Isaiah 58 – Part 4

We continue our series in Isaiah 58-59, with guest writer Rev. Christine Redwood.

Tying the Strands Together

 “If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath and from doing as you please on my holy day, if you call the Sabbath a delight and the LORD’s holy day honourable, and if you honour it by not going your own way and not doing as you please or speaking idle words, then you will find your joy in the LORD, and I will cause you to ride in triumph on the heights of the land and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob.” For the mouth of the LORD has spoken. Isaiah 58:13-14

These two verses close off this section by tying previous threads together. Isaiah does so by using the technique known as inclusio.[1] Inclusio is a structural device that frames the material by echoing words from the beginning of the speech at the end. It is very popular and can be used in both written and oral communication, modern and ancient texts.[2] The hope is if you say it enough finally people will get it! It is closely associated with parallelism (which we discussed when reading the opening lines of Isaiah 58).[3] The difference is that is works at a greater distance between the two parts; instead of following the second line, it concludes a section by referencing the beginning section.[4] In this case the earlier discussion about fasting is taken and applied to the Sabbath.

In some ways the Sabbath example might connect more with us than the fasting example. The modern day equivalent could be our Sunday worship gatherings. Isaiah says that when the people practice the Sabbath (and fasting) faithfully they are living out an alternative way of life from the ‘unbridled acquisitiveness that exploits neighbour’ to a community that cares for one another and is able to rest from work and celebrate the good gifts of God together.[5]  It makes me wonder how our own worship practices can cultivate in us this same counter-cultural care for others. Are we careful with the words we speak both in a worship service and afterwards? Or does the worship service finish and we turn to one another and gossip, or quarrel and fight with a brother or sister in Christ. Do we stick to our little comfortable groups and never welcome the newcomer?

Worship is not centered on our needs instead it is looking outward in delight to God and then to others. Notice how key words repeat like ‘delight’, ‘day’, and ‘the LORD ’. Repetition intensifies the themes of the speech, with each repeated occurrence of the word developing the key ideas.[6]  For instance, the word ‘delight’ has changed to mean the daily action of practicing love and justice towards everyone. If people delight in love then this will culminate in worshipping God, bringing delight both to God and people.[7] Not just on one day or one hour during the week but moment by moment.

In Isaiah 58, the central message from God concerns a transformed understanding of both fasting and keeping the Sabbath.  If the people repent there is the promise of salvation. 

To think about

Does your church see itself as living out an alternative way of life?

What do you delight in?

After reading the whole of Isaiah 58, what’s the central idea that emerges for you?

[1] Gregory J. Polan, In the Ways of Justice toward Salvation : A Rhetorical Analysis of Isaiah 56-59 (New York: Peter Lang, 1986), 225.

[2] Jack R. Lundbom, “Poetic Structure and Prophetic Rhetoric in Hosea,” Vetus testamentum 29, no. 3 (1979): 301.

[3] Wilfred G.E. Watson, “Chiastic Patterns in Biblical Hebrew Poetry,” in Chiasmus in Antiquity, ed. John W.  Welch (Hildesheim: Gerstenberg, 1981), 136.

[4] Adele Berlin and L. V. Range of biblical metaphors in Smikhut Knorina, The Dynamics of Biblical Parallelism, Rev. and expanded ed. ed. (Grand Rapids, Mich. ; Cambridge: Eerdmans, 2008), 132.

[5] Walter Brueggemann, Isaiah 40-66, 1st ed., 2 vols., Westminster Bible Companion (Louisville, Ky.: Westminster John Knox Press, 1998), 193.

[6] Polan, In the Ways of Justice toward Salvation : A Rhetorical Analysis of Isaiah 56-59, 232.

[7] Paul D. Hanson, Isaiah 40-66, Interpretation, a Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1995), 206.

[8] Curtis W. Fitzgerald, “A Rhetorical Analysis of Isaiah 56-66” (Dallas Theological Seminary, 2003), 29.

[9] Wilfred G. E. Watson, Classical Hebrew Poetry : A Guide to Its Techniques (Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1984), 204-05.

[10] John W. Welch, Chiasmus in Antiquity : Structures, Analyses, Exegesis (Hildesheim: Gerstenberg, 1981), 10.

[11] Polan, In the Ways of Justice toward Salvation : A Rhetorical Analysis of Isaiah 56-59, 233.

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