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Sunday School Lessons

February 1, 2015

FEASTING AND FASTING

 

 

BIBLE BASIS: DANIEL 1:5, 8-17

BIBLE TRUTH: The Scripture teaches that fasting is good stewardship that gives physical and spiritual benefits.

MEMORY VERSE: READ – Matthew 6:17-18

Lesson Aims:After participating in this lesson, each learner will be able to:

 

1. Identify the difference(s) between Daniel’s refusal of certain foods and what Jesus meant when He discussed fasting.

 

2. Relate the biblical ideal of fasting to the life of discipline.

 

3. Participate in a 24- or 36-hour fast.

Devotional Reading: 2 Chronicles 7:11-18

 

Background Scripture: Daniel 1; Matthew 6; 9:9-17

 

 

Focal Verses

Daniel 1:5, 8-17

 

5 And the king appointed them a daily provision of the king’s meat, and of the wine which he drank: so nourishing them three years, that at the end thereof they might stand before the king.

 

8 But Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king’s meat, nor with the wine which he drank: therefore he requested of the prince of the eunuchs that he might not defile himself.

 

9 Now God had brought Daniel into favour and tender love with the prince of the eunuchs.

 

10 And the prince of the eunuchs said unto Daniel, I fear my lord the king, who hath appointed your meat and your drink: for why should he see your faces worse liking than the children which are of your sort? then shall ye make me endanger my head to the king.

 

11 Then said Daniel to Melzar, whom the prince of the eunuchs had set over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah,

 

12 Prove thy servants, I beseech thee, ten days; and let them give us pulse to eat, and water to drink.

 

13 Then let our countenances be looked upon before thee, and the countenance of the children that eat of the portion of the king’s meat: and as thou seest, deal with thy servants.

 

14 So he consented to them in this matter, and proved them ten days.

 

15 And at the end of ten days their countenances appeared fairer and fatter in flesh than all the children which did eat the portion of the king’s meat.

 

16 Thus Melzar took away the portion of their meat, and the wine that they should drink; and gave them pulse.

 

17 As for these four children, God gave them knowledge and skill in all learning and wisdom: and Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams.

 

Matthew 6:16-18

 

16 Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.

 

17 But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face;

 

18 That thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret: and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly.

 

Key Verses

 

Thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face; that thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret: and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly. —Matthew 6:17, 18

 

 

Introduction

 

A. Faith and Food

 

As a teacher at a Bible college, I have noticed that students are interested in food! This interest causes those who take Old Testament classes to ask a lot of questions about the dietary restrictions of the ancient Israelites. Leviticus 11 sets forth many such restrictions, but God did not wait for the nation of Israel to become a reality before He gave guidelines about food.

 

The subject of food restrictions is mentioned as early as Genesis 2, where God commanded Adam that he could eat from any tree in the garden except “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” (2:16, 17). Since only trees are mentioned, this has caused some to conclude that God intended for Adam and Eve to eat only nuts and fruit from trees and the seeds of plants. The instruction for Noah in Genesis 9:3, however, causes most to conclude that the initial diet also included green herbs.

 

After the great flood, God declared that “every moving thing that liveth shall be meat for you” (again, Genesis 9:3). An important restriction was that meat with the blood still in it was not to be eaten (9:4). With the advent of the Law of Moses, God placed limitations on the foods that an Israelite could eat. Many of the animals used for sacrifices were eaten, and guidelines in this regard were given. The only purpose stated for the complex restrictions for the Israelites was that they were to “make a difference between the unclean and the clean” (Leviticus 11:47). The Israelites had to evaluate whatever they ate or did each day against that standard.

 

Today we have great freedom of food choice under the new covenant according to Mark 7:19; Romans 14:14; 1 Corinthians 8:8; 10:25; and Colossians 2:16. The few restrictions are noted in Acts 15:20, 29; Romans 14:1-4, 15, 20, 21; and 1 Corinthians 8:13. Is a person somehow superior by being a vegetarian or a vegan? No—that is merely a personal choice. It is not mandated by God; consequently, it should not be mandated by others (1 Timothy 4:3-5). Even so, the Bible has things to say about dietary choices for today.

 

B. Lesson Background: Daniel

 

The first part of our lesson comes from Daniel 1. The year was 605 BC, and Daniel and others had been taken from Jerusalem to Babylon as hostages by King Nebuchadnezzar. To the Babylonians, having the best and brightest (Daniel 1:4) as hostages would weaken the resolve in Judah to rebel, and the captives would be taught to respect the power of Babylon. Jehoiakim, the king of Judah, evidently had decided to surrender rather than resist, and the subjugation was symbolized by royal captives being taken to Babylon (2 Kings 24:1; 2 Chronicles 36:5-7; Daniel 1:3).

 

After making the 900-mile trip, some captives were selected to be immersed in Babylonian culture. This involved a three-year program in receiving the best education that Babylon could provide (Daniel 1:3-5). The indoctrination undoubtedly included being taught Babylonian literature, history, mathematics, astronomy, and religion. Would the Hebrew captives remain true to their religious convictions in the process, or would they compromise those beliefs? Daniel and his three friends chose their battles wisely in this regard, one of which involved dietary choices.

 

C. Lesson Background: Matthew

 

Our text from the book of Matthew is part of the Sermon on the Mount, which spans Matthew 5:1 to 7:29. Our three verses from this section establish an interesting comparison with Daniel 1 in that both are about dietary restrictions and the witness that results from observing such restrictions. The Sermon on the Mount was given during Jesus’ first Galilean tour. The name of the mountain is not given, but tradition places it just to the northwest of the Sea of Galilee.

 

I. Decree by Nebuchadnezzar

 

                                                                                (Daniel 1:5, 8-17)

 

A. King’s Directive (v. 5)

 

5. And the king appointed them a daily provision of the king’s meat, and of the wine which he drank: so nourishing them three years, that at the end thereof they might stand before the king.

 

As our text opens, the king in view is Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. Them refers to all the Jewish captives of Daniel 1:4, not just to Daniel and his three friends noted in 1:6.

 

Kings or governors customarily provide food for those in their entourage (compare 1 Kings 4:22, 23, 27; Nehemiah 5:17, 18). Such is the case here, but expanded to include the Hebrew “guests.” The king includes them because they are what we might call interns—prospective officials for royal service, the meaning of that at the end thereof they might stand before the king. To have the foods and beverages that are being served to the king is ordinarily considered to be a privilege.

 

The final exam for the interns after three years will be an interview by King Nebuchadnezzar himself (Daniel 1:18-20). Therefore it would seem expedient for those in training to cooperate fully with the program that is prescribed for them!

 

Verses 6, 7 (not in today’s text) narrow the focus to four Hebrew interns in particular, who are renamed. Their original names give recognition to God in various ways; their new Babylonian names, by contrast, give recognition to pagan deities. The renaming procedure confirms that the four are under the authority of the captors. Interestingly, most Bible readers are more familiar with Daniel’s Hebrew name than his Babylonian name while the reverse is true for the other three.

 

B. Daniel’s Decision (v. 8a)

 

8a. But Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king’s meat, nor with the wine which he drank.

 

With training under way to make Daniel and his associates into good Babylonians, the Hebrews are confronted with various temptations to compromise their faith. The exact reason for Daniel’s decision is not given, only his general resolve to not defile himself with the portion of the king’s meat, nor with the wine which he drank.

 

The observations in the Lesson Background about food and faith are undoubtedly in play here. Therefore the distinction between clean and unclean meats for an Israelite is probably the major element in the potential defilement that concerns Daniel and his friends. The Babylonians love to eat pork, and the flesh of horses is also consumed (contrast Leviticus 11:1-8, 26). It is also possible that blood is not drained from the meat (see 17:12-14).

 

In addition, food served to the king is first dedicated to pagan deities. This is not expressly forbidden in the Law of Moses, but a person with Daniel’s insight can see that consuming such food and/or the accompanying libations will cause defilement. This issue becomes a sensitive matter in the early days of the church (1 Corinthians 8).

 

Dietary Restrictions

 

Dietary fads come and go, with some lingering much longer than others. The Cabbage Soup Diet has been around for 30 years or so. Eat all the cabbage soup you want for seven days, but not a drop after that. No bananas are allowed on day one, but you can eat up to eight of them on day four.

 

Such quirky rules create a mystique that seems to be an integral part of most dietary fads. The Grapefruit Diet stipulates that fruit be eaten with every meal as the key to weight loss—that and the fact that the dieter can’t consume more than 1,000 calories per day!

 

More recently, The Daniel Plan promotes reliance on “plant-based proteins” for weight loss. But when Daniel refused the king’s food, his concern was not weight loss but faithfulness to God’s law. Things are different under the new covenant as we focus primarily on our spiritual diet (see Colossians 3:2). How amazing and sad it is to see someone follow with fanatical dedication a physical dietary regimen while paying scant attention to all the junk that he or she is feeding to mind and spirit! The basis of our spiritual diet should be faithfulness to God, whatever that requires us to abstain from.—C. R. B.

 

What Do You Think?

 

How do you apply, if at all, Daniel’s concern regarding dietary choices to your life in the New Testament era? Why?

 

Points for Your Discussion

 

Mark 7:18, 19

 

Romans 14:14-17

 

1 Corinthians 8

 

Other

 

C. Daniel’s Request (vv. 8b-14)

 

8b. Therefore he requested of the prince of the eunuchs that he might not defile himself.

 

Daniel presents his request to Ashpenaz, who is named in verse 3. He is the prince of the eunuchs responsible for the care of the young captives. When Daniel makes his request, he demonstrates that he is religious and that he has a conscience that governs what he does. The literal sense of the word eunuchs is familiar to us; the word also has a figurative meaning to refer to a court official.

 

What Do You Think?

 

How do we decide which issues and situations call for taking a definite stand for Christ (Acts 5:27-29) and which do not (Matthew 17:24-27)?

 

Points for Your Discussion

 

In the workplace

 

In athletics

 

In church

 

Other

 

9. Now God had brought Daniel into favour and tender love with the prince of the eunuchs.

 

Ashpenaz is favorably impressed with Daniel by this time. The word translated tender love is also translated “mercies” in Daniel 9:9, 18, and that is the sense here. The text is clear in describing God to be behind this disposition. As a result, Ashpenaz concludes that Daniel is not trying to make trouble, but that he is sincerely conscientious.

 

10. And the prince of the eunuchs said unto Daniel, I fear my lord the king, who hath appointed your meat and your drink: for why should he see your faces worse liking than the children which are of your sort? then shall ye make me endanger my head to the king.

 

The reaction by Ashpenaz shows that he is a reasonable person. His personality is such that he does not demonstrate his authority by immediately rejecting what Daniel proposes. He is willing to listen to any proposal, but he is also compelled to remind Daniel that dire consequences may result: Ashpenaz could lose his head!

 

The phrase worse liking may seem unusual. It refers to the state of the body as pertains to its health or condition. Ashpenaz is vitally concerned that the appearance of his charges will deteriorate if they do not eat properly. After all, Nebuchadnezzar is capable of great rage (see Daniel 2:12; 3:19).

 

The reference to the fact that there are others which are of your sort who are ready to begin this special training probably refers to captives or hostages from other countries. Nebuchadnezzar uses this retraining method to hinder rebellions, to increase recognition for his kingdom, and to maintain tax revenues.

 

11, 12. Then said Daniel to Melzar, whom the prince of the eunuchs had set over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, prove thy servants, I beseech thee, ten days; and let them give us pulse to eat, and water to drink.

 

Daniel does not simply protest and dig in his heels. He has a plan to resolve the situation, and he expresses it to Melzar, who works for the prince of the eunuchs (Ashpenaz). The translators of the King James Version determined that the word Melzar is a proper name; later studies propose that the meaning of the word Melzar is “overseer” or “steward.” The word is used only here and in Daniel 1:16 in the Old Testament.

 

Daniel’s proposal is that he and his friends be allowed to abstain from the king’s food for 10 days. During this time they are to be given pulse to eat, and water to drink. The word translated pulse is also translated “sowing seed” in Leviticus 11:37, so it can include food products that begin as seeds that are planted or sown. Such food may include breads (which are made from grain) as well as produce.

 

What Do You Think?

 

Why do some believers seem to have more difficulty than others in making the hard choices of the Christian life?

 

Points for Your Discussion

 

Fear of consequences

 

Uncertainty

 

Vocational expectations

 

Other

 

13, 14. Then let our countenances be looked upon before thee, and the countenance of the children that eat of the portion of the king’s meat: and as thou seest, deal with thy servants. So he consented to them in this matter, and proved them ten days.

 

A 10-day testing period should reveal the difference between those that eat of the portion of the king’s meat and those who do not. The plan is very reasonable, and it leaves the final decision to Melzar. The hostages probably do not dine in the presence of the king, or this unusual test may result in dire consequences. If the Hebrews are housed separately from others, the test is conducted more easily (and secretly).

 

D. Test Results (vv. 15, 16)

 

15, 16. And at the end of ten days their countenances appeared fairer and fatter in flesh than all the children which did eat the portion of the king’s meat. Thus Melzar took away the portion of their meat, and the wine that they should drink; and gave them pulse.

 

The special diet produces the desired results for the Hebrews. Melzar keeps his part of the agreement, so the young men from Judah continue to maintain the same diet for the entire period of their intensive education and training. We note that while Daniel and his friends are feasting on certain foods they are also fasting from other kinds.

 

E. God’s Rewards (v. 17)

 

17. As for these four children, God gave them knowledge and skill in all learning and wisdom: and Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams.

 

The assessment is that the four Hebrews excel in everything they study, with credit to God. It is assumed that the teachers provide periodic status reports on their progress as the four gain knowledge and skill in all learning and wisdom.

 

Daniel, however, ends up with a special gift from God: the ability to know the meanings of all visions and dreams. Some ancient cultures have dream manuals, so Daniel and the others probably receive instruction about such things. Even so, Daniel receives special insights from God that make his knowledge superior to such manuals. This fact prepares the way for the accounts that follow, when Daniel becomes a special prophet of God to King Nebuchadnezzar.

 

This verse is one of five places in the Hebrew section of the book of Daniel (about half the book is written in Aramaic) where Daniel writes something distinctive: he adds the definite article to the word God so that it actually reads “the God” in the original. This is unusual, and it may be that Daniel wants to make a point for any reader who believes in many gods.

 

 

 

 

II. Declarations by Jesus

 

                                                                               (Matthew 6:16-18)

 

A. Fasting for Display (v. 16)

 

16. Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.

 

A person’s spirituality in Jesus’ day is often judged by three things: financial stewardship (Matthew 6:1-4), prayer life (6:5-13), and fasting (6:16-18). In this section of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus boldly says that some who practice these disciplines are hypocrites (compare 6:2, 5). The three practices are not wrong in and of themselves, but the motives of the individuals doing them becomes a problem when the visible piety is merely a desire for personal attention. In each case, Jesus declares that recognition from others is the only reward that such hypocrites will receive.

 

Fasting (abstaining from certain food and drink) is not a major issue in the Law of Moses, being prescribed only yearly, on the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16:29-31; 23:27; Numbers 29:7; Jeremiah 36:6). Other fasts were added to the calendar to commemorate special events (see Zechariah 7:1-5; 8:19). The case of Esther offers another example of fasting, for she requested a three-day fast before making her uninvited approach to the king (Esther 4:16). In Jesus’ day, some Jews observe a custom of fasting two days per week (Luke 18:12).

 

Fasting may be a natural reaction when a person is sorrowful, for there is no desire to eat. Fasting may accompany intense prayers of the heart (compare Nehemiah 1:4; Daniel 9:3, 4; Luke 2:36, 37). Sometimes fasting precedes ordination to special ministry (Acts 13:1-3).

 

Hypocritical Spirituality

 

There was a time in the past century when it was customary to wear one’s “Sunday best” to church. Often that meant a man’s best suit or a woman’s nicest dress. It was an unwritten rule: everyone was expected to show reverence to God in this way.

 

The custom led to some interesting excesses. The approach of Easter became a time for some to splurge on an extravagant new outfit in order to outdo other worshippers in fashionable display. I remember one Christian woman expressing great disdain for this practice. She was vocal in her criticism of the “hypocrisy” of those who participated in the “Easter parade.” She found a way to avoid the hypocrisy she abhorred so much: she showed her superior spirituality by wearing her new spring outfit on Palm Sunday rather than Easter Sunday!

 

The legalistic way in which the lady judged others and was oblivious to the “beam” in her own eye (Matthew 7:3-5) demonstrated itself readily enough. “Spirituality” shown for the purpose of impressing others may accomplish that goal—but only that goal.—C. R. B.

 

B. Fasting’s Accompaniment (vv. 17, 18a)

 

17, 18a. But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face; that thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret.

 

Jesus approves fasting as a religious exercise (compare Matthew 9:15), but it should be accompanied by the typical procedures of daily grooming. The goal is to look normal so that others do not know one is fasting. (Then one should avoid pride in the fact that the fasting is being done without others knowing it!) Like so many of Jesus’ teachings, this one is nothing new, since hypocritical fasting is condemned in the Old Testament (see Isaiah 58:3-7; Jeremiah 14:12; Zechariah 7:5, 6).

 

What Do You Think?

 

What would be valid reasons for Christians to fast or deny themselves in areas other than food?

 

Points for Your Discussion

 

In use of finances

 

In use of time

 

In choices of entertainment

 

Other

 

C. Fasting’s Dividend (v. 18b)

 

18b. And thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly.

 

The reward that comes from dedicated fasting is received from the Father, who is fully aware of what is being done even though it is concealed from others. Fasting does have a purpose, but if it is used to try to manipulate God or to earn a reward, then it already has its reward. This is part of seeking “first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness” (Matthew 6:33).

 

What Do You Think?

 

Why can’t we make hard and fast lists of spiritual disciplines that are always to be done either secretly or openly?

 

Points for Your Discussion

 

Matthew 5:14-16; 6:1-4

 

1 Corinthians 11:1

 

Philippians 3:17

 

1 Timothy 4:12b

 

Titus 2:7, 8

 

Conclusion

 

A. Testing Faith

 

The feasting and fasting episodes of this lesson may seem unrelated, even opposites. Daniel’s feasting on certain foods while fasting from others was designed, in part, to achieve a certain outward appearance. Yet Jesus instructed that one’s outward appearance should be unchanged while fasting. Even so, the two episodes have this in common: they represent spiritual tests for the person who eats or does not eat. Daniel was tested regarding the compromise of a core element of his spiritual heritage, and he passed the test. The hypocrites of Jesus’ day were tested regarding whose approval was to be sought, and they failed the test.

 

The Christian will have to work through many tests in his or her spiritual walk, and selective use or nonuse of food may be one type (Romans 14:1-3, 15, 20, 21; etc.). “Divers temptations” are certain, and the secret is to rejoice and handle them so as to develop patience or steadfastness (James 1:2-4). Blessings result when we handle trials with the strength God provides. A tested faith is a stronger faith. When eternity begins, we will know the tests were worth it (Revelation 7:17; 21:4).

 

B. Prayer

 

Almighty God, I ask for strength to resist the temptations to do good things for wrong reasons. May I successfully pass the tests that are placed before me. In Jesus’ name, amen.

 

C. Thought for Today

 

Ask God to help you pass the tests.

 

How to Say It

 

Aramaic Air-uh-may-ik.

 

Ashpenaz Ash-pih-naz.

 

Azariah Az-uh-rye-uh.

 

Babylon Bab-uh-lun.

 

Babylonian Bab-ih-low-nee-un.

 

Hananiah Han-uh-nye-uh.

 

Jehoiakim Jeh-hoy-uh-kim.

 

Melzar Mel-zar.

 

Mishael Mish-a-el.

 

Nebuchadnezzar Neb-yuh-kud-nez-er.

 

HOME DAILY BIBLE READINGS

January 26 - February 1

 

Monday - Psalm 69:5-18 (Draw Near to Me, O Lord)

Tuesday - Psalm 109:21-27 (Help Me, O Lord My God)

Wednesday - Luke 18:9-14 (Humility before God)

Thursday - 2 Chronicles 7:11-18 (If My People Humble Themselves)

Friday - 2 Chronicles 34:24-33 (Humble Yourselves Before God)

Saturday - Matthew 9:9-17 (An Appropriate Time for Fasting)

Sunday - Daniel 1:5, 8-17; Matthew 6:16-18 (To Honor God)

 

 

Next week lesson: February 8, 2015 Serving Neighbors, Serving God

Devotional Reading: Matthew 22:33-40

Background Scripture: Luke 10:25-37

 

Luke 10:25-37

 

Kids’ Corner

February 1, 2015

FEASTING AND FASTING

                                               

LESSON SCRIPTURE: DANIEL 1:5; 8-17; MATTHEW 6:16-18; 9:9-17

PRINT: DANIEL 1:5; 8-17; MATTHEW 6:16-18

Key Verses: When you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. Matthew 16:17-18. (NRSV)

 

 

 

DANIEL 1:5, 8-17; MATTHEW 6:16-18

 

(NRSV) Daniel 1:5

5 The king assigned them a daily portion of the royal rations of food and wine. They were to be educated for three years, so that at the end of that time they could be stationed in the king's court.

 

8-17

8    But Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with the royal rations of food and wine; so he asked the palace master to allow him not to defile himself.

 

9    Now God allowed Daniel to receive favor and compassion from the palace master.

 

10   The palace master said to Daniel, "I am afraid of my lord the king; he has appointed your food and your drink. If he should see you in poorer condition than the other young men of your own age, you would endanger my head with the king."

 

11   Then Daniel asked the guard whom the palace master had appointed over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah:

 

12   "Please test your servants for ten days. Let us be given vegetables to eat and water to drink.

 

13   You can then compare our appearance with the appearance of the young men who eat the royal rations, and deal with your servants according to what you observe."

 

14   So he agreed to this proposal and tested them for ten days.

 

15   At the end of ten days it was observed that they appeared better and fatter than all the young men who had been eating the royal rations.

 

16   So the guard continued to withdraw their royal rations and the wine they were to drink, and gave them vegetables.

 

17   To these four young men God gave knowledge and skill in every aspect of literature and wisdom; Daniel also had insight into all visions and dreams.

 

 

Matthew 6:16-18

16   "And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward.

 

17   But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face,

 

18   so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you."

 

 

DANIEL 1:5, 8-17; MATTHEW 6:16-18

(KJV) Daniel 1:5

5    And the king appointed them a daily pro-vision of the king's meat, and of the wine which he drank: so nourishing them three years, that at the end thereof they might stand before the king.

 

 

8-17

8    But Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king's meat, nor with the wine which he drank: therefore he requested of the prince of the eunuchs that he might not defile himself.

 

9    Now God had brought Daniel into favour and tender love with the prince of the eunuchs.

 

10   And the prince of the eunuchs said unto Daniel, I fear my lord the king, who hath appointed your meat and your drink: for why should he see your faces worse liking than the children which are of your sort? then shall ye make me endanger my head to the king.

 

11   Then said Daniel to Melzar, whom the prince of the eunuchs had set over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah,

 

12   Prove thy servants, I beseech thee, ten days; and let them give us pulse to eat, and water to drink.

 

13   Then let our countenances be looked upon before thee, and the countenance of the children that eat of the portion of the king's meat: and as thou seest, deal with thy servants.

 

14   So he consented to them in this matter, and proved them ten days.

 

15   And at the end of ten days their countenances appeared fairer and fatter in flesh than all the children which did eat the portion of the king's meat.

 

16   Thus Melzar took away the portion of their meat, and the wine that they should drink; and gave them pulse.

 

17   As for these four children, God gave them knowledge and skill in all learning and wisdom: and Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams.

 

 

Matthew 6:16-18

16   Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.

 

17   But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face;

 

18   That thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret: and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly.

 

 

 

INTRODUCTION

Fasting is one of the most powerful spiritual disciplines practiced by Christians. Through prayer and fasting, Christians are known to have experienced phenomenal spiritual growth and transformed lives. As used in this lesson, fasting is simply defined as voluntarily abstaining from or reducing the intake of certain or all foods and drinks over a specified period of time for the purpose of connecting with God and strengthening our relationship with him.

 

Fasting is covered in today's scripture. In Daniel 1:5, 8-17, Daniel and his three friends, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah (whose names were later changed to Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego), were taken, along with other Jews, as captives or political prisoners into Babylon. From Daniel, we learn that fasting is about much more than abstaining from or limiting food and/or drink. In Matthew 16:17-18, Jesus would later teach his disciples and us how to conduct ourselves so as to avoid hypocrisy while fasting.

 

 

BIBLE STORY

The King's Choice and Decree,

Daniel 1:5

Nebuchadnezzar was the king of Babylon in 605 B.C. when Daniel and others were taken from Jerusalem to Babylon as political prisoners. He chose young, intelligent males, like Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah to spend three years being introduced to and indoctrinated into Babylonian culture. Nebuchadnezzar's plans included changing the young men's names from Hebrew names representative of the true and living God to names representative of Babylonian gods. Daniel, for example, was renamed Belteshazzar. His friend Hananiah was renamed Shadrach. Mishael was renamed Meshach. Azariah was renamed Abednego.

 

In addition to having their names changed, the prisoners were to be "fed from the king's table," with expectations that they would adopt the kings' diet. After three years of training, education and total immersion into Babylonian culture, the prisoners would have to stand before the king, himself, for a final test and approval. Passing the king's test would require that the prisoners' names, native language, religion and customs would have become extinct. Subsequently, they and others would see them as Babylonians.

 

Daniel's Faithfulness, God's Favor, and Rewards, Daniel 1:8-17

Daniel was faithful to God, and God rewarded him with wisdom and favor. His wisdom is reflected in the way in which he resisted the king's diet. Rebellion against the king would not be tolerated. However, Daniel was determined not to become disloyal to his God by defiling his body with foods that were forbidden for God's people to consume.

 

With God's favor, Daniel was able to influence the eunuch responsible for taking care of him and his two friends. With that favor and influence, Daniel secretly negotiated an alternative diet plan that would comply with God's instructions and achieve the same healthy appearance that Nebuchadnezzar expected. In doing so, Daniel successfully resisted Nebuchadnezzar's claims of sovereignty over his life and his friends. His actions also allowed others to see the effects of God's power and authority over his children, even in a foreign, hostile land.

 

Jesus' Perspectives on Fasting, Matthew 6:16-18

In the background scripture, Jesus gives his perspective on fasting. How we behave and how we interact with others during periods of fasting are equally as important as to whether and how much we eat or drink during these spiritual retreats. In these verses, Jesus tells us how "not to behave" while fasting. Fasting is not the time to join the crowd and demonstrate one's piety with a solemn face and demeanor. Rather, fasting is a time to celebrate with gratitude God's intercession into our lives and our business. He gives clear warnings against hypocritical behavior and other sinful acts while fasting. Godly fasting is a voluntary, sacrificial and penitential action to be taken with humility and thanksgiving for an opportunity to approach God secretly, and to draw closer to him. It is a reverent act of worship. Read Isaiah 58 for a more comprehensive view of the type of fasting God requires and honors.

 

 

LIFE APPLICATION

We are bombarded today with information and discussions about food. Knowing what to eat appears to be much less problematic than exercising discipline with deciding when and how much to eat. In other words, knowledge about food, its value and impact on our bodies is readily available. Wisdom and discipline necessary to control when and how much we eat are much more difficult to acquire. Unfortunately, too much of our focus about diet is on body weight and appearance. When convinced they can never achieve their preferred body image, many people give up and declare as one Christian stated to a group recently, "I just eat whatever I want." While it is easy to attack the wisdom in this person's statement, he simply confessed what many other Christians have decided, but are not willing to openly confess.

 

Daniel helps to fill an obvious "gap" in our spiritual teaching and discipleship training. From Daniel's example, we are reminded that our bodies are not our own (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). Therefore food choices can affect our spirituality. Daniel could have considered himself "highly favored" because, although a prisoner, he was selected by King Nebuchadnezzar to change his identity and become a part of the king's advisors. This meant Daniel would have higher status, and that he would be spared from the backbreaking work normally assigned to political prisoners. But, Daniel's spiritual discernment enabled him to see that he was actually being tested. He had a choice to make.

 

The easiest choice would have been to accept Nebuchadnezzar's offer. The other choice was to resist and seek ways to glorify God instead. The first choice would also have caused Daniel to violate God's dietary laws, and Nebuchadnezzar would have gained sovereign power over him that he had already pledged to Almighty God. Instead, Daniel chose to glorify God, and God richly rewarded him for doing so.

 

Daniel's chosen diet (Daniel 1:12), known today as The "Daniel Fast," is quite popular among Christians. Daniel described his testing period for demonstrating God's power with his diet in Daniel 10:3: "I ate no pleasant bread, neither came flesh or wine in my mouth... until three weeks were fulfilled." Daniel's example challenges each of us to ask ourselves the question, "Whom do my eating habits and food choices glorify?"

 

As with prayer, the scriptures do not tell us when or how often to fast. Nor do they tell us what kind of fast to engage in (partial, like Daniel; absolute like Jesus in the wilderness, or normal, wherein liquids but no solid foods are consumed). Obviously, we are expected to fast as Jesus speaks to "when you fast..." (Matthew 6:16). When and what type of fast we employ are personal decisions that should be informed by personal health conditions and the Holy Spirit's guidance.

 

 

SUMMARY

Fasting is an integral part of disciplined Christian living. It should never be used as a means to manipulate God. Instead, it is to be viewed as a vehicle for disciplining ourselves to create more "space in our lives" for prayer, repentance and seeking God's face. By doing so, we follow examples set by Jesus, the prophets, Queen Esther, the Apostles and innumerable saints throughout history. Fasting and prayer are foundational to healthy, integrated life styles and practices that are pleasing to God, our Father.

 

 

Questions

1. What were the results of your fasting experience?

 

2. Is fasting a regular part of your spiritual regimen?

 

3. Have you considered whether and how fasting could enhance your prayer life, yor relationship with God, and make you a more faithful disciple of Christ?

 

 

CLOSING PRAYER

Dear Lord, we acknowledge that food is sometimes too important to us, and we eat for the wrong reasons. We ask for forgiveness and wisdom to rely more on the Holy Spirit's guidance when deciding what foods and portion sizes to eat. Please bless us to glorify you with our dietary habits. In Jesus' name we pray. Amen.

 

 

Word Search

 

February 1, 2015

 

Name________________________

 

FEASTING AND FASTING

 

H W B P D F A R W X Q N Q B B

Z I F T A N U E L C R T R G U

S N Z S O D X W G D U A B O E

H E T I M V U A T H R E E B G

K T N H L M T R Y W G M Z N J

G T N E C A F D J H Q C K B Y

N H Y E N G C W H S O D R S Y

M E A T R S R A E Y R E S P S

D G M H Y D F U U K H U K X L

V G E V H R L X O T L O V E I

D A T K W N W I A U Y V W G J

D N E M L L L F H I Z G P V Y

L E I N A D I P F C N A W X S

J G M C F C G C P I C X D N K

Z I Z B Z Q K A K Z K D A K X

 

ANOINT

CHILDREN

DANIEL

FACE

FAST

FATHER

HEAD

KING

LOVE

MEAT

MEN

REWARD

THREE

WINE

YEARS