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Isaiah 58:3 [study!]

American Standard Version (ASV 1901) [2]
— Wherefore have we fasted, [say they], and thou seest not? [wherefore] have we afflicted our soul, and thou takest no knowledge? Behold, in the day of your fast ye find [your own] pleasure, and exact all your labors.
King James Version (KJV 1769)
— Wherefore have we fasted, [say they], and thou seest not? [wherefore] have we afflicted our soul, and thou takest no knowledge? Behold, in the day of your fast ye find pleasure, and exact all your labours.
New American Standard Bible (NASB ©1995)
— ‘Why have we fasted and You do not see? [Why] have we humbled ourselves and You do not notice?’ Behold, on the day of your fast you find [your] desire, And drive hard all your workers.
Webster's Revision of the KJB (WEB 1833)
— Why have we fasted, [say they], and thou seest not? [why] have we afflicted our soul, and thou takest no knowledge? Behold, in the day of your fast ye find pleasure, and exact all your labors.
Darby's Translation (DBY 1890)
— —Wherefore have we fasted, and thou seest not; have afflicted our soul, and thou takest no knowledge? Behold, in the day of your fast ye find what pleaseth [you], and exact all your labours.
Rotherham's Emphasized Bible (EBR 1902)
— Wherefore have we Fasted and thou hast not seen? Humbled our soul, and thou wouldst take no note? Lo! in the day of your fast, ye take pleasure, But all your toilers, ye drive on!
Young's Literal Translation (YLT 1898)
— 'Why have we fasted, and Thou hast not seen? We have afflicted our soul, and Thou knowest not.' Lo, in the day of your fast ye find pleasure, And all your labours ye exact.
Douay-Rheims Challoner Revision (DR 1750)
— Why have we fasted, and thou hast not regarded: have we humbled our souls, and thou hast not taken notice? Behold in the day of your fast your own will is found, and you exact of all your debtors.
Original King James Bible (AV 1611) [2]
— Wherefore haue wee fasted, [say they], and thou seest not? [wherefore] haue wee afflicted our soule, & thou takest no knowledge? Behold, in the day of your fast you find pleasure, and exact all your labours.
Brenton Greek Septuagint (LXX, Restored Names)
— saying, Why have we fasted, and thou regardest not? [why] have we afflicted our souls, and thou didst not know it? Nay, in the days of your fasts ye find your pleasures, and all them that are under your power ye wound.
Full Hebrew Names / Holy Name KJV (2008) [2] [3]
— Wherefore have we fasted, [say they], and thou seest not? [wherefore] have we afflicted our soul, and thou takest no knowledge? Behold, in the day of your fast ye find pleasure, and exact all your labours.

Strong's Numbers & Hebrew NamesHebrew Old TestamentColor-Code/Key Word Studies
Wherefore x4100
(4100) Complement
A primitive particle; properly interrogitive what? (including how?, why? and when?); but also exclamations like what! (including how!), or indefinitely what (including whatever, and even relatively that which); often used with prefixes in various adverbial or conjugational senses.
have we fasted, 6684
{6684} Prime
A primitive root; to cover over (the mouth), that is, to fast.
<8804> Grammar
Stem - Qal (See H8851)
Mood - Perfect (See H8816)
Count - 12562
[say they], and thou seest 7200
{7200} Prime
A primitive root; to see, literally or figuratively (in numerous applications, direct and implied, transitively, intransitively and causatively).
<8804> Grammar
Stem - Qal (See H8851)
Mood - Perfect (See H8816)
Count - 12562
not? x3808
(3808) Complement
lo; a primitive particle; not (the simple or abstract negation); by implication no; often used with other particles.
[wherefore] have we afflicted 6031
{6031} Prime
A primitive root (possibly rather identical with H6030 through the idea of looking down or browbeating); to depress literally or figuratively, transitively or intransitively (in various applications). (sing is by mistake for H6030.).
<8765> Grammar
Stem - Piel (See H8840)
Mood - Perfect (See H8816)
Count - 2121
our soul, 5315
{5315} Prime
From H5314; properly a breathing creature, that is, animal or (abstractly) vitality; used very widely in a literal, accommodated or figurative sense (bodily or mental).
and thou takest no knowledge? 3045
{3045} Prime
A primitive root; to know (properly to ascertain by seeing); used in a great variety of senses, figuratively, literally, euphemistically and inferentially (including observation, care, recognition; and causatively instruction, designation, punishment, etc.).
<8799> Grammar
Stem - Qal (See H8851)
Mood - Imperfect (See H8811)
Count - 19885
(3808) Complement
lo; a primitive particle; not (the simple or abstract negation); by implication no; often used with other particles.
Behold, x2005
(2005) Complement
A primitive particle; lo! also (as expressing surprise) if.
in the day 3117
{3117} Prime
From an unused root meaning to be hot; a day (as the warm hours), whether literally (from sunrise to sunset, or from one sunset to the next), or figuratively (a space of time defined by an associated term), (often used adverbially).
of your fast 6685
{6685} Prime
From H6684; a fast.
ye find 4672
{4672} Prime
A primitive root; properly to come forth to, that is, appear or exist; transitively to attain, that is, find or acquire; figuratively to occur, meet or be present.
<8799> Grammar
Stem - Qal (See H8851)
Mood - Imperfect (See H8811)
Count - 19885
pleasure, 2656
{2656} Prime
From H2654; pleasure; hence (abstractly) desire; concretely a valuable thing; hence (by extension) a matter (as something in mind).
and exact 5065
{5065} Prime
A primitive root; to drive (an animal, a workman, a debtor, an army); by implication to tax, harass, tyrannize.
<8799> Grammar
Stem - Qal (See H8851)
Mood - Imperfect (See H8811)
Count - 19885
all x3605
(3605) Complement
From H3634; properly the whole; hence all, any or every (in the singular only, but often in a plural sense).
your labours. 6092
{6092} Prime
From H6087; a (hired) workman.
Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Commentary

Isaiah 58:3

_ _ Wherefore — the words of the Jews: “Why is it that, when we fast, Thou dost not notice it” (by delivering us)? They think to lay God under obligation to their fasting (Psalms 73:13; Malachi 3:14).

_ _ afflicted ... soul — (Leviticus 16:29).

_ _ Behold — God’s reply.

_ _ pleasure — in antithesis to their boast of having “afflicted their soul”; it was only in outward show they really enjoyed themselves. Gesenius not so well translates, “business.”

_ _ exact ... labours — rather, “oppressive labors” [Maurer]. Horsley, with Vulgate, translates, “Exact the whole upon your debtors”; those who owe you labor (Nehemiah 5:1-5, Nehemiah 5:8-10, etc.).

Matthew Henry's Commentary

Isaiah 58:3-7

_ _ Here we have, I. The displeasure which these hypocrites conceived against God for not accepting the services which they themselves had a mighty opinion of (Isaiah 58:3): Wherefore have we fasted, say they, and thou seest not? Thus they went in the way of Cain, who was angry at God, and resented it as a gross affront that his offering was not accepted. Having gone about to put a cheat upon God by their external services, here they go about to pick a quarrel with God for not being pleased with their services, as if he had not done fairly or justly by them. Observe, 1. How they boast of themselves, and magnify their own performances: “We have fasted, and afflicted our souls; we have not only sought God daily (Isaiah 58:2), but have kept some certain times of more solemn devotion.” Some think this refers to the yearly fast (which was called the day of atonement), others to their arbitrary occasional fasts. Note, It is common for unhumbled hearts to be proud of their professions of humiliation, as the Pharisee (Luke 18:12), I fast twice in the week. 2. What they expected from their performances. They thought God should take great notice of them, and own himself a debtor to them for their services. Note, It is a common thing for hypocrites, while they perform the external services of religion, to promise themselves that acceptance with God which he has promised only to the sincere; as if they must be accepted of course, or for a compliment. 3. How heinously they take it that God had not put some particular marks of his favour upon them, that he had not immediately delivered them out of their troubles and advanced them to honour and prosperity. They charge God with injustice and partiality, and seem resolved to throw up their religion, and justify themselves in doing so with this, that they had found no profit in praying to God, Job 21:14, Job 21:15; Malachi 3:14. Note, Reigning hypocrisy often breaks out in daring impiety and an open contempt and reproach of God and religion for that which the hypocrisy itself must bear all the blame of. Sinners reflect upon religion as a hard and melancholy service, and on which there is nothing to be got by, when really it is owing to themselves that it seems so to them, because they are not sincere in it.

_ _ II. The true reason assigned why God did not accept their fastings, nor answer the prayers they made on their fast-days; it was because they did not fast aright — to God, even to him, Zechariah 7:5. They fasted indeed, but they persisted in their sins, and did not, as the Ninevites, turn every one from his evil way; but in the day of their fast, notwithstanding the professed humiliations and covenants of that day, they went on to find pleasure, that is, to do whatsoever seemed right in their own eyes, lawful or unlawful, quicquid libet, licetmaking their inclinations their law; though they seemed to afflict their souls, they still gratified their lusts as much as ever. 1. They were as covetous and unmerciful as ever: “You exact all your labours from your servants, and will neither release them according to the law nor relax the rigour of their servitude.” This was their fault before the captivity, Jeremiah 34:8, Jeremiah 34:9. It was no less their fault after their captivity, notwithstanding all their solemn fasts, Nehemiah 5:5. “You exact all your dues, your debts” (so some read it); “you are as rigorous and severe in extorting what you demand from those that are poor as ever you were, though it was at the close of the yearly fast that the release was proclaimed.” 2. They were contentious and spiteful (Isaiah 58:4): Behold, you fast for strife and debate. When they proclaimed a fast to deprecate God's judgments, they pretended to search for those sins which provoked God to threaten them with his judgments, and under that pretence perhaps particular persons were falsely accused, as Naboth in the day of Jezebel's fast, 1 Kings 21:12. Or the contending parties among them upon those occasions were bitter and severe in their reflections one upon another, one side crying out, “It is owing to you,” and the other, “It is owing to you, that our deliverance is not wrought.” Thus, instead of judging themselves, which is the proper work of a fast-day, they condemned one another. They fasted for strife, with emulation which should make the most plausible appearance on a fast-day and humour the matter best. Nor was it only tongue-quarrels that were fomented in the times of their fasting, but they came to blows too: You smite with the fist of wickedness. The cruel task-masters beat their servants, and the creditors their insolvent debtors, whom they delivered to the tormentors; they abused poor innocents with wicked hands. Now while they thus continued in sin, in those very sins which were directly contrary to the intention of a fasting day, (1.) God would not allow them the use of such solemnities: “You shall not fast at all if you fast as you do this day, causing your voice to be heard on high, in the heat of your clamours one against another, or in your devotions, which you perform so as to make them to be taken notice of for ostentation. Bring me no more of these empty, noisy, vain oblations,Isaiah 1:13. Note, Those are justly forbidden the honour of a profession of religion that will not submit to the power of it. (2.) He would not accept of them in the use of them: “You shall not fast, that is, it shall not be looked upon as a fast, nor shall the voice of your prayers on those days be heard on high in heaven.” Note, Those that fast and pray, and yet go on in their wicked ways, do but mock God and deceive themselves.

_ _ III. Plain instructions given concerning the true nature of a religious fast.

_ _ 1. In general, a fast is intended, (1.) For the honouring and pleasing of God. It must be such a performance as he has chosen (Isaiah 58:5); it must be an acceptable day to the Lord, in the duties of which we must study to approve ourselves to him and obtain his favour, else it is not a fast, else there is nothing done to any purpose. (2.) For the humbling and abasing of ourselves. A fast is a day to afflict the soul; if it do not express a genuine sorrow for sin, and do not promote a real mortification of sin, it is not a fast; the law of the day of atonement was that on that day they should afflict their souls, Leviticus 16:29. That must be done on a fast-day which is a real affliction to the soul, as far as it is yet unregenerate and unsanctified, though a real pleasure and advantage to the soul as far as it is itself.

_ _ 2. It concerns us therefore to enquire, on a fast-day, what it is that will be acceptable to God, and afflictive to our corrupt nature, and tending to its mortification.

_ _ (1.) We are here told negatively what is not the fast that God has chosen, and which does not amount to the afflicting of the soul. [1.] It is not enough to look demure, to put on a grave and melancholy aspect, to bow down the head like a bulrush that is withered and broken: as the hypocrites, that were of a sad countenance, and disfigured their faces, that they might appear unto men to fast, Matthew 6:16. Hanging down the head did indeed well enough become the publican, whose heart was truly humbled and broken for sin, and who therefore, in token of that, would not so much as lift up his eyes to heaven (Luke 18:13); but when it was only mimicked, as here, it was justly ridiculed: it is but hanging down the head like a bulrush, which nobody regards or takes any notice of. As the hypocrite's humiliations are but like the hanging down of a bulrush, so his elevations in his hopes are but like the flourishing of a bulrush (Job 8:11, Job 8:12), which, while it is yet in its greenness, withers before any other herb. [2.] It is not enough to do penance, to mortify the body a little, while the body of sin is untouched. It is not enough for a man to spread sackcloth and ashes under him, which may indeed give him some uneasiness for the present, but will soon be forgotten when he returns to stretch himself upon his beds of ivory, Amos 6:4. Wilt thou call this a fast? No, it is but the shadow and carcase of a fast. Wilt thou call this an acceptable day to the Lord? No, it is so far from being so that the hypocrisy of it is an abomination to him. Note, The shows of religion, though they show ever so fair in the eye of the world, will not be accepted of God without the substance of it.

_ _ (2.) We are here told positively what is the fast that God has chosen, what that is which will recommend a fast-day to the divine acceptance, and what is indeed afflicting the soul, that is, crushing and subduing the corrupt nature. It is not afflicting the soul for a day (as some read it, Isaiah 58:5) that will serve; no, it must be the business of our whole lives. It is here required, [1.] That we be just to those with whom we have dealt hardly. The fast that God has chosen consists in reforming our lives and undoing what we have done amiss (Isaiah 58:6): To loose the bands of wickedness, the bands which we have wickedly tied, and by which others are bound out from their right or bound down under severe usage. Those which perhaps were at first bands of justice, tying men to pay a due debt, become, when the debt is exacted with rigour from those whom Providence has reduced and emptied, bands of wickedness, and they must be loosed, or they will bring us into bonds of guilt much more terrible. It is to undo the heavy burden laid on the back of the poor servant, under which he is ready to sink. It is to let the oppressed go free from the oppression which makes his life bitter to him. “Let the prisoner for debt that has nothing to pay be discharged, let the vexatious action be quashed, let the servant that is forcibly detained beyond the time of his servitude be released, and thus break every yoke; not only let go those that are wrongfully kept under the yoke, but break the yoke of slavery itself, that it may not serve again another time nor any by made again to serve under it.” [2.] That we be charitable to those that stand in need of charity, Isaiah 58:7. The particulars in the former verse may be taken as acts of charity, that we not only release those whom we have unjustly oppressed — that is justice, but that we contribute to the rescue and ransom of those that are oppressed by others, to the release of captives and the payment of the debts of the poor; but those in this verse are plainly acts of charity. This then is the fast that God has chosen. First, To provide food for those that want it. This is put first, as the most necessary, and which the poor can but a little while live without. It is to break thy bread to the hungry. Observe, “It must be thy bread, that which is honestly got (not that which thou hast robbed others of), the bread which thou thyself hast occasion for, the bread of thy allowance.” We must deny ourselves, that we may have to give to him that needeth. “Thy bread which thou hast spared from thyself and thy family, on the fast-day, if that, or the value of it, be not given to the poor, it is the miser's fast, which he makes a hand of; it is fasting for the world, not for God. This is the true fast, to break thy bread to the hungry, not only to give them that which is already broken meat, but to break bread on purpose for them, to give them loaves and not to put them off with scraps.” Secondly, To provide lodging for those that want it: It is to take care of the poor that are cast out, that are forced from their dwelling, turned out of house and harbour, are cast out as rebels (so some critics render it), that are attainted, and whom therefore it is highly penal to protect. “If they suffer unjustly, make no difficulty of sheltering them; do not only find out quarters for them and pay for their lodging elsewhere, but, which is a greater act of kindness, bring them to thy own house, make them thy own guests. Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for though thou mayest not, as some have done, thereby entertain angels, thou mayest entertain Christ himself, who will recompense it in the resurrection of the just. I was a stranger and you took me in. Thirdly, To provide clothing for those that want it: “When thou seest the naked, that thou cover him, both to shelter him from the injuries of the weather and to enable him to appear decently among his neighbours; give him clothes to come to church in, and in these and other instances hide not thyself from thy own flesh.” Some understand it more strictly of a man's own kindred and relations: “If those of thy own house and family fall into decay, thou art worse than an infidel if thou dost not provide for them.” 1 Timothy 5:8. Others understand it more generally; all that partake of the human nature are to be looked upon as our own flesh, for have we not all one Father? And for this reason we must not hide ourselves from them, not contrive to be out of the way when a poor petitioner enquires for us, not look another way when a moving object of charity and compassion presents itself; let us remember that they are flesh of our flesh and therefore we ought to sympathize with them, and in doing good to them we really do good to our own flesh and spirit too in the issue; for thus we lay up for ourselves a good foundation, a good bond, for the time to come.

John Wesley's Explanatory Notes

Isaiah 58:3

Afflicted — Defrauded our appetites with fasting, of which this phrase is used, Leviticus 16:29. Ye find — Either you indulge yourselves in sensuality, as they did, Isaiah 22:13. But this does not agree with that afflicting of their souls which they now professed, and which God acknowledges; or you pursue and satisfy your own desires: though you abstain from bodily food, you do not mortify your sinful inclinations. Exact — Your money, got by your labour, and lent to others, either for their need or your own advantage, which you require either with usury, or at least with rigour, when either the general law of charity, or God's particular law, commanded the release, or at least the forbearance of them.

Geneva Bible Translation Notes

Isaiah 58:3

(c) Why have we fasted, [say they], and thou seest not? [why] have we afflicted our soul, and thou takest no knowledge? Behold, in the day of your fast ye find (d) pleasure, and exact all your labours.

(c) He sets forth the malice and disdain of the hypocrites, who grudge against God, if their works are not accepted.

(d) Thus he convinces the hypocrites by the second table and by their duty toward their neighbour, that they have neither faith nor religion.

Cross-Reference Topical ResearchStrong's Concordance
have we fasted:

Numbers 23:4 And God met Balaam: and he said unto him, I have prepared seven altars, and I have offered upon [every] altar a bullock and a ram.
Micah 3:9-11 Hear this, I pray you, ye heads of the house of Jacob, and princes of the house of Israel, that abhor judgment, and pervert all equity. ... The heads thereof judge for reward, and the priests thereof teach for hire, and the prophets thereof divine for money: yet will they lean upon the LORD, and say, [Is] not the LORD among us? none evil can come upon us.
Zechariah 7:5-7 Speak unto all the people of the land, and to the priests, saying, When ye fasted and mourned in the fifth and seventh [month], even those seventy years, did ye at all fast unto me, [even] to me? ... [Should ye] not [hear] the words which the LORD hath cried by the former prophets, when Jerusalem was inhabited and in prosperity, and the cities thereof round about her, when [men] inhabited the south and the plain?
Malachi 3:14 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?
Matthew 20:11-12 And when they had received [it], they murmured against the goodman of the house, ... Saying, These last have wrought [but] one hour, and thou hast made them equal unto us, which have borne the burden and heat of the day.
Luke 15:29 And he answering said to [his] father, Lo, these many years do I serve thee, neither transgressed I at any time thy commandment: and yet thou never gavest me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends:
Luke 18:9-12 And he spake this parable unto certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: ... I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess.


Leviticus 16:29 And [this] shall be a statute for ever unto you: [that] in the seventh month, on the tenth [day] of the month, ye shall afflict your souls, and do no work at all, [whether it be] one of your own country, or a stranger that sojourneth among you:
Leviticus 16:31 It [shall be] a sabbath of rest unto you, and ye shall afflict your souls, by a statute for ever.
Leviticus 23:27 Also on the tenth [day] of this seventh month [there shall be] a day of atonement: it shall be an holy convocation unto you; and ye shall afflict your souls, and offer an offering made by fire unto the LORD.
Psalms 69:10 When I wept, [and chastened] my soul with fasting, that was to my reproach.


Daniel 10:2-3 In those days I Daniel was mourning three full weeks. ... I ate no pleasant bread, neither came flesh nor wine in my mouth, neither did I anoint myself at all, till three whole weeks were fulfilled.
Jonah 3:6-8 For word came unto the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, and he laid his robe from him, and covered [him] with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. ... But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily unto God: yea, let them turn every one from his evil way, and from the violence that [is] in their hands.


Nehemiah 5:7 Then I consulted with myself, and I rebuked the nobles, and the rulers, and said unto them, Ye exact usury, every one of his brother. And I set a great assembly against them.
Proverbs 28:9 He that turneth away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer [shall be] abomination.
Jeremiah 34:9-17 That every man should let his manservant, and every man his maidservant, [being] an Hebrew or an Hebrewess, go free; that none should serve himself of them, [to wit], of a Jew his brother. ... Therefore thus saith the LORD; Ye have not hearkened unto me, in proclaiming liberty, every one to his brother, and every man to his neighbour: behold, I proclaim a liberty for you, saith the LORD, to the sword, to the pestilence, and to the famine; and I will make you to be removed into all the kingdoms of the earth.
Matthew 18:28-35 But the same servant went out, and found one of his fellowservants, which owed him an hundred pence: and he laid hands on him, and took [him] by the throat, saying, Pay me that thou owest. ... So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses.

or, things wherewith ye grieve others, Heb. griefs.
Isaiah 47:6 I was wroth with my people, I have polluted mine inheritance, and given them into thine hand: thou didst shew them no mercy; upon the ancient hast thou very heavily laid thy yoke.
Exodus 2:23-24 And it came to pass in process of time, that the king of Egypt died: and the children of Israel sighed by reason of the bondage, and they cried, and their cry came up unto God by reason of the bondage. ... And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob.
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Ex 2:23. Lv 16:29, 31; 23:27. Nu 23:4. Ne 5:7. Ps 69:10. Pv 28:9. Is 47:6. Jr 34:9. Dn 10:2. Jna 3:6. Mi 3:9. Zc 7:5. Mal 3:14. Mt 18:28; 20:11. Lk 15:29; 18:9.

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