Blog 22: Isaiah 58 Passion Sunday

True prayer and fasting – God’s justice

 Sunday 17 March 2013 11.00am

Chapters 58-61 constitute Act 11 of the Vision. The last years of Xerxes reign were chaotic for Jerusalem – the city was overrun by their neighbours, Moab and Edom among them – Xerxes was totally preoccupied by his war with the Greeks and then is murdered in 465BC. A succession war between his three sons ensues. Chapters 57-58 depict the chaos that ensues when the Persians are pre-occupied elsewhere. Later in the Act, Ezra[1] is sent to Jerusalem as the new Emperor Artaxerxes[2] starts to exert his authority and to recognize Jerusalem as a temple city.

Here the LORD and the heavens and the earth call the worshippers to account. They plead that they have fasted and prayed – worship has taken place now in Zerubbabel’s temple for some fifty years – but in the economic chaos of these years – concern for justice and love for God have been replaced by purely formal religious observance.

So the thrust of this passage is that God is passionate about justice, about the poor, about a faith (rather than religion) which expresses itself in action. Matthew 25 and Christ’s judgment scene where ‘as far as you do it to one of the least of these you do it to me’ is the rubric of judgment and the whole book of James come to mind – though the theme is also found in Zechariah 7-8 and of course in the Book of Amos.

But for us it is a salutary reminder that if our worship does not result in compassion for the poor and passion for justice, and real relationship with God – God isn’t interested!

[1] Chapter 61 may refer to this.

[2] Artaxerxes was the third and youngest son of Xerxes