“Unit 26: Day 4, Isaiah 58,” Old Testament Study Guide for Home-Study Seminary Students (2014)
“Unit 26: Day 4,” Old Testament Study Guide
The Jews wondered why the Lord did not acknowledge their fasting. Through Isaiah, the Lord taught the people about proper fasting and Sabbath observance.
“The Church designates one Sunday each month, usually the first Sunday, as a day of fasting” [True to the Faith: A Gospel Reference (2004), 67]. When members of the Church “fast,” for about 24 hours, they go without food and drink and combine this with prayer in order to draw closer to the Lord and request His blessings.
Imagine waking up one Sunday morning and preparing your breakfast. Just as you are about to start eating, you realize that it is fast Sunday. What are the first thoughts that come to your mind?
Reflect on your thoughts and feelings about fasting. Some people wonder why the Lord has directed us to fast. As you study Isaiah 58, look for principles that can help you understand why we fast and how fasting can be a source of spiritual power in your life.
In Isaiah 58:1–2 we read that the Lord directed Isaiah to boldly declare to the house of Jacob (or Israel) their sins. These sins included outwardly performing religious practices without sincere intent and thus acting as if they were a righteous nation that had not forsaken the Lord.
One law these Israelites outwardly practiced was fasting. Read Isaiah 58:3, looking for what the people asked the Lord about their fasting.
The people wondered why the Lord did not acknowledge their fasting. Isaiah 58:3–4 records the Lord’s response to the people. He taught that rather than seeking to be repentant and draw closer to Him while they fasted, they were seeking worldly pleasures and engaging in worldly activities. Instead of showing compassion to others, they were forcing them to work, and they were irritable and contentious. The Lord said that because their intentions and actions were improper while they fasted, He would not acknowledge their prayers.
Read Isaiah 58:5, looking for what the Lord questioned about the people’s fasting. It may help to know that a bulrush is a tall, thin grass that droops. Sackcloth is coarse material sometimes made from goat’s hair. In biblical times people often wore sackcloth or sat on sackcloth and ashes to symbolize their humility or sorrow.
The Lord questioned whether the people’s outward appearances of fasting reflected the proper spirit of the fast that He intended. Think about how we might make similar mistakes when we fast. For example, do people in our day ever fast by merely going through the motions without trying to draw closer to the Lord?
President Joseph F. Smith taught that proper fasting will “place the body in subjection to the spirit, and so promote communion with the Holy Ghost, and insure a spiritual strength and power which the people … so greatly need. As fasting should always be accompanied by prayer, this law would bring the people nearer to God” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph F. Smith , 198).
Note the first question the Lord asked in Isaiah 58:6. How would you phrase this question in your own words?
Read Isaiah 58:6, looking for what the Lord taught about His intended purposes of fasting.
One principle we can learn from the Lord’s teachings in Isaiah 58:6 is that if we fast as the Lord intends, then we can help relieve others’ burdens and receive relief from our own burdens.
- Answer one or both of the following questions in your scripture study journal:
What are some examples of “bands of wickedness,” “heavy burdens,” oppression, or yokes that can be relieved when we fast?
When have you seen the Lord relieve your own or others’ burdens through fasting?
Read Isaiah 58:7, looking for another intended purpose of fasting. It may help to know that the phrase “that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh” in this verse has reference to being especially attentive to the needs of our own family, both immediate and extended, rather than shifting the responsibility for their care to others. (Isaiah 58:6–7 is a scripture mastery passage. You may want to mark it in a distinctive way so you can locate it in the future.)
Complete the following statement based on what we can learn from Isaiah 58:7: If we fast as the Lord intends, then we will care .
One way we can help care for the hungry, poor, and naked through fasting is by contributing fast offerings. When we contribute fast offerings, we generally give at least the value of the two meals not eaten. Prophets have encouraged us to be even more generous when possible.
Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles explained how fast offerings are used: “Fast offerings are used for one purpose only: to bless the lives of those in need. Every dollar given to the bishop as a fast offering goes to assist the poor. When donations exceed local needs, they are passed along to fulfill the needs elsewhere” (“The Law of the Fast,” Ensign, May 2001, 74).
Read Isaiah 58:8–12, and consider marking the blessings the Lord promised for the type of fasting He desires.
Complete the following statement by summarizing these promised blessings in your own words: If we fast as the Lord intends, then He can bless us with .
- Reflect on whether you fast as the Lord intends. On a separate piece of paper, write a goal for one way you can improve your fasting. Put this goal in a place where you can see it often before the next fast Sunday. In your scripture study journal, write that you have finished this assignment.
The Lord next taught the people about another law they were improperly observing.
Scan Isaiah 58:13, looking for the day the Lord associates with being a “delight,” or a source of great joy.
Isaiah 58:13–14 records that the Lord taught a principle about the Sabbath that can make that day a source of great joy for us and a means of obtaining other blessings from Him. (Isaiah 58:13–14 is a scripture mastery passage. You may want to mark it in a distinctive way so you can locate it in the future.)
- Write the words If and then on separate lines in your scripture study journal. You will finish this assignment as you continue your study of Isaiah 58:13–14.
Read Isaiah 58:13, looking for what the Lord taught about how to keep the Sabbath day holy. Remember that the word holy means set apart or sanctified for God’s purposes.
Ponder what the phrase “turn away thy foot … from doing thy pleasure on my holy day” means for us in our day. In your scripture study journal, complete the If phrase by summarizing the Lord’s instructions in Isaiah 58:13 in your own words.
Read Isaiah 58:14, looking for the blessings the Lord promised for keeping the Sabbath day holy.
The phrase “the high places of the earth” in verse 14 can refer to sacred places where revelation can be received and God’s presence can be felt, such as in temples and chapels of the Lord. The phrase “the heritage of Jacob” refers to the blessings promised to Jacob and his posterity, including the blessings we receive from making covenants in the temple.
In your scripture study journal, complete the then phrase by summarizing the blessings listed in Isaiah 58:14 in your own words.
One principle we can learn from these verses is if we honor the Lord by keeping the Sabbath day holy, then we will have joy in our relationship with the Lord and obtain both temporal and spiritual blessings. Consider the blessings you can receive as you keep the Sabbath day holy and fast with a sincere purpose.
- In your scripture study journal, draw a picture or write a word representing each statement the Lord made about a proper fast in Isaiah 58:6–7. For example, you might draw an open jail cell to represent the phrase “let the oppressed go free” or a blanket to represent covering the naked. After you finish drawing or writing, recite this scripture mastery passage twice while looking at the verses. Then recite it two more times while looking only at the pictures or words in your scripture study journal. You may want to continue reciting these verses in this way until you have the passage memorized.
- Imagine that a friend asks you what she can do with her time on the Sabbath so she will not be doing her “own ways” or seeking her “own pleasure” (Isaiah 58:13). In your scripture study journal, list activities that would help your friend honor the Lord by keeping the Sabbath day holy. (You might consider reviewing “Sabbath Day Observance” in the For the Strength of Youth booklet for additional ideas.) At the bottom of your list, write your testimony of how keeping the Sabbath day holy invites the Lord’s blessings into your life.
- Write the following at the bottom of today’s assignments in your scripture study journal:
I have studied Isaiah 58 and completed this lesson on (date).
Additional questions, thoughts, and insights I would like to share with my teacher: