Christianity 201

May 5, 2019

A Look at Fasting

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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As some missionary friends reminded me earlier, “The evening of May 5 is the start of Ram*adan, the Mus*lim month of fasting (from sunrise to sundown) and prayer.” I thought we’d look at the topic from a Christian perspective today, and if you arrived here via a search engine and are not a Christian, take a minute to get a very short glimpse as to how we interpret the practice.

We haven’t covered this subject much here at C201. Everything below, but above the double line was sourced one way or another via this page at BibleStudyTools.org. which begins by telling us that:

Fasting is essentially giving up food (or something else) for a period of time in order to focus your thoughts on God. While fasting, many people read the Bible, pray, or worship. Fasting is found throughout the Old and New Testaments of the Bible, over fifty times!

Let’s start with a longer definition from Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary:

Fast, Fasting

Abstinence from food and/or drink as an element of private or public religious devotion. Fasting is nowhere commanded in the Torah and, in fact, is never attested earlier than the time of the judges of Israel (cf. Judges 20:26 ). The fact that Jesus and the disciples sanctioned it by their own example ( Matt 4:2 ; Acts 13:2-3 ), however, is sufficient justification for its practice in biblical times and, in fact, in modern times as well…

…As a whole, however, fasting appears to be a private matter in the Bible, an expression of personal devotion linked to three major kinds of crisis in life: lamentation/penitence, mourning, and petition. Without exception it has to do with a sense of need and dependence, of abject helplessness in the face of actual or anticipated calamity. It is in examining these situations that the theological meaning and value of fasting are to be discovered.

Next, some key scriptures: (the link takes you to 40 verses)

Acts 14:23: “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.”

Daniel 10:3: “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.”

Esther 4:16: “Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Susa, and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my attendants will fast as you do. When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish.”

Exodus 34:28: “Moses was there with the LORD forty days and forty nights without eating bread or drinking water. And he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant—the Ten Commandments.”

Joel 2:12: “Even now,” declares the LORD, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.”

Luke 2:37: “and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying.”

Luke 4:2-4[Referring to Jesus] “where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry. The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.” Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone.’”

In his article, What Christians Need to Know about Fasting, Sam Storms talks about the different ways Christians fast from food or drink:

There is a regular fast which consists of abstaining from all food and drink except for water (Matthew 4:2–3; Luke 4:2). Apart from supernatural enablement, the body can function only three days without water.

partial fast is when one abstains from some particular kind of food as in the case of Daniel while in Babylon (Daniel 10:3; cf. 1:8, 12).

As noted above, a liquid fast means that you abstain only from solid foods. Again, most who choose this path are sustained by fruit juices and the like.

A complete or absolute fast that entails no food or liquid of any kind (Ezra 10:6; Esther 4:16; Acts 9:9) should only be for a very short period of time. For anything longer than three to five days, seek medical advice.

There is also what can only be called a supernatural fast, as in the case of Moses (Deuteronomy 9:9), who abstained from both food and water for forty days (enabled to do so only by a miraculous enabling from God).

You may also wish to fast from all food for only a particular meal each day. In other words, you may choose to skip lunch for a day or two or a week, or dinner, or even breakfast. All such forms of partial fasting are entirely appropriate.

There are also different types of fasts. This may be determined by a length of time, or a fast which is intermittent, for example, on a particular day of the week.



There’s a particular passage that is worth a longer look today:

This kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting.

You might recognize that as KJV English, the words are from Matthew 17 and the story is repeated in Mark 9. But some translations recognize that Matthew 17:21 isn’t found in earlier manuscripts and the Mark 9 passage is usually rendered without the words ‘and fasting.’

Rather than toss out the passage entirely, back in the day when Bible commentaries were based on the KJV (because there were fewer other options, and earlier manuscripts had not been found) some, like Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers, contained words similar to what follows. The principle certainly applies.

—The words imply degrees in the intensity of the forms of evil ascribed to demons amounting to a generic difference. Some might yield before the energy of a human will, and the power of the divine Name, and the prayers even of a weak faith. Some, like that which comes before us here, required a greater intensity of the spiritual life, to be gained by the “prayer and fasting” of which our Lord speaks. The circumstances of the case render it probable that our Lord himself had vouchsafed to fulfil both the conditions. The disciples, we know, did not as yet fast (Matthew 9:14-15), and the facts imply that they had been weak and remiss in prayer.



We only really covered fasting here once, and it was half of an article on Devotional Poetry. That article contained a link to a passage from Isaiah 58, which we’ll include here for the first time, since we didn’t quote it at the time.

1 Shout loudly; don’t hold back;
    raise your voice like a trumpet!
Announce to my people their crime,
    to the house of Jacob their sins.
They seek me day after day,
    desiring knowledge of my ways
    like a nation that acted righteously,
    that didn’t abandon their God.
They ask me for righteous judgments,
    wanting to be close to God.
“Why do we fast and you don’t see;
    why afflict ourselves and you don’t notice?”
Yet on your fast day you do whatever you want,
    and oppress all your workers.
You quarrel and brawl, and then you fast;
    you hit each other violently with your fists.
You shouldn’t fast as you are doing today
    if you want to make your voice heard on high.
Is this the kind of fast I choose,
    a day of self-affliction,
    of bending one’s head like a reed
    and of lying down in mourning clothing and ashes?
    Is this what you call a fast,
        a day acceptable to the Lord?

Isn’t this the fast I choose:
    releasing wicked restraints, untying the ropes of a yoke,
    setting free the mistreated,
    and breaking every yoke?
Isn’t it sharing your bread with the hungry
    and bringing the homeless poor into your house,
    covering the naked when you see them,
    and not hiding from your own family?
Then your light will break out like the dawn,
    and you will be healed quickly.
Your own righteousness will walk before you,
    and the Lord’s glory will be your rear guard.
9a Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
    you will cry for help, and God will say, “I’m here.”

 

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