Over the next few days Jews all over the world will ask one another, “Did you fast on Yom Kippur?” If there is any day that deserves a fast, it is the Day of Atonement. It is a day of repentance and purification, of contemplation and sorrow. How strange it is, then, that the most common blessing one Jew will bestow upon another during this time is “Have an easy fast.” It is like saying, “Make a sacrifice of contrition and remorse to the Lord, and may it cost you as little as possible.” That’s sort of missing the point.
But the “point-missing” is even bigger than that, because the tradition of fasting on Yom Kippur is not even biblical. The rabbis through the years have justified the fast using the words of Leviticus 23:27:
“…it shall be a holy convocation for you; you shall afflict your souls, and offer an offering made by fire to the Lord.”
Where is fasting in that verse? The rabbis will say that it is there plain as day in the words, “you shall afflict your souls.”
Now I may get a little uncomfortable when I don’t eat for a time. I may even get a little hangry – that grumpy state where hunger and anger meet. But that is afflicting my body, not my soul.
Don’t get me wrong. Fasting can be a wonderful thing. It can be a time of worship or seeking the will of God. It can be a period of sacrifice and commitment, showing the Lord that you are ready to give all to Him. But if you are asking yourself just how easy can I make this fast with it still being considered a fast, you’re probably asking the wrong question.
The Jews were told to afflict their souls. But notice that the affliction wasn’t the only action required. In tandem, they were also told to “offer an offering made by fire to the Lord”. To the humility of the affliction, they were told to add true worship. This is where the pieces all drop into place. This is not a physical command; it is spiritual. God is not concerned about people performing the traditions and the rituals; He wants broken hearts before Him, recognizing their own sin and His merciful provision for forgiveness.
“Have an easy fast” is a perfect blessing because fasting can be very easy. It’s often a matter of missing a few meals then continuing life as before. Afflicting one’s soul is much more difficult because it involves humility, dependence, and life-change. In other words, it requires repentance – a confession of one’s sins before the Lord based on faith in Jesus and the sufficiency of His death on the cross, and a commitment to turn from those sins, removing them from your life never to go back. Afflicting one’s soul recognizes that it is not about me any longer or my easy life or my desire for comfort or what I want out of life. It is following through with the words of Paul when he wrote:
I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God. (Romans 12:1-2)
It is laying all we are on the altar before God and saying, “I am yours.”
While there will be a day when all Israel will truly afflict their souls in repentance and receive the salvation that comes through a personal relationship with Jesus, that day is still yet to come. But for you, let today be the day of your salvation. Let today be the day that you offer yourself to the Lord. Let today be the day of your forgiveness, and the beginning of an eternity of peace, joy, and the perfect love that comes from our Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ.
For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23)
Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved – you and your household. (Acts 16:31)
Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation. (2 Corinthians 6:2)
“Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah— not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them,[a] says the Lord. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.” (Jeremiah 31:31-34)