In the fourth year of King Darius, the word of the Lord came to Zechariah on the fourth day of the ninth month, the month of Kislev. The people of Bethel had sent Sharezer and Regem-Melek, together with their men, to entreat the Lord by asking the priests of the house of the Lord Almighty and the prophets, “Should I mourn and fast in the fifth month, as I have done for so many years?”(Zechariah 7:1-3)
Notice that Zechariah carefully dates this prophecy, rooting it in a historical incident, two years after the night of visions of Zechariah 1-6.
A delegation of Jews comes from Bethel to inquire of the Priests and Prophets of the Temple(in process of being rebuilt), as to whether or not they should continue to keep the day of fasting and mourning, commemorating the destruction of the previous temple, now known as “Tish B’Av, (the ninth of the month Av).
A detail to note before we get into the Divinely given answer, is that these dignitaries were sent from Bethel, which means “House of God”, but which became an idolatrous house of God in the days of the split between Northern and Southern Kingdom of Israel. It was at Dan and Bethel that Rehoboam the Northern King erected Golden calves , that the cities might be rival places of worship, to the true house of God in Jerusalem.
Now ‘Bethel” sends a delegation to the true house of God, showing that they were now in proper order, they had learned the bitter lesson of both the Northern captivity to Assyria and the later Babylonian captivity as well.
I think it noteworthy also that though Jewish, the names of the delegation are Babylonian, shortened names, for example Sharezer is part of an idolatrous prayer, originally it would have been “Nergal Shar-ezer” , “may Nergal protect the King!”. The original Sharezar was among the Babylonian nobles who actually destroyed the Temple. Nergal is a Babylonian God.
Thus this delegation of Jews, now humbled and properly inquiring of the Lord in his temple, yet bear in their own names the painful and humiliating chastisement that God inflicted upon the nation.
The question is , Should we Jews keep the fast of Tisha B’Av?
I believe this to be critical turning point issue for the Nation of Israel, in the days after the Babylonian Captivity, and that it is as relevant today, in the days since the destruction and scattering of the second temple as it has ever been.
I wrote in earlier articles, which I quote here, to describe Tisha B’Av , an event which is truly heartrending and of which there seems to be an almost supernaturally self re-enforcing , self fulfilling element to the date, the fast and to subsequent historical events,
I quote from an earlier article,
For all of Israel, a solemn day commences at sundown, Saturday ,August 13, till sundown the 14th of August. It is called Tish B’Av (the ninth of the month of Av) in the Jewish calendar. The day is marked by fasting, mourning and solemn prayers by pious Jews around the world, in commemoration of both the Babylonian destruction of the Temple, in 586 BC, and the Roman destruction of the Temple on the same calendar day in 70 AD.
Not only had those two horrors occurred on that day, but there have been many,many other incredibly horribly occurrences which concern the Jewish people,on this same calendar day through history.
Incredibly , it was on the ninth of Av that;
* The Sages tell us that the 10 Spies discouraged Israel from occupying the Land God gave them, resulting in the forty years wandering in the wilderness.
* 586 BC, Nebuchadnezzar fulfilled the prediction of Jeremiah, destroying the Temple in Jerusalem, killing one hundred thousand Jews, and carrying hundreds of thousands of others off, into Babylonian captivity.
* 70 AD, Titus fulfilled the predictions of Jesus, surrounding the city of Jerusalem, imposing a siege and finally on the day of TishB’Av, destroying the Temple, not leaving One stone upon another.
Two and a half million Jews were killed in this war, by famine, disease, infighting and One million Jews were killed in that war, much of the nation was exiled, and 100,000 Jews sold to Roman slave markets.
* On this date in 135 AD, Tish B’Av, the Bar Cochba revolt was crushed, killing over 100,000 Jews.
* 133 AD, Turnus Rufus plows site of the Temple. The Romans then built on the Holy Site the pagan city of Aelia Capitolina .
*1095 AD, On TishB’Av of that year was the date Pope Urban II called the first crusade, which resulted in the killing of more than ten thousand JEws, and the obliteration of Jewish communities in Germany.
* On TishB’AV 1290, all Jews were expelled from England , property was confiscated and killings of Jews occurred.
* In 1492 on the same date, TishB’Av, all Jews were expelled from Spain, by order of the “Holy order” of the Inquisition. There were forced conversions, family separations, pogroms, and much loss of property.
*In 1914, on Tish B’Av , Britain and Russia declare war on Germany. First World War begins. The First World War led to the Second World War and the Holocaust. Over 400 pogroms immediately following the war in Hungary, Ukraine, Poland and Russia.All but one-third of world Jewry would perish.
*On TishB’Av 1941, Hermann Göring ordered SS general Reinhard Heydrich to make all the necessary preparations for the Final Solution.
*TishB’AV, saw the 1942 mass deportation of Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto to the Treblinka concentration camp begin.
* On TishB’Av 1994, the deadly bombing the building of the AMIA (the Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, Argentina) which killed 86 people and wounded some 300 others.
* On TishB’Av 2004, at the Democratic National Convention, Barak Obama was catapulted from relative obscurity to national fame, after giving a speech which electrified the convention. He would go on to become the most avid anti Israel president in American history.
There are many many other calamities that have befallen Israel upon this tragic day. I believe there are several conclusions we can glean from the uncanny circumstances of the day.
* TishB’Av points to the veracity of the Word of God. Moses warned that should Israel break faith with God, That they would be scattered across the Gentile world,
And the LORD shall scatter thee among all people, from the one end of the earth even unto the other; …And among these nations shalt thou find no ease, neither shall the sole of thy foot have rest: but the LORD shall give thee there a trembling heart, and failing of eyes, and sorrow of mind:…(Deuteronomy 28:64-65)
Should they keep it up, year after year mourning, fasting once a year? Breaking a glass at every wedding for the destruction of the Temple? It looks and sounds pious, but is it the same as truly turning to God? God answers negatively in Zechariah 7, in language very reminiscent of Isaiah’s condemnation of Israel’s “fasting”,
Then the word of the Lord Almighty came to me: “Ask all the people of the land and the priests, ‘When you fasted and mourned in the fifth and seventh months for the past seventy years, was it really for me that you fasted? And when you were eating and drinking, were you not just feasting for yourselves? Are these not the words the Lord proclaimed through the earlier prophets when Jerusalem and its surrounding towns were at rest and prosperous, and the Negev and the western foothills were settled?’”(Zechariah 7:4-7)