The first seven verses of Isaiah 58 make it plain that acceptable worship touches all aspects of a believer’s life. Service to God must be accompanied by compassion to fellow servants otherwise it is invalid, even obnoxious. There must be consistency if a favourable response is expected. Fasting and Sabbath-keeping may entail more than a display of self denial, for such outward acts might have other motives.

In the remaining verses of Isaiah 58 there are notable blessings listed which follow “pure religion and undefiled before God” (Jas 1:27); but these are punctuated by requirements or obligations which are also listed. The lists commence with “If”, as for example in the middle of verse 9, “If thou take away from the midst of thee …”. On the other hand the conditional blessings commence with, “Then …” (v8,14).

58:8–12 The promised protection and blessings of those who truly fast

58:8–9 “Then (1) shall thy light break forth as the morning, (2) and thine health [rsv ‘healing’] shall spring forth speedily: (3) and thy righteousness shall go before thee; the glory of Yahweh shall be thy rereward [rsv ‘rear guard’]. (4) Then shalt thou call, and Yahweh shall answer; thou shalt cry, and he shall say, Here I am.”

Comments on the Blessings

Note: “then” is an emphatic conjunction!

  • Light is synonymous with wisdom (Prov 6:23) and its source is the Word of God (Psa 119:105). Morning, the dawn, ushers in the new day, a new beginning, illumed by light. Such will be the transformation in the lives of those blessed by God, who please Him (cp Job 11:17). See also Romans 13:12
  • In contrast with the sick and diseased state of Judah (1:6; Jer 8:22), obedience to God’s commandments will bring spiritual healing and health, new flesh growing over a wound, personal restoration.
  • Righteousness would go before them as the leader of an army. Righteousness, right-doing is a powerful ally, for the one who possesses it enlists the help of God. In Paul’s description of the warrior of faith in Ephesians 6, he is clad with the breastplate of righteousness (v14; 2 Cor 6:7; Isa 59:17). Our leader (55:4), who is the source of our righteousness (54:17), will bring us to the still waters of peace, happiness and prosperity (49:10; Psa 23:1–3). And recalling the protection provided to Israel in the wilderness, the Lord says he will be their rear guard, He will bring up their rear (Ex 13:21; 14:19–20). Before and behind He would defend them with His glorious guardian presence.
  • And finally in this section, the pleasure Yahweh derives in seeing His servants show loving compassion to those in need will be seen in His instantaneous response to their prayers – like that of a waiting servant (cp 1 Sam 3:4)! Judah had complained of Yahweh’s failure to answer their prayers, but there was a reason – wickedness! (v4; cp 1:15; 1 Pet 3:7).

In the coming millennial reign of the Lord Jesus Christ there will be a ready response, for Yahweh says, “before they call, I will answer, and while they are yet speaking, I will hear” (Isa 65:24)!

58:9–10 Further obligations

58:9–10 “(1) If thou take away from the midst of thee the yoke [mlb ‘If you will banish from your midst all oppression’], (2) the putting forth of the finger, and speaking vanity [mlb ‘the finger of scorn and slanderous speech’, lb ‘and to stop making false accusations and spreading vicious rumours’, lxx ‘word of murmuring’]; (3) And if thou draw out thy soul to the hungry [rsv ‘If you pour yourself out for the hungry’, mlb ‘If you will open your heart to the hungry’], (4) and satisfy [rsv, mlb ‘the desire’] the afflicted soul;”

Comments on the obligations

Again, reference is made to service to the needy as an element of true fasting. Notice that “if” occurs twice, underlining the fact that the blessings are conditional upon acceptable behaviour towards fellow man.

This requirement to banish the yoke is similar to verse 6: there it has reference to society in general in its unjust and unequal ways, but here to personal behaviour, the inconsiderate imposition of burdens upon those who are poor and needy.

  • Here there is a call to pause and consider before words are spoken against others; despising them and pointing the finger of scorn at them are condemned. Also speaking words of vanity and rumour-mongering, malicious talk, must cease if God’s approval and blessings are to flow (cp Zech 7:9,10; 8:17).
  • & 4. The word “soul” is synonymous with heart (cp mlb); that is, they were to extend benevolent affection or kindness to those in need. All of these ‘conditions’ involve relationships with others, how our fellows are treated, whether indeed the second commandment, to love one’s neighbour as oneself, is kept.
  • The last half of verse 10 and verses 11 and 12 list further promises, blessings from God which will attend “true religion”. They will be quoted and commented upon on order.

“then shall thy light rise in obscurity [rsv ‘darkness’], and thy darkness [rsv ‘gloom’] be as the noonday” This metaphor speaks eloquently of a change of fortunes: the gloom of perplexities, of calamities, national and personal, will be dispelled by Providence; bright and cheerful rays of light will banish the shades of midnight.
“And Yahweh shall guide thee continually, and satisfy thy soul in drought [mlb ‘dry places’], and make fat thy bones [rsv ‘make your bones strong’]” No longer will there be uncertainty, times when one does not know what to do, which way to turn: instead there will be continual divine guidance (Psa 48:14). The parched and dry land will receive copious rains, and the resulting abundance will satisfy every desire. It is a picture of prosperity without, and of strength and health within. Notice Job’s description of a prosperous man: “his bones are moistened with marrow” (Job 21:24; cp Prov 11:25).
“and thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters fail not” [mrg ‘Heb, lie or deceive’]. Gardeners know that drought and heat cause plants to wilt and perish, bringing despair and depression. Wonderfully the reverse is the case here and the blessings of Yahweh are set forth in the beautiful metaphor of a well-watered garden possessing a spring that fails not. Balaam under inspiration used the same figure of Jacob’s ultimate glory: “How goodly are thy tents … as gardens by the river’s side” (Num 24:5–7), and Jeremiah describing the same time said, “they [restored Israel] shall come and sing in the height of Zion, and shall flow together to the goodness of Yahweh, for wheat, and for wine … and their soul shall be as a watered garden” (31:12). On the spiritual plain, these are the “waters” which our Lord has given us: “… but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life” (John 4:14; 6:35; cp 7:38).

“And they that shall be of thee [ie future generations] shall build the old waste places [cp 61:4]: thou shalt raise up the foundations of many generations; and thou shalt be called, The repairer of the breach, The restorer of paths to dwell in.”
These are wonderful words of promise to a people keeping God’s ways and extending loving compassion to those in need. It is interesting to contemplate the scope of these words. Ezekiel in captivity in Babylon despaired over the state of Judah: the prophets were like roaring lions, the priests profaned the holy things and the princes were like wolves, ravening the prey (Ezk 22:24– 27). The “walls” protecting the people had been “daubed with untempered mortar” which would fall. The search for one man among them “that should make up the hedge, and stand in the gap before me for the land, that I should not destroy it”, yielded none (22:28–30)! So Jerusalem was literally destroyed, her walls broken down and houses burned with fire. This sorry state continued until the days of Nehemiah. He was a righteous man whose spirit was stirred up and he arose and built the walls and gates. Be it noted, too, that he had compassion upon the poor and needy and stood beside them (Neh 1–5). So the walls were broken down because of transgression but were rebuilt because of righteousness.

The ultimate fulfilment of these words is in the person and work of the Son of God, Jesus Christ. He loved righteousness and hated iniquity, utterly destroying Sin in his obedience to the death of the cross. Exalted to his Father’s right hand he is “The Repairer of the breach, The Restorer of paths to dwell in”. By belief and baptism into him sins are forgiven and through him blessings will flow to the redeemed; he is the high priest, the mediator between God and man.

Moreover in the Kingdom age the ancient ruins in the promised land will be rebuilt, for “In that day will I [God] raise up the tabernacle of David that is fallen, and close up the breaches thereof; and I will raise up his ruins, and I will build it as in the days of old” (Amos 9:11; Acts 15:16; 1:6; 3:21; Matt 19:28).

But there is also a personal level and application that we must not overlook. If we are to see these glorious days of the Kingdom, we too must be repairers of the breach and restorers of paths to dwell in. Where there is disharmony in the body of Christ, and where relations between brethren are fractured, there must be endeavours, careful and measured, to bring about unity and healing (Gal 6:11): “Blessed are the peace-makers: for they shall be called the children [sons] of God” (Matt 5:9).

58:13–14 The essence of true sabbath keeping and its reward

58:13,14 “If thou turn away thy foot from the sabbath, from doing thy pleasure on my holy day; and call the sabbath a delight, the holy of Yahweh, honourable; and shalt honour him, not doing thine own ways, nor finding thine own pleasure, nor speaking thine own words [rsv ‘talking idly’]: Then shalt thou …”

The Living Bible (a liberal version not recommended for textual accuracy, but for catching the sense in modern idiom) says: “If you keep the Sabbath holy, not having your own fun and business on that day, but enjoying the Sabbath, and speaking of it with delight as the Lord’s holy day, and honouring the Lord in what you do, not following your own desires, and pleasure, nor talking idly … then the Lord …”

Firstly be it noted that for believers in Christ, the sabbath of the Lord does not define a particular day but the “rest” they have entered into, in which there has been cessation of one’s own works and a doing of God’s will (Heb 4:10; Matt 11:28–30; see also extensive notes on the import of sabbath keeping in notes on Isaiah 56:2, The Lampstand Vol 16 No 6 Nov/Dec).

Verse 13 commences with the tell-tale word “If”; here the conditions that apply for the blessings of verse 14 are given! And the eloquent, transcendent promises listed in this verse commence with “Then …”

The people of Isaiah’s day were under the old covenant and were bound to keep the Sabbath. It was not intended to be a burden but quite the opposite, a joy, a time for reflection upon Yahweh’s goodness, mercy and deliverance. However, it had become a time for “fun” and human pleasure, bereft of reference to Him. It was not a day for the execution of their plans, for it belonged to Him; and as such it was for service to Him alone.

Notice how self-centred it had become: instead of honouring God it was all about self … “thine own ways … thine own pleasure … thine own words”. This was also true of the fast days, purportedly undertaken to draw attention to sincerity of intention (v3,4). Their hearts were known unto their God – He knew how vain their thoughts were, how remote He was from them! There was the need for a wholesale change of attitude, of real belief, of loving service to the One Who had redeemed the nation and was its God and Guardian.

This challenge cannot be relegated by us to a past generation: it has relevance to believers of all ages. Do we love the Lord, our heavenly Father and His beloved Son, our Saviour? Are our thoughts, words and deeds centred upon our hope in Christ? Do we seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness? Or are we absorbed by the mundane, the materialistic pleasures of this world, the fashion of which is soon to pass away? These questions demand an answer from all of us.

58:14 “Then shalt thou delight thyself in Yahweh; and I will cause thee to ride upon the high places of the earth [cp Hab 3:19], and feed thee with the heritage of Jacob thy father: for the mouth of Yahweh hath spoken it (cp 1:20; 40:5).”

These are consummate expressions of Yahweh’s love, goodwill and beneficence for His chosen. It is hard to plumb the depth, the fullness of meaning encompassed in them.

“Then shall thou delight thyself in Yahweh” In verse 13 believers are “to call the sabbath a delight”; in verse 14 we have the consequences, namely, finding “delight” in Yahweh’s rich blessings: His ordinances, truly observed, will yield the riches of His grace. Joy in service leads to the even greater joy of His rewards – eternal life and an entrance into the rest that remains to the people of God (Heb 4:9–10). The thought is summarized in Psalm 37:4, “Delight thyself also in Yahweh; and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart.”

“and I will cause thee to ride upon the high places of the earth” Similar phrases to this are found in Deuteronomy 32:13. “He made him ride on the high places of the earth, that he might eat the increase of the fields; Habakkuk 3:19, “and he will make my feet like hinds’ feet, and he will make me to walk upon mine high places”; Psalm 18:33, “He maketh my feet like hinds’ feet, and setteth me upon my high places”; and finally, in Amos 4:13 it is applied to God Who “maketh the morning darkness, and treadeth upon the high places of the earth”.

What is the sense intended? The contexts of the above quotations speak of confidence, exaltation, prosperity, victory and security. In each case the Lord is the One who has acted or will act.

“and feed thee with the heritage of Jacob thy father” Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the fathers of Israel were promised the land of Canaan as an everlasting possession. In their seed, the Lord Jesus Christ, all nations of the earth would be blessed (Gen 15:14–17; 22:18; 26:3–4; 28:13–14; Gal 3:8,16,26–28). This blessing, necessarily involving justification from sins, followed by eternal inheritance of the promised land is the essence of what is here described as “the heritage of Jacob”. The Word of God further expounds this message in the promise to King David (2 Sam 7:10–16), and more details are given in the Psalms and the Prophets. All biblical blessings depend on the grace and mercy of Yahweh Himself: essentially He is their inheritance as He said to the Levites (Josh 13:33; 18:7): “Yahweh is the portion of mine inheritance and of my cup” (Psa 16:5). A great deal is embraced in this statement.

Isaiah 58 began with Yahweh rejecting Judah’s fasts: and ends with Him offering them a feast, “I will … feed thee with the heritage of Jacob”. Our Father desires us to find pleasure in worship of Him, pleasure that will lead to the inexpressible joys of immortality and the Kingdom; He does not ask for or take pleasure in the negative religion of self-deprivation prescribed by man.

“for the mouth of Yahweh hath spoken it” This is the form of words found in Isaiah to ensure the ultimate fulfilment of God’s promises (cp 1:20; 40:5).

The unity of Isaiah’s message is cemented by this exact phrase occurring three times (cp also similar words Micah 4:4; see also Isa 21:17; 22:25; 25:8; Obad 18).

This brings to an end a chapter which commences with a strong rebuke for inconsistency and insincerity in worship, but ends with lengthy lists of blessings which will flow from the Almighty if His people amend their ways, love and rejoice in Him.