SIGNIFICANCE of FASTING in our SPIRITUAL JOURNEY: "And when all Jabesh Gilead heard all that the Philistines had done to Saul, all the valiant men arose and took the body of Saul and the bodies of his sons; and they brought them to Jabesh, and buried their bones under the tamarisk tree at Jabesh, and fasted seven days." (1 Chron. 10:11-12)
The city of Jabesh Gilead was situated just east of the River Jordan. Upon hearing the tragic news of the demise of King Saul and his sons, some courageous men of Jabesh Gilead journeyed all night to Beth Shan in order to retrieve their bodies from where they had fallen. They brought their bones back to Jabesh Gilead and then buried them under the tamarisk tree. However, they did not stop there but out of their grief, respect and admiration for King Saul, they fasted for seven complete days! These brave men of Jabesh Gilead had not forgotten the kindness that King Saul had shown them about forty years ago when he came to their aid and had saved their city from Nahash the Ammonite (see 1 Sam. 11:1–11).
The reason why the valiant men of Jabesh Gilead had fasted for seven days was to express their profound grief over King Saul’s death (10:12). Rather than hide their sadness and inner feelings of loss, they openly expressed it by using fasting as a cleansing discipline. The Old Testament reveals other purposes for fasting among the Israelites, which include the times when they were faced with public calamities (2 Sam. 1:12); when they were in imminent danger (Esther 4:16); when they had afflictions (2 Sam. 12:16; Ps. 35:13; Dan 6:18); when they had commemorated special occasions of God’s deliverance (Zech. 8:19); when they were grieving for their disobedience against God (Judg. 20:26; 1 Sam. 7:6); when they were expressing humility before God (Lev. 16:29; Ps. 69:10); and when they were seeking guidance from God by focusing on Him alone (Exo. 34:28; 2 Chr. 20:3–4). Usually, their fasting was accompanied by prayer (Dan 9:3); confession of sin (1 Sam. 7:6; Neh. 9:1-2), and self-humiliation (Deut. 9:18; Neh. 9:1).
We have numerous examples of people in the Bible who fasted, including Moses (Exo. 24:18; 34:27–28; Deut. 9:9, 18), the Israelites (1 Sam. 7:5–6), King David (2 Sam. 12:15–16), Ahab (1 Kin. 21:27), Ezra (Ezra 8:21–23), Nehemiah (Neh. 1:4–11), Daniel (Dan. 9:3–4; 10:2, 3), the people of Nineveh at Jonah’s message of judgment (Jon. 3:4–9), Zechariah (Zech. 8:19), our Lord Jesus Christ (Matt. 4:2), the Roman centurion Cornelius (Acts 10:30–32), lastly, the church at Antioch (Acts 13:1–5).
When our Lord Jesus Christ was teaching about fasting to His disciples, He purposely used the term “when you fast” two times instead of “if you fast”: "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" (Matt. 6:16-18). Jesus was emphasizing that fasting is an essential ingredient for our spiritual journey & it is a matter of “when” and not “if” with regards to fasting.
Let us remember that there is a great significance in fasting during our spiritual journey. Fasting is a means toward spiritual focus by concentrating on God rather than on food and other personal needs. Fasting is a good way to honor God in our critical situations and ask for His help. Finally, fasting is a spiritual discipline that clarifies our vision, and makes us sensitive to God’s plan and purpose for our earthly life. Let us fast regularly, and get refocused as we move forward towards our final destination.