Fasting an Old Testament commandment under the law of Moses
A BIBLICAL PERSPECTIVE OF FASTING-Old Testament commandment
The law of Moses specifically required fasting for only one
occasionthe 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 Jonahs preaching, the men of
Nineveh, at the kings 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 lions
den, (Daniel 6:18).
Types of Fasts
There appear to be two forms of fasting:
An absolute fastabstinence 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 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
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 dont 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 wont match the old garment.
Its not going to tear away when you sew it on. Its
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.
Dont put new wine into old wineskins, because the skins
will burst and youll 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 theyll 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 wont 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 cant be combined. The scriptures
emphasize this fact.
New Testament Scriptures
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
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.
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
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
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 priests office in his fathers 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 twothe old and the
newand 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
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 Vines 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 Johns prophetical
statement. In referring to Zechariah 8:19, Jesus is the truth (John 14:6), and the Prince of Peace (Isaiah
9:6). Jesuss statement is another claim, or affirmation, by Him, that He is the Messiah. It is
not a commandment to fast when Hes 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
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 Gods
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
19 Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these;
Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness,
20 Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife,
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.
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 ones 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
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
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 LORDs 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
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 Gods love,
grace and mercyand 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.
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 Lords 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.