By Bob O’Dell
On Saturday morning April 4 at 6:58 a.m. Central time, 4:58 a.m. Pacific time, the moon will be fully engulfed in the earth’s shadow for not even five minutes, creating in the process the world’s shortest “blood moon” and also the shortest Passover eclipse in history.
Mark Biltz, author of “Blood Moons,” and I have issued a call for Christians everywhere to pray during those brief four minutes, 44 seconds for the peace of Jerusalem. Why?
Before we answer, let’s set the stage with a bit of history.
Today, when people express the opinion that eclipses do have meaning, they are generally interpreted as a sign or omen of bad news rather than good. It has always been this way throughout history. In fact, this view may have saved Chrisopher Columbus’ life back in February 1504 when on his fourth and final voyage, he used his knowledge of a coming total lunar eclipse to scare the local natives into providing his men with much needed supplies and protection. The account says that Columbus met with the island chief that day, proclaimed that God was angry with him and his people for treating his men poorly and pronounced that a sign wouldbe coming to prove it. (Eclipse tables had been invented recently, so he knew one was coming that very night). Then, as the lunar eclipse went all the way to the blood-red stage, Columbus entered into prayer, coming out of his cabin just as the phase was ending and pronouncing loudly, “God has forgiven you.” Needless to say, relations with the island natives immediately improved!
Jewish sages stay mostly, but not fully, in sync with the rest of the world on this “eclipses are bad omens” line of thought. The sages in Tractate Sukkah 29a of the Talmud, probably written around the third or fourth century, say that while lunar eclipses are a bad omen for the nation of Israel, solar eclipses are a bad omen for the rest of the world. Personally, if I was a Jewish rabbi writing from post-exile Babylonia, I would come to the same conclusion as they did. Yet, I can’t help but wonder how those same sages might have regarded over 160 lunar eclipses that occurred during the 80 or so glory years of Kings David and Solomon? Were lunar eclipses a bad omen for Israel then as well? Hardly!
Perhaps that is why the Talmud also concludes that very paragraph about eclipse omens with a paragraph about character! It concludes: “But when Israel fulfills the will of the Omnipresent, they need have no fear of all these [omens] as it is said, ‘Thus saith the Lord, Learn not the way of the nations, and be not dismayed at the signs of heaven, for the nations are dismayed at them, the idolaters will be dismayed, but Israel will not be dismayed.'”
And so we come back now to a present-day Israel where Jews, to the extent that they have even heard about the blood moons, are not eager to study their meaning. Can anyone blame them? And it’s not like our new name for total lunar eclipses on Jewish feast days, aka blood moons, helps in that cause. And yet that very tractate, which is the only one that mentions eclipses, says that if Israel does well, Israel need not be alarmed.
Then why should Christians pray for the peace of Jerusalem for the four minutes and 44 seconds of blood-red phase, during the total lunar eclipse of April 4 starting at 6:58 a.m. Central time? Because it is something everyone can agree upon as a good response!
Praying Psalms 122 makes sense whether you think that Israel is safely in the hand of God, as I believe the blood moons pattern indicates, or whether you believe that Israel is not truly safe and that war is about to break out on Israeli soil. Praying Psalms 122 also makes sense whether you believe that judgment is about to come to Israel, as even a few rabbis believe, or whether you believe that judgment is about to come to the rest of the world, as many Christians believe. Prayer for Israel always makes sense as a good response.
But why pray for Israel and not the rest of the world? Many Christians worldwide already prayed Isaiah 11:9 worldwide two weeks ago during the March 20 total solar eclipse over the North Pole, praying that the earth would be filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. But Jewish teachers, like my Root Source partner Gidon Ariel, have believed for centuries that as the sun has always been likened to the nations, so is the moon likened to Israel. So to pray for the peace of Jerusalem during a lunar eclipse is perfectly fitting. I can say “perfectly fitting” in good conscience because it was not even my idea; it was the idea of Mark Biltz.
This prayer will be nothing like the Christopher Columbus initiated prayer in 1504 trying to trick the local natives into giving him provisions and protection. Our Saturday morning call to prayer on April 4 was initiated about 3,000 years ago by a certain Israeli Jew, King David himself, who encouraged people everywhere to step into the will of the Almighty and pray for the peace of Jerusalem. Let’s show God that we have not forgotten the words he gave to King David, to pass along to us. They are still ringing in the air some 3,000 years later. Perhaps they will ring a bit louder still, during four minutes and 44 seconds this Saturday morning.
Bob O’Dell is a high-tech entrepreneur who has also spent 35 years in observational astronomy. Most recently he co-founded Root-Source.com, a new venture that seeks to build strong relationships directly between Christians and Israeli Jews..