God Rejects Empty Ritualism
Cry aloud, spare not, lift up thy voice like a trumpet, and shew my people their transgression, and the house of Jacob their sins. (2) Yet they seek me daily, and delight to know my ways, as a nation that did righteousness, and forsook not the ordinance of their God: they ask of me the ordinances of justice; they take delight in approaching to God. (3) Wherefore have we fasted, say they, and thou seest not? wherefore have we afflicted our soul, and thou takest no knowledge? Behold, in the day of your fast ye find pleasure, and exact all your labours.(Isaiah 58:1-3)
At the beginning of Isaiah 58, God gives Isaiah 4 commands: Cry aloud, Spare not, Lift up thy voice, and shew my people their transgression. Notice that these commands are both confrontational and seem to indicate being loud about them. There is an urgency in verse one. God is telling Isaiah to declare the sins of God’s people, “the house of Jacob”, and to do it both urgently and loudly.
In verse 2 we see why it is a good time to do this. God’s people are sinful, as we can tell by verse 1, but God declares that there seems to be a desire that these people had to know and please God. There seems to be the possibility of repentance. He says they “seek him daily”, that they “delight to know my ways”, and that they “take delight in approaching to God”. You see in this verse the desire for knowledge, and the desire to commune with God. This is good, but apparently it was not enough. God was pleased with this desire to know Him, but there was a problem. They were lacking in their true obedience to Him.
Verse three records their question to him. “Wherefore have we fasted, say they, and thou seest not? wherefore have we afflicted our soul, and thou takest no knowledge?” They could be summed up in this way: “God, we are doing these religious practices like fasting, so why aren’t you listening? It’s like you don’t even know or care about the worship through fasting that we are offering to you!”
God begins to the answer to them in the last half of verse 3, when he says, “Behold, in the day of your fast ye find pleasure, and exact all your labours.” In other words, on the same day that they sought to you worship God through a fast, they were oppressing other people and serving themselves. Their worship of God was shown to be just empty ritual because of the worship of themselves expressed by disobedience to the law of God during the rest of the day.
Notice what God did not say. He did not deny that He was unresponsive to their worship. He was being unresponsive to their worship and was not answering them in the way they desired. Their behavior exhibited the fact that their worship was mere empty ritualism, and this kind of worship is unacceptable to God.
God does not desire for us to worship him formally on one day of the week, and then to act disobediently and worship something else the other six days of the week. Worship does not just happen corporately at a weekly religious event. Worship is a lifestyle. It is the flow of our life. This is why Paul said in 1 Corinthians 10:31, “Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.” Of course, that verse refers to eating meat offered to idols or not, but also calls us to have a proper motivation behind every decision we make in life. Every decision we make throughout our day ought to be filtered by the question: “Am I doing this as unto the Lord?”
Does your Sunday match your Monday? Is worshipping God a one-day event for you, or is it the pattern of your life?