This is the first study in my Decisions: Seeking God’s Guidance class, Wednesdays at King’s Grant Baptist Church.
The purpose today is to show that our sinfulness has blocked communication with God and to see that he will direct us as we obey.
When have you ever fasted? Why or why not?
What benefit did you experience?
An enemy of Joan of Arc once mocked her by jeering, “She says she hears God’s voice; why don’t I hear his voice?” It is reported that Joan replied, “Don’t you wish you did?”
1. If you could ask God one question and be assured of an answer, what would it be?
2. Why have you begun a Bible study on making decisions? Begin by praying that God will lead you in the decision you are facing.
In the year 537 B.C., Cyrus, King of Persia, allowed a small number of his Jewish captives to return to Jerusalem for the purpose of rebuilding the temple. The foundation for the new temple was quickly laid, but then the political situation became uncertain, circumstances interrupted, and economic troubles became so severe that the operation was discontinued. Isaiah 58 is a message for these confused and off-track people.
1. What frustrations do the people feel with God?
The return to Jerusalem had not proven to be the grand, all-transforming experience the people had expected. Fresh troubles continued to make life just as hard or harder than it had been in captivity. The people were asking for God’s help but felt that he was ignoring them.
2. When have you felt a similar frustration with him?
3. What have the people done to try to gain God’s guidance? In what ways did God’s people seem to do the right things (Isaiah 58:1-3a)?
The phrases “they seek me out,” “ask me for just decisions” and “we humbled ourselves” (Isaiah 58:2-3) indicate that the people have come to God with many forms of worship in addition to fasting. They have also prayed, cried out, put on sackcloth and wept. How did they spoil it (Isaiah 58:3b-5)?
4. In what similar ways do people attempt to discover God’s will today?
5. Why does God declare the people rebellious (or acting so pious) (Isaiah 58:1)?
All of the fasting and praying was only an external form. The people said words and went through motions that would make it look as if they were repentant and humble before God. In reality, the people were absorbed in seeking their own selfish pleasures, even while they appeared to be worshiping God.
6. If the people’s fasting was sincere, how would it have been different?
In fasting that pleases God, actions directed toward God are combined with actions directed toward people. This is expressed in several ways, such as providing food, shelter and clothing. However, of all the conceivable acts of caring, setting people free from bondage seems to be the most important in this passage. The people were to remember that they themselves had recently been living in exile. They had often been told, “Remember that you were a slave in Egypt.” God wanted them to have the compassion for others that had been shown to them.
7. What is the connection between receiving God’s guidance and a concern for justice?
Isaiah 59:2 states, “But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear.” It may be helpful to think of a light switch. Ignoring God’s concern for justice is like turning off the switch and breaking our contact with God. Heeding God’s concern is like turning on the switch and restoring contact.
8. What promises does God make in Isaiah 58:8-14?
For the people of the Old Testament, salvation was not thought of as a state of bliss, but as living in constant dialogue with God. It is this intimacy with God that is being promised here. Notice that some of the promises are for individuals (as in Isaiah 58:8-10), while other promises are for the nation (Isaiah 58:11-12).
9. What are the requirements for receiving these promises?
God wants signs of right character in those whose prayers he answers, for such character is the only guarantee that what he gives is rightly accepted and rightly used.
10. Why might God be withholding his light from us as a nation? How about from you as an individual?
11. What have you learned from this passage that will help you to discover God’s will and direction in your life?
Take time to confess your lack of sincerity and to ask for God’s light to break forth.
Now or Later: This is a fairly lengthy passage. You will want to study it on your own between sessions or take an extra session to discuss it.
The letter to the Ephesians explains why many people have become ignorant of and separated from God. Read Ephesians 4:17-5:21.
- What are the results of doing things our own way?
- What behaviors are to characterize our new life as Christians?
- Which of the commands in these verses are the most difficult for you to keep?
- How will keeping these commands help you to hear the voice of God?
Doing what you please is unacceptable
- The wrong way to fast (1-5) Boasting and you think it makes God happy?
- The right way to fast (6-14)
- The facts (6-10) Sharing with others
- The fruits (11-12) Guided by God
Have you ever been disappointed or even angry with religion? Perhaps you’ve heard someone say that the church is full of hypocrites. Maybe you’ve even said that yourself!
This is a passage of Scripture that we looked at last night, the first is out series on Decision: Seeking God’s Guidance. At the end, you’ll see how this chapter fits into the topic.
Isaiah rebuked Israel for practicing bad religion—religion that benefited no one and offended God (Isaiah 58:1–14). The prophet specifically zeroed in on fasting (Isaiah 58:2–5), pointing out ways in which the people misused this important spiritual discipline:
- They nagged God in the interests of their own personal gain.
- While seeking their own self-interests, they exploited their laborers.
- Their fasts became a source of strife, debate, and hostility toward others.
- They used severe fasting practices to call attention to themselves.
After challenging these practices, Isaiah described what true fasting ought to be like (Isaiah 58:6–13):
- It should result in bringing relief to the oppressed.
- It should result in feeding the hungry.
- It should result in the poor being taken into homes for shelter and clothing.
- Superior attitudes of finger pointing and evil should decline and ultimately disappear.
- It should lead to repairing things, including damaged relationships.
- It should involve treating the Sabbath as a day to worship the Lord rather than continuing to work for personal gain.
It’s easy to point the finger at others and criticize or ridicule their religious practices and spiritual life, but what about your own patterns of faith? How do they measure up to the Lord’s description of true religion? If there are places where you need to change, find at least one other person who will hold you accountable for making the necessary reforms.
For me, Isaiah 58:11 ties this chapter to the key on seeking God’s guidance: The Lord will guide you continually, giving you water when you are dry and restoring your strength. Pay attention to THIS chapter to better position yourself to hear from God and allow him to guide you.