This post is not an instructional presentation on how to fast, when to fast, how often to fast, or on the efficacy of fasting. The purpose of this article is to describe a typological view of fasting by first establishing a biblically founded understanding of food, eating and sacrifice, and then from that extrapolating what its denial would illustrate. This article is an expurgated version of my thoughts on this matter. It is not meant to be a fully comprehensive treaty on the subject, but merely point out a few connections that should spur on individual study. I may at some point expand the scope of relevant passages, tighten up and more fully develop the connections that paint this illustration and write a book. If I ever find the time and desire to go back to school I could seriously see this as being a focus of my study and research.
Gen. 9:1: And God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. 2 The fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth and upon every bird of the heavens, upon everything that creeps on the ground and all the fish of the sea. Into your hand they are delivered. 3 Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. And as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything. 4 But you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood. 5 And for your lifeblood I will require a reckoning: from every beast I will require it and from man. From his fellow man I will require a reckoning for the life of man.
6 “Whoever sheds the blood of man,
by man shall his blood be shed,
for God made man in his own image.
7 And you, be fruitful and multiply, increase greatly on the earth and multiply in it.”
Couched in between the command of God to fill the earth with His image, albeit one marred and corrupted by sin, we are told that the animals are given to us as food. There is a prohibition stated with the explanation of the connection and correlation of life to blood. From that the movement turns back as the reason for the application of justice for the shedding of man’s blood, who God created in His own image; the image of God that man is to fill the earth with. These verses (Gen 9:1-7) should bring to our memory Gen 1:26-31; Gen 2:7-17; Gen 4:1-15. We should note the continuity in these passages as well as the drastic changes and see why the differences are there.
Adam, our federal head, was created in the unblemished image of God and placed in the garden, the temple of the living God. He is commanded to subdue the earth, expand the bounds of this temple and fill it with the uncorrupted image of God (sinless image bearers of God would produce more sinless image bearers of God). During this probationary time plant life was given as food for Adam as well as to all the animals that have the breath of life.(Gen 1:29-30).
His failure to attain the glory of God by his sin corrupted the image of God that we in turn bear (sinful image bearers of God produce more sinful image bearers of God Gen 5:1-3) and plunged all of his posterity under condemnation and in need of the second Adam; the promised seed of the woman; the Christ who would succeed in every way that Adam failed. His seed would be clothed in His righteousness, and conformed to His image (Christ being God/The exact imprint of His nature), filling His kingdom with the cleansed image bearers of God. His seed here would be the temple of the living God. The new earth and the new city would have no temple because its temple is the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb.
The first recorded sin after the fall and expulsion from the garden is the murder of Abel by his brother Cain, and his blood cries out to God for justice. This crime while manifested horizontally (man against man) its essence is vertical. The seditious nature of the crime is against God Himself. The intent of Cain in his hatred and hostility toward God, is to kill God and take his throne, by eliminating His image that He has put on man. The blood of Abel cries out, but it is God that deserves and demands perfect justice; it is God that will exact judgment and vengeance in perfection. It is not until after the judgment of God wiping out life on the world that we come to Gen 9:1-7 where God now gives animals that have the breath of life in them as food, with the prohibition of blood. We see the same prohibition, the connection of blood to life, and its correlation to justice and atonement found in Lev 17:10-16. Keep in mind the connection to the priests as far as the ceremonial aspect of sacrifice and the food that they consume (Deut 18:1-3).
Deut 18 “The Levitical priests, all the tribe of Levi, shall have no portion or inheritance with Israel. They shall eat the Lord’s food offerings as their inheritance. 2 They shall have no inheritance among their brothers; the Lord is their inheritance, as he promised them. 3 And this shall be the priests’ due from the people, from those offering a sacrifice, whether an ox or a sheep: they shall give to the priest the shoulder and the two cheeks and the stomach.
Lev 17:10 “If any one of the house of Israel or of the strangers who sojourn among them eats any blood, I will set my face against that person who eats blood and will cut him off from among his people. 11 For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life. 12 Therefore I have said to the people of Israel, No person among you shall eat blood, neither shall any stranger who sojourns among you eat blood.
13 “Any one also of the people of Israel, or of the strangers who sojourn among them, who takes in hunting any beast or bird that may be eaten shall pour out its blood and cover it with earth. 14 For the life of every creature is its blood: its blood is its life. Therefore I have said to the people of Israel, You shall not eat the blood of any creature, for the life of every creature is its blood. Whoever eats it shall be cut off. 15 And every person who eats what dies of itself or what is torn by beasts, whether he is a native or a sojourner, shall wash his clothes and bathe himself in water and be unclean until the evening; then he shall be clean. 16 But if he does not wash them or bathe his flesh, he shall bear his iniquity.”
There are a few things we can take away from laying out these passages and examining the connections. First is that there is a very real function that food plays in the physical context of lives of man. God is the provider of our food source; He has given us animals to eat. One of the ways God sustains our lives is through the killing and eating of animals. The physical sustenance of our lives in one sense depends upon the death of another life. It is interesting to note the warning in the Lev 17 passage for eating that which dies itself or what is torn by beasts and not go through the physical cleansing process. While health and disease may be part of the reason, I would assert that what is being pictured here is specifically is hunting or the act of killing; Taking life to sustain your life. This is a concept that our western culture has sanitized when it comes to food. Gratitude to God for providing food in the form of life that we must take and consume in order to live. The two other aspects that go beyond the purview of this article but that are tangentially related to this portion directly are clothing and shelter.
God intends in this physical context to illustrate a truth far greater; one with eternal consequences; one of a spiritual nature. The reality of physical death points us to that of spiritual estrangement from any grace of God, eternal torment for our treason and rebellion against a pure and holy God. The wages of sin is death. Our good God being just must adjudicate these capital crimes against His sovereign rule and reign. The life/blood of man must be shed as a requirement to His perfect justice. The God-Man Christ Jesus stood in place of judgment propitiating the full measure of God’s wrath and vengeance, a reckoning for the life of man. The spiritual sustenance of our lives depends upon the death of another life, that of our Lord Jesus Christ. God here is the provider of this spiritual food (Gen 22). We consume His life of perfect obedience lived in our place and death in our place. More on this double imputation in a bit.
All of the elements discussed so far come together in the Passover narrative, as the physical seed of Abraham are removed from their slavery and bondage to go worship God, pointing to the reality of the spiritual seed of Abraham being removed from their bondage and slavery to sin and its consequences to worship God who delivered them. Take a look and recognize in this passage everything mentioned thus far, noting the very real physical parts that illustrate the spiritual, focusing on the consumption of the Paschal Lamb and what that represents.
Exodus 12:1The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, 2 “This month shall be for you the beginning of months. It shall be the first month of the year for you. 3 Tell all the congregation of Israel that on the tenth day of this month every man shall take a lamb according to their fathers’ houses, a lamb for a household. 4 And if the household is too small for a lamb, then he and his nearest neighbor shall take according to the number of persons; according to what each can eat you shall make your count for the lamb. 5 Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male a year old. You may take it from the sheep or from the goats, 6 and you shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month, when the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill their lambs at twilight.
7 “Then they shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it. 8 They shall eat the flesh that night, roasted on the fire; with unleavened bread and bitter herbs they shall eat it. 9 Do not eat any of it raw or boiled in water, but roasted, its head with its legs and its inner parts. 10 And you shall let none of it remain until the morning; anything that remains until the morning you shall burn. 11 In this manner you shall eat it: with your belt fastened, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand. And you shall eat it in haste. It is the Lord’s Passover. 12 For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the Lord. 13 The blood shall be a sign for you, on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you, when I strike the land of Egypt.
In Luke 22 Jesus is making covenantal distinctions between the Old and the New covenants, rooted in the covenant of redemption. Here He is connecting Himself to the Passover, its observance for the physical seed of Abraham and the institution of the LORDS supper for the spiritual seed. It is in the LORDS supper that we actively participate with Christ in His life, death and resurrection. It is more than a memory, and is a means of grace. We remember Him as we consume the bread and wine a picture of His body and blood. Christ is the reality that the Passover pointed the physical seed of Abraham towards, the reality of the New Covenant in His blood. An interesting item to note is the stark change now in place concerning the consumption of blood as compared to the Passover feast, and Levitical practices, and prohibitions laid out in Genesis and Leveticus as well as the prohibition not to eat what dies of itself. We see more of the details of the picture to fill in as we turn our attention to the connection that Christ makes of Himself, to the historical narrative concerning God’s provision in physical food to His physical seed illustrating His provision of spiritual food to His spiritual seed in the Son in John 6:25-59.
John 6:25 When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” 26 Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. 27 Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.” 28 Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” 29 Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” 30 So they said to him, “Then what sign do you do, that we may see and believe you? What work do you perform? 31 Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’ ” 32 Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” 34 They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.”
35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. 36 But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. 37 All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. 38 For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. 39 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. 40 For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”
41 So the Jews grumbled about him, because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” 42 They said, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” 43 Jesus answered them, “Do not grumble among yourselves. 44 No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. 45 It is written in the Prophets, ‘And they will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me— 46 not that anyone has seen the Father except he who is from God; he has seen the Father. 47 Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. 48 I am the bread of life. 49 Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. 50 This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
52 The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” 53 So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. 55 For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. 56 Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. 57 As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate, and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” 59 Jesus said these things in the synagogue, as he taught at Capernaum.
As pertaining to food, Jesus here is pointing us back to passages like Exodus 16. While there is no talking of life to sustain life, the point of this passage is to show the supernatural provision of God to sustain His physical people and connect that provision of food with the Sabbath. Jesus relates Himself here as the supernatural provision of God in sustaining the spiritual life of His spiritual people. In verses 51-59 moves the discussion of being the living bread that comes down from heaven to the feeding on His flesh and drinking of His blood, bringing the life for life reckoning back to the discussion. Christ, the Lord of the Sabbath (Mark 2), entered God’s rest and has also rested from His works as God did from His. His work is the supernatural provision of God to give life by the laying down of His; His active obedience (His perfect life of righteousness that He lives in our place because we don’t) and passive obedience (His suffering and dying the death that we deserve). This is His righteousness imputed to us and our sin to Him. When we take all of these passages together we see God’s intention in showing us various pictures of the gospel message in the simple act of eating; how He is just to justify sinners in active rebellion against Him and reconcile them to Himself.
As we read these final verses in the passage from John 6 again our minds should be drawn to the LORDS supper. We see our communion with Him; abiding in Him and Him in us; the life we have in Him; the participation in His life, death and resurrection.
This brings us to the idea of fasting, and by this I mean a deliberate and often prolonged abstinence from food and sometimes drink. Fasting was commanded for the Day of Atonement. It was seen and used at times to be a sign of penitence, humility and repentance. A cursory look through biblical passages that deal with fasting provides a glimpse at several reoccurring themes that coincide with this practice. They are mourning, tearing of clothing, sackcloth and ashes, all of which are expressions of grief and associated with death.
All those who by the atoning work of Christ have been reconciled to God, have also united with Christ, life death and resurrection. We have died to sin; to our old self, to a life lived for ourselves, and have risen to walk in the newness of life in Christ. Our old self enslaved to sin was crucified with Christ. This is the picture of repentance, of turning away from our rebellion and the life of sin that leads to death and turning to God and eternal life in His Son. We no longer live for ourselves but for Him who for our sake died and rose again.
Luke 9:23-24; John 12:23-26; Romans 6:1-23; Romans 8:1-11; Romans 12:1-2; 2 Corinthians 5:1-21; Galatians 2:19-21; Galatians 5:16-26; Ephesians 4:17-5:13; Philippians 2:1-11; Philippians 3:7-11; Colossians 3:1-17; 1 Peter 4:1-6.
It is the death of our old self that we affirm with fasting; in the denial of the life sustaining food. We are looking past the temporal physical promises of this life to the greater spiritual eternal promises that they represent (Hebrews 11). Only we don’t mourn or grieve like the hypocrites but rejoice in the granted repentance and newness of life. There is an interesting flow that happens in the sermon on the mount.
Mat 6:16“And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 17 But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, 18 that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
19 “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
22 “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, 23 but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!
24 “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.
25 “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? 28 And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.