God rejects empty ritualism (part 2).
Behold, ye fast for strife and debate, and to smite with the fist of wickedness: ye shall not fast as ye do this day, to make your voice to be heard on high. (5) Is it such a fast that I have chosen? a day for a man to afflict his soul? is it to bow down his head as a bulrush, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? wilt thou call this a fast, and an acceptable day to the LORD?Isaiah 58:4-5
God is confronting His people through the prophet Isaiah. They have asked Him why it seems that He is unresponsive to their worship. The answer to this question continues in verse 4.
Fighting as result of worship.
God points out that their fasting is leading to strife, debate, and even violence. Some take the fighting in verse four to mean that they were grumpy and contentious because of the religious practice of fasting. The slang word for this would be “hangry”. They were hungry because of the fasting and this was making them contentious even to the point of fighting.
Others take the fighting to be about fighting with others about how fasting ought to be done, whether it was legitimate or not. We have all seen fights between people about how things ought to be in worship. People fight over all kinds of things in churches today that relate to the practice of worship.
Whatever the nature of their fight was, this was not the purpose of fasting. God tells them that they need to stop this kind of fasting. This kind of worship He rejects.
Worship to manipulate God.
God says that the fasting that they need to stop also was fasting that tried “to make your voice to be heard on high”. They thought that if they fasted severely enough that God would then be obligated to hear what they wanted and to respond in the way that they wanted. God goes on to ask them to think about if this was really what He desired for fasting. Was God really impressed with their affliction of themselves? Was God obligating Himself to the person who endured the most suffering? The obvious answer is no. This kind of worship as manipulation was the kind of worship that pagan people practiced. God the Father rejected this idea as well.
Fighting because of being in a bad mood because of how we worship indicates a wrong attitude. While there is a time to stand up for proper worship, fighting for our own preferences in worship misses the point of worship as well. Worship offered that seeks to get our own way by seeking to manipulate God is not worship at all. We cannot fool God. He knows our hearts, and these kinds of empty rituals He rejects.
Have you ever been guilty of making worship more about you than God?