Every year in the Christian Church, some believers participate in what has become known as the Daniel Fast. To many, it is a time set aside in order to seek God, to participate in concerted prayer, and seek His direction. For others, it is a more of a diet – a healthier way of eating. To be clear, the Bible does not directly command believers to fast. But, fasting is certainly portrayed in the Scriptures as a specialized approach for the believer to seek the Lord in a more focused manner. This article aims to discuss the purpose of the Daniel Fast and the spiritual implications that follow in the participation of it.
A Note on Fasting
Before I give a description of this fast, allow me to first clarify several important points. Fasting is not a popular experience among many Christians, especially in today’s culture. Many people see fasting as a religious duty – a difficult chore that is easier to avoid rather than to engage in. However, this mindset is the first problem pertaining to fasting. Throughout the Scriptures, we very plainly see that God examines man’s hearts and motives. He does not desire a people that honor Him with their lips but whose hearts are far from Him (see Matthew 15:8; Isaiah 29:13). Furthermore, God would rather have His people set free those that are held in bondage, feed those who are hungry, and clothe those who are naked rather than participate in a religious exercise (see Isaiah 58). The Bible plainly shows us that God desires “mercy and not sacrifice” (Hosea 6:6). His will is for us to serve Him out of a heart of love and obedience rather than to simply “refuse our flesh” for the sake of a religious duty. “Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice” (1 Samuel 15:22).
So therefore, those who participate in any fast must first examine their motives. In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word for fasting is tsowm (noun) or tsuwm (verb). The original word has three letters, together of which give us a vivid definition of the word “fast.” The first letter, tsade, means “to wait.” The second, vav, means “to secure; to hook.” The last letter, mem, means “chaos, blood, affliction.” These three letters placed together form the word tsuwm¸ which means “to wait securely in suffering and affliction.” The ancient word picture described a man hunched over, grasping his stomach in agony. Throughout the Old Testament, when one would fast (tsuwm), it was often because a person’s circumstance was so severe that they could not eat. Fasting, when done properly, is not only an act by which a person abstains from eating, but rather, an act resulting from one’s situation. Often, the problem or circumstance is so agonizing, so severe, that they cannot eat due to the turmoil in their heart. This is usually always paired with intense, focused prayer, with the express purpose of calling out to God for His intervention, provision, or guidance. For example, after David committed adultery with Bathsheba, she became pregnant with David’s child. After David’s attempt to cover his sin ended with the death of Uriah (Bathsheba’s husband), the prophet Nathan came to David and prophesied that his unborn child would die.
“David therefore pleaded with God for the child, and David fasted and went in and lay all night on the ground”(2 Samuel 12:16).
David’s agonizing circumstance caused him to fast (tsuwm) — to plead with God for the sake of his child.
Today, we have largely lost the original purpose of a fast. Many fast with the hopes of feeling closer to God. This is missing the point, and to be honest, this approach is nothing more than asceticism: trying to attain a high spiritual state by practicing self-denial. Jesus Himself fasted for forty days and nights in preparation for His earthly ministry. However, He did not merely deny Himself food to “feel” more powerful or to boast of the completion of a religious duty. He fasted to intently seek after His father – to have clear, unencumbered communion with Him without the distraction of fleshly comforts. When paired with the Old Testament definition of fasting, we can more plainly see the proper purpose of a fast.
Fasting is all about the condition of the heart. If we seek to become valued in the sight of men, dutiful fasting is a great way to do this. “Assuredly, I say to you, [we] have [our] reward” (Matthew 6:16). But, if we simply want to know Christ more – if we desire to better know the heart of God, fasting will result out of our love for God. This leads us to our description of the Daniel Fast.
What is the Daniel Fast?
The Daniel Fast has typically been derived from two biblical texts from the book of Daniel: Daniel 1:8-14; and Daniel 10:1-3. In the first reference, the young Jew Daniel (along with Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah) had been taken away captive by the Babylonians and ordered to serve in King Nebuchadnezzar’s palace (Daniel 1:1-7). Daniel had “purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king’s delicacies,” or, food from the king’s table (Daniel 1:8). Instead, he requested that he and his Hebrews counterparts be allowed to eat only vegetables and drink only water for ten days. This reference could be considered a basis for the Daniel Fast. However, because this particular Biblical account lacks the element of “seeking God” in prayer, a better reference can be found in the second passage listed above. It says:
In the third year of Cyrus king of Persia a message was revealed to Daniel, whose name was called Belteshazzar. The message was true, but the appointed time was long; and he understood the message, and had understanding of the vision. 2 In those days I, Daniel, was mourning three full weeks. 3 I ate no pleasant food, no meat or wine came into my mouth, nor did I anoint myself at all, till three whole weeks were fulfilled. (Daniel 10:1-3)
This is the more common Scripture reference for the Daniel Fast. Observe verse 3:
I ate no pleasant food, no meat or wine came into my mouth, nor did I anoint myself at all, till three whole weeks were fulfilled.
Some translations say that Daniel “ate no choice food.” While this phrase is not very descriptive, the original Hebrew word for “choice food” means “that which is desirable.” So, to better translate, Daniel ate no desirable food, nor meat, nor did he drink alcohol. This brings us to the question of what one considers to be desirable food. Some commentators tend to think that “desirable food” here would mean bread (made with yeast) and sweets. Certainly, in our culture today, these would both be desirable to our taste buds. So, during the Daniel Fast, most people customarily refrain from eating breads with yeast, sweets, meats, and refrain from drinking alcohol. Many take the abstinence from meat to mean refraining from eating anything that comes from an animal, including cheese, yogurt, eggs, and dairy. Also, any artificial food additives are usually removed during the fast. Some have coffee, others do not. However, to clarify: these are simply guidelines. One must spend time seeking God in order to decide how the fast will be done. It is important to remember that we must not become legalistic and consumed by rules and regulations. Remember, the purpose of a fast is to deny yourself of common pleasures in order to remove the “encumbrance of the flesh,” to more clearly seek the heart of God. We fast in order to fulfill our “spiritual hunger” with Jesus rather than food. I could list the foods that I eat and do not eat during the fast; however, I have arrived at these decisions through seeking the Lord, which you must also do.
What is the Duration of the Daniel Fast?
The Daniel Fast is most often done over the course of three weeks, or twenty-one days. Look at verse 2 and 3:
In those days I, Daniel, was mourning three full weeks. I ate no pleasant food…till three whole weeks were fulfilled.
Many Christians and churches begin the fast on the first day of the New Year; however, the fast can be done at anytime the Lord leads. Remember, one is drawn to a fast because of their hunger for God, something we should always have!
The Purpose of the Daniel Fast
Although I have already stated the basic reasons for any fast, let us look at the more specific reasons for the Daniel Fast in verses 1 and 2, as well as verse 12:
In the third year of Cyrus king of Persia a message was revealed to Daniel, whose name was called Belteshazzar. The message was true, but the appointed time was long; and he understood the message, and had understanding of the vision. 2 In those days I, Daniel, was mourning three full weeks…12 Then he said to me, “Do not fear, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your heart to understand, and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard; and I have come because of your words.
Notice first that a message was given to Daniel. It was given to him specifically in the third year of the Persian king Cyrus’ reign. We see that Daniel understood the message given him, but something caused him to mourn “three full weeks” (verse 2). Why was Daniel mourning? We receive more insight from verse 14:
Now I have come to make you understand what will happen to your people in the latter days, for the vision refers to many days yet to come.”
Daniel received a prophetic message from an angel that involved the Jewish people. (In fact, much of the prophecies in the book of Daniel are apocalyptic in nature.) There would come a time when the Jews would go through a time of great difficulty, and Daniel understood this. So, Daniel began to mourn, both because of the time of trouble that was prophesied, but also because he failed to totally understand what would happen to his people.
What did Daniel do while in mourning? Obviously, we see what his diet looked like. But, verse 12 gives us insight into his heart.
“Do not fear, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your heart to understand, and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard…”
Not only did Daniel deprive himself of certain tasty foods, he also went before God in total humility. The Hebrew word for “humility” means “to humble oneself; to be afflicted.” Daniel rid himself of all selfish desire and ran boldly to the throne of grace, completely determined to hear God’s voice concerning the message he received.
We then see insight into the result of Daniel’s time of fasting. Again, look at verse 14:
“Now I have come to make you understand what will happen to your people in the latter days, for the vision refers to many days yet to come.”
Because Daniel purposed it in his heart to seek the Lord – to humble himself before God, totally relying upon Him every moment of those three weeks, the Lord brought clarity to the original message. And even though the answer would not come until the three weeks were expired, God was teaching Daniel perseverance in prayer, which will ultimately be the inevitable result of a fast. Often times, a fast will bring us clarity of vision and a better understanding of God’s will. I have had some of my greatest spiritual growth and renewed intimacy with God during times of fasting, specifically during the Daniel Fast.
I must stress again, a fast of this type (or any type) can very quickly become a religious exercise. One must very purposefully seek the Lord before beginning a fast. He may be calling you right now to enter the prayer closet and to refrain from fleshly pleasures. I have myself woken up some days and felt the Lord calling me to fast on the behalf of someone else. But, whenever you do choose to fast, be certain that God is calling you to it. Refusing to eat simply to feel “spiritually accomplished” is not only a carnal mindset, it is also unhealthy. Those with medical conditions must use wisdom – consult your doctor before you begin any lengthy fast if you have certain medical needs.
If you are looking for good recipes to try, or would like more information, there are plenty of websites, books, and articles available on this topic. However, even as you research various websites and books regarding this fast, please be certain that you approach them carefully – be willing to “test them” before God (1 John 4:1).
And one last time, check your heart! Our desire must always be that He increase and we decrease (John 3:30). Be certain your motives for beginning a fast coincide with your desire to become more Christlike. If they do not, now is not the time to begin a fast of this type.
Blessings in Christ as you seek to be more like Him!