In Isaiah holiness characterizes the Person and actions of God. Holiness should also mark the character and actions of His people in their “practices” of worship. It is in the practices where evaluation of worship can be made. Isaiah condemned practice apart from holy character (58:1-2). This was especially important in the worship practice of fasting. The people were well instructed; they knew the words and details of worship (58:2). But they felt God was thereby obligated: “Why aren’t you impressed?” (58:3a, NLT). Self-pleasing practices in worship only produce the arrogance that leads to interpersonal conflict (58:3b-4a). Concerning Israel, God sees practice but not worship (58:4b). Worship must be far more than how deeply one can bow his head (58:5).
What pleases God in worship? He finds pleasure in worship that leads to His kind of justice. He desires Israel to be a liberated people, so He looks for the desire in Israel to liberate other people from sinful oppression. This is the worship “practice” He looks for (58:6). Poor and needy people should find solace and sustenance from His people, “not turning your back on your own” (58:7, NAB). When Israel chooses to be a caring people with kindness of heart, then their own redemption will find fuller expression in three forms: light, recovery, and righteousness (58:8).
A people acting with the heart of God toward others is a redeemed people whose worship seeks the pleasure of God (58:9a). Israel is called to lofty heights of faith and practice, devoting herself to God and others with substance (58:9b-10). Even in bad times, God will make such a people “like an oasis with a steadfast spring” (58:11, Moffatt). He will enable the people to rebuild what their sin destroyed. Israel will then gain a reputation that represents what God will do for the faithful (58:12).
Israel can choose between continuing her sham religion or making God’s way her way. Either way, “feet” follow the heart (58:13). Choosing God’s way of worship means His removing them from a low state of sinfulness to “the heights of the earth” in honor and respect (58:14). During the exile there was no temple worship and no sacrifice available to Israel, so worship in the exile would need to focus on the Lord of the Sabbath by delighting in Him through practices. Isaiah’s contemporaries should begin by worshiping God in right, compassionate, and constructive ways.
Dr. David Moore is a Baptist preacher in Pampa and an online instructor in Bible and theology for Taylor University and Nations University. Email: email@example.com
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