Summary: #4 of 4 sermons on biblical fasting.

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A Practical Guide to Fasting (Part 2)


I. Where Does It Say, “Fast?”

A. Explicit commands

B. Expected conviction

II. Why Should I Fast?

III. When Should I Fast?

IV. How Do I Fast?

A. Types of fasts

B. Accompanying attitudes and actions

C. A strategy for successful fasting

V. Common Questions and Concerns


This morning we will conclude our series of messages on the subject of fasting. Last week I began a message entitled, A Practical Guide to Fasting. I will be picking up where we left off.

You may recall that I began the sermon last week by making some observations about how our culture views the importance of eating. I pointed out the fact that we are a society that revolves around eating. Because we have become so identified with food and eating, we have developed an aversion to the entire notion of fasting.

We then moved on to look at several different definitions of fasting. Among those definitions was my own: True fasting means to lay aside any pleasurable and/or vital activity for a period of time in order to intensely pursue God and know His mind with the intent of obeying His revealed will.

I ended the message by giving you numerous examples of people from the OT, NT, and throughout Church history right up to the present day that have and/or continue to practice fasting as a normal part of their walk with the Lord. And now we will pick up where we left off last week.

Where Does It Say, “Fast?”

The next question begging to be answered, and perhaps the one many of you are eager to have me answer, is, “Where?” Where does it say, “Fast?” Where are we commanded in the Bible to fast?

Explicit Commands

As I pointed out in the first sermon in this series, the only place in the Bible where God specifically commanded the people to observe a fast as a continual ordinance was in connection with the Day of Atonement. Let’s look at the three main passages in the OT: Leviticus 16:29-31; 23:27-29; Numbers 29:7.

If you were paying close attention, you probably noticed that there was no mention of the word fast in any of these verses. So how do we come up with the idea that God commanded the people to fast as a part of their observance on the Day of Atonement?

The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary states, “The word fasting (Heb. sûm) is not found in the Pentateuch but often occurs in the historical books (2 Samuel 12:16; 1 Kings 21:9-12; Ezra 8:21) and the prophets (Isaiah 58:3-5; Joel 11:14; Joel 2:15; Zech. 8:19; etc.). The expression used in the law is ‘humble your souls’ (Leviticus 16:29-31; Leviticus 23:27; Numbers 30:13), implying the sacrifice of the personal will, which gives to fasting all its value” (WS). If you have a NIV, you will notice that in these verses we are directed to a footnote with an alternate rendering for you must deny yourselves, which would read, you must fast.

Let’s take a look at a NT passage that lends credence to the fact that the Israelites understood God’s command to humble or deny themselves on the Day of Atonement to involve fasting. Turn with me to Acts 27:9. [Read] Every Bible commentator I could find agrees that the Fast mentioned here by Paul is a reference to the Day of Atonement. So while the word fast is not specifically used in connection with the Day of Atonement, it is nevertheless safe to conclude that God commanded the people to fast as a part of this celebration.

There are a number of instances in the OT where kings and other leaders called the people to observe various fasts in response to a crisis or as an act of humility and repentance before God. Examples would include Queen Esther (Esther 4:16), Ezra (Ezra 8:21-23), King Jehoiakim (Jeremiah 36:9) and the King of Nineveh (Jonah 3:7-10). In Zechariah 7:1-7 and 8:19, there is the mention of four annual fasts observed by the Jews to remember four key events related to the fall of Jerusalem.

But the only other place in the OT where God specifically called the people to a fast is found in the Book of Joel (1:14; 2:12-15). The purpose of this fast was for the people to return to the Lord and repent of their sinfulness. Therefore, based on the OT evidence, God only commanded the Israelites to observe a fast on the Day of Atonement as a lasting ordinance.

Expected Conviction

Turning to the NT, there are two key incidents in the life and ministry of Jesus that are significant to our investigation. The first is found in Matthew 6:17-18, which we looked at in detail two weeks ago. Please turn there again. I’m not going to go into a full exposition of these verses again, rather I want to simply remind you of the first point that I brought out concerning Jesus’ teaching about true fasting is that His disciples ought to view it as a duty. [Read]

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