1. How do Jesus and Jehovah view hypocrisy, and what form does it take in Isaiah’s day?
“OUTWARDLY indeed, [you] appear righteous to men,” Jesus said to the religious leaders of his day, “but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.” (Matthew 23:28) Jesus’ condemnation of hypocrisy reflects the viewpoint of his heavenly Father. Chapter 58 of Isaiah’s prophecy specifically focuses attention on the hypocrisy that is rampant in Judah. Strife, oppression, and violence are the order of the day, and Sabbath observance has degenerated into a meaningless ritual. The people give mere token service to Jehovah and make a showy display of piety by insincere fasting. No wonder Jehovah exposes them for what they are!
‘Tell the People Their Sins’
2. What spirit does Isaiah show as he declares Jehovah’s message, and who today are like him?
2 Although Jehovah is disgusted with Judah’s conduct, His words include a heartfelt appeal for the nation to repent. Still, Jehovah does not want his reproof to be indistinct. Hence, he commands Isaiah: “Call out full-throated; do not hold back. Raise your voice just like a horn, and tell my people their revolt, and the house of Jacob their sins.” (Isaiah 58:1) Boldly proclaiming Jehovah’s words might earn Isaiah ill will from the people, but he does not shrink back. He still has the same spirit of dedication that he showed when he said: “Here I am! Send me.” (Isaiah 6:8) What a fine example of endurance Isaiah is to the modern-day Witnesses of Jehovah, who also are commissioned to preach God’s Word and expose religious hypocrisy!—Psalm 118:6; 2 Timothy 4:1-5.
3, 4. (a) What false appearance do the people in Isaiah’s day put on? (b) What is the real situation in Judah?
3 Ostensibly, the people in Isaiah’s day seek Jehovah and express delight in his righteous judgments. We read Jehovah’s words: “Day after day it was I whom they kept seeking, and it was in the knowledge of my ways that they would express delight, like a nation that carried on righteousness itself and that had not left the very justice of their God, in that they kept asking me for righteous judgments, drawing near to God in whom they had delight.” (Isaiah 58:2) Is this professed delight in Jehovah’s ways genuine? No. They are “like a nation that carried on righteousness itself,” but the resemblance is merely superficial. In truth, this nation has “left the very justice of their God.”
4 The situation is much like that later revealed to the prophet Ezekiel. Jehovah told Ezekiel that the Jews were saying to one another: “Come, please, and hear what the word is that is going forth from Jehovah.” But God warned Ezekiel of their insincerity: “They will come in to you, . . . and they will certainly hear your words but these they will not do, for with their mouth they are expressing lustful desires and after their unjust gain is where their heart is going. And, look! you are to them like a song of sensuous loves, like one with a pretty voice and playing a stringed instrument well. And they will certainly hear your words, but there are none doing them.” (Ezekiel 33:30-32) Isaiah’s contemporaries also claim to be seeking Jehovah constantly, but they do not obey his words.
5. How do the Jews try to gain divine favor, and with what reaction from Jehovah?
5 In an effort to gain divine favor, the Jews go through the formality of fasting, but their pretended piety only alienates them from Jehovah. In apparent bewilderment they ask: “For what reason did we fast and you did not see, and did we afflict our soul and you would take no note?” Jehovah responds frankly, saying: “Indeed you people were finding delight in the very day of your fasting, when there were all your toilers that you kept driving to work. Indeed for quarreling and struggle you would fast, and for striking with the fist of wickedness. Did you not keep fasting as in the day for making your voice to be heard in the height? Should the fast that I choose become like this, as a day for earthling man to afflict his soul? For bowing down his head just like a rush, and that he should spread out mere sackcloth and ashes as his couch? Is it this that you call a fast and a day acceptable to Jehovah?”—Isaiah 58:3-5.
6. What actions by the Jews betray their fasting as hypocritical?
6 While fasting, feigning righteousness, and even asking for Jehovah’s righteous judgments, the people pursue selfish pleasures and business interests. They indulge in strife, oppression, and violence. In an attempt to whitewash their behavior, they engage in showy displays of mourning—drooping their heads like bulrushes and sitting in sackcloth and ashes—in apparent repentance for their sins. Of what value is all of this if they continue to rebel? They show none of the godly sorrow and repentance that should be associated with sincere fasts. Their wailing—although noisy—is not heard in heaven.
7. How did the Jews of Jesus’ time act hypocritically, and how do many today do the same?
7 The Jews of Jesus’ day put on a similar show of ceremonial fasting, some doing so twice a week! (Matthew 6:16-18; Luke 18:11, 12) Many of the religious leaders also imitated Isaiah’s generation by being harsh and domineering. Hence, Jesus courageously exposed those religious hypocrites, telling them that their form of worship was futile. (Matthew 15:7-9) Today, too, millions “publicly declare they know God, but they disown him by their works, because they are detestable and disobedient and not approved for good work of any sort.” (Titus 1:16) Such ones may hope for God’s mercy, but their conduct betrays their insincerity. In contrast, Jehovah’s Witnesses display true godly devotion and genuine brotherly love.—John 13:35.
What True Repentance Involves
8, 9. What positive actions must accompany sincere repentance?
8 Jehovah wants his people to do more than fast over their sins; he wants them to repent. Then they will gain his favor. (Ezekiel 18:23, 32) He explains that in order to be meaningful, fasting must be accompanied by a correction of past sins. Consider the heart-searching questions that Jehovah asks: “Is not this the fast that I choose? To loosen the fetters of wickedness, to release the bands of the yoke bar, and to send away the crushed ones free, and that you people should tear in two every yoke bar?”—Isaiah 58:6.
9 Fetters and yoke bars are apt symbols of harsh bondage. So instead of fasting and at the same time oppressing fellow believers, the people ought to obey the command: “You must love your fellow as yourself.” (Leviticus 19:18) They should release all whom they have oppressed and unjustly enslaved.* Showy religious acts, such as fasting, are no substitute for genuine godly devotion and acts demonstrating brotherly love. A contemporary of Isaiah, the prophet Micah, writes: “What is Jehovah asking back from you but to exercise justice and to love kindness and to be modest in walking with your God?”—Micah 6:8.
10, 11. (a) For the Jews, what would be better than fasting? (b) How can Christians today apply Jehovah’s counsel to the Jews?
10 Justice, kindness, and modesty call for the doing of good to others, which is the essence of Jehovah’s Law. (Matthew 7:12) Far better than fasting would be a sharing of their bounty with the needy. Jehovah asks: “Is [the fast that I choose] not the dividing of your bread out to the hungry one, and that you should bring the afflicted, homeless people into your house? That, in case you should see someone naked, you must cover him, and that you should not hide yourself from your own flesh?” (Isaiah 58:7) Yes, rather than making a show of fasting, those having the means to do so should give food, clothing, or housing to needy fellow inhabitants of Judah—their own flesh.
11 These beautiful principles of brotherly love and compassion expressed by Jehovah do not apply only to the Jews in Isaiah’s time. They guide Christians as well. Hence, the apostle Paul wrote: “Really, then, as long as we have time favorable for it, let us work what is good toward all, but especially toward those related to us in the faith.” (Galatians 6:10) The Christian congregation must be a haven of love and brotherly affection, especially in view of the increasingly critical times in which we live.—2 Timothy 3:1; James 1:27.
Obedience Brings Rich Blessings
12. What will Jehovah do if his people obey him?
12 If only Jehovah’s people would have the insight to heed his loving reproof! Jehovah says: “In that case your light would break forth just like the dawn; and speedily would recuperation spring up for you. And before you your righteousness would certainly walk; the very glory of Jehovah would be your rear guard. In that case you would call, and Jehovah himself would answer; you would cry for help, and he would say, ‘Here I am!’” (Isaiah 58:8, 9a) What warm, appealing words! Jehovah blesses and protects those delighting in loving-kindness and righteousness. If Jehovah’s people repent of their harshness and hypocrisy and obey him, things will get much brighter for them. Jehovah will grant “recuperation,” a spiritual and physical recovery for the nation. He will also guard them, as he did their forefathers when they were leaving Egypt. And he will respond immediately to their cries for help.—Exodus 14:19, 20, 31.
13. What blessings await the Jews if they respond to Jehovah’s exhortation?
13 Jehovah now adds to his earlier exhortation, saying: “If you will remove from your midst the yoke bar [of harsh, unjust slavery], the poking out of the finger [possibly in scorn or false accusation] and the speaking of what is hurtful; and you will grant to the hungry one your own soulful desire, and you will satisfy the soul that is being afflicted, your light also will certainly flash up even in the darkness, and your gloom will be like midday.” (Isaiah 58:9b, 10) Selfishness and harshness are self-defeating and bring Jehovah’s wrath. Kindness and generosity, however, especially when exercised toward the hungry and the afflicted, bring God’s rich blessing. If only the Jews will take these truths to heart! Then their spiritual radiance and prosperity will make them shine like the midday sun, dispelling any gloom. Above all, they will bring honor and praise to Jehovah, the Source of their glory and blessings.—1 Kings 8:41-43.
A Nation Restored
14. (a) How do Isaiah’s contemporaries react to his words? (b) What does Jehovah continue to offer?
14 Regrettably, the nation ignores Jehovah’s appeal and plunges even deeper into wickedness. Eventually, they leave Jehovah no choice but to send them into exile, just as he warned. (Deuteronomy 28:15, 36, 37, 64, 65) Still, Jehovah’s next words through Isaiah continue to offer hope. God predicts that a disciplined, contrite remnant will joyfully return to the land of Judah, even though it lies desolate.
15. What joyful restoration does Jehovah foretell?
15 Pointing forward to the restoration of his people in 537 B.C.E., Jehovah, through Isaiah, says: “Jehovah will be bound to lead you constantly and to satisfy your soul even in a scorched land, and he will invigorate your very bones; and you must become like a well-watered garden, and like the source of water [“spring,” The New English Bible], the waters of which do not lie [“fail,” NE].” (Isaiah 58:11) Jehovah will restore Israel’s scorched homeland to luxuriant productivity. What is more wonderful, he will bless his repentant people, invigorating their “very bones” from a spiritually lifeless state to one of full vitality. (Ezekiel 37:1-14) The people themselves will become like “a well-watered garden” filled with spiritual fruitage.
16. How will the land be restored?
16 Restoration will include the rebuilding of cities destroyed by the Babylonian invaders in 607 B.C.E. “At your instance men will certainly build up the places devastated a long time; you will raise up even the foundations of continuous generations. And you will actually be called the repairer of the gap, the restorer of roadways by which to dwell.” (Isaiah 58:12) The parallel expressions “the places devastated a long time” and “the foundations of continuous generations” (or, the foundations that have been lying in ruins for generations) show that the repatriated remnant will rebuild the ruined cities of Judah, especially Jerusalem. (Nehemiah 2:5; 12:27; Isaiah 44:28) They will repair “the gap”—a collective term referring to breaches in the walls of Jerusalem and no doubt of other cities as well.—Jeremiah 31:38-40; Amos 9:14.
Blessings That Come From Faithful Sabbath Observance
17. How does Jehovah appeal to his people to obey the Sabbath laws?
17 The Sabbath was an expression of God’s deep concern for the physical and spiritual welfare of his people. Jesus said: “The sabbath came into existence for the sake of man.” (Mark 2:27) This day sanctified by Jehovah afforded the Israelites a special opportunity to show their love for God. Sadly, by Isaiah’s time it has been reduced to a day of observing empty rituals and indulging in selfish desires. So once again, Jehovah has cause to censure his people. And again, he tries to reach their hearts. He says: “If in view of the sabbath you will turn back your foot as regards doing your own delights on my holy day, and will actually call the sabbath an exquisite delight, a holy day of Jehovah, one being glorified, and will actually glorify it rather than doing your own ways, rather than finding what delights you and speaking a word; you will in that case find your exquisite delight in Jehovah, and I will make you ride upon the high places of the earth; and I will cause you to eat from the hereditary possession of Jacob your forefather, for the mouth of Jehovah itself has spoken it.”—Isaiah 58:13, 14.
18. What will result from Judah’s failure to honor the Sabbath?
18 The Sabbath is a day for spiritual contemplation, prayer, and family worship. It should help the Jews reflect on Jehovah’s wonderful deeds in their behalf and on the justice and love manifest in his Law. Thus, faithful observance of this holy day should help the people draw closer to their God. Instead, they are perverting the Sabbath and therefore are in danger of being cut off from Jehovah’s blessing.—Leviticus 26:34; 2 Chronicles 36:21.
19. What rich blessings are in store for God’s people if they turn to keeping the Sabbath?
19 Still, if the Jews learn from the discipline and turn to honoring the Sabbath arrangement, rich blessings are in store. The good effects of true worship and respect for the Sabbath will spill over into all aspects of their lives. (Deuteronomy 28:1-13; Psalm 19:7-11) For example, Jehovah will make his people “ride upon the high places of the earth.” This expression signifies security and conquest of one’s enemies. Whoever controls the high places—the hills and the mountains—controls the land. (Deuteronomy 32:13; 33:29) At one time Israel obeyed Jehovah, and the nation enjoyed his protection and was respected, even feared, by other nations. (Joshua 2:9-11; 1 Kings 4:20, 21) If once again they turn to Jehovah in obedience, some of that former glory will be restored. Jehovah will grant his people a full share in “the hereditary possession of Jacob”—the blessings promised through His covenant with their forefathers, especially the blessing of secure possession of the Promised Land.—Psalm 105:8-11.
20. What “sabbath resting” is there for Christians?
20 Is there a lesson in this for Christians? Upon the death of Jesus Christ, the Mosaic Law was done away with, including its Sabbath requirements. (Colossians 2:16, 17) However, the spirit that the Sabbath observance should have encouraged in Judah—putting spiritual interests first and drawing close to Jehovah—is still vital for worshipers of Jehovah. (Matthew 6:33; James 4:8) Moreover, Paul, in his letter to the Hebrews, says: “There remains a sabbath resting for the people of God.” Christians enter into this “sabbath resting” by being obedient to Jehovah and pursuing righteousness based on faith in the shed blood of Jesus Christ. (Hebrews 3:12, 18, 19; 4:6, 9-11, 14-16) For Christians, this kind of sabbath observance is kept, not just one day a week, but every day.—Colossians 3:23, 24.
Spiritual Israel ‘Rides Upon Earth’s High Places’
21, 22. In what way has Jehovah made the Israel of God “ride upon the high places of the earth”?
21 Since their release from Babylonish captivity in 1919, anointed Christians have faithfully observed what was foreshadowed by the Sabbath. As a result, Jehovah has made them “ride upon the high places of the earth.” In what sense? Back in 1513 B.C.E., Jehovah made a covenant with Abraham’s descendants that if they were obedient, they would become a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. (Exodus 19:5, 6) Throughout the 40 years in the wilderness, Jehovah carried them safely, as an eagle carries its fledglings, and blessed them with abundant provisions. (Deuteronomy 32:10-12) The nation lacked faith, however, and finally lost out on all the privileges they could have had. In spite of that, Jehovah does have a kingdom of priests today. It is the spiritual Israel of God.—Galatians 6:16; 1 Peter 2:9.
22 During “the time of the end,” this spiritual nation has done what ancient Israel failed to do. They have kept faith with Jehovah. (Daniel 8:17) As its members strictly observe Jehovah’s high standards and lofty ways, in a spiritual sense Jehovah raises them on high. (Proverbs 4:4, 5, 8; Revelation 11:12) Protected from the uncleanness surrounding them, they enjoy an elevated life-style, and rather than insisting on following their own ways, they find “exquisite delight in Jehovah” and in his Word. (Psalm 37:4) Jehovah has kept them spiritually secure in the face of determined opposition worldwide. Since 1919 their spiritual “land” has not been breached. (Isaiah 66:8) They continue to be a people for his lofty name, which they joyfully declare worldwide. (Deuteronomy 32:3; Acts 15:14) Moreover, an increasing number of meek ones from all nations now share with them in the grand privilege of being taught Jehovah’s ways and helped to walk in his paths.
23. How has Jehovah caused his anointed servants to “eat from the hereditary possession of Jacob”?
23 Jehovah has caused his anointed servants to “eat from the hereditary possession of Jacob.” When Isaac blessed Jacob instead of Esau, the patriarch’s words foretold blessings for all who would exercise faith in the promised Seed of Abraham. (Genesis 27:27-29; Galatians 3:16, 17) Like Jacob—and unlike Esau—anointed Christians and their companions ‘appreciate sacred things,’ especially the spiritual food that God supplies in abundance. (Hebrews 12:16, 17; Matthew 4:4) This spiritual food—which includes knowledge of what Jehovah is accomplishing through the promised Seed and that Seed’s associates—is strengthening, invigorating, and vital for their spiritual life. Hence, it is crucial that they constantly take in spiritual nourishment by reading and meditating on God’s Word. (Psalm 1:1-3) It is imperative that they associate with fellow believers at Christian meetings. And it is essential that they uphold the high standards of pure worship as they joyfully share that nourishment with others.
24. How do true Christians today conduct themselves?
24 While eagerly awaiting the fulfillment of Jehovah’s promises, may true Christians continue to repudiate hypocrisy of all kinds. Nourished by “the hereditary possession of Jacob,” may they continue to enjoy spiritual security upon “the high places of the earth.”
Jehovah made the provision for those of his people who fell into debt to sell themselves into slavery—essentially becoming hired laborers—to pay off their debt. (Leviticus 25:39-43) However, the Law required that slaves be treated kindly. Those treated brutally were to be set free.—Exodus 21:2, 3, 26, 27; Deuteronomy 15:12-15.
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The Jews fasted and bowed their heads in mock repentance—but they did not change their ways
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Those with the means to do so give housing, clothing, or provisions to those in need
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If Judah repents, she will rebuild her devastated cities