Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Our Mighty Fortress - July1, 2015

Psalm 62:9-12 (New International Reader's Version)
9 Ordinary people are only a breath. Important people are not what they seem to be. If they were weighed on a scale, they wouldn't amount to anything. Together they are only a breath.

10 Don't trust in money you have taken from others. Don't be proud of things you have stolen. Even if your riches grow, don't put your trust in them.

11 God, I have heard you say two things. One is that you, God, are strong.

12 The other is that you, Lord, are loving. I'm sure you will reward each person in keeping with what he has done.

After Rome destroyed Jerusalem and the Second Temple in 70, the Great Revolt ended-except for the surviving Zealots, who fled Jerusalem to the fortress of Masada, near the Dead Sea. There, they held out for three years. Anyone who has climbed the famous "snake path" to Masada can understand why the surrounding Roman troops had to content themselves with a siege. Masada is situated on top of an enormous, isolated rock: Anyone climbing it to attack the fortress would be an easy target. Yet the Jews, encamped in the fortress, could never feel secure; every morning, they awoke to see the Roman Tenth Legion hard at work, constructing battering rams and other weapons.

If the 960 defenders of Masada hoped that the Romans eventually would consider this last Jewish beachhead too insignificant to bother conquering, they were to be disappointed. The Romans were well aware that the Zealots at Masada were the group that had started the Great Revolt; in fact, the Zealots had been in revolt against the Romans since the year 6. More than anything else, the length and bitterness of their uprising probably account for Rome's unwillingness to let Masada and its small group of defiant Jews alone.

Once it became apparent that the Tenth Legion's battering rams and catapults would soon succeed in breaching Masada's walls, Eleazar ben Yair, the Zealots’ leader, decided that all the Jewish defenders should commit suicide. Because Jewish law strictly forbids suicide, this decision sounds more shocking today than it probably did to his compatriots. There was nothing of Jonestown in the suicide pact carried out at Masada. The alternative facing the fortress’s defenders were hardly more attractive than death. Once the Romans defeated them, the men could expect to be sold off as slaves, the women as slaves and prostitutes.(1)

The Jewish defenders at Masada held out for 3 years against the Roman siege, and finally they gave up and committed mass murder-suicide rather than be conquered and enslaved by the Romans. They felt that God has abandoned them, and because of this they would take the lives of their wives and children, and then the lives of one another, until the last person ended their own life. Their story would have never been told, except that a woman and five children hid in a cistern, and told her account to the Jewish historian Josephus. Their story survives in the hearts of the Israeli right-wing government as a story of fighting to the bitter end, rather than giving up.

We also are but "a breath", and at anytime we might find ourselves in a hopeless situation. Those that believe in the material world place their trust in perishable things, such as their riches and position. As the Jewish people of Masada, they sustain themselves in a false fortress of their own making and hold out as long as they can. When everything fails and they are at the brink of being overcome, they too often give up and suffer a calamitous end.

Thank God we can place our hope and trust in Him. He is our strength and our overcomer. Only in Him can we find hope in the midst of trouble. When we are faced with certain defeat, instead of giving up, we can turn to Jesus. He will be with us and take us through the storm. No longer do we have to worry about death, because in Him we have eternal life. If you are "at the end of your rope", if you see the enemy at the gates, don't give in to fear. Instead find confidence and protection in the One who is strong and loves you, and who offers to sustain you and keep you safe. Turn your heart to Jesus.

Photo "Jewish Synagogue at Masada" from Journey Back
(1)Jewish Virtual Library - Masada

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