Isaiah 58 and Amos 2, Praise and Mercy (30HFHVBC Devotional 3)
1Shout out, do not hold back!
Lift up your voice like a trumpet!
Announce to my people their rebellion,
to the house of Jacob their sins.
2 Yet day after day they seek me
and delight to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that practised righteousness
and did not forsake the ordinance of their God;
they ask of me righteous judgements,
they delight to draw near to God.
3 ‘Why do we fast, but you do not see?
Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?’
Look, you serve your own interest on your fast-day,
and oppress all your workers.
4 Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight
and to strike with a wicked fist.
Such fasting as you do today
will not make your voice heard on high.
5 Is such the fast that I choose,
a day to humble oneself?
Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush,
and to lie in sackcloth and ashes?
Will you call this a fast,
a day acceptable to the Lord?
6 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?
7 Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
8 Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up quickly;
your vindicator shall go before you,
the glory of the Lord shall be your rearguard.
9 Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.
If you remove the yoke from among you,
the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,
10 if you offer your food to the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,
then your light shall rise in the darkness
and your gloom be like the noonday.
11 The Lord will guide you continually,
and satisfy your needs in parched places,
and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
like a spring of water,
whose waters never fail.
12 Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;
you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
you shall be called the repairer of the breach,
the restorer of streets to live in.
13 If you refrain from trampling the sabbath,
from pursuing your own interests on my holy day;
if you call the sabbath a delight
and the holy day of the Lord honourable;
if you honour it, not going your own ways,
serving your own interests, or pursuing your own affairs;
14 then you shall take delight in the Lord,
and I will make you ride upon the heights of the earth;
I will feed you with the heritage of your ancestor Jacob,
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.
18 Alas for you who desire the day of the Lord!
Why do you want the day of the Lord?
It is darkness, not light;
19 as if someone fled from a lion,
and was met by a bear;
or went into the house and rested a hand against the wall,
and was bitten by a snake.
20 Is not the day of the Lord darkness, not light,
and gloom with no brightness in it?
21 I hate, I despise your festivals,
and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.
22 Even though you offer me your burnt-offerings and grain-offerings,
I will not accept them;
and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals
I will not look upon.
23 Take away from me the noise of your songs;
I will not listen to the melody of your harps.
24 But let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.
25 Did you bring to me sacrifices and offerings the forty years in the wilderness, O house of Israel? 26You shall take up Sakkuth your king, and Kaiwan your star-god, your images that you made for yourselves; 27therefore I will take you into exile beyond Damascus, says the Lord, whose name is the God of hosts.
These might be two of the hardest passages of Scripture for Christians in churches today to live into. God speaks through the prophet Isaiah, not just denouncing injustice but rejecting the worship and adoration of the unjust. This is a hard hard word to hear. This passage actually gives us what one might call the thesis statement of the prophets, right worship, justice and love for neighbor are all so intimately interwoven that we can’t meaningfully do one without the other.
In the stories of the Hebrew Scriptures, especially the stories from the start of the Kinghood of David and on, we see a repeated cycle. The powerful upper classes of society become wealthy and complacent. They fall out of their trust and relationship with God. They turn to worshiping idols. And they abuse the poor, the stranger and the vulnerable. Isaiah brings together all the different prophets when he tells us that these three pieces rise and fall together. When we trust God with our lives we live justly, we worship truly and we treat others well (and doing all of these things probably also means we are not unjustly rich either). But when we begin to fail in one of these we tend to lose the others. Wealth drives us to protect wealth by turning to other gods who make false promises. It drives us to abuse others to grow and defend that wealth. It’s a vicious cycle that plays out again and again. Even wise Solomon lapsed into idolatry and injustice in his complacent life of luxury, conscripting Israelites to build a massive temple to God even as he set up idolatrous altars around the kingdom.
While few of us would consider ourselves rich that is because we are usually comparing ourselves to others in the very narrow world of middle class (and higher) American culture. When we set our possessions and lives against the global community, all people everywhere, we realize that we are actually sitting not just towards the top of the global pile but actually at its peak. This makes these passages quite a bit more worrying. What seems to be a comfortable middle in the United States and the industrialized world looks palatial and extravagant to much of the world.
These passages remind us that our worship can’t exist in a vacuum. Never, in the Hebrew Scriptures or the New Testament, has God separated out our worship and our lives. We have to back our songs of praise with mercy and our justice must be rooted in our worship. We can’t have one without the other. The two hold us in balance and help us to grow in our faith and our relationship with God. These passages help to keep us honest before God.