Fasting in the Bible
Fasting has largely vanished from the Christian church …
… and Most Christians don’t realize that fasting should be a regular part of the Christian diet, kind of like prayer or studying God’s Word.
So I’d like to look at 3 different examples of fasting in the Bible, including Esther, Daniel, and Jesus Himself.
& In so doing, we’ll also take a peripheral look at others who fasted in the Bible …
… such as Cornelius the Roman convert, also the people of Nineveh, and some instructions from the apostle Paul.
& I’ve selected both Old & New Testament passages, because many Christians are under the false impression that fasting was a practice restricted to OT Saints alone & no longer applies today.
… but the truth is, fasting should continue being a regular part of the Christian life, until the time that Jesus returns!
When the disciples of John the Baptist asked Jesus why His disciples didn’t fast, Jesus responded in Matthew 9:15:
“Can the children of the bridechamber mourn, as long as the bridegroom is with them? but the days will come, when the bridegroom shall be taken from them, and then shall they fast.”
Jesus is saying that as long as He’s not physically present with us on earth, Christians should continue fasting.
Jesus felt it was important enough to address fasting, alongside the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6:16-18:
16 Moreover when ye fast [noticed Jesus said WHEN, not IF], 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.
17 But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face;
18 That thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret: and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly.
Not only does this show that fasting will continue under the new covenant, but Jesus said that fasting is to be done in secret.
We’re not to sound the trumpet before us & announce that we’re fasting in order to impress men.
We also see that Jesus promises that there is a reward to be had when we fast; God will openly reward us, when fasting is done sincerely.
FASTING, in its most rudimentary form, is for the purpose of disciplining the flesh & placing it in subjection to the spirit …
… so that we can attune ourselves to the things of God.
Paul said in 1 Corinthians 9:27: “But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection …”
Fasting humbles us & reminds us of our dependence upon God …
& as we humble ourselves, God rewards us with skill, wisdom, knowledge, understanding, & favor!
Proverbs 11:2 says: “When pride cometh, then cometh shame: but with the lowly is wisdom.”
There are even certain obstacles in our lives that have turned into strongholds for the flesh or the devil …
… And these strongholds can only be vanquished through the power of prayer & fasting!
There are times … when PRAYER alone will not work!
Look at Matthew 17:14-21
But amazingly, this isn’t even being taught in most churches!
• ONE OF THE REASONS THAT FASTING is not emphasized in most Christian churches is that …
… MODERN BIBLE VERSIONS almost completely remove fasting from the Bible!
In the NIV, the NLT, & the ESV, Matthew 17:21 on prayer and fasting is COMPLETELY REMOVED!
They don’t just change the wording! They REMOVE MATTHEW 17:21 completely!
• I have here a side-by-side KJV/NIV version …
& that’s not the only time FASTING is removed from corrupt MODERN BIBLE VERSIONS.
In 1 Corinthians 7:5 (KJV), Paul instructs married couples: “Defraud ye not one the other, except it be with consent for a time, that ye may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again, that Satan tempt you not for your incontinency.”
• So there’s clear instruction from Paul that we are supposed to set aside specific time for fasting!
But here’s the NIV: “Do not deprive each other except perhaps by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer.”
• FASTING is COMPLETELY REMOVED.
The ESV, the NLT, & the NASB do the same thing!
And this is no accident!
It’s a deliberate, Satanic attack on CHRISTIAN FASTING.
SATAN understands that there is POWER IN FASTING and has deliberately REMOVED FASTING from modern Bible versions.
That alone should tell you how important fasting is!
Modern versions also do the same with 2 Corinthians 6:5 and 2 Corinthains 11:27, by changing the word “fasting” to “hunger”.
Acts 10:30 is also changed.
This is when Peter encounters a Roman man named Cornelius who after fasting, prayer, and giving of alms, has an angelic encounter that leads to his salvation!
Acts 10:30 KJV: “And Cornelius said, Four days ago I was fasting until this hour; and at the ninth hour I prayed in my house, and, behold, a man stood before me in bright clothing,
Modern Versions read: “Cornelius answered: ‘Three days ago I was in my house praying at this hour, at three in the afternoon. Suddenly a man in shining clothes stood before me’”
Not only is fasting removed from the verse, but the NIV doesn’t even get the # of days right. It says “3 days ago” instead of “4 days ago”.
• So there are 3 particular people in the Bible that I’d like to mainly focus on today: Esther, Daniel, & Jesus
LET’S START WITH ESTHER. Turn to ESTHER, chapter 4.
Esther had become the Queen of Persia to King Ahuseurus.
And Haman, the chief of the king’s princes plotted to kill Mordecai, Esther’s cousin, because Mordecai would not bow down in reverence to Haman.
In retaliation, Haman plotted to kill all the Jews in the king’s provinces.
So everywhere that this decree went, the Jews’ immediate reaction was to fast in sackcloth & ashes and call upon the name of the Lord!
SACKCLOTH & ASHES in the Bible is a sign of great affliction.
It’s associated with deep mourning, wailing, & lamentation.
Nehemiah 1:4 (just to give you an example of this), says: “And it came to pass, when I heard these words, that I sat down and wept, and mourned certain days, and fasted, and prayed before the God of heaven” …
So Nehemiah, fasted, and mourned, and called on God!
Even the 2 Witnesses in the Book of Revelation, chapter 11, will wear sackcloth as a sign of death & judgment which will come upon the world!
So FASTING often accompanies chastening & affliction of the soul.
Psalm 69:10 says: “… I wept, and chastened my soul with fasting …”
• Fasting can also accompany repentance.
In the Book of Jonah, after Jonah preaches judgment against the Ninevites, the King of Nineveh proclaims a fast throughout the land …
… in order to prove to God that his repentance was sincere.
5 So the people of Nineveh believed God, and proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least of them.
6 For word came unto the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, and he laid his robe from him, and covered him with sackcloth, and sat in ashes.
7 And he caused it to be proclaimed and published through Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles, saying, Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste any thing: let them not feed, nor drink water:
8 But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily unto God: yea, let them turn every one from his evil way, and from the violence that is in their hands.
The Ninevites believed Jonah’s prophecy & responded by fasting & praying …
… and afflicting their souls in hopes that God would relent.
And God did. God repented from destroying the city of Ninevah.
• Esther, Mordecai, and the Jews reacted in a similar way.
Even though it was not judgment from God that they faced, but the actions of 1 wicked man,
Esther and the Jews ultimately knew that their fate was in the hands of God alone, and they humbled themselves with fasting and prayer.
Now, Esther’s role was to intercede on behalf of her people.
But Esther had only 1 requirement before she would seek the king’s favor!
Look at ESTHER 4:16
She required that all the Jews fast for 3 DAYS & 3 NIGHTS before she would take any action.
And Esther obtained FAVOR from God. That was the result of their 3 day fast!
This was corporate fasting, and can be very powerful!
LOOK @ ESTHER 5:1-3
Esther obtained the FAVOR she needed with the king …
even to the HALF OF HIS KINGDOM!
King Ahasuerus elevated her to equal dominion with himself …
… and Esther used that influence over the king to rescue her people from complete & total annihilation.
Through Esther’s example, we see that FASTING has the potential of releasing GOD’S FAVOR upon us …
… with both God and man.
Psalm 5:12 says: “For thou, LORD, wilt bless the righteous; with favour wilt thou compass him as with a shield.”
LET’S LOOK NEXT AT DANIEL. Turn to Daniel, Chapter 1.
The life of Daniel is amazing, especially when you look at the span of his whole life.
Daniel was taken captive as a teenager during the Babylonian siege of Jerusalem (around age 15) …
… and he saw the rise of 3 separate kingdoms, before returning again freely to Jerusalem.
He witnessed not only the Babylonian captivity of Israel, but also the fall of Babylon to the Persians.
And in Daniel chapter 1, during the reign of Nebuchadnezzar, when he was first taken captive …
… Daniel refused to eat the meat & the wine from the king’s table, so as not to defile himself.
DANIEL, CHAPTER 1:5, 8.
So anything that came from the king’s table, whether meat or drink, Daniel considered a defilement to his pure devotion to God.
Daniel may have had Proverbs 23:1-3 in mind:
1 When thou sittest to eat with a ruler, consider diligently what is before thee:
2 And put a knife to thy throat, if thou be a man given to appetite.
3 Be not desirous of his dainties: for they are deceitful meat.
What is PULSE?
These are beans, peas, & seeds that grow in pods …
It may also include uncooked wheat, barley, and grains.
So Daniel was pretty much on a raw, vegan-diet …
LOOK @ VERSES 14-20
The result of Daniel fasting from the King’s delicacies, resulted in favor with both God and men …
So we see a pattern being set in the Bible:
FASTING BRINGS US INTO FAVOR with God & man.
For Daniel, it also brought an increase of knowledge, skill, & wisdom … visions and dreams … and even improved physical health.
FASTING is not only spiritually beneficial, but also physically beneficial.
But don’t just fast to shed a few pounds … that’s not the point …
But a by-product of fasting is that it gives your digestive system rest & flushes your body of toxins.
Scientific studies have even shown that slightly longer fasts of between 2-4 days reboot your immune system, clearing out old immune cells and regenerating new ones.
It’s reported that fasting can even lower your blood sugar &and cholesterol.
So while it shouldn’t be your primary reason for fasting, there are real health benefits to fasting also.
• TURN TO DANIEL 9:1-5 (this is Daniel’s 2nd recorded fast in the Bible).
(& Daniel continues for about 10 verses describing in great detail the level of Israel’s sin).
& Through his reading of the prophet Jeremiah, Daniel understands that the time of the Jews’ captivity is about to end …
… and knowing that his people had been taken captive in the 1st place … because of their sin & idolatry …
… Daniel, much like Esther & Mordecai, & even the Ninevites …
fasts … in sackcloth and ashes, as a genuine display of repentance & mourning on behalf of his nation.
So, again, we see FASTING as a method of afflicting the soul in order to align ourselves with the perfect will of God.
Fasting causes a paradigm shift in the soul!
Our focus shifts from the flesh & the world to God & HIS WILL!
In Psalm 35:13, we read: “… my clothing was sackcloth: I humbled my soul with fasting …”
That’s the KJV dictionary at work: “I humbled my soul with fasting …”
Fasting, then, is a sign of humility before God.
It’s also a way to cleanse and purify the soul.
James 4:8-10 says:
8 Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded.
9 Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep: let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to heaviness.
10 Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up.
And that’s exactly what Daniel was doing on behalf of His people.
And then comes God’s answer.
READ DANIEL 9:20-23
Daniel has his BREAKTHROUGH in the form of an angelic visitation, by the angel Gabriel himself, only 1 of 2 angels actually named in the Bible.
So we see here, again, a supernatural, angelic visitation:
Cornelius the Roman convert & now Daniel.
& Gabriel reveals to him that he’s going to receive knowledge & understanding about the coming of the Messiah coming …
& also about End-Times events!
READ DANIEL 9:25-27
Applying this to us today, fasting brings revelation, knowledge, skill, and understanding in the Spirit.
• LET’S LOOK @ DANIEL’s 3rd recorded fast in the Bible.
• TURN TO DANIEL 10.
READ DANIEL 10:1-3
This is Daniel’s well-known & popularized 21-day fast …
Daniel says he ate “no pleasant bread”, no meat, and no wine …
… and he also abstained from anointing himself with oil.
So, basically, this was a fast of all delicacies and pleasant things, meats, bread, wine …
& It likely would have been a simple diet of grains, rice, beans, fruits, & vegetables or perhaps it was his pulse diet again.
But unlike the traditional fast of abstaining from all food, which typically lasts 1-3 days …
… Daniel’s 3-week fast reveals that there are partial-fasts which are legitimately also included in the Bible …
But these are going to be longer in duration.
• After fasting for 3-weeks, Daniel has another vision & another angelic encounter.
This time, from an unnamed angel, who requires the help of Michael, the archangel, in order to come to Daniel.
LOOK @ DANIEL 10:11-14
First, it’s eye-opening that an angel of God could be restrained by demons.
But when you think about it, The Bible says that Satan is the “god” of this world (with a small g) …
… and there are principalities & powers of the air which rule various kingdoms of the earth …
So Michael, the only other angel mentioned in the Bible, comes to his aid.
Second, it’s amazing that God heard Daniel’s petition the moment that he started fasting and praying.
God heard his prayer in totality, from beginning to end, the moment Daniel started praying & fasting!
& The Angel imparts special revelation of End-Times events to Daniel.
So, again, we can expect to receive an impartation of knowledge & wisdom by the Spirit of God, when we fast, even dreams & visions.
Now, while I believe that general revelation is complete (as in there is no more Scripture to be written), there is no more doctrine to be revealed …
The Bible is complete …
But God continues, by His Spirit, to pour out personal revelation & knowledge to faithful Saints who dedicate themselves to regular & habitual prayer & fasting, & study of God’s Word.
Let’s look to our final and greatest example of fasting in the Bible, JESUS HIMSELF.
There are 2 major events that define the preparation of Jesus’ public ministry:
(1) First, He was baptized by John in the Jordan river.
(2) Next, He fasted for 40 days & 40 nights in preparation of being tempted by the devil.
And this 40-day fast, prepares Him for the 3-year ministry that follows.
Jesus immediately appeals to the Word of God instead of the physical bread that sustains his human flesh.
In other words, as we should do, He places the flesh in subjection to the Spirit.
Jesus was not ruled by his flesh.
He didn’t have the sinful nature, being conceived as God in the flesh, by the Holy Spirit.
Job’s spoke similar words in Job 23:12: “I have esteemed the words of his mouth more than my necessary food.”
This is a direct parallel to Jesus’ response to the devil.
Now, Several questions are raised in regards to Jesus’ 40 day fast.
Some people wonder whether Jesus fasted from food alone or from both food & water.
But it’s clear that Jesus fasted only from food and did drink water during His 40 day fast.
• There’s multiple reasons why I believe this.
FIRST, in v. 2 the Bible says that after His fast, Jesus “was afterward an hungered”.
It doesn’t say that he was thirsty, but that he was hungry.
LUKE 4:2 expands on this. The Bible says of Jesus: “Being forty days tempted of the devil. And in those days he did eat nothing: and when they were ended, he afterward hungered.”
It doesn’t say He didn’t eat or drink anything.
It specifically says, that he didn’t eat anything.
By contrast, we have examples like Moses & Elijah, where the Bible specifically says that they didn’t eat or drink anything during their fasts.
The Bible is very specific, it’s making a clear distinction here.
Every indication Scripturally is that Jesus did in fact drink water during His fast.
And here’s the reason why it’s important: Jesus is not only fully God, but also fully man.
He isn’t half-God & half-man, which would make Him a demi-god.
Jesus is God in every way. And Man in every way.
And as fully man, He was limited by the same human conditions which place limits on us.
Jesus was bound by the natural laws that God put into place, except when those natural laws were broken, supernaturally.
And the reason why I don’t believe that happened during Jesus’ fast … is because
Jesus felt all of the pain and the hunger and the physical anguish that we feel as men.
When He was whipped by the Romans, He felt the sting of the lash.
When He had nails driven into his hands and in his feet, He felt the piercing anguish in his flesh & nerves.
When He was crucified, He experienced the same physical torment that any man would have experienced, under such conditions.
And Typically, humans cannot go without water for more than 3-4 days …
So in order to believe that Jesus fasted 40 days & nights without food and water …
… that would mean that God would have had to supernaturally sustain Him …
But there’s no evidence of that in Scripture.
If God had supernaturally sustained Jesus during His fast, it would not only the diminish hardship & enormity of a 40-day fast …
… but it would undermine His humanity.
Further, it would mean that Jesus would not be able to fully sympathize with our human weaknesses.
Hebrews 4:15: “For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.”
Now, should we fast for 40 days?
Christ is our example in all things, but does that mean that we should all fast for 40 days and 40 nights?
Paul said in 1 Corinthians 11:1: “Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ.”
And there are other similar passages, but none of these passages speak directly about imitating Christ in every single act …
And there is also no record in Scripture of Paul or any of the apostles themselves ever fasting for 40 days.
Now, maybe they did it in secret.
But as far as Scripture is concerned, this was a unique fast limited to 3 people in the Bible: JESUS, MOSES, & ELIJAH.
Now I have known people personally who have FASTED FOR 40 DAYS and 40 NIGHTS!
And there are testimonials of people online who have fasted for 40 days …
But there’re also reports of Christians who try to imitate Jesus’ 40 day fast, and end up dying!
So, it is not something to do lightly.
Make sure you are physically and medically up to it & that it is Spirit-led.
• AND IN ANY FAST, whether 1 day fast or a forty day 40 fast, my recommendation is to drink a lot of water, unless you’re fasting from water too.
Which we have examples of in shorter fasts …
Other practical tips that I can give you …. Is to pick a day when you can dedicate yourself to prayer and to seeking God.
Also, forgo the temptation to gorge yourself right before or right after a fast.
IN CONCLUSION, Ultimately, every case of fasting in the Bible, including Jesus Himself sets an enample for us to continue fasting as Christians.
When Jesus’ disciples were concerned that Jesus had not eaten anything in John 4:34: “Jesus saith unto them, My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work.”
He said in Matthew 5:6: “Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.”
Through prayer and fasting we are able to create that hunger and that thirst.
And as we humble ourselves through fasting, we discipline the flesh and God bestows on us skill, wisdom, knowledge, understanding, and favor.
Psalm 34:8 says: “O taste and see that the LORD is good: blessed is the man that trusteth in him.”
So let me encourage you today to fast individually and as a church.
Let’s start fasting. Let’s make it a regular habit!
When we fast, God opens the door to supernatural blessings, even dreams and visions from His throneroom!
When the prophets and teachers at the church of Antioch, in Acts 13, prayed and fasted, the Holy Spirit spoke to them and directed their paths.
2 As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them.
3 And when they had fasted and prayed, and laid their hands on them, they sent them away.
4 So they, being sent forth by the Holy Ghost, departed unto Seleucia; and from thence they sailed to Cyprus.
This was all preceded by fasting!
Finally, Romans 12:1-2:
1 I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.
2 And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.