He will say, “Here I Am.” If we stop pointing fingers at others and blaming them for our sins, if we feed and care for the needy, then we will be the true Light unto the World. (Isaiah 58:8-10) God longs for our souls, He desires that we have a right heart and He is hungry to feed us righteousness. We need to fast, to empty ourselves of unrighteousness and grasp His Grace with both hands. As Christ Jesus fasted for us, let us fast for righteousness. For Our Lord and Our Savior wants to restore us who were called outcasts. He will heal our spiritual wounds and restore our health (Jer. 30:7). Yet we are to fast in our unclean hearts and purge unrighteousness from our hearts so that we can be fed the grace of the Father, the Living bread and Water that is Jesus.
“If among you, one of your brothers should become poor, in any of your towns within your land that the LORD your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart or shut your hands against your poor brother.” (Deuteronomy 15:7) Our fast is to be the open and helping hand, the graciousness of a willing and giving heart. In this way we are rewarded with blessing from on High. In the fast of giving ourselves, we are weaned of unrighteousness and welcome the heavenly manna of Christ’s grace. By the fast of Isaiah, we are cleansed of selfishness and are able to grow in God’s mercy, to fed not only the bodies of the needy but also their souls and their spirits.
So pour yourselves out for the hungry, the meek and the downtrodden and satisfy the desire of the afflicted and the Light of Jesus will shine from you. You will be a well watered garden, a field filled with blessed fruit, of holy grain. You will be filled with the Spirit of the Living God. And as God restored Israel to the people, He will restore your soul and your heart with joy and peace. From the words of Jesus, (John 4:14) “…Everyone who drinks of the water that I will give will never thirst again.” Let your fast be the hunger for the Word and the Way of the Lord. Empty yourselves for His righteousness and seek the servant’s life. Put away the things of man and the desires of the world, that is a just fast. Give yourselves to the Father by your willingness to freely give of the things of the world to serve the needs of His People.