Monday, October 7, 2013

Isaiah and Fasting

            Isaiah 58:1-14 is a familiar passage to many in that it is an often utilized passage of Scripture by pastors who want to convey to their congregation the power of fasting. Since the text communicates much more than the implications of fasting, I will exegete this passage with the purpose of uncovering the multiple nuances of the aforementioned text. To do this I will first provide a summary of the entire passage with the purpose of providing an overview that will prepare the reader to understand the specific details outlined in the text. This will be followed by an exposition of those specific points. The goal here is to glean a detailed understanding of what Isaiah intended to communicate. I will end with a summary of the theological contribution the passage made and briefly discuss two key application principles.

            In this passage Isaiah is rebuking the people for being selfish and oppressive. They apparently did not heed the warning that God first offered because previously Isaiah warned the people to maintain justice and do what was right, for God’s salvation was close at hand and His righteousness would soon be revealed (Isaiah 56:1).[1] “Instead of their religion making them a blessing to those around them, as God intended, it made them a curse.”[2] The Isaiah 56:1 passage makes it clear that God wanted them to maintain justice and do what was right, or more specifically, what God commanded. As an alternative, they preceded to fast thinking that this would somehow absolve them of the requirement to obey God. However, God takes issue with them, through Isaiah, because of their rebellious response. Isaiah 58:1-14 records God’s response.

God’s Rebellious People (Is. 58:1-3)
            God’s response was to first point out to God’s people what they were doing, which was rebelling against Him (v.1-3). Apparently, they were so enamored by their attempts at religious piety that they failed to consider that they were “manipulating God to act in their favor” through their fast. God responds to their attempts at piety by pointing out the error of their ways. “Verses 4-12 expand on this theme. God does want to bless His people (58:8-8, 10b-12), but that blessing cannot be obtained by cultic manipulation.”[3] To the contrary, it is God’s intention to offer his blessings to “those with unbroken covenants with Him.”[4] To do this means they would have to stop their rebellion and their oppression of the poor, a point that Isaiah specifically makes in the text.
            Isaiah starts off chapter 58 with a call or cry for repentance. “The prophet mentions his task, the proclamation which starts in v. 3b. The imperative   (to call, cry) may introduce a word of salvation,… or a word of doom.”[5] In this case, given the context, the prophet is offering a word of doom. The idea of crying illustrates the prophet’s mandate from God to express the call to repent with dramatic intensity. Consequently, he was to not hold back when crying out. This is precisely why the cry is accompanied by a trumpet call, which was “intended to arouse the hearers to action.”[6]
This was not the first time that Isaiah illustrates for the reader God’s call to repentance. “The prophet has already exposed the empty ritualism of the people in chapter 1. [However] here he concentrates on the religious activity of fasting.”[7] Isaiah rebukes the Children of Israel denouncing them for using fasting to indulge in sin.
His denouncement extended beyond the onetime misuse of fasting. In verse 2 Isaiah uses the word “daily” to show that “the text is not talking about just one day of prayer and repentance. In what follows there are days in which people fast, and so this line probably presupposes a series of fast-days.”[8] Hence, what one discovers is that the avoidance of dealing with sin, was more of a lifestyle than a one time happening.

God Rejects their Fast Days (Is. 58:4-5)
Following His indictment of their sin, Isaiah then moves to expand on this indictment by citing their propensity towards living contrary to self-denial which was the purpose of fasting. The indictment starts with Isaiah pointing out “the people’s hypocrisy. Clearly their fast was not spiritually motivated.”[9] This is shown by their fighting with one another. The text says, “Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife, and in striking each other with wicked fists (Is. 58:4a). The reason could have been because fasting does produce an irritability of sorts as a result of the doing away with food. Yet, the primary reason here probably was because of their desire to live how they wanted to, which in turn made their fasting worthless.
Having set the scene, the rest of the chapter is a lesson on proper worship. “The criteria for such worship turn on what God chooses, not what the people like to do, but what God requires of any human being.”[10] What God requires is alluded to in verse 5, which is humility. Their pride drove them to do whatever that wanted. This is because pride is centered on self, whereas a spirit of humility centers on God. Pride tears down ones relationship with God and destroys ones faith. It can masquerade itself in religious showmanship as it did in the people Isaiah was addressing. Consequently, Isaiah asks them a rhetorical question stating, “Is it only for bowing one's head like a reed and for lying on sackcloth and ashes?  Is that what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the LORD?” The question is answered in the ensuing verses. What God desires for a fast-day “was intended to be spent gathering for prayer and worship, which ought not to have left time for thinking about or practicing either business or pleasure.”[11] They rejected God’s command of self-denial which should accompany fasting, opting instead for fleshly pursuits that resulted in God rejecting their prayers.

God’s Chosen Fast (Is. 58:6-12)
Their propensity toward pleasure seeking is also seen in there oppression of the poor which was diametrically opposed to God’s purposes of doing away with injustice and letting the oppressed go free (Is. 58:6). “Apparently they made the fast easier by idleness and made up for lost time by getting their laborers to work all the harder”, which furthered the injustice[12] They had rejected the idea that fasting was supposed to lead one to submit themselves to God and His purposes. Moreover, His purposes were for them to minister to the needs of others and not to be focused on their own needs. “The question of vv. 6-7, following immediately after those of v.5, serve to point out the people’s separation of religious observance and social righteousness, a theme the eighth century prophets never tired of expounding.”[13]
Following verse 7 Isaiah begins to share with the people the results of the kind of fast that God chooses starting in verse 8. The verse starts off by saying, “Then your light will break forth like the dawn.” The term light is significant here in terms of the meaning of what God desires to do with His people, which is to bless them. “’Light’ … suggests fullness of divine blessing.”[14] However, this was not their present predicament, which is reflected in the statement made by Isaiah later on which states, “So justice is far from us, and righteousness does not reach us.  We look for light, but all is darkness; for brightness, but we walk in deep shadows” (Is. 59:9). Yet, it was God’s desire to bring about the opposite results as is shown in Isaiah 60:1 which states, “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD rises upon you.” A return to the proper mode of fasting would achieve the latter result.
In verses 9b-12, “Isaiah develops the same theme again but with some variation.”[15] Here Isaiah exhorts the people to do away with their oppression and infighting, and God would respond to them as they did away with the things that were displeasing to Him.[16]
In verse 10 the themes of vv. 7-8 is again reiterated with the phrase “your light will rise.” If they would obey Yahweh, they would reap the spiritual benefits that he promised. “With that said, there are some substantial differences in vv. 9b-12. … There are no more references to fasting; the proportions of the component parts are quite different; and the verse I verse 12 a specific promise is introduced which has no parallel in the previous section.”[17] Thus, the main emphasis is not fasting, but the humbling of the soul.
In verses 9b-12 other similar themes are addressed. For instance, “Oppression is emphasized by repetition and there is also a reference to character assassinations.”[18] These themes continue to resignate within the text in order to drive home the primary point, which is the doing away with pride, and embracing godly humility and self-denial.


[1] Oswalt, John S.  The New Application Commentary: Isaiah Grand Rapids, Zondervan. 2003 p. 624
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid. p. 625
[4] Ibid.
[5] Scholarly p. 122
[6] Ibid.
[7] Gaebelein, Frank The Expositors Bible Commentary: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel Volume 6 Grand Rapids Zondervan 1986 p. 322

[8] Scholarly p.122
[9] Gaebelein, Frank p. 322-323
[10] Comment p. 843
[11] Scholary exposition
[12] Gaebelein, Frank p. 323
[13] Ibid.
[14] Ibid.
[15] Ibid.
[16] Explanation p. 844
[17] P. 217
[18] Gaebelein, Frank p. 323

Friday, June 7, 2013

Post #3 - Our Engagement!

In my last blog, I said that God revealed to me that Michelle was the woman he chose for me. While, I don’t believe in the concept of the “one for me” idea per se, it seems that God had a specific one for me. "I would counsel people that while God has a good plan for us and puts people in our lives, we still have the choice to reject His plan." In our case, both of us felt peace about our relationship and moved forward. After the second date Michelle and I began to meet together regularly and talk on the phone daily.
There was a gap between our second date and the time I was to depart again for Lee University to attend the fall semester. It was during this gap I made my move; I asked Michelle to marry me and she said yes. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the money to buy the engagement ring at the time. I had to wait two months before I was able to officially propose, but the verbal agreement was all we needed. After all, we were in love.
This was a commitment I didn’t take lightly. Through the years I witnessed the pain of divorce and the havoc it caused on spouses and kids. I determined not to suffer the same experience as many of my friends and family did. So in order to not follow in their shoes, Michelle and I worked through three pre-marital workbooks that prepared couples for marriage and participated in six sessions of premarital counseling with our pastor. While such a preparation regiment is not iron-clad protection from future marriage problems, it did set for us a wonderful foundation on which to build.
The courtship would continue on for several months. I would leave college and move back to Terre Haute to marry Michelle.
More to come tomorrow!

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Our First Date - Continued!!!!

In my last blog, I told about how Michelle and I went out on our first date. The date was a memorable one for me. After she picked me up, we went to Olive Garden and enjoyed a wonderful meal. Michelle had the Tour of Italy while I enjoyed the Veal Marsala. The meal was filled with a lot of small talk seasoned with the great aspirations I had for ministry. I thought at the time I was destined to be the next mega-church pastor. In looking back on the conversation I am surprised I didn’t scare her away with some of my grandiose dreams. 

After dinner we played miniature golf followed by a time spent at the Banks of the Wabash Festival. It was there that Michelle and I rode the Ferris Wheel together for the first time. I had a lot of fun and really enjoyed the conversation, but I thought that this was probably our last date. After all, I was returning to Lee University in the fall to continue my education.

The months of June and July were spent separated from Michelle as she went back to Michigan for the summer. During these two months I was convinced that my wife to be was at Lee University waiting for me to sweep her off her feet. However, God had other plans.

At the time I was still involved in the Pentecostal/Charismatic movement and all that goes along with that. On several occasions I had people prophecy to me that Michelle was to be my wife. While I didn’t take their prophecies seriously, it did get me thinking of the possibility of Michelle becoming my wife. Even so, I continued to be resistant to the idea until one fateful Sunday morning toward the end of the summer. Michelle had returned to church with her mother and grandmother in tow. Our pastor preached a powerful sermon and at the end of it I felt impressed that Michelle was the one for me. I wasted no time. I made a bee-line for her pew and asked her to go on another date. Her mother and grandmother must have wondered what was wrong with me! While I don’t recommend my experience as a blueprint for finding a wife, this is how it worked out for me. 

To be continued tomorrow!

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Our Love Story: The First Date

The first date is always the scariest, isn’t it? Sometimes you know if the other person is the right one after the first night on the town together. While my first date with Michelle didn’t wield the same immediate conclusion, just a few months after that first date, I knew that Michelle was the one for me.

Our love story began a little unusually. Michelle, the 26-year-old shy, beautiful girl that she was, decided to ask me out in a way that might seem odd to some. She decided to ask the pastor’s wife to ask the pastor to ask me if I would like to go out with her. I said yes, returning the message through the same chain of command, albeit in reverse order. Now the stage had been set. Little did I know that I would spend the rest of my life with her, my caring, supportive and faithful companion.

A day or two later I called her and we set the date, with one caveat. She had to pick me up. I didn’t tell her why I couldn’t assume the traditional role of picking her up. However, when the day of our first date arrived, I met Michelle at my door and introduced her to my grandmother. A few minutes later we ventured out to the car to prepare to go to the restaurant where I made reservations. 

However, before getting into the car Michelle asked me to drive, which was the one question I didn’t want her to ask. You see a few years earlier I was arrested for the third time for my drinking. At fifteen years old I had become an alcoholic and in my later teen years it progressed into an even greater problem causing me to get arrested three different times before Christ turned my life around. So when Michelle asked why I couldn’t drive, I was forced to reveal to her that my license was still suspended for my DWI, leaving the scene of an accident and minor consumption charge, all in a night’s work, two years earlier. I figured any woman who would still go out with a guy like me, might just be a keeper. I would find out later she was more than a keeper; she was God’s special gift to me.

Well, I better get back to my studies. I will write another installment tomorrow, and every day after that until June 12th, our anniversary.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

The Collapse of a Christian Nation

In lieu of the cultural collapse in America that we are witnessing before our eyes, St. Augustine offers a blueprint for the American Evangelical church in his book the city of God, penned over 1600 years ago, that we would do well to read. I know that this may not be the answer that many Evangelicals want to hear, but I think it is the message that God desires for us to hear and obey. We need to face up to the fact, as Augustine did many centuries ago, that the Roman Empire has collapsed.

This is probably best because God's intent was never for the United States to be a New Testament Israel. God worked through a nation in the Old Testament, but not during the New Testament time (or the church age). During the New Testament period, God works through his church. I firmly believe that God never intended for the United States to become a Christian nation; rather he intended the Church in the U. S. to advance God's Kingdom and influence the nation for Christ through persuasion not legislation.

This following is a synopsis of the book that was taken from

Augustine wrote the treatise to explain Christianity's relationship with competing religions and philosophies, as well as its relationship with the Roman government, with which it was increasingly intertwined. It was written soon after Rome was sacked by the Visigoths in 410. This event left Romans in a deep state of shock, and many saw it as punishment for abandoning traditional Roman religion for Catholic Christianity. It was in this atmosphere that Augustine set out to console Christians, writing that, even if the earthly rule of the Empire was imperiled, it was the City of God that would ultimately triumph. Augustine's eyes were fixed on Heaven, a theme of many Christian works of Late Antiquity.

Despite Christianity's designation as the official religion of the Empire, Augustine declared its message to be spiritual rather than political. Christianity, he argued, should be concerned with the mystical, heavenly city, the New Jerusalem — rather than with earthly politics.

The book presents human history as being a conflict between what Augustine calls the City of Man and the City of God, a conflict that is destined to end in victory of the latter. The City of God is marked by people who forgot earthly pleasure to dedicate themselves to the eternal truths of God, now revealed fully in the Christian faith. The City of Man, on the other hand, consists of people who have immersed themselves in the cares and pleasures of the present, passing world.

Augustine provides a brief description of the contents of the work:
However, this great undertaking was at last completed in twenty-two books. Of these, the first five refute those who fancy that the polytheistic worship is necessary in order to secure worldly prosperity, and that all these overwhelming calamities have befallen us in consequence of its prohibition. In the following five books I address myself to those who admit that such calamities have at all times attended, and will at all times attend, the human race, and that they constantly recur in forms more or less disastrous, varying only in the scenes, occasions, and persons on whom they light, but, while admitting this, maintain that the worship of the gods is advantageous for the life to come. But that no one might have occasion to say, that though I had refuted the tenets of other men, I had omitted to establish my own, I devote to this object the second part of this work, which comprises twelve books, although I have not scrupled, as occasion offered, either to advance my own opinions in the first ten books, or to demolish the arguments of my opponents in the last twelve. Of these twelve books, the first four contain an account of the origin of these two cities—the city of God, and the city of the world. The second four treat of their history or progress; the third and last four, of their deserved destinies.
—Augustine, Retractions[1]
In other words, the City of God can be divided into two parts. Part I, which comprises Books I-X, is polemical in style and is devoted to a critique of Roman cultures and mores (Books I-V) and of pagan philosophy (Books VI-X). Interpreters often take these first ten books to correspond with the Earthly City, in contrast to the City of God discussed in Part II, which comprises the remaining twelve books. Part II is where Augustine shifts from criticism to positing a coherent account of the relationship between the City of God and an Earthly City subordinated to it.

As indicated in the above passage from the Retractions, the City of God can be further subdivided into the following parts:
Part I (Books I-X):
a) Books I-V: criticism of Rome
b) Books VI-X: criticism of pagan philosophy
Part II (Books XI-XXII):
c) Books XI-XIV: the origins of the two cities
d) Books XV-XVIII: their history or progress
e) Books XIX-XXII: their deserved destinies
This is a link is a link where the interviewer interviews two Evangelical scholars about the notion of America being a Christian Nation.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

C. S. Lewis's Critique of Progressivism

The following quote comes from the brilliant work of C. S. Lewis entitled Screwtape Proposes a Toast. This is a timely message given that we live in an age where the "progressive" message is the dominant view among the mediums that shape culture in our day.  This thinking is furthered by the media, the arts, the educational system as well as the government. All of the aforementioned mediums sing in concert their praise of this ideology. Virtually all news reporting comes from this ideological bent. Furthermore, this thinking is leading the modern university into intellectual bankruptcy because it seeks to create activists rather than thinkers. Progressive thinking takes as its mantra equality, but in reality, brings about something very destructive.

Hidden in the heart of this striving for Liberty there was also a deep hatred of personal freedom. That invaluable man Rousseau first revealed it. In his perfect democracy, you remember, only the state religion is permitted, slavery is restored, and the individual is told that he has really willed (though he didn’t know it) whatever the Government tells him to do. From that starting point, via Hegel (another indispensable propagandist on our side) we easily contrived both the Nazi and the Communist state….
Democracy is the word with which you must lead them by the nose…. [T]hey should never be allowed to give this word a clear and definable meaning. They won’t. It will never occur to them that democracy is properly the name of a political system, even a system of voting, and that this has only the most remote and tenuous connection with what you are trying to sell them. Nor of course must they ever be allowed to raise Aristotle’s question: whether “democratic behaviour” means the behaviour that democracies like or the behaviour that will preserve a democracy. For if they did, it could hardly fail to occur to them that these need not be the same.
You are to use the word purely as an incantation; if you like, purely for its selling power. It is a name they venerate. And of course it is connected with the political ideal that men should be equally treated. You then make a stealthy transition in their minds from this political ideal to a factual belief that all men are equal…. As a result you can use the word democracy to sanction in his thought the most degrading (and also the least enjoyable) of human feelings. You can get him to practise, not only without shame but with a positive glow of self-approval, conduct which, if undefended by the magic word, would be universally derided.
The feeling I mean is of course that which prompts a man to say I’m as good as you….
No man who says I’m as good as you believes it. He would not say it if he did. The St. Bernard never says it to the toy dog, nor the scholar to the dunce, nor the employable to the bum, nor the pretty woman to the plain. The claim to equality, outside the strictly political field, is made only by those who feel themselves to be in some way inferior. What it expresses is precisely the itching, smarting, writhing awareness of an inferiority which the patient refuses to accept.
And therefore resents. Yes, and therefore resents every kind of superiority in others; denigrates it; wishes its annihilation. Presently he suspects every mere difference of being a claim to superiority…. “They’ve no business to be different. It’s undemocratic.”
Now, this useful phenomenon is in itself by no means new. Under the name of Envy it has been known to humans for thousands of years. But hitherto they always regarded it as the most odious, and also the most comical, of vices. Those who were aware of feeling it felt it with shame; those who were not gave it no quarter in others. The delightful novelty of the present situation is that you can sanction it — make it respectable and even laudable — by the incantatory use of the word democratic.
Under the influence of this incantation those who are in any or every way inferior can labour more wholeheartedly and successfully than ever before to pull down everyone else to their own level. But that is not all. Under the same influence, those who come, or could come, nearer to a full humanity, actually draw back from fear of being undemocratic…. They might (horror of horrors!) become individuals….
Meanwhile, as a delightful by-product, the few (fewer every day) who will not be made Normal or Regular and Like Folks and Integrated increasingly become in reality the prigs and cranks which the rabble would in any case have believed them to be. For suspicion often creates what it expects…. As a result we now have an intelligentsia which, though very small, is very useful to the cause of Hell.
But that is a mere by-product. What I want to fix your attention on is the vast, overall movement towards the discrediting, and finally the elimination, of every kind of human excellence – moral, cultural, social, or intellectual. And is it not pretty to notice how “democracy” (in the incantatory sense) is now doing for us the work that was once done by the most ancient Dictatorships, and by the same methods?…
Once you have grasped the tendency, you can easily predict its future developments; especially as we ourselves will play our part in the developing. The basic principle of the new education is to be that dunces and idlers must not be made to feel inferior to intelligent and industrious pupils. That would be “undemocratic.” These differences between pupils – for they are obviously and nakedly individual differences – must be disguised. This can be done at various levels. At universities, examinations must be framed so that nearly all the students get good marks. Entrance examinations must be framed so that all, or nearly all, citizens can go to universities, whether they have any power (or wish) to profit by higher education or not. At schools, the children who are too stupid or lazy to learn languages and mathematics and elementary science can be set to doing things that children used to do in their spare time…. Whatever nonsense they are engaged in must have – I believe the English already use the phrase – “parity of esteem”…. Children who are fit to proceed to a higher class may be artificially kept back, because the others would get a trauma…by being left behind. The bright pupil thus remains democratically fettered to his own age group throughout his school career….
In a word, we may reasonably hope for the virtual abolition of education when I’m as good as you has fully had its way. All incentives to learn and all penalties for not learning will be prevented; who are they to overtop their fellows? And anyway the teachers – or should I say, nurses? – will be far too busy reassuring the dunces and patting them on the back to waste any time on real teaching. We shall no longer have to plan and toil to spread imperturbable conceit and incurable ignorance among men. The little vermin themselves will do it for us.
Of course, this would not follow unless all education became state education. But it will. That is part of the same movement. Penal taxes, designed for that purpose, are liquidating the Middle Class, the class who were prepared to save and spend and make sacrifices in order to have their children privately educated. The removal of this class, besides linking up with the abolition of education, is, fortunately, an inevitable effect of the spirit that says I’m as good as you. This was, after all, the social group which gave to the humans the overwhelming majority of their scientists, physicians, philosophers, theologians, poets, artists, composers, architects, jurists, and administrators. If ever there were a bunch of stalks that needed their tops knocked off, it was surely they. As an English politician remarked not long ago, “A democracy does not want great men.”
We, in Hell, would welcome the disappearance of democracy in the strict sense of that word, the political arrangement so called. Like all forms of government, it often works to our advantage, but on the whole less often than other forms. And what we must realize is that “democracy” in the diabolical sense (I’m as good as you, Being Like Folks, Togetherness) is the fittest instrument we could possibly have for extirpating political democracies from the face of the earth.
For “democracy” or the “democratic spirit” (diabolical sense) leads to a nation without great men, a nation mainly of subliterates, full of the cocksureness which flattery breeds on ignorance, and quick to snarl or whimper at the first sign of criticism. And that is what Hell wishes every democratic people to be. For when such a nation meets in conflict a nation where children have been made to work at school, where talent is placed in high posts, and where the ignorant mass are allowed no say at all in public affairs, only one result is possible….
It is our function to encourage the behaviour, the manners, the whole attitude of mind, which democracies naturally like and enjoy, because these are the very things which, if unchecked, will destroy democracy. You would almost wonder that even humans don’t see it themselves. Even if they don’t read Aristotle (that would be undemocratic) you would have thought the French Revolution would have taught them that the behaviour aristocrats naturally like is not the behaviour that preserves aristocracy. They might then have applied the same principle to all forms of government….
The overthrow of free peoples and the multiplication of slave states are for us a means (besides, of course, being fun); but the real end is the destruction of individuals. For only individuals can be saved or damned, can become sons of the Enemy or food for us. The ultimate value, for us, of any revolution, war, or famine lies in the individual anguish, treachery, hatred, rage, and despair which it may produce. I’m as good as you is a useful means for the destruction of democratic societies. But it has a far deeper value as an end in itself, as a state of mind which, necessarily excluding humility, charity, contentment, and all the pleasures of gratitude or admiration, turns a human being away from almost every road which might finally lead him to Heaven.