Bible Question:

What does fasting include? Is fasting limited to just food or can it include other things such as not buying new clothes, avoiding the television, movies, etc. What does the Bible mean when it refers to fasting?

Bible Answer:

What should be included in a biblical fast for a believer? How should we fast? Biblical fasting is more than avoiding water for a limited period of time.

Biblical Fasting

Biblical Fasting — What is included in fasting?


Sign of Fasting

The first time that fasting is mentioned in the Bible is in Ezra 8:21-23. Verse 21 reveals that fasting is an act of humbling oneself before God.

Then I proclaimed a fast there at the river of Ahava, that we might humble ourselves before our God to seek from Him a safe journey for us, our little ones, and all our possessions. Ezra 8:21 (NASB)

Fasting is not about losing weight or improving our health. It is primarily an act of humility. The message is repeated again in Psalm 35:13.

In Nehemiah 1:4 we learn that a biblical fast is focused on a humble attitude before God.  Nehemiah stated,

. . . I was fasting and praying before the God of heaven. Nehemiah 1:4 (NASB)

Nehemiah 9:1 also demonstrates that a biblical fast was very serious. We read that fasting was connected with the wearing of sackcloth and applying dirt to a person’s body. Fasting did not necessarily include the wearing of sackcloth and applying dirt, but the fact they are connected shows that fasting was an act of humiliation. Sackcloth in biblical times was a very course material that was very scratchy. Now that is a humble act done before God.

Now on the twenty-fourth day of this month the sons of Israel assembled with fasting, in sackcloth and with dirt upon them.  Nehemiah 9:1 (NASB)

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus told us that our fasting should be a private activity. He said,

Whenever you fast, do not put on a gloomy face as the hypocrites do, for they neglect their appearance so that they will be noticed by men when they are fasting. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that your fasting will not be noticed by men, but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you. Matthew 6:16-18 (NASB)

If to gain the approval of others,we tell others that we are fasting, then our fasting is not an act of humility.

Fasting Includes . . .

In the book of Esther, we discover that fasting sometimes included not drinking water. In Esther 4:16, Esther encouraged her fellow Jews to not drink water or eat for three days.  The fast she called for included not eating or drinking for three days,

Go, assemble all the Jews who are found in Susa, and fast for me; do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my maidens also will fast in the same way. And thus I will go in to the king, which is not according to the law; and if I perish, I perish.”  Esther 4:16 (NASB)

In Matthew 4:2 we are told that Jesus fasted by not eating food. Luke 2:37 and Acts 14:23 indicate that prayers were usually included with fasting.

God Desires This Fast

So, fasting can include water, food, or both. Whatever we do, we must remember that God is more interested in our heart attitude, not just our behavior. He is interested in both. In Isaiah 58:3 some Jews were questioning the benefits of their fasting. God quotes some questions that the Jews were asking God,

Why have we fasted and You do not see?
Why have we humbled ourselves and You do not notice? Behold, on the day of your fast you find your desire,
And drive hard all your workers.
Isaiah 58:3

Then God responded with,

“Behold, you fast for contention and strife and to strike with a wicked fist.
You do not fast like you do today to make your voice heard on high.
Is it a fast like this which I choose, a day for a man to humble himself?
Is it for bowing one’s head like a reed
And for spreading out sackcloth and ashes as a bed?
Will you call this a fast, even an acceptable day to the LORD?
Is this not the fast which I choose,
To loosen the bonds of wickedness,
To undo the bands of the yoke,
And to let the oppressed go free
And break every yoke?
Is it not to divide your bread with the hungry
And bring the homeless poor into the house;
When you see the naked, to cover him;
And not to hide yourself from your own flesh?
Isaiah 58:3-7

This is the fast that God desires. God desires a humble heart. He said, “Is it a fast like this which I choose, a day for a man to humble himself?”


God is not changing the meaning of fasting. He is telling us what is more important. It is a compassionate heart. Fasting is an act of humility of the soul when done correctly. These folks were arrogant in heart and unloving. God desires that we have a humble and compassionate heart. This we desire, Holy Spirit! Amen.

Suggested Links:

When a Christian is fasting should they not eat food?
Can a person make love while fasting?
Willing to humble yourself?
When fasting, how often do you pray?
Alms, prayer, and fasting