Theme: Fasting for spiritual results.
"Moreover, when you fast, be not as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head and wash thy face; That thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly."
The question is often asked, "What is the place of fasting in the Christians' life?" The purpose of this study is to answer this question and to bring understanding as to what Biblical fasting is about.
Fasting Has A History To It.
The Jewish fasting custom was similar. It lasted from dawn till sunset. Outside that time normal meals could be eaten. For the Jew, there was only one compulsory fast; the fast on the Day of Atonement. On that day, from morning to evening all men had to "afflict themselves" (fast) Lev. 16:31.
Later, owing to certain national emergencies, the people themselves appointed certain additional fasts. There was a fast connected with mourning. Between the time of death and the burial, mourners must abstain from all flesh and wine. There were many cases of fasting as an act of national penitence. Judges 20:26, the whole nation fasted after the disaster of the Civil War with Benjamin.I Sam. 7:6, Samuel made the people fast because they had strayed away after Baal. Neh. 9:1, Nehemiah made the people fast and confess their sins. Again and again the nation fasted as a sign of National penitence before God.
Sometimes fasting was a preparation for revelation. Moses, on the mountain, fasted for 40 days and 40 nights (Ex. 24:15). Daniel fasted as he awaited God's answer to his prayer (Dan. 9:3).
Sometimes fasting was an appeal to God. For instance, the rains failed and the harvest was in jeopardy, a national fast would be called as an appeal to God.
In Jewish fasting, there were really three main ideas in the minds of those fasting. Number one fasting was a deliberate attempt to draw the attention of God to the people who were fasting. Secondly, fasting was a deliberate attempt to prove that penitence was real. Fasting was the person's guarantee of the sincerity of their words and prayers. Thirdly, a great deal of fasting was vicarious. It was not designed to save a man's soul so much as to move God to liberate a nation from its distresses.
In the time period between Malachi and Jesus there arose a religious group called the Pharisees. They became the self appointed keepers of the law of God and even added a few small addendums to it. The Pharisees practiced fasting. They made it a point to fast twice a week although they were never commanded to do so by God. But they did fast and made it a vital part of their religion every Monday and Thursday. Many Pharisees flaunted their fasting wanting people to admire their piety. The actions of the Pharisees motivated Jesus to speak Matthew 6: 16-18.