Site hosted by Build your free website today!

His Word ... a prophetic perspective


Fasting an Old Testament commandment under the law of Moses


Historical Background
     The law of Moses specifically required fasting for only one occasion—the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16:29-30; 23:27-31; Numbers 29:7). This custom resulted in calling this day “the fasting day” (Jeremiah 36:6) or “the fast,” (Acts 27:9). It was a very solemn and holy day with a lot of elaborate ritual. (Leviticus 16; Hebrews 10:1-1). Fasting, however, could also be done for other reasons. It was sometimes done as a sign of distress, grief, or repentance.
     Fasting was often accompanied by prayer. Also tearing of clothes, throwing dust and ashes upon your head, dressing in coarse sackcloth and uncombed hair and unwashed bodies.
     Moses did not eat bread or drink water during the 40 days and 40 nights he was on Mount Sinai receiving the law (Exodus 34:28; Deuteronomy 9:9). Jesus fasted 40 days, (Luke 4:2). Elijah fasted 40 days, (1 Kings 19:8).
     Voluntary group fasts (not specified in the law) were engaged in during time of war, such as when the Benjamites defeated the other Israelites, (Judges 20:26), and when Samuel gathered the people to Mizpah during the Philistine wars, (1 Samuel 7:6). At a called fast witnesses accused Naboth, setting the stage for his death (1 Kings 21:9,12).
     Jehoshaphat called for a fast in all Israel when opposed by the Moabites and Ammonites, (2 Chronicles 20:3). Reacting to Jonah’s preaching, the men of Nineveh, at the king’s order, fasted and put on sackcloth, (Jonah 3:5). Those about to return with Ezra from the captivity fasted at the river of Ahava in the face of dangers on the journey, (Ezra 8:21,23). Esther and the Jews of Shushan fasted when faced with the destruction planned by Haman, (Esther 4:3,16; 9:31).
     In times of grief, people fasted. A seven-day fast was held when the bones of Saul and his sons were buried, (1 Samuel 31:13; 1 Chronicles 10:12).
     Fasting was often done by individuals in times of distress. Jonathan fasted when “he was grieved for David, because his father had done him shame” (1 Samuel 20:34). David fasted after hearing that Saul and Jonathan were dead, (2 Samuel 1:12). Nehemiah fasted and prayed upon learning that Jerusalem had remained in ruins since its destruction, (Nehemiah 1:4). Darius, the king of Persia, fasted all night after placing Daniel in the lion’s den, (Daniel 6:18).
Types of Fasts
     There appear to be two forms of fasting:
     An absolute fast—abstinence from both food and water. Moses, Jesus and Elijah are examples. Absolute fasts normally last three days, (Ezra 10:6-9; Esther 4:16; Saul, Acts 9:9).
     A partial fast—(Daniel 10:3).
Special Fasts
     Special fasts appear in the Old Testament.
     During the exile in Babylon, special fasts were also held in the fifth and seventh months to mourn the destruction of the temple and the murder of Gedaliah, governor of Judah (2 Kings 25:25; Jeremiah 41:1,2; Zechariah 7:5). After the exile two other regular fasts were held: the tenth month, to remember the start of the siege of Jerusalem, and the fourth month, which marked the final capture of the city (Zechariah 8:19).
     Fasting also occurs in the New Testament. Anna at the Temple “served God with fastings and prayers night and day,” (Luke 2:37). John the Baptist led his disciples to fast, (Mark 2:18). Saul fasted after his supernatural encounter with God, (Acts 9:9). Cornelius was fasting at the time of his vision, (Acts 10:3,30). The church in Antioch fasted, (Acts 13:2) and sent Paul and Barnabas off on the first missionary journey with fasting and prayer, (Acts 13:3). Paul and Barnabas prayed with fasting at the appointment of elders in the churches, (Acts 14:23).
Jesus’ Teaching on Fasting
     What did Jesus say about fasting?
     Matthew 9:14-17 (see also Mark 2:18-22; Luke 5:33-39):
     14 Then came to him the disciples of John, saying, Why do we and the Pharisees fast oft, but thy disciples fast not?
     15 And Jesus said unto them, Can the children of the bridechamber 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.
     16 No man putteth a piece of new cloth unto an old garment, for that which is put in to fill it up taketh from the garment, and the rent is made worse.
     17 Neither do men put new wine into old bottles: else the bottles break, and the wine runneth out, and the bottles perish: but they put new wine into new bottles, and both are preserved.
     You don’t put a new unshrunk cloth patch on an old garment, because it will tear away from the garment and make the tear bigger. In addition, the new patch won’t match the old garment.
     It’s not going to tear away when you sew it on. It’s going to tear away when you wash it with soap and water. This also has spiritual applications.
     Washing with the water by the word (Ephesians 5:25-27), from the fountain of the water of life, which is a river of water of life (Revelation 21:6; 22:1), which is living water (John 4:10), will cause the old and the new to be totally irreconcilable.
     Don’t put new wine into old wineskins, because the skins will burst and you’ll lose the wine and the skins. New wine into new skins preserves both. And after drinking old wine, no one immediately wants new wine, because they’ll say the old is good or better.
     The message here is clear: in the context of the subject of fasting, Jesus said a new, unshrunk cloth patch on an old garment will cause it to tear away from the garment and make it bigger, and the new patch won’t match the old garment when the reality of the Word of life comes. Also, people resist change to the point of destroying the thing to be changed and the thing that would change it. He was saying law and grace can’t be combined. The scriptures emphasize this fact.
New Testament Scriptures
     Ephesians 2:14-16:
     14 For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us;
     15 Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace;
     16 And that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby:
     Galatians 5:6: For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision; but faith which worketh by love.
     Colossians 2:13-17:
     13 And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses;
     14 Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross;
     15 And having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a show of them openly, triumphing over them in it.
     16 Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days:
     17 Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ.
     Hebrews 7:18: For there is verily a disannulling of the commandment going before for the weakness and unprofitableness thereof.
     Hebrews 8:13: In that he saith, A new covenant, he hath made the first old. Now that which decayeth and waxeth old is ready to vanish away.
     Hebrews 10:1: For the law having a shadow of good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with those sacrifices which they offered year by year continually make the comers thereunto perfect.
Old Testament Scripture
     Leviticus 16:29-34:
     29 And this shall be a statute for ever unto you: that in the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, ye shall afflict your souls, and do no work at all, whether it be one of your own country, or a stranger that sojourneth among you:
     30 For on that day shall the priest make an atonement for you, to cleanse you, that ye may be clean from all your sins before the Lord.
     31 It shall be a sabbath of rest unto you, and ye shall afflict your souls, by a statute for ever.
     32 And the priest, whom he shall anoint, and whom he shall consecrate to minister in the priest’s office in his father’s stead, shall make the atonement, and shall put on the linen clothes, even the holy garments:
     33 And he shall make an atonement for the holy sanctuary, and he shall make an atonement for the tabernacle of the congregation, and for the altar, and he shall make an atonement for the priests, and for all the people of the congregation.
     34 And this shall be an everlasting statute unto you, to make an atonement for the children of Israel for all their sins once a year. And he did as the Lord commanded Moses.
     So there will always be the two—the old and the new—and so it is today. The Jews, under the Old Testament, still fast on the Day of Atonement. They resist change to the New Testament and the acceptance of Jesus as their Messiah, saying the Old Testament and Moses is better.
Jesus’ Virtual Claim
     Jesus, however, insisted that fasting was not suitable for His disciples as long as He, the Bridegroom, was with them (Matthew 9:14-15; Mark 2:18-20; Luke 5:33-35).
     When Jesus said “when the bridegroom shall be taken from them, and then shall they fast” it has been interpreted by many as a command to fast after He ascended to heaven. According to Vine’s Expository Dictionary, however, when you tie that statement in with Zechariah 8:19, it virtually involves a claim to be the Messiah.
     Zechariah 8:19: Thus saith the LORD of hosts; The fast of the fourth month, and the fast of the fifth, and the fast of the seventh, and the fast of the tenth, shall be to the house of Judah joy and gladness, and cheerful feasts; therefore love the truth and peace.
     Jesus is referred to as the “bridegroom” by John the Baptist (John 3:29). His subsequent claim to be the bridegroom confirms John’s prophetical statement. In referring to Zechariah 8:19, Jesus is the truth (John 14:6), and the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6). Jesus’s statement is another claim, or affirmation, by Him, that He is the Messiah. It is not a commandment to fast when He’s gone. That portion was more of a prophetical statement. There is no doubt that Jesus and His disciples fasted on the Day of Atonement. He did not impose additional fasts.
The Old and the New are Incompatible
     However, His comparisons of old garments and new patches, and old wineskins and new wine emphasize the difficulty the new baby church would have in adjusting from the old to the new. Jesus and the disciples were still under the law. John the Baptist was the last Old Testament prophet and marked the transition from law to grace. Jesus stated that He came to fulfil the law and the prophets (Matthew 5:17, Luke 24:44), and we are now under grace (John 1:15-17; Romans 6:14b; Ephesians 2:8,9). The epistles go to great lengths to explain we are under grace and not under the law.
     The transition from Old Testament law to New Testament grace was a difficult one, and the church, even today, is still having difficulties getting away from a “works” mentality. That difficulty comes from a lack of understanding of God’s love and His grace and His mercy.
     The Old Testament contains many types and anti-types and shadows and substance.
     Fasting came through the cross as an anti-type and substance and was a type and a shadow of mourning, humiliation and denial of bodily appetites and works of the flesh.
     Galatians 5:19-21:
     19 Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness,
     20 Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies,
     21 Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.
     Fasting is the anti-type and substance of true repentance. Truly recognizing what God has done for his imperfected and corrupted creatures through His love and grace and mercy by reflecting on the magnificence and glory of God.
Personal Application
     Zechariah 8:18,19–(The Living Bible)
     “Here is another message that came to me from the Lord of Hosts: The traditional fasts and times of mourning you have kept in July, August, October, and January are ended. They will be changed to joyous festivals if you love truth and peace!”
     Isa 58:1-14–(New International Version)
1 “Shout it aloud, do not hold back. Raise your voice like a trumpet. Declare to my people their rebellion and to the house of Jacob their sins.
2 For day after day they seek me out; they seem eager to know my ways, as if they were a nation that does what is right and has not forsaken the commands of its God. They ask me for just decisions and seem eager for God to come near them.
3 ‘Why have we fasted,’ they say, ‘and you have not seen it? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you have not noticed?’ “Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please and exploit all your workers.
4 Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife, and in striking each other with wicked fists. You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high.
5 Is this the kind of fast I have chosen, only a day for a man to humble himself? Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed and for lying on sackcloth and ashes? Is that what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the LORD?
6 “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?
7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter-- when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
8 Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard.
9 Then you will call, and the LORD will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I. “If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
10 and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.
11 The LORD will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.
12 Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the age-old foundations; you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.
13 “If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath and from doing as you please on my holy day, if you call the Sabbath a delight and the LORD’s holy day honorable, and if you honor it by not going your own way and not doing as you please or speaking idle words,
14 then you will find your joy in the LORD, and I will cause you to ride on the heights of the land and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob.” The mouth of the LORD has spoken.
Motivations for Fasting
     Fasting is a custom established by God, under the law, as a means whereby we can utilize the mechanism of our own bodies to demonstrate true repentance to Him. We are now under grace and fasting is no longer a commandment.
     If you are fasting because of fear and guilt of not obeying Jesus, or your conscience, you are fasting for the wrong reasons.
     If you are not fasting and are undertaking the commissions of Zechariah and Isaiah (as quoted above) then you are well within the parameters of God’s love, grace and mercy—and His will for your life.
     However, as a custom established by God and instituted as a tradition by men, fasting is a proper method to demonstrate control over fleshly appetites. It is an effective way to draw nearer to God, recognizing His glory, whereby you will be rewarded (Matthew 6:16-18). Combine your fasting with prayer, and you may even have a vision and an angelic visitation (Daniel 10:3-5; Cornelius, Acts 10;3,30). You may also move closer to the commission of Zechariah and Isaiah, as quoted above.
Balance Needed
     Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his book “The Cost of Discipleship” said: “Any objections that asceticism is wrong, and that all we need is faith, is quite beside the point; ... When all is said and done, the life of faith is nothing if not an unending struggle of the spirit with every available weapon against the flesh ... There is always a danger ... we shall be tempted to imitate the sufferings of Christ. ... We are then presuming to undertake that bitter work of eternal redemption which Christ himself wrought for us. The motive of asceticism was more limited – to equip us for better service and deeper humiliation ... if not, it degenerates into a dreadful parody of the Lord’s own passion (suffering). Our whole motive now becomes a desire for ostentation.”
Fasting and Revival
     Bill Bright, founder of Campus Crusade for Christ has said: “Revival will be preceded by a mighty move of fasting and prayer. The greatest awakening we have known is beginning; I see evidence of spiritual harvest all over the world ... Revival is Jesus. Jesus is the visible expression of the invisible God. If we obey Him, He will reveal Himself to us. The manifestation is Jesus, not a mystical emotional encounter. When God reveals Himself, His people experience revival.”