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

How Tisha B'Av & The Burnt House Examine Us

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

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.

A 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 us.

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 then to 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? Hats on or off? 

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

What’s your motive?

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


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