For Christians, fasting is more than just abstaining from food. It is a time of sacrifice and setting apart, which allows the believer to come closer to God. The word “fasting” comes from the Hebrew word “Tsuwm” which means “to cover” the mouth, or from the Greek word “nestuo”, which means “to abstain”. In a spiritual context, it means abstaining from eating and drinking, to seek the face of God. The Bible tells us of many times of fasts taken by different characters, for different purposes. Here are 5 of the most famous biblical fasts.
1) The fasts imposed on the people of Israel
Fasts can be solitary but also communal. The Law that God gave to the nation of Israel commanded to fast during the celebration of the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16:29-31). Fasting was appropriate on this occasion because it reminded the Israelites that they were imperfect and needed God’s forgiveness. But these are not the only fasts made by the people of Israel. On their return to Jerusalem, the Israelites fasted to show God that they sincerely sought His help (Ezra 8:21-23).
2) Esther’s fast
According to the Bible, in the book of Esther, the eponymous character is a young Judean girl, who became the wife of the king of Persia Assureus. When she learns that Minister Haman has ordered the extermination of all Jews, she prescribes a three-day fast before going to plead the cause of her people with her husband. Esther thus makes it possible to save the Jewish people. Esther’s fast is therefore a strict 3-day fast. without any absorption of water or food.
3) The Daniel Fast
There are two references to fasting in the biblical book of Daniel. In the 1st chapter, Daniel and his three friends practiced a fast by eating only vegetables and drinking only water. In the 10th chapter, Daniel fasts again, abstaining from eating “pleasant food”: meat and wine.
4) The Fast of Jesus
Jesus also fasted for 40 days! After his baptism, Jesus fasted 40 days (without food or water) to prepare himself to do the divine will during his earthly ministry (Luke 4:1-2).
5) What about Lent then?
Lent is a time of devotion to God, associated with alternating days of complete fasting and days of abstinence lasting 40 days. Lent was instituted by the Catholic Church in the fourth century, in reference to the forty days of fasting of Jesus Christ in the desert and the forty years spent in the desert by the people of Israel between their exit from Egypt and their entry in the promised land. During Lent, Catholics are encouraged to spend time in prayer, penance and almsgiving.
Whatever fast you choose to do, remember that it is not just about starvation. Fasting is before is a time that encourages setting aside, to be silent and thus be receptive to the Word of God.