God requires it of the prophet. He MUST speak out about what he sees going on.

Shout it aloud, do not hold back. Raise your voice like a trumpet. Declare to my people their rebellion and to the descendants of Jacob their sins. For day after day they seek me out; they seem eager to know my ways, as if they were a nation that does what is right and has not forsaken the commands of its God. They ask me for just decisions and seem eager for God to come near them.

(Isaiah 58:1,2. The chapter is quoted in full at the end of this article.)
  • They seek God,
  • they act like they are serious, God-fearing folk.

But God is upset – not at all pleased with them. “They seem eager”…”as if they were a nation that does what is right”. Isaiah is commanded to speak loudly, publicly of their sins and their hypocrisy. They are corrupt, in serious danger. Sadly, people who are living in rebellion against God, but are still acting quite religious, do not want to hear about it!

Here is a milder but similar clear call from our own day:

Find and work from your truest, deepest values… Say it out loud, and every chance you get.

(from George Lakoff, The All New “Don’t Think of An Elephant”, quoted from my memory)
  • Lakoff is speaking of our personal, seriously derived convictions.
  • Isaiah is speaking out of a sense of the LORD laying an explicit moral burden on him.
Being Scripture-mentioners does not protect them from being targets of God’s irritation, anger, and threat of judgment. Again, like a lot of American Christians today.
The effect on us is the same. This is the prophetic message, this is fundamental moral realism, and we must listen, embrace it, personally practice it, and seize – or create – opportunities to say it.

There are 3 crucial ways this Scripture passage is directly relevant to us now,

ways it applies to today’s American right-wing Christians. This starts to get scary.

1. “My people” is the target audience here

These were the people who regarded themselves as God’s own, the people who prided themselves that they were God’s true followers, the people certain that they had correct teaching. Just like a lot of American Christians today!

2. The LORD is deeply offended at the behavior and values of these very religious people.

Being religious does not protect them from being wrong. Being Scripture-mentioners does not protect them from being targets of God’s irritation, anger, and threat of judgment. Again, like a lot of American Christians today.

3. There are two areas of offense emphasized in Isaiah 58.

American Christians today are very guilty on both counts.

a. false worship, superficial worship, pro forma worship, nominal worship, words without heart Isaiah (the LORD) is not concerned here with whether their theories are orthodox. He is greatly offended that their religious activities are superficial, manipulative, not genuine. The issue is not doctrinal accuracy, but practical, daily genuineness. Practice, not theory. This is a recurring complaint in Isaiah (and all of the Bible), and all through history it is a perpetual problem in religious communities. God (and Isaiah) hold a high but very reasonable standard.

b. contempt for the people around them – all those people who are very deeply loved by “The LORD” – the same Lord “My people” are insultingly pretending to worship. It’s like 1 John says; “How can you love God whom you cannot see if you do not love your neighbor whom you can see?”

If we see these things, and we don’t say them “out loud”, how will we explain that?

And just who do we expect WILL actually say it?


 

ISAIAH 58

ALARM

1 “Shout it aloud, do not hold back. Raise your voice like a trumpet. Declare to my people their rebellion and to the descendants of Jacob their sins. 2 For day after day they seek me out; they seem eager to know my ways, as if they were a nation that does what is right and has not forsaken the commands of its God. They ask me for just decisions and seem eager for God to come near them. 3 ‘Why have we fasted,’ they say, ‘and you have not seen it? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you have not noticed?’

ACCUSATION OF BAD WORSHIP

“Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please and exploit all your workers. 4 Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife, and in striking each other with wicked fists. You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high. 5 Is this the kind of fast I have chosen, only a day for people to humble themselves? Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed and for lying in sackcloth and ashes? Is that what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord?

GOOD WORSHIP (A)

6 “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? 7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter— when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?

BLESSING – CONSEQUENCES (A)

8 Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard. 9 Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.

GOOD WORSHIP (B)

“If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, 10 and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,

BLESSING – CONSEQUENCES (B)

then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday. 11 The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail. 12 Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the age-old foundations; you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.

GOOD WORSHIP (C)

13 “If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath and from doing as you please on my holy day, if you call the Sabbath a delight and the Lord’s holy day honorable, and if you honor it by not going your own way and not doing as you please or speaking idle words,

BLESSING – CONSEQUENCES (C)

14 then you will find your joy in the Lord, and I will cause you to ride in triumph on the heights of the land and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob.” For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.