Listen to the words of the prophet Isaiah as he cuts through the noise and calls us to true worship:
“If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
and your night will become like the noonday.
The Lord will guide you always;
he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
like a spring whose waters never fail. Isaiah 58:9b-11
The NIV Study Bible’s outline for the book of Isaiah refers to this chapter as False and True Worship1. Everything we do can be filled with worship. Please don’t mistake worship for 20+ minutes on Sundays when the band is playing!
I suppose finger-pointing and malicious talk are nothing new, but my goodness, the culture we live in, is immersed in the outrageous slandering of people right and left. I wish I had a filter for my Facebook feed that eliminated any post (or advertisement) that hinted at such things. Isaiah’s words to Israel come with a promise that I believe is relevant for us today.
Instead of spending energy on tearing people down, let’s devote ourselves to satisfying the needs of the oppressed and feeding the hungry. We shouldn’t need any incentive to do these things, but he gives us a profound promise that is meant to encourage those who work tirelessly to help others in need.
- Your light will rise in the darkness
- Your night will become like the noonday
- The Lord will guide you always
- The Lord will satisfy your needs
- The Lord will strengthen you
- You will flourish (a well-watered garden)
- You will be like a spring whose waters never fail
When we spend ourselves, that is, we pour our energy into helping those who cannot help themselves, we are doing the very thing Jesus came to do. Remember when he rebuked His disciples when they tried to dismiss the children?
People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them. 14 When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.“
Why did Jesus become indignant? And why did he say, the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these? For more thoughts on the passage in Mark, see the post here.
Unlike the text we covered a few days ago from 1 John 3:17, where the word “pity” was translated differently, we find the word for indignant is consistently translated from the Greek: aganakteō. It’s interesting to note that the word shows up seven times in the New Testament. Jesus is beyond unhappy with the disciples’ actions, and they knew it. I imagine the scene unfolded some distance away from where Jesus was, so He had to move toward them to intervene. I also suspect that they felt the aganakteō when He arrived!
Such as These
The Kingdom of God belongs to those who cannot help themselves. Children, especially at the time of Mark’s writing, were undoubtedly vulnerable, but definitely could not speak for themselves. The example was vivid. I think the disciples felt the weight of the lesson — that’s why the story is covered in Matthew, Mark, and Luke!
I’m not trying to get sidetracked from today’s passage; instead, I’m trying to support my assertion that Isaiah’s words are relevant to us today. In other words, it’s not just some ancient text that warns our forefathers. We need to pay attention to his words as they affect our lives today.
We don’t serve the needs of the oppressed for a financial reward. Take another look at the list of promises above. The theme of this list is all about the joy that wells up from inside; complete contentment. You’ll walk in the light, no stumbling around in darkness! Isaiah’s poetic words offer peace and security with words that are chosen to give you comfort. When I was underlining the words in my Bible, it seemed like the list just kept going. How wonderful. This is our God. He wants us to join in the joy that comes by helping others.
For those who have invested in the lives of the least, the lost, and the lonely, I’m sure you would agree. For those who have received love from someone investing in you, as Father Gregory Boyle might say, the feeling is mutual.
May we be known as people who care for others. Let us be the people that spend ourselves on behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed.
1 The NIV Study Bible, © 1985, 1995, 2002, 2008, 2011, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Michigan, p. 1116.