“Great is Your Faithfulness” – Thoughts on Tisha B’Av
by Tim Hegg
Tisha B’Av (the ninth of Av, which falls this year on August 14) is a day in the history of Israel that is filled with destruction. Here’s a list:
- According to traditional reckoning, on this day the spies brought back their evil report and persuaded the people of Israel not to go up into the Land as God had commanded them to do.
On this very day Nebuchadnezzar and his troops destroyed Solomon’s Temple (the 1st Temple).
On this very day Titus destroyed the 2nd Temple.
In 135 CE, on this very day, Bar Kochba and his troops were slaughtered, ending the 2nd Jewish revolt.
On this very day the Roman Emperor Hadrian ordered Jerusalem to be plowed under and a new, pagan
city built on its place (Aelia Capitolina).
In modern times other bad things happened to our people on this day as well.
According to some traditions, the 1st Crusade began in 1095 CE on this day. It was a war of the Christians against the Turks who had captured Jerusalem. Eventually the European armies captured Jerusalem, killing the entire population, and claiming the entire region, now known as Israel, as a Christian state.
In 1290 CE, on Tisha b’Av, King Edward I expelled all the Jews from England.
Incredibly, on this same day, in 1492 CE, all the Jews were expelled from Spain.
In 1555 CE, Pope Paul IV decreed that all Jews should be moved into a ghetto.
In 1914, on August 1, which was Tishah b’Av in the Hebrew calendar, the German ambassador to Russia formally declared war, and World War I began.
And, on July 22, 1942 (which also was the beginning of Tishah b’Av), the Jews of the Warsaw ghetto were ordered deported to the death camps, a move that marked a significant beginning of Hitler’s “Final Solution.”
For this reason, rabbinic tradition calls for fasting on the 9th of Av and the day is also marked by prayer to seek God’s protection and favor. It also is a long-standing tradition to read the book of Lamentations (אֵיכָה ‘Eicha) on Tisha b’Av because it is composed of mournful laments over the destruction of the First Temple. Lamentations is traditionally attributed to the prophet Jeremiah.1
The poems which make up the book of Lamentations are modeled after funeral dirges of the Ancient Near East, which follow a common form. They express the excellence of the deceased and contrast this with the sorrow his or her death has brought. In Lamentations, the “deceased one” is Jerusalem and the Temple, the former glory of which has past. As the prophet looks on, the dusty rubble of the destroyed city is a sober witness of the destruction and a stark contrast to the former glory of the Holy City.
But the book of Lamentations contains more than laments over the destruction of the Temple. It also makes it clear that though the destruction came by Nebuchadnezzar and his Babylonian armies, Israel’s God was the One Who decreed the destruction against His wayward people:
How Adonai has covered the daughter of Zion with a cloud in His anger! He has cast from heaven to earth the glory of Israel, and has not remembered His footstool In the day of His anger. (2:1)
Adonai determined to destroy the wall of the daughter of Zion. He has stretched out a line, He has not restrained His hand from destroying, and He has caused rampart and wall to lament; they have languished together. (2:8)
Yet in His righteous anger, Adonai has not acted unfaithfully, nor has He gone back on His promises (2:17). Indeed, the severe discipline of His people proves His love (cp. Amos 3:2), and so the prophet turns in his mourning to seek the favor of God because he knows that the Holy One of Israel is faithful to His word.
This I recall to my mind, therefore I have hope. Adonai’s loving kindnesses indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness. “Adonai is my portion,” says my soul, “Therefore I have hope in Him.” (3:21–24)
How is it that so many mournful events have happened to our people on this same day throughout history? Is it just an uncanny coincidence? Of course not! In fact, that Tisha b’Av is marked throughout our history as a day upon which destruction has come upon us is proof beyond doubt that the God Who controls history has His attention upon His chosen people. “For whom Adonai loves He reproves, even as a father corrects the son in whom he delights” (Prov 3:12). Indeed, Tisha b’Av stands as irrefutable proof that the God of Israel is the One in control, and that He continues to call His people back to Himself. Thus, Jeremiah ends his Lamentations with a prayer for the return of Israel:
Restore us to You, Adonai, that we may be restored; Renew our days as of old… (5:21)
This Tisha b’Av as we contemplate the awesome acts of God, as we pray for the Shalom of Jerusalem, may our hearts likewise be strengthened to cling to Him all the more and to trust His faithfulness for our future and the future of all of His people.