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Three Short Weeks

by Tim O'Hearn

Thus saith the LORD of hosts; The fast of the fourth month, and the fast of the fifth, and the fast of the seventh, and the fast of the tenth, shall be to the house of Judah joy and gladness, and cheerful feasts; therefore love the truth and peace. (Zech 8:19)

The Jewish way of mourning sometimes includes fasting. The only fast mandated by the Law of Moses was the fast on the day of Yom Kippur. (Actually, the Law said to “afflict yourselves,” and the oral law interprets that to include a fast.) As can be seen from the passage above, within a few years of the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple, there were already four fasts associated with these events. The fast of the seventh month is the fast of Gedalia, which falls two days after Rosh HaShanah. It commemorates the assassination of Gedalia, whom Nebuchadnezzar had appointed governor in Jerusalem. The fast of the tenth month is Asara b'Teves, or the fast on the 10th of Teves. It commemorates the day that the Babylonians first besieged Jerusalem. But it is the other two fasts mentioned from which we may draw some conclusions at this time.

The fast of the 17th of Tamuz commemorates the day that Nebuchadnezzar’s army first breached to walls of Jerusalem. It begins a mourning period known as the “three weeks.” Those three weeks end with the fast of Tisha b’Av (the 9th of Av), which was the date of the burning of the first Temple. (It also is the date of the destruction of the second Temple, sometimes called Herod’s Temple, in 70 AD.) The three weeks last from July 3 through July 24 this year (2007).

There are, of course, historical lessons to be learned from these fasts. There are also, no doubt, many spiritual lessons to be learned. This article will only concern itself with a couple.

Normally one might ask, why mourn over the first break in the walls? Isn’t it the actual destruction of the city and the Temple that is significant? The answer points up something many people forget. The beginning of something may be as important as the end. “A journey of a hundred miles begins with a single step.” The slide away from God is not often a plunge over a cliff but down a series of terraces. When it comes to sin, the first step is often the hardest. It gets easier to go against your conscience as your conscience gradually gets seared. Perhaps if we mourn and fast for every sin when it first happens we won’t have to mourn for those who eventually appear to have left God entirely.

Three weeks. Less than a month. It is not a long time at all. Why, that is half the old “allow four to six weeks for delivery.” By the time you could get a secret decoder ring or Charles Atlas’ secrets to the new you (kids ask your grandparents what these things mean) you could have gone from a crack in your wall to the burning of the city. Yes, the sins of Judah began long before 17 Tamuz. But the time from the breaking of the wall to the burning of the city was quick. If the Little Dutch Boy had not stuck his finger in the dike right away, it would not be long before he was washed away. Once the Adversary gets a foothold in our lives, he wastes no time in making us totally his follower. It may only take three weeks.

Finally, destruction is more than worth mourning. Whether it be the destruction of a city, a congregation, a soul, we must mourn. That is because we are not alone. “Ask not for whom the bell tolls. It tolls for thee.” I am diminished by every soul that rejects God. The kingdom of God should mourn over every congregation that rejects God’s orthodoxy. Just as we mourn a beginning of destruction, so much more we mourn the finality of the destruction.

But there is good news. Zechariah was told that the fasts would become joy. Although all seems dark, and no hope appears, joy comes in the morning. God will not leave his people abandoned to despair. Zechariah says that to those who love truth and peace, joy comes in the mourning.