Fasting–Part of the Day of Atonement

Leviticus 23:26 And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,

27 Also on the tenth day of this seventh month there shall be a day of atonement: it shall be an holy convocation unto you; and ye shall afflict your souls, and offer an offering made by fire unto the LORD.

28 And ye shall do no work in that same day: for it is a day of atonement, to make an atonement for you before the LORD your God.

29 For whatsoever soul it be that shall not be afflicted in that same day, he shall be cut off from among his people.

30 And whatsoever soul it be that doeth any work in that same day, the same soul will I destroy from among his people.

31 Ye shall do no manner of work: it shall be a statute for ever throughout your generations in all your dwellings.

32 It shall be unto you a sabbath of rest, and ye shall afflict your souls: in the ninth day of the month at even, from even unto even, shall ye celebrate your sabbath.

Fasting Commonly Accompanies Urgent Petition

Esther 4:16 Go, gather together all the Jews that are present in Shushan, and fast ye for me, and neither eat nor drink three days, night or day: I also and my maidens will fast likewise; and so will I go in unto the king, which is not according to the law: and if I perish, I perish.

Ezra 8:21 Then I proclaimed a fast there, at the river of Ahava, that we might afflict ourselves before our God, to seek of him a right way for us, and for our little ones, and for all our substance.

Daniel 9:3 And I set my face unto the Lord God, to seek by prayer and supplications, with fasting, and sackcloth, and ashes.

Joel 2:12 Therefore also now, saith the LORD, turn ye even to me with all your heart, and with fasting, and with weeping, and with mourning.

Acts 10:30 And Cornelius said, Four days ago I was fasting until this hour; and at the ninth hour I prayed in my house, and, behold, a man stood before me in bright clothing,

31 And said, Cornelius, thy prayer is heard, and thine alms are had in remembrance in the sight of God.

Acts 14:23 And when they had ordained them elders in every church, and had prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord, on whom they believed.

Guidelines for Fasting

Isaiah 58:3 Wherefore have we fasted, say they, and thou seest not? wherefore have we afflicted our soul, and thou takest no knowledge? Behold, in the day of your fast ye find pleasure, and exact all your labours.

4 Behold, ye fast for strife and debate, and to smite with the fist of wickedness: ye shall not fast as ye do this day, to make your voice to be heard on high.

5 Is it such a fast that I have chosen? a day for a man to afflict his soul? is it to bow down his head as a bulrush, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? wilt thou call this a fast, and an acceptable day to the LORD?

6 Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke?

Matthew 6:16 Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.

17 But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face;

18 That thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret: and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly.


MEMORY VERSE: Howbeit this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting.  —Matthew 17:21


CENTRAL THOUGHT: Fasting was to accompany repentance and urgent petition many times in the Bible; it was called afflicting the soul and was intended to prove the earnestness of the seeker, make the spirit preeminent to the flesh, and bring a person into a spiritual condition as to receive inspiration and direction from God.




Leviticus 23:27 “Holy convocation”: sacred assembly. “Afflict your souls”: humble yourselves by fasting; in discipline before God.

Isaiah 58:3 “Exact all your labours”: Drive, or oppress your toilers or hired workmen; same word as “taskmaster.”




A fast was usually an individual token of humility, grief, or urgent need of God’s deliverance or direction, dependent upon personal volition. The only fast commanded in the law for all the children of Israel occurred on the yearly Day of Atonement. Isn’t it significant that on the Day of Atonement God commanded abstinence from food and physical labor for those seeking God for forgiveness? Certainly the implications of that carried on into the times of reform when Israel was returning to God from the worship of idols. There is a connection there with the recognition that the flesh had been in control and must be brought under the dominion of the spirit. Clearly, fasting doesn’t save us, but it could be an aid to the repentance and faith in Jesus Christ, which are the requirements for salvation.

We have cited a few examples of individuals seeking God for deliverance or direction: Esther, Ezra, Daniel, Cornelius, and the apostles; also the command given by the prophet Joel to Israel in his call for national repentance. There are more in Scripture, but these are enough to start our minds thinking of the earnestness and self-discipline that brought about the intervention of the Lord for them. Jesus Himself revealed the need for His disciples, after He went back to heaven, to seek for His Spirit’s power and direction by fasting and prayer. As long as the Bridegroom is with them, they don’t need to fast, was the admonition. But after the Bridegroom is gone, then they will need to fast. As our Memory Verse states, there is a kind of spiritual warfare which is only won by the Christian soldier disciplining his body and soul by fasting and prayer. This was spoken when the disciples could not understand why they could not cast a demon out; they had before that time, why not now? Jesus told them it was, “Because of your unbelief,” then added words about prayer and fasting, strongly implying that there is a connection between faith and fasting and prayer.

Jesus also gave guidelines about prayer, almsgiving, and fasting. I believe His point was that all three of these are spiritual disciplines intended to bring about self-denial, preventing the flesh from having dominion. If these are done for a show, the intended discipline is of no avail. The flesh wins anyway, and the whole point is lost. The reward of which He speaks is God’s presence and power. The reward of doing it for show is man’s short-lived approval, which is of no value.

We also read Isaiah’s words to the Jews, rebuking them for their formal, sanctimonious way of fasting. They attempted to gain God’s recognition and commendation, and then complained when it was withheld—all the while carrying on with strife, oppression, covetousness, personal pleasure and gain. They also held a critical, holier-than-thou attitude toward others. These actions give us understanding that true fasting not only includes abstaining from food, but also encompasses humility of heart, unselfish giving, charity, and compassion. Again, there is a kind of fasting that actually feeds the flesh and ego, while God’s kind of fasting brings about true self-denial.

—Angela Gellenbeck



  1. Discuss the connection between fasting and atonement.
  2. Discuss the connection between fasting and urgent petition.
  1. What was wrong with the fasting of the Israelites in Isaiah 58?
  2. What really happens when fasting is done for show?
  3. Explain the connection between a certain kind of spiritual warfare and fasting.




“Prayer is the one hand with which we grasp the invisible; fasting, the other, with which we let loose and cast away the visible. In nothing is man more closely connected with the world of sense than in his need of food, and his enjoyment of it. It was the fruit, good for food, with which man was tempted and fell in Paradise. It was with bread to be made of stones that Jesus, when an hungered, was tempted in the wilderness, and in fasting that He triumphed. The body has been redeemed to be a temple of the Holy Spirit; it is in body as well as spirit, it is very specially, Scripture says, in eating and drinking, we are to glorify God. It is to be feared that there are many Christians to whom this eating to the glory of God has not yet become a spiritual reality. And the first thought suggested by Jesus’ words in regard to fasting and prayer, is, that it is only in a life of moderation and temperance and self-denial that there will be the heart or the strength to pray much.” These are the words of Andrew Murray in his book, With Christ in the School of Prayer. I felt they expressed the essence of the lesson so clearly; of course, there is far more that can be said, which we cannot cover in one small lesson. I hope there has been enough to stir our minds to the great worth of and valuable reason for prayer accompanied with fasting.

In this time of the delay of Christ’s coming, when we are admonished to earnestly desire the return of our heavenly bridegroom; when the warnings about these last days contain the idea that eating and drinking will be rampant, as in the time of Noah; and our extreme danger will be that we will be ensnared by these things—let us give ourselves unto fasting and prayer, that our warfare will be successful, our soul-winning accompanied by the Lord’s deliverance, and we will ready and waiting for the return of our Lord.

—Angela Gellenbeck



I am often intrigued by grueling workouts that professional athletes endure in order to win a gold medal and claim the honor of being the Olympic champion. Their moment on the podium is the culmination of countless hours, days and years of rigorous training and self-denial.

They train their body as well as their mind. They cut no corners. They monitor everything that is pertinent to their goal—what they eat, how much they eat and when they eat it. They monitor their exercise regimen and the intensity of it. They fully understand that the integrity of their training will translate into victory during the times of their greatest testing. They are not just battling their competition, they’re battling themselves. Therefore, it is imperative that they bring their body into subjection. They do it to obtain a corruptible crown. We do it to obtain an incorruptible crown.

The integrity and intensity of our private devotion and obedience to God and his Word determines how successful we are in the battles that we face. How rigorously we train and subdue the flesh plays a vital role in our success as well. Our spiritual foes are not just what comes against us from without, but we must also contend with our flesh. It is constantly being recruited by the enemy to join forces and fight against us.

Fasting is one of our most deliberate forms of self-denial. It is the gateway, the path that leads to a deeper experience with the Lord. It is one of the ways that God has chosen for us, of our own volition, to subdue our flesh and have dominion over it. If we fail to master ourselves, we will fail at nearly every spiritual battle we face. We must train ourselves to exert constant control over our flesh. It must be conquered! Either we conquer it, or it conquers us.

—Darrell Johnson