Bible Verse Explanations and Resources


Isaiah 58:3

Albert Barnes
Notes on the Whole Bible

Wherefore have we fasted - They had fasted much, evidently with the expectation of delivering themselves from impending calamities, and securing the divine favor. They are here introduced as saying that they had been disappointed. God had not interposed as they had expected. Chagrined and mortified, they now complain that he had not noticed their very conscientious and faithful regard for the duties of religion.

And thou seest not? - All had been in vain. Calamities still impended; judgments threatened; and there were no tokens of the divine approbation. Hypocrites depend on their fastings and prayers as laying God under obligation to save them. If he does not interpose, they complain and murmur. When fasting is the result of a humble and broken heart, it is acceptable; when it is instituted as a means of purchasing the divine favor, and as laying God under obligation, it can be followed by no happy result to the soul.

Have we afflicted our soul - By fasting. Twenty-one manuscripts (six ancient), says Lowth, have this in the plural number - ‹our souls‘ and so the Septuagint, Chaldee, and the Vulgate. The sense is not materially affected, however. It is evident here that they regarded their numerous fastings as laying the foundation of a claim on the favor of God, and that they were disposed to complain when that claim was not acknowledged. Fasting, like other religious duties, is proper; but in that, as in all other services of religion, there is danger of supposing that we bring God under obligations, and that we are laying the foundation of a claim to his favor.

Thou takest no knowledge - Thou dost not regard our numerous acts of self-denial.

Behold, in the day of your fast you find pleasure - The prophet here proceeds to state the reasons why their fastings were not succeeded as they supposed they would be, by the divine favor. The first reason which he states is, that even when they were fasting, they were giving full indulgence to their depraved appetites and lusts. The Syriac has well rendered this, ‹In the day of your fasting you indulge your lusts, and draw near to all your idols.‘ This also was evidently the case with the Jews in the time of the Saviour. They were Characterized repeatedly by him as ‹an evil and adulterous generation,‘ and yet no generation perhaps was ever more punctual and strict in the external duties of fasting and other religious ceremonies.

And exact all your labors - This is the second reason why their fasting was attended with no more happy results. The margin renders this ‹griefs,‘ or things wherewith ye grieve others.‘ Lowth renders it, ‹All your demands of labor ye rigorously exact.‘ Castellio renders it, ‹And all things which are due to you, you exact.‘ The word rendered here ‹labors‘ denotes usually hard and painful labor; toil, travail, etc. The Septuagint renders it here, ‹And goad ( ὑπονύσσετε huponussete ) all those who are under your control‘ ( τοὺς ὑποχειρίους ὑμῶν tous hupocheirious humōn ). The idea seems to be that they were at that time oppressive in exacting all that was due to them; they remitted nothing, they forgave nothing. Alas, how often is this still true! People may be most diligent in the external duties of religion; most abundant in fasting and in prayer, and at the same time most unyielding in demanding all that is due to them. Like Shylock - another Jew like those in the time of Isaiah - they may demand ‹the pound of flesh,‘ at the same time that they may be most formal, punctual, precise, and bigoted in the performance of the external duties of religion. The sentiment taught here is, that if we desire to keep a fast that shall be acceptable to God, it must be such as shall cause us to unbind heavy burdens from the poor, and to lead us to relax the rigor of the claims which would be oppressive on those who are subject to us (see Isaiah 58:6).

Matthew Henry
Concise Bible Commentary
A fast is a day to afflict the soul; if it does not express true sorrow for sin, and does not promote the putting away of sin, it is not a fast. These professors had shown sorrow on stated or occasioned fasts. But they indulged pride, covetousness, and malignant passions. To be liberal and merciful is more acceptable to God than mere fasting, which, without them, is vain and hypocritical. Many who seem humble in God's house, are hard at home, and harass their families. But no man's faith justifies, which does not work by love. Yet persons, families, neighbourhoods, churches, or nations, show repentance and sorrow for sin, by keeping a fast sincerely, and, from right motives, repenting, and doing good works. The heavy yoke of sin and oppression must be removed. As sin and sorrow dry the bones and weaken the strongest human constitution; so the duties of kindness and charity strengthen and refresh both body and mind. Those who do justly and love mercy, shall have the comfort, even in this world. Good works will bring the blessing of God, provided they are done from love to God and man, and wrought in the soul by the Holy Spirit.
Adam Clarke
Bible Commentary

Have we adopted our soul "Have we afflicted our souls" - Twenty-seven MSS. (six ancient) of Dr. Kennicott's, thirty-six of De Rossi's, and two of my own, and the old edition of 1488 have the noun in the plural number, נפשינו naphsheynu, our souls; and so the Septuagint, Chaldee, and Vulgate. This reading is undoubtedly genuine.

In the day of your fast ye find pleasure - Fast days are generally called holidays, and holidays are days of idleness and pleasure. In numberless cases the fast is turned into a feast.

And exact all your labors - Some disregard the most sacred fast, and will oblige their servant to work all day long; others use fast days for the purpose of settling their accounts, posting up their books, and drawing out their bills to be ready to collect their debts. These are sneaking hypocrites; the others are daringly irreligious.

Ellen G. White
Testimonies for the Church, vol. 2, 156


Dear Brother J,

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Ellen G. White
Testimonies for the Church, vol. 2, 146-7

It is heartwork that the Lord requires, good works springing from a heart filled with love. All should carefully and prayerfully consider the above scriptures, and investigate their motives and actions. The promise of God to us is on condition of obedience, compliance with all His requirements. “Cry aloud,” saith the prophet Isaiah, “spare not, lift up thy voice like a trumpet, and show My people their transgression, and the house of Jacob their sins. Yet they seek Me daily, and delight to know My ways, as a nation that did righteousness, and forsook not the ordinance of their God: they ask of Me the ordinances of justice; they take delight in approaching to God. Wherefore have we fasted, say they, and Thou seest not? wherefore have we afflicted our soul, and Thou takest no knowledge?” 2T 146.1

A people are here addressed who make high profession, who are in the habit of praying, and who delight in religious exercises; yet there is a lack. They realize that their prayers are not answered; their zealous, earnest efforts are not observed in heaven, and they earnestly inquire why the Lord makes them no returns. It is not because there is any neglect on the part of God. The difficulty is with the people. While professing godliness, they do not bear fruit to the glory of God; their works are not what they should be. They are living in neglect of positive duties. Unless these are performed, God cannot answer their prayers according to His glory. In the case of offering prayer for Sister F, there was confusion of sentiment. Some were fanatical and moved from impulse. They possessed a zeal, but not according to knowledge. Some looked at the great thing to be accomplished in this case and began to triumph before the victory was gained. There was much of the Jehu spirit manifested: “Come with me, and see my zeal for the Lord.” In place of this self-confident assurance, the case should have been presented to God with a spirit of humbleness and distrustfulness of self, and with a broken and a contrite heart. 2T 147.1

I was shown that in case of sickness, where the way is clear for the offering up of prayer for the sick, the case should be committed to the Lord in calm faith, not with a storm of excitement. He alone is acquainted with the past life of the individual and knows what his future will be. He who is acquainted with the hearts of all men knows whether the person, if raised up, would glorify His name or dishonor Him by backsliding and apostasy. All that we are required to do is to ask God to raise the sick up if in accordance with His will, believing that He hears the reasons which we present and the fervent prayers offered. If the Lord sees it will best honor Him, He will answer our prayers. But to urge recovery without submission to His will is not right. 2T 147.2

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Ellen G. White
Testimonies for the Church, vol. 1, 257-8

I saw that these national fasts were an insult to Jehovah. He accepts of no such fasts. The recording angel writes in regard to them: “Ye fast for strife and debate, and to smite with the fist of wickedness.” I was shown how our leading men have treated the poor slaves who have come to them for protection. Angels have recorded it. Instead of breaking their yoke and letting the oppressed go free, these men have made the yoke more galling for them than when in the service of their tyrannical masters. Love of liberty leads the poor slaves to leave their masters and risk their lives to obtain liberty. They would never venture to leave their masters and expose themselves to the difficulties and horrors attending their recapture if they had not as strong a love for liberty as any of us. The escaped slaves have endured untold hardships and dangers to obtain their freedom, and as their last hope, with the love of liberty burning in their breasts, they apply to our Government for protection; but their confidence has been treated with the utmost contempt. Many of them have been cruelly treated because they committed so great a crime as to dare to make an effort to obtain their freedom. Great men, professing to have human hearts, have seen the slaves almost naked and starving, and have abused them, and sent them back to their cruel masters and hopeless bondage, to suffer inhuman cruelty for daring to seek their liberty. Some of this wretched class they thrust into unwholesome dungeons, to live or die, they cared not which. They have deprived them of the liberty and free air which heaven has never denied them, and then left them to suffer for food and clothing. In view of all this, a national fast is proclaimed! Oh, what an insult to Jehovah! The Lord saith by the mouth of Isaiah: “Yet they seek Me daily, and delight to know My ways, as a nation that did righteousness, and forsook not the ordinance of their God.” 1T 257.1

The escaped slaves have been told by their masters that the Northern men wanted to get possession of them that they might cruelly misuse them; that the abolitionists would treat them worse than they had been treated while in slavery. All manner of horrible stories have been repeated in their ears to make them detest the North, and yet they have had a confused idea that some hearts in the North felt for their grievances and would yet make an effort to help them. This has been the only star which has shed its glimmering light upon their distressed and gloomy bondage. The manner in which the poor slaves have been treated has led them to believe that their masters have told them the truth in these things. And yet a national fast is proclaimed! Saith the Lord: “Is not this the fast that I have 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?” When our nation observes the fast which God has chosen, then will He accept their prayers as far as the war is concerned; but now they enter not into His ear. He turns from them, they are disgusting to Him. It is so managed that those who would undo the heavy burdens and break every yoke are placed under censure, or removed from responsible stations, or their lives are planned away by those who “fast for strife and debate, and to smite with the fist of wickedness.” 1T 258.1

I was shown that if the object of this war had been to exterminate slavery, then, if desired, England would have helped the North. But England fully understands the existing feelings in the Government, and that the war is not to do away slavery, but merely to preserve the Union; and it is not for her interest to have it preserved. Our Government has been very proud and independent. The people of this nation have exalted themselves to heaven, and have looked down upon monarchical governments, and triumphed in their boasted liberty, while the institution of slavery, that was a thousand times worse than the tyranny exercised by monarchial governments, was suffered to exist and was cherished. In this land of light a system is cherished which allows one portion of the human family to enslave another portion, degrading millions of human beings to the level of the brute creation. The equal of this sin is not to be found in heathen lands. 1T 258.2

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Ellen G. White
Testimonies for the Church, vol. 2, 684-5

My brother, you have much to do in your family to show them that the truth has wrought a good work for you and that it has had a softening, refining, elevating influence upon your life and character. You profess to believe that we are living in the last days and that we are giving the warning, testing message to the world; do you show this by your works? God is testing you, and He will reveal the true feelings of your heart. 2T 684.1

The Lord has entrusted you with talents of means to use to advance His cause, to bless the needy, and to relieve the destitute. You can do a far greater amount of good with your means than you can do by preaching while you retain your means. Have you put your talents of means to the exchangers, that when the Master comes, and shall say, “Give an account of thy stewardship,” you can, without confusion, present to Him the talents doubled, both principal and interest, because you have not hoarded them, have not buried them selfishly in the earth, but have put them to use? Look over the history of your past life. How many have you blessed with your means? How many hearts have you made grateful by your liberalities? Please read the fifty-eighth chapter of Isaiah. Have you loosed the bands of wickedness? Have you sought to undo the heavy burdens, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Have you dealt your bread to the hungry, and brought the poor that were cast out to your house? Have you covered the naked? 2T 684.2

If you have been rich in these good works, you may claim the promises given in this chapter: “Then shall thy light break forth as the morning, and thine health shall spring forth speedily: and thy righteousness shall go before thee; the glory of the Lord shall be thy rearward. Then shalt thou call, and the Lord shall answer; thou shalt cry, and He shall say, Here I am.” “And if thou draw out thy soul to the hungry, and satisfy the afflicted soul; then shall thy light rise in obscurity, and thy darkness be as the noonday: and the Lord shall guide thee continually, and satisfy thy soul in drought, and make fat thy bones: and thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters fail not.” But you are not now entitled to these promised blessings. You have not been engaged in this work. Look back over your past life and consider how destitute it is of good, noble, generous actions. You have talked the truth, but you have not lived it. Your life has not been elevated and sanctified, but it has been characterized by selfishness and stinginess. You have served self faithfully. It is now high time that you were changing your course and working diligently to secure the heavenly treasure. 2T 684.3

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