Fasting, for most of us this word means little more than just not eating or some trendy diet to try. Yet, when we look into the purpose and ideology behind fasting, we get a much deeper image and a truer sense of what it is to truly fast. The practice in the Hebrew tongue is read as ta’anit (pronounced ta’anith) and it holds a deep root in their traditions in remembrance for God delivering them.
The practice of fasting originates with Yom Kippur (The Day of Atonement) as we can read in Leviticus 23:26-32
And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, Also, on the tenth day of this seventh month there shall be a day of atonement: it shall be an holy convocation unto you; and ye shall afflict your souls, and offer an offering made by fire unto the Lord. And ye shall do no work in that same day: for it is a day of atonement, to make an atonement for you before the Lord your God. For whatsoever soul it be that shall not be afflicted in that same day, he shall be cut off from among his people. And whatsoever soul it be that doeth any work in that same day, the same soul will I destroy from among his people. Ye shall do no manner of work: it shall be a statute for ever throughout your generations in all your dwellings. It shall be unto you a sabbath of rest, and ye shall afflict your souls: in the ninth day of the month at even, from even unto even, shall ye celebrate your sabbath. (King James Version)
The word says we are to afflict our souls… the word afflict is defined as to cause pain or suffering. We are to atone or repay for our sin by afflicting our souls with how we live for the day, and if you did not follow you were cut out from the people. This affliction is done by not eating or drinking (to include water), not wearing shoes, no bathing, no wearing or perfumes or oils and additionally not working as on the sabbath. And this day was always followed by the observance of the sabbath day, so it would be 2 full days before anything was done. This was done as a direct commandment from God to honor Him and remember His will for His people, and as to make ourselves a living sacrifice for our own sins as this was done under the Law still.
The next earnest and voluntary example of fasting we find comes from David in 2 Samuel 12:15-21
And Nathan departed unto his house. And the Lord struck the child that Uriah’s wife bare unto David, and it was very sick. David therefore besought God for the child; and David fasted, and went in, and lay all night upon the earth. And the elders of his house arose, and went to him, to raise him up from the earth: but he would not, neither did he eat bread with them. And it came to pass on the seventh day, that the child died. And the servants of David feared to tell him that the child was dead: for they said, Behold, while the child was yet alive, we spake unto him, and he would not hearken unto our voice: how will he then vex himself, if we tell him that the child is dead? But when David saw that his servants whispered, David perceived that the child was dead: therefore David said unto his servants, Is the child dead? And they said, He is dead. Then David arose from the earth, and washed, and anointed himself, and changed his apparel, and came into the house of the Lord, and worshipped: then he came to his own house; and when he required, they set bread before him, and he did eat. Then said his servants unto him, What thing is this that thou hast done? thou didst fast and weep for the child, while it was alive; but when the child was dead, thou didst rise and eat bread. (KJV)
Here David has multiple reasons as to why he fasts. At first it is to plead for his son’s life, but then he begins to mature spiritually and he begins to seek God’s will in it all. He mourns for his son, but becomes obsessed with atoning for his sin that caused this situation in the first place (2 Samuel 12:13). Upon receiving news of his son’s death, the first thing he does before eating is clean himself and go praise the Lord in open worship before eating. David’s fast was again an atonement for his sins and in seeking of the will of God as was the purpose of the day of atonement that was set out in Leviticus.
Now, the way Christ fasted was on the complete next level… in the book of Matthew we see Christ venture into the woods for 40 days (Matthew 4:1-4)
Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil. And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he was afterward an hungred. And when the tempter came to him, he said, If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread. But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God. (KJV)
Christ denied himself any contact with others and prayed to strengthen His spirit for the things to come (not just the devil’s temptations). This is the first thing Christ does as part of His ministry. He got baptized by John and then goes straight way to the wilderness to fast, to prepare His spirit to meet the will of God for the ministry that His Father had ordained for Him. Christ later talks about fasting, and reminds us for whom we should be fasting. Reading Matthew 6:16-18 we see we aren’t to fast for others to know that our pride might grow, but rather that we might humble ourselves to God.
Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face; That thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret: and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly. (Matthew 6:16-18,KJV)
So, what is the big deal with people coming out and saying I am doing the Daniel ‘fast’ and coming out trying to lose weight through intermittent fasting? Well, none, however it is not truly fasting as is described biblically. For one, the Daniel fast is based off of Daniel abstaining from delicacies to express his mournful state (Daniel 10:1-3) in addition to living out the Proverb 23:6, where it is said we should not eat even the bread of a miser (defined as someone who holds much wealth). When you do not eat because of a diet, you are not fasting, rather you are regimenting your diet or food intake to help lose weight, not abstaining from the world to seek God first. That is what a fast is all about. Giving God glory by truly denying oneself.
Let us look at what each example of fasting has in common, first and foremost, they were each done in response to, or in seeking God’s will. Yom Kippur was a commandment, while David and Jesus were preparing to accept the will of God. When you fast, you should seek God’s will first, no matter what it is that you are giving up, or abstaining from, your purpose should be to seek God’s perfect will and to put Him first with denial of yourself. When you fast you should truly live out as Christ said we are to do, deny ourselves, pick up our crosses, and follow Him (Luke 9:23-24). The entire fast should be focused on reminding yourself of who God is, what He has done, is doing, and will do for you. God is an awesome, and powerful being, there is no one like Him, when you fast, your spiritual eyes should open up and take in just how awesome our God is! Your days of fasting should be filled with His praise and worship, also spent studying His word and perfect ways. A huge part of fasting is just pondering the endless aspects of God.
Secondly, it should be a true denial of yourself. When you fast, you aim to build dependency on God. Not eating or drinking is the baseline for a fast, not the be all or end all of a fast. With Yom Kippur, they did not even bathe or wear shoes! They were humbled to the point where they took no pride in their appearance, smell, and they even endured walking without protection for their feet. And its not like they had sidewalks or paved roads to walk on, they had the desert (they were still wondering the desert with Moses at this point), so often this meant great pain from the sand and rocks drying, cutting, and cracking their feet.
Which brings me to the final part of fasting, it should not be easy. When you fast, it should be a great burden on you. A large part of fasting is enduring by reliance on God. You cannot rely on when it is something that is within your normal capabilities. For example, as a soldier I am used to traveling and being alone, so isolating myself is not a good way to increase reliance on God, however giving up video games, social media, exercise and other things that would strain myself and increase my dependence on him. Remember, all of those are done in addition to the not eating or drinking, not just the other activities being abstained from.
In short, your fast is about God, not you. You should fast in order to prepare yourself for the will of God, not to seek the favor of God. Fasting is done in direct submission to God and His will for you. A fast is not some light hearted diet or trend, it is a lifestyle of worship to God. It is worshiping through sacrificing your self and honoring God with the true recognition He deserves and that is with everything you are.