The God in the Narrow Straits

The God in the Narrow Straits

by Robert Stearns

Over the last few weeks, many Jews in Israel and around the world have observed the “Bein Hametzarim” or what is commonly called “the Three Weeks.” This observance is taken from a passage in Lamentations 1:3:

“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.”

In Hebrew “Bein Hametzarim” is translated “narrow straits” or “between the days of distress.”

The Three Weeks is a time of mourning for the destruction of the Holy Temple and the Jews’ dispersal into exile.

The period begins on the 17th of the Hebrew month of Tammuz, a fast day that marks the day when the walls of Jerusalem were breached by the Romans in 69 AD.

It concludes with the fast of the 9th of Av (Tisha B’Av), the date when both Holy Temples were burned, which falls on Sunday, August 11 this year.

During the period of the Three Weeks many Jews refrain from celebrations of any kind. There are no weddings and many won’t even listen to music during this time. Some don’t even shave or get haircuts during these days.

These are the saddest days of the Jewish calendar. And in light of this observance I want to pause to reflect on a remarkable passage from the book of Isaiah:

“In all their distress he [God] too was distressed, and the angel of his presence saved them. In his love and mercy, he redeemed them; he lifted them up and carried them all the days of old.” (Isaiah 63:9 NIV)”

It really is extraordinary to think that our God is “distressed” with us in the valleys of our life. How amazing. He is not only present to us as our “answer” that we are waiting for; He is close as a co-participant in the valley of confusion or trouble in which we find ourselves. He is an involved, active God, not only in our Salvation, but in our Suffering.

Suffering is painful. In the midst of betrayal, deception, abandonment, and persecution, we can say with the apostle Paul, “…but in all these things we are more than conquerors.”

If we quiet ourselves, we see the “fourth man in the fire” like Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. “The angel of His presence saved them.” Not the angel of His Power or Might – though He can move in that way if and when He chooses.

Remember, salvation comes simply from His Presence. His Presence saved them, saves us, and saves you and me. He is present, distressed with us, and so we have peace. It is enough. We are not alone.

As I consider how this encourages me personally right now, I also reflect on how this principle applies to the people of Israel.

For those who believe, God’s Spirit is with us in all we do – and perhaps especially as we comfort His ancient people, Israel.

Today, through our prayers and our support of Israel and the Jewish people, perhaps you and I can carry on the work of assisting the “angel of His presence” in letting Israel know that God has not abandoned her.

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