The Seventeenth Day

Destruction of Jerusalem by Ercole de' Roberti
The Siege and Destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans Under the Command of Titus, A.D. 70 by David Roberts

 

Today is July 22, 2016. Sundown will mark the beginning of the 17th day of the month of Tamuz of the Hebrew year of 5776. Coincidentally – if such thing as a meaningless coincidence exists – this year is the second of a pair of jubilee years that mark the end of a period of forty-nine, or seven weeks of years.

Leviticus 25:8-10 — ‘You are also to count off seven Sabbaths of years for yourself, seven times seven years, so that you have the time of the seven Sabbaths of years, namely, forty-nine years. ‘You shall then sound a ram’s horn abroad on the tenth day of the seventh month; on the day of atonement you shall sound a horn all through your land. ‘You shall thus consecrate the fiftieth year and proclaim a release through the land to all its inhabitants It shall be a jubilee for you, and each of you shall return to his own property, and each of you shall return to his family.

The Seventeenth of Tamuz[1] is a Jewish fast day commemorating the breach of the walls of Jerusalem before the destruction of the Second Temple by the Babylonians in 588 BC. The day marks the beginning of the three-week mourning period leading up to Tisha B’Av, the Ninth Day of the month of Av, the horrible day when the Babylonians reached the Temple area and proceeded to sack and burn the Temple that King Solomon had built.

658 years later the Romans breached the defensive walls of Jerusalem on the same date, the 17th of Tamuz. Unfailingly the Temple that Herod built was destroyed when a group of Roman soldiers (most likely Germans and Gaels) set fire to the rafters while trying to melt the gold ornaments. It was the 9th day of Av.

There are more coincidences. This day also commemorates the destruction of the Tablets of the Law forty days after the Jewish holiday of Shavu’ot, or Pentecost. Moses climbed Mount Sinai on Shavu’ot and remained there for forty days. That clearly prefigured the Ascension of Our Lord and the descent of the Hoy Spirit forty days later on Pentecost. In fact, the first Christian community, composed completely of Jewish faithful, was gathered at the Cenacle in Jerusalem for the celebration of Shavu’ot when they all received the Holy Spirit. That was the same Cenacle where Jesus had the Last Supper with his disciples.

The first time Moses climb down the mountain with the Tables of the Law the Children of Israel had made the Golden Calf, the abomination on the afternoon of the sixteenth of Tamuz when it seemed that Moses was not coming down as promised. Moses descended unfailingly on the fortieth day, only to find that Aaron and the people were adoring that golden abomination. Moses was not happy. He used the tablets of the Law to smash the abomination to pieces thus showing us what God thinks of our propensity to make idols for ourselves. What the Law did to the Golden Calf, the Holy Spirit does to our inclination to do evil. All of that happened on that 17 of Tamuz in the wilderness, a day that would come back many times through history.

Zechariah 8:18-19 — The word of the Lord of hosts came to me, saying: Thus says 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 seasons of joy and gladness, and cheerful festivals for the house of Judah: therefore love truth and peace.

This refers to Tamuz, which is the fourth month on the Hebrew calendar. The three weeks from the 17th of Tamuz to the Ninth of Av are called in Hebrew, Bein ha Metzarim “between the straits”, in between the days of distress.

Lamentations 1:3 — Judah has gone into exile with suffering and hard servitude; she lives now among the nations, and finds no resting-place; her pursuers have all overtaken her in the days of her distress.

July 4, 1776 was a 17 of Tamuz. That is a mysterious coincidence in this “year of liberation” the Old Testament Jubilee of year 5776, a year of release, of liberation. As we all await the sunset that will mark the beginning of the fast, I wonder if our days of distress are about to come.

Matthew 24:1-8 — As Jesus came out of the Temple and was going away, his disciples came to point out to him the buildings of the Temple. Then he asked them, ‘You see all these, do you not? Truly I tell you, not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.’ When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, ‘Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?’ Jesus answered them, ‘Beware that no one leads you astray. For many will come in my name, saying, “I am the Messiah!” and they will lead many astray. And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars; see that you are not alarmed; for this must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places: all this is but the beginning of pangs of distress.

 


[1] Hebrew: שבעה עשר בתמוז‎‎ Shiv’ah Asar b’Tammuz