What does the Bible Say about Fasting?

The words fast, fasted or fasting appear 61 times in the Old and New Testament.

The Hebrew word for fast is pronounced, tsum.”

While the Hebrew word means to abstain from food, fasting can also refer to abstinence from drinking, bathing or sexual relations. In the Bible, fasting shows our weakness and dependence upon God.

The duration of biblical fasts varied, with easier fasts beginning at sunrise and ending at sunset. Stricter fasts lasted from sunset to sunset and some fasts lasted for a week. The longest fast we know of in the Bible lasted for 40 days. The following diagram shows eight purposes for fasting, with Scriptural examples for each.

This is not intended as a comprehensive list of purposes or Scriptures. Please note how some purposes overlap, and how all overlap with the center of the diagram, which we suggest is the core purpose for all biblical fasting.

Release from OppressionPetition God’s MercyRelease from OppressionMourn for the Dead
Isaiah 58:6: “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?”Esther 4:16: “Go, gather all the Jews who are present in Shushan, and fast for me; neither eat nor drink for three days, night or day. My maids and I will fast likewise. And so I will go to the king, which is against the law; and if I perish, I perish!”Jonah 3:5: “So the people of Nineveh believed God, proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest to the least of them.”2 Samuel 1:12: “And they mourned and wept and fasted until evening for Saul and for Jonathan his son, for the people of the LORD and for the house of Israel, because they had fallen by the sword.”
Prepare for Spiritual BattleSeek GodPrepare for a Decision or Action that Requires God’s Guidance and Blessing
Matthew 4:1,2: “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And when He had fasted forty days and forty nights, afterward He was hungry.” Ezra 8:21: “Then I proclaimed a fast there at the river of Ahava, that we might humble ourselves before our God, to seek from Him the right way for us and our little ones and all our possessions.” Acts 13:2,3: “As they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’ Then, having fasted and prayed, and laid hands on them, they sent them away.”

This article was previously titled “Fast Facts.”