Israel had a problem. The people thought they were righteous before God in the way they sought Him. They were performing rituals and sacrifices that seemed right in their own eyes as to what would please the Lord. Somehow, they made a left turn and followed a way that led, not to Him, but to other gods and the lifting up of themselves. It resulted in great deception in their lives and displeasure on God’s part, as Israel should have known better. Hear what the Lord accused them of in Isaiah 58:2:
Yet they seek me daily
and delight to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that did righteousness
and did not forsake the judgment of their God;
they ask of me righteous judgments;
they delight to draw near to God.
Two little words are the key in this verse: as if. The things they did had the appearance of holiness. They thought that in their worship they were growing closer to God. Instead, when the people gathered before the Lord, they did it for themselves and not for Him, as Isaiah 58:3 says:
… Behold, in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure…
Their fasting, their sacrifices and offerings, were all directed wrongly. What was their problem? A huge issue was their sexual immorality coupled with their pursuit of pagan gods as Isaiah 57:4-5 notes:
… Are you not children of transgression,
the offspring of deceit,
you who burn with lust among the oaks,
under every green tree,
who slaughter your children in the valleys,
under the clefts of the rocks?
A central part of their transgressions including the sacrifice of their children. It wasn’t pretty, and God hated what they did.
As a result, once more, the Lord had to remind them what pleased Him. He outlined that in Isaiah 58:6-7:
“Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of wickedness,
to undo the straps of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
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 him,
and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?
Many times Yahweh had revealed His character to His wayward children. It was hard. Micah 6:8 summarizes God’s instructions:
He has told you, O man, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?
This is exactly what He’s saying here in Isaiah. God is nothing if not consistent. And here’s the thing. The Lord wanted desperately to pour out His blessings on His Chosen People, but He absolutely refused when they chose to rebel against Him, His love, and His goodness. If they had obeyed Him, consider briefly what He would have done, as seen in these several verses in Isaiah 58:
v8 – Then shall your light break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up speedily…
v9 – Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am.’ …
v10 – … then shall your light rise in the darkness
and your gloom be as the noonday.
v14 – … then you shall take delight in the Lord,
and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth;
What comes before then? If… But Israel wasn’t willing and all the blessings of God had to remain for a later time.
In reading this I couldn’t help but make the comparison to a certain segment of the church today. I’ve been pretty critical of the movement within Christendom known as the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR). There are many aspects of NAR that are surely non-Biblical. One of them is an emphasis on experiences that people might have supposedly through the move of the Holy Spirit. NAR churches place a great emphasis on charismatic gifts. The problem as I see it is that they seek those gifts in greater measure than they seek the Lord Himself. One such spiritual gift they emphasize is healing. Obviously healing has a place, a very important one. But the question has to be asked on where the emphasis is put in interaction with others. Is it on Jesus? Or is it on the experiential aspect, i.e. the healing? When Jesus appointed His apostles, Mark 3:14-15 shows the order of precedence in which they were to operate:
And he appointed twelve (whom he also named apostles) so that they might be with him and he might send them out to preach and have authority to cast out demons.
First and foremost was preaching the Gospel, the Good News of Jesus Christ that would cause people to enter the Kingdom of God. And, oh yes, Jesus also gave them authority to cast out demons (and heal the sick).
I think this is what God wanted Israel to learn. She had to first seek Him and then all things would be given to them (Matthew 6:33). There isn’t any difference today in how God wants us to conduct ourselves and in how He will respond.
What is the priority? Healing is important. Feeding the hungry is vital. Yet, these are earthly benefits. The eternal benefit of salvation is most critical. It seems to me that this is an area in the NAR arena that is perhaps lost because the main focus is misdirected.
God doesn’t change. As much as many people try to separate the God of the Old Testament from the God of the New Testament, they do so in vain. His very Word assures us of this in Hebrews 13:8:
Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.
Our task needs to be to keep the main thing the main thing. Just like Israel wandered off into the wilderness of heresy and worse, so today it’s very easy with various ear-tickling teachings for us to seek those things that have lesser value in God’s eyes and can actually lead away from Him.
How do we self-correct? Only through the Word of God. We must seek Him daily through Scripture in a persistent, disciplined manner. It’s in reading our Bibles with a reverent spirit that we grow and mature in Him, knowing the difference between right and wrong, whether in our actions or in doctrine we believe. Such pursuit of Christ in our lives results in God saying to us, as He says in Isaiah 57:15:
“I dwell in the high and holy place,
and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit,
to revive the spirit of the lowly,
and to revive the heart of the contrite.
”Don’t we want more of God dwelling with us? Shouldn’t we desire this high and holy God to be near in everything we do? This is His promise. It’s ours for the asking. All we need to do is follow hard after Him.