Isaiah 58:1-2 (ESV)
“Cry aloud; do not hold back;
lift up your voice like a trumpet;
declare to my people their transgression,
to the house of Jacob their sins.
Yet they seek me daily
and delight to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that did righteousness
and did not forsake the judgment of their God;
they ask of me righteous judgments;
they delight to draw near to God.
How can this be? God says that his people seek him daily, delight to know his ways, ask him for righteous judgments, and delight to draw near to him. Yet he says, “Declare to my people their transgression, to the house of Jacob their sins.” What sins is he talking about? How can a people who delight to seek him daily be a people who need to be confronted about their sins? If we were described as a people who delight to seek him daily we would expect that is what God desires. Yet God seems unhappy with these people.
The sins he addresses include injustice for the poor, mistreatment of workers, being quick to anger, and grumbling against God because their obedience hasn’t resulted in blessing. Their delight in God is limited to external submission to the rules of God without the heart change that impacts their attitudes and their relationships. Their delight is limited to external submission for the purpose of personal gain. It is all about getting something from God.
When our understanding of our faith is limited to external obedience, we fail to understand the heart of God. God is not interested in people keeping his rules simply because he made them. David understood that. He wrote, “For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it;
you will not be pleased with a burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise” (Ps 51:16-17). David understood that God’s rules required burnt offerings, but that the offerings were not what God was really concerned about. The offerings were only symbols. What God desired was a broken heart over sin.
Too often we live as though God were only interested in whether we keep the rules. We read our Bibles every day. We go to church every week. We do our family devotions religiously because we were taught that pleases God. We pray every day. We are careful to give our tithes. But in the process, we fail to see our own hard heartedness. We fail to recognize our own selfishness. We fail to see the brokenness of humanity around us. We miss the fact that God has blessed us so that we can bless others. Rather, we assume that God has blessed us because we have been keeping the rules. In focusing on the rules, we miss the heart of God.
How can God accuse people of sin when they are daily delighting in him? Because in their passion to keep the law of God they missed the heart of God. Perhaps we should ask God to search our own hearts. Have we been more concerned about doing all the right things in order to keep God happy, or have we been pursuing the heart of God? Those are two very different things, as evidenced by God’s accusations against his people in Isaiah 58.
Lord, give me your heart.