A couple of weeks ago, I was studying the topic of fasting. At that time, I thought that I was going to be teaching from Matthew 6:16-18 –
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. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (Matthew 6:16-18 ESV)
I was already familiar with the passage in Isaiah concerning fasting –
“Cry aloud; do not hold back; lift up your voice like a trumpet; declare to my people their transgression, to the house of Jacob their sins. Yet they seek me daily and delight to know my ways, as if they were a nation that did righteousness and did not forsake the judgment of their God; they ask of me righteous judgments; they delight to draw near to God. ‘Why have we fasted, and you see it not? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you take no knowledge of it?’ Behold, in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure, and oppress all your workers. Behold, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to hit with a wicked fist. Fasting like yours this day will not make your voice to be heard on high. Is such the fast that I choose, a day for a person to humble himself? Is it to bow down his head like a reed, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? Will you call this a fast, and a day acceptable to the LORD? Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh? (Isaiah 58:1-7 ESV)
But, I was not familiar with the following passage from Zechariah –
Then the word of the LORD of hosts came to me: “Say to all the people of the land and the priests, When you fasted and mourned in the fifth month and in the seventh, for these seventy years, was it for me that you fasted? And when you eat and when you drink, do you not eat for yourselves and drink for yourselves? Were not these the words that the LORD proclaimed by the former prophets, when Jerusalem was inhabited and prosperous, with her cities around her, and the South and the lowland were inhabited?”
And the word of the LORD came to Zechariah, saying, “Thus says the LORD of hosts, Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another, do not oppress the widow, the fatherless, the sojourner, or the poor, and let none of you devise evil against another in your heart.” But they refused to pay attention and turned a stubborn shoulder and stopped their ears that they might not hear. They made their hearts diamond-hard lest they should hear the law and the words that the LORD of hosts had sent by his Spirit through the former prophets.
Therefore great anger came from the LORD of hosts. “As I called, and they would not hear, so they called, and I would not hear,” says the LORD of hosts, “and I scattered them with a whirlwind among all the nations that they had not known. Thus the land they left was desolate, so that no one went to and fro, and the pleasant land was made desolate.” (Zechariah 7:4-14 ESV)
It is clear from these passages that fasting and feasting (from Zechariah 7:6) pertains to more than the absence or presence of food and drink. In fact, I would suggest that, according to Isaiah 58 and Zechariah 7, fasting and feasting pertains to more than our relationship with God. Instead, God intends fasting and feasting to turn our hearts toward him, toward one another, and toward those who are hungry, homeless, poor, oppressed, fatherless, widowed, and foreign.
These are not contrary or contradictory ideas. Turning our hearts toward God will automatically turn our hearts toward other people. Why? Because God’s heart is with people. It is impossible to read Scripture without seeing that God cares for people and expects his children to demonstrate that same love and concern. In fact, if our hearts are not turned toward others, then our hearts are not properly turned toward God. If we do not demonstrate love toward others, then we do not love God.
Notice especially this rhetorical question from Isaiah 58:7 – “Is it [the fast that God chooses] not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?” This fast goes far beyond giving up food and drink. It actually goes beyond turning your thoughts toward God. This rhetorical question recognizes that when one of God’s children turns his or her thoughts toward God, that person’s thoughts are also turned towards those who have physical needs, and that person acts to relieve those needs.
I have “fasted” before, meaning that I have given up food for a specified period of time. I still have several journals that I wrote during these “fasts”. But, when I compare my “fasts” to Scripture, I see that my “fasts” were not of the type that God chooses. I remember learning many things during “fasts” – many things about God and many things about myself. But, if I honestly compare my “fasts” with the fasts that God desires (as described in Isaiah 58 and Zechariah 7), then I must admit that I did not truly fast before God. How do I know? Because my heart was not turned toward those who were suffering injustice, oppression, hunger, poverty, etc. Since my heart was not turned toward others, I certainly did not act as God desires.
I wonder… am I willing to fast now?