We are approaching "Tisha B'Av" (the ninth of Av) on the Jewish calendar, which will occur from sunset on July 31 to nightfall August 1, 2017. It is the one day of the year when the Jewish people afflict themselves and mourn more than at any other time of the year (similar to Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, but much more severe). In fact, it is such a day of grief that its observance starts gradually three weeks before that date (on the 17th of Tammuz) with fasting with each subsequent day bringing more discomfort, culminating on the ninth of Av.
During this time, many customs are observed to accentuate the broken hearts of the people,
(1) some of which may sound a little strange to us Westerners:
1. Weddings and parties are not permitted in that three week period.
2. People refrain from things like cutting their hair, washing, bathing, shaving, smiling, idle conversation, engaging in sexual relations, and even wearing cosmetics.
3. Chairs are often turned upside down to make it uncomfortable to sit on, or replaced with a short stool.
4. From the 1st to the 9th of Av, as the mourning climbs to its climax, they refrain from eating meat, drinking wine, and wearing new clothing.
5. The ark in the synagogue (the cabinet where the Torah scrolls are kept) is draped in black.
What could cause people to afflict themselves so? Well, it's obvious that the Ninth of Av is a day that invokes memories of UNBELIEVABLE tragedy and heartache in the Jewish heart... a day of great agony and grief. So what does that day commemorate?
There have been only two Jewish Temples both of them stood in Jerusalem. The first one was destroyed by King Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians in 586 BC. The second one was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD. And, remarkably, BOTH the Temples were destroyed on the ninth day of Av!
There have been other days of tragedy that struck the Jews on that day (such as the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492), but it is primarily the destruction of the Temples that makes Tish B'Av such a great day of sadness that it is still remembered even to this day, some 1947 years later.
Unfortunately, in Israel today, most of the people are very secular and do not observe Tisha B'Av to any great degree. But for those who do practice the Jewish faith, it is still the "great day of affliction".
From a Gentile perspective, it is difficult to understand the degree of sadness in the heart of such Jews when they think about the destruction of the Temples. We may recognize that those two buildings were central to Jewish worship, but we cannot comprehend the pride and devotion that the Jews had in those remarkable structures. Not only were they examples of beautiful architecture, but more importantly, they were thought to hold the very presence of God (Ex. 25:22, Num. 7:89, etc.)! And, without the Temple, it was thought that God was removed from the midst of Israel. Also, without the Temple, the rituals of animal sacrifice that brought temporary atonement for the sins of the people could not be performed because God had specifically commanded that those sacrifices be made only at the Tabernacle (Lev. 17:2-4) and then, later at the Temple that replaced the Tabernacle (Deut. 12:5-7).
The Temple represented the very heart and soul of the Jewish people. And without it, life had a huge void in it... a void that nothing else could fill. This is why there is such a mourning at the loss of the Temple today and such a longing in the heart of observant Jews for another Temple to be built.
We might say that the Temple held the "spiritual essence" of the Jews. It was essential to them being what God wanted them to be. And, to lose such a connection to God was tantamount in their eyes to being spiritually disconnected from God... to lose His blessings, guidance, and protection. To grasp this fully makes it easier to understand why mourning the loss of the Temples is still observed after so many centuries.
Of course, we Christians understand that Jesus became our final sacrifice (Heb. 10:11-14) and that there is now no need for animal sacrifices. He is "the lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world" (John 1:29). And, through Him, we have direct access to God the Father from any place, at any time. We don't have to go to a specific building or place to speak directly to God or to get His forgiveness.
Nevertheless, in the mind of the Jew, remembering the importance of the Temple is extremely important to their religious beliefs... so much so that remembering the loss of the Temples is worth their efforts of great mourning and has remained so for a very long time!
In America, a very large part of our society has also become secularized and does not generally observe the Christian faith and its "holy days" (Easter, Christmas, etc.). In fact, we, as a people, have become so self-centered that few would be willing to afflict themselves over the loss of a connection to God... not for a day, and certainly not on an annual recurring basis.
A case in point can be seen in what happened just two years ago... an event that drove the final nail in our "spiritual coffin" and made certain that the judgment of God will fall on this sinful nation. On June 26, 2015, the Supreme Court of the United States decided that same sex marriage must be afforded all the same rights as a heterosexual marriage.
This warm embrace of the abominable sin of homosexuality was received with great rejoicing and celebration by multitudes of Americans.
And even the President congratulated the justices for their decision and showed his approval by lighting the Whitehouse in rainbow colors (the rainbow was adopted as a symbol of the homosexual movement in the 1970s).
The "outrage" of the Christian community was shortlived, if it existed at all. And today, the practice of the horrible sin of homosexuality, its acceptance as simply an alternate lifestyle, and its legalized union in marriage is commonly accepted without so much as a mention of it being a sin against God.
At least among the real Christians in America, June 26 should be OUR Tisha B'Av... the day we mourn and afflict ourselves in deep grief... the day we remember how our nation turned its back on God... the day we "lost our spiritual connection" to God as a nation.
That is not to say that it is impossible for America to repent of her sinful ways and be restored in good fellowship with God. Like the people of Ninevah in Jonah's day who repented in sackcloth and ashes at the preaching of the prophet and God forgave them of their transgressions and spared them from His judgment for another 150 years, we too could be spared from God's impending judgment.
But not only have we NOT repented... We're not even sorrowful for what we have lost! God help us!