The Chosen Fast
Is it such a fast that I have chosen? - Is this such a manner of fasting that I have picked and approved?
A day for a man, to distress his soul for a day. The reading in the text is the more correct; and the idea is, that of pain and awkwardness, experienced by the self-restraint, was not the purpose in fasting. This appears to have been the mistake which they made, they assumed there was something admirable in the pain experienced by such self-restraint. Do we not often feel that there is something commendable in the difficulties we experience in our feats of self-denial? The crucial idea in the passage is, that the pain and difficulty which we may endure by the rigorous fasting, are not commendable in the sight of God. God aims at justice, truth, kindness, holiness Isaiah 58:6-7; and he regards the act of fasting as it will be the means of directing us to reflect on our faults, and to change our lives.
Is it to bow down his head like a large reed that grows in marshy places? One without knots or joints. In the midst of water, it grows luxuriously, yet the stalk is not solid like wood, and not being reinforced by joints, it easily bends over under its own weight. It thus becomes the insignia of a man bowed down with grief. Here it refers to the smugness of a hypocrite when fasting - a man without genuine sentiment who puts on an air of pretentious thoughtfulness and give the impression to others. Against that the Savior warned his disciples, and directed them, when they fasted, to do it in their ordinary dress, and to maintain an aspect of cheerfulness Matthew 6:17-18. The hypocrites in the time of Isaiah seemed to have supposed that the object was gained if they undertook this affected seriousness. How often do even Christians believe, on more formal occasions of religious observance, a complacency of manner. Nothing more wounds the cause of religion than complacency, gloom, reserve, coldness, and the conduct and posture which, whether right or wrong, will be construed by those around us as mocking.
On the meaning of the word 'sackcloth It was commonly worn around the loins in times of fasting and of any public or private calamity. It was also customary to sit on sackcloth, or to spread it out for someone to lie on, or to kneel on in times of prayer, as an expression of degradation.
The participants of Isaiah's audience were fasting for all the incorrect reasons! They fasted to get things from God and appear righteous. God says, though, that we should fast to free others from understand His will. Fasting is a tool of godly love we are to use for the good of others, and any helps we derive from it are wonderful blessings!
Rev. Dr. CJ Koen
Pastor, Northside Christian Church