Fasting is to abstain from food or drink, especially as a religious ritual. It gives us strength and helps us to linger closer to God. It enables one to focus more on the spiritual values when you consciously ignore worldly delights. Fasting steers towards greater closeness with Creator by denying our materialistic absorptions. It is a sign of our wish and starvation to seek God, and for this, we give less importance to our needs and develop a passionate relation towards God that overthrows everything else. By humbling ourselves before God, we can seek His forgiveness, help, guidance, and His will.
There are ten types of fasting described in the Bible. These are listed in chronological order from Old Testament to New Testament. The purpose of each fast is somehow similar to another. There is one Scripture reference that is common to each of these fasts, and that is Isaiah 58:6-8, which speaks of God’s chosen fast. The elements of this passage are indicated below.
The Samuel Fast
Reason for the fast – When the Ark of the Covenant came back after the captivity, Samuel led God’s people in a fast for celebration and to pray for Israel’s liberation from the sin.
And they gathered together to Mizpeh, and drew water, and poured it out before the Lord, and fasted on that day, and said there, We have sinned against the Lord. And Samuel judged the children of Israel in Mizpeh. – 1 Samuel 7:6
And to let the oppressed go free – Isaiah 58:6
The Widow’s Fast
Reason for the fast – Elijah was sent by God to a poor, starving widow so she could provide food for Elijah. What an Irony here! Her obedience resulted in food for survival, as well as Elijah’s. This fast is to meet the needs of others and care for their food, housing, and clothing.
And the barrel of meal wasted not, neither did the cruse of oil fail, according to the word of the Lord, which he spake by Elijah. – 1 King 17:16
Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house? – Isaiah 58:7
The Ezra Fast
Reason for the fast – King of Persia had given Ezra, the priest, permission to rebuild their city of Jerusalem, but in spite of this permission, Israel’s enemies opposed them. When the enemy came in front, Ezra observed a fast for God’s direction and protection.
So we fasted and besought our God for this: and he was intreated of us. – Ezra 8:23
“…to undo the heavy burdens” – Isaiah 58:6
The Esther Fast
Reason for the fast – Jewess Queen Esther risked her life in appearing before the king of Persia. She, along with her fellow men, was threatened with destruction. So she and her attendants along her fellows fasted for three days and nights for their security and protection.
“…gather together all the Jews that are present in Shushan, and fast ye for me, and neither eat nor drink three days, night or day: … she obtained favour in his sight… – Esther 4:16;5:2
“the glory of the Lord shall be thy reward”. – Isaiah 58:8
The Elijah Fast
Reason for the fast – When Elijah fled to escape from queen Jezebel’s threat to kill him, he deliberately went without food as he sought the LORD to take his life rather than let Jezebel kill him, but after a night, an angel woke him up and served him with cake and water twice. This fast was to break the chain of emotional threats that are always alarming for us.
But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness…he arose, and did eat and drink, and went in the strength of that meat forty days and forty nights… – 1 King 19:4,8
“…And break every yoke?” – Isaiah 58:6
The Daniel Fast
Reason for the fast – Daniel and his three friends were held captives in Babylon and instructed to eat the pagan food of the king. Daniel requested to allow them to eat vegetables and water for ten days to judge that they are wiser than the people who eat the king’s rich food.
Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king’s meat, nor with the wine which he drank… – Daniel 1:8
“…thine health shall spring forth…” – Isaiah 58:8
The Disciple’s Fast
Reason for the fast – The disciples had attempted to cast out a demon from a young boy, but in vain, so Jesus advised that this kind comes out by prayer and fasting. This fast was to free them from all wickedness.
“…this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting.” – Matthew 17:21
“…to loose the bands of wickedness…” – Isaiah 58:6
Saint Paul’s Fast
Reason for the fast – While Saul was blind and had no clue what was going to happen to him, his thoughts about Jesus changed. He went without food for three days as he prayed for direction and purpose. After his eyesight was restored, his life took a whole new direction as he sought to serve Jesus Christ, who saved him from his sin.
“And he was three days without sight, and neither did eat nor drink.” – Acts 9:9
Then shall thy light break forth as the morning… – Isaiah 58:8
The John the Baptist Fast
Reason for the fast – John the Baptist, the cousin of Jesus, was called by God to take on the Nazarite vow from his birth. He was to have neither wine nor strong drink. This life set him apart for his mission of being the forerunner of Jesus.
For he shall be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink; and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother’s womb. – Luke 1:15
…thy righteousness shall go before thee… – Isaiah 58:8
The Jesus fast
Reason for the fast – When Jesus was Baptized at Jordan River, he was led by the Holy Spirit into the desert for 40 days and nights as he was tempted by the devil. He overcame the devil’s temptation through God’s words. This fast was to get victory over temptation, flesh, and devil.
“And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he was afterward an hungered.” Mathew 4:2
“… behold, angels came and ministered unto him. For spiritual power and victory over temptation, the flesh, and the devil.” – Mathew4:1-2;11
Here are the few times where fasting is mentioned in the Old Testament:
- We read in 1 Samuel 1:7 of the time when Hannah was so distressed that “she wept and did not eat food”.
- There was another time when king Ahab was upset that he couldn’t buy Naboth’s vineyard that he “would eat no food” – 1 Kings 21:4.
- Fasting was a natural expression of grief. David fasted when he was grieved over Abner’s death, 2 Samuel 3:35.
- There are many Scripture references that refer to fasting as “afflicting” one’s soul or body. We see this in 2 Chronicles 7:14with the use of the word “humble thyself”.
Thus it becomes clear that fasting is a source to
- Strengthen prayer
- Seek God’s guidance
- Express grief
- Seek deliverance
- Express repentance
- Humble oneself before God
- Express concern for the work of God
- Minister to the other’s need
- Overcome temptation
- Express love
- Pray and confess on sins.
Hence fasting is an appropriate bodily reaction to the grievous state of our soul. It can also be gratitude and recognition towards God.