Tisha B’Av, the 9th of Av in the Hebrew Calendar, is an annual fast in Judaism on a day in which the greatest tragedies in Jewish history were said to have occurred. For example, the 9th of Av is when the Lord condemned the people of Israel to wander the desert for forty years.1
But what cemented Tisha B’Av as a day of mourning was that the destruction of both Temples in Jerusalem occurred on this same day!2 Jerusalem was chosen by God to be the place where God would put His name and the Temple to be the place where Heaven and Earth meet. The existence and purpose of the Temple is a paradox, one of many in Jewish life. On the one hand, God was present everywhere and on the other, His presence was in the Temple. But from the Temple God’s presence and name was to go out to all points of the earth. The Temple was to be a House of Prayer for all nations.
Jerusalem is the unrivaled centre of Jewish life, and the Temple was the heart of Jerusalem. The only physical location in Judaism with inherent sanctity.3 What makes a place sacred? Without the Temple, Jerusalem would have been just another provincial town far removed from the politics of the world. Neither Jerusalem nor the Temple itself would be holy except for one thing: God’s declaration and presence.
Jesus held a high appreciation of the Temple. His parents also held a high appreciation of the Temple, bringing Jesus to the Temple as a newborn for the offering of the firstborn and continuing to visit as often as they were able annually.
But Jerusalem was also where the poor were oppressed, the children sacrificed to Molech and the elderly despised. God was present in the Temple, but the people were full of idolatry and immorality. And so the first temple was destroyed and the people sent into exile. After their return, the people of Israel rebuilt the temple and turned away from idolatry. However, by the time of the first century a new problem had arisen, they had become greedy, covetous, divided and held hatred for their brother without reason. And so the Temple was destroyed again.
The shock of the Temples destruction a second time resulted in a revolutionary spiritual awakening, a theological epiphany that acknowledged we have sinned. Our behaviour and our sin caused the presence of God to depart the Temple. Therefore we should repent as a community, a people, a nation. On Tisha B’Av we should take a close look at our hearts and our behaviour towards the Lord and His presence amongst us.
Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand. These are the first words of Jesus the Messiah in the Gospel of Matthew as He returns from His 40 day fast in the desert. Repentance was not a new subject for Jewish people. The concept of repentance had been well developed in the 2nd Temple Period. Likewise we as Christians are very familiar with the notion of individual repentance. However we often forget the bigger picture and importance of national repentance.
Tisha B’Av reminds us that God disciplines us as individuals, as a church, and as a nation. History can and should be instructive. On this day of tragedy we remember that it was our sin that drove the presence of God away from His Temple and His people. The Rabbis will say that every generation that the Temple is not rebuilt, it is as if that generation brought about its destruction. The purpose of Tisha B’Av is not to mourn the past but to repent of the sins of the present that will in some way shape the future. And to repent, not only in the individual sense but in the national sense.
The Hebrew Bible describes the need for repentance, not only for the individual as we see in King David’s Psalms, but also confession and repentance as a people as described in Nehemiah and Daniel.
Repentance also brings hope and expectation for the future. God prophesied through Moses that the people would fall into idolatry and face exile from the Land. God has been true to His word that sin would result in exile. Thus His promises of repentance must also be true as it says in Deut 4:29: ‘if you seek the Lord your God with all your heart, you will find Him.’ Sin could drive away God’s presence but repentance would draw Him close. And national repentance would bring the Redeemer. As the prophet Isaiah says ‘The Redeemer will come to Zion, to those in Jacob who repent.’ (Isaiah 59:20) Thus we find John the Baptist calling the people to national repentance, preparing the way for the Messiah to appear. Repentance is a lifestyle not a one time-off event we perform. Repentance continues to hold a hope for the future as the redeemer Himself says in Revelation, ‘Behold I am coming quickly.’
There are things we can learn from this as a community, and we can see the influences in the New Testament. We do pray as individuals but we also pray as a community. Jesus taught His disciples to pray ‘Our Father’ and to forgive ‘Our Sins as We forgive’. At Tisha B’Av we note the link between behaviour, sin, and repentance as a nation and community. In the Lord's Prayer we see the same community identity in behaviour, repentance and forgiveness. Therefore we should take seriously calls for national days of prayer, confession and repentance. We shouldn’t point fingers at others, rather we should humble ourselves acknowledging we too have sinned and that our nation has sinned. We have hope that should we repent God will redeem and bless our nation.
1 Mishnah, Taanit 4:6
2 The First Temple was destroyed starting on the 7th of Av, II Kings 25:8, and ending on the 10th of Av, Jeremiah 52:12
3 God declares certain times, people, things and places holy. While the Tabernacle resided in various places in the desert as well as Shiloh and God’s presence made particular ground holy for a time, Jerusalem and the Temple Mount were specifically called holy in Psalm 2:6, 15:1, 43:3 and 99:9 along with Psalm 48:1 and Isaiah 60:14 where Jerusalem is called the City of God. In II Chronicles 7:16 God states, “For now I have chosen and consecrated this house that my name may be there forever. My eyes and my heart will be there for all time.”