In the process of building the nation of Israel, God instituted laws that were supposed to guide His chosen people, His treasured possession. Moses, God’s anointed and appointed guide, with a clear mandate to lead the Children of Israel to the Promised Land, had an encounter with God at the top of Mount Sinai. There, alone, Moses received the Ten Commandments and other instructions regarding the code of conduct for the people he was shepherding.
Moses had to stay on the mountaintop forty days and forty nights in the presence of the Lord as God dictated to him. “Write down these words for in accordance with these words I have made a covenant with you and with Israel.” (Exodus 34:27) Throughout this period that Moses received instructions and guidance directly from God, he fasted. “Moses was there with the Lord forty days and forty nights without eating bread or drinking water.” (Exodus 34:28)
Having basked in God’s glory during this period, unbeknown to him, Moses’ face became radiant, such that when he returned, the leaders of the community were afraid to come near him. In the presence of the Lord some of His glory rubs off on us. In His light we begin to see the light. Things become crystal clear. We understand better the ways of the Lord. It is a process which demands that we thrust the flesh aside.
Queen Esther had to put herself in that mood when she understood that her people, the Jews, were in imminent danger. Unless she made a move by fasting, the tide could turn against her. She realised that if anything was to happen to the Jews she could not have been spared only because she lived in the palace. Protocol required of her to get prior approval before appearing before the king – any breach could mean death.
But the matter was such that Queen Esther had to sum up courage to face the king without first seeking audience. She sent word to Mordecai her uncle, saying: “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. When this is done, I will go to the king even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish.” (Esther 4:16)
When Queen Esther faced her husband, the king, after the three day fast, the results were astounding; doors opened as she found favour with him instantly. “The king was sitting on his royal throne in the hall facing the entrance. When he saw Queen Esther standing in the court, he was pleased with her and held out to her the gold sceptre that was in his hand.” (Esther 5:1-2) The threat over her life dissolved into thin air. God’s mighty hand was at work.
Just as prayer can change dire situations, fasting mobilises God’s army of angels to turn situations around. What looked like a sad ending for Mordecai and his compatriots turned out to be in their favour. The one who sought to eliminate them, was himself eliminated. When God is attentive to the needs we express through fasting He delivers us, He restores and builds us up. He defends our cause when we put all our trust in Him. He fights our battles for us. Find out how the story unfolded by reading chapters five to ten of the Book of Esther.
King David did not find favour with God as was the case with Queen Esther; the circumstances were totally different though. A child had been born to King David after an adulterous relationship with Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah - one of the soldiers in his army. He later conspired to have him killed. Nathan, the prophet, confronted David about this treachery and he confessed his guilt. Nathan however revealed to him: “But because by doing this you have made enemies of the Lord show utter contempt, the son born to you will die.” (2 Samuel 12:14) The child became ill soon after, “David pleaded with God for the child: He fasted and went into his house and spent the nights lying on the ground…and he would not eat or drink.” (2 Samuel 12:16-17) The child however died on the seventh day as the prophet had predicted.
His servants questioned why he had broken his fast. He replied: “While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept. I thought, ‘who knows? The Lord may be gracious to me and let the child live. But now that he is dead, why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me.” (2 Samuel 12:22-23)
We cannot force God’s hand from meting justice in our favour in the light of some unrighteous act. God is a just God and will not back wrongdoing on our part, even if we use tools like fasting to crave his compassion.
While there is a lot of power in fasting, it must be for a just cause; at most it must be focused. Our Lord Jesus, prior to embarking on His ministry at the ripe age of thirty, separated Himself from the world to confer with the Father. He went into the wilderness for forty days and forty nights where He fasted.
There is a need to underline that our Lord Jesus did not fast prior to going to face the cross. He fasted for power to overcome the evil one who was bent on seeing Him fail. He fasted so that the Lord would be with Him throughout the length and breath of his stay on earth. “Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, He was hungry.” (Matthew 4:1-2)
That occasion was to constitute His first test as the tempter chose a moment when He was physically weak to get Him to fall. If our Lord Jesus had given in to Satan, where would Christianity be today? The outpouring of Scripture in Jesus’ lips strengthened His resolve to do the Father’s will and not to succumb to the temptations of the evil one. “It is written…” he proclaimed on the three occasions. Let it be written in our hearts to fast often in order that we might overcome the weaknesses of the flesh.