Yalal (wailing/howling) in the Bible was different from crying and weeping… although similar in form, wailing was almost exclusively used in reaction to judgement and separation from YHWH:
[YHWH:] Woe to them, for they have strayed from Me!
Destruction is theirs, for they have rebelled against Me! I would redeem them, but they have spoken lies against Me. And they do not cry to Me from their heart when they wail [y-yelilu] on their beds.
Wailing in judgment, of course, would be found in the writings of the prophets… those who announced the downfall of the nations. In fact, outside of the prophets you only see this word show up in one other spot:
“When the Most High gave the nations their inheritance, when He separated the sons of mankind, He set the boundaries of the peoples according to the number of the sons of God.
For YHWH’s portion is His people; Jacob is the allotment of His inheritance.
He found him in a desert land, and in the howling [y’lehl] wasteland of a wilderness; He encircled him, He cared for him, He guarded him as the apple of His eye.
As an eagle stirs up its nest, and hovers over its young, He spread His wings, He caught them, He carried them on His pinions.
YHWH alone guided him, and there was no foreign god with him.”
The howling found in Moses’ poem (Deuteronomy 32) was a description of the wilderness land of exile… the exile from the Garden of Eden. When Eve and Adam disobeyed God and tasted the poison that would wreak havoc on their souls, they could not stay in the Garden with God. The were sent out in the wilderness to survive off the wild lands by the hard work of their hands. The land was separated from YHWH and the earth howled because of it. But YHWH would not abandon them. He encircled them, He cared for them, and He guarded them in the wilderness. Although YHWH promised to be with them, the exiled humans would howl as well.
We only come across yalal this one time in the Torah (Deut 32), but it was a word used liberally in the writings of the prophets. To wail was a theme that ran all through the prophetic writings:
Wail [hey’lilu], for the day of YHWH is near! It will come as destruction from the Almighty.
Day of YHWH: Judgement against the Nations
The Day of YHWH brought judgement to the nations, and those on the wrong side of the judgement would find themselves wailing at their loss:
“And on that day,” declares YHWH, “There will be the sound of a cry from the Fish Gate, wailing (crying) from the Second Quarter, and a loud crash from the hills.
Wail [hey’lilu], you inhabitants of the Mortar, because all the people of Canaan will be destroyed; all who weigh out silver will be eliminated.
And it will come about at that time that I will search Jerusalem with lamps, and I will punish the people who are stagnant in spirit, who say in their hearts, ‘YHWH will not do good nor harm!’
Saying that ‘YHWH will not do good nor harm!’ was like saying that YHWH had no effect; His presence was meaningless. Of course, this is theologically as far from the truth as you can get, and the people suffered as a result of their own apathy. They were stagnant in spirit, as YHWH called them. They did not dedicate their life-breath to reflecting the face of YHWH to others… they were living for themselves… attempting to gain power and prestige. It was killing their Spirit.
The Day of YHWH was the day of great judgement. YHWH would search the hearts and find many wanting:
The word of YHWH came again to me, saying, “Son of man, prophesy and say, ‘This is what the Lord YHWH says:
“Wail [hey’lilu], ‘Woe for the day!’ For the day is near, indeed, the day of YHWH is near; it will be a day of clouds, a time of doom for the nations.
A sword will come upon Egypt, and there will be trembling in Cush; when the slain fall in Egypt, they will take away her wealth, and her foundations will be torn down.
Cush, Put, Lud, all Arabia, Libya and the people of the land that is in league will fall with them by the sword.”
Besides Egypt, Cush, Put, Lud, Arabia, and Libya, the prophets highlighted various other kingdoms which would wail in their judgement, including:
Philistia (where every inhabitant of the land will wail):
Jeremiah 47:1-2 (see also Isaiah 14:31)
The word of YHWH that came to Jeremiah the prophet concerning the Philistines, before Pharaoh conquered Gaza. This is what YHWH says:
“Behold, waters are going to rise from the north and become an overflowing torrent, and overflow the land and everything that is in it, the city and those who live in it; and the people will cry out, and every inhabitant of the land will wail [w-heylil].
Moab (where wailing reaches to the far edges of the kingdom):
The pronouncement concerning Moab:
Certainly in a night Ar of Moab is devastated and ruined; certainly in a night Kir of Moab is devastated and ruined.
The people have gone up to the temple and to Dibon, to the high places to weep. Moab wails [y-yelil] over Nebo and Medeba; everyone’s head is bald and every beard is cut off.
In their streets they have put on sackcloth; on their housetops and in their public squares everyone is wailing [y-yelil], overcome with weeping…
…For the cry of distress has gone around the territory of Moab, its wailing [yil’latah] goes as far as Eglaim and its howling [yil’latah] to Beer-elim.
Ammon (where they wail in fire and desolation):
“Therefore behold, the days are coming,” declares YHWH, “when I will cause an alarm of war to be heard against Rabbah of the sons of Ammon; and it will become a desolate heap, and her towns will be set on fire.
Then Israel will take possession of his possessors,” says YHWH. “Wail [hey’lili], Heshbon, for Ai has been destroyed! Cry out, daughters of Rabbah, put on sackcloth and mourn…”
Tyre (where the warships wail and the city groans):
Isaiah 23:1a, 5-7, 14
The pronouncement concerning Tyre:
Wail [heylilu], you ships of Tarshish, for Tyre is destroyed, without house or harbour…
…When the report reaches Egypt, they will be in anguish over the report of Tyre.
Pass over to Tarshish; wail [heylilu], you inhabitants of the coastland.
Is this your jubilant city, whose origin is from antiquity, whose feet used to bring her to colonize distant places?..
…Wail [heylilu], you ships of Tarshish, for your stronghold is destroyed.
Bablyon (where there wailing continues unhealed):
Suddenly Babylon has fallen and been broken; wail [hey-lilu] over her! Bring balm for her pain; perhaps she may be healed.
We applied healing to Babylon, but she was not healed; abandon her and let’s each go to his own country, for her judgment has reached to heaven and it rises to the clouds.
YHWH has brought about our vindication; come and let’s recount in Zion the work of YHWH our God!
Lebanon and Bashan (where the mighty trees wail in their distress):
Zechariah 11:1-2, 6
Open your doors, Lebanon, so that a fire may feed on your cedars.
Wail [hey-lel], juniper, because the cedar has fallen, for the magnificent trees have been destroyed; wail [hey-lilu], oaks of Bashan, because the impenetrable forest has come down…
…For I will no longer have compassion for the inhabitants of the land,” declares YHWH; “but behold, I will let the people fall, each into another’s power and into the power of his king; and they will crush the land, and I will not rescue them from their power.”
YHWH made it clear: The people were doing this to themselves, and God would respect their decision, step back, and let them destroy each other for power. They desired power, but by power they would fall.
Judgement against Israel
YHWH judged the nations… but eventually Israel began to behave like all the nations surrounding them, and when that happened YHWH had no choice but to judge them by the same standards as the foreign nations they so ardently desired to emulate:
Cry out and wail [z’aq w-heylel], son of man; for it is against My people, it is against all the officials of Israel. They are turned over to the sword with My people, therefore slap your thigh. For there is a testing.
YHWH could no longer turn His face away from the wickedness of His people:
“For this, put on sackcloth, mourn and wail [w-heylilu]; for the fierce anger of YHWH has not turned away from us.”
With undoubtedly great sadness, YHWH made an announcement:
Then YHWH said to me, “The end has come for My people Israel. I will not spare them any longer. The songs of the palace will turn to wailing [y-yelilu] on that day,” declares the Lord YHWH. “The corpses will be many; in every place they will throw them out. Hush!”
The prophets announced these alarming words of God, but they mourned the actions that would follow:
Micah 1:8-9 (see also Jeremiah 25:34-37)
Because of this I must mourn and wail [w-eh’lilah.], I must go barefoot and naked; I must do mourning like the jackals, and a mourning like the ostriches.
For her wound is incurable, for it has come to Judah; it has reached the gate of my people, even to Jerusalem.
Foreign nations came and conquered Israel… Assyria decimated the Northern tribes and dispersed the people. Centuries later the Babylonians overcame all of Israel and hit Jerusalem particularly hard and dragged the people into exile. The Hebrew people had wanted to be like the nations, and that meant living in constant power struggles and war… and they did not stand up well to the struggles.
Be Redeemed: Wail No Longer
Although Israel howled in their anguish, they would not remain in captivity. YHWH, in His infinite mercy, would redeem them:
Shake yourself from the dust, rise up, captive Jerusalem; release yourself from the chains around your neck, captive daughter of Zion.
For this is what YHWH says: “You were sold for nothing, and you will be redeemed without money.” For this is what the Lord YHWH says: “My people went down to Egypt first to reside there; then the Assyrian oppressed them without reason. And now, what do I have here,” declares YHWH, “seeing that My people have been taken away without reason?” Again YHWH declares, “Those who rule over them howl [y-heylilu], and My name is continually reviled all day long. Therefore, My people shall know My name; therefore on that day I am the one who is speaking, ‘Here I am.’”
How delightful on the mountains are the feet of one who brings good news, who announces peace and brings good news of happiness, who announces salvation, and says to Zion, “Your God reigns!”
Listen! Your watchmen raise their voices, they shout joyfully together; for they will see with their own eyes when YHWH restores Zion.
Be cheerful, shout joyfully together, you ruins of Jerusalem; for YHWH has comforted His people, He has redeemed Jerusalem.
YHWH has bared His holy arm in the sight of all the nations, so that all the ends of the earth may see the salvation of our God.
Wailing for Yeshua
Although exile and redemption was a repetitive story in the Old Testament, when Yeshua the Messiah (Jesus) entered the scene, He ended the cycle. He came to be the final Redeemer… the one who would save us from the weight of sin and the finality of death.
Yeshua’s ministry changed hearts and minds so that they understood they were no longer wandering in the wilderness. They were in the Presence of the Kingdom of God.
But when He died it would feel like being exiled from His Presence. They grieved because of His passing and the thought of losing Him, but they did not see the big picture:
Jesus knew that they wanted to question Him, and He said to them, “Are you deliberating together about this, that I said, ‘A little while, and you are not going to see Me, and again a little while, and you will see Me’? Truly, truly I say to you that you will weep and mourn, but the world will rejoice; you will grieve, but your grief will be turned into joy! Whenever a woman is in labour she has pain, because her hour has come; but when she gives birth to the child, she no longer remembers the anguish because of the joy that a child has been born into the world. Therefore you too have grief now; but I will see you again, and your heart will rejoice, and no one is going to take your joy away from you.”
Yeshua would die, but he would not stay in the grave. As crazy as it sounded, His death would lead to joy.
On His way to His own crucifixion, Yeshua stopped and spoke to the wailing women:
As the soldiers led Him away, they seized Simon of Cyrene on his way in from the country, and put the cross on him to carry behind Jesus.
A great number of people followed Him, including women who kept mourning and wailing for Him. But Jesus turned to them and said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for Me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. Look, the days are coming when people will say, ‘Blessed are the barren women, the wombs that never bore, and breasts that never nursed!’ At that time ‘they will say to the mountains, “Fall on us!” and to the hills, “Cover us!” ’ For if men do these things while the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?”
Howling in grief was not necessary for Him, but Yeshua knew the days to come and they would be worth wailing over. In a few short years, the Jews would face incredible grief and loss when Rome utterly destroyed Jerusalem and put the people to the sword.
But there was another instance when Yeshua asked a woman to stop weeping:
But Mary was standing outside the tomb, weeping; so as she wept, she stooped to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white sitting, one at the head and one at the feet, where the body of Jesus had been lying. And they said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?”
She said to them, “Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they put Him.” When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, and yet she did not know that it was Jesus.
Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?”
Thinking that He was the gardener, she said to Him, “Sir, if you have carried Him away, tell me where you put Him, and I will take Him away.”
Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to Him in Hebrew, “Rabboni!” (which means, Teacher).
Jesus said to her, “Stop clinging to Me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to My brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to My Father and your Father, and My God and your God.’”
Mary Magdalene came and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord,” and that He had said these things to her.
It was understandable that Mary wept in agony. She felt exiled from her Rabbi, her Lord. Would she ever see Him again? But her exile was not to be for long. He was with her in the Garden… and He would wait for her in the promised Garden of God when her days on earth were complete.
This was the promise at the end of the story… there would be a place where no tear would fall:
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea. And I saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among the people, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.”
And He who sits on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” And He *said, “Write, for these words are faithful and true.” Then He said to me, “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give water to the one who thirsts from the spring of the water of life, without cost. The one who overcomes will inherit these things, and I will be his God and he will be My son.
This New Kingdom was what Yeshua was all about… a place of joy, not mourning, or pain, or crying.
The New Heaven and the New Earth first showed up in the prophetic writings of Isaiah. Those who followed YHWH would find His Kingdom, and there they would live free from howling grief:
Therefore, this is what the Lord YHWH says:
“Behold, My servants will eat, but you will be hungry. Behold, My servants will drink, but you will be thirsty. Behold, My servants will rejoice, but you will be put to shame.
Behold, My servants will shout joyfully with a glad heart, but you will cry out from a painful heart, and you will wail [t-yelilu] from a broken spirit.
You will leave your name as a curse to My chosen ones, and the Lord YHWH will put you to death. But My servants will be called by another name.
Because the one who is blessed on the earth will be blessed by the God of truth; and the one who swears an oath on the earth will swear by the God of truth; because the former troubles are forgotten, and because they are hidden from My sight!
For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth; and the former things will not be remembered or come to mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in what I create; for behold, I create Jerusalem for rejoicing and her people for gladness.”
We on earth are no strangers to great grief and sadness; we feel exiled from YHWH, but we need not cry, wail, or weep because we have the Spirit of God within us and our exile is over. YHWH is right here with us. Do not wail or weep, but shout with gladness, because we are never alone!
Next week: Revisiting HOSANNA