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  • Writer's pictureJohn Enarson

Blessed Are Those Who Mourn

“[Judah] finds no rest, all her persecutors have overtaken her between the dire straits" (Lamentations 1:3).

Jeremiah mourning the destruction of Jerusalem

Right now, we are in a season of dire straits, a description Jeremiah used in Lamentations, "[Judah] finds no rest, all her persecutors have overtaken her between the dire straits" (Lamentations 1:3). Bein HaMetzarim (the time “between the straits”) are traditionally Three Weeks of mourning for Israel, leading up to the most tragic day of the year, the 9th of Av—the day both Temples were destroyed.


Israel established four fast days throughout the year in memory of Jerusalem’s destruction. The "Three Weeks" is a period between the fasts in the fourth and fifth months (Zec. 8:19), between the breeching of Jerusalem's walls and the destruction of God's House.


When the Second Temple was almost completely rebuilt, the Jewish people who had come back from exile, asked the prophets if they should continue to observe these fast days from the Babylonian destruction. The prophet Zechariah responded by asking if they had really been fasting from sincere hearts and performing true acts of repentance. Then he gave a profound promise: on the day of ultimate redemption, these fast days will be turned to festivals of joy (Zec. 8:19). But history has not yet seen such a Day, when the fast days turned to joy and the Messiah again rules from Zion in Jerusalem. And so, God’s people continue to mourn faithfully in anticipation of the promise.


Instead of mourning the destruction of Jerusalem and God’s House at these times, much of the historical Church has generally celebrated it and found the desolation profoundly satisfying. Theological triumphalism sees its culmination in the judgment on Jerusalem and “the temple of the Jews.”

“For centuries Christians had appealed to the visible evidence of the ruins of the Jewish temple as certain proof that Christianity had triumphed over Judaism. One reason Christians went on pilgrimage to Jerusalem was to see with their own eyes the place where the famous Jewish temple had once stood.…Only by actually visiting Jerusalem could one see that the city of the Jews was no more. This sight comforted and reassured Christians.…A generation after Jerome…Theodoret from Cyrus, traveled to Jerusalem to ‘see the desolation with my own eyes.’ Standing before the ruins, he recalled the ancient prophecies about the city (Matt 24 and Dan 9) and his ‘heart exulted.’ The Jews have been deprived of their famous house, he writes, ‘as those who visit can see.’”[1]

Was this gleeful view the same view held by Jesus and his followers? Did they abandon the ancient ways of their fathers and preach that the Day promised by Zechariah had already come? It’s hard to claim that the fast days have become a season of joy and gladness and a cheerful festival for the Jewish people. History records no such transformation.


A Fountain of Tears

The Prophet Jeremiah had the thankless and horrible task of proclaiming the coming destruction of Jerusalem and God’s first Temple. Many prophets, Jeremiah included, pleaded with the people to heed the urgent call to turn back to God before it led to disaster. But too often the human heart’s desire to do things our own selfish way, instead of God’s way, wins the day. So also in 586 BCE.


The cry of Jeremiah the prophet, graphic collage from engraving of Nazareene School, published in The Holy Bible, St.Vojtech Publishing, Trnava, Slovakia, 1937.
The cry of Jeremiah the prophet, graphic collage from engraving of Nazareene School, published in The Holy Bible, St.Vojtech Publishing, Trnava, Slovakia, 1937.

Did Jeremiah rejoice over the destruction when it happened? Did any of the other prophets? No, not in the least. Listen to Jeremiah’s words of anguished lament,

The Lord has scorned his altar, disowned his sanctuary; he has delivered into the hand of the enemy the walls of her palaces; they raised a clamor in the house of the LORD as on the day of festival. … My eyes are spent with weeping; my stomach churns; my bile is poured out to the ground ... Oh that my head were waters, and my eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night” (Lamentations 2:7,11; 9:1).

Moreover, the nations who God allowed to be used for the destruction were themselves severely judged for their evil. God says in Ezekiel 25,

“Say to the Ammonites, Hear the word of the Lord GOD: Thus says the Lord GOD, Because you said, Aha!’ over my sanctuary when it was profaned, and over the land of Israel when it was made desolate, and over the house of Judah when they went into exile, therefore behold, I am handing you over to the people of the East for a possession …” (Ezekiel 25:3-4).

God goes on to describe various judgments on the Ammonites for their role in the the destruction of Jerusalem and the first Temple. “Because you have clapped your hands and stamped your feet and rejoiced with all the malice within your soul against the land of Israel, therefore, behold, I have stretched out my hand against you“ (Ezekiel 25:6–7). God reveals further about his judgment, “I am exceedingly jealous for Jerusalem and for Zion. And I am exceedingly angry with the nations that are at ease; for while I was angry but a little, they furthered the disaster. Therefore, thus says the LORD, I have returned to Jerusalem with mercy; my House shall be built in it” (Zechariah 1:14–16). And, indeed the House was rebuilt, the Second Temple in Jerusalem.


O Jerusalem, Jerusalem

What about the Second Temple and the Prophet from Nazareth? Luke describes how “when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, ‘Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you’” (Luke 19:41–44).


Weeping, Jesus cried out in prophecy, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your House is left to you desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again, until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’” (Matthew 23:37-38, citing Psalm 118).


Jesus was not triumphant over the destruction of Jerusalem, God’s Temple, and all it represents. He wept! Just like Jeremiah, Jesus pleaded with his people to return to God. Yet, he saw dangerous signs in the hearts of men. Idols were not set up at every street corner like in times of old. But the rabbis said of those days that people were filled with such “baseless hatred” for each other that it led to inevitable disaster (b.Yoma 9b). Such hatred without cause is mentioned in the Psalms (35:19; 69:4) and Jesus described the spirit of that age in the same way (John 15:18-25).


Jesus had the horrible task of warning of the coming destruction of the Second Temple, the City, and the Land. He wept because he loved Jerusalem and his “Father’s House” (Luke 2:49). Zeal for God’s Temple consumed him (John 2:17). The disciples who had walked with him daily, made it the very center of the Jesus-movement throughout the Book of Acts. The House of the LORD was in their hearts like it was in the Master’s.


The Siege and Destruction of Jerusalem, David Roberts (1796-1864)
The Siege and Destruction of Jerusalem, David Roberts (1796-1864)

Paul writes: “If anyone destroys God’s Temple, God will destroy him. For God’s Temple is holy, and you are that Temple” (1 Corinthians 3:17). This applies to God’s people when his presence dwells in our midst. But Paul’s argument only carries weight because Paul considered it to be true of God’s physical Temple first. The brutal Roman Empire did meet its end. Any theology that is tempted to join the ancient Ammonites or Romans in their gleeful celebration over Jerusalem and the profaning of God’s House, had better take warning!


All Who Mourn Over Her

Jeremiah is known as the weeping prophet of the first destruction and exile. Jesus was the weeping prophet of the second destruction and an even darker exile. What should followers of Jesus do while remembering the Three Weeks and the destruction of Jerusalem? Should we not do as our Master?


We remember that God has given a special promise for these fasts. Zechariah declared, “Thus says the LORD of hosts: I am jealous for Zion with great jealousy, and I am jealous for her with great wrath. Thus says the LORD: I have returned to Zion and will dwell in the midst of Jerusalem, and Jerusalem shall be called the faithful city, and the mountain of the LORD of hosts, the holy mountain” (8:2–3). The prophet continues, “Thus says the LORD of hosts: The fast of the fourth month and the fast of the fifth and the fast of the seventh and the fast of the tenth shall be to the house of Judah seasons of joy and gladness and cheerful feasts. Therefore love truth and peace” (8:19).


In other words, God gives a special promise that those who fast and mourn during these times will see them turned to joy in the final Redemption. The Apostle Paul teaches that Gentile believers are called to rejoice with his people Israel. Roman’s 15:10 quotes Deuteronomy 32 to declare, “Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people!” Deuteronomy goes further, stating “Rejoice, O nations, with His people; for He will avenge the blood of His children. He will take vengeance on His adversaries and repay those who hate Him; He will cleanse His land and His people.”


Should we only rejoice with Israel and not also “mourn with those who mourn?” Isaiah says “Be glad for Jerusalem and rejoice over her, all who love her. Rejoice greatly with her, all who mourn over her” (Isaiah 66:10). How much more so since God says the Temple Mount is literally his throne on earth? It is like the landing strip of Heaven. As God says in Ezekiel 43, “Son of man, this is the place of my throne and the place of the soles of my feet, where I will dwell in the midst of the people of Israel forever” (43:7).


“Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted.”


Dire Straits


This is not only is a season of seeking to mourn rightly with the heart of God. Often, the Three Weeks is an especially difficult season for the modern State of Israel—harassed on on every side, and challenged from within. Military confrontation can often erupt at this time. It is a time of dire straits and Israel's leaders face severe challenges.


Every Sabbath, Jews in Israel pray the following prayer, and I encourage you to make it part of your own time in prayer and ask God to fulfil His promises:

“Our Father in heaven, Israel’s Rock and Redeemer, bless the State of Israel, the first flowering of our redemption. Shield it under the wings of Your loving-kindness and spread over it the Tabernacle of Your peace. Send Your light and truth to its leaders, ministers and counsellors, and direct them with good council before You. Strengthen the hands of the defenders of our Holy Land; grant them deliverance, our God, and crown them with the crown of victory. Grant peace in the land and everlasting joy to its inhabitants.
"As for our brothers, the whole house of Israel, remember them in all the lands of their dispersion, and swiftly lead them upright to Zion Your city, and Jerusalem Your dwelling place, as is written in the Torah of Moses Your servant: “Even if you are scattered to the furthermost lands under the heavens, from there the LORD your God will gather you and take you back. The LORD your God will bring you to the land your ancestors possessed and you will possess it; and He will make you more prosperous and numerous than your ancestors. Then the LORD your God will open up your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live” (Deut. 30).
"Unite our hearts to love and revere Your name and observe all the words of Your Torah, and swiftly send us your righteous Messiah of the house of David, to redeem those who long for Your salvation. Appear in Your glorious majesty over all the dwellers on earth, and let all who breathe declare: The LORD God of Israel is King and His kingship has dominion over all. Amen, Selah.”

_____

John Enarson is the Christian Relations Director at Cry For Zion, helping Christians understand their history with the Temple Mount and how it relates to biblical theology and the Jewish people. John currently studies at the Scandinavian School of Theology.


[1] R. Wilken, The Land Called Holy, (Yale, 1992) 143; cited by M. Kinzer, Jerusalem Crucified, Jerusalem Risen, (Cascade Books, 2018) 28.


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