The 9th of the Hebrew month of Av, which usually falls in July or August on the western calendar, is a traditional day of mourning in Judaism. Observances such as fasting food and water and restraining from pleasure and recreational activities characterize this day. In general, the day is an intentional time to mourn.
Why such mourning? Why would an entire day be set aside to be sad, even afflicting the body by fasting? Sounds similar to Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement), doesn’t it? Does this have any connection to Christianity, and should we, as Christians, be mourning as well?
The history of the 9th of Av began with the sin of the spies. When twelve men went to Canaan, and ten of the spies came back with a negative report, the people believed and accepted the lies, and as a result, God punished them with not being able to enter the Land. Traditionally, the night after the spies brought back the bad report began the 9th of Av, and the people spent it weeping and wailing over their misfortune.
Throughout the centuries, a remarkable number of misfortunes have befallen Jerusalem and the Jewish people, and interestingly enough, many of them happened on the 9th of Av.
The two most notable events that are marked on this day are the destruction of Solomon’s Temple by the Babylonians, and more than 600 years later, the destruction of the 2nd Temple by the Romans in 70 AD.
500,000 Jews were slaughtered by the Romans in the city of Betar at the culmination of the Bar Kokhba Rebellion, the Temple area was plowed under by a Roman general just one year later, the Jews were expelled from England in 1290 and from Spain in 1492, the Final Solution in Nazi Germany was approved on this date, which ultimately led to the murder of 6 million Jews, the major expulsion of the Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto began on this day, and the list goes on. Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, and the Holocaust – many significant tragedies during these periods in history happened on and around the 9th of Av.
In today’s time, the 17th of Tammuz (when Jerusalem’s walls were breached at the destruction of the first Temple) marks the beginning of a period of 3 weeks, leading up to the 9th of Av, and starting nine days before, the 9 Day period is begun, culminating in the day itself. The custom in Judaism is to observe this day as a fast day, similar in stringency to Yom Kippur. From sundown the night before to sundown on the 9th of Av, no food or water is consumed. Bathing and washing are avoided, no leather shoes are worn, and much of the day is spent sitting on low stools or on the ground, reading passages such as Lamentations, and mourning the destruction of the Temples in Jerusalem and the tragedies that have befallen the people of Israel over the years.
All of this sounds interesting, but you may be wondering: “What does this have to do with us as Christians? Should we be mourning along with the Jewish people?”
Recently, I’ve been reading through the book of Ezekiel, and a few days ago came across an interesting passage. While Ezekiel is in the midst of a vision from God, he begins to see many of the terrible abominations happening in Jerusalem and the Temple. In chapter 9, God calls to a man with an inkhorn to “. . . go through the midst of Jerusalem, and to put a mark on the foreheads of the men who sigh and cry over all the abominations that are done within it” (vs 4). Then God commands His soldiers to go throughout the city, beginning at the Temple, and to kill everyone who does not have the mark on his forehead.
Because of the abominations, idol worship, and sins of the people taking place in the Temple, God’s justice must be enacted. Only those who sigh and cry over Jerusalem – those who mourn the sins and wrongdoings taking place – are the ones who are saved!
We see a similar story in the Gospel of Matthew, just before Yeshua died. In Matthew 23:37-39, our Messiah began to weep over Jerusalem, over her impending sins and coming destruction – ultimately, the destruction of the Temple itself!
If our Messiah was mourning and weeping over Jerusalem’s sins and the destruction of the Temple, and if the only ones saved in Ezekiel’s vision were those who mourned the wickedness in the Temple, how much more should we as Christians participate in mourning the destruction of the Temple, Jerusalem, and over the years, the slaughter of the Jewish people? As Christians, the sins of our ancestors were those that caused many of these calamities that the Jewish people are mourning this Tisha b’Av. The crusades, the Holocaust, and many more tragedies are attributed to Christianity!
It is time for us as Christians to renounce replacement theology, and throw in our lot with the Jewish people by mourning, sighing, and repenting for the sins of the last 2,000 years, that have brought so much death and destruction to the people of Israel.
Let’s be counted among those who sigh and weep for Jerusalem this 9th of Av.