True believers

Fasting and praying were common religious practices in the Israelite community that were associated with mourning and repentance. The first mention of these activities is in 2 Samuel 12:16 where it says that king David fasted and prayed because of his sick child. David wanted God to spare the child’s life, but his son died anyway.

Fasting was perceived to be a means of obtaining God’s mercy. As a form of spiritual intervention, it was effective in gaining God’s attention, although the desired result was not always obtained. Isaiah identified right and wrong types of fasting. One of the characteristics of the wrong type of fasting was an attitude of entitlement (Isaiah 58:3).

An indication that a person was fasting for the wrong reason was a desire for vengeance (Isaiah 58:4). The purpose of fasting was supposed to be to humble oneself before God (Isaiah 58:5). Speaking through Isaiah, the LORD declared, “Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke?” (Isaiah 58:6).

Fasting was designed to be a tool to break free from spiritual bondage. Instead of focusing on their own spiritual condition, the Israelites had turned fasting into a speed dial to access God’s power. What God wanted was a sincere search for sin in one’s own life. His expectation was, “When thou see the naked that thou cover him, and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh” (Isaiah 58:7).

Evidence of genuine righteousness was important to God because he wanted his children to be an example for others. The LORD often referred to himself and his people as a light to the world. Regarding the practice of genuine righteousness, the LORD said, “then shall thy light break forth as the morning…then shall thy light rise in obscurity, and thy darkness be as the noonday” (Isaiah 58:8,10).

Ultimately, God wanted his people to demonstrate the results of following his commands, but in the near term, the goal was to show the world that God’s promises were reliable. After the people of Judah were taken into captivity in Babylon, a remnant was to return and rebuild Jerusalem. The remnant was going to be a group of true believers that would pave the way for the birth of Israel’s Messiah.

During their time in Babylon, the Israelites would be tested to see who among God’s people were truly committed to him. Those who were merely religious would not survive. Isaiah said of these true believers:

And the LORD shall guide thee continually, and satisfy thy soul in drought, and make fat thy bones: and thou shalt be like a watered garden, and  like a spring of water, whose waters fail not. And they that shall be of thee shall build the old waste places: thou shalt raise up the foundations of many generations; and thou shalt be called, The repairer of the breach, The restorer of paths to dwell in. (Isaiah 58:11-12)

The anointing

One of the characteristics of the first kings of Israel was they were anointed by a prophet before their reign began. The anointing served a dual purpose. First, it was a visible sign the man was God’s chosen representative on earth. Second, the anointing activated the spirit of God to work in and through the king to accomplish God’s will for the nation of Israel. After God promised king David that his descendants would reign over Israel for ever (2 Samuel 7:13), the anointing was passed from generation to generation through the king’s selection of a successor to the throne. Eventually, the anointing was overlooked as an important aspect of successful leadership and was disregarded as a requirement for being king.

When king Saul and king David were anointed to be king it was noted that the spirit of the LORD came upon these two men (1 Samuel 10:6; 16:13). There is no mention of this type of confirmation with any of the other kings of Israel or Judah even though the king was the earthly representative of God and was considered to be an important religious figure (4427). Speaking about Israel’s ultimate deliverance, Isaiah foretold, “Behold, a king shall reign in righteousness” (Isaiah 32:1). Isaiah was referring to the Messianic age when God’s kingdom would be fully established on earth.

The anointing of king Saul and king David was meant to produce the righteousness characteristic of the Messiah’s reign. The term righteousness is derived from several Hebrew words that deal with justification. The primary root word, tsadaq (tsaw – dak´) “is used of man as regarded as having obtained deliverance from condemnation, and as being thus entitled to a certain inheritance” (6663). The word Isaiah used to describe the Messiah’s reign was tsedeq (tseh´ – dek). “It is a relational word” referring to the “relationship among people and of a man to his God” (6664).

By the time Isaiah’s ministry came into effect, it was clear that the kings of Israel and Judah had failed to bring the people closer to God. In fact, within a few hundred years of king David’s reign, the people were in total rebellion against God and practiced idolatry in his temple (2 Kings 16:15). The outcome God had been working toward was completely missed. Isaiah declared regarding the Messiah’s reign, “The work of righteousness shall be peace; and the effect of righteousness quietness and assurance for ever” (Isaiah 32:17-18).

True happiness

I am a results oriented type of person. I like it when I accomplish things and can say that it gives me a lot of happiness when things work out the way I want them to. I think this is what God intended when he decided to bless Abraham and his descendants. One aspect of being blessed is prosperity, but I think happiness has more to do with results than it does the kind of results we get. In fact, “the state that the blessed one enjoys does not always appear to be ‘happy'” (835).

David said about the LORD, “For a day in thy courts is better than a thousand” (Psalm 84:10) and he identified three ways that someone could be blessed. “Blessed are they that dwell in thy house…Blessed is the man whose strength is in thee…Blessed is the man that trusteth in thee” (Psalm 84:4,5,12). David’s view of being blessed involved connection with the LORD and in essence was about having a relationship with the God.

Connection with God produces results. One of the results of being connected to God is righteousness. David said, “Righteousness shall go before him; and shall set us in the way of his steps” (Psalm 85:13). The word translated righteousness is tsedeq (tseh´ – dek). Tsedeq is a relational word that has to do with being faithful to each other’s expectations (6664). From this perspective, you could say that righteousness is about never being disappointed.

Another result of being connected to God is peace. David said, “I will hear what God the LORD shall speak: For he will speak peace unto his people, and to his saints” (Psalm 85:8). The word translated peace, shâlôm (shaw – lome´) is derived from the word shâlam (shaw – lam´) which means to finish or complete (7999). When I finish something, the feeling I get is peace. There is usually  a sense of satisfaction, just because the job is done, but there is also a relief if I know it is complete and I will hot have to do the task ever again.

David said in Psalm 85, “Mercy and truth are met together: Righteousness and peace have kissed each other” (Psalm 85:10). The idea of righteousness and peace kissing each other is that joining the two together produces a good result or a better result than if they were not joined together. If I complete an assignment and am not disappointed, I will be better off than if I completed it, but am disappointed with the result. It doesn’t give me much satisfaction to complete something if I don’t like what I end up with.

Mercy and truth are like peanut butter and jelly, salt and pepper, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. Each half of the pair can exist independently and bring pleasure, but when you combine them, it is like magic. The result is phenomenal; nothing can be compared to it. Mercy and truth make it possible for me to live my life with no regrets. The affect of mercy and truth coming in contact with each other (God) in my life is that I no longer want to do things that will make me unhappy.

For example, if I were to complete a bank robbery and escape with a million dollars and never get caught, I would have to live the rest of my life with the guilt of committing a crime and lying to protect myself. Even though I would be rich, I could not live the same way I would if I had earned the money. Mercy and truth make me do the right thing not only so that I will be satisfied with the result, but everyone around me will be satisfied also. The word mercy or checed in Hebrew “refers primarily to mutual and reciprocal rights and obligations between the parties of a relationship” (2617).

The basis of truth is trustworthiness. Another way of looking at truth is believing or trusting in something or someone (539). The more trustworthy I am, the more people will want to be around me and be a part of my life. Although I would like to think that it only matters if I am happy, the truth is that if everyone around me is unhappy, my happiness will be more difficult to maintain. Sometimes the best way to achieve happiness is to make sure everyone else is happy. Although  I cannot make anyone happy, I know I can make them unhappy by doing things that are mean or spiteful. Mercy and truth make me realize that happiness is found in relationship, and therefore the more relationships I have, the more I can be truly happy.