Fasting has become a popular health trend in recent years, since research has shown evidence for potential health benefits.
However, the topic we want to explore today isn’t fasting for physical health benefits, but rather – Biblical fasting and its spiritual health benefits!
Biblical fasting is woven throughout Scripture – both in the Old and New Testament. ‘To fast’ literally means in the Hebrew ‘to put your hand over your mouth.’
God uses our need for food in Scripture to remind us of our dependence on spiritual food to live. The Psalmist describes himself fainting, longing and thirsting for God (Psalm 42:1-2, Psalm 63:1-2, Psa. 84:2). Christ says, “Blessed are those which do hunger and thirst for righteousness: for they shall be filled.” And on another occasion, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst.”
Biblical feasting represented a time of being satisfied with the goodness of God and is associated with times of celebration and rejoicing. One of the most well known times of feasting was the Feast of Tabernacles, where the abundance of the harvest of God was celebrated – pointing forward to the Kingdom when the abundance of spiritual harvest will be celebrated.
God Uses Famine
In contrast, God used times of famine as a consequence to His people when they starve themselves of His life-giving word (think of the times of the Judges, Ruth, and Elijah).
Putting your Hand over your Mouth
Fasting, or choosing voluntarily ‘to put your hand over your mouth,’ is Biblically employed by those who are fainting, longing and thirsting for God. It’s a recognition of humility, of the frailty of our flesh, and our complete and utter dependence upon God. Christ began his ministry with a fast, declaring at the end of 40 days to the tempter: “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.'”
Fasting is nearly always associated with a specific prayer or cry to God – sometimes of repentance, sometimes intercession on behalf of others, sometimes as a plea for help or guidance.
Warnings about Fasting
Finally, there are dire warnings about the misuse of fasting in Scripture. Isaiah 58 condemns the hypocrisy of fasting and simultaneously mistreating others. Fasting is not for pleasure, he warns, but for ‘sharing bread with the hungry, bringing into your house the outcasts, and covering the naked with clothing.’
Jesus warns of prideful and hypocritical fasting in his parable of the Pharisee and Tax-collector. The Pharisee prided himself in fasting, praying, and giving tithes. The very symbol of humility, he was using in pride! Christ also instructs, when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites who turn fasting into a show. Instead, “anoint your head and wash your face, so that you do not appear to men to be fasting.” While Christ isn’t saying that all fasts must be kept in complete secret (because there are many instances in Scripture of community fasts, see below), He is making the point that fasting to be seen of men is the antithesis of the purpose of fasting!
Highlights of Biblical Examples of Fasting
- 1 Samuel 7:6 Samuel removes the idols from Israel, and restores the nation to the true worship of God. He gathers the people together and they fast and acknowledge their sin.
- Nehemiah 9:1 The children of Israel assembled with fasting, in sackcloth, and with dust on their heads. They then stood and confessed their sins and iniquities.
- Joel 1:14, 2:12, 15 God tells Israel to consecrate a fast and cry out in repentance – to rend their hearts and return to Him.
- Jonah 3:5 The Ninevites proclaim a fast to repentance after Jonah’s message.
Intercession on Behalf of Others
- 2 Samuel 12:16, 22 David fasts and prays for his and Bathsheba’s child’s life. After the child dies, he discontinues the fast because he has been given God’s answer.
- Nehemiah 1:4-11 At the news of the distress and reproach of the survivors in Jerusalem, Nehemiah fasts and prays interceding on the behalf of his people for their sins.
- Psalm 35:13 David fasted for others when they were sick.
- Daniel 9:3 Daniel set his face toward the Lord to make “request by prayer and supplications, with fasting, sackcloth, and ashes” confessing the sins of his people and interceding on their behalf.
Plea for Help or Guidance
- Judges 20:26 In this account, the children of Israel seek God’s direction in whether they should go up and fight against their brother Benjamin. Twice God answers yes, but twice they fail. The third time they come up with weeping and fasting, and offerings, and finally God delivers Benjamin into their hands.
- 2 Chronicles 20:1-4 When the people of Moab, and Ammon and others came to battle against Jehoshaphat, the king of Israel proclaimed a fast and gathered Judah together to seek help from the LORD. Instead of nourishing his warriors with health food for optimal strength to fight, he showed the weakness of the flesh and recognized his dependence on God. The story continues that they sought God in prayer, and then sent singers out to praise God instead of soldiers. The story ends with the Moabites and Ammonites destroying each other.
- Ezra 8:21,23 Ezra proclaimed a fast among the travelers returning to Israel, “that we might humble ourselves before our God, to seek from Him the right way for us and our little ones.” The travelers entreated God for His protection “and He answered our prayer.”
- Esther 4:3, 16 At the news of Haman’s decree the Jews fasted with weeping and wailing. Then Esther proclaims a fast for three days and nights before she goes before the king.
- Acts 13:2,3 Before separating Barnabas and Saul and sending them on their way, the disciples fasted and prayed for God’s direction.
- Acts 14:23 Before appointing and commending elders in the ecclesia, the disciples prayed with fasting.
Have you tried fasting combined with a specific prayer? You can use the page below to journal your prayer and fasting plan.
Here is the monthly journal page, to keep track your goals:
Also don’t forget to print off a monthly attribute page to think through an attribute (or spiritual fruit) that you would like to focus on this month!