The True Fast of Isaiah 58

Fasting in the Scriptures
Part  5b


“Is it a fast that I have chosen,”


Isaiah 58:5 (NKJV) 5 “Is it a fast that I have chosen, A day for a man to afflict his soul? Is it to bow down his head like a bulrush, And to spread out sackcloth and ashes? Would you call this a fast, And an acceptable day to the LORD?”

“Our heavenly Father lays blessings disguised in our pathway, but some will not touch these for fear they will detract from their enjoyment. Angels are waiting to see if we embrace opportunities within our reach of doing good—waiting to see if we will bless others, that they in their turn may bless us.” {2T 28.1}


In this session we consider the “True Fast,” perhaps the most important fast, mentioned in Isaiah 58. We need to pray for our Father’s help in considering a subject that is rarely spoken of and apparently misunderstood for the most part. We will consider Isaiah 58, a key article from the Testimonies, Vol. 2 and look at the practice of some of our pioneers in regards to the fast of Isaiah 58. Unless designated otherwise, all quotations come from the writings of Ellen G. White


The True Fast of Isaiah 58

What was Going On With The Fast Being Practiced?

“These fasts are only outward show, mere pretense, a mockery of humility. These worshipers, while mourning and lamenting, retain all their objectionable traits of character. Their hearts are not humbled, nor cleansed from spiritual defilement. They have not received the softening showers of the grace of God. They are destitute of the Holy Spirit, destitute of the sweetness of the heavenly influence. They manifest no repentance, nor faith that works by love and purifies the soul. They are unjust and selfish in their dealings, mercilessly oppressing those whom they regard as their inferiors. Yet they charge God with a neglect to manifest His power to them and exalt them above others because of their righteousness. The Lord sends them a message of positive reproof, showing why they are not visited by His grace. {Ms 48, 1900, par. 3} He says, “Is it such a fast that I have chosen? a day for a man to afflict his soul? is it to bow down his head as a bulrush, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? wilt thou call this a fast, and an acceptable day to the Lord?” [Verse 5.] Will they accept this reproof and pray for true repentance? Will they put away their sins and seek for pardon?” {Ms 48, 1900, par. 4}

“In our work we shall find a high profession of piety, and much outward exactness bound up with great inward wickedness. The people represented in (Isaiah 58) complain that the Lord allows their services to go unnoticed. This complaint is the expression of hearts unsubdued by grace, rebellious against the truth. Those who receive the truth which works by love and purifies the soul are loyal to God, honoring Him by obedience to His law, which is holy, just, and good. The spirit of true fasting and prayer is the spirit which yields mind, heart, and will to God.” {Ms 28, 1900, par. 7}

“It is possible to manifest apparent zeal in the service of God, to offer prayers and observe fasts, and yet not be acknowledged of the Lord. When our prayers are offered in self-confidence, when we fail to watch, and bring our actions into harmony with our prayers, we are not accounted worshipers in the sight of heaven. We are destitute of the faith that works by love and purifies the soul; for genuine faith will lead the possessor to mortify the deeds of the flesh, and crucify selfishness, self-love, impatience, and self-righteousness. Those who would truly follow Christ must daily learn lessons in meekness and lowliness of heart, that they may speak guardedly, manifest courtesy and kindness, have tender hearts, and bring sympathy and sunshine into the home. All strife, all debate, all smiting with the tongue and the fist of wickedness, must be put away. The overbearing will must be subdued, and gentleness and a disposition to be easily entreated must be cultivated. {RH June 5, 1894, par. 5} Let no one think that to bow the head as a bulrush will take the place of true humility. Such humility is a sham; for where meekness does not exist in the heart, it will not be manifested in the life. Those who are merely professors of truth and not doers of the word, will break down the family altar, and stir up strife and contention in the home, and there will be dearth of holy and beneficent actions that flow from faith in Christ. The most convincing evidence of the power of the gospel to the world is its effect on the lives of those who believe it. He who is a true Christian will represent Christ, and will cease from all murmuring or complaining of God, or of his fellow-men. Those who complain at the providences of God manifest weakness of faith, and show that they lack the knowledge of the character of God and of Jesus Christ whom he has sent. Of these half-hearted professors the Lord says, “Your words have been stout against me, saith the Lord. Yet ye say, What have we spoken so much against thee? Ye have said, It is vain to serve God: and what profit is it that we have kept his ordinance, and that we have walked mournfully before the Lord of hosts? And now we call the proud happy; yea, they that work wickedness are set up; yea, they that tempt God are even delivered.” {RH June 5, 1894, par. 6} ... “Those who are merely surface Christians are no blessing to themselves or others, although they fast and spread sackcloth and ashes under them. The old habits return; quick temper, suspicion, jealousy, judgment of others,—all manifest that they are not controlled by the grace of Christ. Their habits of evil have become a yoke of bondage to themselves and to others. They may observe fasts, practice voluntary humility, and manifest apparent devotion; but as they do not have real humility, they do not find rest and peace and joy. Their accustomed habits control them; and when they fail to manifest a Christlike action, they throw the blame and responsibility upon the circumstances which surround them or the people with whom they are brought in contact. Instead of examining themselves to see wherein their inconsistency lies, they bemoan their case, and think that their difficulties are the results of other’s misdeeds. As long as they hold to this opinion, they cannot see their faults, repent of their evil, and confess their wrong-doing.” {RH June 5, 1894, par. 8}

How Does Heaven View Selfishness?

“There are orphans that should be cared for; but some will not venture to undertake this, for it would bring them more work than they care to do, leaving them but little time to please themselves. But when the King shall make investigation, these do-nothing, illiberal, selfish souls will learn that heaven is for those who have been workers, those who have denied themselves for Christ’s sake. No provisions have been made for those who have ever taken such special care in loving and looking out for themselves. The terrible punishment which the King threatens those on His left hand, in this case, is not because of their great crimes. They are not condemned for the things which they did do, but for that which they did not do. You did not those things which Heaven assigned you to do. You pleased yourself, and can take your portion with self-pleasers.” {2T 27.1}

What is the True Fast?

Isaiah 58:6-12 (NKJV) 6 “Is this not the fast that I have chosen: To loose the bonds of wickedness, To undo the heavy burdens, To let the oppressed go free, And that you break every yoke? 7 Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, And that you bring to your house the poor who are cast out; When you see the naked, that you   him, And not hide yourself from your own flesh? 8 Then your light shall break forth like the morning, Your healing shall spring forth speedily, And your righteousness shall go before you; The glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard. 9 Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer; You shall cry, and He will say, ‘Here I am.’ “If you take away the yoke from your midst, The pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness, 10 If you extend your soul to the hungry And satisfy the afflicted soul, Then your light shall dawn in the darkness, And your darkness shall be as the noonday. 11 The LORD will guide you continually, And satisfy your soul in drought, And strengthen your bones; You shall be like a watered garden, And like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail. 12 Those from among you Shall build the old waste places; You shall raise up the foundations of many generations; And you shall be called the Repairer of the Breach, The Restorer of Streets to Dwell In.”
“The true fast is no mere formal service. The Scripture describes the fast that God has chosen,—“to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke;” to “draw out thy soul to the hungry, and satisfy the afflicted soul.” Isaiah 58:6, 10. Here is set forth the very spirit and character of the work of Christ. His whole life was a sacrifice of Himself for the saving of the world. ... Not in idle mourning, in mere bodily humiliation and multitudinous sacrifices, is the true spirit of devotion manifested, but it is shown in the surrender of self in willing service to God and man.” {DA 278.2}

“The spirit of true fasting and prayer is the spirit which yields mind, heart, and will to God.” {Ms 28, 1900, par. 7}

“The lesson given to the Pharisees and the disciples of John is for us. There is a work to do in seeking to bring sinners to repentance. The time spent in needless mourning and bodily humiliation might far better be devoted to merciful acts for suffering humanity. So long as souls are under the dominion of Satan, there must be no saving of self. There is stern, practical work to be done. The works of righteousness revealed in showing kindness to the needy, clothing the naked, relieving the oppressed, give evidence that the Spirit of God is operating on the heart. In the place of advancing and enriching ourselves, oppressing others, and neglecting the simple duties of life; in the place of putting on an appearance of great devotion and afflicting our bodies, we should humble our hearts before God. “Go ye,” says Christ, “and learn what that meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice; for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” {ST July 14, 1898, par. 10}

What Will Result From Practicing True Fasting?

“Read Isaiah 58, ye who claim to be children of the light. Especially do you read it again and again who have felt so reluctant to inconvenience yourselves by favoring the needy. You whose hearts and houses are too narrow to make a home for the homeless, read it; you who can see orphans and widows oppressed by the iron hand of poverty and bowed down by hardhearted worldlings, read it. Are you afraid that an influence will be introduced into your family that will cost you more labor, read it. Your fears may be groundless, and a blessing may come, known and realized by you every day. But if otherwise, if extra labor is called for, you can draw upon One who has promised: “Then shall thy light break forth as the morning, and thine health shall spring forth speedily.” {2T 35.2}

“As a church let every instrumentality be sanctified, working decidedly as God has spoken to them in Isaiah, fifty-eighth chapter. There is something to do in setting things in order, something to do beside fasting and praying. Were Christ Jesus in person to address us, He would prescribe just such a work to be done as is found in this chapter as described by Isaiah. The health of our institutions demand a revolution in principles which are now buried up under the rubbish of false ideas and selfish principles that have no connection with God.”{Lt 52, 1891, par. 35}

Can We Be Right With God If We Are Not Practicing the Fast of Isaiah 58?

“Fasting and prayer will accomplish nothing while the heart is estranged from God by a wrong course of action. Read Isaiah 58:6, 7, 9-11.” {CH 377.1

What is the Problem?

“The reason why God’s people are not more spiritually minded and have not more faith, I have been shown, is because they are narrowed up with selfishness. The prophet is addressing Sabbathkeepers, not sinners, not unbelievers, but those who make great pretensions to godliness. It is not the abundance of your meetings that God accepts. It is not the numerous prayers, but the rightdoing, doing the right thing and at the right time. It is to be less self-caring and more benevolent. Our souls must expand. Then God will make them like a watered garden, whose waters fail not.” {2T 35.2}

What Have We Forgotten?

“[Sabbathkeepers] love for Christ and His people is decreasing. They do not see the wants of the needy, nor feel their sufferings and sorrows. They do not realize that in neglecting the poor and the suffering they neglect Christ, and that in relieving the wants and sufferings of the poor as far as possible, they minister to Jesus.” {2T 24.1}

“Jesus here identifies Himself with His suffering people. It was I who was hungry and thirsty. It was I who was a stranger. It was I who was naked. It was I who was sick. It was I who was in prison. When you were enjoying the food from your bountifully spread tables, I was famishing in the hovel or street not far from you. When you closed your doors against Me, while your well-furnished rooms were unoccupied, I had not where to lay My head. Your wardrobes were filled with an abundant supply of changeable suits of apparel, upon which means had been needlessly squandered, which you might have given to the needy. I was destitute of comfortable apparel. When you were enjoying health, I was sick. Misfortune cast Me into prison and bound Me with fetters, bowing down My spirit, depriving Me of freedom and hope, while you roamed free. What a oneness Jesus here expresses as existing between Himself and His suffering disciples! He makes their case His own. He identifies Himself as being in person the very sufferer. Mark, selfish Christian: every neglect of the needy poor, the orphan, the fatherless, is a neglect of Jesus in their person.” {2T 25.3}

How Does God Respond To Oppression?

“When we ... [take] advantage of ... necessity, God is displeased and His curse will surely follow us. He can and will, by sickness and adversity, remove from us much more than the sum we obtained by grinding the face of the poor. A just God truly estimates all our motives and actions.” {Lt16-1868.}

What Must We Do If We Have Taken Advantage of Someone?

“Heaven has regarded all your closeness toward those who have served in your house and it will stand faithfully chronicled against you unless restitution is made and it is all repented of. You have cost suffering of mind and anguish of spirit.” {Lt16-1868.}

What is Satan’s Motivation?

“Satan is well aware that if he can remove love and faith, and supply their place with selfishness and unbelief, all the remaining precious traits will soon be skillfully removed by his deceitful hand, and the game will be lost.” {2T 36.2}

What If I Have Been Taken In?

“You may say you have been taken in and have bestowed your means upon those unworthy of your charity, and have become discouraged in helping the needy. I present Jesus before you. He came to save fallen man, to bring salvation to His own nation; but they would not accept Him. They treated His mercy with insult and contempt, and at length they put to death Him who came for the purpose of giving them life. Did our Lord turn from the fallen race because of this? Though your efforts for good have been unsuccessful ninety-nine times, and you received only insult, reproach, and hate, yet if the one-hundredth time proves a success, and one soul is saved, oh, what a victory is achieved!  One soul wrenched from Satan’s grasp, one soul benefited, one soul encouraged. This will a thousand times repay you for all your efforts.” {2T 31.2}

What If It Proves Too Hard For Me?

“If you engage in this work of mercy and love, will the work prove too hard for you? Will you fail and be crushed under the burden, and your family be deprived of your assistance and influence? Oh, no; God has carefully removed all doubts upon this question, by a pledge to you on condition of your obedience. This promise covers all that the most exacting, the most hesitating, could crave. “Then shall thy light break forth as the morning, and thine health shall spring forth speedily.” Only believe that He is faithful that hath promised. God can renew the physical strength. And more, He says He will do it. And the promise does not end here. “Thy righteousness shall go before thee; the glory of the Lord shall be thy rearward.” God will build a fortification around thee. The promise does not stop even here. “Then shalt thou call, and the Lord shall answer; thou shalt cry, and He shall say, Here I am.” If ye put down oppression and remove the speaking of vanity, if ye draw out your soul to the hungry, “then shall thy light rise in obscurity, and thy darkness be as the noonday: and the Lord shall guide thee continually, and satisfy thy soul in drought [famine], and make fat thy bones: and thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters fail not.” {2T 35.1}

Should We Help Others Humble Themselves?

“It is time to break every yoke with which Satan has sought to bind God’s people and to let the work of reformation go through our midst. It is time that there was a turning unto the Lord. {Lt 224, 1907, par. 12} Let our churches in every place fast and pray, each man humbling his own heart before the Lord. Do not seek to humble the soul of your brother or sister, but let each set his own heart right before God. Confess your sins one to another, and pray one for another. Continue to pray until the yokes are all broken from the necks of our brethren and the desire to rule has been quenched. Pray that the Lord shall become the Leader and Guide of His people.” {Lt 224, 1907, par. 13}

How Will Our Health Respond To Practicing This Fast?

“You who are suffering with poor health, there is a remedy for you. If thou clothe the naked, and bring the poor that are cast out to thy house, and deal thy bread to the hungry, “then shall thy light break forth as the morning, and thine health shall spring forth speedily.” Doing good is an excellent remedy for disease. Those who engage in the work are invited to call upon God, and He has pledged Himself to answer them. Their soul shall be satisfied in drought, and they shall be like a watered garden, whose waters fail not.” {2T 29.1}


All quotations come from the writings of Ellen G. White.
This Discussion Guide was created for the 2022 GYC Conference in Phoenix, AZ, by Dan Augsburger of Path2Prayer Ministries.

Pt 5b