Isaiah’s Sermon about Sabbath-Keeping and Profound Questions
Isaiah 56, 57, and 58
Part 1: The Basic Truth about the Sabbath
We know that this sermon is about Sabbath-Keeping because it begins with the topic in Chapter 56 verse 2 and it wraps up with the topic in Isaiah 58 verse 13. In between those verses, it applies Sabbath-Keeping to profound and vital truths.
Isaiah 56:1-12 (NASB77) 1 Thus says the LORD, “Preserve justice, and do righteousness, for My salvation is about to come and My righteousness to be revealed. 2 “How blessed is the man who does this, and the son of man who takes hold of it; who keeps from profaning the Sabbath, and keeps his hand from doing any evil.”
Sabbath-Keeping directly connects to three huge ideas. First, keeping the Sabbath reveals God’s righteousness to individuals. Time and focus help us discern God’s righteousness in the flawed world we inhabit. If we spend time in His word, we find answers for big issues that interfere with our vision. Sabbath-Keeping helps us see the big picture, especially when we include regular Bible reading. We accumulate a database of Bible, which holds the answers to difficult questions.
Second, God promises to bless the person who refuses to profane the Sabbath, who recognizes the importance of the sacred. God gave a sacred command to rest and to spend time seeking Him on His day. The Old Testament used this command as the first labor law for a nation, so that everyone and their animals had a day to rest and be refreshed each week. It brings blessing, even by the nature of life, to spend a day of rest and refreshment. It brings eternal blessing to be able to see God’s goodness and trust in Him. (Exodus 20:8-11 and Exodus 23:12.)
The New Testament takes a more flexible approach, partly because the little bands of Christians were so enthusiastic they met together daily, and partly because later on they faced persecution. They were encouraged to continue meeting together, as they see the day approaching for Christ’s return, but the time and place was not specified in Hebrews chapter 10 verse 25. They often met on the first day of the week to commemorate Christ’s resurrection. Romans 14:5 accepts flexibility regarding the calendar.
The next verses of Isaiah 56 tell us Sabbath-Keeping is for everyone, whether of the nation of Israel or foreign. God cares about everyone. He wants everyone to spend time with Him, studying His word.
Notice also that the kings of Israel were commanded by the LORD to study His word daily, Deuteronomy 17:18-20, and to make the king’s own copy by hand. Sabbath-Keeping is for everyone, no matter where he finds himself on the social scale. All of us are under the Kingship of God, and we need to follow Him.
Third, in Isaiah 56:2, Sabbath-Keeping helps us to avoid evil. In a confusing world, that is so valuable. We need God’s perspective to be able to avoid evil. We need His righteousness to help us define the difference between good and evil. Evil carries danger with it. We do well to avoid evil.
3 Let not the foreigner who has joined himself to the LORD say, “The LORD will surely separate me from His people.” Neither let the eunuch say, “Behold, I am a dry tree.” 4 For thus says the LORD, “To the eunuchs who keep My Sabbaths, And choose what pleases Me, And hold fast My covenant, 5 To them I will give in My house and within My walls a memorial, and a name better than that of sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name which will not be cut off. 6 “Also the foreigners who join themselves to the LORD, To minister to Him, and to love the name of the LORD, to be His servants, everyone who keeps from profaning the Sabbath, and holds fast My covenant; 7 Even those I will bring to My holy mountain, and make them joyful in My house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be acceptable on My altar; For My house will be called a house of prayer for all the peoples.” 8 The Lord GOD, who gathers the dispersed of Israel, declares, “Yet others I will gather to them, to those already gathered.”
God speaks directly to the matter of individual human worth. Foreigners and eunuchs could find God and please Him. One of the devastating evils of the Babylonian captivity was the barbaric practice of eunuch ministry to the emperor. This terrible evil was done to individuals who were precious beyond measure in God’s sight.
The temple law restricted access to men with this condition, as a symbol of imperfection, but Isaiah tells the rest of the story. God still loves them. He still wants them to keep Sabbath with Him. God makes eternal life available to them, better even than becoming parents on earth. Really, being a parent is the greatest human earthly privilege, and eternal life is an even greater privilege. God’s eternal covenant is open to everyone who is willing to sign on, and eternal life is real.
Verses 7 and 8 tell us the resurrection of the righteous applies to them as well, because they will be gathered to the land during Messiah’s reign, even if they died on earth before they could visit Israel. God’s vision for His temple is a place of prayer for everyone. God’s vision for His temple lasts beyond death itself.
Part 2: The Problem
Next Isaiah’s sermon contrasts this heart message with the callous indifference of people who ignore God. Isaiah says those people are like beasts. Their minds are indifferent to spiritual reality. They are intent upon selfish pursuits. They know nothing. They are greedy and unsatisfied, and unjust, and they assume the future will always match the present. They fail as watchmen in a dangerous world, because their minds are focused on selfish pleasures. When they are shepherds or leaders, they fail the people who depend on them. They lead people into disaster. They fail to understand their responsibilities.
9 All you beasts of the field, all you beasts in the forest, come to eat. 10 His watchmen are blind, all of them know nothing. All of them are dumb dogs unable to bark, Dreamers lying down, who love to slumber; 11 and the dogs are greedy, they are not satisfied. And they are shepherds who have no understanding; they have all turned to their own way, each one to his unjust gain, to the last one. 12 “Come,” they say, “let us get wine, and let us drink heavily of strong drink; and tomorrow will be like today, only more so.”
Part 3: A Big Question about God’s Righteousness in the Reality of Death
Next, Isaiah addresses one of the problems of this world that interferes with seeing God’s righteousness. Righteous men die just like everyone else. We cannot see eternity. It looks like God treats the righteous and the wicked similarly. How can God be righteous if He treats both the same? How can we understand this situation? Why do righteous people die young?
The first part of the answer is that sometimes God removes people from this life to protect them from future evil. They are still alive. The resurrection of the righteous will wake them up from their apparent slumber. That righteous man is at peace. Isaiah works back around to this matter later in the chapter, elaborating on it.
Isaiah 57:1-21 (NASB77) 1 The righteous man perishes, and no man takes it to heart; and devout men are taken away, while no one understands. For the righteous man is taken away from evil, 2 he enters into peace; they rest in their beds, each one who walked in his upright way.
Next Isaiah contrasts the righteous with the wicked who abandon the true God. The wicked choose idols because they want to practice sexual hedonism codified in the idol worship of that day. They want to get rid of unwanted children in the idol conflagrations, too. Their motives for choosing idolatry are a terrible extension of the selfishness above from the first level of hedonism ignoring God, to a terrible excess of evil by choosing false gods. The excess of evil was totally callous regarding the death of innocents.
It was a slippery slope from lack of Sabbath-Keeping to forgetting God, to choosing terrible unbearable evil. Notice that a false religion reinforced their violence and immorality. They wanted their evil desires validated. They forgot that God cares about every human being created in His image.
3 “But come here, you sons of a sorceress, Offspring of an adulterer and a prostitute. 4 “Against whom do you jest? Against whom do you open wide your mouth and stick out your tongue? Are you not children of rebellion, offspring of deceit, 5 who inflame yourselves among the oaks, under every luxuriant tree, who slaughter the children in the ravines, under the clefts of the crags? 6 “Among the smooth stones of the ravine is your portion, they are your lot; Even to them you have poured out a libation, you have made a grain offering. Shall I relent concerning these things? 7 “Upon a high and lofty mountain you have made your bed. You also went up there to offer sacrifice. 8 “And behind the door and the doorpost you have set up your sign; Indeed, far removed from Me, you have uncovered yourself; and have gone up and made your bed wide. And you have made an agreement for yourself with them, you have loved their bed, you have looked on their manhood. 9 “And you have journeyed to the king with oil and increased your perfumes; you have sent your envoys a great distance, and made them go down to Sheol. 10 “You were tired out by the length of your road, Yet you did not say, ‘ It is hopeless.’ You found renewed strength, Therefore you did not faint. 11 “Of whom were you worried and fearful, when you lied, and did not remember Me, nor give Me a thought? Was I not silent even for a long time so you do not fear Me? 12 “I will declare your righteousness and your deeds, but they will not profit you. 13 “When you cry out, let your collection of idols deliver you. But the wind will carry all of them up, and a breath will take them away. But he who takes refuge in Me shall inherit the land, and shall possess My holy mountain.”
Trusting God, taking refuge in the true and living God, will bring rescue forever. Remember that this is talking about the death of the righteous. The righteous dead will have a place in God’s holy mountain. The righteous dead will be raised to new life in the kingdom of Messiah. The meek shall inherit the earth in the resurrection of the righteous. Meekness, being teachable from God’s word, facing one’s own sins and repenting are characteristics of those who find God’s salvation.
Both the callous people who ignore God and the terribly violent hedonists face a different destiny. Their idols could not give eternal life. There is a path of life, and they need to find it. The first part of that path is repentance.
God wants everyone to turn from evil and to turn to Him. Repentance is like road building, without heavy industrial equipment. It is hard work. God knows our frame, our weakness. He does not want to contend with us beyond what is necessary for repentance. A repentant heart is a contrite heart, lowly of spirit. God loves repentant hearts. He wants to revive them and build them up. He lives with us when we are contrite. Contrite people will keep living with Him forever.
14 And it shall be said, ” Build up, build up, prepare the way, Remove every obstacle out of the way of My people.” 15 For thus says the high and exalted One Who lives forever, whose name is Holy, “I dwell on a high and holy place, and also with the contrite and lowly of spirit In order to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite. 16 “For I will not contend forever, neither will I always be angry; for the spirit would grow faint before Me, and the breath of those whom I have made.
Then Isaiah brings up God’s answer about a righteous man who died because he messed up seriously and God took him away early. God is angry at sin, even among those who are committed to Him, and there is a sin that brings death. But after death, God will heal that person and restore comfort to him and to his mourners. Because eternal life is real, God’s comfort extends beyond the grave. He comforts the person brought early into His presence, and He comforts his mourners.
17 “Because of the iniquity of his unjust gain I was angry and struck him; I hid My face and was angry, and he went on turning away, in the way of his heart. 18 “I have seen his ways, but I will heal him; I will lead him and restore comfort to him and to his mourners, 19 creating the praise of the lips. Peace, peace to him who is far and to him who is near,” Says the LORD, “and I will heal him.”
This promise does not extend to the wicked who reject God. There is no peace for them after death. Notice that this ALSO implies eternal existence. A place of no peace will be their habitation.
20 But the wicked are like the tossing sea, for it cannot be quiet, and its waters toss up refuse and mud. 21”There is no peace,” says my God, “for the wicked.”
Part 4: God’s Action Plan for Isaiah and for Those Who Know God
So what does God tell Isaiah to do? Get LOUD about the sins of the people. Why? So they can repent and find eternal life!
Isaiah 58:1-14 (NASB77) 1 ” Cry loudly, do not hold back; Raise your voice like a trumpet, and declare to My people their transgression, and to the house of Jacob their sins.
But there is a problem. They think they have heard it all. They go through the motions of religious practice, but they ignore the meaning of God’s law. The Sabbath was a labor law, requiring compassionate treatment for employees. The failure to keep Sabbath was interfering with their understanding of business, and they were sinning. The heart of the law included compassion for the poor. They were going through the motions of religious practice while denying rest to their employees. They were ignoring the poor in addition.
2 “Yet they seek Me day by day, and delight to know My ways, as a nation that has done righteousness, and has not forsaken the ordinance of their God. They ask Me for just decisions, they delight in the nearness of God. 3 ‘Why have we fasted and Thou dost not see? Why have we humbled ourselves and Thou dost not notice?’ Behold, on the day of your fast you find your desire, and drive hard all your workers. 4 “Behold, you fast for contention and strife and to strike with a wicked fist. You do not fast like you do today to make your voice heard on high. 5 “Is it a fast like this which I choose, a day for a man to humble himself? Is it for bowing one’s head like a reed, And for spreading out sackcloth and ashes as a bed? Will you call this a fast, even an acceptable day to the LORD? 6 “Is this not the fast which I choose, to loosen the bonds of wickedness, to undo the bands of the yoke, And to let the oppressed go free, and break every yoke? 7 “Is it not to divide your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into the house; when you see the naked, to cover him; and not to hide yourself from your own flesh? 8 “Then your light will break out like the dawn, and your recovery will speedily spring forth; and your righteousness will go before you; the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard. 9 “Then you will call, and the LORD will answer; you will cry, and He will say, ‘Here I am.’ If you remove the yoke from your midst, The pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness, 10 And if you give yourself to the hungry, And satisfy the desire of the afflicted, Then your light will rise in darkness, And your gloom will become like midday.
We can see that repentance includes a change of behavior. Repentance requires doing what you can to make things better.
God promises blessing for those who repent. Really hard times were on the way. The Assyrians and later the Babylonians would put the nation under siege. They would all become poor. They would all desperately need God’s guidance.
We live in a dangerous world, too. We need God’s guidance, too. How do we expect to receive God’s guidance if we ignore Him?
The promises were for that time of impending trouble. God will make those who repent and keep covenant with Him like a watered garden, even in the hard times. Their descendants will come back to the land and rebuild the ruins. Some of them would even come back themselves after the 70 year Babylonian captivity, because God gave them long life during that terrible time.
The promises also extend into the time after the resurrection of the righteous, when the world will have been devastated by terrible evil and left in ruins. The resurrected righteous are all included in these promises, and will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the world with Messiah’s guidance.
11 “And the LORD will continually guide you, and satisfy your desire in scorched places, and give strength to your bones; And you will be like a watered garden, And like a spring of water whose waters do not fail. 12 “And those from among you will rebuild the ancient ruins; you will raise up the age-old foundations; and you will be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of the streets in which to dwell.
It starts with Sabbath-Keeping. We have to find God to have His promises. We must take time for Him, regularly.
13 “If because of the Sabbath, you turn your foot From doing your own pleasure on My holy day, And call the Sabbath a delight, the holy day of the LORD honorable, And shall honor it, desisting from your own ways, From seeking your own pleasure, And speaking your own word, 14 Then you will take delight in the LORD, And I will make you ride on the heights of the earth; And I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father, For the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”