The time frame between the 17th of Tammuz (the 4th month on the Hebrew calendar) and the 9th of Av (the 5th month) is called Bein Hametzarim or "Between the Straits." The term for this three-week period originated in Lamentations 1:3 as written in Hebrew. "Judah has gone into exile because of suffering and harsh toil. She dwelled among the nations but found no rest; all her pursuers overtook her in the narrow straits." It is also called the time of dire straits. On Tuesday night we entered the month of Av—one where we need to be vigilant and agree with the promises of God.
A cycle of destruction during the dire straits that has been harmful to the Jewish people began when the children of Israel decided to believe a negative report about their ability to take the Promised Land. Fear overtook them so that they did not believe God's promises. During a period of 40 years, every person over the age of 19 died in the wilderness, except for Joshua and Caleb, who did go into the Promised Land and settle there. It is lack of repentance by the Israelites that opened the door for the enemy to attack them repeatedly during The Three Weeks. The walls of Jerusalem were breached by the Romans in 69 AD at the beginning of this period. Both temples were destroyed on the 9th of Av. A Torah scroll was burned by a Roman military leader prior to the Bar Kokhba Revolt of 132 AD. Crusades against the Jews led to the killing of thousands of them and has continued throughout the years.
The Jews know that they must be vigilant during the Dire Straits. However, many in the church have not understood their spiritual roots and the Biblical calendar that would give them warning about the dire straits. "My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge." (Hosea 4:6) The enemy is still on the prowl against the Jews and Christians. He rears his ugly head during this season to destroy our spiritual temples. He seeks to devour us. We must be "self-controlled and alert."(1 Peter 5:8) We must be awakened to the demonic cycles of destruction so that we can be ready for battle and take a preemptive strike against the enemy in the power and authority given to us by the Lord Jesus Christ.
We are definitely in a period of distress right now! A full-on attack has been launched against our health and economic well-being. Battles that pit black against white are taking place in our streets. Our elected officials are placing politics above leading wisely. Godly values are crumbling, and the family unit is being dismantled. Both spiritual and natural warfare are intensifying.
What are we to do? First, I want to bring to your attention Richard Wurmbrand, a Messianic Jew who was imprisoned and tortured by the Communist in Romania for 15 years. He became an expert at dealing with times of distress and developed a "recipe" for a type of "tea" that had seven ingredients or "herbs," as he called it. (1) Contentedness - Be satisfied with what you have. I may shiver in my rags as I gnaw on a crust, but how much worse off I should be if they had thrown me naked into a dungeon with nothing at all to eat! (2) Common sense - Whether I rejoice or worry, I shall still be in prison, so why repine? (3) Remembrance of past sin - Count them, and on the supposition that every sin deserves a day in prison, reckon how many lives you would spend behind bars. You have been let off lightly! (4) The thought of the Cross - If the only man on earth who could choose his fate chose to become sin, what great value He must have seen in it! Suffering redeems. (5) Suffering has been given to us by God as from a father, not to harm us, but to cleanse and sanctify us. - The suffering through which we pass has the purpose of purifying us and preparing us for heaven. (6) No suffering can harm a Believer's life - ...Prison cannot stop me from loving; iron bars cannot exclude faith... (7) Hope - The wheel of life may put the emperor's physician in prison, but it goes on turning. It may put me back into the palace, and even on the throne. Wurmbrand declared upon his release from prison, "I have drunk barrels of this tea, and I can recommend it to you all. It has proved good." He went on to establish an organization that supports Christian who are persecuted called Voice of the Martyrs.
Second, we should be alert to the schemes of the enemy against us. We must stand our ground, being watchful. Let us realign our hearts with the Lord by repenting for our sins so that the enemy has no legal ground or open doors to enter. We must be faithful in prayer for Israel, for the Church, and ourselves. We must be those who worship the Lord in every circumstance because worship chases away the enemy and establishes us in God's camp.
Of this I am sure: It is the Lord's desire to bless us. This is probably the main reason why He instructed the priests ministering to the Israelites to say a special prayer over them. "The Lord bless you and keep you, the Lord make His face shine upon you, and be gracious to you; the Lord lift His countenance upon you, and give you peace." (Numbers 6:24-26 - NKJ) Several Bible versions use the word "Countenance" when speaking about being in God's presence. It is like being with Him when He looks you in the face. We get more understanding about His appearance through Revelation 1:16. "In His right hand He held seven stars, and out of His mouth was a sharp, double-edged sword. And His face was shining like the brightness of the blinding sun." (TPT)
Other Scriptures describe the appearance of our Lord as "dazzling like lightning." At the Mount of Transfiguration, the disciples who were with Jesus saw Him being transformed. Matthew 17:2 describes the face of Jesus: "A radiant light as bright as the sun poured from His face..." (TPT) Moses had several encounters with the Lord. When he came down from Mt. Sinai with the tablets of the Testimony "his face was radiant because he had spoken with the Lord." (Exodus 34:29) 2 Corinthians 3:7 (NKJ) records that "the children of Israel could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of the glory of his countenance..."
One of the definitions of countenance is the expression of one's face. What do you think the Lord is expressing with His dazzling, glowing face? I believe the light that radiates from Him is generated by His powerful love. The Lord's passion for His children is so great that His face explodes with the light of His love. Psalm 84:11, in The Passion Translation, has an interesting way of describing Him. "The Lord God is brighter than the brilliance of a sunrise! Wrapping Himself around me like a shield, He is so generous with His gifts of grace and glory..."
One encounter of looking into the eyes of the Lord's liquid love can transform a person and set them on a course of God's choosing. I would like to share Michele Perry's story of meeting the Lord from her book, Love has a Face. “Even as a child, I was a bit of a romantic. I do not mean mushy sort of romantic, but as a little girl my heart cried out for more than I could see. It longed for a love bigger than I was and more powerful than my fears. One night I met Him. I was seven...I was facing a serious spinal surgery and had overheard that I could die...I was born missing my left hip, leg and kidney. I had a plethora of birth defects that required 23 surgeries by the time I was 13. I used crutches to walk (and still do). But I was never as scared as I was that night."
"All I had was a cry: 'Jesus, if you are who those stories in that book say You are, then I want to know you!' Instantly, supernaturally, normally--as if it had happened a million times before--He was there...He was real. The Man who walked on water walked into my bedroom. It was that simple. The love in His gaze made time stand still...He looked with eyes that saw deep inside of me and loved every part...And the minute He appeared, fear left so quickly that the memory of it varnished as well...I looked into His eyes of liquid love and got lost...I looked into the face of Love...He is the definition of love. He is its substance, its beginning and its end. Love that is true and real looks like what I saw in His eyes. I met the Man who walked on water. He chased away my fear as a little girl. I had that surgery. I recovered. I grew. I learned. My life started that night, and so did my journey to find His heart."
Michele's quest to share the love of Jesus began with the homeless, sick, and brokenhearted. She ministered in the United States first and then went on to Calcutta, India. From there the Lord sent her to care for children in the war-torn country of Sudan. She went with faith in the promises of God and a face that reflected the love of her Savior.
God's Kingdom comes as we pursue relationship with Jesus and soak in His love so that we become an expression of His love and grace to the people He brings to us. God's desire is to make His face shine upon us and lift His countenance upon us. Why else would He want the Aaronic blessing declared over us?
Battles are part of maturing in Christ. The battlefield is our minds. While our spirits were totally revived and renewed on the day of our salvation, our souls (mind, will, emotions) must be transformed. Demons target our minds, planting thoughts in them to catch us off-guard. Anytime we agree with the kingdom of darkness we open a gate for demons to enter and give them permission to operate in our lives. It is important for us to continually evaluate our belief system and the behaviors that accompany it to see if we are building a protected place for them from which they can operate. This is called a stronghold. Any belief that we have that does not agree with God's truth can become a stronghold for the enemy. Consider some of the ways that we may come into agreement with the demonic: sin, fear, anxiety, pride, lying, unbelief, self-condemning thoughts. It is with human agreement that the devil is empowered. By participating with the kingdom of darkness in our thought systems, we are building a stronghold or fortified place for the enemy of our souls to hide and attack us.
The good news is that Jesus came to earth to demonstrate the will of God, which is to destroy the works of the devil. (1 John 3:8) He instructed us to pray for the Kingdom of heaven to come to earth. (Matthew 6:10) He modeled the essence of Romans 12:2. "Do not conform to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is—His good, pleasing, and perfect will." In his book The Three Battlegrounds, Francis Frangipane tells us that God made us to be overcomers. The principle for success is this: "Victory begins with the name of Jesus on your lips, but it will not be consummated until the nature of Jesus is in your heart...God's only answer is to become Christlike . As you begin to appropriate not just the name of Jesus, but His nature as well, the adversary will withdraw."
How do we fight this battle? Francis tells us we must "allow the Spirit of Christ full access into our souls." Our goal is to be conformed to the likeness of Jesus. (Romans 8:29) We must make our minds strongholds for the Lord instead of the enemy by renewing it. Our bodies are temples for the Lord to dwell in and need to come into agreement with heaven. This is confirmed in Scripture: "Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” (Matthew 16:19)
Possessing humility or lack of it can have a major impact on one's life. Should we be accused of wrong-doing or failing, we must humbly repent and confess our sins and then appropriate what Jesus did for us at the Cross. Confess like this: "Jesus is my righteousness and through His blood I am forgiven and cleansed." In doing this, we break down the stronghold of the enemy. Then we can build a stronghold for the Lord by living like Him and obeying the promptings of the Holy Spirit.
Keeping a record of what God has done for us and others and reviewing it regularly can bring hope and inspiration. Hearing and reading testimonies of God's goodness will stir us to believe that all things are possible with Christ. Along with this, we should use the tool of declaration. "Declare a thing, and it shall be established for you." (Job 22:28 - NKJV)
"The Word of God is living and active. It is sharper than any double-edge sword." (Hebrews 4:12) It also pulls down enemy strongholds and renews our minds. We cannot allow our minds to stray to the thoughts of the enemy but must meditate on God's Word regularly. Past experiences can make us doubt the goodness of God. We must declare God's goodness and faithfulness in the midst of trials. Praise and worship position us in the presence of God. Bill Johnson, lead pastor at Bethel Church, says, "When we worship in the midst of difficulties and uncertainties we build a gate where the King of Glory can invade our situations. Rise above your circumstances and declare the goodness of God."
It is a life-long task—perfecting our souls. Our souls find rest in God alone. (Psalm 62:1) It would be helpful for us to declare Psalm 146:1-2 over ourselves. "Praise the Lord. Praise the Lord, O my soul. I will praise the Lord all my life; I will sing praise to my God as long as I live." He is worthy of praise and honor!
America was preparing to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1876. A 35-year old rector of a small Episcopal church in Brandon, Vermont, thought that the country should have a new national hymn for the occasion. Daniel Crane Roberts introduced the song he wrote to his parishioners on July 4, 1876, and they sang it together at their Brandon village church. Later, there was a National Centennial Observance to commemorate the adoption of the Constitution. Roberts' song was selected as the official hymn for the event. The words remind us of the rich heritage of our country and how God was a part of the foundations. It is called "God of Our Fathers."
God of our fathers, whose almighty hand leads forth in beauty all the starry band; of shining worlds in splendor thru the skies, our grateful songs before Thy throne arise.
Thy love divine hath led us in the past, in this free land by Thee our lot is cast; be thou our ruler, guardian, guide and stay; thy word our law, Thy paths our chosen way.
From war's alarms, from deadly pestilence, be Thy strong arm our ever-sure defense; Thy true religion in our hearts increase; Thy bounteous goodness nourish us in peace.
Refresh Thy people on their toilsome way. Lead us from night to never ending day; fill all our lives with love and grace divine, and glory, laud, and praise be ever Thine.
The words of this song are powerful! Can you imagine the delight it gave God when it was first sung? It includes praise, thanksgiving, confession of our need for Him, requests for His presence, and truth. To me, it seems like the perfect song for us to sing today. We have strayed from our country's foundation and are in desperate need of God's continued guidance, defense, and peace. Without the Lord in charge, I believe our nation is doomed.
I found an interesting quote on the Internet from John Mathison of Leadership Ministries. He says, "The first two colonies established in American made it clear that they were being established for 'the glory of God and the propagation of the Christian faith.'" How far we have fallen from their intent! How we need the breath of God to blow upon us and bring us back into His fold!
In Genesis 18:23-25 we read how Abraham spoke to God about saving Sodom on behalf of the righteous. He asked, "Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked?...Far be it for you to do such a thing—to kill the righteous with the wicked..." Abraham began to test God, asking Him if He found 50, then 45, then 30, then 20, and finally 10 righteous, would he still destroy Sodom. Each time, the Lord would relent. When Abraham asked about saving the city for only 10 people, here is how God responded: "For the sake of ten, I will not destroy it." (Genesis 18:32)
How merciful is God that he would have saved all of Sodom for the sake of ten righteous people! We need to join together in a chorus of repentance, humility, and worship to ask for God's mercy on the United States. Perhaps He will have compassion on us and bring our nation back to its intended purpose. Psalm 33:12 says, "Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord, the people He chose for His inheritance." I believe that God chose our nation, along with Israel, to represent Him on the earth. Join me in interceding for our country. Surely, we have more than 10 righteous in our nation. Let's bow before the God of our fathers to remind Him of our past and plead for our future.
Joan E. Mathias