Fasting and the Day of Atonement

By Bob Thiel


On the Day of Atonement, the Bible says to “afflict your souls” (Leviticus 23:32).  Why do those who can in the Continuing Church of God fast on that day?


In Isaiah 58:5 the Bible teaches that a fasting day is a day to afflict one’s soul. Furthermore, notice something else from Isaiah:


12 And in that day the Lord God of hosts
Called for weeping and for mourning,
For baldness and for girding with sackcloth.
13 But instead, joy and gladness,
Slaying oxen and killing sheep,
Eating meat and drinking wine:
“Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die!”

14 Then it was revealed in my hearing by the Lord of hosts,
“Surely for this iniquity there will be no atonement for you,
Even to your death,” says the Lord God of hosts. (Isaiah 22:12-14)


Notice that not avoiding food when told to is equated to having no atonement. And while the word translated as atonement in Isaiah 22:14 is not the identical Hebrew word in Leviticus 23, it is similar and apparently has similar connotations.


The Day of Atonement was called “the Fast” in Acts 27:9.


Notice something that the late Herbert Armstrong wrote:


Day of Atonement, or the Fast

Next, let us read Leviticus 23:26, 27, 31-32 “And the LORD spake . . . saying, Also on the tenth day of this seventh month there shall be a day of atonement: it shall be an holy convocation unto you; and ye shall afflict your souls [fast]. . . . Ye shall do no manner of work: it shall be a statute for ever throughout your generations in all your dwellings. It shall be unto you a Sabbath of rest, and ye shall afflict your souls: in the ninth day of the month at even, from even unto even, shall ye celebrate your Sabbath.” Wonderful mystery! At-one-ment with God! Man at last made one with his Maker! …

And we find this annual holy day recognized in the New Testament. In Acts 27:9, when Paul was on his perilous sea voyage to Rome, it is recorded that “when sailing was now dangerous, because the fast was now already past. . . .” See the margin in your Bible. The fast refers to the Day of Atonement the 10th day of the seventh month. Now this day could not then have been past on that particular year unless that day was still in full effect and force and existence. Otherwise the Holy Spirit surely could never have inspired those words! Surely this strongly indicates that this day was still in existence and being recognized thus by the Holy Spirit. (Armstrong HW. Pagan Holidays or God’s Holy Days Which?)


Those in the Continuing Church of God who are faithful and able fast on the Day of Atonement. That is, they avoid all food and drink for the entire 24 hours of that day.


Are there any benefits associated with that?


First notice what the Bible teaches:


5 Is it a fast that I have chosen, A day for a man to afflict his soul? Is it to bow down his head like a bulrush, And to spread out sackcloth and ashes? Would you call this a fast, And an acceptable day to the Lord?

6 “Is this not the fast that I have chosen: To loose the bonds of wickedness, To undo the heavy burdens, To let the oppressed go free, And that you break every yoke? 7 Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, And that you bring to your house the poor who are cast out; When you see the naked, that you cover him, And not hide yourself from your own flesh? 8 Then your light shall break forth like the morning, Your healing shall spring forth speedily, And your righteousness shall go before you; The glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. 9 Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; You shall cry, and He will say, ‘Here I am.’


“If you take away the yoke from your midst, The pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness, 10 If you extend your soul to the hungry And satisfy the afflicted soul, Then your light shall dawn in the darkness, And your darkness shall be as the noonday. 11 The Lord will guide you continually, And satisfy your soul in drought, And strengthen your bones; You shall be like a watered garden, And like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail. 12 Those from among you Shall build the old waste places; You shall raise up the foundations of many generations; And you shall be called the Repairer of the Breach, The Restorer of Streets to Dwell In. (Isaiah 58:5-12)


So, the Bible teaches both physical and spiritual benefits and responsibilities from fasting.


Here are some comments from Herbert W. Armstrong about fasting:


FASTING AND PRAYER: There is . . . NOTHING like fasting and prayer for drawing close to God, re-establishing contact, being filled with His Spirit. For this purpose it is better to fast completely — no fruit-juice of any kind. In Bible times they sometimes fasted without even water, but sometimes water was used. Personally I think results will be obtained if one drinks water, but nothing else.


For purely spiritual purposes a fast of from one to three days is usually sufficient. You may expect headaches, and a very thick-headed feeling the first few days. It is not pleasant. It is, in Bible language, AFFLICTING THE SOUL. It takes courage and will-power, and self-denial. I recommend, for this purpose, dividing your time three ways: about one third in studying the subject of fasting in the Bible, and other Bible study. Use a good concordance, and your marginal references if your Bible has them. If not you should get one which has. Look up all you can find under fasting. Then about a third of your time in meditation — turning over in your own mind by yourself WHY you have not been closer to God, thinking out just HOW you have been letting the worldly things creep in, meditating on what you have read in the Bible, applying it to yourself and your spiritual condition. Then, spend one full third of your time in earnest PRAYER.


Did you ever spend one solid HOUR in prayer, alone with God in some private room, on your knees? Very few ever have. If you haven’t, the first time you do it you’ll find it will take as much will-power and self-denial as forcing yourself to stay on a fast and resisting that gnawing hunger feeling. In five or ten minutes, or less, every excuse in the world will come into your mind. You aren’t in the mood now — why not do it later? You just think of something that ought to be done, and you think you must go do it right now. Yes, I know what will come to your mind, for I have done it and I know by experience. But if you will resist every temptation, and STAY on your knees, even though you think your prayer isn’t going as high as the ceiling, in at least 30 or 40 minutes the devil will probably give up and let you alone and you’ll find you are establishing contact with God, and you’ll find you are beginning to really ENJOY talking to Him — just pouring out your soul to Him — telling him all about it. Pause, once awhile, and meditate, and let God talk to you. (Armstrong HW. Importance of Fasting. July 7, 1948)


In addition to humbling ourselves and helping us to realize how much we need to rely on God and drawing closer to him, fasting is considered to have certain physical benefits. Some, though sadly not yet most, in the medical world are realizing that there seem to be health benefits from fasting:


The power of intermittent fasting


Scientists are uncovering evidence that short periods of fasting, if properly controlled, could achieve a number of health benefits, as well as potentially helping the overweight, as Michael Mosley discovered…


Calorie restriction, eating well but not much, is one of the few things that has been shown to extend life expectancy, at least in animals. We’ve known since the 1930s that mice put on a low-calorie, nutrient-rich diet live far longer. There is mounting evidence that the same is true in monkeys…


IGF-1 levels can be lowered by fasting. The reason seems to be that when our bodies no longer have access to food they switch from “growth mode” to “repair mode”.


As levels of the IGF-1 hormone drop, a number of repair genes appear to get switched on according to ongoing research by Professor Valter Longo of the University of Southern California…


Current medical opinion is that the benefits of fasting are unproven and until there are more human studies it’s better to eat at least 2000 calories a day. If you really want to fast then you should do it in a proper clinic or under medical supervision, because there are many people, such as pregnant women or diabetics on medication, for whom it could be dangerous.


Fasting Reduces Risk of Heart Disease and Diabetes


A study of more than 4,500 Mormons in Utah, researchers looked at behaviors that were associated with lower risk of coronary artery disease—heart disease. After taking in account other factors (smoking, alcohol use, coffee, and tea ingestion), researchers discovered that those who fasted routinely (without food or drink) were at lower risk for heart disease than those who did not fast. Fasting was also associated with lower diabetes risk (The American Journal of Cardiology, October 1, 2008)


Fasting twice a year rebuilds Immune System


A New Study Has Suggested That Fasting Could Help The Body To Fight Off Disease By Regenerating The Immune System. The Study Added That Fasting For Two Days Can Regenerate The Immune System.


For the study, the effects of fasting for two to four day periods for six months on both mice and humans were tested by the researchers. In both cases, it was found that long periods of not eating significantly lowered white blood cell counts.


And in mice, each cycle of fasting then ‘flipped a regenerative switch’ that led to the regeneration of new white blood cells, which in turn renews the defence system of the body.


Valter Longo, Professor of Gerontology and the Biological Sciences at the University of Southern California, said: “It gives the OK for stem cells to go ahead and begin proliferating and rebuild the entire system. And the good news is that the body got rid of the parts of the system that might be damaged or old, the inefficient parts, during the fasting.”


He added that a system heavily damaged by chemotherapy or aging, fasting cycles can generate, literally, a new immune system.


The study also revealed that levels of the enzyme PKA, reduces as a result of fasting. This increases longevity in simple organisms, as well as levels of the hormone IGF-1, which has been linked to ageing, tumour progression and cancer risk.


Fasting is a health booster for many and also seems to increase longevity.


Of course, those who risk death or major health problems should not fast. But for others, it can be a healthy thing to do from a physical, as well as spiritual, perspective.


Some people, especially those who consume caffeine regularly, find fasting difficult. Those who wean down off of caffeine sometimes find fasting easier than they would have otherwise.


Here are some Jewish tips to prepare for fasting:


Tips for Easier Fasting


Tips to prepare for the fast include: drinking at least two liters of water a day (10 cups) on the days before the fast, and eating whole grains and vegetables on the day before, while avoiding sugar, spicy, fried and salty foods that cause thirst.


Those who drink significant amounts of beverages containing caffeine daily (coffee, non-herb teas, colas) are advised to reduce the amount gradually, starting several days before the fast to prevent caffeine addiction symptoms which can include headaches and nausea.


The last meal before the fast, known as the seudah hamafseket, should not include unfamiliar, spicy, or fried foods, and should omit vegetables such as cauliflower, cabbage and broccoli.


After the fast, those who have abstained from drinking and eating are advised to rehydrate slowly, with a sweet drink, and begin eating with a snack, followed approximately one hour later by a light meal.


In my own case, I tend to drink more water the day before fasting and avoid saltier foods.


Also, those who fast more regularly throughout the year tend to have less difficulties fasting than those that do not (people with hypoglycemia, etc. excepted).


The Christian Day of Atonement, comes after the Feast of Trumpets (also known as Rosh Hoshana or Rosh Hashanah) and is considered to be part of God’s plan of salvation as shown in the biblical (though often called ‘Jewish’) holy days.


The Statement of Beliefs for the Continuing Church of God states:


The Day of Atonement, called “the Fast” in the New Testament (Acts 27:9), helps show our own weaknesses and need to be closer to God (Isaiah 58:5,11).  It also helps picture that Satan has a role in the sins of humankind and that he will be bound for one-thousand years (Revelation 20:1-3; cf. Leviticus 16:20-26; Isaiah 14:12-16).


Thus, because of its New Testament references, the Day of Atonement is something that should be highly relevant for Christians.


Those the Continuing Church of God tend to fast annually on the Day of Atonement as well as periodically throughout the year (cf. Mark 2:19-20).


The Day of Atonement in 2014 begins at sunset October 3 and continues through sunset October 4.  In 2015, the Day of Atonement begins at sunset September 22 and continues through sunset September 23.


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