Posted on Oct 3, 2014 | 0 comments

Playing the Game

by Skip Moen, D. Phil.

“Why have we fasted and You do not see? Why have we humbled ourselves and You do not notice?” Behold, on the day of your fast you find your desire, and drive hard all your workers. Isaiah 58:3 NASB

Find your desire – This evening we begin Yom Kippur. Fasting is appropriate on the day of corporate repentance. But there should be no doubt that fasting by itself means nothing. Ritual without restitution is empty. Isaiah’s words from God indicate that these people fasted. They played the ritual game. But they did so timtseu hefets (seeking pleasure). In other words, the real motivation behind this fast was not humility before God or sincere desire to honor Him and do His will. It was personal gain. They supposed that as a result of ritual practice God would do something for them.

What evidence does the prophet produce to justify this claim? Certainly God knows. He can examine men’s hearts and determine their motives. But we who do not have this capability are often deluded by outward actions. So the prophet provides observable evidence that reveals true motivation. The bosses fast. They practice the ritual. But they drive their workers hard on the same day. The compassion, mercy, humility and submission necessary for true repentance are not present because they do not extend it to those under them. The test of true devotion to the Lord is the way we treat other people. “Love the Lord your God” cannot be separated from “your neighbor as yourself.”

The verb here (matsa) is unusual in that it means both “to find” and “to come upon, reach, attain.” It is not the verb of Deuteronomy 4:29 translated “seek” (baqash) but it is the second verb in that famous passage. Biblical thought often suggests that seeking results in finding. But here in Isaiah, there is no “seeking.” The ones who perform the ritual are not seeking God. They are in it in order to find without seeking. Their goal is to attain hefets, a word meaning “delight.” They wish to find the emotional state of satisfaction that accompanies completion of a task. In other words, they practice their religion in order to feel good. That’s why the prophet excoriates them. Their goal is not righteousness or restitution or repentance. Their goal is feeling better about themselves because they have done their religious duty. The proof is that none of their actions change the rest of their expectations or demands on others. There has been no transformation of the heart. All they got was a good feeling.

This passage makes us pay much more attention to the purposes of assembling together. Do we seek the Lord or do we want to have our spirits lifted? Are we gathering before Him in order to pay Him homage or are we joining together so that we might experience the emotional high of communal involvement? Do we practice religion for Him or for us?

Topical Index: fast, find, matsa, desire, delight, hefets, Isaiah 58:3

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