Now let’s look at how God himself defines fasting and what He regards as true fasting. We will discuss three topics: 1) Incorrect way of fasting,2) Correct way of fasting and 3) Benefits of fasting correctly
Isaiah 58:1-12 (NIV)
1) Incorrect way of fasting
1 “Shout it aloud, do not hold back. Raise your voice like a trumpet. Declare to my people their rebellion and to the descendants of Jacob their sins. 2 For day after day they seek me out; they seem eager to know my ways, as if they were a nation that does what is right and has not forsaken the commands of its God. They ask me for just decisions and seem eager for God to come near them.
Clearly here God through Isaiah, he is indicating that Israel has rebelled against God. God is saying that they are eager to seek him or for his help but yet they are a nation that does what is not right. They have forsaken God’s commands. Yet having rebelled against God and not following his commands, they still expect God to give them just decision.
3 ‘Why have we fasted,’ they say, ‘and you have not seen it? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you have not noticed? ’ “Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please and exploit all your workers. 4 Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife, and in striking each other with wicked fists. You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high.
When God does not answer their prayers or fasting, they complain to God and ask him why they have fasted or humbled themselves if they don’t get the results of the fasting from God. God then gave reasons why he does not notice their fasting and humility. First, on the day of their fasting, they do as they please and exploit their workers, secondly, their fasting always ends in quarreling and anger and thirdly, it also ends in a fist fight. Then God said after this through Isaiah, that they cannot expect God to hear their voice, fasting the way they do.
5 Is this the kind of fast I have chosen, only a day for people to humble themselves? Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed and for lying in sackcloth and ashes? Is that what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord?
God is asking the Israelites if fasting is all about humility only. God implies here that if they, think that fasting is only about humility, then they are wrong. Bowing one’s head and lying in sackcloth and ashes alone, does not cut it as these only show humility.
So God is saying, humility alone does not cut it during fasting and also, fighting, quarreling, anger and exploitation of workers is also not acceptable during fasting. All this show an incorrect way of fasting
2) Correct way of fasting
6 “Is not this 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? 7 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 them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
God now declares in above verses through Isaiah what he as God see as the correct way of fasting. Now, because of the word itself meaning to abstain from food. Abstaining from food is also part of fasting. So not eating food and being humble is part of fasting together with the following:
1) To stop injustice and placing unnecessary burden on people
2) To set the oppressed free and remove all burdens
3) Share the food with the hungry
4) Provide the poor with shelter
5) Clothe the naked
6) Not to turn away from one’s own flesh and blood
These in God’s eyes, qualifies as the correct way of fasting. At the beginning if verse 6 above, God says that this is the kind of fasting that he has chosen.
3) Benefits of fasting correctly
Contrary to verses 1-5, the benefits of fasting the way God has chosen is listed in verse 8-12 below. I will not go deep into them except to say that fasting incorrectly will lead to God ignoring your fast but fasting God’s way, will ensure that you benefit. It is also important to note that God repeats his correct way of fasting in verses 9-10, again God says that they must do away with the burden of oppression, do away with pointing fingers and malicious talk, help the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed. This shows how important it is to God for Israel to do this during their fasting. Over and above showing humility and abstaining from food, God expects all of these as well. God says there is benefits to these.
8 Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard. 9 Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say:Here am I. “If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, 10 and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday. 11 The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun- scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well- watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail. 12 Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the age- old foundations; you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.
In a nudshell, God is saying that when we fast, we must not eat food, we must be humble, take care of the poor and ensure justice. This to God, is the correct way of fasting. When you do it this way, you will benefit from God.