How does a fast work? I mean, what are the mechanics of it exactly? How does abstaining from food and drink bring us closer to God?
These are the questions I’ve asked for years to no avail. I’ve read lengthy studies that talk about fasting and everything surrounding it but no one has ever really talked about the spiritual aspect behind it and how, exactly, it brings us closer to God. I’d like to offer my opinion on this subject based on my understanding of what scripture tells us.
I’m going to briefly get a little technical here so that you can see how I arrived of what I arrived at.
The Hebrew word for “fast” is Tsome #6685
The Hebrew word is spelled tsade, vav, mem soffit – from right to left.
When you combine the meaning of these three pictograph letters, you begin to see a clearer picture. This is not just hunger from lack of food but more about the emotional state that lead to this loss of appetite. You see a person lying down in despair, who has no appetite for food. They are gripped with an overwhelming sense of grief. Their emotions are so stirred deep within that they cannot eat.
Have you ever been so distraught over something that you lost your appetite? Perhaps the death of a loved one? When you’re in this emotional state, you don’t feel like eating and you don’t feel like being entertained. The last thing you’re thinking of is throwing a party. I’m sure we all can identify with this.
So right away, hopefully you can see that so far it’s more than just abstaining from food or giving up something that brings you joy. If you give up something you enjoy without understanding the meaning behind it, then you’re just going through the motions because the act itself is devoid of meaning. You are essentially acting in the flesh and it will be counted as nothing. So let’s continue.
So we see that fasting is not just giving up food or entertainment but rather the reason FOR the fast. The Hebraic concept of fasting is grief, mourning, sorrow and regret all of which leads to repentance. We see examples in scripture of fear, lying down due to a sickening feeling, pushing away things that please due to injustice done to others.
A good example of this is when King Darius could not sleep, or eat, and did not want to be entertained because of Daniel’s situation of being in the lions den.
A stone was brought in place over the mouth of the den, and the king sealed it with his own signet ring and with the rings of his nobles, so that Daniel’s situation might not be changed. Then the king returned to his palace and spent the night without eating and without any entertainment being brought to him. And he could not sleep. At the first light of dawn, the king got up and hurried to the lions’ den. When he came near the den, he called to Daniel in an anguished voice, “Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God, whom you serve continually, been able to rescue you from the lions?” (Dan 6:17-20)
King Darius was in agony over this irreversible decree and the consequences to Daniel. This agony was for the sake of another. And when we feel this deep agony, loss of appetite etc. for another, we are exhibiting some of the same attributes that God has towards us and wants us to have for others. It is in this heartfelt action that we are “loving our neighbor.”
Another Example – Mordechai
When Mordechai learned of all that had been done, he tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and ashes, and went out into the city, wailing loudly and bitterly. But he went only as far as the king’s gate, because no one clothed in sackcloth was allowed to enter it. In every province to which the edict and order of the king came, there was a great mourning among the Jews, with fasting, and weeping and wailing. Many lay in sackcloth and ashes. When Esthers’ maids and eunucks came and told her about Mordechai, she was in great distress. She sent clothes for him to put on instead of his sackcloth, but he would not accept them. (Esther 4:1-4)
“Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Susa, and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my maids will fast as you do…” (Esther 4:16)
Here we see great distress over the Jews’ annihiliation associated with fasting. We also see that Mordechai refused to put on new clothes but chose to remain in sackcloth and continue mourning. There is so much going on in this story of Esther but I’m only focusing in on the fasting to avoid rabbit trails.
Fasting is a deep sense of sorrow and anguish to the point of losing your appetite either for ourselves (due to sin) or for others (due to injustice or an awful situation). Fasting demonstrates our love for God, and our love for others – the two greatest commandments in the bible! With this in mind, I now see how fasting brings us closer to God and hopefully you do too.