Adult Sunday School Lesson

November 22, 2020


Isaiah 58:1-12

  1. Introduction. In chapters 57-60, Isaiah continues to address the people of Israel who will be taken into exile in Babylon in 605 BC. He reminds them of two important facts: 1) They have strayed far from God. Although they have continued the religious rituals required in the law, their motives and attitudes have been improper. And further, they have left undone God’s instructions concerning honesty, justice, and compassion. 2) God will not give up on them but will continue to call them back into his grace and forgiveness.

    These two facts are clearly summarized in 57:14-21. Read those verses out loud and slowly. Look carefully for how beautifully God describes his love and care for Israel as well as his awareness of their sin. He describes himself as one who “lives in a high and holy place” but also is “with him who is contrite and humble” (v 15). He says, “I will not accuse forever, nor will I always be angry” (v 16). He promises, “I have seen your ways, but I will heal you; I will guide and comfort you. Peace, peace to those far and near. I will heal you” (v 18-19). From the first chapter, this has been God’s message to his people. It is a powerful message for that day and equally powerful and necessary for ours.

  2. 58:1-5 What God Wishes Were True. In verse 1, God tells Isaiah to sound the “shofar,” a trumpet-like instrument made from a ram’s horn which makes a huge bass sound that demands attention. “Cry out, raise your voice and tell the people that they are going in the wrong direction (transgressions) and are missing the mark (sins).” This is a serious and important message that we cannot miss. Some scholars suggest that in verse 2, God is being sarcastic. It does seem strange that he has just spoken of their transgressions and sins and then offers words of praise for proper behavior. However, I do not think that God ever speaks sarcastically because sarcasm is such a destructive tactic of manipulation which drives people away rather than drawing them close. I prefer to think that God is here merely describing what he wishes were true. He wishes to be sought by his children, for his people to delight to know him, desire to do right, and follow the way of justice. He desires us to ask for knowledge, and to be near him. That is what God seeks from all of us. And, frankly, it’s what he expects.

    Verses 3-5, however, paint a different picture of what God is getting from his children. Verse 3 goes to the heart of the matter. We do religious things (fast, self-denial, etc.) to get God’s blessings, and we complain when our desires are not fulfilled. Rather than follow God’s ways, we do what we want. We practice neither justice (we treat people unfairly) nor compassion (unmoved by the needs of others).

  3. 58:6-10. True Worship. V 6-7 address what God desires from his people in worship. Isaiah refers to “fasting,” but he has in mind more than this one single act. His actual topic is the whole range of offering our lives to God which is what we do when we worship. What he says is rather surprising. True worship, the kind God desires, is not done in the temple (church for us). It is done in the streets. True worship is lived every day. We “break the chains of wickedness,” both our wickedness and that of others. We work to “set the oppressed free,” (untie the “ropes of the yoke” like on a team of oxen.) And we “tear off every yoke from ourselves and others.”

    When I was a young man, I read a comment by the theologian Harvey Cox. He said that the biblical word “redemption” means “to set free.” Redemption occurs any place where human beings are being set free from ignorance, starvation, prejudice, hate, addictions of any kind, stinginess, emotional disorders, from the corruption and dysfunction of sin, or anything else which makes a person less than human. There, in that place--school house, soup kitchen, sanctuary, factory, physician’s office, wherever--there, he said, is the church. Something like that seems to be what Isaiah is saying.

    Vs 8-10 continue this train of thought, with one significant addition. If you change your life, you will be engaging in true worship and God will accept it, your light will shine in the darkness, and your night will be like noonday. God will hear your call for help and answer you.

  4. 58:11-12. Living with True Satisfaction. Without a doubt, these words were primarily directed to those Israelites who would return to their homeland when the exile in Babylon ended. They were the ones who would rebuild the walls, restore the foundations, and turn devastation into flowering gardens. They would know once again God’s guidance and the satisfaction of restored fellowship with him. They would receive the benefits of true worship.

    I think, nonetheless, that the message of these beautiful verses is just as applicable to us today as it was to those who first heard it. God awaits our true worship offered not only in church but lived in the streets every day. He wants us to restore the foundations and rebuild the walls in our lives. And the promises he offered to the ancient Israelites, he offers to us today. Springs of living water will open up and “never run dry”, and our lives will be like a “watered garden.”

  5. Conclusion. When I think of the poor and oppressed in our society, I think of something that Mother Teresa once said about America. In a commencement speech offered at Harvard University, this missionary woman who knew a thing or two about poverty said, “The poor in this country drive fancy cars, live in big houses, are college graduates, and have money in their pockets.” She was referring to the spiritual impoverishment of the average American. We must remember that the poor are not always those who have no money.

    Jesus has this kind of poverty in mind when, in Matthew 25, he spoke so eloquently of the poor, the imprisoned, the hungry, and the sick whom we visited (or did not visit). But he, by no means, forgot the financially poor and did not intend that we ignore their plight. For me, giving financial aid to organizations like St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital, Wounded Warriors, World Vision, and Samaritan’s Purse is an effective way of helping the poor. Our church’s drives for missionary efforts is another (Lottie Moon Christmas Offering). Our gifts to these programs offer no possibility of personal benefit. All we receive is a feeling of satisfaction. That is true worship, and that is what God expects of us.

  • Lesson provided by Jim Kitchens

Past Lessons

Back to Blog