Isaiah 58 Commentary

True religion (58:1-14)

The Jews thought they were a righteous people because they carried out the daily rituals required by the law. The prophet is about to show them that in spite of all this they are still sinners. In fact, their attitude towards these rituals is their chief sin (58:1-2).

For example, many practise fasting not because they are truly humble before God, but because they hope God will be impressed with their actions. But at the same time as they fast, they oppress their workers and fight with one another. They act and dress in a way that shows they are fasting, but such fasting is worthless in God’s sight (3-5). God would rather that they cease oppressing others and begin to help the poor and needy (6-7). Only then will he be pleased with them; only then will he accept their worship and answer their prayers (8-9a).

When the people stop treating others with contempt, God will show kindness to them. When they sacrifice their comfort for the sake of those who are ill-treated and hungry, God will bless them. He will give them fresh spiritual life and restore their country to the strength of former days (9b-12). Religious observances are important, but people must carry them out from right motives. Whether practising fasting or keeping the sabbath traditions, the important thing is to honour God, not to seek personal benefit (13- 14).

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