Fasting in the Bible
The Bible mentions fasting several times. Fasting is the voluntary abstinence from food for greater dedication to and concentration on a spiritual purpose. The Bible describes three main forms of fasting:
#1. The Normal fast involving the total abstinence of food. Luke 4:2 reveals that Jesus “did eat nothing.” Afterwards “he was hungry. “Jesus abstained from food but not from water.
#2. In Acts 9: 9 we read of an Absolute Fast where for three days he “neither did eat nor drink.” The abstinence from both food and water seems to have lasted no more than three days [Ezra 10: 61].
#3. The Partial Fast – in Daniel 10: 3 where the emphasis is upon the restriction of diet rather than complete abstinence.
In the Old Testament, the Day of Atonement required Jews to “afflict their souls” in contrition for their sins [Leviticus 16:29,31]. This was taken to include fasting (Acts 20:7-9) where the. Day of Atonement is called “the fast.” However, the Law of Moses did not command fasting. Later, David specifically combined the two: “I afflict my soul with fasting” [Psalm 35: 13].
Fasting is a way to humble the self and express sorrow for sin. For example, when Jonah preached against the wicked gentiles of Assyria, Nineveh, they believed God and they called a fast [Jonah 3:5, 3:7]. The point is that Jonah did not command them to fast to show contrition for their sins, but that they [the Ninevites] voluntarily fasted to express genuine sorrow for their sins. Also in Daniel chapter 6, the Persian king Darius “spent the night fasting” (Verse1 8), when Daniel was thrown into the lion’s den. This reflected his sorrow and regret.
In the Old Testament, fasting was of your own accord done in response to times of individual or national distress, calamity, or spiritual crisis (I Samuel 7:6; II Samuel 1:12; 12:22; Ezra 8: 21; Nehemiah 1:4; Daniel 9:3-4. It was a way of humbling the self before God to seek his favor.
Jesus’ fasting in the desert for 40 days before his public ministry was an exceptional thing done for an exceptional time. It corresponded as a type of Moses fasting 40 days on Mount Sinai before receiving the law [Exodus 34:27]. As the new lawgiver, Jesus fasted before giving the new law of the Kingdom [Matthew 4: 23]. Jesus taught that fasting was not done to impress people, but it was a matter of personally humbling oneself before God.
Dr. Robert Bryant