The Old Testament Lesson for this Sunday is written in the book of the prophet Isaiah. The text is Isaiah 58:3-9a and can easily be applied to the Church’s situation in our world today. The overall message is one concerning fasting… good fasting and bad fasting. This can be applied in our sermons by equating their actions and fasting to our action of attending worship. There are good, God-pleasing reasons to attend a Divine Service, but worship attendance can also be an action by which we try to earn or deserve the favor and love of God. This is an ongoing struggle in every worshiping community.
The text begins with the people asking God why He is not reacting to or even noticing their fasting. They believe if they fast God will bless them. In other words, they are trying to manipulate God. “I go to church so God will love and bless me…” Familiar words! As R. Lessing notes in his Isaiah 56-66 commentary:
“The real motive for fasting becomes apparent through the questions in this verse (vs 3). When pious actions do not leverage more of God’s blessings, the apostates begin to resent Him. This reveals that they are role-playing righteousness. Their faith is fake” (p. 148-149).
In response, the LORD points out how the people claim a love for God by fasting and keeping other God-ordained rituals, but they disregard those around them—the poor, the needy, the hungry, the outcasts—thus they fail in both tables of the Law. Basically, fasting should bring about actions which mirror/point to the actions of the Anointed Servant/Messiah. As the LORD lays out what kind of fasting pleases God one cannot help but note the messianic language. As most of the prophets note, the marks of the Messiah are, “the lame walk, the blind see, the prisoners are released, the naked are clothed, etc.” The Messiah will reach out to the outcasts of society… and so should His people/His Church.
One question remaining is what day or kind of fasting are the people engaging in? The mandated fast-day by the LORD for the people of Israel is Yom Kippur—the Day of Atonement. Of course, there are other examples of fasting in the Old Testament but they tend to be when the people are enduring a difficult time of some sort. Regardless of what this fasting refers to, the message is the same. Your fasting should be a benefit to your neighbor as you tend to their needs. Fasting is NOT an action done to build up goodwill from God. Verses 8 and following show how this proper fasting and reaching out to the needy and outcast pleases God and blesses the people of God as a whole.
58:3 צַּמְנוּ (tzam-nu) root: צום (tsoom) Qal: “to fast; to abstain from food” This verb is never used by God to mandate a fast.
עִנִּינוּI (in-Ni-nu) root: ענה (aw-naw) Piel: “to afflict; to abuse; to castigate; to weaken; to
humble; to be bowed down”
צֹמְכֶם (tzo-me-Chem) from: צום (tsome) “fast; a period of fasting”
חֵפֶץ (Che-fetz) “wish; good pleasure; business (something one takes delight in)”
עַצְּבֵיכֶם (atz-tze-vei-Chem) from: עצב (aw-tsabe) “laborer; hard worker; toiler” This is a Hapax Legomena.
תִּנְגֹּשׂוּ (tin-Go-su) root: נגשׂ (naw-gas) Qal: “to oppress; exploit”
58:4 לְרִיב. (le-Riv) from: רִיבI (reeb) “dispute; quarrel; struggle; strife” This is a Qal, infinitive construct used to denote purpose
וּלְהַכּוֹת (u-le-hak-Kot) root: נכה (naw-kaw) Hiphil, infinitive construct: “to strike; to smite; to hit”
לְהַשְׁמִיעַ. (le-hash-Mi-a) root: שׁמע (shaw-mah) Hiphil, infinitive construct: “to make someone hear”
בַּמָּרוֹם; (bam-ma-Rom) “heaven; height”
58:5 הֲכָזֶה] (ha-cha-Zeh) This is a combination of three words: “Is like this? Will such as this be?”
הֲלָכֹף] (ha-la-Chof) root: כפף (kaw-faf) Qal: “to bow; to bend down”
כְּאַגְמֹן. (ke-ag-Mon) “reed; rush”
יַצִּיעַ: (yatz-Tzi-a) Hiphil: “to make one’s bed; to spread out”
רָצוֹן (ra-Tzon) “pleasure; favor”
58:6 פַּתֵּחַ; (pat-Te-ach) Piel, infinitive absolute: “to undo; to loosen”
חַרְצֻבּוֹת; (char-tzub-Bot) “bonds”
הַתֵּר; (hat-Ter) root: נתר (naw-thar) Hiphil, infinitive absolute: “to tear asunder; to loosen; to unfasten”
אֲגֻדּוֹת] (a-gud-Dot) “band; rope; thong”
מוֹטָה (mo-Tah) “yoke; bar”
רְצוּצִים> (re-tzu-Tzim) root: רצץ (raw-tsats) Qal, passive participle: “crushed ones; oppressed ones”
תְּנַתֵּקוּ (te-nat-Te-ku) root: נתק (naw-thak) Piel: “to tear apart; to tear to pieces”
58:7 פָרֹס (fa-Ros) Qal, infinitive absolute: “to break”
לָרָעֵב (la-ra-Ev) “hungry”
וַעֲנִיִּים (va-a-ni-Yim) from: עני (aw-nee) “poor; needy; weak; wretched”
מְרוּדִים (me-ru-Dim) “the homeless; the wandering poor”
תִתְעַלָּם (tit-al-Lam) root: עלם (aw-lam) Hithpael: “to hide oneself; to withdraw; to avoid”
58:8 יִבָּקַע (yib-ba-Ka) Niphal: “to break forth: to burst open” See also the flood narrative.
כַּשַּׁחַר; (kash-Sha-char) from: שַּׁחַר; (shakh-ar) “dawn; morning twilight”
וַאֲרֻכָתְךָ: (va-a-ru-cha-te-Cha) “healing; restoration”
תִצְמָח (titz-Mach) root: צמח (tsaw-makh) Qal: “to grow; to sprout; to blossom”
58:9a תְּשַׁוַּע (te-shav-Va) root: שַׁוַּע (shaw-vah) Piel: “to call out for help; to cry out for help”
Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching Isaiah 58:3-9.
Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Isaiah 58:3-9.