24 February 2021Isaiah 58:1-12
Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? (v. 6)
Isaiah is one of the prophetic books of the Old Testament. The prophets were God’s messengers. and an important aspect of their message is that God is on the side of the oppressed. Isaiah 58 forms part of the third and final section of the book which deals with the period after the people had returned to Jerusalem from Exile. Even though the whole of the book is named Isaiah, it is believed to have been written by several authors.
Chapter 58 is preceded by a discussion of the consequences of wickedness. In Chapter 59 the prophet talks about God’s mercy. The passage talks about fasting, which in its broadest sense involves abstaining from food and drink. Sackcloth, a type of coarse cloth, was worn by those who were fasting as a sign of humility. Ashes were sprinkled on the head as a symbol of penitence and mourning. A yoke was placed on the necks of animals and attached to a plough or cart which they had to pull. It is a symbol of oppression. The reference to light in this chapter and in other parts of Isaiah indicate salvation.
This passage is not an attack on ritual and religious practice. Rather, the prophet wants people to understand that their practices will only please God if they are made manifest in people’s lives. The people are encouraged to fast (abstain) from greed, quarrelling and oppression. God expects them to share bread with the hungry, to clothe the naked and to treat people with fairness. And God will respond and help the people to rebuild Jerusalem, which lay in ruins. The reference to water in verse 11 would have resonated with the people, since they lived in a very dry country. Water can give new life; it can refresh and enable new growth.
- How does this passage challenge the worshipping community?
- What are some of the yokes from which people need to be freed in our contemporary world?