“What Did the Destruction Mean?”Categories: Iron sharpens iron
“Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by?
Look and see
if there is any sorrow like my sorrow,
which was brought upon me,
which the Lord inflicted
on the day of his fierce anger.
From on high he sent fire;
into my bones he made it descend;
he spread a net for my feet;
he turned me back;
he has left me stunned,
faint all the day long.” (Lamentations 1.12-13)
Do you remember 9/11? If you’re old enough, then of course you do. Even without a year specified, and even though “9/11” could mean a few different things, you didn’t have to stop to select one. Some of that may have to do with the timing of this article, but that’s neither the only, nor the largest reason you immediately thought of particular incidents that occurred on September 11, 2001. It was a once-in-a-lifetime inflection point—a date when everything changed, and everyone knew why. There’s now a generation of young adults who don’t remember that day, and to them it could perhaps seem like the old coots are making a fuss over nothing.
“Look among the nations, and see;
wonder and be astounded.
For I am doing a work in your days
that you would not believe if told.” (Habakkuk 1.5)
The death toll from the terrorist attacks was 2,977. Each of those deaths is terrible, but more than 9,000 people die every day in this country. September 11 was a blip on the graph of 2001, but it amounted to only about one-tenth of one percent of the country’s 2.4 million deaths that year. But that’s not all it meant. It wasn’t just the number of deaths, or the thousands of injured who survived. Everything changed that day, because it was an attack on our way of life. The West’s corruption, hedonism, and materialism were major elements of the terrorists’ motives, which is why they primarily targeted the World Trade Center—a symbol of economic prosperity, but also of greed.
“For from the least to the greatest of them,
everyone is greedy for unjust gain;
and from prophet to priest,
everyone deals falsely.” (Jeremiah 6.13)
But those unsavory aspects of America were enabled by more positive elements—hard work, planning ahead, rewarding good behavior, and allowing economic and religious freedom. To the average American, that all went without saying on September 10. The next morning, everything changed. The attacks shattered our illusion of safety; but it wasn’t that we were no longer safe. It impacted us so severely, because it showed us we’d never been as safe as we’d thought!
This is the exultant city
that lived securely,
that said in her heart,
“I am, and there is no one else.”
What a desolation she has become,
a lair for wild beasts!
Everyone who passes by her
hisses and shakes his fist. (Zephaniah 2.14)
But in an even deeper sense, watching the attacks unfold on live TV told us at a gut level that the underpinnings of our society were much more fragile and susceptible to harm than we thought. It told us that people we’d never met, whom we didn’t consider to be our enemies, could feel so aggrieved by our existence, and our economic, religious, and strategic decisions, as to lash out against us in a bid to sow chaos, pain, and death.
That’s a very brief (and not at all thorough) summary of what 9/11 meant. But the passages quoted along the way weren’t about 9/11, or about America. They were about the fall and destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple to Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylonian army in 586 BC. There’s some debate about the exact year and date, but on or just after the 7th of Av, corresponding roughly to July 16, 586 BC, everything changed for God’s chosen people. It was an existential crisis. He had said of the Temple,
“I have chosen and consecrated this house that my name may be there forever. My eyes and my heart will be there for all time.” (2 Chronicles 7.16)
Yet now that Temple was gone, and so were the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the capital; and the Davidic line of kings who were promised that city’s throne forever; and the nation’s populace, who were taken into exile; and to a great extent the nation’s identity, as they were eaten up and left to rot away in their enemies’ lands (Le 26.38-39). Of the land God had promised to the descendants of Abraham forever, they said,
O God, the nations have come into your inheritance;
they have defiled your holy temple;
they have laid Jerusalem in ruins.
They have given the bodies of your servants
to the birds of the heavens for food,
the flesh of your faithful to the beasts of the earth.
They have poured out their blood like water
all around Jerusalem,
and there was no one to bury them.
We have become a taunt to our neighbors,
mocked and derided by those around us.
How long, O Lord? Will you be angry forever?
Will your jealousy burn like fire? (Psalm 79.1-5)
Our 9/11 is only the merest taste of what that day, now remembered as Tisha B’Av, meant to the Jews. Next week, we’ll see why God, despite his many promises, allowed this to happen, and what it all means for us. But for now, use the memory of that awful day 21 years ago, to better understand how the Jews felt during their captivity.
Why do you forget us forever,
why do you forsake us for so many days?
Restore us to yourself, O Lord, that we may be restored!
Renew our days as of old—
unless you have utterly rejected us,
and you remain exceedingly angry with us. (Lamentations 5.20-22)