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Chapter VII.—Further Examples from the Old Testament in Favour of Fasting.
Israel, before their gathering together by Samuel on occasion of the drawing of water at Mizpeh, had sinned; but so immediately do they wash away the sin by a fast, that the peril of battle is dispersed by them simultaneously (with the water on the ground). At the very moment when Samuel was offering the holocaust (in no way do we learn that the clemency of God was more procured than by the abstinence of the people), and the aliens were advancing to battle, then and there “the Lord thundered with a mighty voice upon the aliens, and they were thrown into confusion, and fell in a mass in the sight of Israel; and the men of Israel went forth out of Mizpeh, and pursued the aliens, and smote them unto Bethor,”—the unfed (chasing) the fed, the unarmed the armed. Such will be the strength of them who “fast to God.”1050
Similarly, when the king of the Assyrians, Sennacherib, after already taking several cities, was volleying blasphemies and menaces against Israel through Rabshakeh, nothing else (but fasting) diverted him from his purpose, and sent him into the Ethiopias. After that, what else swept away by the hand of the angel an hundred eighty and four thousand from his army than Hezekiah the king’s humiliation? if it is true, (as it is), that on hearing the announcement of the harshness of the foe, he rent his garment, put on sackcloth, and bade the elders of the priests, similarly habited, approach God through Isaiah—fasting being, of course, the escorting attendant of their prayers.1051
Through this attendant of mourning, and (this) hunger, even that sinful state, Nineveh, is freed from the predicted ruin. For repentance for sins had sufficiently commended the fast, keeping it up in a space of three days, starving out even the cattle with which God was not angry.1052
Nor is it merely change of nature, or aversion of perils, or obliteration of sins, but likewise the recognition of mysteries, which fasts will merit from God. Look at Daniel’s example. About the dream of the King of Babylon all the sophists are troubled: they affirm that, without external aid, it cannot be discovered by human skill. Daniel alone, trusting to God, and knowing what would tend to the deserving of God’s favour, requires a space of three days, fasts with his fraternity, and—his prayers thus commended—is instructed throughout as to the order and signification of the dream; quarter is granted to the tyrant’s sophists; God is glorified; Daniel is honoured; destined as he was to receive, even subsequently also, no less a favour of God in the first year, of King Darius, when, after careful and repeated meditation upon the times predicted by Jeremiah, he set his face to God in fasts, and sackcloth, and ashes. For the angel, withal, sent to him, immediately professed this to be the cause of the Divine approbation: “I am come,” he said, “to demonstrate to thee, since thou art pitiable”1056