Isaiah 56–58. A Word For Everyone.

Key Notes: Righteousness and justice. Sabbath then and Sunday now.

In these three chapters, six religious subgroups are addressed:

a) future disciples among the outcasts
b) bad leaders
c) persecuted saints
d) idolaters
e) penitents and
f) the nominally religious.
Isaiah begins and ends the section with concern for how the Sabbath is observed.

a) Isa.56:1–9 The foreigner expects to be rejected: no foreigner could eat the Passover. (Ex.12:45). The eunuch was excluded by law from the Temple (Deut.23:1–3) presumably because castration was practiced by the Canaanites as a religious rite. But God singles out both of these ostracized groups and promises that those who join themselves to the Lord will be accepted at His altar. And other outcasts would also be gathered in. This passage belongs to the future.

b) 56:9–12 The leaders of contemporary Israel were sleeping dogs, drunk shepherds, all turned to their own way.

c) 57:1–2 The righteous were being killed. "Manasseh (Hezekiah's son) shed much innocent blood, till he had filled Jerusalem from one end to another." (IIK.21:16). No one cared, but the righteous entered into peace. Augustine and Luther were two Christian leaders whom God took home before disasters fell upon their countries, as it would soon fall upon Judah.

d) 57:3–13 The wicked continued in their idolatrous and adulterous ways. They sacrificed their children. They went over to their enemies to make alliances. (57:9). They remembered God enough to lie to Him but not enough to fear Him. (57:11). Their idols will have to deliver them.

e) 57:14–21 But for the penitent and contrite God promised comfort and peace, although nothing but trouble remains for the wicked.

f) 58:1–14 Religious Israel continued to fast and honor the Sabbath. But their fasting was useless because they oppressed their workers (58:3) and were unjust to the poor. (58:7).
God promises great reward for those who practice righteousness and justice. They will receive healing, God's ready response and guidance, and restoration of lands.

Justice and righteousness are mentioned at the beginning of this section. (56:1). Righteousness and justice are the same word in Greek. Righteousness is personal but justice is social.
Our society has a great concern for justice. Some of the issues commonly mentioned are:

Medical care and insurance
Treatment of ethnic minorities
Financial benefits for domestic partners
Care for AIDS victims.
Housing for the homeless
Social security
Reproductive rights
Protection of children and the unborn from abuse
Equal education for all
Justice in criminal prosecution
Working conditions in Third World societies.
Hunger world-wide

On the other hand, righteousness issues are muted, and emphasized more by Christians than the society at large:

Drug abuse and addiction
Gambling
Sexual immorality and divorce
Pornography
Lying, cheating and stealing
Persecution of religious people

It is intuitive that personal righteousness must precede social justice. However, the larger society would like to think that social justice can stand by itself. The personal integrity of the public servant is sometimes divorced from public performance. It is an extension of the false notion that our problems are in our institutions and not in ourselves.

This lesson begins and ends with an appeal to honor the Sabbath.
"If you turn back your foot from the sabbath, from doing your pleasure on my holy day and call the sabbath a delight and the holy day of the Lord honorable; if you honor it, not going your own ways, or seeking your own pleasure, or talking idly, then you shall take delight in the Lord, and I will make you ride upon the heights of the earth; I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken." (Isa.58:13–14)

Sabbath is a memorial to creation (Gen.2:1–3) because God rested on the seventh day. It became a law in Israel that had two functions:
a) physical, a rest for everyone, even animals. (Ex.20:9–11)
b) ceremonial, a sign of the Covenant . "You shall keep my Sabbaths, for this is a sign between Me and you...that you may know that I, the Lord, sanctify you." (Ex.31:13)

The Jews observed the Sabbath rigorously in the wilderness after Exodus, and after the Exile. In Jesus' time, Sabbath observance was very strict. Jesus was the center of Sabbath controversy on at least six occasions, because He healed people and allowed the disciples to gather grain for their day's need.

After the Resurrection, the disciples began to meet on the Lord's Day, Sunday (Acts.20:7, ICor.16:2, Rev.1:10) for worship, honoring the Resurrection in a joyful way. However, Sunday continued to be a work day until Constantine made Sunday an official day of rest for the Roman Empire in 321AD. After that, the concept of Sunday rest was widely adopted and became law in the Roman Catholic Church. The Reformers resisted legalism, but the Puritans enforced Sunday rest strictly. Since WWII, "blue laws" have been abandoned and Sunday has become secularized.

However, we find that the organized states in the world have a day of rest once a week. It is Friday in Moslem countries, Saturday in Hindu states and Israel; Sunday in the West. The Fourth Commandment is the oldest piece of labor legislation in the world, and its value is acknowledged universally for its physical benefits. So we should rest as well as worship on the Lord's Day.

Why does God restrain human beings from constant work? Aren't we naturally lazy and prone to too much relaxation anyway? Competition drives people to work relentlessly to get ahead of others. Students are particularly driven to excel by putting in more time ---in athletics as well as studying. What are high school basketball players, college musicians, science and law students doing on Sunday afternoon?

How should Christians respond?
Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath. Mk.2:23–28
He did not come to abolish the Law (including Sabbath), but to fulfill it. Matt.5:17
"The Sabbath was made for man...."( Mk.9:27)

It is a spiritual exercise to tithe our time, as we tithe our income, and give this portion to God, for worship and praise, for rest, and for re-creation. As we should make time each week for our partners, so we are asked by God to give Him some of our time as well. God is begging us, demanding, that we spend special time with Him!

Is it all right for Christians to work on Sunday? There are those who must, because of the daily needs of humans and animals. They are given another day to rest.

What is work? One young woman, the wife of a student, defined it this way: "If I have to do it, it's work: then I don't do it on Sunday." The shelves don't get cleaned. The apartment stays dusty. Groceries are bought on Monday.

Re-creation permits us to do things that are refreshing and energizing, such as walking in a park, writing letters to relatives, reading spiritual material, an afternoon nap. We could be helpful to others, such as visiting the sick or the elderly.

A glorious and restful Sunday puts an end to Blue Monday, the pains of weekend warriors, the hangover, burn-out and other disorders of modern life. Sunday should be the pinnacle of our week.