Condemnation of Empty Fasting and Empty Sabbath Observance
What did God command His prophet to declare to His people?
God commanded the prophet to raise his voice like a trumpet to declare to the people their transgression (58:1). The people were outwardly very religious (58:2). They were fasting but felt that it was not doing them any good because God did not seem to take notice of or bless their fasting (58:3a).
The prophet pointed out one of the unacceptable things about their fasting: employers delighted in fasting but were indifferent to the needs of their employees (58:3b). The prophet redefined fasting as an act that should have an impact on relationships with fellowmen, including: freeing the oppressed, feeding the hungry, giving shelter to the homeless, and clothing the naked (58:4-7 and see also Matthew 25:31-46).
Warren Wiersbe comments, “True fasting will lead to humility before God and ministry to others.” That kind of fasting will result in blessings from God (58:8-12). In addition to participating in fasting that helped alleviate human need, God wanted for His people to honor the Sabbath (58:13-14).
Practical Consideration: You can’t cover spiritual nakedness with the fig leaf of religion!
Many of the repatriates were very religious. They observed fasts and feasts. They followed the prescription for piety to the letter. Their piety however, lasted only as long as the worship service. It had no impact on their personal relationships with others in society. They were spiritually naked and impoverished. Their hearts were insensitive to the plight of others. They tried to cover their spiritual nakedness with the fig leaf of religious activity. They fooled their peers but not God.