Monday, February 9, 2009
Biblical Teachings on Fasting
The subject of fasting comes up quite often in the Scriptures. We may well ask the question, what purpose does God have for a fast? And how often should I fast?” We are fortunate that the Bible gives us those answers by providing many examples and revealing a number of accounts of fasting for us. It shows us that many times a fast should be personal between an individual and God and done with humility and in secret, yet there are also instances where it is appropriate to fast as a group or family as well. It also shows us that fasts may vary in length and be either absolute (excluding food and drink) or partial (excluding all/certain foods only). In regards to the length of a fast, it is note worthy that people in the Bible either fasted and sought God diligently until they obtained from God what they wanted (such as Hannah in I Samuel 1 and Paul in Acts 9:9,17-19) or until God made it evident that they simply would not obtain what they requested (like David in II Samuel 12:15-23). In addition to examples in the Bible showing differences in fasts pertaining to their length and wholeness or partiality, we are also shown examples from the Bible of the type of occasions people fasted for. Note a number of Biblical accounts and examples of fasting. Individual Fasts • In II Samuel 12:15-16, 22-23 David fasted for the life of his son born by Bathsheba. • I Kings 21 tells us about how Ahab, the king of Israel, fasted and humbled himself before God after he had been given word from God by Elijah that He would bring destruction upon him for murdering Naboth and seizing his property. • Psalm 35:11-14 shows us how David even fasted for his enemies as though they were family. • In Daniel 9:3, 15-19 Daniel prayed and fasted to God to turn his anger and wrath away from Jerusalem for their sins. • Luke 2:36-37 describes how the prophetess Anna stayed at the temple and worshiped night and day with prayers and fasting. • Acts 9:9 mentions how Saul was blind for three days and did not eat or drink anything. Group Fasts • I Samuel 7:3-6 tells how the Israelites assembled in Mizpah and fasted that day to be delivered out of the hands of the Philistines. • In II Chronicles 20:3 Jehoshaphat proclaimed a fast for all of Judah to seek the Lord's protection after hearing that an army from Edom was coming to make war against him. • Ezra 8:21-23 tells us that Ezra proclaimed a fast among those with him to humble themselves and ask God for a safe journey from Ahava Canal to Jerusalem. • Nehemiah 9:1-3 gives us an account of the Israelites gathering together to fast and confess their sins. • In Joel 2:12-16 the LORD tells us to rend our hearts and turn to Him with fasting and mourning and weeping. • Also, in Jonah 3:5-10, the Ninevites declared a fast when Jonah delivered the message from God that Ninevah would be destroyed in forty days for its wickedness. Various Lengths of Fasting One Night • Daniel 6:18: King Darius fasted when Daniel was thrown into the lions' den. One Day • I Samuel 7:6: As Samuel said, the Israelites fasted to be delivered from the hands of the Philistines. • II Samuel 1:12: David and the men with him fasted for Saul, Jonathan, and the army of the LORD and the house of Israel. • II Samuel 3:35: King David mourned and fasted for the death of Abner when he was murdered by Joab and his brother Abishai, because he had killed their brother Asahel in the battle at Gibeon. • Judges 20:26-28: The children of Israel went to the house of God and fasted, inquiring of Him whether or not they should go to battle again the next day against the Benjamites. Three Days • Esther 4:16: Esther told Mordecai to have him and all the Jews fast for her before she went to the king to plead for the lives of the Jews. • Acts 9:9,17-19: Saul (or Paul) fasted when he was blinded for three days for persecuting the LORD. Seven Days • I Samuel 31:13: The people of Jabesh Gilead fasted after they had found the bodies of Saul and his sons, which the Philistines had slain, on the wall of Beth Shan and buried them. • II Samuel 12:15-23: David fasted for the life of his son conceived by his wife Bathsheba. Fourteen Days • Acts 27:33-34: The 276 men with Paul didn't eat during the terrible storm at sea on their ship while they journeyed towards Italy. Twenty-One Days • Daniel 10:3-13: Daniel fasted after he received a revelation concerning great war in the end times. Forty Days • Exodus 24:18; 34:28: Moses fasted when he went up on Mount Sinai to meet the LORD. • Deuteronomy 9:9,18,25-29; 10:10: Moses fasted for the sins of the people and to ask God to spare them for their iniquity. • I Kings 19:8: Elijah was able to travel for forty days and forty nights to reach Horeb, the mountain of God, with the food that the angel of the LORD had provided him with. • Matthew 4:2; Mark 1:13; Luke 4:2: Jesus fasted in the desert, where he was tempted by Satan. Absolute Fasts • In Deuteronomy 9:9,18 we note Moses fasted for forty days and forty nights on two different occasions. "...40 nights, I neither did eat bread nor drink water" • Ezra 10:6 reveals to us Ezra fasted after he told the Israelites to make a covenant to God to no longer marry and give up foreign wives (people with detestable practices-Ezra 9:1-2). "..did eat no bread, nor drink water: for he mourned.." • Esther 4:16 tells us Esther, Mordecai, and the Jews fasted for her before she went to King Xerxes to plead for the lives of the Jews. "Go, gather together all the Jews....and fast ye for me, and neither eat nor drink three days, night or day.. • In Acts 9:9 Paul fasted when the LORD blinded him for three days. "...and neither did eat or drink" Partial Fasts • Daniel 10:3 tells us Daniel fasted when he was given revelation of war during the end times. "I ate no choice food; no meat or wine touched my lips; and I used no lotions at all until the three weeks were over." Different Occasions of Fasting The ordination of elders and commissioning of apostles to ministry. Acts 13:3 “And when they had fasted and prayed, and laid their hands on them, they sent them away.” (The Holy Spirit said to have Saul and Barnabas set apart). Acts 14:19-23 “...Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, committed them to the LORD in whom they had put their trust.” Intercession for God's people. Exodus 24:18; Deuteronomy 9:9,18,25-29 (Moses fasted for the Israelites); Ezra 10:6 (Ezra fasted for the Israelites); Daniel 9:3-4 (Daniel fasted for Jerusalem); Joel 2:12-14,17-18 “..Let the priests, who minister before the LORD, weep between the temple porch and the altar. Let them say, ‘Spare your people, O LORD’.”; Jonah 3:5-10 (The Ninevites fasted). Humbling and chastening oneself. I Kings 21:27-29 “..Have you noticed how Ahab has humbled himself before me?..” (Ahab fasted after Elijah brought him a message from the LORD of his coming destruction for the murder of Naboth); Psalm 35:13 “Yet when they were ill, I put on sackcloth and humbled myself with fasting....” (David fasted for his enemies); Psalm 69:10 “When I weep and fast, I must endure scorn..” Seeking God and His ways. Judges 20:26-28 (The Israelites fasted to inquire of God whether or not to go to war again against the Benjamites); II Chronicles 20:3 (Jehoshaphat proclaimed of fast for all of Judah to seek the LORD’s protection from the army of Edom); Ezra 8:21-23 (Ezra proclaimed a fast and besought God for a safe journey from Ahava Canal to Jerusalem) Repentance and confession of sin. I Samuel 7:6 (The Israelites fasted); I Kings 21:27-29 (Ahab fasted); Ezra 10:6 (Ezra fasted for the Israelites); Nehemiah 1:4-7 (Nehemiah fasted for his sins and the sins of the Israelites); Nehemiah 9:1-3 (The Israelites fasted for their sins); Jeremiah 36:6-10 (the prophet Jeremiah told Baruch to read from the scroll the words of God, that he dictated him to write, to the people of Judah on a day of fasting; and so he did as he was told and a time of fasting was proclaimed for all the people of Jerusalem and the people from the towns of Judah); Daniel 9:3-5,20 (Daniel confessed his sins and the sins of his people); Jonah 3:5-10 (the Ninevites fasted). For healing. I Samuel 1:5-11,18-20 (Hannah fasted and prayed to God to open her womb and she conceived and Samuel was born); II Samuel 12:15-16,22-23 (David fasted for the life of his son); Isaiah 58:8 “Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear....” (Chapter 58 of Isaiah describes the correct way to fast); Acts 9:9,17-19 (Saul, or ‘Paul’, fasted to be healed from his blindness). When petitioning to God to withhold His hand in judgment. Deuteronomy 9:18, 25 (Moses fasted for God to spare the Israelites); Isaiah 58:9 “Then you will call, and the LORD will answer; you will cry for help and He will say: Here am I” (revealing the results of fasting). When preparing to receive instruction from God. Deuteronomy 9:18,25 (Moses fasted); Isaiah 58:9 (calling on God). For spiritual deliverance. Isaiah 58:6 “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?” (describing the correct ways to fast); Mark 9:29; Matthew 17:21 (Jesus told the disciples that only with prayer AND fasting could the evil spirit be rebuked). Seeking assistance in times of fear. II Chronicles 20:3 “Alarmed, Jehoshaphat resolved to inquire of the LORD, and he proclaimed a fast for all of Judah.” When mourning over someones death/safety. II Samuel 1:12; 3:35 (David fasted for the life of his son and he fasted over the death of Abner, who was murdered); Daniel 6:18 (King Darius fasted for Daniel when he was in the lions’ den); Esther 4:3; 9:1-3 (the Jews fasted and mourned for their lives and safety). When seeking God for protection. Ezra 8:21-23 (Ezra proclaimed a fast and besought God for a safe journey from Ahava Canal to Jerusalem). When in need. II Chronicles 11:27 “I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. “ (Paul speaks of his sufferings). I believe fasting can be an important aspect of your spiritual life and commitment to God. Please keep in mind that some people with health issues should not fast. Make certain you have your doctor's permission before attempting a fast. In fasting go to God and seek Him diligently with prayers and fasting in your times of/or great need, fear, mourning, healing, protection, instruction/guidance, deliverance, correction, confession, and repentance. From the Word of God we receive teaching. “All scripture is God-breathed and it is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (II Timothy 4:16-17). Dr. Ken Copley is available for counseling, conferences, and local church meetings.