Fasting in the Bible:
Recently as a church we were called to a short period of fasting and prayer. Our stated goal comes from our study in James 4 that is God’s promise that if we draw near to God He will draw near to us. That if we humble ourselves He will exalt us and give us greater opportunity to exalt Jesus’ Name! (James 4:8-10) – To better educate myself I thought it would be good to write down and study the Biblical mandate for this practice. The coverage that the Bible does on fasting is bigger than most realize.
Though not as essential as regular Bible study and prayer on their own, it seems that fasting is a missing element in our evangelical culture that will bring much benefit, especially for us in this day where we are all hurried and harried and where we don’t stop and enjoy the “good portion” that Mary was commended for over and against being “anxious about many things.”
My prayer is that we will use every tool and method and examine every Biblical model in order to be approved workman, humble servants, more joyful overcomers, and more sanctified and loyal subjects to our great King Jesus. He loved us and gave Himself for us so it seems like this little sacrificial offering should be the minimum among the many ways we choose to love Him back! So…happy fasting as you draw near to Him and experience the incredible joy of Him drawing near to you!
Jesus Fasted: And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. – Matthew 4:2
This is where we start as New Testament disciples of Jesus, with Jesus! He is our model – we walk in His steps (1 Peter 2:21). Jesus was the Son of God – something we all know very well – but He was the Son of God – something we all rejoice in because He is because of this fact the High Priest who can be touched with our infirmity. He has been in every way tested like we are. But as the Son for Man the Spirit of God led him to a place of total dependence through fasting and prayer to lean even more on the Spirit of God who was His strength on earth. None of this could have been possible had He only been the Son of God but was the case as a man. As the Son of Man Jesus is our example. We should do all that He did and if He said by His life that fasting was right and good then we should affirm that truth just as much as any other truth in the Bible. We should be obedient and fight the flesh and be women and men of prayer and fasting.
The two go together. The same way that living in the wilderness (i.e. This world) go with being tempted by the devil.
Godly Women and Men in the O.T. Era Fasted:
2 Chronicles 20:1-4 – Jehoshaphat’s prayer and fasting before battle. (Prayer to bolster staffing faith, battle fear and to seek humbly God’s answer to fight or retreat – to seek His blessing in the battle and His victory and help over our foes. Joshoshaphat prayed in a worship motif – telling back to God His great glory and power reminding God of His reputation being at stake.)
2 Samuel 12:16, 23 David therefore sought God on behalf of the child. And David fasted and went in and lay all night on the ground. Vs.23 – David fasted upon the death of his son. (Sorrow over the effects of sin and for the guilt of sin to reverse those effects and assuage the guilt)
2 Ch 20:3 Then Jehoshaphat was afraid and set his face to seek the Lord, and proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah.
Ezra 8:21Then I proclaimed a fast there, at the river Ahava, that we might humble ourselves before our God, to seek from him a safe journey for ourselves, our children, and all our goods.
Ne 9:1 Israel did. “Now on the twenty-fourth day of this month the people of Israel were assembled with fasting and in sackcloth, and with earth on their heads.”
Esther 4:3 And in every province, wherever the king’s command and his decree reached, there was great mourning among the Jews, with fasting and weeping and lamenting, and many of them lay in sackcloth and ashes.
Es 9:31 that these days of Purim should be observed at their appointed seasons, as Mordecai the Jew and Queen Esther obligated them, and as they had obligated themselves and their offspring, with regard to their fasts and their lamenting.
Ps 35:13 David did. “But I, when they were sick— I wore sackcloth; I afflicted myself with fasting; I prayed with head bowed on my chest.” (Prayer for David’s enemies including fasting for them) Ps 69:10 When I wept and humbled my soul with fasting, it became my reproach. (Fasting does not always have a meritorious effect on others)
Ps 109:24 My knees are weak through fasting; my body has become gaunt, with no fat.
Correct Fasting Humbles Us – With Intended Benefit
Is 58:3 ‘Why have we fasted, and you see it not? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you take no knowledge of it?’ Behold, in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure, and oppress all your workers.
Is 58:5-6 Is such the fast that I choose, a day for a person to humble himself? Is it to bow down his head like a reed, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? Will you call this a fast, and a day acceptable to the Lord? 6 “Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?
Fasting Linked to the Word of God
Jeremiah 36:6 so you are to go, and on a day of fasting in the hearing of all the people in the Lord’s house you shall read the words of the Lord from the scroll that you have written at my dictation. You shall read them also in the hearing of all the men of Judah who come out of their cities. Jer. 36:9 In the fifth year of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah, king of Judah, in the ninth month, all the people in Jerusalem and all the people who came from the cities of Judah to Jerusalem proclaimed a fast before the Lord.
Fasting by the Prophets Modeled/Commanded
Daniel 9:3 Then I turned my face to the Lord God, seeking him by prayer and pleas for mercy with fasting and sackcloth and ashes.
Joel 1:14 Consecrate a fast; call a solemn assembly. Gather the elders and all the inhabitants of the land to the house of the Lord your God, and cry out to the Lord.
Joel 2:12“Yet even now,” declares the Lord, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning
Jonah 3:5 And the people of Nineveh believed God. They called for a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them to the least of them.
Zechariah 7:4-6 Then the word of the LORD of hosts came to me:
5 “Say to all the people of the land and the priests, When you fasted and mourned in the fifth month and in the seventh, for these seventy years, was it for me that you fasted?
6 And when you eat and when you drink, do you not eat for yourselves and drink for yourselves?
Luke 2:36-38 And there was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived with her husband seven years from when she was a virgin, 37 and then as a widow until she was eighty-four. She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day. 38 And coming up at that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.
Modeled by the Apostle’s Early Church
Acts 13:2-3 While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” 3 Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off.
Acts 14:23 And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed.
Jesus Instruction on Fasting:
Matt. 6:16-18 “And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.17 But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, 18 that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (Fasting is a very personal thing – requiring being alone in order to be secret and to be secret so you will be not robbed of its blessing/reward)
Matthew 9:15 And Jesus said to them, “Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast. (Indicates that in proper fasting there is a mourning status about the act – in this case that Jesus is not physically with them – but when He is there no fasting possible because no mourning is possible – so it seems fasting is only for times on this earth before Jesus returns.Mark 2:20 seems to indicate that fasting will start on the very day Jesus ascends See also Luke 5:35)
The Church Fathers
In the Didache – a writing of the early church fathers after the Apostle’s – they taught that one should fast one or two days before getting baptized. They also taught we should fast normally on Wednesday and Friday of each week. Two days a week!?? Whoa…that is a lot of not eating! Obviously, fasting was part of their life on a regular basis.
So, it seems there is a long Biblical history and that the early church fasted too through and beyond the New Testament period. These facts makes me question myself and say “in my hurried existence, in my busyness, in my struggle against sin, in my desire to draw close to God, wouldn’t I benefit greatly from fasting and praying on a regular basis?” I am tempted to think that I am slothful when it comes to fasting and that I have been missing out on something important. What should I do?
I believe the answer, in my life and yours as disciples is to follow the Lord’s own example and that of our brothers and sisters down through the ages and so fast and pray regularly…until the Bridegroom comes! It is His good pleasure to give us all good things. Could it be that this pleasure of drawing closer and Him drawing closer and me being more humble and God doing great things through us should be a reality?
Let us…Just Do It!