More Thoughts On Fasting
I was doing my personal quiet time when I came cross Zechariah chapters seven and eight. Within this section is a real warning about spiritual discipline fasting and a reminder of what purpose it should serve. In way of a reminder, Zechariah prophesied in the period between the return of the exiles from Babylon and the rebuilt temple. It was at this time a delegation came to inquire of the priests and the prophets (who would have been Haggai and Zechariah) as to whether or not they should keep the fasts that had been instituted since the exile. (See Zechariah 7:3).
The exiled tribes had kept four distinct fasts. One in the 10th month that commemorated the siege of Jerusalem. One in the 4th month that lamented the walls around the city being broken down. Another in the 5th month that lamented the destruction of Solomon’s temple. And additional fast in the 7th month that commemorated the assassination of Gedaliah, the last Jewish governor (all these events are described in 2 Kings 25 and Jeremiah 41 & 52). The delegates were asking a good question since the people were returning to the promised land and work on the temple had begun. Was fasting still appropriate?
Zechariah’s response in the remaining part of chapter seven is telling. He hears from Yahweh who speaks through him reminding the people that the previous generations kept fasts too as a means of practicing religion, but they neglected the weightier matters of the law- especially in practicing justice, speaking truth to one another, caring for the oppressed, and coming up with ways to defraud one another. It is clear from the text, that Go wanted them to deal with those matters first way before they attempted fasting. That generation on fasted to puff up themselves, not express repentance towards God. It is the same admonition given by Jesus in Matthew 6:16 (ESV) “And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.’
Let this serve as a waring toward us. In desiring to grow in our spirituality, let us seek to do the weightier things first, such as seeking justice and caring for the poor. Too often it is easier and less of a sacrifice to do a 24 hour fast, than to get involved in social matters. God is not impressed with our denial of food in such cases when there are more pressing concerns that he desires.
The Lord speaking through Zechariah, doesn’t give an answer to the delegation until Zechariah 8:18-19 (ESV) ‘And the word of the LORD of hosts came to me, saying, ‘Thus says the LORD of hosts: The fast of the fourth month and the fast of the fifth and the fast of the seventh and the fast of the tenth shall be to the house of Judah seasons of joy and gladness and cheerful feasts. Therefore love truth and peace.’ The four fasts mentioned earlier will now be turned into occasions to feast, now that the Lord has restored his favor upon Judah. What was once a period of mourning, will be turned into a party. And that foreshadows our time without Jesus (Matthew 9:14-17). Now, we mourn the bridegrooms absence, but when he returns it will be an occasion to feast with one another. Now we abstain and fast, later we party.
So if you do practice fasting, make sure you are tackling the weightier matters of righteousness first and foremost. And once those have been addressed, then you may fast. But make sure you fast with anticipation. Fasting is not a means to itself. It is meant to increase our desire for the only one that can satisfy our souls.