Isaiah 58: Beyond the Individual to the Social

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I read Isaiah 58 more thoroughly today. This passage is about what God considered “True Fasting”.

Going through this chapter, I realized how it spoke so much about what I’ve been thinking a lot lately – about poverty, oppression and about how Christians basically do not concern themselves about helping the poor or standing up for the oppressed.

As I read, I felt God speaking to me through this passage and affirming my desire to see more Christians get involved in social and political action and in helping the poor and oppressed.

Here are some passages that struck me:

…exploit your workers… (v.3)

Is this the kind of fast I have chosen, only a day for a man to humble himself? Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed and for lying on sackcloth and ashes? Is that what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord? (v. 5)

Is this not the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter – when you see the naked, to clothe him… (v. 6-7)

If you do away with the yoke of oppression…and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed… (v. 9-10)

Indeed, although most Christians may not be “exploiting” their workers, their lack of concern for those workers who are exploited is just as much a sin as if they were the ones actually exploiting the workers. The fact that they are unconcerned about workers who go exploited and continue to buy products from companies that exploit their workers is tragic.

When I read about God questioning the Israelites’ view of what a fast is, and giving his own interpretation, the first point that strikes me is that the wrong view of fasting is one that concerns merely the individual – “for a man to humble himself…for bowing one’s head…” But God’s view is one that concerns primarily society and groups of people – it talks about losing the chains of injustice, untying the cords of the yoke, setting the oppressed free, sharing food with the hungry. All these refers to groups of people, not just individuals. God is not concerned just with the individual, but also with social structures. He is not just concerned about personal spirituality but also the social implications of such spirituality.

Too often we think of our faith as being a personal and individual faith. That is true no doubt. But it goes beyond that. We must get involved in society.

We also see clearly through this passage that God wants us to be involved in social concern like feeding the hungry and clothing the naked…etc. And I think we may also come to the conclusion through this passage that we need to go beyond such social concern and also get involved in social action – i.e. political activism. When God talks about oppression and setting the oppressed free, I believe He knows structures are involved. There are some structures in society that we need to overthrow because they oppress many people. To help such oppressed people, we have to do something about changing the structures.

All this is what I’ve been so passionately concerned about in the past year and especially the past few weeks. As I see the oppression the Palestinians face and the general apathy and lack of compassion of the Christian community towards them, I became really sad – and angry even. Why have Christians focused so much on evangelism and personal faith that they have neglected to do anything when it comes to social issues? This cannot be right. God surely doesn’t want it that way. He’s a God who loves the oppressed. He would fight for them. He hates injustice. He is compassionate and loving to the poor and oppressed. All this He is in this area – all this the Christian community today mostly is not.

So when my eyes saw what was in Isaiah 58, I was amazed. Thankful also to God for pointing out this passage to me. Just when I thought I was alone, He shows that He’s there with me and going to be with me as I seek to see Christians become more involved in social work and social action too. God help us all to know what “true fasting” is about!

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