Isaiah 58-66 heralds the coming of the Lord and the completion of the restoration of God’s people. In chapters 58-59, the prophet articulated the need for Israel to repent in light of its spiritual and religious hypocrisy.
What were Israel’s prevailing sins in the 8th century B.C.? It should not surprise us that Israel’s sins mirror the sins of us living in the 21st century A.D. Even God’s chosen people, the church comprised of Jews and Gentiles (Ephesians 2:11-22), is not immune from these prevailing stumbling blocks.
First, there was religious hypocrisy (58:1–12). Hypocrisy is pretending to be something superficially which you are not internally. It is acting out a role, like a character in a play or movie. Religiously, it is saying the right things, doing the right things, but remaining unconverted and not possessing the righteousness of Christ by grace alone through faith alone in the person and work of Jesus Christ alone.
For 8th century Israel, the sin of hypocrisy was seen in their religious fasting. Israel boasted of its fasting. The people thought that God would be pleased (58:1-5). However, Jesus said, “16And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 17 But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, 18 that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6:16-18).
Isaiah instructed the people to share their food and clothes with the poor along with their relatives who were in need (58:6-10). The fruitfulness of such sincerity is expressed in Isaiah 58:11-12. “11 And the Lord will guide you continually and satisfy your desire in scorched places and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail. 12 And your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to dwell in.”
Second, there was the neglecting of observing the Sabbath (58:13-14). Isaiah 58:13–14 says, 13 “If you turn back your foot from the Sabbath, from doing your pleasure on my holy day, and call the Sabbath a delight and the holy day of the Lord honorable; if you honor it, not going your own ways, or seeking your own pleasure, or talking idly; 14 then you shall take delight in the Lord, and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth; I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”
Apparently, even in the 8th century B.C. there were people who chose their own pleasure, delights and idle conversations rather than taking delight in corporate worship and the preaching and hearing of God’s Word. Such is the case today. People would rather feast on hot dogs and hamburgers rather than upon God’s feast of spiritual milk and meat. It’s not that such pleasures should not be enjoyed on Sunday, but to corporately honor and worship of the LORD should also be a weekly priority.
Thirdly, there was bloodshed (59:3a). People were killing each other. Jesus said, 21 “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. 23 So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. 25 Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison. 26 Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny” (Matthew 5:21–26).
Fourth, people were lying to each other (59:3b–4): No one cared about being truthful. Isaiah 59:3b-4 says, “…your lips have spoken lies, your tongue mutters wickedness. 4No one brings suit justly, no one goes to law honestly; they rely on empty pleas, they speak lies, conceiving mischief and begetting iniquity.”
Fifth, there was a desire to run headlong into sin and wickedness. Isaiah 59:5-8 says, “They hatch adders’ eggs, and weave the spider’s web; whoever eats their eggs dies, and the crushed egg hatches out a viper. 6Their webs cannot serve as clothing; they cannot cover themselves with what they make. Their works are works of iniquity, and deeds of violence are in their hands. 7Their feet run to evil, and they rush to shed innocent blood; their thoughts are thoughts of iniquity, desolation and destruction are in their highways. 8The way of peace they do not know, and there is no justice in their paths. Their roads they have made crooked; no one who walks in them knows peace.”
Isaiah would prophesy the consequences of such rebelliousness. WE will see what those consequences were when next we meet. Take time in prayer today to examine your heart and see if there is any parallel between the sins of Israel 2,700 years ago, and your own. If there is, repent of them immediately.
Soli deo Gloria!