a Bible passage

Click a verse to see commentary
Select a resource above

False and True Worship


Shout out, do not hold back!

Lift up your voice like a trumpet!

Announce to my people their rebellion,

to the house of Jacob their sins.


Yet day after day they seek me

and delight to know my ways,

as if they were a nation that practiced righteousness

and did not forsake the ordinance of their God;

they ask of me righteous judgments,

they delight to draw near to God.


“Why do we fast, but you do not see?

Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?”

Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day,

and oppress all your workers.


Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight

and to strike with a wicked fist.

Such fasting as you do today

will not make your voice heard on high.


Is such the fast that I choose,

a day to humble oneself?

Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush,

and to lie in sackcloth and ashes?

Will you call this a fast,

a day acceptable to the L ord?



Is not this the fast that I choose:

to loose the bonds of injustice,

to undo the thongs 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 them,

and not to hide yourself from your own kin?


Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,

and your healing shall spring up quickly;

your vindicator shall go before you,

the glory of the L ord shall be your rear guard.


Then you shall call, and the L ord will answer;

you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.


If you remove the yoke from among you,

the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,


if you offer your food to the hungry

and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,

then your light shall rise in the darkness

and your gloom be like the noonday.


The L ord will guide you continually,

and satisfy your needs in parched places,

and make your bones strong;

and you shall be like a watered garden,

like a spring of water,

whose waters never fail.


Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;

you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;

you shall be called the repairer of the breach,

the restorer of streets to live in.



If you refrain from trampling the sabbath,

from pursuing your own interests on my holy day;

if you call the sabbath a delight

and the holy day of the L ord honorable;

if you honor it, not going your own ways,

serving your own interests, or pursuing your own affairs;


then you shall take delight in the L ord,

and I will make you ride upon the heights of the earth;

I will feed you with the heritage of your ancestor Jacob,

for the mouth of the L ord has spoken.


1. Cry with the throat. This chapter has been badly divided; for these words are connected with what goes before; and therefore, if we wish to understand the Prophet’s meaning, we ought to read them as if there had been no separation. The Prophet has testified that the people shall be punished in such a manner as to leave some hope of peace, and next has threatened that the wicked, who by indolent pride endeavor to escape from God, shall have continual war. He now confirms that doctrine, and informs them that God has given him this command, to “cry with the throat,” that is, to use a common expression, (a plein gosier) “at the full stretch of the voice.”

Why is this? It is to make known to the people their sins He does not speak merely of the stretch of the voice, but means by it that keenness and severity of language which hypocrites especially need, as if God were throwing thunderbolts against them from heaven; for they are delighted with their vices, if they be not severely reproved and dragged forth to the light, or rather if they be not violently thrown down.

When he adds, Spare not, it is a mode of expression very frequently employed by Hebrew writers, such as, “I cry, and am not silent.” (Psalm 22:2) It is equivalent to a common expression, (Crie sans espargner,) “Cry without sparing.” We have said that the Prophet does not speak of the mere sound of the voice, but means a severe and harsh reproof, which is very necessary to be sharply used towards hypocrites. For instance, if the prophets merely spoke of the Law of the Lord, and showed what is the rule of a good and holy life, and recommended the worship of God, and likewise reproved vices, but. without employing any vehemence of language, what impression would they produce on hypocrites, whose conscience is lulled in such a manner that they cannot be aroused but by applying spurs? And so a simple manner of teaching would not be enough, unless they were sharply attacked, and the thunderbolts of words were launched against them.

Paul also, imitating the prophets, after having condemned all mankind, breaks out with greater vehemence against those who made some profession of holiness and abused God’s patience. “Behold, thou art called a Jew, and restest in the Law, and boastest in God, and knowest his will, and approvest what is excellent, being instructed out of the Law; and trustest that thou thyself art a guide of the blind, a light of those who are in darkness, an instructor of fools, a teacher of the ignorant, having the form of knowledge and of truth by the Law. Thou therefore that teachest another, teachest thou not thyself? Thou who preachest that men ought not to steal, dost thou steal? (Romans 2:17-21) Against such persons he threatens the judgment of God and terrible vengeance, because they have abused his goodness, and vainly boast of his name.

Thus the Prophet, in this passage, sharpens his pen expressly against the Jews, who gloried in the name of God, and yet proudly rose up against him. This is the method, therefore, that ought to be followed against hypocrites, who hold out an empty show of holiness; at least, if we wish to discharge our duty in a proper and useful manner. As the Lord exercised the prophets in this kind of combat, so we must be exercised in it at the present day; so that we must not hold our peace, or give them a slight reproof, but must exclaim against them with all our might.

It might be objected, “If the Lord commands his servants to reprove the sins of the people, to whom he promises peace, he undoubtedly intended to leave to them the hope of salvation. And yet it is certain that those words are addressed to the reprobate, against whom he had formerly declared war.” I reply, believers were at that time reduced to a small number; for there were few who embraced the peace that was offered to them. Accordingly, when Isaiah holds out the hope of approaching peace, he has his eye on that little flock; when he threatens war, his aim is to terrify the multitude, who were estranged from God and despised his warnings; for the state of the people was such, as we have formerly seen, (Isaiah 1:21) that scarcely any pure or sound morality remained.

And to the house of Jacob their iniquity. With good reason does he call them “the house of Jacob,” when the greater part of the people were corrupted. And we ought carefully to observe this distinction: that the prophets sometimes address the multitude at large, and sometimes limit their discourse to a few believers. Nor is it without witty and bitter mockery that he gives the designations of “his people” and “children of Jacob” to those who had degenerated from their stock and had basely revolted from the faith of the fathers. The concession made is therefore ironical; as if he had said that there is no privilege which hinders them from hearing what they deserve.

2. Yet they seek me daily. Here he intended to take away every ground of objection from hypocrites, who had their answers ready. “We fear, serve, and love God, and seek him with the whole heart. Why do you rebuke us as if we were irreligious persons; for we wish to regulate our life according to the injunctions of the Law.” To meet this objection, he affirms that they do nothing in a pure or sincere manner, that everything is pretended and hypocritical, and consequently is of no value before God, who demands the whole heart. (Genesis 17:1)

It is proper to observe this order which the Prophet has followed. After having threatened war against wicked men and hypocrites, he now rebukes them severely, and takes away the pretenses and disguises under which they shrouded themselves. This is the manner in which hypocrites should be treated, and dragged, as it were, out of their lurking­places; for otherwise doctrine could produce no good effect upon them. And not only should godly teachers observe this order, but every person ought to apply this manner of teaching for his own use, that he may not be satisfied with himself or flatter his vices; that he may not practice hypocrisy on himself, or suffer himself to be deceived by the tricks of Satan. Let him therefore bring a pure and upright heart, if he wish to profit by the doctrine of the word, and to be acceptable to God.

And wish to know my ways. Although Isaiah admits that traitors and liars have some show of holiness, yet, on the other hand, by a bitter figure of speech, he censures them, as if he had said that in their shameful boasting there was excessive wickedness. Thus it is not simple irony, but there is likewise added a complaint, that, while they apparently labor to serve God, still, if any person examine them more closely, and inquire into their whole manner of life, he will perceive that their hearts are altogether estranged from God.

They ask of me the judgments of righteousness. 118118     “They consult the priests and prophets as to those laws and statutes about which there is any uncertainty, as if they were afraid of breaking the commandments of God through ignorance. ­ Rosenmuller. Those who think that in these words hypocrites blame God, and rise up against him, as if they would enter into controversy with him, have not understood the Prophet’s meaning. I acknowledge that he does this soon afterwards; but before coming down to it, he tears off their mask of pretended godliness. After having said that they “seek God daily,” as if there were nothing that occupied their thoughts more earnestly than religion, he proceeds in the same strain, and says, that they “ask judgments,” that they may serve God, and observe the rule of a holy life, that is, by pretending to burn with zeal for religion. And indeed the Prophet here enumerates the most important exercises of believers, which sometimes are ostentatiously imitated by the wicked. Now, the chief point of religion is, to inquire into the will of God, that we may regulate our life by the rule which he has laid down for us, and to depend on his mouth. But the children of God, in this respect, are falsely copied by hypocrites, so that they appear to practice all that relates to the true worship of God, and sometimes to exceed the very best of men.

3. Wherefore have we fasted? He proceeds farther with the same subject, and says that feigned and perverse worshippers of God are not only blinded by their hypocrisy, but likewise swell with pride, so that they venture openly to murmur at God, and to complain when he presses hard upon them, as if he had done them a grievous injury. “Dost thou reject our services, fastings, and prayers? Why are they not acceptable to thee? Do we not vex ourselves in vain?“

He has admitted, as we have already said, that hypocrites have some outward show of holiness, by which they deceive men; but now he declares that inwardly they are also puffed up and intoxicated by pride, while they have pretended good works, by which they think that they satisfy God, and, on this pretense, they carry themselves high against the prophets, and indulge in the worst vices, such as unbelief, rebellion, and obstinacy against God, distrust, cruelty, fraud, and pillage. These are light matters in themselves, and are easily washed away by other external exercises; for the former are their pre­eminent merits, in which they think that the worship of God consists, and from which they hope to obtain the pardon of all their sins. Thus they “strain out a gnat, 119119     For the meaning of this phrase, see our author’s Commentary on the harmony of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, Vol. 3, p. 93. ­ Ed. and do not scruple to swallow a whole camel.” (Matthew 23:24) If such characters had been found among the Jews only, and if the world had changed its disposition, we should have needed to seek far for examples; but since we have experience of the same thing every day, there is no necessity for giving ourselves much trouble about the exposition of this passage.

This complaint may be viewed as referring both to the word and to the hand of God. In both ways God judges hypocrites; for he rebukes by the word, and punishes for their obstinate malice; and therefore those words may be viewed as referring both to the chastisements and to the preceding reproof. For my own part, I interpret it as relating to the word, and as a rebuke to hypocrites, who boasted of their fastings, and contrasted them with the censures of the prophets; as if they were the true worshippers of God, and were unjustly rebuked. I differ from those who think that the people blame God for treating them harshly during their captivity. On the contrary, it appears to me that they complain of the prophets for rebuking them with great sharpness and severity; for the Jews wished to be regarded as devout and religious persons, and could not patiently endure to be condemned for impiety and wickedness. For this reason the Prophet exposes their dispositions, and shows that they make war with God, that they may not suppose that they have to deal with him as a private individual.

Ye find pleasure and exact all your labors. In the second part of the verse he refutes, in the name of God, those virtues which hypocrites proclaim with the sound of a trumpet. It is, because they do not nevertheless lay aside the sinful dispositions of the flesh, or begin to deny themselves; for he condemns them chiefly on the ground of having been devoted to their desires, and next he enumerates particular kinds of vices. Hence we may easily infer that their heart is not moved by any anxiety to repent.

4. Behold, for strife and contention ye fast. This verse ought to be connected with the end of the preceding verse; for, having in the former clause introduced hypocrites as complaining of the violence and harshness of the prophets, he assigns, in the latter clause, the reason why the Lord loathes their fasts and their other performances. It is because they do not proceed from pure affection of heart. What the inclination of their heart is, he shows from its fruits; for he sends them back to the duties of the second table, from which it is easily seen what we are. Purity of heart is manifested by our living innocently, and abstaining from all deceit and injustice. These are the marks of pure affection, in the absence of which the Lord rejects, and even abhors, all external worship. Wherever, on the other hand, cheating, and plunder, and extortion prevail, it is very certain that there is no fear of God.

Thus he reproaches hypocrites with making their fasts to give greater encouragement to sin, and with giving a looser rein to their lusts. We have experience of this every day. Not only do many people fast in order to atone for their cheating and robberies, and to plunder more freely, but even that, during the time of the fast, they may have greater leisure for examining their accounts, perusing documents, and calculating usury, and contriving methods by which they may lay hold on the property of their debtors. On that account they frequently throw this labor on Lent and on the stated times of fasts; and, in like manner, other notable hypocrites hear many Masses every day, that they may more freely, and with less interruption, and under the pretense of religion, contrive their cheating and treachery.

Fast not, as ye do this day. At length he rejects their fasts, however highly they may value them; because in this manner the wrath of God is still more provoked. Immediately afterwards he rejects also their prayers.

That ye may make your voice to be heard on high. 120120     “Luther and other early writers understand the last clause as a prohibition of noisy quarrels, ‘to make the voice heard on high,’ being taken as equivalent to letting it be heard in the street. (Isaiah 42:3) Vitringa and the later writers give it a meaning altogether different, by taking מרום (marom) in the sense of heaven, (Isaiah 57:15,) and the whole clause as a declaration that such fasting would not have the desired effect of gaining audience and acceptance for their prayers. (See Joel 1:14; 2:12)” — Alexander. Hence it is evident, (as we have explained fully in our exposition of Isaiah 1:11,) that God approves of no duties which are not accompanied by sincere uprightness of heart. Certainly no sacrifice is more excellent than calling upon God; and yet we see how all prayers are stained and polluted by impurity of heart. Besides, in consequence of fasting being usually joined to prayer, the Prophet takes this for granted; for it is an appendage to prayer, he therefore forbids such men to offer up solemn prayer accompanied by fasting; because they will gain nothing, except that the Lord will punish them more severely. And hence we infer (as has been already said) that the Lord pays no regard to external works, if they be not preceded by sincere fear of God.

Such fasting as was customary among the Jews is not here blamed in itself, as if it were a superstitious ceremony, but abuse of fasting, and false confidence. This ought to be carefully observed; for we would need to deal very differently with the Papists, if we blamed their fasts. They contain nothing but superstition, being tied to this or that day, or to fixed seasons, as if during the rest of the time they were at liberty to gormandize; while they think that the flesh is unclean, and yet allow every kind of indulgence to it; provided only that they do not once gormandize on a fast­day, they think that they have discharged their duty admirably well. Since therefore there is nothing in them that can be approved, we may absolutely condemn them.

But the dispute on this occasion was different. That fasting which the Jews observed was laudable in itself, because God had appointed it; but a false opinion respecting it was censurable. Among the Papists, on the other hand, we must condemn both the false opinion and the institution itself; because it is wicked. The Papists have this in common with the Jews, that they think that they serve God by it, and that it is a meritorious work. Yet fasting is not the worship of God, and is not in itself commanded by him, in the same manner as those works which he enjoins in the Law; but it is an external exercise, which is auxiliary to prayer, or is useful for subduing the flesh, or testifying our humiliation, when, as guilty persons, we implore that the wrath of God may be turned away in adversity. But the reader will find the use and design of fasting more fully discussed in our Institutes. (Book 4, chapter 12:15­21)

5. Is it such a fast as I have chosen? He confirms the preceding statement, and shows that fasting is neither desired nor approved by God in itself, but so far as it is directed to its true end. He did not wish that it should be altogether abolished, but the improper use of it; that is, because they believed the worship of God to consist in it, and by neglecting or even despising true godliness, thought that bodily exercise was enough; just as hypocrites always put forward external ceremonies, as if they were satisfactions to appease God.

Again, because men, through their rashness, define what is the worship of God, he expressly refers us to his own will, that we may not suppose that he approves of everything which our own judgment pronounces to be right. Although men are well pleased with themselves, and swell with astonishing haughtiness, and indulge in insolent boasting, the Lord rejects and abhors them, because he claims for himself alone the right to “choose.” Now, “to choose” a thing is of the same import as “to take pleasure in it.”

And hanging his head like a bulrush. He says that he is not delighted if a man passes a day in hunger, and then walks with a sad and downcast look. The Prophet employs all appropriate metaphor; because the bulrush, though it is straight, is easily bent. So hypocrites bend themselves, and bow down the head, as if under the influence of oppressive leanness, or display some empty appearance of humility. The Prophet therefore intended to censure superstitious attitudes, in which hypocrites imagine that there is some holiness.

And spread sackcloth and ashes. These things also were added to fasting, especially when they made solemn professions of repentance; for they clothed themselves with “sackcloth,” and threw “ashes” on their head. (Joel 1:13) Now, such an exercise was holy and approved by God; and we see that the prophets, while they exhort the people to repentance, cry aloud for “sackcloth and ashes.” But as we have said that fasting is not here condemned on its own account, so Isaiah does not condemn those outward ceremonies, but reproves hypocrites for separating them from reality.

If it be asked, Are “sackcloth” and “ashes” suitable to our time? I reply, they are indifferent matters, which may be used for edification; but in the light of the Gospel, which has brought liberty to us, we have no need of such figures. At the same time, we should attend to the difference between Eastern nations, which make use of a great abundance and variety of ceremonies, and Western nations, whose habits are far more simple. If we wished to imitate the former, it would be nothing else than to enact the part of apes, or of stage­players. Yet there is nothing to hinder those who intend to confess their guilt, from wearing soiled and faltered garments, after the manner used by suppliants. 121121     “Selon la coustume des criminels qui demandent misericorde.” “According to the custom of criminals who implore mercy.”

A day acceptable to Jehovah. Hence it is evident that to solemn prayer, when a holy assembly was held, there was added fasting; for fasting, as we have already said, is an appendage to prayer; as we see that it was added to prayer by Christ himself. (Matthew 17:21) It is not appointed, therefore, for its own sake, but is directed to a different end.

VIEWNAME is study