Read book of Lamentations for sustenance this summer

The writer is a former rabbinical student and longtime teacher and elder in the Church of God community.

By Mark D. Kaplan

ANAHEIM, Calif.--"Thus says the Lord of hosts: 'The fast of the fourth month, the fast of the fifth, the fast of the seventh, and the fast of the tenth, shall be joy and gladness and cheerful feasts for the house of Judah. Therefore love truth and peace'" (Zechariah 8:19).

Why did the Jews accept the fasts spoken of in Zechariah 8 upon themselves? What can Christians learn from the historical background of these days?

"But go now to My place which was in Shiloh, where I set My name at the first, and see what I did to it because of the wickedness of My People Israel" (Jeremiah 7:12).

Thus spoke Jeremiah, a priest and prophet, to the people of Judah. Where once the center of God's religion, the tabernacle, had stood, one could find in Jeremiah's day only a pile of rubble.

Many Jews in ancient Jerusalem could not believe God would allow His house to be demolished and the capital established by David to be destroyed. But the prophesied chastisement did indeed come to pass. As we read in Lamentations 5:16: "The crown has fallen from our head. Woe to us, for we have sinned!"

In hindsight, Jews understood they had misused, abused and defiled the sacred institutions that had preserved the kingdom of Judah as the remnant of the divinely chosen nation of Israel, the Old Covenant church.

Each summer traditional Jews commemorate the two destructions of Jerusalem and its holy temple, in 587 B.C. and A.D. 70. The days of mourning associated with the destruction of the first and second temples are a reminder to observant Jews to be spiritually on guard, to maintain high standards in thought, word and deed.

The New Testament church is similarly in need to be spiritually alert (Luke 21:36; 1 Peter 4:7). The siege of Jerusalem by the armies of Nebuchadnezzar began Jan. 15, 588 B.C., the 10th day of the 10th month on the Hebrew calendar. The walls were broken, and the defending army fled about a year and a half later. Between the seventh and 10th days of the fifth month (Ab), Jerusalem and its temple met a fiery doom.

God informed Ezekiel

Even before this final calamity, many Judeans had been exiled from their land. Among them was another priest and prophet, Ezekiel. When the siege of Jerusalem began, he was supernaturally informed about the coming tragedy. The national disaster was preceded by the death of Ezekiel's wife that evening, an overwhelming personal tragedy that foreshadowed the imminent holocaust (Ezekiel 24).

Five years after these events, the assassination of Gedaliah, the Chaldean-appointed governor of Judah, caused another imperial invasion. Judah then disappeared as a political entity in the world's history for several decades. The people of Judah, now dispersed throughout the Middle East, adopted four days of fasting to remember the key events of the Babylonian captivity.

At the time of Zechariah a partial restoration of Judah had occurred. A second temple was standing. The fast days were continued, but Zedekiah prophesied that in the future those days of fasting would become days of rejoicing. That time has yet to come.

History repeats

In A.D. 70, while Jews around the world were reading Lamentations, the disastrous events of their past were repeated. Today traditional Jews fast on the 9th of Ab to commemorate the destruction of the first and second temples. They also fast on the 17th day of the fourth month, three weeks earlier. On that day in A.D. 70 sacrifices ended. As of the summer of A.D. 2000, they have not yet been restored.

The assassination of Gedaliah is commemorated in the Jewish community with a fast from dawn to dark on the third day of the seventh month of the Hebrew calendar. So the fast occurs between the Feast of Trumpets and the Day of Atonement.

On the 10th day of the 10th month, Tebet, traditional Jews also fast during the daylight hours to remember the day the siege of Jerusalem began in the era of Jeremiah and Ezekiel.

The most significant observance of the four fasts is on the 9th of Ab. It lasts about 26 hours and is followed by an additional day of mourning on the 10th. The fast occurs in late July or early August on the Roman calendar and is the occasion for public reading of Lamentations in synagogues around the world and, of course, at the Western Wall in Jerusalem.

A good read

We as Christians can do something in response to the history covered in this article. I recommend that my sisters and brothers in Christ take time in midsummer to read the book of Lamentations.

The post-exilic Jewish fast days are not divinely commanded on God's New Testament church. But, for spiritual Jews (Romans 2:28-29), reading Lamentations in midsummer is spiritual food in due season. About two months before the autumn festival season, we can be reminded of the importance of keeping our focus on God's Kingdom and of continuing to walk in the straight and narrow path that leads to ultimate eternal joy.

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