Biblical and Historical Examples of Fasting


Well this is the third video I’m doing
on fasting, and as I start this video perhaps I should begin with a confession.
For the vast majority of my Christian life, I have neglected the spiritual
discipline of fasting. And as with anyone who has read through or studied the
Scriptures, I of course was well aware of the numerous references to the
discipline of fasting, but never seriously considered putting it into
practice. And thus as I speak with you during this Lenten season, I do so as a
novice. I fully admit it – I am a novice. A novice committed to fasting as a
normal part of my spiritual journey, but a novice nonetheless. So in considering
the subject of fasting from food, I cannot help but think of one of the most
wicked cities of antiquity. You probably know what I’m talking about. The
wickedness of this city was so pronounced, it had become a stench in the
nostrils of Almighty God. And therefore God commissioned the prophet Jonah to go
to Nineveh. I love to talk about Nineveh as the diamond of Assyria, embedded in
the golden arc of the Fertile Crescent, midway between the Mediterranean and the
Caspian Sea – that’s how I put it my book “Has God Spoken”. And there he
proclaimed that the great city would be overthrown.
I mean utterly destroyed. And in sober response, the Ninevites declared a fast.
And all of them – all of them from the greatest to the least put on sackcloth.
Imagine – imagine a prostituted pagan city fasting in sackcloth and ashes.
And when God saw what they did and how they had turned from their evil ways, he had
compassion, and he did not bring upon them the
destruction he had threatened. And of course, the great Assyrian city is not
alone. Many nations throughout history have fasted and prayed for the mercy of
God. Well, all we have to do is think about America. Hard to imagine, but America is
one of them. In the midst of civil war – think about it.
You probably know the story. Abraham Lincoln called on all Americans to
participate in a national day of humiliation, fasting in prayer. I want to
read what he had to say in this regard. I probably should have it memorized, but I
don’t. Abraham Lincoln said this: “We have grown in numbers and wealth and power as
no other nation has ever grown. But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the
gracious hand which preserved us in peace, and multiplied and enriched and
strengthened us. And,” said Lincoln, “we have vainly imagined in the deceitfulness of
our hearts that all of these blessings were produced by some superior
wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too
self-sufficient to feel that necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too
proud to pray to the God who made us. And therefore,” said Lincoln, “it behooves us to
humble ourselves before the offended power, to confess our national sins, and
to pray for forgiveness.” And that is what happened. On April 30th, 1863, the American
people in compliance with the request of the Senate, along with the proclamation
of President Lincoln abstained from their ordinary secular pursuits.
They humbled themselves. They devoted themselves to fasting in prayer for the
restoration of a divided country. Such days the National fasting find precedent of
course in Scripture. If they didn’t I wouldn’t be talking about it. Twelve
centuries – think about it – twelve centuries before Christ, Samuel, the last judge of
Israel, assembled the entire nation of Israel for a national day of fasting. And
there they– well, they poured out water upon the earth, and they begged the Lord
to forgive their idolatry and wash away their sins. Or think about the days of
Nehemiah. In those days the seed of Israel separated themselves in the
sanctuary. They renounced their hedonism. And they fasted in sack cloth and
with dust on their heads. I think of another example: Joel. Joel, if you read
the book, likens the invasion of foreign hordes that plunder Jerusalem and left
her desolate to an apocalyptic army of locusts. And he likewise consecrated a
sacred fast in Jerusalem. And there, perhaps you recall, the people – they
begged the Lord to forgive their iniquities, and they did so with fasting,
with weeping, with mourning. And then there’s the most exceptional
fasting account in the whole of the Old Testament. This took place at the time of
the Exodus. And this wasn’t an ordinary fast. This was an extraordinary fast. A
fast from food and water for 40 days and 40 nights,
and not just once but on three separate occasions and over a relatively short
period of time. Think about it. This was a total of 120 days and
nights without food and water. Even more amazing is that one fasting was already
in the 80th year of life. I’m talking of course about Moses. The fast of Moses, who
climbed to the top of Mount Sinai, and then was absorbed into the cloud of
God’s glory. There he experienced God as the archetypal source of life and living… on
the mountaintop. Moses was permitted to experientially
know that man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds
from the mouth of God. He was not kept alive by bread or water,
but by being interpenetrated by uncreated energy. A life source not
physical, but manifestly divine in origin. Had Moses not participated in the divine
nature, as we read in Peter, he would most certainly have died. You know humans can
abstain from food for forty days, but not from water. Within a week’s time, death
becomes unavoidable. And yet Moses did not die. Nor did Moses grow weary. After
forty days and forty nights without food and water, he traversed Mount Sinai from
its top all the way to its bottom, and he watched in horror as the children of
Israel had engorged themselves with food and drink, and even worse they
worshipped the golden calf. And so, with supernatural energy, Moses
ground the detestable idol into dust and then he fell prostrate before the Lord for
yet another forty days and forty nights during which he ate no bread and drank
no water. And on top of all of that, he ascended Mount Sinai fasting yet another
forty days and forty nights. When he came down from Mount Sinai, his face quite
literally glowed with the glory of the Lord. Now this sort of fasting is of
course miraculous – not in the sense of a momentary disruption of natural law
but rather in the sense of the divine disclosure of another reality. Moses, as
it were, had stepped through the Wardrobe into Narnia. He had
encountered a world in which the ingestion of food and water was– it was
superfluous. And Moses was not alone. Elijah, the prototypical prophet, likewise
fasted forty days and forty nights and thereafter he too experienced the graces
of God. Not in a cloud of glory nor in a fiery vision, but in the sound– remember?
He heard the sound of a gentle breeze. You can read about it in I think 1 Kings chapter 19. And Jesus likewise abstained from food as the new Moses
leading us into a better covenant, he fasted 40 days and 40 nights in the
wilderness. Israel murmured against God in the midst of wilderness manna.
Immanuel – he did not. He cherished the manna from heaven more than life itself.
His rebuke of Satan says it all. Man shall not live by bread alone, but on
every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.
The normal human mode of existence depends on ingestion, on digestion, on
metabolism. We metabolize food and water. But as Jesus makes plain, there’s an
alternative energy supply. This he referred to when he spoke to the
Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well. Remember when Jesus said whoever drinks of this
water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I give to him
will never thirst. Shortly thereafter the disciples urged him. They said, “Rabbi, eat!”
But then he said to them, “I have food to eat of which you do not know.” Well this was
the way of the master. He would communicate spiritual realities by means
of earthly, empirically, perceptible realities, which might well be described
as living metaphors. The disciples understood food and water. Jesus wanted
them to understand nourishment on a completely different plane – a higher
plane. They were acquainted with the energy that is derived from bios – from
food. Jesus acquainted them with the energy that comes from the Father – zoetic
energy. The disciples gained a glimpse of this otherworldly reality on the
mountain of Transfiguration. Remember Peter, James, and John – they were witness
to a dazzling display of uncreated energy the face of the Lord shone like
the Sun his clothes became as white as the light. Moses and Elijah were there as
well. They themselves had experienced divine energy during their times of
fasting, and they appeared as the disciples were enveloped in a bright
cloud. They experienced the ultimate lawgiver,
the archetypal prophet in glorious splendor. They were eyewitnesses to the
majesty of the one who fulfilled the law and the prophets. And they – well they
themselves were immersed in the bright cloud of God’s presence. Peter, James, and
John were well aware that Moses and Elijah, after fasting forty days and
forty nights, had encountered a partial disclosure of the Dunamis – the dynamite
underlying the created order. But what they experienced on the Mount of
Transfiguration was even more profound. They were eyewitnesses – eye witnesses to
the transfigured majesty of the one who like Moses and Elijah had fasted from
food and feasted on a far more substantial reality. Jesus had previously
explained the dynamics of energy on a higher plane. On Mount Sinai, they
experienced it as well. This then, is the primary purpose of fasting. It is to
experience God as the source, as the substance of life that is truly life. To
taste the heavenly manna. To drink divine water, so as to never thirst again.
It is to recognize union with Christ as the apex of human existence.
You know, Jesus himself had some words about this. We all,
like Jesus, with unveiled faces beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord are
being transformed into the same image from glory to glory just as the Spirit
of the Lord. As we behold him, as we behold him we become– well, we become what
we are destined to be. Christ-ians. growing in His image being transformed
into his likeness. During this Lenten season I hope, I pray, that even if it is
in spurts, you’ll recognize that there is an energy that you can partake of that
dwarfs human energy. The stomach no longer your god. Your God becoming more
real to you than the very flesh upon your bones. And again fasting is such
an incredible doorway into experiencing the reality of Christ that I just hope
and pray you don’t miss out on it.

2 Replies to “Biblical and Historical Examples of Fasting”

  1. I was good to hear Hank finally talk about this secret weapon. There are also excellent youtube vids on it. After the dusts settles please examine how fasting appears in the KJV, and does not appear in other translations. We have traded in fasting for a very unhealthy American diet loaded with preservatives and diseased causing additives, not good. We are overweight and overmedicated.

  2. I'ma be real with you fam n lay out all my cards on the table. I think religion fascinating, I'm watching this for a school report I'm writing, but I'm not personally interested in religion for myself at all. But when you describe Nineveh as a city of wickedness the only thing that comes to mind is a city filled with cheesy but fun glamrock from the 80s, so in short, a pretty great place.

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