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What is Fasting?
FASTING (צוםֺ, tswmo; νηστεια, nēsteia; ασιτεω, asiteō). A ritual of abstaining from food and/or drink for a predetermined period; practiced in the Bible primarily as a means of mourning. Fasting frequently occurs in the Old Testament in response to suffering or disaster, in conjunction with other mourning rituals.
Key Verses
Then all the children of Israel, and all the people, went up, and came unto 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. And the children of Israel inquired of the Lord, (for the ark of the covenant of God was there in those days,
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.
Then Esther bade them return Mordecai this answer, Go, 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: I also and my maidens will fast likewise; and so will I go in unto the king, which is not according to the law: and if I perish, I perish. …
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 ye break every yoke?Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry,And that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house?When thou seest the naked, that thou cover him;And that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh?
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.
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FAST—The sole fast required by the law of Moses was that of the great Day of Atonement (q.v.), Lev. 23:26–32. It is called “the fast” (Acts 27:9).

The only other mention of a periodical fast in the Old Testament is in Zech. 7:1–7; 8:19, from which it appears that during their captivity the Jews observed four annual fasts.

(1.) The fast of the fourth month, kept on the seventeenth day of Tammuz, the anniversary of the capture of Jerusalem by the Chaldeans; to commemorate also the incident recorded Ex. 32:19. (Comp. Jer. 52:6, 7.)

(2.) The fast of the fifth month, kept on the ninth of Ab (comp. Num. 14:27), to commemorate the burning of the city and temple (Jer. 52:12, 13).

(3.) The fast of the seventh month, kept on the third of Tisri (comp. 2 Kings 25), the anniversary of the murder of Gedaliah (Jer. 41:1, 2).

(4.) The fast of the tenth month (comp. Jer. 52:4; Ezek. 33:21; 2 Kings 25:1), to commemorate the beginning of the siege of the holy city by Nebuchadnezzar.

There was in addition to these the fast appointed by Esther (4:16).

Public national fasts on account of sin or to supplicate divine favour were sometimes held. (1.) 1 Sam. 7:6; (2.) 2 Chr. 20:3; (3.) Jer. 36:6–10; (4.) Neh. 9:1.

There were also local fasts. (1.) Judg. 20:26; (2.) 2 Sam. 1:12; (3.) 1 Sam. 31:13; (4.) 1 Kings 21:9–12; (5.) Ezra 8:21–23: (6.) Jonah 3:5–9.

There are many instances of private occasional fasting (1 Sam. 1:7; 20:34; 2 Sam. 3:35; 12:16; 1 Kings 21:27; Ezra 10:6; Neh. 1:4; Dan. 10:2, 3). Moses fasted forty days (Ex. 24:18; 34:28), and so also did Elijah (1 Kings 19:8). Our Lord fasted forty days in the wilderness (Matt. 4:2).

In the lapse of time the practice of fasting was lamentably abused (Isa. 58:4; Jer. 14:12; Zech. 7:5). Our Lord rebuked the Pharisees for their hypocritical pretences in fasting (Matt. 6:16). He himself appointed no fast. The early Christians, however, observed the ordinary fasts according to the law of their fathers (Acts 13:3; 14:23; 2 Cor. 6:5).

FASTING Refraining from eating food. The Bible describes three main forms of fasting. The normal fast involves the total abstinence of food. Luke 4:2 reveals that Jesus “ate nothing”; afterwards “He was hungry.” Jesus abstained from food but not from water.

In Acts 9:9 we read of an absolute fast where for three days Paul “did not eat or drink” (HCSB). The abstinence from both food and water seems to have lasted no more than three days (Ezra 10:6; Esther 4:16).

The partial fast in Dan. 10:3 emphasizes the restriction of diet rather than complete abstinence. The context implies that there were physical benefits resulting from this partial fast. However, this verse indicates that there was a revelation given to Daniel as a result of this time of fasting.

Fasting is the laying aside of food for a period of time when the believer is seeking to know God in a deeper experience. It is to be done as an act before God in the privacy of one’s own pursuit of God (Exod. 34:28; 1 Sam. 7:6; 1 Kings 19:8; Matt. 6:17).

Fasting is to be done with the object of seeking to know God in a deeper experience (Isa. 58; Zech. 7:5). Fasting relates to a time of confession (Ps. 69:10). Fasting can be a time of seeking a deeper prayer experience and drawing near to God in prevailing prayer (Ezra 8:23; Joel 2:12). The early church often fasted in seeking God’s will for leadership in the local church (Acts 13:2). When the early church wanted to know the mind of God, there was a time of prayer and fasting.

Dictionary of Bible Themes 8432 fasting, practice of

fasting, practice of

Although fasting is a negative practice, it is not an end in itself but is to be undertaken for a positive purpose.

Fasting is not an end in itself

Fasting as empty ritual is condemned Jer 14:11-12 See also Isa 58:1-7; Zec 7:4-7

Fasting as mere show is condemned Mt 6:16-18 See also Mt 9:14-15 pp Mk 2:18-20 pp Lk 5:33-35 Jesus Christ repudiated fasting for its own sake whilst granting that there is a time and a place for it.

Fasting imposed for false motives 1Sa 14:24-30

Attitudes appropriate to fasting

Humility Ps 35:13 See also 1Ki 21:27-29; Ezr 8:21; Ps 69:10

Repentance 1Sa 7:6 See also Ne 9:1-3; Joel 1:13-14; 2:12-15

Fasting and prayer

Ne 1:4 See also Ezr 8:21-23; Ps 35:13; Da 9:3; Mt 17:20 fn pp Mk 9:29 fn; Lk 2:37; 5:33; Ac 13:3; 14:23; 1Co 7:3-5 The motivation here is similar to that in abstaining from food.

Fasting and worship

Ac 13:2 See also Lk 2:37

Seal, D., & Whitcomb, K. A. (2016). Fasting. In J. D. Barry, D. Bomar, D. R. Brown, R. Klippenstein, D. Mangum, C. Sinclair Wolcott, … W. Widder (Eds.), The Lexham Bible Dictionary. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.
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