We fast for the Lord. What does that mean though?
Isaiah 58 (see below) is one of the examples that we have a direct weigh in on an issue by God. In verse 2 we find the people’s idea of what fasting is and what it should produce. Fasting to the Israelites was a way to seek God out. It is a way for them to entice God into giving his wisdom to the people. God cannot be controlled. This is obvious from the people’s complaint against God in verse 3, “Why have we humbled ourselves and you not noticed?” God then responds to this noting how the people do not humble themselves on their days of fasting. They exploit their workers. They do not follow the religious practices. The people of Israel do as they please on their day of fasting though they should do as God pleases.
All of this though is learning what not to do. As discussed yesterday learning what not to do is not the same as learning what to do. God does not leave us with admonishment though for our fasting. He fills us in with what we ought to be doing and feeling. In verse 6, God allows us to see another side of fasting than simply petitioning God. Better yet, God even gives us a window into what will allow our fasting petition to be heard by God (end of verse 4).
What we can glean from this passage is that God has a dual purpose for fasting. The traditional purpose is that we attempt to engage God in gaining wisdom for our lives. This is quite interesting to me in the scientific realm. If intermittent fasting really does help engage and activate our mental capacities then perhaps this is the scientific method that backs up God giving us wisdom during times of fasting. This type of fasting has no command from God, yet we should not spurn the wisdom of the ancients nor the scientific benefits we can see from this.
The heart purpose is that we fast to give away. This is counter to the traditional purpose which is fasting to receive (wisdom, a decision, etc.). In verses 6 and 7, God calls us to fast to take care of the poor or needy. This means that we ought not to fast and keep the money and wisdom from the fast rather we should give away the saved money from our fast because the wisdom we have gained is of greater value. Greater still, we should fast just so that others may have clothing or food to eat. This reason to fast is above that of the traditional sense because this type of fasting requires greater faith in God to provide, in the end.
This greater sentiment is echoed by the early Christians. We will see what the early church does with fasting next week.
58 “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[a] 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.