Perspectives on Fasting: Old Testament Perspectives

Lesson 1998
Tags: Fasting
Excerpted from Perspectives on Fasting

Hebrew Terminology

  • tsuwm [6684]: to abstain from food, to fast.
  • tsowm [6685]: fasting, fast.
  • tevath [2908]: fastingly, hungrily.

Examples of Fasting in the OT

  • Moses (Deut 9.9-11,18-19)
  • David (2 Sam 1.11-12; 12.16-17)
  • Elijah (1 K 19.5-8)
  • Ahab (1 K 21.27-29)
  • The inhabitants of Judah, during the ministry of Joel (Joel 1.14; 2.12-17)
  • The inhabitants of Judah, during the reign of Jehoshaphat (2 Chr 20.2-4)
  • The inhabitants of Nineveh (Jon 3.4-10)
  • Darius (Dan 6.18)
  • Daniel (Dan 9.3ff)
  • Ezra and the remnant from Babylon (Ezra 8.21-23)
  • The Jews in Medo-Persian captivity (Esth 4.3)
  • The Jews in Shushan (Esth 4.16)
  • Nehemiah (Neh 1.3-4)

Key OT Text on Fasting

Isaiah 58.1-8

1 Cry aloud, spare not, lift up thy voice like a trumpet, and shew my people their transgression, and the house of Jacob their sins.

2 Yet they seek me daily, and delight to know my ways, as a nation that did righteousness, and forsook not the ordinance of their God: they ask of me the ordinances of justice; they take delight in approaching to God.

3 Wherefore have we fasted, [say they], and thou seest not? [wherefore] have we afflicted our soul, and thou takest no knowledge? Behold, in the day of your fast ye find pleasure, and exact all your labours.

4 Behold, ye fast for strife and debate, and to smite with the fist of wickedness: ye shall not fast as [ye do this] day, to make your voice to be heard on high.

5 Is it such a fast that I have chosen? a day for a man to afflict his soul? [is it] to bow down his head as a bulrush, and to spread sackcloth and ashes [under him]? wilt thou call this a fast, and an acceptable day to the LORD?

6 [Is] not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke?

7 [Is it] not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house? when thou seest the naked, that thou cover him; and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh?

8 Then shall thy light break forth as the morning, and thine health shall spring forth speedily: and thy righteousness shall go before thee; the glory of the LORD shall be thy rereward.

Principles Concerning Fasting

Numerous circumstances led OT characters to carry out a fast. These included the following:

  • civil war in Israel (Judg 20.24-26)
  • consecration to the LORD after a generation of idolatry (1 Sam 7.3-6)
  • death of a king (1 Sam 31.12-13)
  • illness of a child (2 Sam 12.15-17)
  • pronouncement of imminent judgment (1 K 21.27)
  • military threat (2 Chr 20.2-4)
  • dangers of long-distance travel (Ezra 8.21-23)
  • desolation of Jerusalem (Neh 1.3-4)
  • spiritual renewal (Neh 8.18-9.3)
  • threat of religious persecution (Esth 4.3)
  • illness of others (Ps 35.13)
  • experience of divine judgment (Joel 1.13-14)

Various abuses of fasting are noted in the OT. These include the following:

  • false pretense of piety (1 K 21.9ff)
  • observing fasts while neglecting the law (Is 58.4-7)
  • fasting in an effort to please God (Jer 14.10-12)
  • carrying out fasts without inner brokenness (Joel 2.12-13)
  • selfish motivation in the observance of fasting (Zech 7.5-6)