Lent and Fasting

As series editor for the Through Old Testament Eyes commentaries, I’m excited that the newest volume on Matthew (releasing in March 2024) is from my good friend and first-rate scholar David Capes. To give you just a taste, here is a brief excerpt that is apt for the beginning of Lent.

Matthew 4:2 After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. Jesus fasted for forty days and nights, perhaps in imitation of Moses who remained on Mt. Sinai forty days and forty nights without bread and water (Dt 9:9; cf. Ex 24:18). We have seen already how often Matthew finds the correspondence between Moses and Jesus. Whether on the mount of temptation or Mount Sinai, both men were preparing for the next phase of their remarkable missions.

Fasting, of course, is part of Israel’s discipline before God. Jesus affirms it in the lives of his own disciples . . . . Throughout the Old Testament, fasting appears to come at various times for various purposes: (1) to mark seasons of joy (Zec 8:18–19); (2) to express deep mourning (Ne 1:4); (3) to ask for a safe journey (Ezr 8:21); (4) to demonstrate humility (Ps 69:10); (5) to seek answers (Da 9:3); (6) to accompany repentance (Joel 2:12). There are others too, but these represent some of the many faces of fasting. Scholars note that fasting seems to be on the rise with and after the exile. By the time of Jesus, fasting appears as a regular feature of Jewish piety for the Pharisees and the followers of John (cf. Did 8.1; Tertullian, On Fasting 16; Tacitus, Hist 5.4.3). But fasting, in and of itself, may not have any rewards if it is not done in the right way for the right reason.

According to the prophet Isaiah, fasting without a life of repentance, a life turned Godward, leads to nothing (Isa 58:2–5). But fasting that addresses injustice and meets the needs of the poor brings healing and help in time of need (58:6–9). Proper fasting, the Scripture says, results in your light breaking forth like the dawn and God’s glory standing watch over your rear guard. Perhaps Jesus fasts after his baptism—after this turning point in his life—inspired by the words of Isaiah 58. If he had meditated on the prophet’s teaching, he leaves his wilderness experience expecting the Lord to guide him and satisfy his body and bones in these parched places.*

David B. Capes, Matthew Through Old Testament Eyes (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic, 2024), p. 76.

Author: Andy Le Peau

I've been an editor and writer for over forty years. I am passionate about ideas and how we can express them clearly, beautifully, and persuasively. I love reading good books, talking about them, and recommending them. I thoroughly enjoy my family who help me continue on the path of a lifelong learner.

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