In their explanation of the relationship between worship and justice, there is another step urged by the prophets: that an active concern for relieving the poor and oppressed and helping those in need is an important part of worship itself. Isaiah 58 is one chapter that makes this link obvious.
Read Isa. 58:1-14. What has gone wrong in the relationship between God and His people as described in the early part of this chapter?
As we have seen previously, this criticism is addressed to people who are actively religious. They seem to be earnestly seeking God, but apparently it is not working. So, God says they should try changing how they worship, to try a different way of serving God. If He were to choose how they would worship, it would be “to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke” (Isa. 58:6, NIV). They would also feed the hungry, give shelter to the homeless, and help those in need.
Such activities are not presented as the only way to worship, but God does urge them as a way to worship—and a form of worship that might be preferable to some of the people’s more traditional worship practices. As such, worship is not only inwardly focused but something that brings blessing to all those around the worshipers of God. “The true purpose of religion is to release men from their burdens of sin, to eliminate intolerance and oppression, and to promote justice, liberty, and peace”. – The SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 4, p. 306.
In Isaiah 58:8-12, God promises blessings in response to this form of worship. In effect, God is saying that if the people were to be less focused on themselves, they would find God working with them and through them to bring healing and restoration.
Interestingly, this chapter also connects this kind of worship with a renewal of “delight” – filled Sabbath keeping. We have already considered some of the strong connections between Sabbath and ministry, but these verses include both these activities in this call for the people to revitalize their worship and to discover God’s blessing. Reflecting on these verses, Ellen G. White commented, “upon those who keep the Sabbath of the Lord is laid the responsibility of doing a work of mercy and benevolence”. – Welfare Ministry, p. 121.