Feb 5 – 5 Epiphany
Isaiah 58:1-12
False and True Worship

Background: This passage is a portion of the book of Isaiah commonly referred to as Third Isaiah (Chapters 55-66). This section is often viewed as a series of oracles from unknown prophets following the Babylonian exile. Third Isaiah can be seen as an exhortation to Israel to keep the covenant. God’s eternal promise to David is now made to the people of Israel/Judah at large.

Theme: This passage contains God’s guidance about “fasting” and what entails true worship in God’s kingdom. This section also highlights the need for deed to follow action; simply observing the ritual of the fast is not sufficient; if Israel does not refocus on the ways of God all the ritual in the world will not counter their sin.

Questions to Ponder:
* Read Isaiah 58:1-12.
* Briefly describe the political, social, and religious situation in Israel for this passage.
* If Third Isaiah was written sometime between 538-515 BCE, against what might the Prophet be speaking? What things may be troubling Israel in the timeframe identified?
* How many sections do you see within the text? Who are the speakers for the different portions of this text?
* What is Israel’s chief complaint against God?
* Do you think Israel is complaining about God’s response to their fasting or is there something more Israel is complaining about?
* What is a fast? What is the purpose of fasting? Is a fast observed today different than a fast in the 6th century BCE?
* Why might Israel be fixated on the fast? How is fasting mandated by the Torah?
* What is God accusing Israel of fasting for? What does God perceive as Israel’s true intent for their fast?
* What reason do we give as our reason to fast?
* How might this passage be less about fasting and more about proper worship? What makes you think that?
* How much “stuff” are the Israelites expected to give up (beginning in verse 10)? Has that requirement changed for us?
* Some argue this passage is an impeachment of ritual over relationship? Why might that be important in Isaiah’s time? How does the impeachment of ritual over relationship resonate with our religious and social structure?
* In verse 12, how are we called to be repairers of the breach? How might our ritual help us to repair the breach between God and humanity?
* What is the challenge for us as we apply this text to our current social and political situation?