Why have we
fasted, they say, and You have not seen?
Why have we afflicted our souls, and You take no notice?
The cry of the just seeking an answer from the Lord? I think not! Fasting is the response of a hurting individual to seek the face of God and humbly cry out to Him for intercession in their life. To call out for help because you can no longer stand up against the problems facing you. Another reason to fast is to seek guidance from God for the path you need to travel. Whether this is like the Jews asking for God's intervention from an army encamped about their walls or to go off into the wilderness to let all distractions cease so you may hear the voice of God, it is a cry for help, strength, healing, direction which can only be answered by God. This to save the soul. This so that the light of God may shine in the darkness.
The transgression of not seeking; God, His way, His will... has opened the door for sin to enter. The true reason for fasting and the heart that accompanies it has been lost to these people. How? By using the fast as a religious action to illicit a response from God for simple advantage. They thought, "If I fast God must answer." They reduced it to an equation... cause and effect... and that if they fasted God has no choice but to answer. To them it did not matter whether their actions or requests were right with God or according to His purposes. (One sad note is that these people usually think it is right what they are doing and asking) They were looking for a change of circumstances. They wanted God to do it their way. With their lips they said all the right things but their hearts were far from Him. They said, "if we fast and afflict our souls... if you do not see it and take notice... then God you are being unfair".
What did God say about them?
In fact, in the day of your fast you find pleasure,
1/ They would declare a day of fasting to themselves to prompt God to act on their behalf. They set a time apart to afflict their souls yet God says that they found pleasure. How so? They made such a show of their fasting to others that they received attention to their false acts of holiness and humility so that in the eyes of others they appeared to be godly and holy. Men would praise them for their piety. They thought of this as a bonus reward they received from their fellows. This is what Jesus said when commenting on their way of fasting matt 6.16 Moreover, when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. This is the answer to why God does not answer them. They have already received an answer from men.
And exploit all your laborers.
2/ When someone goes fasting it implies that they need help. They are overcome or cannot rise above their current condition. "I am weak oh Lord and need your help." Yet how weak are they when they go out and force their own workers to perform that which is in their own hearts. Exploit, to take advantage in a way that is not right in the eyes of God. They pressure others to carry the largest burden while they display their fasting to all about them. What is this like? Jesus said: matt 23. 4For they bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men's shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers. 5 But all their works they do to be seen by men. God does not help those who oppress others. Instead, He judges them.
Bottom Line Motivation vs 4
Indeed you fast for strife and debate,
And to strike with the fist of wickedness.
3/ Eventually on this dwindling spiral into error, into sin, they start to reflect open hostility towards others. Why? God no longer moves to answer their petitions when they fast. They are motivated by what their hearts have become and wickedness is at its root. They need to dress themselves even more with a cloak of righteousness and holiness but this cloak is outward. There is nothing in their hearts of the love of God nor the way of God in their minds. They fast openly to the eyes of men to gain advantage over others when their desires are challenged. They will say; "Look how holy I am, therefore I must be right and you must listen to me. If you don't listen, you are fighting against God's anointed and God Himself." This is the voice of one who is in rebellion to God's way. This is manipulation of people because they can no longer "manipulate?" God. This is witchcraft.
God's Command to Them
You will not fast as you do this day,
To make your voice heard on high.
God has rejected the way of their fasting. If they expect to be heard by God they must stop approaching Him in this manner. He will no longer hear the words of prayer during their fast for they have corrupted it. You may ask, "surely they didn't expect to be heard by God with the way they were currently doing their fasting?" The answer is... YES, they certainly did expect God to answer them! They are the very same people being spoken of in verse two. Seeking God daily, delighting in His ways, thinking they were righteous, asking for His ordinances and delighting themselves when going to temple... or for us today... to church. They had the truth yet: Jer 17.9 The heart is deceitful above all things, And desperately wicked; Who can know it? They started out good yet justified their errors, their sins, their transgression and eventually lost their way. Truly believing they were standing in the light they did not know they were now in the pit of darkness. That is why God told the prophet... cry aloud, spare not!
No Longer This Form vs 5
Is it a fast that I have chosen,
A day for a man to afflict his soul?
Oh, how easy it became for man to afflict his soul in the presence of the Lord. "I am guilty of sins Lord, my enemy seeks to do me harm, I am a worm, please God reach out and help me." In all this though, they will not repent of the error of their ways. They speak the words with emotions tearing them yet believe that they are righteous. If only they would just beat themselves up enough inside then God would have pity and move to help them. God will no longer look on those who will afflict their souls but He will look instead upon those who have a broken heart and a contrite spirit.
Is it to bow down his head like a bulrush,
And to spread out sackcloth and ashes?
No longer can one approach God with a head that is bowed in false humilty and then expect Him to answer. No longer to spread sackcloth on the ground and cover his head with ashes. An outward display with no reality in the heart. All these actions became an elaborate show with no substance. No change of heart. Therefore no change in their lives.
Would you call this a fast,
And an acceptable day to the Lord?
Those in the time of Isaiah would say yes. Those after the time of Isaiah would say yes. Those at the time of Jesus would say yes. Many in the church today would say yes. God says "No".
29 November, 1999
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