INTRODUCTION TO ISAIAH 58
From the wicked and antichristian party the prophet is bid to turn to the professors of the true religion, and openly, boldly, and sharply, reprove them for their sins, particularly their hypocrisy and formality in worship, Isaiah 58:1, who yet were angry, and complained that the Lord took no notice of their religious services, particularly their fasting, which is put for the whole; the reason of which was, because they did not fast aright; it was attended with much cruelty, strife, and wickedness, and only lay in external appearances, Isaiah 58:3, when they are directed how to keep a fast, and are shown what a true fast is, and what works and services are acceptable to God, Isaiah 58:6 on doing of which, light, health, prosperity, and hearing of their prayers, are promised, provided the yoke of oppression is taken away, and compassion shown to the poor, Isaiah 58:8, yea, a very fruitful and flourishing estate of the soul is promised, and a rebuilding of waste places, delight in the Lord, and great honour and dignity; so be it that the sabbath of the Lord, or public worship, is attended to in a proper manner, Isaiah 58:11.
Cry aloud, spare not, lift up thy voice like a trumpet,.... These words are directed to the prophet; and so the Targum expresses it,
"O prophet, cry with thy throat;'
and so it is in the original, "cry with the throat"
and show my people their transgression, and the house of Jacob their sins; by whom are meant the professing people of God, the present reformed churches, as distinguished from the antichristian ones, spoken of in the preceding chapter; who yet are guilty of many sins and transgressions, which must be showed them, and they must be sharply reproved for; and particularly their coldness and deadness, formality and hypocrisy in religious worship; their "works not being perfect" before God, or sincere and upright, as is said of the Sardian church, which designs the same persons, Revelation 3:1. In the Talmud
Yet they seek me daily,.... Which may be considered as an acknowledgment of their external piety; or as a caution to the prophet not to be imposed upon by outward appearances; or as a reason why they should be rebuked sharply: they sought the Lord, either by prayer, or in the ministry of the word; they sought doctrine, as the Targum; they sought him, and that every day, or, however, every Lord's day; and yet they did not seek him with that diligence and intenseness of spirit, with their whole hearts, cordially and sincerely, as they ought to have done; they sought themselves, and the honour of men, rather than the Lord and his glory:
and delight to know my ways; not only his ways of creation and providence, but of grace; and also the ways which he prescribes and directs his people to walk in; not that they had a real delight in them, or in the knowledge of them, or such a delight as truly gracious souls have when they have the presence of God in them; are assisted by his Spirit; have their hearts enlarged with his love; find food for their souls, and have fellowship with the saints; but this delight was only seeming, and at most only in the knowledge and theory of these ways, but not in the practice of them; see Ezekiel 33:31,
as a nation that did righteousness: in general appeared to be outwardly righteous; had a form of godliness, and name to live, and yet dead, and so destitute of any works of true righteousness, at best only going about to establish a righteousness of their own:
and forsook not the ordinance of their God; the ordinance of assembling together in general; any of the ordinances of God in particular; hearing, reading, singing, praying, especially the ordinance of the supper, constantly attended to by them; see Luke 13:26,
they ask of me the ordinances of justice; not of justice between man and man, but of righteousness and religion with respect to God; they ask what are the ordinances of the Gospel, and the rules of worship and discipline, and whether there are any they are ignorant of; suggesting they were desirous of being instructed in them, and of complying with them:
they take delight in approaching to God; there is no right approaching God but through Christ, and gracious souls take a real delight in this way; but the approaching here is only in an external manner, by the performance of outward duties; and the delight is not in God, and communion with him; but in the service, performed as a work of their own, in which they trust, and in what they expect as the reward of it.
Wherefore have we fasted, say they, and thou seest not?.... Our fasting; takest no notice of it; expresses no approbation of it, and pleasure in it: this is put for all religious services, being what was frequently performed under the Old Testament, not only at certain times appointed by the Lord, but on other occasions, and of their own fixing; in which they put their confidence, and often boasted of, Luke 18:12, "wherefore have we afflicted our soul", by fasting, "and thou takest no knowledge?" of that, nor of us, and dost not save us from our enemies, and deliver us from our troubles, and bestow favours on us: they had a high opinion of their own performances, and thought that God must have likewise; and were displeased that he showed no more regard unto them:
behold, in the day of your fast you find pleasure; this, and what follows in the two next verses, are an answer to their questions, and give reasons why the Lord took no more notice of their fasting, or of their services; because they were not done aright, they found their own pleasure in them; not that they indulged to bodily recreations and carnal delights, but they gratified the inward desires of the flesh, malice, envy, and the like; and they pleased themselves with their own duties, and fancied they procured the favour of God by them:
and exact all your labours; of their servants, or their money of their debtors; they grieved and afflicted their debtors, by demanding their debts of them, as Jarchi interprets it; and that in a very rigorous manner, requiring whole and immediate payment; or, as it is usual with establishments, they require an exact conformity to their manner of service, worship, and discipline.
Behold, ye fast for strife and debate,.... Brawling with their servants for not doing work enough; or quarrelling with their debtors for not paying their debts; or the main of their religion lay in contentions and strifes about words, vain hot disputations about rites and ceremonies in worship, as is well known to have been the case of the reformed churches:
and to smite with the fist of wickedness; their servants or their debtors; or rather it may design the persecution of such whose consciences would not suffer them to receive the doctrines professed; or submit to ordinances as administered; or comply with rites and ceremonies enjoined by the said churches; for which they have smitten their brethren that dissented from them with the fist, or have persecuted them in a violent manner by imprisonment, confiscation of goods, &c.; all which is no other than a fist of wickedness, and highly displeasing to God, and renders all their services unacceptable in his sight; see Matthew 24:49,
ye shall not fast as ye do this day; or, "as this day"; after this manner; this is not right:
to make your voice to be heard on high; referring either to their noisy threatening of their servants for not doing their work; or their clamorous demands upon their debtors; or to their loud prayers, joined with their fasting, which they expected to be heard in the highest heaven, but would be mistaken; for such services, attended with the above evils, are not wellpleasing to God.
Is it such a fast that I have chosen?.... That is, can this be thought to be a fast approved of by me, and acceptable to me, before described, and is as follows:
a day for a man to afflict his soul? only to appoint a certain day, and keep that, by abstaining from bodily food, and so for a short time afflict himself; or only after this manner to afflict himself, and not humble himself for his sins, and abstain from them, and do the duties of justice and charity incumbent on him:
is it to bow down his head as a bulrush; when it is moved with the wind, or bruised, or withered; as if he was greatly depressed and humbled, and very penitent and sorrowful. The Syriac version renders it, "as a hook"; like a fish hook, which is very much bent; so Jarchi interprets the word:
and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? which were ceremonies used in times of mourning and fasting; sometimes sackcloth was put on their loins, and ashes on their heads; and sometimes these were strewed under them, and they laid down upon their sackcloth, which, being coarse, was uneasy to them, and rolled themselves in ashes, as expressive of their meanness and vileness:
wilt thou call this a fast, and an acceptable day to the Lord? does this deserve the name of a fast? or can it be imagined that such a day so spent, can be agreeable to God? that such persons and services will be accepted of by him? or that hereby sin is atoned for, and God is well pleased, and will show his favour and good will, and have respect to such worshippers of him? no, surely.
Is not this the fast that I have chosen?.... Which God has appointed, he approves of, and is well pleasing in his sight; these are works and services more agreeable to him, which follow, without which the rest will be rejected:
to loose the bands of wickedness; which some understand of combinations in courts of judicature to oppress and distress the poor; others of bonds and contracts unjustly made, or rigorously demanded and insisted on, when they cannot be answered; rather of those things with which the consciences of men are bound in religious matters; impositions upon conscience; binding to the use of stinted forms, and to habits in divine worship, which the word of God has not made necessary:
to undo the heavy burdens. The Septuagint render it, "dissolve the obligations of violent contracts"; such as are obtained by violence; so the Arabic version; or by fraud, as the Syriac version, which translates it, bonds of fraud. The Targum is,
"loose the bonds of writings of a depraved judgment;'
all referring it to unjust bonds and contracts in a civil sense: but rather it regards the loosing or freeing men from all obligation to all human prescriptions and precepts; whatever is after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ; so the traditions of the Scribes and Pharisees are called "heavy burdens, grievous to be borne", Matthew 23:4 these should not be laid and bound on men's shoulders, but should be done and taken off of them, as well as all penal laws with which they have been enforced:
and to let the oppressed go free; such as have been broken by oppression, not only in their spirits, but in their purses, by mulcts and fines, and confiscation of goods; and who have been cast into prisons, and detained a long time in filthy dungeons; and where many have perished for the sake of religion, even in Protestant countries:
and that ye break every yoke; of church power and tyranny; everything that is not enjoined and authorized by the word of God; every yoke but the yoke of Christ; all human precepts, and obedience to them; all but the commands of Christ, and obedience to them; no other yoke should be put upon the neck of his disciples but his own.
Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry?.... Or "to break"
And that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house; poor ministers, cast out of the church, cast out of their livings, cast out of their houses, cast out of the land; and other Christian exiles for conscience sake; poor travellers and wanderers, as the Targum, obliged to flee from persecution into foreign countries, and wander about from place to place, having no certain dwelling place; these take into your house, and give them lodging: so some have entertained angels unawares, as Abraham and Lot, as indeed the faithful ministers of Christ are: or,
the poor rebels
when thou seest the naked, that thou cover him; the naked Christian especially; not entirely so, but one that is thinly clothed, whose clothes are scarce anything but rags, not sufficient to keep him warm, or preserve him from the inclemencies of the weather; put a better garment upon him, to cover him with:
and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh; meaning not only those "near akin"
Then shall thy light break forth as the morning,.... Through thick clouds, or the darkness of the night, suddenly, swiftly, irresistibly, and increase more and more, till it is perfect day. This is to be understood best of temporal and spiritual prosperity, especially the latter, which will attend the churches of the Reformation, when a spirit of persecution is laid aside, and a spirit of love commences, which will be in the Philadelphian church state; and it particularly respects the glorious light of the Gospel, which will break forth very clearly, and shine out in all the world; and the light of joy, peace, and comfort, which will attend it, in the hearts of the Lord's people; see Isaiah 60:1,
and thine health shall spring forth speedily; as the herbs and grass out of the earth, by clear shining after rain; by which is meant the healthful and sound state of the church in the latter day, when all divisions shall be healed; contentions and animosities cease; sound doctrine preached; the ordinances administered according to their original institution; true discipline restored; and all the parts of worship performed, according to the rule of the divine word; and so the souls of men, under all these means, be in thriving and flourishing circumstances:
and thy righteousness shall go before thee; not the external righteousness of the saints, or works of righteousness done by them; these do not go before them, at least to prepare the way for them into a future state of happiness, but follow after, Revelation 14:13, rather the righteousness of Christ imputed to them, and so theirs; or Christ their righteousness, the sun of righteousness, that arises upon them with healing in his wings, and from whom they have the health before mentioned; he goes before his people by way of example, as a guide to direct them, and as the forerunner of them, and whose righteousness will introduce them into the heavenly glory. Though perhaps the meaning here is, that their righteousness, in the latter day glory, shall be very manifest, both their righteousness before God, and before men; which will, as it were, visibly walk before them, make way for them, and protect them; see Isaiah 60:21,
and the glory of the Lord shall be thy reward, the glorious power and providence of God, preserving his people; or the glorious Lord himself, our Lord Jesus Christ, the brightness of his Father's glory, he, as the word may be rendered, "shall gather thee"
Then shall thou call, and the Lord shall answer,.... A spirit of grace and supplication will be poured out upon the people of God; they will then pray without a form, and call upon the Lord in sincerity and truth, with faith and fervency; and the Lord will hear and answer them, and plentifully bestow his favours on them, so that they will have no reason to complain, as in Isaiah 58:3,
thou shalt cry, and he shall say, here I am; he will immediately appear to the help and relief of his people; they shall have his presence with them, to comfort and refresh them, to support and supply them, to protect and defend them:
if thou take away from the midst of thee the yoke; of human inventions, doctrines, rites and ceremonies, as in Isaiah 58:6, "the putting forth of the finger"; pointing at those that could not comply with them, by way of scorn and derision, as puritans, schismatics, &c. and persecuting them for it; and so is the same with smiting with the fist of wickedness, Isaiah 58:4; when this deriding and persecuting spirit is done away, then, and not till then, will the prayers of a people be heard, though under a profession of religion, and under the Protestant name: and speaking vanity; which also must be taken away, or desisted from; even speaking false doctrines, as the Syriac version; or which profits not, as the Vulgate Latin version; profane and vain babblings, 2 Timothy 2:14, and threatening words, to such who will not receive them.
And if thou draw out thy soul to the hungry,.... Not only deal out thy bread, but thy soul also, to him; that is, give him food cheerfully, with a good will, expressing a hearty love and affection for him; do it heartily, as to the Lord; let thy soul go along with it; and this is true of affectionate ministers of the Gospel, who not only impart that, but their own souls also, 1 Thessalonians 2:8,
and satisfy the afflicted soul; distressed for want of food; not only give it food, but to the full; not only just enough to support life, but to satisfaction; or so as to be filled with good things, or however a sufficiency of them:
then shall thy light rise in obscurity, and thy darkness be as the noonday; in the midst of darkness of affliction, or desertion, the light of prosperity and joy shall spring up, and a dark night of sorrow and distress become a clear day of peace and comfort; see Psalm 112:4, at evening time it shall be light, Zechariah 14:7.
And the Lord shall guide thee continually,.... With his counsel, by his word, and by his Spirit, and that night and day; as he guided the Israelites through the wilderness with the pillar of cloud by day, and the pillar of fire by night: or, "cause thee to rest"
and satisfy thy soul in drought; or, "in drynesses"
and make fat thy bones; with the good report of the Gospel, Proverbs 15:30 that is, quicken, comfort, refresh, and strengthen the soul, and make it fat and flourishing in spiritual things, by means of Gospel ordinances. The Targum is,
"and shall quicken thy body with life everlasting;'
or give rest to thy bones, as others
and thou shalt be like a watered garden; like a "garden", the church of Christ is separated from others, by electing, redeeming, and efficacious grace; and like a "watered" one, watered by the Lord himself, and the dews of his grace, and by the ministry of the word; whereby the plants that are planted in it thrive and flourish, lift up their heads, shoot up and grow, and bring forth fruit:
and like a spring of water, whose waters fail not; as there is in every believer a well of living water springing up unto everlasting life, not of themselves, but from Christ, and which is very abundant, and never fails; so there is in the church a spring of the living waters of Gospel doctrines, and of Gospel ordinances; here runs the river of divine love, which makes glad the city of God; here Christ is the fountain of gardens; and here the Spirit and his graces are communicated; all which remain, and never fail; see Psalm 87:7.
And they that shall be of thee shall build the old waste places,.... As the cities in Israel and Judea, which had been long laid waste by the Assyrians and Chaldeans, were rebuilt by those of the Jewish nation, who returned from the captivity of Babylon, to which there is at least an allusion; and as the church of God, the tabernacle of David, which was fallen down, and had lain long in ruins, through corruptions in doctrine and worship, to the times of Christ, when the apostles, who were of the Jews, those wise masterbuilders, were instruments of raising it up again, and repairing its ruins: so, in the latter day, "the waste places of the world"
thou shalt raise up the foundations of many generations; either such foundations as have been razed up, and lay so for ages past; or raise up such as shall continue for generations to come. It may allude to the raising the foundations of the city and temple of Jerusalem; but rather refers to the founding of churches in Gospel times, which, as it was done in the first times of it by the apostles in the Gentile world, so shall be again in the latter day, which will continue for many ages:
and thou shalt be called the repairer of the breach, and the restorer of paths to dwell in; that is, the church and her builders, that shall be of her, shall be so called; the Jews and Gentiles will be converted in great numbers, and coalesce in the same Gospel church state, and so the breach between them will be repaired. Christians of various denominations, who now break off and separate one from another, will be of the same sentiment and judgment in doctrine and discipline; they shall see eye to eye, and cement together, and all breaches will be made up, and there will be no schism in the body; and they shall dwell together in unity, and walk in the same paths of faith and duty, of truth and holiness; and such who will be the happy instruments of all this will have much honour, and be called by these names.
The Targum is,
"they shall call thee one that confirms the right way, and converts, the ungodly to the law.'
If thou turn away thy foot from the sabbath,.... From walking and working on that day; or withdrawest thy mind and affections from all worldly things; the affections being that to the mind as the feet are to the body, which carry it here and there. The time of worship, under the Gospel dispensation, is here expressed in Old Testament language, as the service of it usually is in prophetic writings; though its proper name is the Lord's day, Revelation 1:10, and is here instanced in, and put for all religious institutions and services to be attended unto, and which will be with greater strictness in the times referred to:
from doing thy pleasure on my holy day; that is, if thou turnest away, or dost abstain from doing thine own servile work, the business of thy calling; which may be agreeable for the sake of the profit of it; or from recreations and amusements, which may be lawfully indulged on another day:
and call the sabbath a delight, the holy of God, and honourable; take delight and pleasure in the service of it; in all the duties of religion, private and public, to be observed on that day; in reading and hearing the word, and meditation on it; in prayer, and in attendance on all ordinances; and reckon it as separated for holy use and employment, and on that account honourable; and so have it in high esteem, and desire the return of it, and not think the service of it long and tedious, when enjoyed, and wish it was over: or, "for the Holy One of God, and honourable"; that is, for the sake of Christ, the Holy One of God, in both his natures, and honourable in his person and office; accounting the sabbath a delight, in remembrance of the great work of redemption and salvation wrought out by him:
and shall honour him, not doing thine own ways, nor finding thine own pleasure, nor speaking thine own words; honour the Lord on that day, by not attending to any secular business, or walking abroad in the fields, to the neglect of private duties or public worship; by not seeking the gratification of the fleshly and sensual part, or indulging to those things which are agreeable to it; and by not speaking such words, or talking of such things, as relate to worldly affairs, or the things of civil life, but walking in the ways of the Lord, doing those things which are well pleasing in his sight, and conversing about spiritual and heavenly things; by such means God is honoured on his own day; and the reverse of this is a dishonouring him. The Jews
Then shalt thou delight thyself in the Lord,.... In his perfections; in his omnipotence, omniscience, omnipresence, eternity, immutability, holiness, justice, truth, and faithfulness; in his wisdom, love, grace, and mercy, especially as displayed in Christ, and salvation by him; in the relations he stands in to his people, as their covenant God and Father, and in what he is to them, their shield and exceeding great reward, their portion and inheritance; in his works of creation, providence, and grace; in his word, the Gospel, the truths, doctrines, and promises of it; in his ways and worship: in his ordinances and commandments; in communion with him, and with his people; in all which, abundance of delight, pleasure, and satisfaction, is found by those who know him in Christ, have tasted that he is gracious; who have some likeness to him, love him, and are the objects of his love and delight:
and I will cause thee to ride upon the high places of the earth; to live above the world, and to have their conversation in heaven; to be in the utmost safety, and enjoy the greatest plenty, especially of spiritual things: or to be superior to the men of the world, even the highest of them; to have power and authority in the earth, as the saints will have in the latter day; particularly this will be true when the mountain of the Lord's house is established upon the top of the mountains, Isaiah 2:2,
and feed thee with the heritage of Jacob thy father: the Jewish writers inquire why Jacob is mentioned, and not Abraham nor Isaac; and answer, as in the Talmud
for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it; who is faithful to his covenant, true to his word; cannot lie, will never deceive; performs whatsoever he has promised, being able to do it; and therefore it may be depended upon that all this shall be as he has said.
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Gill, John. "Commentary on Isaiah 58". "The New John Gill Exposition of the Entire Bible". https://pro.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany