Awakening from Our Cocoon – Part I
In my last post [Draw Out Thy Soul to the Hungry], I shared a scripture from Isaiah which I had never before read, but one which very much helped in my train of thought that day. It is the purpose of this post to discuss this scripture and what it means to me.
In this particular chapter of the Book of Isaiah [Chapter 58] we read of an experience Isaiah had with the people to whom he ministered. The opening verse lays out exactly the purpose for this chapter, as well as the purpose Isaiah is charged with – namely, to call the people to repentance. All true prophets call those to whom they minister to repentance and point the way to Christ and no other. This is exactly what Isaiah must do.
The first verse reads:
This is the charge. Show the people their transgressions, show them their sins. Since God is a God of love, we must understand why we must be shown our transgressions. They are not shown to us to instill fear, though oftentimes we interpret those calls to repentance as fear based, but rather they are shown to us out of love, a love that yearns for us to turn away from the falsities of life and return to Christ. To repent means nothing more than to turn around and return to God. To sin means little more than to “miss the mark,” to miss the purpose for which we’re here on the earth. We sin when we miss that mark, when we miss orienting our lives towards Christ.
According to several sources (though not all), there is no word in Hebrew for “sin.” Rather, the word used to describe “sin” is chet, which has reference “to an arrow which ‘missed the target.’ The archer is not ‘bad.’ Rather, he made a mistake – due to a lack of focus, concentration or skill.”
Returning to Isaiah 58, we find the opening verses (verse 3 through 5) decrying the worship of a shallow people.
3 aWherefore have we fasted, say they, and thou seest not? wherefore have we afflicted our soul, and thou takest no knowledge? Behold, in the day of your bfast ye find cpleasure, and dexact all your labours.
5 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?
The reality of the situation presented in these verses, and this chapter, is that the people weren’t fasting with the right heart. They were doing it out of mere ritual (sounds an awful lot like our Fast & Testimony meetings…a ritual fast which occurs 1x per month), and did it as an empty ritual. And yet, even when they went through with this ritual, even when they did fast, they continued with strife, debate, exploitation. There was no sincerity involved. No true devotion existed. They fasted to win arguments (“for debate”), to overcome people and obstacles in their path (“for strife”). They fasted to glorify themselves (“to make your voice to be heard on high”). All the forms and none of the Spirit. In reality…we’re all like that. We all have “forms” we participate in, false traditions passed down from our father’s which we continue without really thinking about them.
Only when we join with the Savior in His work will the world soon find the beauty behind what Isaiah states later on in this chapter. Here, though, the people were complaining of unanswered prayers (haven’t we all?), complaining of the lives they were leading disconnected from God.
False worship, of which I am most certainly guilty, is made up of (a) religion that is impersonal, formal and program centered; (2) comes by habit and tradition; (2) is self-serving; (3) elitist; (4) controlled, orchestrated, predictable; and, (5) includes mere passive involvement, ignoring the reality that God is a deeply personal Being. In short, false worship is a “religion which assumes a relationship with God while discounting relationships with [everyday] people.”
In truth, their fast was not approved of God (“Is it such a fast that I have chosen?). They hypocrisy of these fasts (and our monthly ritual fasting) is detestable. It’s not the kind of fasting God chooses. And, even though we go through all the motions – the “correct” motions (“bow down … as a bulrush, … spread sackcloth and ashes…”), it was an empty ritual. We’re empty today. We lack devotion, sincerity. Our egos are so full of themselves that we have a hard time seeing the forest for the trees, or the trees for the forest. Both are applicable. We’re blinded to our true condition because we believe – and are told – that we’re a “chosen” people (Anyone up for a Rameumptum party?). This chapter is but a precursor for the Lord’s instructions to the Pharisee who reminded the Lord that “I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers … I fast twice a week.” (See Luke 18:9-14.)
From this point on in the chapter, the message and tone both change. Isaiah goes from telling the people how messed up their fasting is, to instructing them on what God really wants from them. It’s not that fasting is bad, or to be discouraged, but rather that God loathes hypocrisy and the ease with which we go through the forms without the right spirit.
7 Is it not to deal thy bread to the ahungry, and that thou bring the bpoor that are cast out to thy house? when thou seest the naked, that thou cover him; and that thou hide not thyself from cthine own flesh?
In order to truly benefit from anything we do, we have to get right with our fellow men, we have to stop oppressing others, to reach out and help others. We have to stop being so self-centered, self-congratulating, self-aggrandizing. “To loose the bands of wickedness,” we have to stop acting wickedly towards others (“undo the heavy burdens,” “let the oppressed go free,” “break every yoke”). The only way we can truly be right with God is to remove the beams from our own eyes. Living a self-centered life will never, ever bring about Zion, bring about the Spirit, or bring about peace. Ever.
In the New Testament, the 4th chapter of the Book of James describes the very fruits of a self-centered life. Those fruits are wars, fightings and lustings. Our self-centered lives are the very source of the madness that pervades or lives, homes and world. False religion and false worship do not work because God simply cannot be present when we’re being false with ourselves, with others or with Him.
From this point, we start sharing our bread with the hungry, bringing in the poor into our houses, feeding them, relieving their burdens, covering the naked and, most poignantly, stop hiding ourselves from our brothers and sisters. Instead of crossing the street to avoid the beggar, instead of turning our eyes away from those dressed poorly, instead of avoiding the dirty and downtrodden, God is telling us stop hiding ourselves. We can’t really hide anyway. It’s not like God can’t see our hearts and what we’re doing. Take off those fig leaves (who gave them to us anyway?) and get right with God and start treating humanity with respect.
9 Then shalt thou acall, and the Lord shall answer; thou shalt cry, and he shall say, Here I am. If thou take away from the midst of thee the yoke, the bputting forth of the finger, and speaking vanity;
12 And they that shall be of thee shall build the old waste places: thou shalt raise up the foundations of many generations; and thou shalt be called, The repairer of the breach, The restorer of paths to dwell in.
Now, we turn to the blessings God promises those who throw away their hypocrisy and start acting like a “true” worshiper. True worship results in “light break[ing] forth as the morning.” True worship results in the “glory of the Lord [being our] rereward.” True worship includes the promises of the Lord answering our calls.
Verse 9 includes four things which we must stop doing: (1) treating others like animals worthy of our yokes, (2) oppressing others, (3) pointing the finger at others, and (4) boasting in our vanity. This list is indicative of things we do. We commit these things. They are acts of commission. This isn’t a list of things we overlook, things we just happen to do. If we want to walk with God, as did Enoch and all his people, we have to stop feeding our egos and start feeding the hungry.
Verse 10 continues with another list. This time, however, it’s a list of things God wants us to do. (1) Minister more to the hungry and afflicted and (2) draw out our souls towards them. Failing to do these things, in contrast to the list given in verse 9, are largely acts of omission. We forget to satisfy and help the hungry and afflicted soul because we’re too caught up in ourselves, too caught up in the distractions of life. The blessing that comes with doing this is that our light will rise in obscurity (again, not in vanity, but in obscurity) and our darkness and vanity will be as the noonday. Instead of being darkness at noonday, we will be living in light at noonday. Christ’s very presence will be with us, to light our minds, our hearts and our lives.
In a day where many of us yearn to be led more constantly by Christ, verse 11 states that we will be guided continually. Our souls will be satisfied from their drought, our bones will become fat with life-giving marrow. We will be like a flowering garden, like a spring of water, whose waters “fail not.” Ascending beyond the rituals of life, ascending above the shallowness of our egos, we’re promised the Lord’s very presence.
Verse 12, then, is quite pertinent. In a day of degeneracy and apostasy from Christ, a day when the foundations have become cracked because of the teaching of the commandments of men, we’re promised a couple of things: (1) waste places will be rebuilt, (2) a new foundation will be built for “many generations,” (3) we’re repair the breaches and (4) restore the paths wherein we can safely dwell here in mortality and beyond. This verse will become the prelude to my next post. Imagine the beauty of these promises. In a day where many decry the general apathy and apostasy existing among all religions, the Lord is promising us that the foundations will be rebuilt for “many generations.” Sounds reminiscent of the beauty the Nephites experienced after Christ ministered to them.
“We live in a broken world. In every direction there are breaches which are wide and deep. There are broken hearts and broken homes, and that which once was sacred is but a waste place … The wall of protection is in ruins, and life has lost all its meaning.” (Redpath)
From the same source as the above quote, this passage of scripture provides us a glimpse of a life which is right in the sight of God:
It is an enlightened life: Your light shall shine in the darkness.
It is a guided life: The Lord will guide you continually.
It is a satisfied life: The Lord will satisfy your soul in drought.
It is a fragrant life: Your life will be like a watered garden.
It is a freshly sustained life: Your life will be like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail.
It is a productive, healing life: You shall build up the old waste places, [repair the breaches and rebuild the foundations which have been eroded over time].
This chapter continues on with two more verses about the Sabbath day, the blessings of keeping the Sabbath day holy, which I have discussed elsewhere. We, in our limited minds, tend to view the Sabbath as merely a day of the week. In the closing verses of this chapter, it appears as though Isaiah is stating that the Sabbath is more an attitude of the heart reflecting true devotion. Paul, in Hebrews 3 and 4, describes entering God’s rest:
“He who has entered God’s (sabbath) rest has ceased from his own efforts as God did from His.” (Hebrews 4:10, emphasis added.)
That is to say, all too often our focus on the Sabbath relates to resting from our day’s labors. Kicking our feet up and laying around all day. Another, deeper meaning of this is can be read this way: “the Sabbath Day of the Old Testament points to an invisible reality – to the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. Our Lord calls His people to stop serving Him in the energy of the flesh and to allow Him to live His endless life through them (see Galatians 2:20-21).”
The focus of this post should be on true worship and living the spirit-filled life that Isaiah so eloquently described in the closing verses of Isaiah 58. Worship that is lacking sincerity, honesty and truthfulness with God will never bring about Zion. Only when we replace our forms with the Spirit, when we cease to participate in “vain oblations,” will Zion come about. It is time to start worshipping the Savior in both mind and spirit and time to do away with our “multitude of sacrifices.”
10 ¶ Hear the word of the Lord, ye rulers of aSodom; give ear unto the law of our God, ye people of Gomorrah.
11 To what purpose is the multitude of your asacrifices unto me? saith the Lord: I am full of the burnt offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts; and I bdelight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of he goats.
12 When ye come to appear before me, who hath required this at your hand, to tread my courts?
Isaiah 58 is nothing more than a practical application of a life led in Christ. It is nothing more, nothing less, than advice on how to escape the dead forms and practices of a church and born out of rituals, and how to get away from the ego. Service to God is the only answer. How you choose to serve God is up to you. That is not the point of this post. Service is individual. Service for the public eye has its reward. Service in private also has its reward. I might even suggest service for service sakes. Don’t do anything merely for a reward. You choose how you want to serve God, if at all. As always, the application is intensely individual.
***A special thanks goes out to the following websites for aiding me in understanding this chapter: (1) http://www.enduringword.com/commentaries/2358.htm; and (2) http://ldolphin.org/isaiah58.html.***