Sunday, July 22, 2018

Bible Bites: The Fast of the Ninth of Av

The fast of the ninth of Av is in mourning for the destruction of the temple by the Babylonians. There were three other fasts practiced throughout the year concerning the events leading up to the destruction of the temple. The first of these fasts is the fast on the tenth day of the tenth month, remembering when the king of Babylon turned against Judah (Ezekiel 24:1-2). The second fast was on the seventeenth day of the fourth month when the walls of Jerusalem were breached by the Babylonian army (Jeremiah 52:6-7). The third fast is the ninth of Av. Finally, the fourth fast was on the third day of the seventh month when the newly appointed governor of Judah was assassinated (Jeremiah 41:1-3) which led to more of the people of Judah being carried into captivity. As the rebuilding of the temple was nearing completion, representatives of the people went to ask the priests and the prophets whether they should continue the practice of fasting on the ninth of Av. The Word of the LORD came to the prophet Zechariah to address this question:

Zechariah 7:4-7 NKJV 4 Then the word of the LORD of hosts came to me, saying, 5 "Say to all the people of the land, and to the priests: 'When you fasted and mourned in the fifth and seventh months during those seventy years, did you really fast for Me-for Me? 6 'When you eat and when you drink, do you not eat and drink for yourselves? 7 'Should you not have obeyed the words which the LORD proclaimed through the former prophets when Jerusalem and the cities around it were inhabited and prosperous, and the South and the Lowland were inhabited?'"

God’s response to the people was that He knew that their fasting about the destruction of the temple was in mourning because of the impact that it had on their own lives not in mourning because of the acts that led to the destruction of the temple. They should have been mourning that injustice, greed, and the lust for power were being practiced in Israel during the times of the kings of Israel and Judah. This mindset and these policies led to the destruction of the temple.

The Word of the LORD again came to Zechariah reminding them of why the temple was destroyed in the first place and, if they fasted, why they should do so.

Zechariah 7:8-13 NKJV 8 Then the word of the LORD came to Zechariah, saying, 9 "Thus says the LORD of hosts: 'Execute true justice, Show mercy and compassion Everyone to his brother. 10 Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, The alien or the poor. Let none of you plan evil in his heart Against his brother.' 11 "But they refused to heed, shrugged their shoulders, and stopped their ears so that they could not hear. 12 "Yes, they made their hearts like flint, refusing to hear the law and the words which the LORD of hosts had sent by His Spirit through the former prophets. Thus great wrath came from the LORD of hosts. 13 "Therefore it happened, that just as He proclaimed and they would not hear, so they called out and I would not listen," says the LORD of hosts.

God didn’t really answer their question. Instead, He questioned their motivation. Their fasting did not please God because their motivation was totally wrong. The prophet Isaiah, who prophesied during the fall of the northern kingdom of Israel spoke the Word of the LORD regarding the fasts that God found pleasing. God began by describing their fasts as days that they take pleasure in the outward show of afflicting their souls.

Isaiah 58:3-5 NKJV 3 'Why have we fasted,' they say, 'and You have not seen? Why have we afflicted our souls, and You take no notice?' "In fact, in the day of your fast you find pleasure, And exploit all your laborers. 4 Indeed you fast for strife and debate, And to strike with the fist of wickedness. You will not fast as you do this day, To make your voice heard on high. 5 Is it a fast that I have chosen, A day for a man to afflict his soul? Is it to bow down his head like a bulrush, And to spread out sackcloth and ashes? Would you call this a fast, And an acceptable day to the LORD?

Isaiah was most likely referring specifically to the Yom Kippur fast since the Babylonian captivity of Judah and the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem was still more than one hundred years in the future. But God’s description of their motivation applies to their later observance of the fast mourning the destruction of the temple especially in God’s description of what He looks for in a sincere fast.

Isaiah 58:6-9a NKJV 6 "Is this not the fast that I have chosen: To loose the bonds of wickedness, To undo the heavy burdens, To let the oppressed go free, And that you break every yoke? 7 Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, And that you bring to your house the poor who are cast out; When you see the naked, that you cover him, And not hide yourself from your own flesh? 8 Then your light shall break forth like the morning, Your healing shall spring forth speedily, And your righteousness shall go before you; The glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard. 9 Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer; You shall cry, and He will say, 'Here I am.'

God does not listen to the fast of the selfish or insincere heart; He listens to the fast of the one whose heart has been changed and whose actions reflect that change. He hears those who execute justice and show mercy and compassion. The Word of the LORD again came to Zechariah describing His plan for the fasts in remembrance of the Babylonian exile and the destruction of the temple.

Zechariah 8:16-19 NKJV 16 These are the things you shall do: Speak each man the truth to his neighbor; Give judgment in your gates for truth, justice, and peace; 17 Let none of you think evil in your heart against your neighbor; And do not love a false oath. For all these are things that I hate,' Says the LORD." 18 Then the word of the LORD of hosts came to me, saying, 19 "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.'

In remembrance of the ninth of Av, let us determine to speak truth, justice and peace.

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