Matthew 6:16-18 16 “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. 17 But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, 18 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.
Recently, fasting has become a little more of a common practice because of an emphasis on the church as a whole to participate in a Daniel fast during the month of January. But fasting has to be understood to be more than a fad or a diet. Jesus said, “When you fast…” This practice is not an option but to be expected among His believers. It is great to participate, but the idea of a fad has to be kept out of the practice.
With the Daniel Fast many more have felt that they can participate in fasting and it not effect their work performance or health issues. To simplify it the more, there are now several Daniel Fast cookbooks. There are some very amazing dishes for anyone wanting to fast and yet not feel like they are fasting.
No, I am not downing the Daniel Fast nor the cookbooks. They are great as long as we understand that what we eat and do not eat are not the focus. Does Jesus make any reference to the food that you eat or do not eat in these verses? His reference is to the physical result that fasting tends to have and how important it is to cover it up in order to keep it a private matter.
From my studies and experience I have concluded that far too much is made over trying to do things exactly like Daniel did. We have no evidence that he had any scriptural guidelines for what he chose to eat and not eat. There are many who have become all bent out of shape because “they aren’t doing it right.” Give me a break! I believe that what Daniel chose was what he felt that he could do in order to not draw attention to himself by the authorities. He did what he could to make it a private matter.
So, what is fasting? The Greek word here literally means to starve, to do without food. This was the closest word they had to what the Hebrew word was and yet it was not close enough. It was a common practice of that day among the heathen to fast in order to enhance their spiritual connectivity with their gods. Sounds like our understanding today. Are we satisfied to have the same understanding as the heathen do? James just said to draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Therefore, this can not be the definition that Jesus understood.
So, do we use the Greek definition and feel satisfied? Jesus was a Jew speaking to Jewish people in a Jewish culture. What did those of the Old Testament understand about fasting? What understanding would Jesus’ listeners have had from their Jewish roots?
If you look up fasting in blueletterbible.com you discover that the Hebrew word for fast means “to fast.” Therefore, the assumption is that we already know what it means to fast. The next step is to discover what story the letters tell in the Hebrew word for fast. It is an amazing story.
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