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In Good Company (Part One): Fasting, A Biblical Survey

in good company
Christians are often surprised to discover that fasting was prominent in the Bible. In all our study of the Bible, I don’t know how we could have missed this fact. It’s as if, while we read the Bible, our eyes momentarily went blind when we reached the parts about fasting.

Perhaps our surprise is because of our preoccupation with entertainment—perhaps we’re spending less time examining the Word. … Or perhaps it’s willful blindness—our “all-about-me” culture wants nothing to do with self-denial. … Or maybe we’ve labeled fasting as fanatical, legalistic, or irrelevant—so consequently we feel God doesn’t intend those passages of the Bible to be applied to us today…. I don’t know.

Whatever the cause of our lack of awareness, we would do well to recognize the prominence of fasting in scripture. Because, as Wesley Duewel writes,

“Fasting is still God’s chosen way to deepen and strengthen prayer. You will be the poorer spiritually and your prayer life will never be what God wants it to be until you practice the privilege of fasting.” [1]

So let’s take a quick survey of fasting in the Bible….

Fasting in the Old Testament

Moses, as you know, fasted 40 days and nights when he was on the mountain receiving the ten commandments (Exodus 34:28; Deuteronomy 9:9).

Elijah, after his encounter with Jezebel, went to Mt. Horeb where he fasted for forty days (1 Kings 19:8).

Esther and the Jews fasted, not eating or drinking anything for three days or nights, and it was critical in their deliverance (Esther 4:15-16).

Hannah was so distressed about her barrenness that she cried and did not eat. (1 Samuel 1:7-8) Her sorrow led to fasting and desperate prayer… which led to God answering her plea and causing her to conceive and give birth to Samuel.

Samuel and the Israelites fasted, leading to national revival. (1 Samuel 7:6).

David fasted when his baby was afflicted with illness (2 Samuel 12:16). (See also Psalm 35:13; 69:10)

Daniel proposed to King Nebuchadnezzar’s servants that he and his three friends, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, be allowed to fast from the king’s rich foods, and instead be allowed to eat only vegetables and drink only water. If after ten days, they were not in better condition than the young men who ate the royal food, Daniel promised they could be dealt with as the guards desired. At the end of the ten-day period, Daniel and his friends were healthier in body and mind than the men who were served food from the king’s table (Daniel 1:1-18).

On another occasion, Daniel fasted and prayed until God’s messenger broke through enemy lines to bring him an answer from the throne of God (Daniel 10:3).

When the Jews were returning to Jerusalem with Ezra, they faced a dangerous situation. So Ezra proclaimed a fast. God answered the Jews and protected them from enemies and bandits (Ezra 8:21-23, 31).

Ezra later fasted in mourning because of the unfaithfulness of the returned exiles (Ezra 9:5; 10:6).

Nehemiah proclaimed a fast during a national crisis (Nehemiah 1:4).

Fasting in the New Testament

Anna, an 84-year old prophetess, worshiped the Lord in the temple day and night through fasting and prayer. She did not fast as the pharisees, who fasted to serve themselves and their pride. Anna fasted to serve God (Luke 2:37).

John the Baptist fasted all the time (Matthew 3:4; Luke 1:15). He was dedicated as a Nazirite from birth (Luke 1:15). Although his father, Zacharias, was told that his son would follow the Nazirite vow, John the Baptist still had to choose this for himself once he grew up. His disciples also fasted (Matthew 9:14).

Jesus began his earthly ministry with a forty-day fast (Matthew 4:1-2). He made fasting a part of his lifestyle and expected His followers, which includes us, to do the same. (Matthew 6:16-17; 9:14-15)

Paul fasted for three days after his conversion (Acts 9:9). Afterward, fasting remained a constant part of his life and ministry.

But in all things we commend ourselves as ministers of God: in much patience, in tribulations, in needs, in distresses, in stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labors, in sleeplessness, in fastings… (2 Corinthians 6:4-5, NKJV).

Again in 2 Corinthians 11:27, he says, “I have been … in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness” (NKJV).

As we will see in the next post, the book of Acts shows that fasting played a vital role in the life of the New Testament church.

Examples of Corporate Fasting

Below is a list of instances of corporate fasting, where people fasted as a group.

As the post title suggests, this page does not contain an exhaustive list of every account of fasting in the Bible—it’s just a quick survey. But this glance gives us an idea of how much fasting was a continuous thread throughout the Old and New Testaments.

Question: Are you unfamiliar with any of these instances of fasting? If so, will you go to the corresponding passage of scripture and read about it, asking God to speak to you through it?

OTHER POSTS IN THIS SERIES

RELATED POSTS

FASTING DAY SIX FROM THE ARCHIVES:

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  1. Wesley L. Duewel, Touch the World Through Prayer (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1986), 95

 


 

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