Like a Watered Garden
Dr. Joe Temple

Introduction

Open your Bibles, please, to the book of Isaiah, chapter 58. I am going to suggest that you follow in your Bibles as we read, then we will talk about it as the Lord brings these things to our attention. We read from verse 1:

Isaiah 58

1Cry aloud, spare not, lift up thy voice like a trumpet, and shew my people their transgression, and the house of Jacob their sins.
2Yet they seek me daily, and delight to know my ways, as a nation that did righteousness, and forsook not the ordinance of their God: they ask of me the ordinances of justice; they take delight in approaching to God.
3Wherefore 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.
4Behold, ye fast for strife and debate, and to smite with the fist of wickedness: ye shall not fast as ye do this day, to make your voice to be heard on high.
5Is it such a fast that I have chosen? a day for a man to afflict his soul? is it to bow down his head as a bulrush, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? wilt thou call this a fast, and an acceptable day to the LORD?
6Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke?
7Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house? when thou seest the naked, that thou cover him; and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh?
8Then shall thy light break forth as the morning, and thine health shall spring forth speedily: and thy righteousness shall go before thee; the glory of the LORD shall be thy rereward.
9Then shalt thou call, and the LORD shall answer; thou shalt cry, and he shall say, Here I am. If thou take away from the midst of thee the yoke, the putting forth of the finger, and speaking vanity;
10And if thou draw out thy soul to the hungry, and satisfy the afflicted soul; then shall thy light rise in obscurity, and thy darkness be as the noon day:
11And 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.
12And 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.
13If thou turn away thy foot from the sabbath, from doing thy pleasure on my holy day; and call the sabbath a delight, the holy of the LORD, honourable; and shalt honour him, not doing thine own ways, nor finding thine own pleasure, nor speaking thine own words:
14Then shalt thou delight thyself in the LORD; and I will cause thee to ride upon the high places of the earth, and feed thee with the heritage of Jacob thy father: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it.

You will recall, as we approach chapter 58, that we are in the last section of the last half of the book of Isaiah. You will remember that chapters 1-39 constituted the first portion, and chapters 40-66 constitute the last portion. The last portion of the book of Isaiah, chapters 40-66, are divided into three sections of nine chapters each. Each one of those divisions closes with a word about the wicked, and that will be brought to your mind forcefully if you will glance at verse 20 of chapter 57, where we read:

Isaiah 57

20But the wicked are like the troubled sea, when it cannot rest, whose waters cast up mire and dirt.

When you looked at chapter 49, you found those very same words indicating that you had come to the end of the first section of the last half. Of course, if you will turn to chapter 66, you don't see these same words, but you do see the “eternal dwelling place of the wicked,” which amounts to the same thing, for in verse 24, you read:

Isaiah 66

24And they shall go forth, and look upon the carcases of the men that have transgressed against me: for their worm shall not die, neither shall their fire be quenched; and they shall be an abhorring unto all flesh.

Each one of these three sections begins in the same fashion. They begin with what we might refer to as a double imperative or a double command. Glance back at chapter 40 that you might see that for yourself. You will notice in verse 1:

Isaiah 40

1Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God.

This is an address to the only people in the world who are able to comfort the nation of Israel with the truth of the Word of God and that is Christian Gentiles.

If you will glance at chapter 49, you will find the same thing emphasized in verse 1, where we read:

Isaiah 49

1Listen, O isles, unto me; and hearken, ye people, from far…

There you have the double imperative: listen, harken, pay close attention.

When you come over to chapter 58, you will find God saying to Isaiah, “Cry aloud, spare not…” The double imperative emphasizes the importance of what God is going to talk to His people about in this chapter. Basically, we are thinking about the nation of Israel, because this message is addressed to Israel, and it is related to the condition that existed in Isaiah's day and conditions that will exist when the Israelites are gathered back into their own land waiting for the literal appearance of their Messiah. However, you will remember that we are spiritual Israel and whenever there is an application of truth which can be made without any violence to the Word of God, we should be making it. God is saying through Isaiah the prophet even to our own hearts today:

Isaiah 58

1Cry aloud, spare not, lift up thy voice like a trumpet, [and do what? Notice the last statement] and shew my people their transgression, and the house of Jacob their sins.

Israel's Sin of Self-sufficiency

God said, “I want you to call to the attention of My people their sins. We say, “What sins?” The catalog is full of them, and if we tried to mention every one of them, I don't know that we would be any better off. We can sum up Israel's condition in two words: self-sufficiency. “Call attention unto Israel concerning their sin of self-sufficiency.”

What is wrong with being satisfied? Nothing, if you are satisfied with Jesus. What is wrong with being satisfied? Nothing, if you are satisfied with the Bread of Life. What's wrong with being satisfied? I will tell you what's wrong. It is wrong to be satisfied when you have the form and not the power. It is wrong to be satisfied when you have the ritual without the reality. It is wrong to be satisfied when you have the profession without the possession, and that is exactly what the trouble was in relation to Israel.

Notice verse 2, where God said, “They seek Him daily.” They had a daily prayer life, and that is a little better than some of us have, isn't it? Then He said, “They delight to know the ways of God.” That is, they spent quite a bit of time in Bible study. Then He said, “As a nation, they did righteousness, and they did not forsake the ordinances of God.” That is, they were very punctilious in the discharge of their religious duties. God said, “They ask Me the ordinances of justice, and they say, ‘LORD, is there anything else You want us to do'?”

In the last statement of verse 2, He says, “They take delight in approaching God.” That is a little more than some of us do. He is saying, “They go to church. They don't miss any of the services. They are real glad about it.”

In verse 3, there is emphasized a special thing that they do. There is a reference to fasting in this verse. Fasting is a religious exercise which was very prominent in the life of Israel. It was a religious exercise to which the Lord Jesus Christ drew attention while He was upon the earth as being above and beyond other religious exercises. For example, He was talking about the casting out of demons. He said, “This kind of demon is a tough one. He doesn't just come out by word. This kind of demon comes out only by fasting and by prayer.”

I realize that there are some of God's dear children who say that fasting has no place in the life of the Christian of this dispensation, but I wouldn't go so far as to say that. The Apostle Paul said that he fasted, and he is part of this dispensation. As a matter of fact, he said that he fasted often. I would suggest that before you dismiss the exercise of fasting, you keep in mind that it is taught in the Word of God, but I would warn you that there is no point in fasting just for the sake of fasting. There is no point in the exercise of any religious act just for the sake of it, because it can build spiritual pride, just as it did with these folk. In verse 3, they said:

Isaiah 58

3Wherefore have we fasted, say they, and thou seest not? wherefore have we afflicted our soul, and thou takest no knowledge…

You see, Isaiah said to them, “God wants me to talk to you about your self-sufficiency. God wants me to talk to you about the mockery that you are going through.” They said, “Doesn't God know that we fast? That is more than a lot of folk do.” Isaiah answered in the last part of verse 3:

Isaiah 58

3…Behold, in the day of your fast ye find pleasure, and exact all your labours.

That last statement doesn't mean a whole lot to us just the way it is stated, but, literally, where we read, “Behold, in the day of your fast ye find pleasure…,” it means, “Behold, in the day of your fast, you keep your businesses open.” That may not have any special application to us, save by way of illustration, but God very plainly said in chapter 16 of the book of Leviticus, “When you fast, I want you to shut down your business. I want you to close the doors of your store. I want to bring everything to a standstill if you have a day of fasting.”

They thought the thing over and they said, “We will lose too much money. We will fast but we will just keep the business open.” You know that you cannot pursue your own obligations to God and keep your businesses open if there is a conflict without causing someone else to suffer. God told how they caused other folk to suffer in the last statement of verse 3:

Isaiah 58

3…and exact all your labours.

That doesn't mean very much the way it is written, but this word exact comes from the Hebrew word that means “to drive the people that work for you.” Of course the word labor here is not a reference to work, but to the worker. God said, “Yes, you're fasting. You sure are. You are going through all the motions, but you are keeping your businesses open and you are harassing the people who work for you. Do you call that a fast?” In verse 4, He said, “Behold ye fast for strife and debate. You say, ‘Let's all go down to the church today and fast all day long.' What do you do? You get into arguments down there. You get into debates. You not only get into debates with words, you do a little knocking around. You smite with the fist of wickedness.”

That is a nice way of putting it, isn't it? The next time you get mad enough to punch somebody in the nose, you might remember that God says that it is a fist of wickedness.

These folk got so excited in their arguments that even when they were there at the church house for fasting, they beat each other up as they got so enthused. God said, “Do you think that kind of fasting is going to get anywhere?” Then He said in the last part of verse 4, “Do you think that kind of fasting is going to make your voice be heard on high?”

In verse 5, He emphasizes the foolishness of going through the motions without any real emphasis upon the truth. He says, “It is a shallow thing. All that your fasting amounts to is spreading down sackcloth and ashes to indicate that you are humble and bowing your head like a bulrush down by the river. That is all that it amounts to. You are just going through the motions.” Notice the last part of verse 5:

Isaiah 58

5…wilt thou call this a fast, and an acceptable day to the LORD?

God dealt with the sin of self-sufficiency. God dealt with the shallowness of their religious observance. I would like to suggest that we pause for a moment and consider our own profession. Is there an emptiness to what we profess to be? Is it shallow? Are we satisfied with less than the best? Are we satisfied with a sufficiency of a mere profession without a like possession? Think about that.

True Fasting

Notice the difference in verse 6. God says that this is the kind of fast He wants to see. This is the soundness to true fasting presented to us here in verse 6-7:

Isaiah 58

6Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke?
7Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house? when thou seest the naked, that thou cover him; and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh [when you see your own flesh and blood hungry, don't hide yourself from them] ?

He said, “It doesn't please Me for you to sprinkle some ashes down on the ground and put a little sackcloth on it, so that you don't get too dirty, and bow your head like a bulrush and do without food three times a day.” He says, “That doesn't get anywhere at all. That is empty; that is shallow. If you really want to please Me, if you really want to sacrifice, let Me tell you what to do. Break the yoke. Set people free. Feed and clothe the hungry.” Then He got right down where they lived and said, “Don't forget your own flesh and blood in the midst of it.”

There was something going on in that day. I don't know that we are faced with it today, but they would feed all of the outsiders and let their own kinfolk go hungry because nobody would know it if they fed their kinfolk. They wouldn't get any credit for that, and they wouldn't get any praise for it. Some of them even let their mothers and daddies go hungry. They would say, “Mother, Dad, I wish I could give you something to eat today, but I am going up to the Temple and put this money in the treasure box. You know that what I give to God, I can't give to you.”

The only reason that they went to the Temple and put it in the treasure box is that people watched to see who came by, what they put in, and how much they put in. They got a lot of praise out of it. You know, there is no real praise in doing what you ought to do. There is no particular glory in feeding your mother and dad if they are hungry. You get a whole lot more glory if you make a donation to the building program. Folk talk about it. That is the spirit. That is what they were doing and God said, “That doesn't mean a thing to Me. I would a whole lot rather that you do this kind of fasting.”

Blessings Come From Meeting God's Conditions

In the paragraph which begins with verse 6 and concludes with verse 12, He describes for us the blessings which come from sincere fasting—using the words of our text, at least in a figurative way—and from meeting God's conditions.

Notice what He said in verse 8:

Isaiah 58

8Then shall thy light break forth as the morning…

Down in verse 10, He says practically the same thing:

Isaiah 58

10And if thou draw out thy soul to the hungry, and satisfy the afflicted soul; then shall thy light rise in obscurity, and thy darkness be as the noon day:

These may sound like strange phrases, but they are peculiar to the book of Isaiah. We don't have time to run back through the book and notice them, but God spoke of the Israelites out of fellowship with Him as people sitting in darkness. He said, “They that sit in darkness had seen a great light when Jesus came.” People who are out of fellowship with the Lord in this age are sitting in darkness. John said that. He said, “If we say we have fellowship with Him and walk in darkness, we have lied. We do not tell the truth.” If you are out of fellowship, you are in darkness. He says, “If you do the things that I am asking you to do, you will break forth as the morning.” In verse 10, He said:

Isaiah 58

10…then shall thy light rise in obscurity, and thy darkness be as the noon day:

He said in the last part of verse 8:

Isaiah 58

8…thine health shall spring forth speedily…

It is an interesting statement, isn't it? It is just one of many in the Word of God that emphasizes—not always, but quite often—that physical health is related to spiritual health. Quite often if you are not right spiritually, it affects you physically. Not always, but quite often. Of course, I'm sure you know that when you feel low physically you sometimes feel low spiritually. Sometimes people feel so bad physically, they get the idea that they have lost their salvation or that God has forsaken them. There is a connection between the two, and God said here, “When you get things straightened out spiritually, then shall your health spring forth speedily.”

He Offers Divine Protection

Then He offers divine protection in the last part of verse 8, when He said:

Isaiah 58

8…and thy righteousness shall go before thee; the glory of the LORD shall be thy rereward.

You could capitalize this word righteousness here. According to the original text, it refers to the Lord Jesus Christ—the Lord Jesus Christ in the front and God in the back. When you meet His conditions, He offers divine protection.

He Assures Us of His Presence

Not only does He offer you divine protection, in verse 9, He assures you of His presence, for He says:

Isaiah 58

9Then shalt thou call, and the LORD shall answer; thou shalt cry, and he shall say, Here I am…

That is wonderful, isn't it? Do you have that kind of relationship to the Lord? Do you have that relationship to the Lord that is of such a nature that when you cry out to Him, He reassures you? This is a cry of uncertainty; it is a cry of fear. You mothers, particularly, and some of you fathers know what this means. Here is a little one who is ill, feverish, isn't sleeping well, and you decide the best thing for you to do, if you are going to get any rest, is to spend the night in that bedroom instead of going to your own bedroom and running back and forth. Sometimes you lie down on the bed with the little one who is ill, or maybe you sit in a chair. The little one cries out and the mother says, “It is all right, Dear. I am right here,” and he goes right back to sleep again. He may stir several times during the night, but the mother says, “That's all right. Mother is here. Everything is all right,” and he goes right back to sleep.

We don't want to be ridiculous, but that is the exact picture of this verse. You get disturbed and you wonder if everything is all right. You cry out, “Lord,” and He says, “That's all right. I'm right here. Don't worry. Everything is going to be all right.” And it is.

He Will Guide Us and Prosper Us

Look down at verse 11. The divine presence not only gives that assurance, but it guarantees direction:

Isaiah 58

11And the LORD shall guide thee continually…

The only requirement He makes is, “Stop your mockery; stop your empty formality; stop your foolishness. Be sincere, and I will guide you continually.” I don't believe that there is any need for a child of God to get out of the way if he stays in fellowship with the Lord. I don't believe there is any need for the child of God to take one step in the wrong direction. Are you noticing what I am saying? I didn't say that a child of God wouldn't, and I didn't say that if he does, he is not a child of God. I am just saying that I don't think there is any need for it, because God said, “I will guide you continually all the way.”

In this paragraph we notice not only the divine presence, for in the last part of verse 11 there is brought to our attention the assurance of divine prosperity. God expresses it in a number of different ways. He said: “I will satisfy thy soul in drought. It may be dry all around, but I will take care of you. It may not rain on anybody else for a long time, but I will meet your needs.” That is what He is saying.

Then He said, “I will make your bones fat.” Then He said, and I like this:

Isaiah 58

11…thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters fail not.

Literally, He is saying, “Thou shalt be like a watered garden with a spring of water, whose waters fail not.”

Child of God Compared to a Well Cared for Garden

There are many metaphors and symbols and parables related to the child of God. I like this one. Here, the child of God is compared to a garden, but a garden that is well watered, a garden that is well cared for.

Perhaps you are wondering what possible illustration could that be of a Christian's life. Turn with me to the Song of Solomon. The Song of Solomon is an allegory. That doesn't mean it isn't true. It is the inspired Word of God, but it was meant to be a story to illustrate some spiritual truths. Oh, yes, Solomon wrote it, and he wrote it about the wife of his bosom. It was real. It all happened, but God preserved it in the Scripture in order to illustrate certain spiritual truths.

I don't suppose two lovers in the twentieth century would talk this way, but the language that is used between lovers in any age is sometimes strange, little intimate terms that don't mean anything to anybody else except the folk who use them. A favorite phrase of Solomon for the one he loved was a garde n . It is a phrase which the Lord Jesus Christ liked to use to describe His relationship to the believer. Notice in the Song of Solomon, chapter 4, verse 12:

Song of Solomon 4

12A garden inclosed is my sister, my spouse; a spring shut up, a fountain sealed.

He is saying, “The one I love is like a garden enclosed.” That was so important to gardens in that area. If the gardens were not enclosed, all the wild animals and the birds would come and destroy the garden, so that was why they always put a wall around it. That is what God wants for you and me. He wants us to be protected from the enemies of our soul. This garden had a spring that was shut up. That is a spring that was covered over so the water would always be pure.

In verses 13-14, He describes the kind of plants which are in His garden. Sometime when you have time, you might trace those through the Word of God. They are significant. They all have symbolic meanings.

In verse 15, He again emphasizes how well watered that garden is, and in verse 16, He says, “ You know, My garden doesn't need any water, but it does need the wind.” That may seem like a strange thing to say but every one of these plants and trees in this garden gave off a special aroma and the wind was necessary to scatter the fragrance. If you look at verse 16, you will find the Lord Jesus Christ saying:

Song of Solomon 4

16Awake, O north wind; and come, thou south; blow upon my garden, that the spices thereof may flow out…

Did you notice He needed both the north wind and the south wind? In the Bible the north wind is cold and blustery, and the south wind is warm and soft. It takes both kinds of wind for God to accomplish what He wants to accomplish in His garden. That is the reason that sometimes it is hard for you, harder than it is at other times. Don't be alarmed about it, just recognize that God is letting the north wind blow so that the fragrance may come out.

Solomon's beloved recognized everything that he said to her, and she responded. When Christ speaks to us, He wants us to respond too. I wonder how we respond. She said, “Let my beloved come into his garden and eat its pleasant fruits.” He was saying, “You know, I have a wonderful garden down there. It is all closed up. There is plenty of water and wonderful plants and trees, and all of the fragrance is so wonderful.” She said, “Well, come down and enjoy it.”

The chapter division comes at an unhappy place, but in verse 1, of chapter 5, He says:

Song of Solomon 5

1I am come into my garden, my sister, my spouse: I have gathered my myrrh with my spice; I have eaten my honeycomb with my honey; I have drunk my wine with my milk…

He is saying, “I not only have come down into this garden, I have enjoyed the fruits of it.” Let me ask you something. Are you God's garden, properly enclosed, well watered? Would it be safe in your present spiritual condition for you to say to God, “Come down and enjoy the garden,” or would you feel like you needed to do some weeding before He came down? Would you feel like you need to get some trash out of the spring so that the water would flow? Would you feel like you need to have a little more wind, either from the north or the south, that the aroma might flow forth? You might think about it. There is a lesson there.

God's Promise to Israel

There are a number of other things mentioned about the garden, but we need to get back to the book of Isaiah and notice in chapter 58 a precious promise which God gave to the nation of Israel if they would meet His conditions. The nation of Israel was going to go through terrible tribulation. Many of them would die, but some of them would be left, and this is the promise. Notice verse 12:

Isaiah 58

12And 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 [more accurately, the restorer of the paths in which to walk] .

Literally this will be applied to the nation of Israel. One day the walls of the city of Jerusalem are going to be rebuilt, and this migration to the land of Palestine that is occurring in our day will look pretty meager in the light of the gathering that is promised in the Word of God.

You know, even though they have gathered over there and they have done a lot, they still don't have the city, but God said that one of these days they will have it, and they will straighten out the streets and they will build the walls and they will be called “the restorer of the paths, and the repairer of the breach.”

A Spiritual Application

May I make a spiritual application? You and I will never be able to repair the breach. You and I will never be able to restore the path for others if our own heart isn't right. If our relationship is not what it ought to be with the Lord, we're not going to be able to repair the breach that the Devil has made. We are not going to be able to restore the path so that which is lamed, as Paul puts it in his letter to the Hebrews, will not be turned out of the way.

The sad thing is that a number of folk are trying to repair the breach. They are trying to restore the path, and they need to do a little personal work, not with other people, but with themselves. When other people see them repairing the breach and restoring the path, they know their own lives are not right and it irritates them. They sometimes say, “You have enough to do to keep your own doorstep clean.” You know that is true. If we haven't kept our own doorstep clean, we had better not try brushing off anybody else's, but many of us do. Many of us have such a big beam in our own eye that we can't see the splinter that is in our brother's eye, and you notice the difference, don't you? We are so concerned about that splinter in our brother's eye and not the least bit concerned about the beam in our own eye. That is the idea of the moat that the Lord Jesus Christ was talking about.

God Was Jealous of His Sabbath

One last thing I would leave with you. The Sabbath for the Israelites was a sign of its separation to God. God was very jealous of the keeping of the Sabbath day—we're talking about the seventh day now. God was so jealous about the Israelites keeping the Sabbath day that He let them go into seventy years of captivity, because they robbed Him of that many Sabbaths. That is the reason He put the seventy on it. He was jealous of His Sabbath.

We are talking about the Israelites at the moment. I am emphasizing that because God doesn't expect you to keep the seventh day. That was related to Israel, not to you at all. The Lord's Day, the first day of the week, is the day that you should enjoy in fellowshipping around the Lord's table and fellowshipping around the Word. The legal requirements related to the seventh day could not, by the farthest stretch of your imagination, be applied to the first day of the week. God said to them, “If you will get the Sabbath relationship straightened out, then I will take care of some other things.”

Surely there is an application here. If we give to God what is rightfully His in time and possessions, if we get things in their right proportion, God will take care of the rest. Look at verse 14, where He said:

Isaiah 58

14Then shalt thou delight thyself in the LORD…

Is the LORD a delight to you, or is all of this so boring? Is this teaching a delight to you or is it a burden? Of course, there are many reasons why the things of the LORD are not the delight that they ought to be to us, but I might suggest to you, without sitting in judgment on anybody, that sometimes the reason that the things of the LORD are not the delight that they ought to be, is that things are not right between us and the LORD. We haven't ironed things out like we should. God said, “You get the Sabbath question straightened out, Israel, and you will delight yourself in the LORD.” Then He said:

God Will Enable Us to Walk Victoriously

Isaiah 58

14Then shalt thou delight thyself in the LORD; and I will cause thee to ride upon the high places of the earth, and feed thee with the heritage of Jacob thy father: [He gives assurance in the Word] for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it.

If God says it, it has to be. Now, this statement, “I will cause thee to ride upon the high places of the earth,” is a familiar statement in the Old Testament, and all in the world that it is talking about is victory . God will enable you to leap over the difficulties. He will enable you to soar up in the sky. He will enable you to walk victoriously.

You have seen pictures in slow motion, and you have seen the man that is running. It looks like he is taking giant steps. He is just going through the air with no effort at all. That is the picture here. God is able to arrange things so that you will ride on the high places of the earth if your relationship to Him is what it ought to be.


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