“Is this not the fast that I have chosen: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, to let the oppressed go free, and that you break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and that you bring to your house the poor who are cast out; when you see the naked, that you cover them…” Isaiah 58:6-7
In Isaiah 58, YHVH tells His people Israel that they are not to be hypocrites when they fast, going through the motions with their head and body but not their heart (Isa 58:3-5, Jer 14:12, etc.). In Isaiah 58:6, He is talking about repenting for exploiting their workers. He tells them to turn back to Him and make a genuine change in their lives, showing compassion to others. In verse 7, Yehovah gets more specific when He describes the nature of a truly sincere fast, which would cause the people to exhibit the fruit of the Spirit in their actions, such as taking care of the poor and hungry, and clothing the naked.
To me, this is one of the most beautiful passages in all of Scripture, as YHVH is pointing out to His people how they have fallen short (as we all have in our lives), telling them they need to repent, guiding them (and us) as to what they should be doing, and then promising them wonderful blessings if they will follow His instructions (Isa 58:8-11).
Many Scriptures talk about the positive results of fasting sincerely from your heart:
- In Joel 2:12, YHVH tells the people to turn to Him with their whole heart, with fasting and weeping; He goes on to say that they are to rend their heart and not their garments, and then Joel says that YHVH is gracious and merciful and will bless them for turning back to Him (Joel 2:13-14). This is similar to what He says through Jeremiah when He tells His people to circumcise their hearts and turn back to Him (also see Deut 10:16 and 30:6).
- Yeshua adds meaning to these words when He tells people that they need to fast inwardly (in secret) and not outwardly (walking around in sackcloth and showing everyone how they are being so righteous with their fasting). As in Isaiah and other Scriptures, He also says that Abba Father will reward them openly when they fast secretly (Matt 6:16-18).
- When King Darius had to throw Daniel into the lion’s den because he had broken the decree that no one was to worship a different god than the official god of their kingdom, Darius stayed up all night fasting. When he came down to check on Daniel in the morning, he found him alive and well. What really fascinates me about Darius is that he called Daniel the “servant of the living God” even before he knew that he had been saved from the lions (Daniel 6:18-23). This tells me that Darius was sincerely fasting from his heart and that he was praying to the true living God and not one of his false gods. It is also apparent from this passage that Darius was moved with compassion, which inspired his fasting.
What do these Scriptures teach us about our heart attitude when we are fasting and praying? If we are fasting because we think it makes us a better Christian, or we think it’s the right thing to do to get God to answer our prayers, or we are simply following Abba’s instructions to fast but our heart is not in it, what are we accomplishing? We are only fasting outwardly to convince others (or ourselves) that we are righteous people who are following God’s will. We need to look into our hearts and find out what our true motives are when we fast or pray.
Are we truly seeking to draw closer to YHVH and to be pleasing to Him? If that is true, then the fruit of the Spirit should be evident in our lives, starting with our love and compassion for others.
Look again at Isaiah 58 and ask these questions of yourself: are you helping to undo the heavy burdens of others; are you sharing your bread with the hungry and bringing to your house the poor who are cast out; are you clothing the naked and taking care of the widows and fatherless? If you are, then Yehovah will reward you openly: your light shall break forth like the morning, your healing shall spring forth speedily…Then you shall call, and YHVH will answer; you shall cry, and He will say, ‘Here I am.’ Isaiah 58:6-9