What’s Your Motive? There’s One Way to Tell

How Tisha B'Av & the Burnt House Examine Us

I find it fascinating that when the New Testament talks about God judging our motives, it uses the metaphor of a burnt house. In Jerusalem, one site I pass always begs the question: “What’s your motive?”

How Tisha B'Av & the Burnt House Examine Us

(Photo: The Burnt House in Jerusalem. Courtesy of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands)

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. 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.

This Day Examines Our Motives

God’s reply to their question took them another direction:

When you fasted and mourned in the fifth and seventh months these seventy years, was it actually for Me that you fasted? And when you eat and drink, do you not eat for yourselves and do you not drink for yourselves? —Zechariah 7:5-6

You see, the only fast the Hebrew Scriptures required occurred on Yom Kippur. The fast on Tisha B’Av was voluntary. When asked if they should fast, God simply asked them why they had fasted—for Him for them?

It was all about motive.

Burnt House sign in Jerusalem

(Photo: Sign for the Burnt House in Jerusalem. Courtesy of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands)

Discovery of the Burnt House

The destruction of the Second Temple in AD 70 also occurred on Tisha B’Av. Along with the Temple, the Romans torched the lavish homes on the Western Hill of Jerusalem.

Josephus described the Romans destroying this neighborhood as follows:

They went in numbers into the lanes of the city with their swords drawn, they slew those whom they overtook without and set fire to the houses whither the Jews were fled, and burnt every soul in them, and laid waste a great many of the rest. (Wars of the Jews, VI 8.5)

Interior and rooms of Burnt House

(Photo: Interior of the Burnt House in Jerusalem. Courtesy of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands)

After the reunification of Jerusalem in 1967, archeologists discovered a house that the Romans had burned.

  • Inside the Burnt House, they discovered inkwells, cooking utensils, a female skeleton, a spear, and money—the latest coin dating to AD 69.
  • A weight bore the inscription of the family of Kathros. A film tells visitors the story.
  • Seven rooms make up this basement level of what would have stood as a much larger home.
Iron spear and ink well found in the Burnt House

(Photo: Iron spear and inkwell found in the ruins of the Burnt House. Courtesy of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands)

So, What’s Your Motive?

The returning exiles asked about Tisha B’Av and received an answer that questioned their motives. The Burnt House also does that for me.

I find it fascinating that when the New Testament talks about God judging our motives, it uses the metaphor of a burnt house.

Those acts we do that survive the scrutiny of judgment are likened to gold, silver, and costly stones—items that survive fire (1 Cor. 3:12-15). According the Apostle Paul, the “judgment Seat of Christ” will serve both to judge and reward the motives for our actions (2 Cor. 5:10).

Sometimes it’s tough to dissect our motives. Take prayer for example.

  • We bow our heads to pray, and yet—that’s nowhere in the Bible.
  • We men remove our hats, but again—there’s no verse on that.
  • We end prayers “in Jesus’ name”—but is that really what John 16:24 means?

It’s not that there’s anything wrong, per se, with these self-imposed rituals. It’s the motive behind them that can trip us up. So should we fast on a certain day? Or should we pray a certain way?

For me, Tisha B’Av and the Burnt House ask a more important question:

What’s your motive?

Question: What helps you examine your motives for the religious deeds you do? To leave a comment, just click here.

The Burnt House on the Map

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I'd love to hear your thoughts. Just keep it kind and relevant. Thanks!


    Again, amazing photos. You really know how to take your readers to places most of us will never get the chance to visit and how to illustrate an article impressively. You also know how to compose some deep devotionals! Many thanks.

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  • Wayne, I love the photos as well…and what great insight! Thank you! For me, having a child with disabilities has caused me to examine most of my beliefs and spiritual practices. Since my son is not able to ‘do’ what many in the church believe we have to do for salvation or to be in right relationship with Christ, I have had to take a hard look at these things and ask ‘is this a man-made behavior or ritual, or is this a God-directed command, behavior, belief, so on?’ In so doing, I have discovered the freedom we have as children of God…Just because my son cannot say or do many of the things people think have to be done to receive God’s love and salvation, doesn’t mean he isn’t in God’s perfect care or ever separated from His presence or eternal life. So it is a daily examination to ask, is this God’s truth or not. Thank you for your great words, deep thoughts and time for reflection. Colleen

    • Your comments, Colleen, remind me of the verse that asks and answers: “Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls; and he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand” (Romans 14:4). The standard is always Christ, and so, He alone is qualified to direct each of us how He wants us to serve Him. You might enjoy this post in which I didn’t initially default to grace, but finally came around. 🙂

      • Wayne,
        Not only did I read the post you sent on grace but several others. Thank you. Aren’t we all in process! There is no direct path to learning grace and love cover us in all things; thus to the degree we are filled with that, we have it to pass along to others. I was reminded of the works of Francis Grenwood Peabody, a professor of Christian Morals in Harvard University, 1896 who said from “Mornings in the College Chapel” these wonderful words on unity: “Ephesians iv.13. We hear much in these days of Christian unity, and many programmes and platforms and propositions are presented to us, as though religious unity were a thing to be constructed and put together like a building, which should be big enough to hold us all. But in this splendid chapter religious unity is regarded by the apostle, not as a thing which is to be made, but as a thing which is to grow. “There is, “he says” one body and one spirit; there is a unity of the faith. But we do not make this unity; we grow up into it as we attain unto a full-grown man; we attain unto it as a boy becomes a man, not by discussing his growth, or by worrying because he is not a man, or by bragging that he is bigger than other boys, but simply by growing up. Thus, as people grow up into Christ, they grow up into unity. The unity comes not of the assent of man to certain propositions, but of the ascent of man to {48} the stature of Christ. And so what hinders unity is that we have not got our spiritual growth. It takes a full-grown mind to reach it. It takes a full-grown heart to feel it. The unity is always waiting at the top. Religious progress is like the ascent of a hill from various sides. Below there is division, obstructive underbrush, perplexity; but as the top is neared there is ever a closer approach of man to man; and at the summit there is the same view for all, and that view is a view all round. The climbers attain to the measure of the stature of Christ, and they attain at the same time to the unity of the faith.” http://biblehub.com/library/peabody/mornings_in_the_college_chapel/xvii_christian_unity.htm So we are all on this process of growth…whether it be via “Theo” or our own personal struggles. Either way, remaining committed to truth is part of our commitment to growth. I am so enjoying your posts. Thanks and keep up the splendid work. Colleen

        • Thanks, Colleen. I love what you said: “remaining committed to truth is part of our commitment to growth.” Thanks for that Peabody quote as well. Indeed, we do need to be at the “top” in order to see clearly.

          • Wayne,
            You are welcome. I did like the Peabody quote and glad to know you did as well. One of the most difficult challenges we face in this next generation is that of relative complacency….believing that truth is relative and being complacent about it. While there are far more gray issues than we find comfortable, there are some basic, fundamental truths that one must rest upon for security and endurance in this life. I will probably always be climbing to the top for clarity; but I know God provides a way through when my way is dim. Thanks for your work and posts. I am really enjoying them. Loved the airplane story…have been that lady many times and wanted to hand out apology cards to all passengers. However, you are a rare one indeed as most don’t even think with empathy as you did. Thank you for that! Colleen

  • Nick

    One that I have rejected is the “bless this food” prayer. What does that even mean? I have turned, instead, to be thankful for His provision. I also want a mind and heart connection where I truly acknowledge that it is by His hands that we are blessed as a country and are able to eat really good food. In place of “bless this food,” I’ll replace it with,”Don’t let this food be poisonous or harmful to our bodies.” 🙂

    • Funny that you mention, “Bless this food,” as my daughter asked me what that meant just last week! I think you’re right; it’s always healthy to look at our prayers and ask, “What does that mean?” Giving thanks for God’s provision is a great prayer. In fact, it’s the only prayer over food Scripture seems to teach (Mark 8:6; Acts 27:35; 1 Tim. 4:4). Thanks, Nick.

  • Bud

    I refer to Ephesians 2:8-9. …not of yourselves…, …not of works… .

    • There’s hardly a better reference than those, Bud, for revealing the reason for our salvation: grace. I also like Titus 3:5. Thanks for your comment today.

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  • nic van as

    I found your discussions very interesting and many time encouraging. However your comment about bowing our heads when we pray and that it is not mentioned in the Word of God, is not relevant. I bend my head out of respect for my Maker to whom i pray and so there is many more things, not mentioned in the Word of God, that i do out of respect for God.

    • I think we’re saying the same thing, Nic. Bowing the head is legitimate—as is any other act not specifically commanded in Scripture—as long as it’s done with respect. As long as the heart is engaged. Thanks.

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