They ask of Me the ordinances of justice…‘Why have we fasted,’ they say, ‘and You have not seen?…’ In fact, in the day of your fast you…exploit all your laborers…You will not fast as you do this day, to make your voice heard on high. Is it a fast that I have chosen, a day for a man to afflict his soul?… 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? 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 cover him, and not hide yourself from your own flesh? Then…your healing shall spring forth speedily, and your righteousness shall go before you…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, 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….If you turn away your foot from the Sabbath, from doing your pleasure on My holy day…and shall honor Him, not doing your own ways…then you shall delight yourself in the LORD…
– Isaiah 58:2-10, 13-14
Lest we lose sight of this crucial component of biblical justice, I want to refocus our attention on caring for those in need and standing up for the oppressed.
In the passage above, God is clear that He’s not after self-righteous morality and religiosity. What He’s concerned with is His people, and when one suffers at the hands of another, He will not continue on as though everything is alright.
In the following chapter of Isaiah (discussed in a previous post), the Lord directly connects the iniquities outlined above with the lack of justice in the land. Because His people exploit, oppress, and overlook those in need, “justice is turned back” and is “far from us.”1
By reading Isaiah 58 and 59 together, it is clear that justice corresponds with upright living. And while upright living includes not speaking lies or forsaking the Sabbath, these facets are not disconnected from caring for those in need and standing against oppression. They all work together toward justice, restoring right relationships and returning the world to God’s original intentions.
It seems these Scriptures also imply that immoral living contributes to oppression of those in need. After all, injustice occurs when we “speak lies”2 because of a bribe that “blinds the discerning and perverts the words of the righteous,” thus “pervert[ing] the judgment of [the] poor in his dispute.”3
In this same vein, part of the purpose of a weekly Sabbath is for servants to rest4 so “the son of your female servant and the stranger may be refreshed.”5 The people of Israel are not to work their laborers to death as the Egyptians worked them to death.6
The verses from Isaiah 58 quoted above, in combination with other verses we’ve looked at, say that if you keep justice by caring for those in need and obeying the Lord’s commands, then your relationship with the Lord will be restored. Once again “you shall delight yourself in the Lord.”7
1. Isaiah 59:9, 14 (NKJV).
2. Isaiah 59:4 (NKJV).
3. Exodus 23:1-3, 6-8 (NKJV).
4. Deuteronomy 5:14.
5. Exodus 23:12 (NKJV).
6. See Deuteronomy 24:18-22 and Exodus 22:21.