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Bible Commentaries

Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible

Isaiah 58





The prophet, being sent to reprove hypocrisy, expresseth a counterfeit fast, and a true: he declareth what promises are due unto godliness, and to the keeping of the sabbath.

Before Christ 699.

THE seventh section, contained in this and Isaiah 58:1-14 of the following chapter, is divided into two reproofs; the former of which contains, first, a redargutory, and secondly, a doctrinal part, subservient to the redargutory one. In the former we have, first, the voice or command of God to his faithful ministers to convict his nominal people of the manifest vices prevailing among them, Isaiah 58:1. Secondly, the argument of this reproof, where the state of the people is described with respect to their external worship and regard for religion, Isaiah 58:2 and with regard to the opinion which, hypocritical as they were, they held respecting this worship, particularly their fasts, Isaiah 58:3. Thirdly, a reproof adapted to this argument; in which God sets before the people the faults committed in their worship, and particularly in their fasts: middle of Isaiah 58:3-5. In the doctrinal part God declares, by three particulars, the true method of worshipping him, and of observing fasts, and subjoins the benefits and privileges of grace which should attend this true and proper worship. First article, Isaiah 58:6-9.; the second, middle of Isaiah 58:9-12.; the third, Isaiah 58:13-14. In the latter reproof the faithful teachers of the church first demonstrate that the miserable state of the oppressed people is not owing to God, but that the true cause of it is their own sins and vices; chap. 59: Isaiah 58:1-2. Secondly, they enumerate particularly those crimes and vices; Isaiah 58:3-8. Then follows a lamenting and supplicatory part, setting forth the consequences of those vices; wherein the calamitous state of the church, reduced to extremity, and deluded with vain hopes, is described, Isaiah 58:9-11.; and the same is repeated in a confessional supplication to God. There is nothing very difficult in this section, which is connected with that preceding, as the nature of the event is also connected; while, as before, though the prophesy relates to the times of Christianity, the ideas are taken from the state of things under the old oeconomy. The object of the prophesy, says Vitringa, is the people of the new oeconomy, after the beginning of the reformation, declining from their profession, and falling from their first faith.

Verse 2

Isaiah 58:2. Yet they—that did righteousness, and forsook not But they—as a nation that doeth righteousness, and forsaketh not.

Verse 3

Isaiah 58:3. Behold, &c.— "You gratify your passions, especially your covetousness: you oppress the poor, and therefore are defective in the duties of justice and charity." By labours are meant those riches which are gotten by the toil and fatigue of ourselves or others; and by exacting our labours, in the style of the Mosaic law, is meant, the rigorous insisting upon payment, where the debtor is unable to make it. The next verse fully explains this clause; and no reader can fail to admire the subsequent part of this chapter, wherein the prophet sets forth, in the fullest manner possible, the vanity of all external and formal professions in religion, unaccompanied by genuine holiness, virtue, and undissembled love and charity.

Verse 4

Isaiah 58:4. Ye shall not fast, &c.— Ye fast not this day, so as to make your voice [or prayers] to be heard above. Isaiah 58:5. Is it such a fast as I should choose, a day, &c.

Verse 8

Isaiah 58:8. Then shall thy light, &c.— Then [that is to say, if thou shalt join these, acts of love and beneficence to thy fasting and religious worship] thy light, &c. that is to say, "Thou shalt in a short time obtain the happy state which thou hast desired, and shalt also be delivered from the evils which oppress thee, and be entirely restored. Thou shalt have God for thy defender and protector, and in all thy prayers and vows, (Isaiah 58:9.) shalt find him propitious, and ready to hear thee." Instead of, ארכתךֶ arukatheka, thy health, Vitringa reads, thy recovery. The idea at the end of the verse is taken from an army, the rear of which is particularly guarded and defended from any attack; or perhaps the allusion may be to the pillar of fire which attended the Israelites in their march through the wilderness.

Verse 9

Isaiah 58:9. The putting forth of the finger That is, says Grotius, "If thou shalt cease with the finger of contempt to mark out good men, and to mock and despise their simplicity and sincerity." In this and the subsequent verses, the prophet elegantly repeats and enlarges upon what he had delivered in the former period.

Verse 12

Isaiah 58:12. And they—shall build, &c.— The meaning is, (for the whole of this and the preceding verse is metaphorical,) that from the city of God, flourishing in the manner above described, should go forth those who should renew and restore the churches long laid waste, as immersed in thick darkness and superstition, and governed by faithless pastors, and so unworthy, the name of the churches of God; and who should collect together, erect, and build anew the foundations of those churches; that is to say, the heads of Christian doctrine delivered by the prophets and apostles, which, though they had retained them in the confession of their faith, they had mixed with heterogeneous doctrines; so that they might be esteemed as wholly subverted and overthrown. And thou shalt be called, says the prophet, the repairer of the breach, &c. as much as to say, "Thou shalt be truly called, or become a reformed church." See ch. Isaiah 60:14 and compare ch. Isaiah 49:8 and Isaiah 54:3.

Verse 13

Isaiah 58:13. If thou turn away thy foot from the sabbath, &c.— Vitringa renders this, If thou turn away thy foot from the sabbath, so as not to study thy pleasure on my holy day, but callest, &c. The meaning is, "If on the sabbath thou shalt abstain from running up and down, from the ordinary occupation and business of human life, in search of profit or pleasure, &c. Isaiah 58:14. Then, &c." For the observation of the sabbath requires rest and spiritual exercise, as the prophet finely teaches us in the subsequent part of this verse; in which he sets forth, in the strongest and most explicit terms, the manner wherein the sabbath-day should be honoured. The foot in Scripture is frequently used for all the labour and business of men: see Proverbs 4:26-27. Psalms 119:101 and chap. Isaiah 56:2.

Verse 14

Isaiah 58:14. Then shalt thou delight thyself in the Lord From the benefits consequent upon the duty, which are spiritual, we may collect the duty itself. It was enjoined in the 13th verse, to call the sabbath a delight; in return for which delight in the Lord, sincere and spiritual delight is promised. The meaning of the next promise seems to be, that God would give his church the perfect possession of the inheritance of the world; of those states and kingdoms which had hitherto opposed it; and would subject them to it in faith. See Psalms 37:34. This prophesy certainly glances at the universal spread of righteousness in the latter days.

REFLECTIONS.—1st, A commission is given to the prophet to remonstrate against the iniquity and hypocrisy of the people.

1. He is commanded to be earnest and bold in the discharge of his office. Cry aloud, spare not, lift up thy voice like a trumpet. Sinners are dull of hearing; they need sons of thunder to spread the dire alarm of their danger; and ministers who would be faithful to their trust must be free, bold, and earnest in their reproofs, and accept no man's person: and shew my people their transgression, and the house of Jacob their sins, in which, notwithstanding their pious professions, they lived; and which, distinctly and particularly, God's ministers must charge home upon their consciences, particularly their formality, self-dependence, and hypocrisy.

2. Their pretences to religion must not impose upon him; they were but an aggravation of their guilt, and called for a sharper rebuke. Yet they seek me daily; affect to appear solicitous in the ordinances of worship; make it their constant practice to attend their devotions public and private: and delight to know my ways; in appearance, take pleasure in attending the most powerful and faithful preachers, and desire to furnish their understandings with right sentiments of religion; as a nation that did righteousness; they would fain appear righteous unto men; and forsook not the ordinance of their God, to whose favour they made a strong claim, and joined in the exercise of worship, praying, reading, singing, communicating. They ask of me the ordinances of justice; inquiring of God's ministers, and in their prayers testifying an earnest concern to know the right way, and walk in it. They take delight in approaching to God; pleased with their own services, and either counting them meritorious in the eye of God, or expecting from them men's esteem and admiration. Note; (1.) The most detestable character before God is the hypocrite. (2.) How far, how very far may men go, to appearance, in the way to heaven, even to be admired and envied for their gifts and piety! and yet in fact be only sacrificing to their own drag, and so much nearer the belly of hell.

2nd, Because these hypocrites had so many good things to say of themselves, they are,

1. Represented as expostulating with God for paying no more regard to them. Having a high opinion of themselves, their doings and duties, they would fain have God express the like approbation of them. Wherefore have we failed, and thou seest not? wherefore have we afflicted our soul, and thou takest no knowledge? Note; (1.) There are those who fast and afflict their souls from a principle of pride and self-righteousness, as well as others who do it from a spirit of real humiliation. (2.) Many flatter themselves that God will reward the services which he in fact abhors. (3.) Nothing more highly exasperates those who value themselves on their own goodness, than to have the vanity of their self-dependence shown them, and the folly of their hopes detected.

2. The hypocrisy of their duties is rebuked. If God disregarded them, he had abundant cause to do so. They found pleasure and prided themselves in their fasts, as if they were more righteous than others; they exacted all their labours, rigorous and severe with their servants, and unrelenting toward their poor debtors. They fasted for strife and debate, appointing these solemn seasons to perpetuate divisions among each other, by pretending to cast the cause of their national afflictions on other's sins, instead of their own; or making their fast-days occasions of strife and debate, when and how they should be observed; and to smite with the fists of wickedness, oppressing and ill-using their poor insolvent debtors, while they pretended to be humbling their souls for their own offences before God. Ye shall not fast as ye do this day, to make your voice to be heard on high, either clamorous against their debtors, or threatening their servants, or disputing with each other, or with their pompous and loud devotions affecting extra-ordinary piety: Is it such a fast that I have chosen? a day for a man to afflict his soul? the mere work of abstaining from meat for a few hours, while the heart continues utterly unhumbled and unrenewed? Is it to bow down his head as a bulrush? and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? Is this enough,—to make a parade of the external tokens of pretended humiliation? wilt thou call this a fast, and an acceptable day to the Lord? can it be possible, that he should be pleased with or approve of such a farce of religious ceremony? No, God trieth the heart, hateth falsehood and hypocrisy, and will not accept the services of feigned lips. Note; To pretend a zeal for religion, and live in the indulgence of iniquity, is vile hypocrisy, and the sure way to destroy our own souls.

3. God prescribes the true nature of a religious fast. He wills that the soul should be afflicted for sin, while the body is humbled in the dust; and, as the surest proof of it, that there be a change wrought in our lives. Is not this the fast that I have chosen, to loose the bands of wickedness? in general, to break off from every known sin, from every wicked combination; to undo the heavy burdens from the poor servant, who groaned under unreasonable commands, or from the poor debtor loaded with chains, who had really nothing to pay, and to let the oppressed go free, obtaining his discharge from vexatious suits, or hard servitude, and that ye break every yoke, no more enslaving or harassing their brethren. Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry? whom want compels to many a fast, and who need the bread which in our fulness we are called to deny ourselves; and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house, those who shiver in the cold, and have no covering, or the poor refugees that suffer persecution, as the word may be rendered, for conscience-sake, and are driven from their own homes. When thou seest the naked, that thou cover him; not say, Be warm, be filled; and yet give him not the things he needs, but clothe him; and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh, not only those near relatives who have the first claim to our bounty, but esteeming every man a brother, as of the same blood, and especially those of the houshold of faith. Note; (1.) If any man seeth his brother in need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him? (2.) They who have the deepest sense of the divine charity of Jesus to them, will ever be the most ready to open their hearts and their hands to relieve the distresses of others.

3rdly, They who walk in the ways of grace, will ever find them paths of blessedness. We have,

1. The gracious conduct enjoined. If thou take away from the midst of thee the yoke, abstaining from every oppression and severity towards their brethren, and labouring, as far as their influence and authority prevail, to restrain it in others; the putting forth of the finger, either as a mark of threatening or correction, or as a token of contempt and derision, and speaking vanity, hypocritical addresses to God, flattering speeches to men, or falsehood and lying, in their dealings one with another: And if thou draw out thy soul to the hungry, not only relieving their wants, but expressing for them the tenderest compassion, which doubly enhances the favour; and satisfy the afflicted soul, whatever be the causes of his distress, kindly affording him every assistance for his body or soul; then God will remember these works of faith and labours of love. Note; The world is full of objects of compassion; we shall not want opportunity, if we do not want a heart to do good.

2. Many and rich blessings are promised to those who thus walk in love, and live to be useful.

[1.] God will remember them in the day of affliction, and cause their light to thine. Then shall thy light rise in obscurity, and thy darkness be as the noon-day; out of every trouble God would deliver them. Swiftly as the morning breaks, and pleasingly as the rising sun dispels the shadows of the night, so should their light break forth; their comfort, credit, and prosperity, shining more and more unto the perfect day; and thine health shall spring forth speedily; if they were afflicted in body or soul, the affliction should be removed. Note; They will be no losers who lend unto the Lord, by relieving his people in distress; he will repay, nay, over-pay them for their kindness.

[2.] The Lord will be their protector and guide; thy righteousness shall go before thee, as the evidence of their fidelity; and the glory of the Lord shall be thy rereward, or shall gather thee: as a strong body of troops, that protects the rear, and gathers up the stragglers that none be lost, so the Lord will preserve them safe in all their ways, and magnify his own glory in their salvation. The Lord shall guide thee continually, by his word, Spirit, and providences, and this continually, night and day, lest any hurt them. Note; They are happy indeed, who see the infinite merit of the Redeemer as their acceptance before God, and the glory of God engaged for their support.

[3.] All their prayers shall be heard and answered. Thou shalt call and the Lord shall answer; thou shalt cry, and he shall say, Here I am, a very present help in trouble; while they are speaking, he will hear; he will be near them when affrighted they cry to him; and he is ready to do more and better for them than they are able to ask or think. Note; If we have so great, so kind a friend ever at hand, so willing, so able to help us, let us never neglect to apply to him, and then who can harm us?

[4.] God will supply all their wants, spiritual and temporal: He will satisfy thy soul in drought, when the lions lack and suffer hunger, they shall be fed; or when thirsting in this barren land for Christ, the water of life, for his grace, for his presence and Spirit, he will refresh them; and make fat thy bones, giving them plenty, or rather comforting and strengthening the souls of his people, and causing them to increase with the increase of God. And thou shalt be like a watered garden, adorned with divine graces as a garden blooming with beauty, breathing fragrance, and laden with the choicest fruits, and like a spring of water, whose waters fail not, the heavenly principle of grace deeply implanted and continually springing up.

[5.] They shall be honoured as the instruments of building up the church of God; and they that shall be of thee shall build the old waste places, which may refer to those of the Jews, who, on their return from Babylon, restored the cities, and especially Jerusalem, which had lain in ruins, or to those whom God will employ in the Gospel to build up the waste places of the world, as the words עולם חרבות chareboth olam, may be rendered, the whole earth having been covered with the desolations of ignorance and sin, till by the preaching of the word the Gentiles were converted, and Christian societies established; and thou shalt raise up the foundations of many generations, as when the temple was raised from its rubbish, so shall the church of Christ, in the latter days, rise beautiful and glorious, and continue to increase till the reign of Christ be universally established: and thou shalt be called the repairer of the breach, and the restorer of paths to dwell in; they shall be honoured by those who have been called through their ministry; the breaches which abounding iniquity had made shall be repaired, all divisions healed, and by their means the paths of truth and holiness become happily frequented.

4thly, A serious and conscientious observance of the sabbath-day, is one of the best evidences and surest means of having the heart devoted to God.

1. The sanctification of this day is described. If thou turn away thy foot from the sabbath, from trampling upon it, by profane neglect, making it a day of travelling, idleness, or visiting; from doing thy pleasure on my holy-day, not making it a day of vain amusements, or spending it in those recreations which at another season may be lawful; and call the sabbath a delight, welcoming its return with gladness, counting these sacred hours the happiest portions of our time, and spending them with joy in his blessed service of prayer, praise, meditation, godly conversation, &c. the holy of the Lord, respecting its divine institution; and honourable, employing ourselves in it, as may most conduce to advance the honour and glory of God; and shalt honour him who appointed this day of rest, not doing thine own ways in any secular business or the work of common days; nor finding thine own pleasure, turning it into a day of sauntering, diversion, or vanity; nor speaking thine own words, the thoughts of this world, and the cares of it should be banished from our minds, and all our conversation be employed about the things of God, and how we may secure to ourselves a part in his eternal rest.

2. The benefit of such an improvement of the Lord's day will be great; for, then shalt thou delight thyself in the Lord; abundant consolation will be the blessed fruit; and clearer discoveries of the riches of the grace and love of Christ be made to the soul; so that by experience we shall say, One day in thy courts is better than a thousand; and I will cause thee to ride upon the high places of the earth, in safety from every enemy, exalted to honour; or, spiritually, to live above the earth, and have our conversation in heaven, enjoying the comfort and dignity of being sons of God: and feed thee with the heritage of Jacob thy father, with all the blessings of the covenant of promise, and the foretastes of eternal bliss, more precious than the richest provision of Canaan, the heritage of Israel: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it, and therefore we may confidently trust him, for he will never disappoint the hopes of those who perseveringly place their dependence upon him. Heaven and earth shall pass away, but his word shall never pass away until the whole be fulfilled.


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Bibliography Information
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Isaiah 58:4". Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible. 1801-1803.

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