Some call it coincidence. Some call it Providence. But according to tradition, both the First and Second Temples (in 586 BC and AD 70) were destroyed on the same date in history. That begins this evening.
Tisha B’Av marks the 9th day of the month of Av—the fifth Jewish month. During the exile, the Jews instituted a fast to commemorate the Temple’s destruction. After they returned to Jerusalem, they asked God a question about Tisha B’Av:
Shall I weep in the fifth month and abstain, as I have done these many years? —Zechariah 7:3
Their question made sense.
They had observed the fast in exile, but should they continue to fast on Tisha B’Av now that they were building the Second Temple? God’s answer to their question reaches beyond them to the heart of why we do what we do.
One question gets to the heart of our heart.
Whenever I visit the Jerusalem Archaeological Park, I’m eager to walk to the southwest corner of the Temple Mount.
I’ve never been to this corner on Rosh Hashanah or during the Feast of Trumpets, but I’d love to go there then. Archaeologists have uncovered a large portion of the first-century street that stretched north along the original Western Wall.
One hundred meters north of the corner is the part of the Western Wall where locals and tourists pray. But beneath the ground, Jerusalem’s Central Valley has been filled in with the rubble of the Second Temple’s destruction in A.D. 70. As a result, the beautiful modern plaza stands about 30 feet above the first-century street uncovered at the southwestern corner.
There at the corner lies a reminder of something Jesus predicted 37 years before the temple’s destruction.
And of a promise He made that could be fulfilled at any moment.
Question: What major site in Jerusalem can a visitor see after the sun goes down that still requires men to wear a hat? (Okay, so you could wear a yarmulke instead of a hat. Most men remove the hat anyway.)
Answer: The Western Wall Tunnel.
When you say the words “The Western Wall,” most folks think of the Western Wall plaza:
- It’s the place where bar- and bat-mitzvahs regularly occur and where soldiers are inducted.
- It’s the spot where ultra- and orthodox Jews come to pray—as well as many tourists—and the place of national prayer gatherings.
- It’s Judaism’s most sacred site.
But like the tip of an iceberg, the Western Wall plaza represents only a small part of the whole. There’s much more of the wall to see.
Most of the Western Wall lies buried beneath the rubble of time and hasn’t seen the light of day for centuries.
But a tunnel lets you see the entire length of the wall today.
Abraham saw the acreage. David bought the lot. Solomon built the house.
Nebuchadnezzar tore it town. Zerubbabel rebuilt it. Herod the Great expanded it. Titus flattened it. Before these temples stood on Mount Moriah, it was nothing but a hill used for threshing wheat.
Hardly worth noticing.
But today, the Temple Mount remains the most precious piece of real estate in the world. And the golden shrine that graces its crest has become the icon for the Holy City of Jerusalem itself.
How did this ordinary hill become holy? Not through battles or land bartering or by popular vote.
God chose it.
Who would have ever thought to use stairs as a memory-trigger?
At the southern edge of Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, a 200-foot wide flight of stairs represents both original and restored steps from the Second Temple period.
Millions of sandals (including Jesus’) shuffled up these steps in antiquity as Jewish pilgrims came from all Israel and the Diaspora to worship the Lord for the annual feasts.
Some suggest the pilgrims sang the Psalms of Ascent on these steps. If so, the place brought to mind critical themes.
The place echoes of our need to be reminded of what we already know.