“Hold God to His word. He promised healing and by faith you must remind God of His promise to heal. Claim His promises now.” I remember feeling uncomfortable as this idea was being stated by various fiery and frothing preachers.
My lack of comfort also extended to the often stated claim, “God’s New Covenant obligates God to ____________ (fill in the blank).
Does God any obligations? Is the Almighty in debt? Does He owe anything, anywhere, anytime, to anyone?
In reading Isaiah 58:3 I discovered Israel’s deeply held belief that God owed them, because of their pious fasting, a grand and glorious deliverance on their terms.
‘Why have we fasted, and you see it not?
Why have we humbled ourselves, and you take no knowledge of it?’
The Day of Atonement was the only fast mandated by God’s Law each year, so it seems this is the fast about which the people are complaining.
“And it shall be a statute to you forever that in the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you shall afflict yourselves and shall do no work, either the native or the stranger who sojourns among you.” Leviticus 16:29
Notice the seriousness of the command, “you shall afflict yourselves and shall do nor work, either the native or the stranger who sojourns among you.” In Levitical terms, fasting is afflicting one’s soul. It is to humble, weaken, and object to oneself by fasting.
In addition to cessation from food, Israel was to totally cease from all work. In this sense fasting was an additional Sabbath, a day of no work for both the Jews and immigrants.
God points out, through Isaiah, that Israel has completely ignored God’s fasting directives.
Behold, in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure,
and oppress all your workers.
Not only do God’s people break the fast by working (seek your own pleasure), but by requiring all their workers to violate God’s fast as well (oppress all your workers).
Israel thinks their religiosity of fasting on the Day of Atonement forces God’s decisions and actions. I like a comment in the Pulpit Commentary, “but as laying him under a binding obligation, and almost compelling him to grant the requests of the worshipper.”
Those who are poor in spirit can not say, “Hold God to His word.” Humbled before the Great I Am, one knows God has no debt to pay, especially to a sinful soul. Commanding and demanding is unconscionable because I am clay and He is Potter.
I am not just clay metaphorically. I am literally clay.
“then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.” Genesis 2:7
Ray Bakke once said in my hearing, “The Bible opens with God’s hands in the mud.” I am just God-formed mud into whom He breathed life. He owes me nothing. Never has. Never will.
Biblical fasting isn’t about creating a myth of God in debt to me, but ceasing from all falsehoods and believing the truth about me.
Truly, I am a great debtor to God and my soul damning quandary is that I have no assets (and never will) with which to pay my debt.
One doesn’t work through the Day of Atonement Fast because work CAN NOT atone. All my work toward atonement is completely futile and useless. Work that has forsaken God can not produce anything of eternal value.
In a sense, all work is simply clay rearranging God’s creation and taking personal credit for productivity.
Isaiah says to me, “Knock it off! Cease and desist! Stop it!”
God owes me nothing. He is not obligated to me in any way. The simple fact that I am a living human being is not His payment but His gift.
Gratitude for God’s gift is the beginning of the Christian journey.
So in my fasting I not only cease my normal relationship with food but I abandon and completely forsake any notion that God owes me an answer to my prayers, a response to my religious temper tantrums, or to meet my expectations. My not eating for a season does not create some kind of obligation for God.
“Does the clay say to him who forms it…?” Isaiah 45:9