Inspired by Jesus’ 40-day sojourn in the wilderness, Robert Bogucki ventured into Australia’s Great Sandy Desert—and disappeared. A manhunt was launched after tourists spotted his abandoned bicycle and supplies, but after 15 days of searching they concluded that he had not survived. Bogucki’s family hired trackers to continue the search. Forty-three days after Bogucki went missing, he was spotted by a television news helicopter. His water had run out 12 days earlier, and he survived by eating flowers and drinking water strained from mud.
God’s approved fast includes more than abstaining from meals. It is a lifestyle of loving self-sacrifice. Isaiah employed the image of a desert to describe the benefit of living this way. Since it is often the fear of deprivation that keeps us from making such sacrifices, Isaiah promised that the Lord “will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land. . . . You will be like a well-watered garden” (v. 11).
The imagery of verse 12 suggests that these promises were addressed to those who would be brought back to Jerusalem after the Babylonian exile. The emphasis on observing the Sabbath is a theme Isaiah introduced earlier as an example of what it meant to “maintain justice” (56:2–6). Israel’s failure to observe the prescribed weekly Sabbath, or the Sabbath year every seven years when the ground was left fallow, or the Year of Jubilee every 50 years when all debts were canceled, were examples of the disobedience that had resulted in God’s people being sent into exile (Ezek. 20:23; see Lev. 26:33–34). Keeping the Sabbath is linked with justice, because observances like these provided rest for workers and relief for the poor.
Christians are not under the Law of Moses and not required to fast, follow dietary guidelines, or observe the seventh day as Sabbath. But we may voluntarily refrain from food or work for a time as a spiritual discipline to focus on God’s provision for us. To learn more about this, read Habits for Our Holiness by Philip Nation (Moody Publishers).