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Judges 20. The second appendix: The Benjamite War; the biblical concept of fasting.

JUDGES-20-171108
length: 64:02 - taught on Nov, 8 2017
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Title: Judges 20. The second appendix: The Benjamite War; the biblical concept of fasting.

 

 

Benjamin defeated the much larger army of Israel twice. It was then that they humbly sought for God's will.

 

God taught Israel that they must fully defer to His will, and that their attitude toward Benjamin should be of sorrow and not vengeance.   

 

JDG 20:26 Then all the sons of Israel and all the people went up and came to Bethel and wept; thus they remained there before the Lord and fasted that day until evening. And they offered burnt offerings and peace offerings before the Lord.

 

JDG 20:27 And the sons of Israel inquired of the Lord (for the ark of the covenant of God was there in those days,

 

JDG 20:28 and Phinehas the son of Eleazar, Aaron's son, stood before it to minister in those days), saying, "Shall I yet again go out to battle against the sons of my brother Benjamin, or shall I cease?" And the Lord said, "Go up, for tomorrow I will deliver them into your hand."

 

I would venture to say that all of us have something in our lives that we want to conquer. The means of victory is right in this passage.

 

Are we fully trusting in God for the victory over the sin and evil in our lives or are we going about it while still holding on to some of our own expectations and assumptions?

 

The bottom line is that God's will should be given heed in complete humility and also that there should be love for their neighbor resulting in sorrow for their demise.

 

If we are seeking to do what we are sure is God's will and we find that we are clearly stopped from doing so, we need to inquire of Him in prayer.

 

If God then opens the door to do the very thing that we had already sought to do, then we might wonder why He didn't open the door before. He was teaching us that we must always give heed to His will and when we did, we were ready to go ahead. The same thing happens in prayer. We may ask, "If God already knows what we're going to ask and He has determined to grant whatever it is, then why do we have to ask in faith? He is not submitting to our will. Why doesn't He just grant it?" When we ask in faith for that which is His will, it reveals that we are ready for it. God certainly knows when we are, but do we? When we ask in faith we know we are ready and we also know beyond a doubt that what was granted came only from the matchless grace of God.  

 

Now, in verse 26 it says that the people fasted. We should note the reality of fasting, which is addressed in our upcoming book on the Sermon on the Mount.

 

Fasting until evening would mean they denied themselves food as an open display of bending the heart before God accompanied by offerings.

 

This subject is the entirety of chapter 11 in the book.

 

The reality of fasting.

 

MAT 6:16 "And whenever you fast, do not put on a gloomy face as the hypocrites do, for they neglect their appearance in order to be seen fasting by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full.

 

MAT 6:17 But you, when you fast, anoint your head, and wash your face

 

MAT 6:18 so that you may not be seen fasting by men, but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will repay you."

 

It is interesting to know that no periodical fast is commanded by God in the Old Testament nor in the New.

 

We read of fasts by certain people, and in Zechariah 7 and 8 we read of fasts on the fourth, fifth, seventh, and tenth months that will be turned to joy in the Millennium, but without specifics and no actual command by God to fast.

 

However, God does mention the fasts of the people being done without the proper attitude.

 

ZEC 7:5 'When you fasted and mourned in the fifth and seventh months these seventy years, was it actually for Me that you fasted?'

 

The motivation or reason we do something determines its worth.

 

In this section of Isaiah, the last section, there is a contrast observable in the heart of Israel itself, between the hypocrites, the depraved, the rebellious, on the one side, and the faithful, the mourning, the persecuted, on the other.

 

ISA 58:1 "Cry loudly, do not hold back;

Raise your voice like a trumpet,

And declare to My people their transgression,

And to the house of Jacob their sins.

 

ISA 58:2 "Yet they seek Me day by day, and delight to know My ways, As a nation that has done righteousness,

And has not forsaken the ordinance of their God.

They ask Me for just decisions,

They delight in the nearness of God.

 

In vv. 1-2 the apostate people of Israel are pictured as hypocrites shouting to God like a shofar that they seek Him and have done righteousness. They even expect Him to lead them in deliverance.

 

They have self-righteous presumption. During Isaiah's time they are actually at their worst apostasy as idol worshippers who do evil to one another. 

 

ISA 58:3 'Why have we fasted and Thou dost not see?

Why have we humbled ourselves and Thou dost not notice?'

Behold, on the day of your fast you find your desire,

And drive hard all your workers.'

 

ISA 58:4 "Behold, you fast for contention and strife and to strike with a wicked fist. You do not fast like you do today to make your voice heard on high.

 

They fast but they still drive hard their laborers and their irritability is exacerbated to quarreling and fighting.

 

When we continue to read on in this passage in Isaiah, we find what fasting actually is.

 

God actually informs them of what fasting really is, and as it turns out, it is not treating the body painfully as a show of devotion. Fasting, as defined by God, is actually performing good towards one's neighbor.

 

ISA 58:5 "Is it a fast like this which I choose, a day for a man to humble himself? Is it for bowing one's head like a reed,

And for spreading out sackcloth and ashes as a bed?

Will you call this a fast, even an acceptable day to the Lord?

 

ISA 58:6 Is this not the fast which I choose,

To loosen the bonds of wickedness,

To undo the bands of the yoke,

And to let the oppressed go free,

And break every yoke?

 

ISA 58:7 Is it not to divide your bread with the hungry,

And bring the homeless poor into the house;

When you see the naked, to cover him;

And not to hide yourself from your own flesh?"

 

Fasting = self-denying love.

 

ISA 58:8 Then your light will break out like the dawn,

And your recovery will speedily spring forth;

And your righteousness will go before you;

The glory of the Lord will be your rear guard."

 

This clearly shows that what God calls a fast is not bowing one's head and sitting on sackcloth while his stomach aches for food, but rather it is in loving his neighbor and doing good towards him. Such a fast is not just done on periodic days but every day.

 

MAT 6:16 "And whenever you fast, do not put on a gloomy face as the hypocrites do, for they neglect their appearance in order to be seen fasting by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full.

 

MAT 6:17 But you, when you fast, anoint your head, and wash your face

 

MAT 6:18 so that you may not be seen fasting by men, but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will repay you."

 

So why is our Lord instructing disciples on fasting? His disciples will likely go on practicing it, though it is not commanded.

 

We must understand the society of the people whom the Lord is addressing. The Jews had been practicing fasting regularly. We know from the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector that the Pharisee brags to God that he fasts twice a week.

 

In order to understand the lifestyle of the Jewish people at that time it is often helpful to go to the Mishna.

 

The Mishna is the distillation of centuries of oral law that were the rabbinic interpretations of the written Mosaic Law. This included oral interpretations that went back as far as a few centuries before Christ, but were put in writing  around 200 A.D.

 

We know from the Mishna that the Jews practiced fasting regularly, but we also see that the way in which the religious Jews practiced fasting in the time of Christ had lost the idea of spiritual discipline and they regarded the act as a means of winning favor with God.

 

The religious Jews of Christ's day lost the spiritual idea of true fasting, which was stated in Isa 58. The Lord's disciples also have the misconception.

 

Christ knows that His Jewish disciples will likely continue to practice fasting. Just as there is no command for us to fast there is no command not to fast, but there is in His instruction a strict command not to fast for the purpose of garnering attention from others, which is not a fast for God but only for oneself. Unfortunately, His instruction was not heeded by many in the church since the flesh of man desires approbation, and asceticism is one way of obtaining it.

 

Why did fasting, denying oneself necessities, become a religious symbol of obedience to religion?

 

1. Fasting began as compulsory in times of famine.

 

In the very early world, after the fall of man, fasting would periodically be compulsory in times of famine or in nomadic peoples who had not mastered agriculture or had land unsuitable for it. Pagans, worshippers of false gods, under such conditions would have found it easy to conclude that fasting was the will of the gods.

 

2. Since the gods controlled the food supply, it was easy to conclude that fasting was their will. The conclusion was that to do so voluntarily would please them even more.

 

Then it would be easy to further conclude that in times when fasting wasn't necessary, that to do so voluntarily would please the gods. Since food is essential and pleasurable, but at times very scarce, fasting became a form of self denial in many cultures.

 

3. Self-denial is always admired, and so fasting became associated with religious duty.

 

It became associated with sorrow and so with religious duty. This attitude evolved to include all kinds of bodily mortifications, including sacrifice of life itself, even child sacrifice. This came to be understood as a way of expiating grief over sin in ascetic penance to the gods.

 

4. Hence fasting was a integral part of all pagan religions, and this had an effect upon Israel, who so often worshipped false gods. The same effect happened to the Christian church.  

 

The earliest Christians did not consider themselves followers of a new religion. All of their lives they had been Jews and still were. At an early date Christians practiced fasting by adopting from the Jewish practice the two weekly days of fasting.

 

5. The Jewish practice (not commanded) was fasting Monday and Thursday. Early Christians adopted this and some changed it to Wednesday and Friday.

 

As time went on, in preparation for events like Easter or services where converts were baptized, there was a time of fasting and penance beforehand. This became the origin of modern day Lent.

 

Christ does not condemn fasting but tells us how it should be done. It is not compulsive but voluntary. It would include the proper sacrifice of anything for the benefit of another.  

 

Since there is no command for denying oneself food for a set amount of time, if it is done, it is something the disciple does voluntarily, not compulsively, and for whatever reason he sees fit in his own conviction, for each believer is a priest and represents himself before God. From the passage in Isaiah 58 quoted above we would include any sacrifice or service that the disciple is performing for another, for just like going without food, the disciple would be sacrificing his personal time or wealth. He may be denying himself some legitimate function so as not to cause a weaker brother or sister to stumble. Sacrifice, or laying down one's life for another would include denial of anything, including food, for a legitimate reason. This is the practice of self-control, which is a fruit of the Spirit, and so a key aspect to the Christian way of life.

 

Therefore, according to Christ's instruction, when we perform these spiritual functions we are not to look any different than if we were not sacrificing.

 

Self-control means that I don't always satisfy the appetite of the body, whatever form that appetite may take. Often in service of others there is a call to self-renunciation. The Holy Spirit doesn't force us. We must choose to deny ourselves and trust the Spirit to give us the power to carry it through.

 

The attempt at discipline is not enough to accomplish it, as almost everyone has found out in their personal experience. Self-denial does not come natural to the flesh, and the attempt must be made based upon faith in the indwelling Spirit and in following Christ's example. We are to be aware from the word of God of the rebelliousness, constant pride, slothfulness, and self-indulgence of the flesh.

 

MAT 26:41

"The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak."

 

When we choose to deny ourselves, we must trust in God's power within us to accomplish it. If we are disciples we have His word in us and His Spirit in us and together they have more than enough power for us to see any self-denial in the will of God through to the end. Trust is a humiliation of the flesh. As Paul stated, "I buffet my body and make it my slave." The flesh hates to be denied since it lusts for kingship.

 

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