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This elegant chapter contains a severe reproof of the Jews on account of their vices, particularly their hypocrisy in practising and relying on outward ceremonies, such as fasting and bodily humiliation, without true repentance, Isaiah 58:1-5. It then lays down a clear and comprehensive summary of the duties they owed to their fellow creatures, Isaiah 58:6, Isaiah 58:7. Large promises of happiness and prosperity are likewise annexed to the performance of these duties in a variety of the most beautiful and striking images, Isaiah 58:8-12. Great temporal and spiritual blessedness of those who keep holy the Sabbath day, Isaiah 58:13, Isaiah 58:14.
Cry aloud, spare not - Never was a louder cry against the hypocrisy, nor a more cutting reproof of the wickedness, of a people professing a national established religion, having all the forms of godliness without a particle of its power. This chapter has been often appointed to be read on political fast days for the success of wars carried on for - God knows what purposes, and originating in - God knows what motives. Politically speaking, was ever any thing more injudicious?
Have we adopted our soul “Have we afflicted our souls” - Twenty-seven MSS. (six ancient) of Dr. Kennicott‘s, thirty-six of De Rossi‘s, and two of my own, and the old edition of 1488 have the noun in the plural number, נפשינו (naphsheynu), our souls; and so the Septuagint, Chaldee, and Vulgate. This reading is undoubtedly genuine.
In the day of your fast ye find pleasure - Fast days are generally called holidays, and holidays are days of idleness and pleasure. In numberless cases the fast is turned into a feast.
And exact all your labors - Some disregard the most sacred fast, and will oblige their servant to work all day long; others use fast days for the purpose of settling their accounts, posting up their books, and drawing out their bills to be ready to collect their debts. These are sneaking hypocrites; the others are daringly irreligious.
Ye fast for strife and debate - How often is this the case! A whole nation are called to fast to implore God‘s blessing on wars carried on for the purposes of wrath and ambition.
To smite with the fist of wickedness: ye shall not fast as ye do this day “To smite with the fist the poor. Wherefore fast ye unto me in this manner” - I follow the version of the Septuagint, which gives a much better sense than the present reading of the Hebrew. Instead of רשע לא (resha lo), they seem to have read in their copy רש על מה לי (rash al mah lli). The four first letters are the same, but otherwise divided in regard to the words; the four last are lost, and א (aleph) added in their place, in order to make some sort of sense with רשע ל. The version of the Septuagint is, και τυπτετε τυγμαις ταπεινον· ἱνα τι μοι νηστευετε - as above.
Let the oppressed go free - How can any nation pretend to fast or worship God at all, or dare to profess that they believe in the existence of such a Being, while they carry on the slave trade, and traffic in the souls, blood, and bodies, of men! O ye most flagitious of knaves, and worst of hypocrites, cast off at once the mask of religion; and deepen not your endless perdition by professing the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, while ye continue in this traffic!
Deal thy bread to the hungry - But this thou canst not do, if thou eat it thyself. When a man fasts, suppose he do it through a religious motive, he should give the food of that day, from which he abstains, to the poor and hungry, who, in the course of providence, are called to sustain many involuntary fasts, besides suffering general privations. Wo to him who saves a day‘s victuals by his religious fast! He should either give them or their value in money to the poor. See Isaiah 58:6.
That thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house “To bring the wandering poor into thy house” - πτωχους αστεγους , Septuagint; egenos vagosque, Vulgate; and מטלטלין (metaltelin), Chaldee. They read, instead of מרודים (merudim), הנודים (hanudim). מר (mer) is upon a rasure in the Bodleian MS. The same MS. reads ביתה (bayethah), in domum, “into the house.” - L.
And thine health shall spring forth speedily “And thy wounds shall speedily be healed over” - Et cicatrix vulneris tui cito obducetur “And the scar of thy wounds shall be speedily removed.” Aquila‘s Version, as reported by Jerome, with which agrees that of the Chaldee.
The glory “And the glory” - Sixteen MSS. (five ancient) of Dr. Kennicott‘s, and the Septuagint, Syriac, and Vulgate add the conjunction ו (vau), וכבוד (vechabod).
And if thou draw out thy soul to the hungry “If thou bring forth thy bread to the hungry” - “To draw out thy soul to the hungry,” as our translators rightly enough express the present Hebrew text, is an obscure phrase, and without example in any other place. But instead of נפשך (naphshecha), thy soul, eight MSS. (three ancient) of Kennicott‘s and three of De Rossi‘s read לחמך (lachmecha), thy bread; and so the Syriac renders it. The Septuagint express both words, τον αρτον εκ της ψυχης σου , “thy bread from thy soul.” I cannot help thinking, however, that this reading is a gloss, and should not be adopted. To draw out the soul in relieving the poor, is to do it, not of constraint or necessity, but cheerfully, and is both nervous and elegant. His soul pities and his hand gives.
And make fat thy bones “And he shall renew thy strength” - Chaldaeus forte legit יחכיף עצמתך (yachaliph otsmathecha); confer cap. Isaiah 40:29, Isaiah 40:31, et Isaiah 41:1. - Secker. “The Chaldee perhaps read יחליף עצמתך (yachaliph otsmathecha). “The Chaldee has וגופך יחיי בחיי עלמא (veguphach vechaiyey bechaiyey alma), “and he will vivify thy body in life eternal.” The rest of the ancients seem not to know what to make of יחליץ (yachalits); and the rendering of the Vulgate, which seems to be the only proper one, ossa tua liberabit, “he will deliver thy bones,” makes no sense. I follow this excellent emendation; to favor which it is still farther to be observed that three MSS., instead of עצמתיך (atsmotheycha), have עצמתך (otsmathecha), singular. - L.
The restorer of paths to dwell in “The restorer of paths to be frequented by inhabitants” - To this purpose it is rendered by the Syriac, Symmachus, and Theodotion.
If thou turn away thy foot from the Sabbath - The meaning of this seems to be, that they should be careful not to take their pleasure on the Sabbath day, by paying visits, and taking country jaunts; not going, as Kimchi interprets it, more than a Sabbath day‘s journey, which was only two thousand cubits beyond the city‘s suburbs. How vilely is this rule transgressed by the inhabitants of this land! They seem to think that the Sabbath was made only for their recreation!
From doing thy pleasure - The Septuagint, Syriac, and Chaldee, for עשות (asoth), manifestly express מעשות (measoth). So likewise a MS. has it, but with the omission of the words שבת רגלך (shabbath raglecha). - L.
The holy of the Lord “And the holy feast of Jehovah” - Twenty-eight MSS. (seven ancient) add the conjunction ו (vau), ולקדוש (velikedosh); and so the Syriac, Chaldee, and Vulgate. One of my own has the same reading.
Nor speaking thine own words “From speaking vain words” - It is necessary to add some epithet to make out the sense; the Septuagint say, angry words; the Chaldee, words of violence. If any such epithet is lost here, the safest way is to supply it by the prophet‘s own expression, Isaiah 58:9, ודבר און (vedabar aven), vain words; that is, profane, impious, injurious, etc.
“The additional epithet seems unnecessary; the Vulgate and Syriac have it not; and the sense is good without it; two ways, first by taking ודבר (vedabar) for a noun, and דבר (dabur) for the participle pahul, and rendering, -
‹From pursuing thy pleasure, and the thing resolved on.‘
Or, secondly, by supposing the force of the preposition מ (mem) to have been continued from the verb ממצוא (mimmetso) to the verb ודבר (vedabber) immediately following; and rendering, -
‹From executing thy pleasure, and from speaking words concerning it.‘
But the first seems the easier rendering.”
Then shalt thou delight thyself - If all fasts and religious observances be carried on in the spirit and manner recommended above, God‘s blessing will attend every ordinance. But in public fasts, prescribed not in the Book of God, but by the rulers of nations in general (very unfit persons) care should be taken that the cause is good, and that God‘s blessing may be safely implored in it.
France has lately fasted and prayed that they might be able to subjugate Spain, restore and establish the horrible inquisition, and utterly destroy all the liberties of the people! Is this such a fast as God hath chosen? - a.d. 1823.