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  • Writer's pictureRob

The Hundred-Fifty-Eighth (Fasting)

A couple weeks ago, when we were looking at what it means to be a disciple, we saw that part of it includes fasting. We didn't get into any detail, but the topic warrants a study in order to make sense of what fasting is biblically and what it is used for. The goal is to have a better understanding and how we can incorporate it into our discipleship of Yeshua.

If you don't recall, we came upon fasting in terms of discipleship when we saw that Yeshua addressed it as a response to some of John's disciples. Specifically, they wondered why the Pharisees and John's disciples fasted but His disciples don't (Matthew 9:14-15, Mark 2:18-19, Luke 5:33-35). Yeshua's response was another reference to His parable theme of the Jewish wedding. In this case, His disciples are guests of the bridegroom (Him), and because He is present, they cannot fast. However, once He leaves, by His death and resurrection, they will fast.

Now, there could be two meanings here. The first is one we will only touch on: He was referring to the spiritual aspect. He is the bread and wine of the covenant (John 6:35, Matthew 26:26-28, Mark 14:22-24, Luke 22:19-20), which means when He died and rose the disciples no longer had access to that food. Essentially, all disciples from His death to His return are fasting spiritually in this way.

The second meaning is a physical fasting. To understand this meaning, we need to take a look at fasting in scripture. When we do, we will find out why fasting was performed and why the disciples didn't fast while Yeshua was with them..

Looking at fasting in scripture, we find out that it was done for various reasons. If you search for the various forms of the word "fast" (fast, fasted, fasting, etc.), there are actually a couple of instances where this word was used but it actually just meant that the individual went hungry, vice purposely fasting. This is indicated by using a different word in the original language. The first instance is when King Darius went hungry out of grief after throwing Daniel into the lion's den (Daniel 6:18). The other instance is when Paul's shipmates went hungry out of worry during their maritime crisis (Acts 27:33).

For the other uses of the words we see that in many cases, fasting was done as a means of petitioning for something. The very first time we see fasting it involves every tribe of Israel except Benjamin and they had just suffered heavy losses as a result of multiple attacks on the tribe of Benjamin (Judges 20:26). These attacks were YHWH directed and a total of 40,000 Israelites were killed. Each time, they asked YHWH if they should continue, and after the second attack, they fasted when they asked. The answer was that He would give them victory the next time they attacked.

In this case, the Israelites fasted in conjunction with giving offerings to YHWH. They lost a tenth of the army they gathered to fight, and as you can imagine, they were likely thankful it wasn't more as well as wondering whether or not what they were doing was the right course of action. Their fasting was to show their dedication to YHWH's will, whatever it may be, and based on their inquiry they were willing to take their losses and go home if that's what He commanded.

In another example, fasting is performed as a part of atoning for sins. When the Israelites returned to YHWH under Samuel, he had them gather at a place in Israel called Mizpah and prayed to YHWH on their behalf (1 Samuel 7:5). This was after they put away their idols; and the Hebrew word used for "put away" was more than just putting those things in a closet somewhere. It was more of a repentance from, or turning away from, those devices and getting rid of them. When they gathered, one of the things they did was fast because of their sins (1 Samuel 7:6).

Along those same lines, fasting is also used as a part of the process of repentance. A judgment was prophesied and one of the actions called for was a fast in conjunction with repentance (Joel 1:14). In a more well-known example, the Ninevites fasted after hearing Jonah's prophecy from YHWH about judgment that would come upon them (Jonah 3:5). We also see that this is commanded by YHWH as a part of turning to Him (Joel 2:12) before the Day of the Lord comes.

While fasting is also a part of the mourning process (Esther 4:3, Nehemiah 9:1, 1 Samuel 31:13, 2 Samuel 1:12, 1 Chronicles 10:12, Nehemiah 1:4), it is also done preemptively in hopes of a good outcome. Before going to see the king, an action that had the potential to result in death, Esther had all the Jews and her and her maidens fast for three days and nights (Esther 4:16). In general though, what is a common theme of all these reasons for fasting?

If you look across all these situations, they all involve a humbling of the individual or of the group as a whole. In fact, in some ways the humbling of the group is a far more significant event than any one person's fast. I'm sure you have tried to work in a group before and have found out how difficult it is to get even a small group to agree on something, let alone something that would affect them adversely. Yet we find that somehow all Ninevites, all Jews, and all Israelites in general agreed to fast together, and sometimes for multiple days! Can you imagine trying to do that in today's PSL society?! (If you are lost by that reference, it refers to the Pumpkin Spice Latte frenzy that many go into around this time of year!)

The idea of humbling by fasting is confirmed by scripture (Psalm 35:13) and is also a way to approach YHWH after you have committed a transgression (Daniel 9:3). In the case of Daniel, he asked for a reprieve from the judgment declared by YHWH for the transgression (Daniel 9:16) and it was not granted despite his fasting. In the case of Ninevah, the judgment was stayed as a result of their fasting. This may seem like a double standard, but not only did all of the Ninevites fast, for Daniel's situation there was no option provided by YHWH to repent and avoid the judgment like He gave Ninevah. The captivity of Daniel and his people people was going to be carried out regardless. Daniel's fasting was responded to with a visit by Gabriel and his message of a new prophecy though (Daniel 9:20-21). Approaching YHWH with fasting is a way to implore a response from a Heavenly Father, so when Yeshua was with the disciples this sort of action was not necessary as He was there in person to interact with.

As we can see, there are multiple situations where we should fast. In general, this act is a matter of humbling ones self, and personally I think there is something connected spiritually with this physical action as well. The way I think about it is if our spirits are connected to our flesh in some way (and it has to be if we can walk according to the flesh (2 Corinthians 10:3) or to the spirit (Galatians 5:16)), and we satisfy our flesh with what it desires, like food, it's harder for us to hear and know what the spirit is telling us. It's harder for us to be led by the spirit. I don't have scripture to tell me this, so whether or not it's true I can't say for sure. But regardless, we can see with all the scripture we have on fasting that it's a very important part of our discipleship and our relationship with YHWH!

Shabbat shalom and YHWH bless you!

-Rob and Sara Gene

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