For Bible Study Nerds

For Bible Study Nerds

Matthew 6:16-18; Fasting (Symbolism)

posted by Mike Nappa

The act of fasting, biblically speaking, is both a physical and symbolic expression. Physically, it’s simply deprivation of food and/or water for a specified period of time. Symbolically, though, it represents something much more.

In the best sense, fasting symbolizes two things in the believer. First is deep sorrow or grief, which explains why the Hebrew expression for it was: “afflicting the soul.” This sense of great sorrow is the basic understanding that Jesus himself emphasized in Matthew 9:14-15. When asked why his disciples didn’t fast, he immediately equated fasting with mourning: “How can the guests of the bridegroom mourn,” he responded, “while he is with them?” Sorrow is also the symbolic expression seen most frequently in Old Testament history, particularly in regard to the death of a loved one, the appearance of a sudden calamity, or in the face of an extreme threat (see 1 Samuel 31:13, 2 Samuel 1:12, 3:36, Nehemiah 1:4, and Esther 4:3).

Second, fasting signifies abject humility and repentance before Almighty God. In this context, fasting is a physical symbol of spiritual desperation over sin, both individually and as a community. It is a visual plea for God to show mercy instead of administering deserved judgment on the helpless, sinful one (see see 1 Kings 21:27, Jonah 3:6-10). There is no example in Scripture of God refusing mercy to one who expresses this kind of sincere, helpless plea for pity.

On the opposite end of those two symbols, fasting can also represent an unpleasant third option. Fasting that is insincere and self-important appears to be something God finds repugnant. When that happens, fasting becomes symbolic of an ugly aspect of spirituality: Hypocrisy. In the Old Testament, God rebuked the Israelites sternly  for insincere ritual fasting (Isaiah 58:1-5), and Jesus did the same in the New Testament in his Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6:16-18).

Fasting then, is not something to be approached casually, but is instead intended to be an intimate, humbling, sincere time of sorrow shared between God and each individual believer.

 

Works Cited:

[DBI, 272]

 

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About: For Bible Study Nerds™

About: Mike Nappa

Copyright © 2014 to present by Nappaland Communications Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Matthew 6:16-18; Fasting (Cultural Commentary)

posted by Mike Nappa

Generally speaking, fasting was never intended to be used as a badge of honor or as a mark of super-spirituality. It is almost always associated with sorrow for sin and an expression of humility before God alone. In spite of this, Pharisees in Jesus’ time had turned fasting into something of a performance art—expecting figurative applause and literal admiration for their ostentatious displays of humility.

Old Testament Law only called for fasting once a year, on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) when the high priest would make a holy sacrifice for the sins of the nation. In spite of that, religious leaders by Jesus’ time had added 108 required fasting days to the year!

Pharisees and other religious leaders insisted that the devout fast four times a year to commemorate the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 B.C. They also insisted on ritual fasting twice a week, every Tuesday and Thursday. To make sure everyone knew they were among the religious elite, those who fasted on these days made a point of exaggerating the outward signs of a fast: A disheveled, haggard look; some kind of mark on their faces—likely smeared ashes that added to a gaunt impression; and ashes poured over their head and clothing. As one Bible historian reports, “This was a pretentious way of letting others see and appreciate their extensive efforts to increase their godliness.”

Jesus roundly condemned this kind of spiritual-act-as-preening-exercise. Instead, he advised that fasting should be a humble, intimate moment between God and the individual person—not a public display of self-admiration.

 

Works Cited:

[RBD 373-374, ASB, 1568]

 

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About: For Bible Study Nerds™

About: Mike Nappa

Copyright © 2014 to present by Nappaland Communications Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Matthew 6:16-18; Fasting (Factual Info)

posted by Mike Nappa

Jesus’ instruction about fasting assumes that it is a normal part of a life devoted to God…but why fast? Why did (and do) people go without food and/or water as a religious observance?

Here are a few reasons from Scripture:

• Once a year, as a commemorative action on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur). This annual observance was a solemn moment when a high priest offered a symbolic sacrifice for the collective sins of the entire nation of Israel. (See Leviticus 16:29 and Jeremiah 36:6.)

• During calls for national repentance. (See Nehemiah 9:1.)

• In times of public or personal crisis. (See Judges 20:26 and 2 Samuel 12:15-18).

• Four times a year as a commemorative action to remind of the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 B.C. (See Zechariah 7:2-5, 8:19.)

• As an expression of mourning. (See Matthew 9:14-15)

• As a mysterious weapon in spiritual warfare. (See Matthew 17:21 and Mark 9:29.)

• As a means of humbling oneself before God. (See Isaiah 58:3-5.)

• As an expression of worship. (See Acts 13:2.)

• As a ritual of commissioning others into leadership within the church. (See Acts 13:2-3 and 14:23

 

Works Cited:

[RBD, 111, 373; MAC, 1384]

 

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About: For Bible Study Nerds™

About: Mike Nappa

Copyright © 2014 to present by Nappaland Communications Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Matthew 6:5-15; Prayer (Word Study)

posted by Mike Nappa

Forgiveness is a crucial element of The Lord’s Prayer, and it always carries both vertical and horizontal applications. “Forgive us our debts” Jesus said in Matthew 6:12—a vertical, us-to-God appeal. Then he said, “…As we have also forgiven our debtors”—a horizontal, us-to-others commitment.

Jesus emphasized this dual application immediately after ending his prayer, saying, “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you” (Matthew 6:14). That seems to be a lot riding on an attitude of forgiveness! So what does it mean to forgive?

The Greek word translated “forgive” in Matthew 6:12 of our English Bibles is aphiēmi. Its literal meaning is, “to send away.” The image, then, is that of God picking up all the wrongs we’ve done and hurling them into nonexistence. This is something the Old Testament refers to as God sending our sins “as far as the east is from the west” (see Psalm 103:12). It’s as if, when we pray “Forgive us…,” we ask God to perform a miracle, flinging our sins like a cosmic baseball so far away that they cease to exist, therefore absolving us of the required punishment for those sins. And that’s what he does in response to our prayer.

What’s even more amazing about this miracle of forgiveness is its ability to transform everything and everyone it touches.

When God pours his forgiveness over the life of a man or woman, he not only answers the “Forgive us…” plea found in Matthew 6:12, he also empowers that man or woman to fulfill the second part of that verse, “…as we have also forgiven…” We are transformed by the experience of God’s selfless forgiveness, which in turn opens the door for us to be changed again through the act of forgiving others.

What this means for you and I is this: The shackles of our hurtful experiences aren’t ones we have to wear. We can “send away” that pain by seeking God’s forgiveness first—and then gratefully choosing to forgive others in turn.

 

Works Cited:

[VCE, 250]

 

ΩΩΩ

About: For Bible Study Nerds™

About: Mike Nappa

Copyright © 2014 to present by Nappaland Communications Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Previous Posts

Matthew 6:16-18; Fasting (Symbolism)
The act of fasting, biblically speaking, is both a physical and symbolic expression. Physically, it's simply deprivation of food and/or water for a specified period of time. Symbolically, though, it represents something much more. In the best sense, fasting symbolizes two things in the believer.

posted 12:00:01pm Oct. 24, 2014 | read full post »

Matthew 6:16-18; Fasting (Cultural Commentary)
Generally speaking, fasting was never intended to be used as a badge of honor or as a mark of super-spirituality. It is almost always associated with sorrow for sin and an expression of humility before God alone. In spite of this, Pharisees in Jesus’ time had turned fasting into something of a per

posted 12:00:00pm Oct. 22, 2014 | read full post »

Matthew 6:16-18; Fasting (Factual Info)
Jesus’ instruction about fasting assumes that it is a normal part of a life devoted to God…but why fast? Why did (and do) people go without food and/or water as a religious observance? Here are a few reasons from Scripture: • Once a year, as a commemorative action on the Day of Atonement

posted 12:00:58pm Oct. 20, 2014 | read full post »

Matthew 6:5-15; Prayer (Word Study)
Forgiveness is a crucial element of The Lord’s Prayer, and it always carries both vertical and horizontal applications. “Forgive us our debts” Jesus said in Matthew 6:12—a vertical, us-to-God appeal. Then he said, “…As we have also forgiven our debtors”—a horizontal, us-to-others com

posted 12:00:57pm Oct. 17, 2014 | read full post »

Matthew 6:5-15; Prayer (Rhetorical Influences)
Matthew 6:9-13 is one of the most famous biblical texts of all time. Known as “The Lord’s Prayer,” it records Jesus’ specific instructions for how to pray. It’s important to notice that, immediately before giving this text, Christ warned his followers to avoid “babbling like pagans”

posted 12:00:56pm Oct. 15, 2014 | read full post »


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