“But Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine, and he asked the chief official for permission not to defile himself this way.” Daniel 1:8
Have you ever done a Daniel fast?
I have not, so I am unable to speak about it from personal experience. I should also say, before I jump right up onto my soapbox, that if you have participated in a Daniel fast, or are planning one, or think they’re great, I’m not out to get you or prove you wrong. These are not foundational theological issues we are discussing here, so I think we can all agree to be adults, look at the Bible honestly, and agree to disagree if we come away with different conclusions.
So now that I have prefaced this with a disclaimer, let’s jump right into it.
The whole “Daniel fast” phenomenon is principled around two passages of Scripture, both from the book of Daniel.
The verse above is the first, which is in the context of Daniel and many other Hebrew boys being taken captive to Babylon and admitted to some type of royal prep school. These boys were presented with the choicest food that Babylon offered, many of which were probably considered unclean by Mosaic law. Instead of eating the rich food, Daniel and his three friends ate only vegetables and water for an agreed upon ten days, at which point their guard was surprised to see that the Hebrew boys looked healthier than everyone else.
The other passage used in conjunction with Daniel fasting is found in Daniel 10:2:
“At that time I, Daniel, mourned for three weeks. I ate no choice food; no meat or red wine touched my lips; and I used no lotions at all until the three weeks were over.
The reason, I think, that these two passages have been elevated to prominence, and used as examples of ways to fast is because they concerned aspects of Daniel’s diet.
Kristen Feola, in her book, The Ultimate Guide to the Daniel Fast, points out that biblical fasting always involves food:
“In every instance of fasting in the Bible, people either go without food or a combination of water and food. A popular Christian practice in our culture today is to declare a fast from other things, such as shopping, using a computer, or watching television. Although these self-denials have benefits, they are not fasts according to Biblical principles. Abstaining from food or groups of foods, such as on a Daniel Fast, results in a deep spiritual awareness that doesn’t come by fasting from the mall or your favorite sitcom.” (p 21)
But I would go a step further than Kristen and say that even abstaining from certain foods is not really fasting. Any effort we make to deny ourselves in an attempt to better serve God is good and right, but apart from these two verses, there’s no biblical evidence I am aware of that supports a definition of fasting other than complete abstinence from food for a designated time period.
I think it’s dangerous to take anything God uses just once in the Bible and try to turn it into a formula. But we have that tendency as humans – to look at methodology and try to copy it so as to replicate results. (I believe that this is why Jesus never healed anyone in the same way twice, but that’s another conversation for another day.) We see that Daniel was revered for his faith, so we try to take his diet and copy it thinking that giving up Twinkies for three weeks will somehow make us more righteous.
And I called them “diets” and not “fasts” on purpose, because even the Bible doesn’t call them that.
In Daniel 10:2, the prophet was in mourning. I’ve been in mourning recently, and I can tell you from firsthand experience that sometimes, when you are really sad, you don’t even feel like eating. Also, in Bible times, it was customary to show mourning in outwardly visible ways, such as the wearing of sackcloth and covering one’s head with ashes. It’s entirely possible that Daniel’s self-denial was merely an outward sign of his grief.
The incident described in Daniel 1 was even less like a fast. Daniel’s refusal to eat the food offered by the king was not simply a matter of humility or self-restraint. It was a matter of obedience. To eat the food of Babylon, which had likely been offered to a pagan God, had not been slaughtered according to the law of Moses, and may have included pork, would have been a sin.
So if we are going to apply Daniel’s story to our lives, rather than mimic his eating habits by eating only veggies for a week and a half, I think we’d do better to identify what eating habits are a sin to us, and refuse to participate in them. What does it look like to be undefiled by the world?
For some people, it looks like abstaining completely from alcohol.
For others, it’s buying fair trade products.
For still others, it’s refusing to believe the lie of the mirror over the truth of God’s word.
But for all of us who are healthy enough to do so, true fasting is a part of a life that is submitted to God.
What then, is a true fast? Stay tuned….
This post is part of a 31-day series. A list of all the other posts in this series can be found here.