Do you fast?
People in the Bible definitely did.
What can we learn from the way they fasted?
We are going to have to work a bit. Drawing principles from examples is a little bit more difficult, than from straight up commands or instructions.
This is the third principle in our study of fasting, and maybe you are wishing you didn’t have to work so hard to understand what the Bible teaches about fasting, but you want the truth, I know, you want what you believe about fasting to be grounded in Scripture and that takes work sometimes, especially with fasting because there isn’t a whole lot of material, in terms of this is what you must do, there is some this is what you must not do, but mostly, it’s examples, and it takes some interpretive effort to draw principles from examples. It’s not impossible, it just means you have to ask yourself a couple of questions, like one, is this a good example, two, is this a bad example, or three, is this a unique example.
The reason I bring that up is because I tend to think there are a couple of occasions where we read examples of people fasting, and those examples are fairly unique in God’s great salvation plan.
The first of those is of course Moses. Moses is actually the first person in the Bible that we find fasting. And he was a serious faster, in that there are at least two times, some say three, where he fasted, went without food or water, for forty entire days.
In the book of Exodus, after God delivered His people, He met with them at the mountain, gave them His law and entered into a covenant with them, and afterwards, celebrated by calling Moses and the leaders of Israel to come up the mountain, and it says they saw the God of Israel, Exodus 34:11, “And he did not lay his hand on the chief men of the people of Israel, they beheld God, and ate and drank.”
After feasting with God, God called Moses to come up even further, and Moses went up, verse 15 tells us, “and the cloud covered the mountain. The glory of the Lord dwelt on Mount Sinai…Now the appearance of the glory of the Lord was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain in the sight of the people of Israel. Moses entered the cloud and went up on the mountain. And Moses was on the mountain for forty days and forty nights.”
Now it doesn’t say he didn’t eat there, so we can’t be dogmatic, but what happened, was that after spending this time with God, he came down and found the people sinning, breaking the covenant, and God came to Moses and told him, he was done pretty much done with Israel, and Moses pleaded with God, and God relented and renewed the covenant with Israel again, bringing Moses again into His presence, and during that time, Exodus 34:18 tells us, “he was there with the Lord for forty days and forty nights. He neither ate bread nor drank water. And he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant, the Ten Commandments.”
Because, he was mourning over Israel’s sin and pleading with God to forgive, and the reason I tell you all of that, is because it is obviously pretty unusual, all of that, for one thing, it’s impossible to go forty days without drinking water, unless there is a miracle going on, and so I just think we need to be careful when we talk about forty day fasts or something, it’s fine I suppose to fast for forty days if you want, but you can’t command it, because this particular example of the way Moses fasted is fairly unique, in terms of what is happening and the role Moses played.
There are only two other men it speaks of fasting that way in the Bible and that’s the prophet Elijah and Jesus and I think really the way they fasted, 40 days, 40 days, 40 days, is not so much there as hey we should fast forty days, you can if you want, but that’s not the point, the point has to do with the special part they were all playing in God’s great salvation plan. These were important men at important pivotal moments in God’s plan. There’s a reason for example that when Jesus was transfigured, it was Moses and Elijah who appeared to him. Moses was the middle man or mediator of the Old Covenant, Elijah was the first of the Old Testament prophets, and Jesus of course, the Son of God.
So again maybe this is too much information, but maybe not, because actually I saw a web-site this week, something like the 40 day miracle, where this is supposed to be the path towards spiritual transformation, and watch out for stuff like that, because that’s saying too much, you can do it and you might be helped by it, but not in the same way as Moses and Elijah and Jesus, because they were experiencing the sustaining power of God in a unique way for a unique reason that had to do with their part in God’s salvation plan.
On the other hand, while those are maybe not the best examples to use in terms of how we should fast, there are other examples in the Bible that are a little more obviously have to do with our everyday experience and as you look at those examples, the good ones at least, what you will see is that they are typically responses to distressing circumstances in which people were humbling themselves in order to earnestly seek after God.