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UCGia Bible Insights Thursday, August 10 2023

What does the Bible teach about fasting?

The Bible mandates no commanded fast day except the Day of Atonement, one of God's Annual Holy Days (Leviticus 23:26-32). However, there are many examples of fasting recorded in the Bible to assist us in understanding the principle and meaning of the practice for us today.

by Dean Wilson

One of the better known examples of fasting in the Bible was Moses fasting 40 days on Mount Horeb when God gave him the ten commandments (Exodus 34:28-29). During that time he didn’t eat bread or drink water. Jesus Christ also fasted 40 days and nights in the wilderness when tempted by Satan the devil (Matthew 4:1-3; Luke 4:2). There are also other examples of fasting in the Bible including that of David (2 Samuel 12:16) and Elijah (I Kings 19:8).

When the disciples of John the Baptist asked Jesus Christ about fasting He explained that, while He was on earth, it was not necessary for His disciples to fast, but after His death and departure His disciples would fast, but He did not specify when, how long or how often they should fast (Matthew 9:14-16; Luke 5:33-35).

Christ reprimanded the Pharisees for bragging about fasting twice a week, and considering themselves more righteous than others for doing so (Luke 18:9-14). Paul also addressed the subject of fasting, when certain members of the Church at Rome appeared to be trying to enforce fasting on particular days, by pointing out fasting was an individual matter (Romans 14:3-6).

In Matthew 6:16-18 Christ explains fasting is not to be a show of our supposed righteousness before men, but that it is a personal matter between us and God. Our dress and demeanor should not broadcast to others we are fasting. God will not take note of someone who is fasting with a wrong attitude (Isaiah 58:3-5).

By studying the examples of those in the Bible who fasted, we can arrive at many reasons for doing so. Isaiah 58:6-11 reveals fasting is to loose the bands of wickedness (sin), to undo heavy burdens, to come out from under oppression, and to break the yoke of bondage that besets all of us from time to time. Verse 8 also describes the end result: "Then your light shall break forth like the morning, your healing shall spring forth speedily, and your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard."

By humbling ourselves and seeking God's will, we are better able to see mistakes we may be making in our relationships with one another and with God. David also fasted in a time of great sorrow, when he needed comfort and understanding from God. In 2 Samuel 1:11-12 he lamented the death of King Saul, God's anointed, and Saul's son Jonathan, a beloved friend, seeking comfort from God.

Jesus Christ also explained to His disciples the need to pray and fast in dealing with healing and the casting out of demons (Matthew 17:14-21). We should fast when we desperately need God's help, and we need to make sure nothing has cut us off from God and that our prayers are being heard and answered. Jehoshaphat and the nation of Judah used fasting under these circumstances as recorded in 2 Chronicles 20:3-4: "And Jehoshaphat feared, and set himself to seek the LORD, and proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah. So Judah gathered together to ask help from the LORD; and from all the cities of Judah they came to seek the LORD."

The Bible also contains examples of fasting when seeking God's help in making major decisions. For example, the early Church fasted before deciding on ordinations and important regional or Church-assigned responsibilities (Acts 13:1-3; 14:23).

Fasting is an individual matter between Christians and God, except for the commanded fast on the Day of Atonement. It helps us to develop a right relationship with God enabling us to better discern His will and to seek His answers to our prayers in time of need.