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  • Daniel Botkin

Tisha B'Av and the Book of Lamentations

Tisha B'Av The Destruction of Jerusalem by Daniel Botkin

Tisha B'Av (the 9th day of the lunar month of Av) falls on July 30th this year. Among observant Jews, Tisha B'Av is a day of fasting and mourning. On this date, the first Temple of Jerusalem was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BC, and on this same date the second Temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD. Throughout history other significant tragedies have befallen the Jewish people on this date.

For this reason the 9th of Av is a solemn day, and pleasures are avoided. Even the study of Torah is forbidden by the rabbis on this day, because the study of Torah brings joy, as it is written, "The precepts of Yahweh are right, rejoicing the heart" (Psalm 19:8); and again it is written, "Thy Torah is my delight" (Psalm 119:174). Instead of joyfully studying Torah, observant Jews read the Book of Lamentations on Tisha B'Av.

In my 47 years as a follower of Yeshua/Jesus, I have heard and read countless Christian sermons from church pulpits, on cassette tapes, on Christian radio programs, and in Christian books and magazines. I do not recall having ever heard or read a sermon based on the Book of Lamentations. I'm sure there are Christian preachers who have spoken on Lamentations, but such preachers seem to be quite rare.

I suppose Lamentations is avoided by most of the Christian world because it is a dirge, a poem of sorrow and mourning over Jerusalem's destruction, and most Christians assume that such a book has little or nothing in it that is relevant to them. I, however, have always found Lamentations to be a very profound and powerful book which moves something deep in my inward parts. My Bible still bears the pencil marks from my days as a young believer when, during a period of deep depression, I found solace in several verses in Lamentations which expressed exactly how I felt. Even now as I look at these verses before me, I feel a melancholy stirring in my heart. "Remembering mine affliction and my misery, the wormwood and the gall. My soul hath them still in remembrance, and is humbled in me."

In a way that I cannot fully explain, this lament over Jerusalem stirs my emotions, and I sense a mingling of grief and glory. The rabbis say that when God created glory, He created it in ten parts, and gave nine parts to Jerusalem and one part to the rest of the world. This rabbinic observation of Jerusalem's glory and suffering also seems to describe the destiny for those Christians who will stop playing church and take up the cross of Yeshua of Nazareth and follow Him. Perhaps Lamentations would be a more popular book in the Christian world if more Christians would begin to really follow the One they sing and talk and sermonize about. Following the Master always entails suffering in some form, and those who have not suffered will probably not be able to appreciate the Book of Lamentations, for it is a book about suffering.

The book of Lamentations is poetry, written in what is called acrostic form. The 22 verses of each chapter begin with the corresponding 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet. The third chapter, which contains 66 verses, is written in triplets: three consecutive verses that begin with the same corresponding Hebrew letter. The last chapter is the only part not written in acrostic form.

Even in its English translation, Lamentations is a masterpiece. Some of the most powerful poetry, art, and music the world has known has come from artists who underwent some sort of intense personal suffering. The paintings of Van Gogh, the hymns of William Cowper, and the works of the blind poet John Milton come to mind. However, Lamentations is more than mere human poetry expressing Jeremiah's grief over the destruction of his city. Lamentations is Scripture, inspired by the Holy Spirit, therefore it also expresses the grief of the Holy One Himself as He mourns over the destruction of His children. God's grief over Israel is like that of a parent who loved his children, gave them the best of everything ("What more could have been done for My vineyard, that I have not done for it?" Isa. 5:4), yet they rebelled and brought destruction upon themselves.

"How doth the city sit solitary, that was full of people!" the Lament begins. "How is she become a widow! She that was great among the nations, and princess among the provinces, how is she become tributary!" In the midst of her misery, Jerusalem remembered "all her pleasant things that she had in the days of old" (1:7).

The reign of King Solomon was certainly a time of "pleasant things," but Solomon's reign was not the most glorious period of Israel's history. "Behold!" Yeshua said to His generation. "A greater than Solomon is here." Israel's most glorious period of history was when King Messiah walked among them, conquered death through His Resurrection, ascended to the right hand of the Father, and sent the Holy Spirit to His disciples, resulting in a Messianic Community that manifested the glory of God like no generation has done since. The holiness and glory manifested in the Book of Acts is unmatched in history.

What does all this have to do with Tisha B'Av and lamenting the destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem? There is another Temple we should mourn, a Temple made of living stones: "You also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood," Peter tells us (1 Pet. 2:5). Paul, in speaking of the Community of believers, says, "The whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord" (Eph. 2:21).

When I read the Book of Acts, I yearn for the rebuilding and restoration of that Temple of living stones, that Messianic Community whose exploits are chronicled in the Book of Acts. When I read Acts, I can relate to the grief Jeremiah felt over his Temple's destruction. "Is it nothing to you, all ye that pass by? Behold, and see if there be any sorrow like unto my sorrow, which is done unto me" (Lam. 1:12). When I see Christians who are content with the Church in its present state of ruins, I want to shake them and say, "Is it nothing to you? How can you pass by the Book of Acts and not yearn to recover that?"

Jeremiah's deepest sorrow came from seeing Jerusalem's once-glorious Temple reduced to rubble. I have both joy and sorrow in my life, and my deepest sorrow comes from seeing Jerusalem's once-glorious Temple of living stones, that Messianic Community of Acts, once filled with the glorious Presence of God, now reduced to the churches and synagogues of today, where the Presence of God is conspicuously absent.

What accounts for the absence of the Living God in today's temples of living stones? The answer is in Lamentations: "The adversary hath spread out his hand upon all her pleasant things: for she hath seen that the heathen entered into her sanctuary, whom Thou didst command that they should not enter into Thy congregation" (1:10). Both church and synagogue have compromised to please the heathen. The synagogue compromises by assimilating into the heathen culture around it, and the church compromises by letting the heathen bring their heathen customs into the church and incorporate them into Christian worship. This is why the adversary is allowed to "spread out his hands upon all her pleasant things," and rob God's people of the glory and the power He bestowed upon the first generation of Messianic believers.

The adversary's gleeful victory song appears in Lamentations 2:16: "We have swallowed her up: certainly this is the day that we looked for; we have found, we have seen it." The synagogue and church have both been "swallowed up," assimilated by a world system that is at enmity with God. And neither the church nor the synagogue is producing prophets to remedy the situation, as it is written: "Thy prophets have seen vain and foolish things for thee: and they have not discovered thine iniquity, to turn away thy captivity; but have seen for thee false burdens and causes of banishment" (Lam. 2:14). Another translation, Today's English Version, renders the above verse this way: "Your prophets had nothing to tell you but lies; their preaching deceived you by never exposing your sin. They made you think you did not need to repent."

These are the things that should be mourned by Christians. Disciples of Yeshua can also mourn the 70 AD destruction of the literal Temple, because the absence of that Temple is a continual reminder that the Jewish people have not yet recognized their Messiah. When Yeshua wept over Jerusalem, He said, "For the days shall come upon you when your enemies will throw up a bank before you, and surround you, and hem you in on every side, and will level you to the ground and your children within you, and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not recognize the time of your visitation" (Luke 19:43f). Earlier, He mourned over the city with these words: "Behold, your house [Temple] is left unto you desolate. And verily I say unto you, You shall not see Me, until the time comes when you say, 'Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord'" (Luke 13:35).

Mourning and lamentation are mingled with hope. Even in Yeshua's lament we see hope, for the day will come when the Jewish people will say to Yeshua, "Baruch HaBa!" ["Blessed is he who comes," the Hebrew idiom for "Welcome!"] And at the same time, Christians will have to welcome Him as the Jewish Torah teacher that He was and is. With the rise of the Messianic movement among Jews on the one hand, and the Torah movement among Christians on the other hand, we are seeing the rays break over the horizon to signal the dawning of the day when the Sun of Righteousness will arise with healing in His wings.

We see hope mingled with Yeshua's lament over Jerusalem, and we see hope in Jeremiah's Lamentation: "This I recall to mind, therefore I have hope: It is of Yahweh's mercies that we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is Thy faithfulness. Yahweh is my portion, saith my soul; therefore will I hope in Him...It is good that a man should both hope and quietly wait for the salvation of Yahweh" (3:21-26).

With this hope in mind, may our prayers echo these words of Jeremiah's Lamentation (3:40f): "Let us search and try our ways, and turn again to Yahweh. Let us lift up our heart with our hands unto God in the heavens." Amen.



Image (top): Tisha B'Av The Destruction of Jerusalem, an original art piece by Daniel Botkin's Miscellaneous Gallery on his art website:

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