Beginning at sundown on the thirteenth of August 2016, our Jewish friends began the 24-hour fast of Tisha B’Av.
Falling on the 9th day of the month of Av, the Old Testament book of Lamentations is read in conjunction with this fast that commemorates the destruction of the First and Second Temples as well as other catastrophic events that befell the Jewish people on this date.
The first two verses from the book of Lamentations describe the utter desolation of the nation of Israel—alone and surrounded by enemies:
How lonely sits the city
That was full of people!
How like a widow is she,
Who was great among the nations!
The princess among the provinces
Has become a slave!
She weeps bitterly in the night,
Her tears are on her cheeks;
Among all her lovers
She has none to comfort her.
All her friends have dealt treacherously with her;
They have become her enemies.
These two verses encapsulate the mood on Tisha B’Av, one of the saddest days on the Jewish calendar.
Tisha B’Av is a day of fasting with food and liquids including water forbidden. Shaving, bathing, use of cosmetics or fragrances and wearing leather are prohibited. Smiles, laughter and unnecessary conversation are also restricted according to normal mourning practices. Because study of Torah is meant to be a pleasant experience, it is also suspended on this somber occasion. Only the Old Testament books of Job or Lamentations may be read during Tisha B’Av.
The catastrophic events called to mind on this day began shortly after the fledgling nation left Egypt. Approximately a year after a spectacular exodus and the miraculous parting of the Red Sea, the children of Israel arrived at Kadesh Barnea on the southern border of Canaan. In accordance with God’s command, Moses sent 12 tribal leaders on a reconnaissance mission of the land.
Citing heavily fortified cities and menacing giants in the land, ten of the spies returned to report that the land was filled with formidable obstacles. Their demoralizing summary swayed majority opinion and the people refused to enter the Land of Promise. Angry with the unbelief of the children of Israel, God consigned them to 40 years of wandering in the wilderness. Tradition states Israel’s refusal to enter the Promised Land occurred on the 9th of Av.
A thousand years later, the Babylonians besieged Jerusalem and then razed the city in 586 BC. With the city conquered, the inhabitants were taken into captivity and the Temple was completely destroyed. The traditional date for the destruction of Solomon’s Temple occurred on the 9th of Av.
Similarly in AD 70, the Romans destroyed the city of Jerusalem, demolished the Second Temple and then, burned it. Once again, the tragedy fell on the 9th of Av.
Although commemoration of Tisha B’Av focuses primarily on the destruction of the two Jewish Temples, other calamities are also remembered on this day of profound mourning.
Six decades after the destruction of the temple, Simon Bar Kochba led a revolt against Rome that many believed would force the Romans from Judea. Hopes for independence were shattered, however, when the Roman army crushed the revolt at Betar on the 9th of Av, AD 133.
Many bring to remembrance the fact that the Jewish people were expelled from England by Edward I on Tisha B’Av in 1290 in what can at best be called a disgraceful moral failure in the history of the monarchy.
On March 31, 1492, Queen Isabella delivered a similar edict allotting the Jewish population four months to exit Spain or face forced conversions to Roman Catholicism or death. The infamous expulsion went into effect July 31, 1492—on the Jewish calendar, the 9th of Av.
Jewish tradition places emphasis on an event set in motion, but not necessarily on the date which is why the Holocaust is often remembered as having taken place on Tisha B’Av. In this case, the date correlates with Germany’s declaration of war against Russia on July 28, 1914 on Tisha B’Av igniting the horror of World War I. Many link World War II and the Nazi Holocaust as a continuation of the First World War.
As the book of Lamentations is read in synagogues during the fast of Tisha B’Av, the declarations of intense grief within the text contain a message of hope. Jeremiah writes,
“This I recall to my mind,
Therefore I have hope.
Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed,
Because His compassions fail not.
They are new every morning;
Great is Your faithfulness.
‘The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul,
‘Therefore I hope in Him!’” (Lam. 3:21-24).
In the midst of Israel’s distress and surrounded by the devastation caused by the Babylonian army, Jeremiah was assured of God’s mercy. Jeremiah knew that the adversity the nation of Israel faced at that time was not permanent. God in His mercy kept His covenant with Israel; and, as in every calamity previously endured, God brought the nation through the devastating season.
Although Israel’s past is marked by moments of tragedy and heartache, God’s unilateral covenants remain in effect and provide hope for a spectacular future.
During the still to come Messianic Kingdom, the Temple will be rebuilt and Israel will be exalted as world attention is focused on Messiah ruling from Jerusalem.
Today, take time to “pray for the peace of Jerusalem” as commanded in the 122nd Psalm (Ps. 122:6-9).
And then, let Jewish friends, neighbors and colleagues know that they can count on you to stand with them during times of adversity.
There is a specific blessing documented in the book of Genesis for those who dare to stand hand-in-hand with the Jewish community.
When God called Abraham 4 millennia ago, He unequivocally declared, “I will bless those who bless you (the Jewish people), and I will curse him who curses you (Israel)” (Gen. 12:3). Standing with the Jewish people has never been historically popular; but the wise know it is the right thing to do.
1) Bas Relief on the Triumphal Arch in Rome depicting the removal of Temple treasures following Titus’ victory in Jerusalem in AD 70. (By Gunnar Bach Pedersen, Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons – Enhancement: MKM Portfolios
2) The Gold Menorah replica on display in Jerusalem on the square in front of the Kotel (Western Wall Plaza) intended for future use. Image via the Author’s Archives – Enhancement: MKM Portfolios.
Charles E. McCracken is an international Bible teacher, long-time friend of Israel and advocate for the Jewish people. With 40 plus years of ministry experience, Rev. McCracken is known for authenticity in communicating biblical truth that makes his presentations relevant for those seeking to understand the significance of Israel and the church in Bible prophecy. He staunchly supports the nation of Israel and the Jewish people’s right to exist and live in peace.
© Charles E. McCracken 2016, devotional comments only. Repost/Reprint with permission from the author. Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.