There are three types of fasting that are mentioned in the Bible: (1) Fasting without food and water, (2) Fasting from food only, and (3) Fasting from specific foods. All fasting in the Bible involved going without food. In the case of Daniel, the third fasting characterized his eating habits at a particular time in his life when he realized that God’s promises of Israel’s restoration were coming to fulfillment.
The first mention of Daniel’s fasting in reference to the fulfillment of God’s promise to restore Israel took place in the first year of Darius, “who was made king over the realm of the Chaldeans” (Dn 9:1). It was at this time that Daniel …
… understood by scrolls the number of the years revealed as the word of the Lord to Jeremiah the prophet, that He would accomplish seventy years in the desolations of Jerusalem (Dn 9:2).
Daniel understood that the end of the seventy years of captivity were coming to a close. He understood that it was now time that the people of God be restored to the land of promise in fulfillment of the prophecy that was made by Jeremiah (See Jr 25). It was a glorious realization to know that Israel was going to be nationalized again in their homeland of Palestine. The response of Daniel to the fulfillment of Jeremiah’s prophecy moved him to prayer, supplications and fasting:
Then I set my face toward the Lord God to make requests by prayer and supplications, with fasting and sackcloth and ashes (Dn 9:3).
Though Daniel knew that God would bring about the fulfillment of what He had promised, he still prayed and fasted. Sometimes fasting is for the purpose of giving thanks to God for fulfilling His promises.
Daniel’s prayers and fasting, however, were based on his confession of the sins of the people of God for what led to their captivity. “We have sinned and have committed iniquity,” he prayed. “And we have done wickedly and have rebelled, even by departing from Your precepts and from Your judgments” (Dn 9:5). He continued, “Neither have we obeyed the voice of the Lord our God to walk in His laws that He set before us by His servants the prophets” (Dn 9:10).
As many other prophets who realized that the apostate state of God’s people resulted from the turn of the people from the commandments of God, Daniel responded with mourning, prayer and fasting (See 1 Sm 31:13; 2 Sm 1:12; 3:35; Ne 1:4; Ps 35:13,14). His mourning, prayer and fasting for joy was first introduced, as other prophets, with a confession of sins on behalf of the people (See 1 Sm 7:6; 1 Kg 21:27; Ne 9:1,2; Jh 3:5-8). Daniel, as other prophets, first sought to humble himself through fasting, and then, in this case rejoice over God’s promise to restore His people to the land of promise (See Er 8:21; Ps 69:10).
In cases of rebellion against God’s word, prayer and fasting must be based on a true confession that one has rebelled against God. Unless one is willing to restore his life to obedience of the word of God, all prayers and fasting to be restored to God are in vain. The greatness of Daniel was that his prayers and fasting were in view of the fact that the nation of Israel must first return to God by returning to the law of God. Fruitful fasting is founded upon this realization: “Yes, all Israel has transgressed Your law, even by departing, that they might not obey Your voice” (Dn 9:11).
God yearns for the repentance of His people. In Israel’s case, the people were to fast, weep and mourn over their rebellion. When Israel was in rebellion before the captivity, the Lord pleaded with them: “‘Now, therefore,’ says the Lord, ‘Turn to Me with all your heart, and with fasting and with weeping and with mourning’” (Jl 2:12). In captivity, this is exactly what Daniel did for the people. His mourning over their previous rebellion, combined with prayer and fasting, revealed the sincerity of the repentance of the people. When one realizes that he has strayed from the word of God, it is a time for prayer and fasting. If one seeks to secure the help of God to be delivered from the despair of the world, it is a time for prayer and fasting (See Ex 34:28; Dt 9:9; 2 Sm 12:16-23; 2 Ch 20:3,4; Er 8:21-23).
People who rebel against the word of God are unprofitable. This was the problem with Israel before they found themselves in captivity for seventy years. Daniel wrote, “Yet we have not made our prayer before the Lord our God so that we might turn from our iniquities and understand Your truth” (Dn 9:13). Before the captivity, the people fasted, but they sought to live in rebellion to the righteousness of God. Isaiah wrote of their state of rebellion:
“Why have we fasted,” they say, “and You [God] do not see? Why have we afflicted our soul and You do not acknowledge it?” Behold, in the day of your fast you find pleasure and exploit all your laborers. Behold, you fast for strife and debate, and to smite with the fist of wickedness. You will not fast as you do this day, to make your voice to be heard on high (Is 58:3,4).
If one is not willing to turn from his way of iniquity, his fasting will be in vain. God will not hear the voice of one’s prayer. The unrighteous will not, through fasting, bring forth a repentance that will restore him to the word of God (See Is 58:5-12; Jr 14:11,12; Zc 7,8). There is no profit in fasting if one refuses to be led in belief and behavior by the word of God.
People who are not students of the word of God are people who pray and fast in vain. One cannot pray about where to go unless he follows the road map of God’s word. Before fruitful prayer and fasting begin, therefore, there must be a commitment to follow the will of God. Before we begin our prayers and fasting, we must open the word of God in order that we not be following after our own desires. When prayers and fasting are combined with one’s study of the word of God, then the fasting reveals the sincerity of the repentant.
In the third year of Cyrus, king of Persia, God sent another message to Daniel. The message was one of “great conflict” that was to come in the future of Israel after they were restored to the land (Dn 10:1). It would not be a conflict that they would bring upon themselves, but a conflict that would prevail between the nations that surrounded Israel. The Jews would suffer as a result of the wicked foreign rulers of Egypt and Syria who struggled for power over Palestine before the Roman Empire brought peace to the land.
Daniel understood the message of conflict, and because he did, he began to mourn and fast, which mourning and fasting continued for three weeks (Dn 10:2). Daniel later wrote of this period, “I ate no delicacies, nor did meat or wine come into my mouth” (Dn 10:3). This was a fast for three weeks from specific foods.
What is interesting about this time of mourning and fasting is that Daniel fasted and prayed by faith. There was no answer from God. But “in the twenty-fourth day of the first month” Daniel saw a vision (Dn 10:4-6). God finally showed up with an answer to Daniel’s prayer and fasting. For three weeks, therefore, Daniel had prayed and fasted in faith that God would reveal something.
In answer to his prayer and fasting, God sent a vision that was so overpowering that there was no strength left in Daniel (Dn 10:8). Daniel wrote, “For my natural color turned to a deathly pallor, and I retained no strength” (Dn 10:8). “And when I heard the voice of his words, I fell unconscious with my face to the ground” (Dn 10:9). It was a “powerful” vision in the sense that Daniel was physically affected. God need not answer our prayers and fasting with a vision as He did Daniel. But our reconnection with Him through fasting can be quite powerful.
What is significant about this event in the life of Daniel was the result of Daniel having committed himself to prayer and fasting in faith on behalf of God’s people. Nothing had happened from his initial prayers and fasting from the first of the month. But on the twenty-fourth day the vision came that was an answer to his prayers. Daniel 10:12 is significant in reference to this period of God’s silence throughout the days of Daniel’s prayers and fasting. God encouraged Daniel,
Do not fear, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your heart to understand and to discipline yourself [through fasting] before your God, your words were heard and I have come in response to your words (Dn 10:12).
And how powerful is that. God listens to those who offer their prayers and supplications that are offered to Him on an empty stomach. It took three weeks of fasting before an answer came, but it eventually came. What is important to remember is that when we start praying and fasting God starts to work, though we might not realize His work in our lives until much later. But He will come when we pray according to His will. God started to act upon Daniel’s requests on the first day of his fast, but did not show up until the twenty-fourth day of fasting.
God does not work on our timeline in reference to our fasting. Fasting that is combined with prayer is always a walk of faith. However, we must remember that simply because we fast and pray does not mean that God will give the answer that we expect of Him. James exhorted the one who expected God to answer every prayer: “For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord” (Js 1:7). Prayer and fasting do not obligate God. We are not as the ancient Greeks who created gods after their own imagination, which gods could be manipulated by the whims of the worshipers.
The prayer of faith that is according to the word of God will avail much. But foolish prayers for material blessings should not be uttered in order to obligate God to satisfy our carnal desires. “A double-minded man is unstable in all his ways” (Js 1:8). Those who try to focus on the carnal things of this world, while at the same time they seek to live spiritual lives, will find that their prayers for carnal things will go unanswered.
Fasting reveals that one is seeking to keep his or her mind focused on the spiritual. Fasting reenergizes the spiritual part of man. It rejuvenates the spirit by suppressing the carnal. And in this transforming experience our minds are turned from the carnal to the spiritual. If one fasts for spiritual strength, but at the same time prays for carnal things, then the contradiction will annul God’s answer.
[Next lecture in series: July 24]