This shall be a statute forever for you: In the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you shall afflict your souls, and do no work at all, whether a native of your own country or a stranger who dwells among you. For on that day the priest shall make atonement for you, to cleanse you, that you may be clean from all your sins before the Lord. (Leviticus 16:29-30)
I can remember the first time I was in Israel during Yom Kippur just how silent everything was. I was staying just outside of the Old City in Jerusalem, in a very busy part of town, yet it was almost eerie how quiet it was. There were no honking horns, no sounds of buses and the noises one associates with a bustling city — it was quiet! That is because this statute regarding Yom Kippur — no working — was taken quite seriously and, to this day, Yom Kippur is regarded as the holiest day of the year. I also recall that those of us who were not Jewish had to store any food in a discreet area so as not to offend our hosts. This was done in consideration of the command to “afflict your souls.”
It is understood by many, Jews and Christians alike, that the instruction to “afflict your souls” means to fast food and water. This is part of the eternal decree in relation to Yom Kippur, and if you think about it, it makes sense. Fasting is employed in our faith walk to demonstrate a desire to die to our physical cravings, food and otherwise. As we bring our appetites under submission, we are to focus on growing our spirit man. In the context of Yom Kippur — a day committed to acknowledging our sin and seeking forgiveness, it only makes sense that we would abandon any and all physical desires, including food.
From a New Testament point of view, we know that many early believers were given to fasting and prayer including the Messiah Himself. Moreover, He revealed that there are certain things that may not happen in the life of a believer unless they are committed to prayer and fasting (Matthew 17:21). The point of proper fasting, then, is not to perform a religious rite but is designed to deny our own will that we might draw closer to the Master, heart and soul. In fact, a fast that does not produce the proper fruit, as outlined in Isaiah 58 — “to loose the bonds of wickedness … and break every yoke” — isn’t a proper fast.
All that we do in service to God, including fasting, should be done to promote a stronger relationship with Him, not a stronger religious experience. So while we should be mindful of the need for fasting and prayer, we must also be mindful of why we do what we do — that is, to continually weaken the connection to the carnal man that we might better conformed to the image of the Son of God.
Blessings and Shalom,