“Moreover, when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward.  But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you do not appear to men to be fasting, but to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly (Matthew 6:16, NKJV).

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When we fast, only God should know about it. We don’t do it for show. Fasting is done for the following reasons:

Then I proclaimed a fast there at the river of Ahava, that we might humble ourselves before our God, to seek from Him the right way for us and our little ones and all our possessions (Ezra 8:21). Ezra, the scribe, proclaimed a fast and their attitude was one of humility as they sought God’s guidance for them. They fasted for God’s guidance and His protection against their enemies.

Israel was at war with the tribe of Benjamin because of the gang rape of a Levite’s concubine. When they went up against them, they were defeated so, they went to the Lord’s house and wept. They sat there before Him and fasted that day until evening; and they offered burnt offerings and peace offerings before Him. They inquired of the Lord. Aaron’s grandson, Phinehas asked Him, “Shall I yet again go out to battle against the children of my brother Benjamin, or shall I cease?” They fasted and prayed for God to tell them what to do (Judges 20:25-28).

After the Israelites found out what the Philistines had done to King Saul (they had beheaded him), they took his body and brought it with his sons’ to Jabesh where they burned them. They buried their bones and under the tamarisk tree at Jabesh. Afterwards, they fasted for a week (1 Samuel 31:11-13). Fasting is another way to express grief. King David and his men mourned and wept and fasted until evening for Saul and for Jonathan his son, for the people of the Lord and for the house of Israel, because they had fallen by the sword (2 Samuel 1:12).

The people of Moab along with the people of Ammon, and others with them besides the Ammonites, came to battle against King Jehoshaphat. Jehoshaphat was told, “A great multitude is coming against you from beyond the sea, from Syria; and they are in Hazazon Tamar” (which is En Gedi). And Jehoshaphat feared, and set himself to seek the Lord, and proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah.  So Judah gathered together to ask help from the Lord; and from all the cities of Judah they came to seek the Lord (2 Chronicles 20:1-4). They fasted and Jehoshaphat prayed for God to deliver them from their enemies.

Samuel judged the people of Israel. They were lamenting after the LORD because the Ark wasn’t with them but with a man named Abinadab who lived in Kirjath Jearim, a city in the Land of Israel. It was there for twenty years. Samuel told the people of Israel that if they returned to the LORD with all their hearts, they were to put away their false gods/idols from among them and, to “prepare your hearts for the Lord, and serve Him only; and He will deliver you from the hand of the Philistines.”  So the children of Israel put away the Baals and the Ashtoreths, and served the Lord only.

And Samuel said, “Gather all Israel to Mizpah, and I will pray to the Lord for you.” So they gathered together at Mizpah, drew water, and poured it out before the Lord. And they fasted that day, and said there, “We have sinned against the Lord.” And Samuel judged the children of Israel at Mizpah. They fasted to show their repentance and their desire to return to the LORD (1 Samuel 7:1-6, NKJV).

God condemned King Ahab because on account of him Naboth was murdered for his vineyard. Ahab wanted his vineyard but he refused to sell it to him because it was Naboth’s inheritance of his fathers. Displeased with Naboth’s refusal to give him his vineyard, Ahab sulked. He lay down on his bed and turned away his face, and refused to eat any food. His wife Jezebel asked him what was wrong and when he told her, she put a plan in place for Naboth. She proclaimed a fast and seated Naboth with high honor among the people and arranged for two men who were scoundrels to come in and sit before him. They bore witness against him in the presence of the people, saying, “Naboth has blasphemed God and the king!”

They took him outside the city and stoned him to death. When he was dead, they sent word to the wicked queen and she informed her husband, “Arise, take possession of the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite, which he refused to give you for money; for Naboth is not alive, but dead.”

The fact that Naboth was dead after Jezebel had told him, “Arise, eat food, and let your heart be cheerful; I will give you the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite,” didn’t seem to faze Ahab. When he heard that Naboth was dead, he got up and went down to take possession of the vineyard which he was murdered for. This shouldn’t be surprising, though, because we learn that there was no one like Ahab who sold himself to do wickedness in the sight of the Lord, because Jezebel his wife stirred him up.

So, God condemned Ahab for taking possession of the vineyard after Naboth was murdered for it. He sent the prophet Elijah to Ahab who said him, ‘Thus says the Lord: “Have you murdered and also taken possession?” ’. When Ahab heard what would befall him and his household, he tore his clothes and put sackcloth on his body, and fasted and lay in sackcloth, and went about mourning.

When God saw that, He said to Elijah, “See how Ahab has humbled himself before Me? Because he has humbled himself before Me, I will not bring the calamity in his days. In the days of his son I will bring the calamity on his house.” Ahab fasted and humbled himself before God when he heard the judgment which was pronounced upon him and his house. In His mercy, God would not bring the calamity on his house while he was still alive (1 Kings 21).

When Nehemiah, the Jewish cupbearer for King Artaxerxes heard about the Jews who had escaped, who had survived the captivity, and about Jerusalem, how survivors who were left from the captivity in the province were in great distress and reproach and that the wall of Jerusalem is also broken down, and its gates burned with fire, he sat down, wept and mourned for many days. He fasted and prayed before the God of heaven.

When the king saw his sadness, the king asked him, “Why is your face sad, since you are not sick? This is nothing but sorrow of heart.” Nehemiah explained the reason for his sadness which was that the city, the place of his fathers’ tombs, lay waste, its gates burned with fire. The king asked him what he requested and after praying to God, Nehemiah asked him to send me to Judah, to the city of his fathers’ tombs so that he may rebuild it.

After finding out how long Nehemiah’s journey would be and when he would return, it pleased the king to grant him his request (Nehemiah 1-2). Nehemiah fasted and prayed that he could return to Judah to do the work of God which was to rebuild the wall.

In the book of Isaiah we learn the kind God wants from us. “To loose the bonds of wickedness, To undo the heavy burdens, To let the oppressed go free, And that you break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, And that you bring to your house the poor who are cast out; When you see the naked, that you cover him, And not hide yourself from your own flesh?” The people were to fast, not for selfish reasons, to be seen, to be noticed or to fast while they were exploiting others, for strife and debate. They were fasting for the wrong reasons (Isaiah 58:3–7). Sometimes fasting is for God and others, not for self.

After disobeying God by fleeing to Tarshish, Jonah showed up in the city of Nineveh to preach the message God Himself gave him to say to the people whose wickedness has come up before Him. Jonah’s words were, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!”

When the people in the city heard that, they believed God, proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest to the least of them.  After word reached the king, he arose from his throne and laid aside his robe, covered himself with sackcloth and sat in ashes. He decreed that “…neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything; do not let them eat, or drink water. But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily to God; yes, let every one turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands.  Who can tell if God will turn and relent, and turn away from His fierce anger, so that we may not perish?”

When God saw their works and that they had turned from their evil way, He had mercy on them. He relented from the disaster that He had said He would bring upon them, and He did not do it (Jonah 3). A public fast was proclaimed to turn God’s wrath from them so that they may not perish. The people trusted that if they repented and turned away from their evil ways, God would have mercy on them.

After His baptism, Jesus was led into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit where He fasted for forty days and forty nights. By the end of the fast, He was hungry and that was when the Devil showed up to tempt Him. He tried to get Jesus to satisfy His hunger by turning a stone into bread. He prefaced the temptation with the words, “If You are the Son of God…”

Jesus dealt with that temptation by quoting the Word of God. “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’” He used the Word of God to counter the other two temptations (Matthew 4:1-11). Fasting didn’t make Jesus vulnerable to the Devil’s temptations. He overcame each one of them by the Word of God and in the power of the Holy Spirit. We can do the same.

Anna, a prophetess and widow was eighty-four years old. She spent her days in the temple, never departing from it. She served God with fastings and prayers night and day. She was present when the Infant Jesus was in the temple. She gave thanks to the Lord, and spoke of Jesus to all those who looked for redemption in Jerusalem. Her fasting was an expression of her love and devoted service to God.

When you fast, make sure that you’re doing it for the right reasons. Make sure that you don’t have any issues with anyone or your fast will not be acceptable to God. And don’t fast to impress people.

There are other examples of fasting in the Bible: Esther 4;  Psalm 35:13; Psalm 69:10; Psalm 109:24; Jeremiah 36:6; Daniel 6:18; Daniel 9:3; Joel 2:12;  Act 10:30;  Act 14:23 and 1 Corinthians 7:5

Source: The NIV Bible