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In my analysis of the scroll of Jakob ("James" in English versions) I have recognized that James is dealing with people in his synagogue using the courts against one another:

[Jas 4:1-4, 11-12 NASB95] [1] What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members? [2] You lust and do not have; [so] you commit murder. You are envious and cannot obtain; [so] you fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask. [3] You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend [it] on your pleasures. [4] You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. ... [11] Do not speak against one another, brethren. He who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks against the law and judges the law; but if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge [of it.] [12] There is [only] one Lawgiver and Judge, the One who is able to save and to destroy; but who are you who judge your neighbor?

I see in all this a strong connection to Isaiah 58:

[Isa 58:2-9 NASB95] [2] "Yet they seek Me day by day and delight to know My ways, As a nation that has done righteousness And has not forsaken the ordinance of their God. They ask Me [for] just decisions, They delight in the nearness of God. [3] '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. [4] "Behold, you fast for contention and strife and to strike with a wicked fist. You do not fast like [you do] today to make your voice heard on high. [5] "Is it a fast like this which I choose, a day for a man to humble himself? Is it for bowing one's head like a reed And for spreading out sackcloth and ashes as a bed? Will you call this a fast, even an acceptable day to the LORD? [6] "Is this not the fast which I choose, To loosen the bonds of wickedness, To undo the bands of the yoke, And to let the oppressed go free And break every yoke? [7] "Is it not to divide your bread with the hungry And bring the homeless poor into the house; When you see the naked, to cover him; And not to hide yourself from your own flesh? [8] "Then your light will break out like the dawn, And your recovery will speedily spring forth; And your righteousness will go before you; The glory of the LORD will be your rear guard. [9] "Then you will call, and the LORD will answer; You will cry, and He will say, 'Here I am.' If you remove the yoke from your midst, The pointing of the finger and speaking wickedness,

So I'm wondering if it is safe to understand Isaiah 58 as likewise referring to "the pointing of the finger and speaking wickedness" a reference to Jews falsely accusing others of crimes? Or are both Isaiah and James just about gossip and such?

Related:

[Jas 5:1-6 NKJV] [1] Come now, [you] rich, weep and howl for your miseries that are coming upon [you]! [2] Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are moth-eaten. [3] Your gold and silver are corroded, and their corrosion will be a witness against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have heaped up treasure in the last days. [4] Indeed the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out; and the cries of the reapers have reached the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth. [5] You have lived on the earth in pleasure and luxury; you have fattened your hearts as in a day of slaughter. [6] You have condemned, you have murdered the just; he does not resist you.

2 Answers 2

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The OP asks, “In Isaiah 58:9, is ‘pointing the finger’ referring to legal accusations?” If they do refer to legal accusations, the laws in view are not ours but God’s (v2). In Isaiah 58 God addresses people of faith who fast and practice other forms of self-mortification but do not live according to the spirit of charity and brotherly love.

Isaiah 58:2-4 NKJV

“They ask of Me the ordinances of justice; They take delight in approaching God. 3 ‘Why have we fasted,’ they say, ‘and You have not seen? Why have we afflicted our souls, and You take no notice?’

In fact, in the day of your fast you find pleasure, And exploit all your laborers. 4 Indeed you fast for strife and debate, And to strike with the fist of wickedness.”

“Pointing the finger” refers to the act of judging and accusing others. The passage suggests that such behavior is akin to tying up and placing heavy burdens on the shoulders of others. The fasting and other religious practices of those who engage in such actions are therefore not accepted by God (v5), for whom genuine worship must stem from the heart and manifest itself in acts of charity and mercy.

6 “Is this not the fast that I have chosen: To loose the bonds of wickedness, To undo the heavy burdens, To let the oppressed go free, And that you break every yoke? 7 Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, And that you bring to your house the poor who are cast out; When you see the naked, that you cover him, And not hide yourself from your own flesh?”

The passage does not say that the accusations are false, only that we should extend mercy toward the soul who is afflicted, to cover their guilt rather than hide from our own (v7).

10 “If you extend your soul to the hungry And satisfy the afflicted soul, Then your light shall dawn in the darkness, And your darkness shall be as the noonday.”

Like Isaiah 58, James 4 also addresses people of faith and challenges them to examine themselves. When people judge and speak badly of one another, such actions are said to contradict and undermine the law of God, the essence of which is love (cf James 2:8). Verse 11 speaks to the irony of using God’s law to judge and hurt one’s neighbor. The one who does so in effect places the law of God on trial.

James 4:11

He who speaks evil of a brother and judges his brother, speaks evil of the law and judges the law.

Both Isaiah 58 and James 4 would have us gauge our relationship to God by examining our relationships to one another. It does not matter whether the judgments we make are true or false, James 4 teaches that we should leave all judgment to God.

James 4:12

12 There is one Lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy. Who are you to judge another?

And Isaiah 58 teaches that true fasting and worship of God entails a genuine denial of self.

Isaiah 58:13-14

And shall honor Him, not doing your own ways, Nor finding your own pleasure, Nor speaking your own words, 14 Then you shall delight yourself in the Lord

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    Thank, good points. I want to take just a moment to point out that "judging" and "condemnation" don't mean the same things as Christians tend to use them today. "judging" and "condemnation" are generally auto-corrected by the way they hear others use these words, as referring to looking down on someone, but "judging" actually has to acting as a judge and "condemnation" generally used to refer to "giving someone a death sentence." Kind of like a "condemned building," or more relevantly, "a dead man walking." See Roman 8:1.
    – Ruminator
    Nov 10, 2023 at 22:38
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Isa 58 is a fascinating chapter for several reasons, not least its exquisite poetry and its kindness to the needy exuding from every line.

Verses 6 and 9 for a kind of bracket around V7 & 8 because of the repetition of the three characteristics:

V6: Isn’t this the fast that I have chosen:

  • to break the chains of wickedness,
  • to untie the cords of the yoke,
  • to set the oppressed free and tear off every yoke?

V9b: If you remove -

  • the yoke from your midst,
  • the pointing of the finger
  • and malicious talk,

Even now, with the modern doctrine of "Innocent until proven guilty", it is often the case that a mere (incorrect) accusation toward a famous person is enough to destroy their lives - by the time their innocence is established, their career and reputation is ruined.

This even more true in ancient times. This is why gossip and slander were so vehemently condemned in the Bible, Prov 16:28, 18:8, 20:19, 26:20, 22, 2 Cor 12:20, 1 Tim 3:11, 5:13, Titus 2:3, etc.

Now, in Isa 58:9, the last three characteristics: (1) removing the yoke, (2) pointing the finger, (3) speaking wickedness, appear to placed (in the Hebrew) in apposition. That is, these three names are three names for the same thing. It was by removing these three things that the "yoke" of sinfulness could be removed.

This is an interesting idea - scandal, gossip and (verbal) backbiting acted as a drain on the economy, or a "yoke" around the necks of the nation of Israel. Among other things, such sinfulness (which is a manifestation of pride by making oneself feel superior to the "gossipee") hindered the prayers of the nation - James also alludes to this same idea in James 3 when he discusses the taming of the tongue.

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  • So gossip, not legal accusation is in view?
    – Ruminator
    Nov 8, 2023 at 10:36
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    @Ruminator - I think the terms are more general so that both gossip and legal accusations could be included but I would not restrict the idea to or the other.
    – Dottard
    Nov 8, 2023 at 20:15
  • Ok, thank you..
    – Ruminator
    Nov 8, 2023 at 20:22

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