People in Bible times were dependent on the weather, much more than we are today. In good seasons they ate well, in bad seasons they often went hungry or even starved. As a result they developed an enduring faith in God’s love and providence.
Nearly every book in the Bible contains references to food starting in Genesis 1:29, when God tells Adam: “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food.”
How do we know about food in ancient times? There’s the Bible, of course, but there are also other sources of information. The 10th century BC Gezer Calendar – engraved on a limestone tablet and written in ancient Hebrew script – lists barley, wheat, spelt and millet among the grains, as well as olives, grapes, figs, pomegranates, sesame and vegetables. The staple food was bread, eaten with water and a little wine. Wine was something of a luxury, kept for a special meal or for someone of importance. Milk and other dairy products were plentiful, eaten with fruits and vegetables.
King Solomon and his court in Jerusalem enjoyed a much more luxurious standard of living (1 Kings 4:22). Solomon’s provision for one day was thirty measures of fine flour and sixty measures of meal, ten fat oxen and twenty pasture-fed cattle, a hundred sheep, besides harts, gazelles, roebucks and fatted fowl.
Recently, I participated in a corporate Daniel Fast, which is a partial fast of certain foods,based on the fasting experiences of the Old Testament prophet, Daniel, when he and his friends were captured in Israel by the Babylonians under the rule of King Nebuchadnezzar. These young and very intelligent men were to be trained as administrators in the growing Babylonian empire. So, although captives, they were treated very well.
Daniel was a man of deep faith, and devoted to God. When served the food and wine of the king, Daniel didn’t want to defile his body and so requested a different meal: “Prove thy servants, I beseech thee, ten days; and let them give us pulse to eat, and water to drink” (Daniel 1:12 KJV).
The Daniel Fast is a plant-based way of eating, and consists of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, health oils, herbs and spices. You will also see from the verse that the only beverage is water. Many years later, Daniel was mourning over Israel and its long captivity.
From this experience we gain another set of guidelines for the Daniel Fast: “I ate no pleasant bread, neither came flesh nor wine in my mouth, neither did I anoint myself at all, till three whole weeks were fulfilled” (Daniel 10:3 KJV). It is from this verse that the 21-day period is set. Entering a consecrated period of extended prayer and fasting is a life-changing experience, as you focus more of your time and thoughts on God and His ways.
Like Daniel, many people experience significant improvements to their health and performance, including lower cholesterol, reduction in pain, balanced blood sugar levels, weight loss and much more. You will also notice a surge in energy and a sense of greater well-being.
The Book of Acts records believers fasting before they made important decisions (Acts 13:4; 14:23). Fasting and prayer are often linked together (Luke 2:37; 5:33). Too often, the focus of fasting is on the lack of food. However, the purpose of fasting is to take our eyes off the things of this world and, instead, to focus on God. Fasting is a way to demonstrate to God and to ourselves that we are serious about our relationship with Him. Although fasting in Scripture is almost always a fasting from food, there are other ways to fast. Anything you can temporarily give up, in order to better focus on God, can be considered a fast (1 Corinthians 7:1-5). Fasting should be limited to a set time, especially when the fasting is from food. Fasting is not intended to punish our flesh, but to focus on God.
Fasting should not be considered a ‘dieting method’ either. We shouldn’t fast to lose weight, but rather to gain deeper fellowship with God. Anyone can fast, some may not be able to fast from food (diabetics, for example), but everyone can temporarily give up something in order to focus on God. Even unplugging the television for a period of time can be an effective fast.
With all this being said, do not let what you eat or do not eat become the focus of your fast. Keep the main thing the main thing, which is drawing closer to God. Remember, this is a time to disconnect enough from your regular patterns and habits of everyday life, in order to connect more closely to God.