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Fasting in the Bible
Summary: Perhaps the most well-known story about fasting in the Bible is the story of Jesus fasting in the wilderness. But there are many earlier references to fasting in the Bible.
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Perhaps the most well-known story about fasting in the Bible is the story of Jesus fasting in the wilderness. But there are many earlier references to fasting in the Bible.
Fasting in the Old Testament
"Jesus Tempted in the Wilderness," James Tissot Public Domain https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Brooklyn_Museum_-_Jesus_Tempted_in_the_Wilderness_(J%C3%A9sus_tent%C3%A9_dans_le_d%C3%A9sert)_-_James_Tissot_-_overall.jpg...
We first learn about fasting in the Bible during the time of Moses, in about 1500 BC.
Fasting and the Sanctified Life
When Moses met with God and received the Ten Commandments from Jehovah, he was in the presence of God forty days and ate no food. In this case, Moses was in the presence of the Life-Giver Himself, so food was not even necessary. God sustained him.
An Annual Fast: The Day of Atonement
God commanded the Israelites to fast once a year on the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16:29-31).
The Day of Atonement was the annual day for the removal of all the confessed sins that had been transferred to the sanctuary. It was a day of judgment. On that day, each person was to humble himself before God by abstaining from work and food.
Fasting and Prayer
It was common in Old Testament times to fast for specific reasons, like in times of mourning and repentance.
Persian King Artaxerxes’ Hebrew cup-bearer, Nehemiah, fasted and prayed after he learned that Jerusalem lay in ruins (Nehemiah 1:4). He confessed his own sins and the sins of his community to God.
When Queen Esther understood that all the Jews in the kingdom of Persia were to be killed on a certain day, she commanded her people to fast and pray with her for three days. Only then would she go before the king and ask for his help.
Decided action often follows a period of fasting. After Nehemiah had fasted and prayed, he asked the king to grant him leave so that he could go and rebuild Jerusalem’s walls. After Esther’s fast, she also approached the king and asked him to save her people.
When Nehemiah and Esther repented and surrendered their wills to God, He spurred them to action. God can do the same for you, also.
Fasting in the New Testament
The practice of fasting continued into New Testament times, when you will find stories about people fasting for the following reasons:
• Special spiritual need
• To more clearly know the will of God.
Jesus fasted 40 days in the wilderness. After that, He faced Satan’s temptations.
Fasting was a normal practice in the times of Jesus. Renewed zeal for their religion following the return to Israel from Babylonian exile resulted in twice-weekly fasting among the most devoted Jews such as the Pharisees (Luke 18:11-12). John the Baptist’s disciples also fasted regularly (Matthew 9:14-17).
Jesus once told His disciples that they could not cast out a demon because of their unbelief and because, “This kind can come forth by nothing, but by prayer and fasting” (Mark 9:29).
When the disciples began carrying the Gospel to the world, Acts 13:2-3 tells us they fasted and prayed to know the will of God.
Does Fasting Win God’s Approval?
It’s important to understand that fasting does not incline God to love you or pity you more and “force” Him to act on your behalf. God has already demonstrated His perfect love toward you (Romans 5:8). Fasting can be seen as a symbol of true heart surrender to the will of God:
The spirit of true fasting and prayer is the spirit which yields mind, heart, and will to God (MS 28, 1900).
Fasting does not help you earn points with God, but this doesn’t mean we should not fast for spiritual reasons. God tells us in Isaiah 58 exactly what kind of fast He prefers.
Is 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?
Is 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?
This article is adapted by Tammie Burak from Rudy and Jeanie Davis' lecture Life in the Fast Lane. Tammie Burak is a freelance writer who enjoys writing about topics of faith, health, nature, and education. She writes for both children and adults.
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