self-discipline; abstinence from food for humiliation and supplication; a day of affliction

FAST, FASTING in scriptures [BibleGateway Search]

Cross Reference Bible links
Isaiah 58 - True fasting
Jeremiah 14:20 - acknowledge wickedness in us
Joel 1:13-14 - repent, humble yourself, cry to the Lord
Joel 2:13 - tear your heart, not your clothes and return to the Lord your God
Zechariah 7 - what Israel was supposed to be doing through the feasts and fasts
Zech 8:14-23 - passionately seek and entreat the Lord
Matthew 6:16-18 - fasting in secret
Judges 20:26 - Israel fasted and inquired of God for battle plans
1Samuel 7:3-6 - Israel repented and fasted before the Lord
1Samuel 21:12-14, 2Samuel 1:12, 1Chronicles 10:12 - after King Saul's, Jonathan's, Israeli army's deaths
2Samuel 12:16 - David fasted for his dying son
2Samuel 12:21-23 - why David fasted for his dying son
1Kings 21:4ff - Ahab fasted pouting and angry
1Kings 21:7ff - Ahab's wife Jezebel proclaimed fast in plot against Naboth
1Kings 21:17-28 - Ahab heard the LORD's punishment and Elijah's additions, fasted meekly, and the LORD put off his punishment
2Chronicles 20:3-4 - Jehosaphat proclaimed fast for Judeans before inquiring of the LORD
Ezra 8:21-23 - Ezra proclaimed fast in exile to humble themselves to ask LORD for their safe journey with children and possessions
Nehemiah 1:4 - hearing bad news, Nehemiah mourned and fasted before praying to the God of heaven
Nehemiah 9:3 - On the first day of the 7th month, Ezra read the Book of the Law of Moses to the returned exiles. On the 24th day of that month, they separated from foreigners to fast, stand, read from the Law, confess sins, praise and worship God (led by the Levites), and promise to obey the law given by God's covenant. Esther 4:1-3,16 - Back in Persia, royal official (and Jew) Mordecai refused to bow to the king's nobleman, Haman, who got King Xerxes' approval to annihilate all Jews in the kingdom. The king didn't know his new wife was Jewish. She asked her people to fast for and with her.
Esther 9:15ff - Regulations for Purim (named after the lot that was cast for the date- 12th month, 13th day) regarding fasting and lamentation (Esther 9:31)
Psalm 35:13 - Those who fast for enemies when they are ill with the same mourning and praying as for family members don't receive thanks or appreciation.
Psalm 69:10 - Those consumed with zeal for things of the LORD weep, fast, and endure scorn from those around them.
Psalm 109:24 - Fasting takes physical toll

FAST, FASTING [Easton Bible Dictionary]

The sole fast required by the law of Moses was that of the great Day of Atonement (q.v.), Leviticus 23:26-32. It is called "the fast" (Acts 27:9).

The only other mention of a periodical fast in the Old Testament is in Zechariah 7:1-7; 8:19, from which it appears that during their captivity the Jews observed four annual fasts.

# The fast of the fourth month, kept on the seventeenth day of Tammuz, the anniversary of the capture of Jerusalem by the Chaldeans; to commemorate also the incident recorded Exodus 32:19. (Compare Jeremiah 52:6,7.)

# The fast of the fifth month, kept on the ninth of Ab (Compare Numbers 14:27), to commemorate the burning of the city and temple (Jeremiah 52:12,13).

# The fast of the seventh month, kept on the third of Tisri (Compare 2 Kings 25), the anniversary of the murder of Gedaliah (Jeremiah 41:1,2).

# The fast of the tenth month (Compare Jeremiah 52:4; Ezek. 33:21; 2Kings 25:1), to commemorate the beginning of the siege of the holy city by Nebuchadnezzar.

There was in addition to these the fast appointed by (Esther 4:16).

Public national fasts on account of sin or to supplicate divine favour were sometimes held.

# 1 Samuel 7:6;
# 2 Chronicles 20:3;
# Jeremiah 36:6-10;
# Nehemiah 9:1.

There were also local fasts.
# Judges 20:26;
# 2 Samuel 1:12;
# 1 Samuel 31:13;
# 1 Kings 21:9-12;
# Ezra 8:21-23:
# Jonah 3:5-9.

There are many instances of private occasional fasting (1 Samuel 1:7: 20:34; 2Sam 3:35; 12:16; 1 Kings 21:27; Ezra 10:6; Nehemiah 1:4; Daniel 10:2,3). Moses fasted forty days (Exodus 24:18; 34:28), and so also did Elijah (1 Kings 19:8). Our Lord fasted forty days in the wilderness (Matthew 4:2).

In the lapse of time the practice of fasting was lamentably abused (Isaiah 58:4; Jeremiah 14:12; Zechariah 7:5). Our Lord rebuked the Pharisees for their hypocritical pretences in fasting (Matthew 6:16). He himself appointed no fast. The early Christians, however, observed the ordinary fasts according to the law of their fathers (Acts 13:3; 14:23; 2co 6:5).

FASTS [Smith Bible Dictionary]

1. One fast only was appointed by the Mosaic law, that on the day of atonement. There is no mention of any other periodical fast in the Old Testament except in (Zechariah 7:1-7; 8:19) From these passages it appears that the Jews, during their captivity, observed four annual fasts, --in the fourth, fifth, seventh and tenth months.

2. Public fasts were occasionally proclaimed to express national humiliation and to supplicate divine favor. In the case of public danger the proclamation appears to have been accompanied with the blowing of trumpets. (Joel 2:1-15) (See (1 Samuel 7:6; 2 Chronicles 20:3; Jeremiah 36:6-10) ) Three days after the feast of tabernacles, when the second temple was completed, "the children of Israel assembled with fasting, and with sackclothes and earth upon them," to hear the law read and to confess their sins. (Nehemiah 9:1)

3. Private occasional fasts are recognized in one passage of the law -- (Numbers 30:13) The instances given of individuals fasting under the influence of grief, vexation or anxiety are numerous.

4. In the New Testament the only reference to the Jewish fasts are the mention of "the fast" in (Acts 27:9) (generally understood to denote the day of atonement) an the allusions to the weekly fasts. (Matthew 9:14; Mark 2:18; Luke 5:33; 18:12; Acts 10:30) These fasts originated some time after the captivity.

5. The Jewish fasts were observed with various degrees of strictness. Sometimes there was entire abstinence from food. (Esther 4:16) etc. On other occasions there appears to have been only a restriction to a very plain diet. (Daniel 10:3) Those who fasted frequently dressed in sackcloth or rent their clothes, put ashes on their head and went barefoot. (1 Kings 21:27; Nehemiah 9:1; Psalms 35:13)

6. The sacrifice of the personal will, which gives to fasting all its value, is expressed in the old term used in the law, afflicting the soul.


fast, fast'-ing (tsum; `innah nephesh, "afflict soul or self," i.e. practice self-denial; nesteia, nesteuein):
It is necessary to get rid of some modern notions associated with fasting before we can form a correct idea of its origin and significance in the ancient world. For instance, in the case of many ailments the dieting of the patient is an essential part of the remedy. But we may readily assume that originally fasting was not based on the salutary influence which it exercised on the health of the subject. Considerations of therapeutics played no part in the institution. The theory that fasting, like many other ancient customs, had a religious origin, is in favor with scholars, but we must not assume a religious origin for all practices which in process of time came to be associated with religion.

Many customs, purely secular in their origin, have gradually obtained a religious significance, just as purely religious customs have been dissociated from religion. It is also possible and, in the light of some usages, probable, that different motives operated in the association of fasting, as of some other customs, with religion. Scholars have been too ready to assume that the original significance of fasting was the same in all countries and among all nations. Robertson Smith in his Religion of the Semites advanced and defended theory that fasting was merely a mode of preparation for the tribal meal in which sacrifice originated, and came to be considered at a later stage as part of the sacrificial act. This hypothesis apparently accounts for the otherwise strange fact that both fasting and feasting are religious acts, but it does not give a satisfactory explanation of the constant association of fasting with the "wearing of sackcloth," the "putting of ashes on the head," and other similar customs. It is obvious that very different motives operated in the institution of fasting and of feasting religious observances.

It is a matter of common observation and experience that great distress causes loss of appetite and therefore occasions abstinence from food. Hannah, who was greatly distressed on account of her childlessness, "wept, and did not eat" (1 Samuel 1:7). Violent anger produces the same effect (1 Samuel 20:34). According to 1 Kings 21:4, Ahab, "heavy and displeased" on account of Naboth's refusal to part with his estate, sulked and "would eat no bread." Fasting, originally the natural expression of grief, became the customary mode of proving to others the inner emotion of sorrow. David demonstrated his grief at Abner's death (2 Samuel 3:35) by fasting, just as the Psalmist indicated his sympathy with his adversaries' sorry plight in the same way (Psalms 35:13). In such passages as Ezra 10:6; Esther 4:3, it is not clear whether fasting is used in its religious significance or simply as a natural expression of sorrow (compare also Luke 5:33 and see below). This view explains the association of fasting with the mourning customs of antiquity (compare 1 Samuel 31:13; 2 Samuel 1:12). As fasting was a perfectly natural and human expression and evidence of the subject's grief, it readily claimed a place among those religious customs whose main object was the pacification of the anger of God, or the excital of His compassion. Any and every act that would manifest the distressful state of the suppliant would appeal to the Deity and move Him to pity. The interesting incident recorded in 2 Samuel 12:16-23 suggests the twofold significance of fasting as a religious act or a mode of appealing to the Deity and as a funeral custom. David defends his fasting before and not after the child's death on the ground that while the child was alive David's prayer might be answered. His fasting was intended to make his petition effectual (compare also 1 Kings 21:27; Ezra 8:21; Esther 4:16). Occasionally fasting was proclaimed on a national scale, e.g. in case of war (Judges 20:26; 2 Chronicles 20:3) or of pestilence (Joel 1:13 f). Fasting having thus become a recognized mode of seeking Divine favor and protection, it was natural that it should be associated with confession of sin, as indisputable evidence of penitence or sorrow for sin.

Fasting might be partial, i.e. abstinence from certain kinds of food, or total, i.e. abstinence from all food as well as from washing, anointing, sleeping. It might be of shorter or longer duration, e.g. for one day, from sunrise to sunset (Judges 20:26; 1 Samuel 14:24; 2 Samuel 1:12; 3:35). In 1 Sam 31:13 allusion is made to a seven days' fast, while Daniel abstained from "pleasant bread," flesh, wine and anointing for three weeks (Daniel 10:3). Moses (Exodus 34:28) and Elijah (1 Kings 19:8) fasted for 40 days. It is probable that these last three references presuppose a totally different conception of the significance of fasting. It is obvious that dreams made a deep impression on primitive man. They were communications from the departed members of the family. At a later stage they were looked upon as revelations from God. During sleep there is total abstinence from food. It was easy to draw the inference that fasting might fit the person to receive these communications from the world of spirits (Daniel 10:2). The close connection between fasting and insight -- intellectual and spiritual -- between simple living and high thinking is universally recognized.



Nowack, Hebadische Archaologie; Benzinger, Hebadische Archaologie; Robertson Smith, Religion of the Semites.

T. Lewis

FASTING [Thompson Chain Reference]
    * General References to
          o Psalms 35:13
          o Psalms 69:10
          o Isaiah 58:3
          o Jeremiah 14:12
          o Zechariah 7:5
          o Matthew 9:15
    * Duty of
          o Joel 1:14
          o Joel 2:12
          o Matthew 6:17
          o Matthew 6:18
          o Matthew 17:21
          o 1 Corinthians 7:5
    * Examples of
          o Moses
                + Exodus 34:28
                + Judges 20:26
          o Israel
                + 1 Samuel 7:6
                + 1 Samuel 20:34
                + 1 Samuel 28:20
                + 1 Samuel 31:13
                + 2 Samuel 1:12
                + 2 Samuel 3:35
                + 2 Samuel 12:16
          o Elijah
                + 1 Kings 19:8
                + 1 Kings 21:27
                + 1 Chronicles 10:12
          o Ezra
                + Ezra 10:6
                + Nehemiah 9:1
                + Daniel 6:18
          o Daniel
                + Daniel 10:3
                + Matthew 4:2
          o Christ
                + Luke 4:1
                + Luke 4:2
                + Luke 18:12
          o Paul
                + Acts 9:9
                + Acts 10:30
          o Leaders in the Church at Antioch
                + Acts 13:2
                + Acts 13:3
          o Paul and Barnabas
                + Acts 14:23
                + Acts 27:33 

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