Sunday, July 26, 2009

A Time to Weep and a Time to Mourn

Wednesday night of this week begins an important day of mourning on the Jewish calendar. Known as Tisha B’Av, it commemorates the destruction of the first temple by the Babylonians in 586 B.C. and the second temple by the Romans in 70 A.D. The origin of this day, however, precedes these two tragic events by more than 500 years. We are told in Numbers chapter 13 that Moses sent twelve spies from the Wilderness to spy out the Land of Canaan. Verse 21 of this chapter tells us that the time of year was “the season of first ripe grapes.” Therefore, we can place their mission at about mid to late June. Verse 25 tells us that the spies returned from spying out the land forty days later, which would have been late July to early August, precisely the time of year when Tisha B’Av occurs.

So what does the mission of the spies have to do with the destruction of both temples, you might ask. The answer is, plenty. Ten of the spies brought back an evil report (13:27-33), whom the congregation foolishly believed. In response, the entire assembly wept all night, believing they were going to die at the hands of the “giants.” Jewish tradition says that the people wept for no reason, since G-d had delivered the nations of the Land into their hands. Therefore, G-d gave them a reason to weep. History seems to bear witness to this idea since all sorts of evil have fallen upon the Jewish people on this day.

Besides the destruction of the two temples, other events are worth noting.
  • The Israeli town of Betar was destroyed in 132 AD, and Jerusalem's Temple Mount was ploughed under in 133 AD, both at the hands of the Romans in the aftermath of the Bar Kochba rebellion.
  • England expelled all its Jews in 1290.
  • The Jews were expelled from Spain in 1492.
  • The Jews were yet again expelled, this time from Vienna in 1670.
  • World War I began in 1914.
  • Himmler presented his plan for the Nazi Party’s “Final Solution” to the “Jewish problem” in 1940.
  • Germany emptied the Warsaw ghetto and sent its Jews to Treblinka in 1942.
  • Saddam Hussein began launching scud missiles at Israel during the first Gulf War in 1990.

What does Tisha B’Av mean for the disciple of Yeshua? Should believers recognize this day on the Jewish calendar? How should the day be observed if we are to keep it?

The body of Messiah is inextricably linked to the nation of Israel, regardless of whether either group accepts this position. Yeshua called his body the kahal (ecclesia, in Greek), a Hebrew word used in reference to the nation of Israel. Paul warned his readers, the grafted-in branches, not to be haughty against the natural branches but to remember that the root supports them, not the other way around (Romans 11:16-24). Neither of these men presented a separate “church” to either replace or to exist alongside Israel. In contrast, Yeshua spoke of his body as comprising the faithful remnant of Israel (Matthew 7:13-14; 22:14; Luke 13:23). Paul added the non-Jewish disciple into this group. To distinguish the two peoples, I would classify the former as Israel Proper and the latter as Greater Israel.

Since the non-Jewish believer is tied to Israel through the Messiah, in my opinion, he should identify with the people of Israel in the same way Ruth did (Ruth 1:16-17). Observing Tisha B’Av is certainly a way of identifying and connecting with the Jewish people. Orthodox Jews take this day very seriously, sitting in mourning as one would do so for a near relative who passed away. Romans 12:15 says to “weep with those who weep.” Similarly, Yeshua said, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted” (Matthew 5:4).

Some believers might be tempted to say that we don’t need a temple because we have Yeshua. Why then should we mourn for its loss? Like it or not, we will have a third temple as the prophet Ezekiel clearly states (Ezekiel 43:1-15), as Isaiah makes plain (Isaiah 2:2-4), and as the prophet Daniel implies (Daniel 9:27). Furthermore, such thinking betrays ignorance about the purpose of the temple. The prophet Isaiah said that the temple is G-d’s house and a house of prayer for all nations (Isaiah 56:7), not just the Jewish people. As the caretakers of the house, the Jewish people had an enormous responsibility for maintaining its purity. Unfortunately, they defiled it through baseless hatred, which ultimately led to its destruction (Yoma 9b). That doesn’t mean, however, that G-d has no desire for a new temple or that He has written off His people. On the contrary, He has restored His people to their Land. Similarly, He will restore the Temple to its rightful place.

Having a Temple in no way changes the fact that Yeshua is Messiah. He is our atoning sacrifice, so no animal will ever again atone for sin. Future sacrifices will simply remind us of the tremendous price that he paid to obtain the redemption of all mankind.

To keep the day, believers can fast from just before sundown Wednesday, July 29 through just after sundown July 30. Other traditions include:

  • Refraining from studying Torah (The reason behind this practice comes from Psalm 19:9, which says, “The statutes of Hashem are upright, rejoicing the heart.” One who is in mourning is not allowed to rejoice.)
  • Reading the book of Lamentations
  • No bathing or washing
  • No anointing oneself with oil
  • No wearing of shoes or fine clothing
  • Sleeping on the floor
  • Sitting on the floor or on a low stool until midday

At a minimum, the disciples of Yeshua should remember the day by praying for the peace of Jerusalem (Psalm 122:6). What are your thoughts on this subject?

The Book of Our Heritage, Volume 3

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