Let the oppressed go free - How can any nation pretend to fast or worship God at all, or dare to profess that they believe in the existence of such a Being, while they carry on the slave trade, and traffic in the souls, blood, and bodies, of men! O ye most flagitious of knaves, and worst of hypocrites, cast off at once the mask of religion; and deepen not your endless perdition by professing the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, while ye continue in this traffic!
Is not this the fast that I have chosen? - Fasting is right and proper; but that which God approves will prompt to, and will be followed by, deeds of justice, kindness, charity. The prophet proceeds to specify very particularly what God required, and when the observance of seasons of fasting would be acceptable to him.
To loose the bands of wickedness - This is the first thing to be done in order that their fasting might be acceptable to the Lord. The idea is, that they were to dissolve every tie which unjustly bound their fellowmen. The Chaldee renders it, ‹Separate the congregation of impiety;‘ but the more probable sense is, that if they were exercising any unjust and cruel authority over others; if they had bound them in any way contrary to the laws of God and the interests of justice, they were to release them. This might refer to their compelling others to servitude more rigidly than the law of Moses allowed; or to holding them to contracts which had been fraudulently made; or to their exacting strict payment from persons wholly incapacitated to meet their obligations; or it might refer to their subjecting others to more rigid service than was allowed by the laws of Moses, but it would not require a very ardent imagination for anyone to see, that if he held slaves at all, that this came fairly under the description of the prophet. A man with a tender conscience who held slaves would have been likely to suppose that this part of the injunction applied to himself.
To undo the heavy burdens - Margin, ‹Bundles of the yoke.‘ The Septuagint renders it, ‹Dissolve the obligations of onerous contracts.‘ The Chaldee, ‹Loose the obligations of the writings of unjust judgment.‘ The Hebrew means, ‹Loose the bands of the yoke,‘ a figure taken from the yoke which was borne by oxen, and which seems to have been attached to the neck by cords or bands (see Fragments to Taylor‘s Calmer. No. xxviii.) The yoke, in the Scripture, is usually regarded as an emblem of oppression, or compulsory toil, and is undoubtedy so used here. The same word is used to denote ‹burden‘ (מוטה môṭâh ), which in the subsequent member is rendered ‹yoke,‘ and the word which is rendered ‹undo (התר hatı̂r from נתי nātar ), is elsewhere employed to denote emancipation from servitude. The phrase here employed would properly denote the release of captives or slaves, and would doubtless be so understood by those whom the prophet addressed. Thus, in Psalm 105:17-20:
He sent a man before them, even Joseph,
Who was sold for a servant;
Whose feet they hurt with fetters;
He was laid in iron:
Until the time when his word came,
The word of the Lord tried him.
The king sent and loosed him (ויתירהוּ vaytı̂yrēhû ),
Even the ruler of the people, and let him go free.
And let the oppressed go free - Margin, ‹Broken.‘ The Hebrew word רצוצים retsûtsı̂ym is from the word רצץ rātsats meaning “to break, to break down” (see the notes at Isaiah 42:3); to treat with violence, to oppress. It may be applied to those who are treated with violence in any way, or who are broken down by bard usage. It may refer, therefore, to slaves who are oppressed by bondage and toil; or to inferiors of any kind who are subjected to hard usage by those who are above them; or to the subjects of a tyrant groaning under his yoke. The use of the phrase here, ‹go free,‘ however, seems to limit its application in this place to those who were held in bondage. Jerome renders it, ‹Free those who are broken‘ (confracti). The Septuagint Τεθρασμένος Tethrasmenos - ‹Set at liberty those who are broken down.‘ If slavery existed at the time here referred to, this word would be appropriately understood as including that - at least would be so understood by the slaves themselves - for if any institution deserves to be called oppression, it is theft of slavery.
This interpretation would be confirmed by the use of the word rendered free. That word (חפשׁים chophshı̂ym ) evidently refers to the act of freeing a slave. The person who had once been a slave, and who had afterward obtained his freedom, was denominated חפשׁי chophshı̂y (see Jahn, Bib. Ant. Section 171). This word occurs, and is so used, in the following places; Exodus 21:12, ‹And the seventh (year) he shall go free;‘ Exodus 21:5, ‹I will not go out free;‘ Exodus 26:27, ‹He shall let him go free;‘ Deuteronomy 15:12, ‹Thou shalt let him go free;‘ Deuteronomy 15:13, ‹When thou sendest him out free‘ Deuteronomy 15:18, ‹When thou sendest him away free;‘ Job 3:19, ‹The servant is free from his master;‘ that is, in the grave, where there is universal emancipation. Compare Jeremiah 34:9-11, Jeremiah 34:14, Jeremiah 34:16 where the same Hebrew word is used, and is applied expressly to the emancipation of slaves. The word is used in other places in the Bible except the following: 1 Samuel 17:25, ‹And make his father‘s house free in Israel,‘ referring to the favor which was promised to the one who would slay Goliath of Gath. Job 39:5: ‹Who hath sent out the wild donkey free?‘ Psalm 88:5: ‹Free among the dead.‘ The usage, therefore, is settled that the word properly refers to deliverance from servitude. It would be naturally understood by a Hebrew as referring to that, and unless there was something in the connection which made it necessary to adopt a different interpretation, a Hebrew would so understand it of course. In the case before us, such an interpretation would be obvious, and it is difficult to see how a Jew could understand this direction in any other way, if he was an owner. of slaves, than that be should set them at once at liberty.
And that ye break every yoke - A yoke, in the Scriptures, is a symbol of oppression, and the idea here is, that they were to cease all oppressions, and to restore all to their lust and equal rights. The prophet demanded, in order that there might be an acceptable ‹fast,‘ that everything which could properly be described as a ‹yoke‘ should be broken. How could this command be complied with by a Hebrew if he continued to retain his fellow-men in bondage? Would not its fair application be to lead him to emancipate those who were held as slaves? Could it be true, whatever else he might do, that he would fully comply with this injunction, unless this were done? If now this whole injunction were fairly complied with in his land, who can doubt that it would lead to the emancipation of the slaves? The language is such that it cannot well be misunderstood. The prophet undoubtedly specifies those things which properly denote slavery, and demands that they should all be abandoned in order to an acceptable ‹fast to the Lord,‘ and the fair application of this injunction would soon extinguish slavery throughout the world.
The Pharisees sought to exalt themselves by their rigorous observance of forms, while their hearts were filled with envy and strife. “Behold,” says the Scripture, “ye fast for strife and debate, and to smite with the fist of wickedness: ye shall not fast as ye do this day, to make your voice to be heard on high. Is it such a fast that I have chosen? a day for a man to afflict his soul? is it to bow down his head as a bulrush, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? wilt thou call this a fast, and an acceptable day to the Lord?” Isaiah 58:4, 5. DA 278.1
The true fast is no mere formal service. The Scripture describes the fast that God has chosen,—“to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke;” to “draw out thy soul to the hungry, and satisfy the afflicted soul.” Isaiah 58:6, 10. Here is set forth the very spirit and character of the work of Christ. His whole life was a sacrifice of Himself for the saving of the world. Whether fasting in the wilderness of temptation or eating with the publicans at Matthew's feast, He was giving His life for the redemption of the lost. Not in idle mourning, in mere bodily humiliation and multitudinous sacrifices, is the true spirit of devotion manifested, but it is shown in the surrender of self in willing service to God and man. DA 278.2
Continuing His answer to the disciples of John, Jesus spoke a parable, saying, “No man putteth a piece of a new garment upon an old; if otherwise, then both the new maketh a rent, and the piece that was taken out of the new agreeth not with the old.” The message of John the Baptist was not to be interwoven with tradition and superstition. An attempt to blend the pretense of the Pharisees with the devotion of John would only make more evident the breach between them. DA 278.3Read in context »
[Portion of a sermon delivered in the St. Helena Sanitarium chapel, January 23, 1904, and appearing in Notebook Leaflets, The Church, No. 7.]
The Lord desires every one of us to be decidedly in earnest. We cannot afford to make a mistake in spiritual matters. The life-and-death question with us is, “What shall I do that I may be saved, eternally saved?” “What shall I do that I may inherit eternal life—a life that measures with the life of God?” This is a question that it becomes every one of us to consider carefully.… 1SM 98.1Read in context »
The sin of one man discomfited the entire army of Israel. A wrong course pursued by one toward his brother will turn the light of God from His people until the wrong is searched out and the cause of the oppressed is vindicated. God requires His people to be tender in their feelings and discriminations, while their hearts should be enlarged, their feelings should be broad and deep, not narrow, selfish, and penurious. Noble sympathy, largeness of soul, and disinterested benevolence are needed. Then can the church triumph in God. But just as long as the church suffer selfishness to dry up kindly sympathy and tender, thoughtful love and interest for their brethren, every virtue will be corroded. Isaiah's fast should be studied and close self-examination made with a spirit to discern whether there is in them the principles which God's people are required to possess in order that they may receive the rich blessings promised. 3T 519.1
God requires that His people should not allow the poor and afflicted to be oppressed. If they break every yoke and release the oppressed, and are unselfish and kindly considerate of the needy, then shall the blessings promised be theirs. If there are those in the church who would cause the blind to stumble, they should be brought to justice; for God has made us guardians of the blind, the afflicted, the widows, and the fatherless. The stumbling block referred to in the word of God does not mean a block of wood placed before the feet of the blind to cause him to stumble, but it means much more than this. It means any course that may be pursued to injure the influence of their blind brother, to work against his interest, or to hinder his prosperity. 3T 519.2
A brother who is blind and poor and diseased, and who is making every exertion to help himself that he may not be dependent, should be encouraged by his brethren in every way possible. But those who profess to be his brethren, who have the use of all their faculties, who are not dependent, but who so far forget their duty to the blind as to perplex and distress and hedge up his way, are doing a work which will require repentance and restoration before God will accept their prayers. And the church of God who have permitted their unfortunate brother to be wronged will be guilty of sin until they do all in their power to have the wrong righted. 3T 519.3Read in context »
Self-righteousness not only leads men to misrepresent God, but makes them coldhearted and critical toward their brethren. The elder son, in his selfishness and jealousy, stood ready to watch his brother, to criticize every action, and to accuse him for the least deficiency. He would detect every mistake, and make the most of every wrong act. Thus he would seek to justify his own unforgiving spirit. Many today are doing the same thing. While the soul is making its very first struggles against a flood of temptations, they stand by, stubborn, self-willed, complaining, accusing. They may claim to be children of God, but they are acting out the spirit of Satan. By their attitude toward their brethren, these accusers place themselves where God cannot give them the light of His countenance. COL 210.1
Many are constantly questioning, “Wherewith shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before the high God? Shall I come before Him with burnt-offerings, with calves of a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, or with ten thousands of rivers of oil?” But “He hath showed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?” Micah 6:6-8. COL 210.2
This is the service that God has chosen—“to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke, ... and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh.” Isaiah 58:6, 7. When you see yourselves as sinners saved only by the love of your heavenly Father, you will have tender pity for others who are suffering in sin. You will no longer meet misery and repentance with jealousy and censure. When the ice of selfishness is melted from your hearts, you will be in sympathy with God, and will share His joy in the saving of the lost. COL 210.3Read in context »