A Fasting Meditation
Apart from the day of atonement, fasting is a voluntary, self-imposed privation of food and water not commanded in either the Old Testament or the New Testament.
There are actions about which the Lord is specific that he hates them such as the seven types of behavior listed in Proverbs 6:16-19 and as divorce (Mal. 2:16). These actions I want to avoid under all conditions and at all times no matter what the cost may be.
There are also actions that the Lord affirms that he loves such as righteous acts (Ps. 11:7), justice (Ps. 37:28; Jer. 61:8), and cheerful giving (2 Cor. 9:7). I want to engage in those as much as I can.
Other actions involve human choice between alternatives both of which are good under proper conditions. One of them, however, may be more desired by the Lord than the other. God does not always see things as people do (cf. 1 Sam. 16:7). When Samuel asks, “Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as in obeying the voice of the Lord?” (1 Sam. 15:22), I would want to choose obedience over offerings and sacrifices. If he says, “I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice” (Hos. 6:6), I would want to spend my energies on steadfast love. If he says “I desire the knowledge of God, rather than burnt offerings” (Hos. 6:6), I would center on knowledge of God.
I learned long ago that if my wife says, “I want chocolates more than pearls,” I have wasted any money I spend on pearls. That I might prefer pearls becomes irrelevant. I am not likely to react, “You are going to have pearls whether you want them or not!”
If the assumed efficacy of all the possible means of entreating the Lord were arranged on a scale of one to ten, there is hardly a question that in human eyes fasting would rate a score of nine or more. Fasting is also common in the non-Christian religions. A fast was declared in Nineveh at Jonah’s preaching (Jonah 3.7).
The Law of Moses, however, only provided for fasting on the Day of Atonement (Lev. 16:29; 23:27, 29, 32; Num. 29:7; Jer. 36:6; Acts 27:9). Nevertheless, people voluntarily imposed fasting on themselves. Apart from the day of atonement, fasting is a voluntary, self-imposed privation of food and water not commanded in either the Old Testament or the New Testament.
Moses fasted forty days on Mt. Sinai (Exod. 34:28). Israel fasted when defeated at Ai (Josh. 7:6) as well as when engaged in war with Benjamin (Judg. 20:26) and with the Philistines (1 Sam. 7:6). People fasted when threatened by a military crisis (1 Sam. 7:6; 2 Chron. 20:3). Saul would have executed his son Jonathan for Jonathan’s breaking a fast Saul imposed had the people not rescued Jonathan from him (1 Sam. 14:24-45). David fasted when his son was terminally ill (2 Sam. 12.16). A fast was proclaimed in the face of a locust infestation (Joel 1:14). Ezra and his company fasted before setting out for Jerusalem (Ezra 8:21-23, and Esther asked for a fast when she was going to the king in behalf of the Jewish people (Esth. 4:15-17).
All would agree that Jezebel made fasting a mockery when she in the name of Ahab ordered the elders and nobles of Naboth’s city to proclaim a fast and to have Naboth accused of cursing God and the king (1 Kings 21:9, 12). Naboth was executed. Any religious act can be prostituted.
But Isaiah gives us a divine evaluation of the efficacy of fasting which has possibly escaped the notice of many (Isa. 58:3-14). “Why have we fasted, and thou seest it not? Why have we humbled ourselves and thou takest no knowledge of it? Behold, in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure, and oppress all your workers. Behold, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to hit with wicked fist. Fasting, like yours this day will not make your voice to be heard on high. Is such the fast that I choose, a day for a man to humble himself? Is it to bow down his head like a rush, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? Will you call this a fast, and a day acceptable to the Lord?
Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh? Then shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up speedily; your righteousness shall go before you, the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry, and he will say, Here I am. If you take away from the midst of you the yoke, the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness, If you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday.”
If charity to the unfortunate is more desired by the Lord than his people’s going without food, then charity is what I want to devote my time and resources to. I would want to do what would please the Lord the most, not what would please him less. If this passage does not say that charity pleases him more than does people going without food, what does it say?
The child gives a lovely doll as a gift to her mother. The husband gives his wife a new circle saw for her birthday. The wife gives her a husband a new fitted mink coat for her to wear for her wedding anniversary present to him. (to be continued)
Jack P. Lewis