Fasting in the Bible

“The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them.” – Albert Einstein

“This world can no longer be left to mere diplomats, politicians and business leaders. They have done the best they could, no doubt. But this is an age for spiritual heroes – a time for men and women to be heroic in faith and in spiritual character and power.” Dallas Willard

Einstein spoke of thought, and diplomats, politicians and business leaders are generally intelligent people. But Willard wrote of thought and far more, because mere thought is not enough to rescue mankind from himself. In The Spirit of the Disciplines – Understanding How God Changes Lives, he was speaking of the sorry state in which we find the world today and how restoration can only be found in spiritual renewal. His book is a powerful survey of practices of world-changing Christians throughout history. Richard Foster writing in the Christian classic Celebration of Discipline – the Path to Spiritual Growth, also discussed these practices. The lists of spiritual disciplines are as follows:

Willard Foster
Disciplines of Abstinence Disciplines of Engagement The Inward Disciplines The Outward Disciplines The Corporate Disciplines
Solitude Study Meditation Simplicity Confession
Silence Worship Prayer Solitude Worship
Fasting Celebration Fasting Submission Guidance
Frugality Service Study Service Celebration
Chastity Prayer
Secrecy Fellowship
Sacrifice Confession
Submission

Many, and some would argue all, of these disciplines are not confined to Christians. Plato, Socrates and Aristotle fasted as did Zoroaster and Confucius. Muslims and Jews and many others pray. The difference between the Christian practice of these spiritual disciplines and the practices of the same actions by non-believers is the presence and activity of the Spirit of God within believers (John 16:5-15).

Due to the abuse of spiritual disciplines in the Middle Ages, often associated with groups such as the Flagellants, the use of such practices declined after the Reformation. There is no example in the Bible of self-torment as a route to personal holiness and service to the Lord. When Bible personalities denied themselves, for example, when Ezekiel was told to lie on his side for 390 days (Ezekiel 4:4-8), it was always to advance the work of God.
In Corinthians, Paul wrote “The kingdom of God does not consist in words, but in power.” Nonetheless, sometimes it seems like there is little power in the Church today. Believers who transform cultures like St. Paul, Saint Boniface, John Knox, and George Whitfield seem to be people of the past. Against the onslaught of postmodern thought and the march of secularism, the church, at least in the West, seems vulnerable.

Ultimately, Christians need have no fear of the future because Jesus Christ is the Lord of the future and His church will prevail (Matthew 16:13-20). However, the world desperately needs men and women with the power that only the Holy Spirit provides. The spiritual disciplines can help ordinary people gain such spiritual power and be used extraordinarily by the Lord. This paper describes the discipline of fasting.

Fasting, or really denying ourselves anything, is nearly unheard of in the modern world. Why would anyone deny themselves of anything if they don’t have to? If we are the center of the universe, why restrain anything? Among people who riot at the very mention of austerity, demand their “rights” even at the expense of the lives of others, and who spend themselves into debt oblivion, self denial is not only inexplicable but perhaps even evil.
Nonetheless, we are not the center of the universe, and we must remind ourselves of this fact while coming into better communion with the One who is. Fasting is a good place to start.

Fasting in the Old Testament

Fasting is one of these disciplines and was important part of service to God in the Old Testament. The following table summarizes information about fasting in the Old Testament.

Topic Citation Notes

The Command to Fast

The Day of Atonement (10th day of 7th month) Leviticus 16:29-31, 23:26-32, Numbers 29:7 The phrase translated “humble your souls” in the NASB and “afflict your souls” in the KJV uses the phrase ענה `anah נפש nephesh.  The idea is to bow yourself down and deny yourself of normal things, such as happens when you fast.
National repentance Jeremiah 36:4-8 Jeremiah commanded the people to hear the Law and fast for repentance of sin.

Length of Fasts

One day Judges 20:26, 1 Samuel 14:24, 2 Samuel 1:12, 3:35 Sunrise to sunset (like Muslims do at Ramadan)
One night Daniel 6:18 King Darius ate nothing while Daniel was in the lions’ den.
Three days Esther 4:16
Seven days 1 Samuel 31:13, 1 Chronicles 10:122 Samuel 12:16-18 The death of Saul and his sons, also David’s fasting for his sick newborn.
Forty days Exodus 34:28 Deuteronomy 9:9 Moses and Elijah

What is Fasting?

Partial Daniel 10:2-3 Daniel restricting certain types of food and drink to seek the Lord.
Normal Abstaining from all food but drinking water
Absolute Jonah 3:5-10Esther 4:6Deuteronomy 9:9

1 Kings 19:8

No food or water.  This is physiologically impossible for more than three days.  Such 40 day, absolute fasts as Moses and (and maybe Elijah) did must have been miracles.

Prayer and Fasting for Forgiveness

One man for himself 1 Kings 21:17-29 Even the weak King Ahab, incited by his evil wife Jezebel, humbled himself before God and received a blessing.
One man for the sins of others Deuteronomy 9:15-18 When Moses saw the Israelites worshipping the golden calf, he denied himself, humbled himself, as he interceded for them before God.
One man for the sins of others Daniel 9:3-5 Daniel humbled himself and confessed the sins of His people.
A city for itself Jonah 3:4-10 Ninevah prayed and fasted for forgiveness at the preaching of Jonah
People for themselves Nehemiah 9:1-3 After the wall of Jerusalem was rebuilt, the Feast of Tabernacles was reinstituted.  As part of the ceremony, the Law was read and the people repented of their sin.
To avert God’s judgment Joel 1:14, 2:12- 15 Humble yourselves to return to the Lord.

Fasting in the Old Testament (continued)

Topic Citation Notes

Prayer and Fasting for Victory in War

Civil War in Israel Judges 20:26 The tribe of Benjamin was defeating the other tribes in war.  The others humbled themselves in fasting and prayer and the Lord answered, destroying Benjamin for their sin regarding the Levite’s concubine (Judges 19).
Battle of Mizpah 1 Samuel 7:6 The Philistines were threatening Israel at Mizpah.  The people were terrified so they prayed and fasted, confessing their sins.  God gave them a great victory.
Judah against Moab/Ammon 1 Chronicles 20:1-25 Moab and Ammon invaded Judah and King Jehoshaphat proclaimed a nationwide fast to seek the Lord.

Prayer and Fasting to Mourn the Death of Others

The Death of Saul and Jonathan 1 Samuel 31:132 Samuel 1:12 1 Chronicles 10:12 David, his followers, and the people of Jabesh Gilead mourned the deaths.

Prayer and Fasting for the Healing of Others

The illness of David’s son 2 Samuel 12:16-23 The child of David’s adultery was perishing and David sought the Lord for his life.
Interceding for others’ health Psalm 35:11-13 David prayed and fasted for the healing of his enemies

Prayer and Fasting for Help

Journeys Ezra 8:21 Ezra proclaimed a fast for all of the people traveling with him back to Judah after the Exile in Babylon
Homeland Nehemiah 1:4 Nehemiah fasted and prayed several days to mourn his destroyed homeland and get guidance on what to do about it.
Deliverance Esther 4:3 The Persian king had decreed the extermination of the Jews.  They fasted to be saved.
Personal protection Esther 4:16 Esther, her maidens, and Mordecai and the Jews in Susa prayed that Esther would be favorably received by the king.
Personal protection Psalm 69:10Psalm 109:24 David humbled himself with fasting to be delivered from his adversaries.

Prayer and Fasting to Commemorate Important Events

Siege of Jerusalem 2 Kings 25:1 The 10th day of the 10th month – the beginning of the final siege of Jerusalem by the Babylonians.
Fall of Jerusalem 2 Kings 25:3-4 The 9th day of the 4th month – the fall of Jerusalem to the armies of Babylon.
Political assassination 2 Kings 25:23-25Jeremiah 41:1-3 The 2nd day of the 7th month – the assassination of Gedeliah
Jeremiah 52:12-13 The 10th day of the 5th month – the burning of the Temple.
Feast of Purim Esther 9:31 The 14th day of the 12th month – the deliverance from the destruction planned by Haman.

Limitations of Prayer and Fasting

Prayer Psalm 66:18 God will not hear a prayer from a heart that hides sin.
Fasting Isaiah 58:1-12 Fasting with injustice and an unrighteous heart has no good effect.
Ceremonial fasting Zechariah 7:1-14 The ceremonial fasts that the Hebrews instituted were not of God but of themselves.  The Lord wants righteousness, not empty ceremony (Psalm 51:16-17).

Fasting was not to be done simply for its own sake, but in accordance with prayer and the other spiritual disciplines to accomplish some important work in obedience to God. Prayer usually accompanied fasting as did the offering of sacrifices as taught in the Law of Moses.

Fasting in the New Testament

Fasting is less prominent in the New Testament but was still an important part of the spiritual practices of people such as Anna the Prophetess and the Apostle Paul. Even more, Jesus fasted.

Fasting was not to be done simply for its own sake, but in accordance with prayer and the other spiritual disciplines to accomplish some important work in obedience to God.  Prayer usually accompanied fasting as did the offering of sacrifices as taught in the Law of Moses.

Fasting in the New Testament

Fasting is less prominent in the New Testament but was still an important part of the spiritual practices of people such as Anna the Prophetess and the Apostle Paul.  Even more, Jesus fasted.

Topic Citation Notes
To become closer to the Father Matthew 4:1-9Luke 4:1-2 Jesus had no sin of which to repent and at this point no earthly enemies from which to be delivered.  This fasting was to prepare Him at the beginning of His earthly ministry.
To please the Father Matthew 6:16-18 Fasting humbly before the Lord and not to impress others pleases God and helps us to know Him better.
Done at the right time Luke 5:33-35 Jesus’ followers were to fast but only at the right time for the right reasons.
Fasting enhances the power of prayer Matthew 17:14-21Mark 9:14-29 Verse 21 in the Matthew passage is not found in some of the earliest and best manuscripts, but given all of the evidence, fasting probably enhances the effectiveness of prayer.
Seeking guidance on a call to missions Acts 13:1-3 The church at Antioch fasted and prayed to decide whom to send out as missionaries.
Seeking guidance on a call for elders Acts 14:21-23 The churches in the province of Galatia prayed and fasted for guidance from God on whom to appoint as elders for the churches.
Seeking to grow closer to God as a couple 1 Corinthians 7:5 Prayer and fasting are suggested while abstaining from marital relations.
Seeking a life close to the Lord Luke 2:36-38 Anna the prophetess made a life of seeking God in prayer and fasting

Having done a brief survey of fasting in the Bible, we realize that God’s people fasted to grow closer to Him through repentance of their sins. Once the relationship was restored, they fasted to gain some special blessing such as healing of the sick, protection from enemies or victory in war. They also fasted to remind themselves of past failures so that they would avoid such failures in the future.

Conclusion

God has called His people to put Him first in their lives, which is only logical since after all, He is God and therefore first in the universe. New thought is not enough to feed the hungry, heal the sick, and bring justice to the oppressed. New thought will not overcome selfish hearts and vengeful minds. As man accepts the reality that God is the center of existence, not him, he will begin to align himself with reality, rather than the fantasy that man is the measure of all things.

Christians do not engage in the spiritual disciplines to gain the power to change the world. Rather, they engage in the spiritual disciplines to know and love their Creator more. In so doing, however, they will gain knowledge of what is right and the power to do it. The world will be better. Einstein was right but incomplete. Willard is right and complete. Men and women filled with the Spirit and exhibiting the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23), gained by the work of the Spirit through the faithful practice of the spiritual disciplines, including fasting, will change the world.

Asking for a Sign from the Lord in Prayer

Is it OK to ask God for signs in prayer, like Gideon did long ago? If so, how do you do it? If not, how can you confirm God’s will?

“Fleece praying”, praying for God to provide a specific sign to confirm what He is commanding a person to do, is based on the story of Gideon, around 1100 BC (Judges 6:36-40).  The story does not condemn Gideon for asking for such a sign but Gideon’s request for a second sign was accompanied by a phrase, “do not let Thine anger burn against me”, that suggested that the Lord might be displeased with him.  The modern Christian must ask himself, “Is this what I should do in my prayers to the Lord, or not?”  We will examine the Bible to discover the answer to that question.

Deuteronomy 6:16 warned the Israelites “not to put the Lord their God to the test (נסה nacah – to test, put to the test, prove), as you tested Him at Massah.”  The story Moses referred to when writing this verse is found in Exodus 17.  The people of Israel, having repeatedly seen God work mighty miracles to save them from Pharaoh and provide them food and water, grumbled against Him when they camped, at His command, at Rephidim, a place without water.  They opposed their divinely appointed leader, Moses, and grumbled that he was going to kill them all through his negligence.  Moses commanded them not to test (נסה nacah) the Lord.

Continue reading “Asking for a Sign from the Lord in Prayer”

What Happens When a Person Dies?

A Christian perspective on what happens to a person’s spirit when they die. 

Our family enjoyed Christmas vacation 2011 in Cordova Alaska with my mother in law, Susan.  She serves in the Cordova Community Baptist Church, the place where her late husband Richard pastored for 25 years and her son John pastored for 10 years.  She is deeply loved and respected and provides Bible knowledge and compassion to the Christians there.  Many people recently have asked her “what happens when a person dies?” and she posed the question to me.  Operating from the Christian context and under the assumption of the reliability of the Bible as the word of God, I will address it.

The evidence of what happens after death is sparse in the Old Testament and more complete in the New Testament.  The first question is what is the nature of man?  Biologically it is clear that the body deteriorates after death and its elements are taken up to be used by other living organisms.  If humans are merely physical it is hard to deny the fact that after death we simply cease to exist.  There is no other option.  Some may argue that we are reincarnated, but reincarnation presupposes that there is something in us besides the matter and energy that forms our bodies.  If we are nothing more than the carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and other elements that are our building blocks, there is nothing to reincarnate.

If humans are a combination of physical and spiritual (material and immaterial) elements then while the body recycles to be used by another, the spiritual part either dies with the body or remains somewhere.

The Nature of Man – a hybrid of Material and Immaterial

Passage Notes
Genesis 2:7 God formed man out of the dust of the earth and breathed into him and he became a living soul (נפש nephesh – life, person, mind, living being).  This “breath of God” suggests that man has a non-material element
Job 32:8 There is a spirit (רוח ruwach – breath, wind, spirit) in man
Matthew 10:28 Do not fear him who can only kill the body but fear Him who can cast the soul into hell
Luke 1:46-47 In Mary’s Magnificat, she mentioned her soul (ψυχή psychē) and spirit (πνεῦμα pneuma)
Romans 8:16 The Spirit of God bears witness with our spirit
1 Thessalonians 5:23 Spirit (πνεῦμα pneuma), soul (ψυχή psychē) and body (σῶμα sōma) be preserved blameless
Hebrews 4:12 Word of God separates body and soul

The Old Testament passages suggest that the Hebrews seemed to have a vague concept of man having material and immaterial parts but saw man as essentially inseparable, with the body residing in Sheol (the grave) after death until it finally deteriorated into nothing.  Until late in the OT there is little concept of a bodily resurrection.  The fate of the immaterial part of man is not clear in the OT.  The New Testament Scriptures clearly describe the material and immaterial aspects of the man. Even the words of Jesus Himself teach that man has a body and a soul.

What Happens After Death

Passage Notes
Job 19:25-26 After my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh (בשר basar) I will see God
Psalm 16:9-11 God will not let His Holy One rot in the grave
Psalm 49:13-15 God will redeem His people from the realm of the dead
Isaiah 26:19 Your people have died but they will live again
Ezekiel 37:1-14 God took Ezekiel to the valley of dry bones and made the men live again.  This directly referred to the restoration of Israel but also implied the resurrection of the body.
Daniel 12:2 Many people who have already died will live again
Hosea 6:1-2 The people will be raised after two days.  This was also a prophecy of Christ.
Matthew 25:31-46 At the final judgment both the sheep and the goats will stand before God.
Mark 9:2-9 The Transfiguration
Luke 16:19-31 A rich man and a poor man (Lazarus) both die.  The rich man went to hell (ᾅδης hadēs) and saw Lazarus in heaven.
Luke 23:32-43 Jesus told the thief on the cross “Today you will be with Me in paradise.”
John 20, 21
1 Corinthians 15:12-58 One of the longest Bible passages on resurrection
2 Corinthians 5:8 To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord
Philippians 1:23 I desire to depart and be with Christ
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 The resurrection of the dead in rapture
Hebrews 9:27 It is appointed for a man once to die and then comes judgment

Both the Old and New Testament teach that the dead will be raised again, both the righteous and the unrighteous, but the NT teaching is much clearer.  The clearest proof that our bodies will be raised again is that Jesus’ body was raised again.  Therefore we may conclude that man is composed of both material and immaterial parts (body and spirit/soul).  He may have body, spirit and soul (three parts) but that question is not the focus of this work.  After the body dies it will eventually be reconstituted and raised again to eternal life, either with the Lord (which is Paradise) or without Him.  According to the Scriptures, reincarnation is not an option.

But what of the immaterial part of man?  Based on the Scriptures above we can be confident that the immaterial part of man is not destroyed with the body; it is immortal.  After physical death the immaterial part of each follower of Jesus goes immediately to be with the Lord and await the reunification with its body at the resurrection.  The immaterial part of those who do not know the Lord will be separated from the Lord and await the reunification with its body at the resurrection.  When the material and immaterial parts are reunited, each man will stand complete (body and spirit) before God to undergo judgment.  Those who accepted the Lord in this life will get their wish.  They will go into eternity with God. Those who rejected the Lord in this life will also get their wish.  They will go into eternity without Him.

One other note.  There seems to be a rumor circulating that people will be unrecognizable in heaven; therefore family members and spouses will not even know each other.  This is not biblical.  Peter recognized Moses and Elijah at the mount of the Transfiguration, the rich man recognized Lazarus and the disciples recognized Jesus after His resurrection.

Critical Methods and the Bible

Historical, literary, and form criticism can help us understand the Bible if we use them as tools and see ourselves as students, not judges.

Christians brought up believing that the Bible is not only a valid historical document but also the inspired and inerrant word of God may have a natural tendency towards disgust when they think about “higher criticism” of the Bible. “Higher” critics’ dissection of the Bible and search for the “Historical Jesus” seem to really have been an attack on the faith by godless men who in their vainglory thought that they were smarter than millions who had accepted the Bible for the previous 1900 years.  Looking through a paradigm of antisupernaturalism, Darwinism, mechanistic rationalism, and humanism, and knowing that these charlatans had derailed the Christian faith of many over the centuries, many may feel that these men who had caused so many to stumble would be better off having “milestones around their necks” and “being dropped into the depths of the sea.”

Continue reading “Critical Methods and the Bible”

Why Do a Good Exegesis of the Bible?

How do I learn how to understand the Bible? Why is it so important? Should non-Christians also work to understand the Bible correctly? 

Cherie, a highly trained professional, sat at the table in an Adult Sunday School class. We were discussing Samuel, and she mentioned what she thought was an important biblical truth about the passage. Was she said wasn’t true by biblical standards and others in the class were confused and troubled by her error.

A preacher used Hebrews 3:8 as his sermon text. After reading it briefly, he spent the next 30 minutes using pop psychology and faux-medicine to convince his parishioners that they shouldn’t harden their hearts. He never again referred to the Word of God, an eternal opportunity lost in the lives of his people.

Continue reading “Why Do a Good Exegesis of the Bible?”

Slavery in the Bible

Some people say that the Bible promotes slavery and other social evils. Others say that it does not. What does the Bible actually teach about slavery?

Introduction

Slavery has been a major institution in the world since the beginning of time. The most ancient documents we possess from Egypt and Mesopotamia refer to slavery in the third millennium before Christ. Almost every known people group has owned slaves. The Muslims had slave armies such as the Janissaries and Mamelukes. African tribes had slaves, as did the Pre-Columbian Indian empires and the peoples of East Asia. China abolished official slavery in 1910, and India officially abolished it under British suzerainty in 1843. The history of slavery in Europe and North America is well known. What is less appreciated is that American Indians and even some light-skinned blacks had slaves. Human Rights Watch estimated that in 2009, 28 million people were enslaved worldwide, a business worth $91 billion annually.

Slaves generally came from the following sources:
1. Prisoners of war – men were often killed but could be enslaved. Women and children were a problem. After war it was impractical to have thousands of women and children, often unable to support themselves in the Bronze Age, without having someone responsible for them. Therefore they were enslaved, a practice considered a humanitarian improvement on mass slaughter (Numbers 31, Deuteronomy 20:10-18).
2. Free parents with excessive debt could sell their children.
3. Children of slaves often automatically became slaves.
4. Children abandoned at birth could be collected and sold as slaves.
5. Slave traders captured free people, men, women and children, and sold them to others as slaves. This activity was punishable by death in Israel (Exodus 21:16).
6. Slaves could be bought and sold, or given as gifts or inheritance to others.

Continue reading “Slavery in the Bible”

Miracles in the Bible

What are miracles? Do miracles really happen? Read on to understand miracles in the Holy Scriptures.

The presence of “miracles” in the Bible has been a source of difficulty to both Christians and non-Christians alike since the Renaissance (14th to 17 centuries) and the Enlightenment (17th to 18th centuries), when some would say that medieval superstition gave way to a new birth of learning and culture and the age of reason.  Science and technology grew with breathtaking speed in the past several centuries and the explanations of reality provided by science seemed to discredit the beliefs of earlier years.  In our day, many have rejected belief in miracles and even the resurrection of Jesus Christ altogether.  Some hold that religion and science are mutually contradictory and in permanent enmity, or at least that they have nothing to do with one another.

What is a miracle?  Webster’s New World Dictionary, 2nd College Edition defines a miracle as “an event or action that apparently contradicts known scientific laws and hence is thought to be due to supernatural causes, i.e. an act of God.

Continue reading “Miracles in the Bible”