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What Does the Bible Teach About Fasting?

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What does the Bible teach us about fasting, or temporarily abstaining from food? The Bible records no commanded fast day except the Day of Atonement, one of God's Holy Days (Leviticus 23:26-32 Leviticus 23:26-32 26 And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 27 Also on the tenth day of this seventh month there shall be a day of atonement: it shall be an holy convocation to you; and you shall afflict your souls, and offer an offering made by fire to the LORD. 28 And you 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. 29 For whatever soul it be that shall not be afflicted in that same day, he shall be cut off from among his people. 30 And whatever soul it be that does any work in that same day, the same soul will I destroy from among his people. 31 You shall do no manner of work: it shall be a statute for ever throughout your generations in all your dwellings. 32 It shall be to you a sabbath of rest, and you shall afflict your souls: in the ninth day of the month at even, from even to even, shall you celebrate your sabbath.
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). But many examples of fasting are recorded in the Old and New Testaments from which we can come to understand the principle and meaning of the practice for us today:

* After the Israelites were defeated by the men of Ai (Joshua 7:6 Joshua 7:6And Joshua rent his clothes, and fell to the earth on his face before the ark of the LORD until the eventide, he and the elders of Israel, and put dust on their heads.
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), Joshua and the elders of Israel remained prostrate before the Ark of the Covenant from morning until evening without eating.

* On one occasion, the 11 tribes that had taken up arms against Benjamin, seeing that they would not stand against the inhabitants of Gibeah, fell before the Ark on their faces and so continued until the evening without eating (Judges 20:26 Judges 20:26Then all the children of Israel, and all the people, went up, and came to the house of God, and wept, and sat there before the LORD, and fasted that day until even, and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings before the LORD.
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).

* David fasted while the first child he had by Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah, lay dying (2 Samuel 12:16 2 Samuel 12:16David therefore sought God for the child; and David fasted, and went in, and lay all night on the earth.
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).

* Moses fasted 40 days on Mount Horeb before God gave him the two tables of testimony (Exodus 34:28-29 Exodus 34:28-29 28 And he was there with the LORD forty days and forty nights; he did neither eat bread, nor drink water. And he wrote on the tables the words of the covenant, the ten commandments. 29 And it came to pass, when Moses came down from mount Sinai with the two tables of testimony in Moses’ hand, when he came down from the mount, that Moses knew not that the skin of his face shone while he talked with him.
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), during which time he neither ate bread nor drank water.

* Elijah fasted for 40 days during a trip from the wilderness to Horeb, the mountain of God (1 Kings 19:8 1 Kings 19:8And he arose, and did eat and drink, and went in the strength of that meat forty days and forty nights to Horeb the mount of God.
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).

* Jesus Christ fasted 40 days and nights in the wilderness while being tempted by Satan the devil (Matthew 4:1-3 Matthew 4:1-3 1 Then was Jesus led up of the spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil. 2 And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he was afterward an hungered. 3 And when the tempter came to him, he said, If you be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread.
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; Luke 4:2 Luke 4:2Being forty days tempted of the devil. And in those days he did eat nothing: and when they were ended, he afterward hungry.
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).

Christ knew we would fast

The disciples of John asked Jesus Christ about the subject. Christ's answer was 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 (Matthew 9:14-15 Matthew 9:14-15 14 Then came to him the disciples of John, saying, Why do we and the Pharisees fast oft, but your disciples fast not? 15 And Jesus said to them, Can the children of the bridal chamber mourn, as long as the bridegroom is with them? but the days will come, when the bridegroom shall be taken from them, and then shall they fast.
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; Luke 5:33-35 Luke 5:33-35 33 And they said to him, Why do the disciples of John fast often, and make prayers, and likewise the disciples of the Pharisees; but your eat and drink? 34 And he said to them, Can you make the children of the bridal chamber fast, while the bridegroom is with them? 35 But the days will come, when the bridegroom shall be taken away from them, and then shall they fast in those days.
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). During Christ's ministry and shortly after His death, He and the early Church dealt with the practice of setting aside certain days of the week or month to fast. The Pharisees bragged about fasting twice a week (Luke 18:12 Luke 18:12I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess.
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) and considered themselves more righteous than others for doing so.

Certain members of the Church at Rome appeared to be trying to enforce fasting on particular days on other Christians at Rome. Paul addressed the subject by pointing out that fasting was an individual matter (Romans 14:5-6 Romans 14:5-6 5 One man esteems one day above another: another esteems every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind. 6 He that regards the day, regards it to the Lord; and he that regards not the day, to the Lord he does not regard it. He that eats, eats to the Lord, for he gives God thanks; and he that eats not, to the Lord he eats not, and gives God thanks.
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).

Fasting is highly personal

Christ's statements concerning fasting are simple and straightforward. His disciples will fast (Luke 5:33-35 Luke 5:33-35 33 And they said to him, Why do the disciples of John fast often, and make prayers, and likewise the disciples of the Pharisees; but your eat and drink? 34 And he said to them, Can you make the children of the bridal chamber fast, while the bridegroom is with them? 35 But the days will come, when the bridegroom shall be taken away from them, and then shall they fast in those days.
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), but He did not specify when, how long or how often. As Paul amplified in Romans, fasting is an individual concern between us and Jesus Christ, who is our judge. Jesus, knowing that His disciples would fast, left ample instruction in both the Old and New Testaments on how to go about it and the purpose of going for a time without food and drink.

In Matthew 6:16-18 Matthew 6:16-18 16 Moreover when you fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear to men to fast. Truly I say to you, They have their reward. 17 But you, when you fast, anoint your head, and wash your face; 18 That you appear not to men to fast, but to your Father which is in secret: and your Father, which sees in secret, shall reward you openly.
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Christ explains that fasting is not to be a show of our supposed righteousness before men, but that it is a personal affair between us and God and that by all outward appearances no one should be aware of our fasting. Our dress and demeanor should not broadcast to others that we are fasting, which is a matter between us and God and our service to Him.

In Isaiah 58:3-5 Isaiah 58:3-5 3 Why have we fasted, say they, and you see not? why have we afflicted our soul, and you take no knowledge? Behold, in the day of your fast you find pleasure, and exact all your labors. 4 Behold, you fast for strife and debate, and to smite with the fist of wickedness: you shall not fast as you do this day, to make your voice to be heard on high. 5 Is it such a fast that I have chosen? a day for a man to afflict his soul? is it to bow down his head as a bulrush, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? will you call this a fast, and an acceptable day to the LORD?
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God further explains that fasting is not to be for selfish pleasure or gain. God takes no pleasure in our going without food and drink to importune Him for selfish gain at others' expense. God will not take note of someone who is fasting with a wrong attitude.

Undoing burdens

Why should we fast? The Bible does not enumerate the reasons for fasting, but, by studying the examples of those in the Bible who fasted, we can arrive at many of the reasons for doing so.

A close study of Isaiah 58:6-11 Isaiah 58:6-11 6 Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that you break every yoke? 7 Is it not to deal your bread to the hungry, and that you bring the poor that are cast out to your house? when you see the naked, that you cover him; and that you hide not yourself from your own flesh? 8 Then shall your light break forth as the morning, and your health shall spring forth speedily: and your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard. 9 Then shall you call, and the LORD shall answer; you shall cry, and he shall say, Here I am. If you take away from the middle of you the yoke, the putting forth of the finger, and speaking vanity; 10 And if you draw out your soul to the hungry, and satisfy the afflicted soul; then shall your light rise in obscurity, and your darkness be as the noon day: 11 And the LORD shall guide you continually, and satisfy your soul in drought, and make fat your bones: and you shall be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters fail not.
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reveals one of the primary reasons for fasting and some of its results in our lives. As these verses reveal, 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 explains 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 able to see mistakes that we may be making in our relationships with one another and with God. Once we repent of these mistakes, and are reconciled with God and our fellowman, then we're ready to do God's will without the fetters and burdens that impede us from time to time.

The biblical examples of the use of the tool of fasting are a big help in understanding when and why to fast. David used the principle of fasting in a time of great sorrow, when he needed comfort and understanding from God. In 1 Samuel 31:11-13 1 Samuel 31:11-13 11 And when the inhabitants of Jabeshgilead heard of that which the Philistines had done to Saul; 12 All the valiant men arose, and went all night, and took the body of Saul and the bodies of his sons from the wall of Bethshan, and came to Jabesh, and burnt them there. 13 And they took their bones, and buried them under a tree at Jabesh, and fasted seven days.
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and 1 Samuel 1:17-27 1 Samuel 1:17-27 17 Then Eli answered and said, Go in peace: and the God of Israel grant you your petition that you have asked of him. 18 And she said, Let your handmaid find grace in your sight. So the woman went her way, and did eat, and her countenance was no more sad. 19 And they rose up in the morning early, and worshipped before the LORD, and returned, and came to their house to Ramah: and Elkanah knew Hannah his wife; and the LORD remembered her. 20 Why it came to pass, when the time was come about after Hannah had conceived, that she bore a son, and called his name Samuel, saying, Because I have asked him of the LORD. 21 And the man Elkanah, and all his house, went up to offer to the LORD the yearly sacrifice, and his vow. 22 But Hannah went not up; for she said to her husband, I will not go up until the child be weaned, and then I will bring him, that he may appear before the LORD, and there abide for ever. 23 And Elkanah her husband said to her, Do what seems you good; tarry until you have weaned him; only the LORD establish his word. So the woman stayed, and gave her son suck until she weaned him. 24 And when she had weaned him, she took him up with her, with three bullocks, and one ephah of flour, and a bottle of wine, and brought him to the house of the LORD in Shiloh: and the child was young. 25 And they slew a bullock, and brought the child to Eli. 26 And she said, Oh my lord, as your soul lives, my lord, I am the woman that stood by you here, praying to the LORD. 27 For this child I prayed; and the LORD has given me my petition which I asked of him:
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, David lamented deeply over the death of King Saul, God's anointed, and Saul's son Jonathan, a beloved friend. In his fasting and lamentation, David remembered the greatness of these men and his personal relationship with them. David sought comfort from God in times of sorrow at the loss of beloved friends.

David also used fasting at a time of serious illness, when with all his heart he sought forgiveness for his sins. He asked God to hear and answer his prayer and heal his child (2 Samuel 12:13-22 2 Samuel 12:13-22 13 And David said to Nathan, I have sinned against the LORD. And Nathan said to David, The LORD also has put away your sin; you shall not die. 14 However„ because by this deed you have given great occasion to the enemies of the LORD to blaspheme, the child also that is born to you shall surely die. 15 And Nathan departed to his house. And the LORD struck the child that Uriah’s wife bore to David, and it was very sick. 16 David therefore sought God for the child; and David fasted, and went in, and lay all night on the earth. 17 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. 18 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 spoke to him, and he would not listen to our voice: how will he then vex himself, if we tell him that the child is dead? 19 But when David saw that his servants whispered, David perceived that the child was dead: therefore David said to his servants, Is the child dead? And they said, He is dead. 20 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. 21 Then said his servants to him, What thing is this that you have done? you did fast and weep for the child, while it was alive; but when the child was dead, you did rise and eat bread. 22 And he said, While the child was yet alive, I fasted and wept: for I said, Who can tell whether GOD will be gracious to me, that the child may live?
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). David explained the whole principle of the reason for fasting on this occasion in verse 22: “While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept; for I said, Who can tell whether the LORD will be gracious to me, that the child may live?' “

Jesus Christ explained to His disciples the need to pray and fast in dealing with healing and the casting out of demons (Matthew 17:14-21 Matthew 17:14-21 14 And when they were come to the multitude, there came to him a certain man, kneeling down to him, and saying, 15 Lord, have mercy on my son: for he is lunatic, and sore vexed: for often he falls into the fire, and oft into the water. 16 And I brought him to your disciples, and they could not cure him. 17 Then Jesus answered and said, O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you? how long shall I suffer you? bring him here to me. 18 And Jesus rebuked the devil; and he departed out of him: and the child was cured from that very hour. 19 Then came the disciples to Jesus apart, and said, Why could not we cast him out? 20 And Jesus said to them, Because of your unbelief: for truly I say to you, If you have faith as a grain of mustard seed, you shall say to this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible to you. 21 However, this kind goes not out but by prayer and fasting.
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). From these examples we can see the value and use of fasting during a time of serious illness or certain instances of demon possession: when we need God's help desperately, when we need to make sure that nothing has cut us off from God and that our prayers are being heard and answered.

Fasting important in seeking help

Fasting can be invaluable in a time of serious trouble, when we desperately need God's help. Jehoshaphat and the nation of Judah used fasting under these circumstances as recorded in 2 Chronicles 20:3-4 2 Chronicles 20:3-4 3 And Jehoshaphat feared, and set himself to seek the LORD, and proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah. 4 And Judah gathered themselves together, to ask help of the LORD: even out of all the cities of Judah they came to seek the LORD.
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: “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.”

Jesus made use of fasting to prepare for a time of testing recorded in Matthew 4:1-2 Matthew 4:1-2 1 Then was Jesus led up of the spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil. 2 And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he was afterward an hungered.
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: “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And when He had fasted forty days and forty nights, afterward He was hungry.” We note in the Bible the example of fasting used in 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 Acts 13:1-3 1 Now there were in the church that was at Antioch certain prophets and teachers; as Barnabas, and Simeon that was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen, which had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. 2 As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them. 3 And when they had fasted and prayed, and laid their hands on them, they sent them away.
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; 14:23).

Fasting is an individual matter between Christians and God, helping us to humble ourselves and draw closer to God. It brings us into a right mental and physical relationship with God to help us to know His will and to seek His answers to our prayers in time of need. 

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    Comments

  • macnana
    I normally fasted from 6AM to 6PM during each day and this has helped me to focus on things that is righteous. And i take the Bible advice on fasting as Christ explains that fasting is not to be a show of our supposed righteousness before men, but that it is a personal affair between us and God and that by all outward appearances no one should be aware of our fasting. Our dress and demeanor should not broadcast to others that we are fasting, which is a matter between us and God and our service to Him. And i know Jehovah God will help me.
  • pianoman
    Whenever I fast I choose to fast 24 hours not twelve. I think twelve hours is half a fast, lolll

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