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The Book of Esther
Lesson Six


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Bible Study
The Book of Esther
Lesson Six


Fasting

In The Book of Esther, even though God’s name is not mentioned, we see His care for His people, and how He protected them from utter destruction.

 

Prayer is not mentioned, either – nor any spiritual service, other than fasting.

 

Esther 4:3

And in every province, whithersoever the king's commandment and his decree came, there was great mourning among the Jews, and fasting, and weeping, and wailing; and many lay in sackcloth and ashes.

 

In lesson six, we want to take a look at this subject of fasting.  

 

First we will note what it is to fast from food: how long; when; why; and the benefits.  Then we will discuss what it is to fast from the world and the things of the flesh.

 

FAST

·        abstain from food;

·        eat sparingly, or abstain from some foods;

·        abstain from things – such as pleasures, etc.

 

The word fast is not found in the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible, known as The Law or The Books of Moses) but there is reference made there to afflicting the soul – see Leviticus 23:27–32.

 

The only public fast in that time period was during the great Day of Atonement, in which one day each year was set aside for this purpose.  This took place in the seventh month, from the evening of the ninth day to the evening of the tenth – see Leviticus 16:29–34.  

 

There was no work done during that time.  It was a time to afflict their souls that they might find atonement (restoration of one's relationship with God) for their sins.

 

The Jews were strict in fasting.  They often fasted in times of hard and trying circumstances, as a nation or individually, eating nothing during a fast.  

 

In the Old Testament, when fasting is mentioned we usually find reference to rending (or tearing) one’s clothes and putting on sackcloth.

 

SACKCLOTH

·        coarse loose cloth made of goat’s hair;

·        cloth used in making sacks – Genesis 42:25;

·        rough garments made for mourning

 

Also see:

·        Leviticus 11:32

·        Joshua 9:4

·        Genesis 37:34

·        Job 16:15

·        I Kings 21:27

·        Joel 1:8, Jonah 3:4–10

 

Esther 4:1

When Mordecai perceived all that was done, Mordecai rent his clothes, and put on sackcloth with ashes, and went out into the midst of the city, and cried with a loud and a bitter cry.

 

Rend your heart

Joel 2:13

And rend your heart, and not your garments, and turn unto the Lord your God: for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repenteth Him of the evil.

 

REND (RENT, past tense of REND)

·        an outward sign of grief by tearing one’s garment;

·        figurative of contrition of heart

 

Back in those days, when someone was in mourning, they tore their garments as a sign of sorrow, and put on sackcloth and ashes.  

 

But God isn’t looking for the outward signs of sorrow.  He is looking for a broken heart.

 

When we fast and pray our hearts are often broken before the Lord, when we see ourselves as we really are in contrast to His holiness.

 

Reasons for Fasting

In the Scriptures, we find individuals fasting, and, sometimes, even an entire nation would fast.  Let’s look in the Word, and see some of the various reasons for fasting:

 

When grieving

·           HannahI Samuel 1:1–8 

In time of grief, Hannah fasted and sought the Lord – and she received the answer!

 

·           JonathanI Samuel 20:34

When grieved over what his father had done to David, Jonathan didn’t eat.

 

·           Mourning for SaulI Samuel 31:12,13

The valiant men fasted seven days and mourned for Saul.  

Fasting was common in bereavement.

 

·           David and his menII Samuel 1:12

David and his men fasted and mourned for days for Saul and Jonathan.

 

In prospect of judgment

We may fast for souls, but fasting won’t change God’s forthcoming judgment.

 

·        Davidsee II Samuel 12:11–16

David fasted seven days for his sick son.  While the child was alive he fasted and wept, hoping the Lord would let his son live.  But when the child died, David no longer fasted for him.  He knew fasting wouldn’t do anything for him now.

 

·        The people of Ninevehsee Jonah 3:4–7

The people of Nineveh heard of God’s intended judgment upon them, and they all fasted and prayed, turning from their evil ways, hoping that God might repent Him of the evil He intended to bring to their city.

 

God saw their repentance – and judgment was lifted!  If we will fast and pray for the lost and dying, interceding for them, we also will see results see Jonah 3:10.  

 

Should you abstain from all food and drink?  In this account, they fasted both food and water – but usually, it is wise to drink something during a fast: water, juice, or some other liquid.

 

A heart stirred to seek the Lord

Acts 9:9

And he was three days without sight, and neither did eat nor drink.

 

Paul had been on his way to Damascus to persecute the Christians, when he was confronted by the Lord.  He asked the Lord, Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?

 

There certainly was a change of heart here.  Something took place in Paul’s life this day to change him, causing him to turn to the Lord.

 

The Lord told him to go into the city and wait, and it would be told him what he should do.  When he rose to go, his eyes were blinded.  He was that way for three days, before Ananias came to tell him what the Lord wanted him to do.  

 

Paul didn’t eat or drink during those three days.  

 

I imagine this experience Paul had with the Lord on that road was such a tremendous experience that he had no desire to eat or drink.

 

You can get so taken up with God that you lose your desire for food and drink.  Sometimes when people get a revelation from the Word, and they begin to search it out, they set all else aside.  They don’t feel like eating or drinking.  All they want to do is spend time before the Lord in His Word.  They know they are having a visitation from the Lord, and nothing else matters at the time.

 

Why fast?

Many religious people fast as a spiritual exercise that is part of their religion.  In the world we find students fast before they take an exam; prisoners fast to get public attention to their plight; heavy people fast to lose weight.

 

But why should a true child of God fast?

 

Wrong motives

In Isaiah 58 they were fasting with the wrong motives.  They came before God as a godly nation, but were actually fighting in strife and debate.  Isaiah dealt with them about this:

 

see Isaiah 58:1–5

.  .  .  Wherefore have we fasted, say they, and Thou seest not?  wherefore have we afflicted our soul, and Thou takest no knowledge?  Behold, in the day of your fast ye find pleasure, and exact all your labours.  

 

Behold, ye fast for strife and debate, and to smite with the fist of wickedness: ye shall not fast as ye do this day, to make your voice to be heard on high .  .  .  

 

Some like to fast as an excuse not to work, instead of for the purpose of drawing closer to the Lord.  Though they are fasting, they are too busy to seek the Lord.

 

In the day of your fast ye find pleasure, and exact all your labors.  

They say they can’t work because they are fasting – yet they keep busy doing things in which they find pleasure.  There is no real spiritual motive to their fast.  They spend the day just as they always would – in pleasures and labors.

 

Isaiah 58:5

Is it such a fast that I have chosen?  a day for a man to afflict his soul?  is it to bow down his head as a bulrush, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him?  wilt thou call this a fast, and an acceptable day to the Lord?

 

Fasting to be seen by others

Matthew 6:16–18

Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast.  

 

Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.  But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face; that thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret: and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly.

 

The hypocrites in Jesus’ day wanted everyone to notice when they were fasting.  They would disfigure their faces and look sad, wanting everyone to take note.

 

But fasting to be seen of others, wanting to gain sympathy and admiration, is a wrong motive.

 

Jesus went on to tell us to anoint our heads, and wash our faces, so others wouldn’t take note that there was anything different about us – and only God would know that we were fasting.

 

Now, it’s hard to fast without our family taking note that we’re not eating – because they’re around us when it’s meal time.  But that doesn’t mean we have to broadcast it, looking for their sympathy or praise.  

 

Some people make sure they tell everybody that they’re fasting.  They want all to know how hard it is for them – especially if it’s a fast of any length.

 

The Pharisees also boasted that they fasted twice a week: but there’s no benefit in fasting if it’s just a ritual.

 

The fast God has chosen

Isaiah 58:6

Is not this the fast that I have chosen?  to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke?

 

Fasting helps to humble you

Psalm 35:13

But as for me, when they were sick, my clothing was sackcloth: I humbled my soul with fasting; and my prayer returned into mine own bosom.

 

If you have a problem with pride, one way to humble yourself is through a fast.  

 

Fasting brings humility.  It brings the worst out in us, so that we can acknowledge those carnal things and forsake them.

 

Psalm 69:10

When I wept, and chastened my soul with fasting,

that was to my reproach.

 

The important thing in fasting is to fast as unto the Lord

For some, fasting just one meal a day is an accomplishment – and because they do it as unto the Lord, they find it is effective.

 

We can’t say that they’re not fasting.  To them it is a fast and it is helpful.  The way some people indulge in food, to skip one meal a day for a season is just as much an accomplishment as though they stopped eating for a month or more!

 

Others may fast by eliminating all meals, while some may eliminate just desserts.  

 

Whatever one does, it should be between them and the Lord – not to impress man, or to be approved by them.

 

We don’t want the wrong motives for fasting.  The only reason to fast is to put down the flesh, and to draw closer to the Lord.

 

Fasting from your mate with consent

I Corinthians 7:5

Defraud ye not one the other, except it be with consent for a time, that ye may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again, that Satan tempt you not for your incontinency.

 

If you are stirred to step aside and fast and seek the Lord, get consent from your mate to totally give yourself to the Lord during that time – and then, when your fast is over, return to your normal life again.

 

If you do this without your mate’s consent, you could cause them to be tempted to look elsewhere and bring havoc into your marriage.

 

Isaiah would tell us not to fast for strife or debate, not to fast to smite with the fist of wickedness.

 

If you have a struggle to overcome something, not gaining the victory in that area, fasting will help.  And sometimes you might have to fast more than once before the victory comes – but it’s there if you desire it.

 

You are to fast with the right motives: fasting to draw closer to the Lord, and to have the power of God at work in and through you that you might help others.  The right motive when fasting is to pray for spiritual things, for the power of God to set people free, the power of God to loose the bands in your own life – to just want the Lord to have His way with you – breaking the things in you which are displeasing to Him.

 

In Isaiah 58 we find promise of blessing when we fast with the right motives:

 

Isaiah 58:8–9

Then shall thy light break forth as the morning, and thine health shall spring forth speedily: and thy righteousness shall go before thee; the glory of the Lord shall be thy rereward.

 

Then shalt thou call, and the Lord shall answer; thou shalt cry, and He shall say, Here I am.  

 

If thou take away from the midst of thee the yoke, the putting forth of the finger, and speaking vanity

 

Benefits of fasting

It doesn’t hurt any of us to fast from time to time.  In fact, we will find there are benefits in giving ourselves over to fasting.

 

Usually, when we have a need, such as needing victory over something; or when Satan is giving us a rugged time; or we want to see a victory in someone else’s life, then we will find it beneficial to stop and take time to fast and pray.

 

It’s nice when we’re concerned enough for someone else that we will fast and pray for them – wanting to see them gain a victory, gain spiritual power over something, or whatever the need may be.

 

The power of God

see Luke 4:1, 2, 14

And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit into Galilee: and there went out a fame of Him through all the region round about.

 

When Jesus was led of the Holy Ghost into the wilderness to fast, Satan was right there to try to hinder Him: but Jesus put him down with the Word of God.

 

Notice that Jesus returned from the wilderness in the power of the Spirit.

 

When the Spirit of God leads us into a fast, we will come out with the power of the Spirit in our lives.  

 

The purpose of our fasting is that we might

·        receive spiritual gifts

·        be able to overcome sin

·        have the power of God in our lives

o          to walk in the Spirit

o          to reach out with the Gospel

 

Sometimes there are things in our lives that have been there for years, imbedded deep within – and the only thing that will give total victory is for us to fast and pray until we see the victory.

 

So, the motive of our fast is important if we are to benefit from it.

 

Power to be a witness

Not everyone will have such power just because they are led to fast – as the gifts of Spirit are distributed severally as He wills.  

 

But we all have been promised the power of God to be witnesses unto Jesus in one way or another see Acts 1:8.

 

Pray that the Lord will cause you to have what He wants for your individual life – and when He gives it to you, be sure you are faithful to use it to His honor and glory.

 

Many times when a person first gets saved – even before they barely understand about the power of God – they want to receive the gifts of miracles and healing.  All the excitement and zeal, all the newness of being saved, causes them to want great power in their life to reach out to others.

 

But God doesn’t normally give a new convert such power right away – because it would destroy them.  

 

And God’s purpose in giving us power isn’t to destroy us.

 

Power over Satan

Matthew 17:21

Howbeit this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting.

 

The disciples had tried to cast the devil out of a boy who was possessed.  The devil would often throw him into the fire and into the water, and his father brought him to the disciples looking for deliverance.

 

But they were powerless to bring help.

 

When the father came to Jesus, Jesus was able to set the boy free.  The disciples asked why they couldn’t cast the devil out, and He told them, This kind only goes out by prayer and fasting.

 

If we want to see the demon–possessed set free, it will certainly take much prayer and much fasting to have this power at work in our lives.

 

Through prayer and fasting devils will have to go – that is, if we pray and fast with the right motive.

 

Keeps us on guard

II Timothy 3:12

Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.

 

Realize when you decide to do the will of God that it won’t be a bed of roses.  There will be hardships, persecutions, troubles.  

 

But knowing that God is with you and that His grace will take you through will keep you going on – no matter what you may have to go through.

 

See Acts 14:19–23

In this account we find that Paul was stoned.  He was taken out of the city, because they thought he was dead.  But as the disciples stood around about him, he got up and returned to the city for the night.

 

The next day he left with Barnabas for Derbe.  They preached there, and then started to journey back home, encouraging the new believers along the way, and letting them know that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God.

 

Before returning to Antioch, they ordained elders in every church, and prayed with fasting, commending them to the Lord.

 

Even though Paul had just faced severe persecution, being stoned and left for dead, he continued on doing the will of God.  He got right up, and went ahead to confirm the souls that had been won during his journey.

 

He wanted to be sure to exhort them to expect tribulation if they were to enter the kingdom of God – exhorting them to be able to stand.

 

We can see that fasting and praying helps us keep spiritually alert to the devices of the wicked one.  It helps to keep us on guard against his attacks.

 

If answer is delayed

Certainly, there is no benefit to fasting until you get the victory – for, if you do, you may die from hunger before the answer comes!

 

Sent of the Holy Ghost after fasting and prayer

There are several instances in the book of Acts where the church fasted and prayed as a body before sending laborers forth:

 

Acts 13:2–3

As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate Me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them.  And when they had fasted and prayed, and laid their hands on them, they sent them away.

 

Barnabas and Paul went out with the blessings of the church upon them.  They weren’t running ahead of God in their zeal to have a ministry.  No, the Holy Ghost was sending them.

 

You can see the importance of being sure the Lord is sending you by looking at what lay ahead for Paul and Barnabas: such as persecution, troubles on the left and troubles on the right, hardships, and so on.

 

They could have gotten discouraged and given up – but they had the assurance that the Holy Ghost had sent them forth, and they intended to be faithful to His call.

 

If you fast but get no results, eat for a season – and then go on another fast.  Even though you aren’t fasting all the time, don’t give up seeking for the answer until it comes.

 

How long?  and how often?  

a) Forty days and nights:

          Elijah – I Kings 19:5–8

          Moses – Exodus 34:28

          Jesus – Luke 4:2

 

Here we find several instances in the Word in which someone was led to fast as long as forty days – but that is not the norm.

 

·        Don’t fast for a long time unless you are led by God to do so.   

·        Never go on a fast of substantial length without the definite leadings of God.  

 

If you try to go on a long fast in your own strength, you may find some terrible problems as a result – even to where your mind is affected!  Usually when someone isn’t eating for a long period of time their body is dehydrated and undernourished – that’s why they give IV’s in the hospitals.

 

If God is leading to fast, He will supply the strength – but be sure He is leading.

 

b) Twenty–one days:

see Daniel 10

Daniel went for 21 days without eating any pleasant bread, flesh, or wine.  He mourned those three weeks, that he might understand the vision God had given him.

 

c) Fourteen days:

Acts 27:33

Paul and the rest who were on board ship went without food for fourteen days during the storm.

 

d) Three days or less:

The Multitude – see Mark 8:1–3

The multitude had spent three days learning from Jesus.  They had taken no thought for food, and Jesus didn’t want to send them home hungry, lest they faint in the way.

 

When you fast, it is beneficial to get away from all distractions and get alone with the Lord.  

 

In general, a three day fast is very affective.  But even if it is for a day or two, if you can shut everything out and get alone with Jesus, such a fast will be a great blessing.

 

And fasting just one day wouldn’t hurt anybody!  In fact, if it is done with the right motive, it will help.  It might feel like you’re dying of hunger, but certainly even seven days without food wouldn’t kill you.

 

After missing a few meals you may be tempted to give in.  Resist that hunger and keep fasting – the hunger will leave, as you resist it, and when the fast is done then you’ll be hungry again.

 

Whenever you fast, get the mind of the Lord: and you should have no trouble, but will be blessed.

 

Set no time limits

It doesn’t hurt you to fast – but I don’t believe you should make a vow to fast a specific number of days periodically.  Set no time limits unless the Lord leads.

 

Luke 18:10–14

I thank Thee, that I am not as other men are I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess.

 

There is no law that says how often you should fast – or how little.  The main point is to be sensitive to the Lord, fasting as unto Him.

 

If you make it a general rule to fast a certain number of days each week or each month, then it just becomes a ritual, a religious exercise to you.  It loses its real meaning.

 

When you need courage to do something

Now, back to The Book of Esther for a final look at fasting in that book.

 

See Esther 4:15, 16 and 5:1, 2

Note, first of all, there was some serious fasting and prayer before Esther went to present herself to the king.  

 

When you have something to do that takes courage, before you take any action, it might be good for you to first take time to fast and pray.  

 

I think if God’s people fasted and prayed a bit more about some of the things that they did, they might find better results.

 

Fasting from the world

Now, aside from fasting food or drink, the child of God should fast from the world – that is, be separate from those things that would draw their heart away from the Lord.

 

II Corinthians 6:17

Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you

 

We are warned not to have fellowship with evil associations.  We have to be very careful that we don’t get involved with carnal friends.

 

Proverbs 22:24–25

Make no friendship with an angry man; and with a furious man thou shalt not go: lest thou learn his ways, and get a snare to thy soul.

 

Realize the weight of this scripture.  If you have a friend who is filled with wrath and anger, that spirit could take hold of you, too, causing you to be angry for no reason at all.

 

There may be nothing to set you off into a fit of anger, but just because you spend time with that one who is filled with anger, it can work on you.  They may (supposedly) be saved; but if they have no rule over their spirit, if they yield to anger and rage, you’d best not fellowship with them.  

 

If you know that they are always fighting over every little thing, why keep fellowship with them?

 

If it’s in your family, you can’t escape it – but why invite it unnecessarily just for friendship’s sake?

 

And if you’re the one who has this problem, get down to business and seek God to be set free from it – that your home can be spared this friction, and that you can get right with God.

 

Know that to go out and purposefully choose to be friends with an angry person will only serve to draw you away from the Lord.

 

I Corinthians 15:33

Be not deceived: evil communications corrupt good manners.

 

In other words, if you are friends with the ungodly, it will corrupt your Christian walk, even morally.

 

You may not intend to get involved with the things of the world; you may not want to be a fighty, carnal person – but if you associate with those who are, it won’t be long before you’re just like them.

 

You know, sometimes there are evil associations in the church world.  There are those in the church who aren’t really godly, are not really living the life.

 

Jesus said the wheat and the tares would grow together – and there are tares in the church today.  These people go to church, going through the motions of worshipping God – but at home, they are like the rest of the world.  They don’t live the life.  They get involved in compromise and sin – yet they still come to church, and appear to be saved.

 

Young people have a hard time being separate in school.  If they are not like their peers they are made fun of and persecuted.  Many a Christian child goes through a lot when they determine to live for the Lord.

 

Most, though, break under the pressure and give in.  They don’t want to be different, so they begin to take up with the wrong crowd.  And if they take up fellowship with the crowd that smokes and drinks, they’ll soon be trying the same things.

 

And so will it be with us if we take up with the wrong associations – even if they’re from the church.  

 

We ought to be spiritual enough to discern those who are spiritual and those who are not spiritual.  Just listening to someone’s conversation should let us know where they stand.

 

Also, how consistent are they at attending church?  Do they just come hit or miss, coming for a season, and then staying home for awhile, then coming back again for awhile?  This ought to be enough for us to decide not to take up associations with them.  

 

If they’re not spiritual enough to attend church regularly, if they’re not spiritual enough to control their tongue, then we should realize that associating with them is not for us.

 

Even if they do come to church, but you notice when you visit with them that they act like the world, that their talk is carnal – break off fellowship with them.

 

If their conversation is ungodly – not that you can’t talk about something besides the Bible – but if their mouth is destructive to others, always backbiting, always cutting down, always complaining, you should know that that fellowship is not for you.

 

You become like the people with whom you associate.  If you associate with the spiritual, you’ll remain spiritual.  But if you associate with the ungodly, they’ll draw you away.

 

You’ll find that the hearts and minds of the unspiritual are centered on the things of this world – centered upon materialism, money, pleasures, and self.  Just listen to them, and you’ll find this to be true.

 

They always talk about the new things they have, or have to get, telling about the fun they had, and want to have.  Their minds are all engrossed on pleasures and gain.

 

These are the kind of people from whom you want to withdraw yourself.  If you want to remain spiritual then you need spiritual fellowship with those who are spiritual.

 

You need to break fellowship with the unspiritual, or they will contaminate you and you will become just like them.

 

You may find that it’s not always the unsaved who are coming against you – but the believers!  those who claim to be saved, yet refuse to surrender their all to the Lord – still clinging to a love for the world, a love for pleasures, a love for gain.  In fact, you may find more opposition from them than from the unsaved!

 

There are those Christians who will tell you they don’t care what the Bible says – they love to do that thing that is ungodly, and intend to continue doing it!  

 

So don’t think it strange if some of your family and friends don’t want to fellowship with you any more.  After all, if you don’t do the same things, don’t want to talk about the same things, don’t have the same concerns – what fellowship hath light with darkness?

 

Definitions

Fast

Sackcloth

Rend (Rent)

 

Memory Verses

Joel 2:13

II Corinthians 6:17

Proverbs 22:24, 25

I Corinthians 15:33

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