Tag Archives: sacrifice

When a Fast is not a Fast

I have, for some time, been slowly making my way through Isaiah in my morning devotional reading. This morning I read Isaiah 58. In the first verse, God told the prophet to cry aloud with a “voice like a trumpet” declaring the transgressions of the people. In the second verse we see an interesting twist. The ESV even has the passage beginning with “Yet.” This shows that what is to follow is not what we would expect after the first verse. The passage goes on to say that the people seek God daily, delight to know his ways and delight to draw near to him. But this seems contradictory. How can they be condemned for their transgressions (in verse 1) and in the next breath (in verse 2) be described in a way which most would assume to be righteous. Actually, the passage implies they were not acting righteously. When it says, “as if they were a nation that did righteousness and did not forsake the judgment of their God” (ESV) the implication is that they are unrighteousness and acting in a way contrary to God’s judgment even while observing the outward elements of religion.

We discover the problem deeper in the chapter. God speaks of their fasts, but then condemns them for oppressing the workers and the poor. He goes on to tell them in verses six and seven that the fast preferred by God is to release the oppressed, to share one’s bread with the hungry and to shelter the homeless. This is an important consideration. One way sees religious practices as a simple equation between the supplicant and God. The other includes our treatment of one another as definitive of obedient observance.

Part of the way to understand this is to keep in mind the Old Covenant definition of righteousness. Righteousness meant the observance of one’s duty to others. One was righteous if one treated others in keeping with the demands of duty. But one was not righteous for observing only particular duties and ignoring others. One was righteous if it could be said they observed all duties owed to any other being. A great example is the chapter before us. If I see my duties to God as somehow separate from my duties to my fellow man, I can delude myself into thinking, “As long as I do my duty to God, it doesn’t matter how I treat others.” In an Old Covenant economy this could mean that while treating others poorly, I may offer sacrifices and fast regularly in the wrong belief that God would be satisfied with the performance of my duties to him. However, such a person was not righteous before God. Only one who did his duty to everyone was truly defined as righteous—someone who had left no duty unperformed.

Those to whom God speaks in Isaiah 58 were not righteous because they owed duties to their workers and to the poor, which they ignored while seeking God’s favor through religious observance. There are two things which help us to see why this was a problem.

First, all men[1] are made in God’s image. We all reflect his image and the way we treat other people reflects on our treatment of God. If I despise my fellow man, how can I claim to love God in whose image my fellow man was made (James 3:9-10)? Our treatment of our fellow man serves as a litmus test of our claim to love God (1 John 3:10).

Second, consider for a moment a wealthy man deciding, “Today, in honor of God, I will fast and eat nothing.” What happens to the food? It is still consumed by the same man, just on another day.[2] It is only the consumption that is delayed. However, if I take the food I would have eaten and give it to another, it is gone, never to return. It has actually cost me something. The former cost me nothing. The former cheapens the sacrifice. This form of fasting only delays the consumption, so is it truly a fast and sacrifice? God says it is not (Psalm 51:16-17; 1 John 3:17).

God condemned his people for observing the details of fasts and sacrifices without recognizing the most important element of these—concern for others. Our religious observances or faith practices are not separate from our treatment of our fellow man. They go hand in hand. You honor God by treating those created in his image with dignity.

[1] By this I mean all humanity—mankind.

[2] Yes, I understand that some foods may not be preserved and their lack of consumption could make them garbage. But this makes it even worse! Imagine the man throwing away moldy bread today, which he chose not to eat yesterday during a fast, rather than giving it to some poor person who could have consumed it while it was still good.


I have no wrath

This morning, during my devotionals I was struck by the following passage (Isaiah 27:2-5 ESV):

In that day,

“A pleasant vineyard, sing of it!

I, the Lord, am its keeper;

every moment I water it.

Lest anyone punish it,

I keep it night and day;

I have no wrath.

Would that I had thorns and briers to battle!

I would march against them,

I would burn them up together.

Or let them lay hold of my protection,

let them make peace with me,

let them make peace with me.”


A striking point is the first phrase of verse four, “I have no wrath.” One part of Jesus earthly ministry and his sacrifice upon the cross was propitiation. “He is the propitiation for our sins, …” 1 John 2:2a ESV. Upon the cross, Jesus took the full wrath of God, poured out upon sin. This offering turned God’s wrath to favor (the meaning of propitiation) on our behalf. Now tie this to Isaiah and the idea of God planting a pleasant vineyard to keep and in which he will have no wrath. The vineyard is symbolic of the covenant people of God (Israel in the OT and the Church in the NT). We are the divinely planted vineyard which God prunes and tends. He is the keeper of the vineyard. Jesus used this imagery throughout his ministry. Within his vineyard there is no longer any wrath of God—none, nada, zip. All of his wrath was poured out upon Christ and turned to favor. Nothing he does within his Church (his covenant people) is a result of wrath. All of his actions in the church are love-inspired tending of the vineyard—discipline, correction and improvement. His wrath is never poured out upon us.

God expands upon this though by having Isaiah go on to write “If only I had briars to march against and burn up” (my paraphrase). This seems as if he is wishing to have, within the church, those upon which he could pour out his wrath. However, this actually supports the contention that God has no wrath. It tells us there is no one within the covenant people, his vineyard (the Church) for him to pour his wrath upon. Of course, this is because of the propitiation of Christ. We see this in verse five: let them lay hold of my protection. We, by coming to Christ and receiving his salvation have sought the protection of God. We may not be perfect, but he never will again look upon us in wrath.

Now, let us keep this in mind when dealing with our own sins and the sins of others. When I sin, nothing God does to me will be an act of wrath. He may pour out great suffering and allow great harm to come to my person as a result of his sin, but such has nothing to do with wrath. It is a loving act of discipline and correction. When others sin, I must remember that nothing I do should be seen as permitted as part of unleashing holy wrath upon the sinner. There is no wrath for God to unleash, so he could never inspire me as an agent of wrath against one of his people, no matter the sin. I may be used as an agent of his discipline and correction, but this is always part of God’s favor, not wrath.