2 Samuel 1:1-12
1 After the death of Saul, David returned from defeating the Amalekites and stayed at Ziklag two days. 2 On the third day a man with torn clothes and dust on his head came from Saul’s camp. When he came to David, he fell to the ground and paid homage. 3 David asked him, “Where have you come from?” He replied to him, “I’ve escaped from the Israelite camp.” 4 “What was the outcome? Tell me,” David asked him. “The troops fled from the battle,” he answered. “Many of the troops have fallen and are dead. Also, Saul and his son Jonathan are dead.” 5 David asked the young man who had brought him the report, “How do you know Saul and his son Jonathan are dead?” 6 “I happened to be on Mount Gilboa,” he replied, “and there was Saul, leaning on his spear. At that very moment the chariots and the cavalry were closing in on him. 7 When he turned around and saw me, he called out to me, so I answered: I’m at your service. 8 He asked me, ‘Who are you?’ I told him: I’m an Amalekite. 9 Then he begged me, ‘Stand over me and kill me, for I’m mortally wounded, but my life still lingers.’ 10 So I stood over him and killed him because I knew that after he had fallen he couldn’t survive. I took the crown that was on his head and the armband that was on his arm, and I’ve brought them here to my lord.” 11 Then David took hold of his clothes and tore them, and all the men with him did the same. 12 They mourned, wept, and fasted until the evening for those who died by the sword —for Saul, his son Jonathan, the Lord’s people, and the house of Israel.
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations are taken from the Holman Christian Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2009 by Holman Bible Publishers. Used by permission. Holman Christian Standard Bible®, Holman CSB®, and HCSB® are federally registered trademarks of Holman Bible Publishers.
Our passage from 2 Samuel tells of the time when David was informed of the death of King Saul and his son, Jonathan. This horrible news tears at David’s heart and drives him to deep grief. We see in verse 12 that David and his men fasted as an expression of their grief. This is one of many instances in Scripture where grief—either as a result of death or remorse—led someone to fasting.
Most of us have tasted grief at some point in our lives. We’ve lost a dear relative or a close friend and the depths of sorrow cannot be expressed with mere words. As we said earlier, grief isn’t just about death either. We can grieve over our sins, or grief may come over the desperate situation of others. But fasting is such a foreign concept to most of us in our consumerist world. We miss the expression that fasting brings to our grief.
So, why do we have such a fear of fasting? It’s a Christian discipline that is talked about frequently throughout Scripture. Great heroes of our faith practiced it regularly. Entire nations have chosen to fast as they grieved over their desperate situation.
But it’s seldom practiced today. For many of us, we fear we might be considered too spiritual. This is a response to the excesses we have seen from some throughout history. For others, we simply fear what we don’t understand.
Fasting is simply the voluntary denial of some normal activity for the purpose of a deeper spiritual engagement. It’s not just for the spiritually elite or some fringe element of our faith. It is an appropriate way to express our grief when words are simply not enough.
How different would my relationship with God look if my sins drove me to this level of sorrow? How much more value would be found in fasting and praying for our nation, rather than ranting over its condition or posting another political entry on our social media?
I’ve known great pain. There are no words to describe what it is like to bury your wife and son. In the weeks after losing the two of them, the level of pain was extremely intense. I knew nothing else to do but to lean in closer to God. Fasting was one means of doing this.
What does fasting do in these situations? It causes us to be humbled before God, acknowledging that He alone is our Sustainer. Sometimes it was a fast of food; other times it was fasting from media intrusions into my life.
Fasting helps to clear our mind from other thoughts and helps us focus on the voice of God during those dark moments. It allows us to give expression to deeply felt emotions. Most important, it expresses a complete reliance on the God who has promised to never leave us even in our darkest hours.
Read the following passages that give different examples of fasting in Scripture: Judges 20:19-26; 2 Samuel 1:11-12; Joel 2:15-16
- In each of these stories, people were grieving for a different reason: death, sadness, remorse. When has there been a time that you experienced this kind of grief or sorrow?
- Are you struggling through a difficult time right now? Sorrow over habitual sin? Remorse for a broken relationship? Grief over a lost loved one? Consider fasting through your times of prayer.
- Keep in mind that your fasting does not make you more worthy of God’s forgiveness and it will not change anything about your past. Allow this time to draw you deeply into the consoling presence of God.
- Remember, fasting is not a magic fix or a way to prove yourself to God.