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A Biblical Perspective on Fasting

Fasting is not a common practice in our day and time. For many people fasting may even seem strange or ancient. However, God's Word assumes that fasting will be a regular activity in the part of a believer's life. Let's take a moment to look at what true Biblical Fasting is, and how we should respond to what the Bible has to say about fasting.

What Biblical Fasting is Not

Some people struggle with biblical issues, some people just twist them into something they can benefit from themselves. Fasting has become one of those issues which can easily be misunderstood, or practiced with the wrong motives. Let's take a moment to look at what fasting should not be:

A physical or psychological discipline -- God does not want us to fast purely as a physical discipline. (For example, dieting for the purpose of losing weight or for some other physical benefit.) Dieting is obviously not wrong, however a spiritual fast should not be motivated by a desire just to loose weight. It should also be noted that most nutritionists agree that fasting is a very ineffective weight loss option. If weight loss is your goal, then other diet plans actually function much more effectively long term. When the Bible uses the term "fasting" it has spiritual goals in mind.

A weapon of manipulation - Sometimes people use fasting as a means to try talk God into something, or try to get their way with some issue in their lives. Be aware that your fast does not obligate God to respond to your needs in the manner in which you desire. Fasting opens the door for God to pour more of Himself into you, not vice-versa.

Take a look at this story recorded in the New Testament:

"In the morning some of the Jews made a plan to kill Paul, and they took an oath not to eat or drink anything until they had killed him. They went to the leading priests and the older Jewish leaders and said, 'We have taken an oath not to eat or drink until we have killed Paul'" (Acts 23:12,14).

Although they fasted they did not "convince" God to buy into their evil plan. Another scripture from the Bible says:

"Although they fast, I will not listen to their cry; though they offer burn offerings and grain offering, I will not accept them. I will destroy them with the sword, famine, and plague" (Jeremiah 14:12).

Never look at fasting as a political hunger strike to force God to give in to your demands. We serve a loving and good God who has wonderful thoughts and plans for us!

A religious exercise -- By Jesus' time fasting had become a very important part of the Jewish life. Perhaps overly important would be a better way of saying it. Based on Luke 18:12a, we know the Pharisees fasted twice a week. The Talmud tells us that this was on the 2nd and 5th day (Monday and Thursday). Why those days? According to the Pharisees it was because Moses went up on Mt. Sinai to get the Law on the 5th day and returned on the 2nd. At least that's what they said.

But if you look closely into Jewish history, you find another possible reason for the Pharisees fasting on Monday and Thursday. Market day in the city of Jerusalem was on the 2nd and 5th day! Everyone from the countryside came to town on those days. It was on these two days that the Pharisees chose to hold their fasts. They would walk through the streets with their hair disheveled; they would put on old clothes and cover themselves with dirt; they would cover their faces with white chalk in order to look pale; and they would dump ashes over their head as a sign of their humility!! Fasting had become a "look at how spiritual I am" exercise. It was a hypocrisy.

What Biblical Fasting Is

First of all, let's look at the root word which is used for "fasting." The Greek word for fasting is nesteia -- a compound of ne (a negative prefix) and esthio which means "to eat." So the basic root meaning of the word simply means "not to eat."

But what does this "not eating" food mean? Why did people in the Bible "not eat?" We find a clue in Leviticus 16:29. This verse says that fasting is synonymous with "afflicting one's soul." We gain some insight here about how the Hebrews viewed fasting. Fasting is more than just "afflicting one's body". It is "afflicting one's soul." In other words, fasting in the Hebrew mind is something my soul participates in. Fasting is denying my self. It is denying not only my own body, but also my own wants. It is a way of saying that food and my desires are secondary to something else. Fasting is "afflicting one's soul" -- an act of self-denial. But it is not only an act of self-denial and here is where the monks and hermits went wrong.

Biblical fasting is "not eating" with a spiritual goal in mind. How do we know this? Because Biblical fasting always occurs together with prayer in the Bible -- ALWAYS. You can pray without fasting, but you cannot fast (Biblically speaking) without praying. Biblical fasting is deliberately abstaining from food for a spiritual reason, goal, or purpose.

Types of Fasting

Let's take a look at the different types of fasting in the Bible, because I don't want you to feel overwhelmed by the thought of going without food for days and days. There are types of fasting that don't involve such a radical commitment. The Bible mentions three different varieties of fasting:

The Normal Fast: In this type of fast the person abstained from food but not water. The duration can be that which the individual or group feels led to set. Jesus fasted for 40 days (Matthew 4:2). However, the more common practice of a normal fast appears to be from one to three days.

The Partial Fast: In this type of fast, the emphasis is placed on restriction of diet, rather than abstaining completely from eating. Examples are: Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego eating only vegetables and drinking only water (Daniel 1:15) and later on when Daniel alone practiced a partial fast for three weeks (Daniel 10:3).

The Absolute Fast: An absolute fast is one in which the person refrains from both food and water. This type of fast is not to exceed three days. Exceptions to this three day limit (1 Kings 19:8; Deuteronomy 9:9-18 and Exodus 34:28) were based upon direct, divine guidance and care. Examples of the absolute fast are: Moses (Deuteronomy 9:9-18 and Exodus 34:28); Elijah (1 Kings 19:8); Ezra (Ezra 10:6); Esther and her household



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