Thursday, June 27, 2013

"Beautiful, beautiful Zion"

I purchased this photo of Jerusalem in that city in 1983
and have displayed it in our homes over the years.
From my "Bible" blog.... I’ve a Zondervan Pictorial Bible Dictionary (hereafter ZPBD) that my grandma Crawford gave to me when I was 14 (1971). I was appreciative but mostly uninterested, and the book became a keepsake after Grandma died just a few months later. Then, when I was 18, I began to take faith more seriously. I kept the book and still use it along with some of my other reference books. I took it down the other day to take a few personal notes about the subject of Jerusalem in the Bible---references I can continue to study over time.

The subject of Jerusalem is way longer and more involved than my few modest notes. A good Bible dictionary can give you the many references to the city in the two testaments. The biblical citations alone are numerous, and also one can take into account the extra-biblical historical materials about the ancient city, along with its importance for Judaism, Christianity, and Islam---not to mention the long history of the city into our contemporary time. Not only was it the capital of David’s kingdom but was also the site of Christ’s crucifixion, resurrection, ascension, and the Pentecost gift of the Holy Spirit; later, it was central in Muslim faith and the destination of the Prophet Muhammad’s Night Journey.

For now, I mostly wanted to write down a few biblical references about its founding and also its symbolic significance. It is a pre-Hebrew place, called U-Ru-Sa-lim in ancient times (later in Hebrew Yerushalayim), that is, “city of peace.” The earliest biblical reference to the place is  the story of Melchizedek, the king of Salem (Gen. 14:18). That connection of “peace” (salim, in Hebrew shalom) is found in Haggai 2:9, Psalm 122:6, Isaiah 66:12, and other scriptures (ZPBD, p. 417).

The city’s name Yerushalayim appears for the first time in Joshua 10:5, and then later in the book (15:8, 18:28), where the text tells of Joshua’s failure to drive out the Jebusites, although the Israelites may have inhabited part of that area (Judges 1:21).

It is worth consulting a Bible dictionary about the parallel history of another city, Shechem, which eclipses Jerusalem in importance to the Israelites prior to the time of David. It is the city deeply associated with Abraham (Gen. 12:6-7, Jacob (Gen. 33:18-19, Gen. 34), Joseph (Gen. 37:12-14, Joshua 24:32), and Joshua (17:7, 24:1), and Shechem continued in importance for the northern kingdom (1 Kings 12:1, 12:25, 2 Chron. 10:1, Jer. 44:5ff, Psalm 60:6, 108:7). Shechem falls from the biblical record, although the Samaritan woman of John 4 met Jesus in that area (ZPBD, 780-781).

The city of Shiloh is another important early city, the place where the Israelites under Joshua set up the Tabernacle, thus making Shiloh the center of the Israelite theocracy until the Philistines took the Ark of the Covenant 400 years later (1 Samuel 4:3). Psalm 78:60 says that the Lord forsook the tabernacle at Shiloh. It was one of the worship centers during the time of the northern kingdom, but Jeremiah refers to it as a desolate place by his time (Jer. 7:12, 14) (ZPBD, 785-786).(1)

As for Jerusalem, David captured the city from the Jebusites during his reign (2 Sam. 5:6-10, about 998 BC). That is the first reference to the word Zion (ziyon), of uncertain meaning but perhaps citadel. David brought the Ark to Jerusalem, thus sanctifying Zion Hill (2 Sam. 6:10-12). Solomon built the Temple in Jerusalem on the proximate Mount Moriah, which meant that the name Zion was applied not only to the particular hill named Zion but also the temple mount (Isa. 8:18, 18:7, 24:23, Joel 3:17, Micah 4:7), and eventually all of Jerusalem (2 Kings 19:21, Ps. 48, 69:35, 133:3, Isaiah 1:8, and others. The name Zion came to also apply to God’s people (Ps. 126:1, 129:5, Isa. 33:14, 34:8, 49:14, 52:8), and in the New Testament, for heaven (Heb. 12:22) (ZPBD, 914).

But the glory of Jerusalem itself is also found in the references to the place as God’s city (Isa. 45:13, 60:14, Ps. 46:4, 48:1, 87:3), the mountain of the Lord (Isa. 2:3, 11:9, 56:7, 66:20), and many other lofty and praising references. It is called Hephzibah, “my delight is in her” in Isa 62:4) (ZPBD, 418). The image of the New Jerusalem is also a powerful image in the concluding chapters of the Book of Revelation.

A very different biblical theme is the prophetic image of Jerusalem as God’s unfaithful wife! On this theme I recommend an excellent book by a former classmate, Dr. Julie Galambush: Jerusalem in the Book of Ezekiel: The City as Yahweh's Wife (Society of Biblical Literature, 1992).

I’m a member of a local Jewish-Christian dialogue group on Middle Eastern issues, and I enjoy learning from my colleagues about challenges faced by Israelis and Palestinians, including the complicated social, citizenship, and political issues of East Jerusalem (pre- and post-1967) within the overall municipal area. Discussion-friendship groups like this are one important way for us all to “pray for the peace of Jerusalem.”

I was glad when they said to me,

   "Let us go to the house of the Lord!" 

Our feet are standing

   within your gates, O Jerusalem. 

Jerusalem—built as a city

   that is bound firmly together. 

To it the tribes go up,

   the tribes of the Lord,
as was decreed for Israel,

   to give thanks to the name of the Lord. 

For there the thrones for judgment were set up,

   the thrones of the house of David. 

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem:

   "May they prosper who love you. 

Peace be within your walls,
  and security within your towers." 

For the sake of my relatives and friends

   I will say, "Peace be within you." 

For the sake of the house of the Lord our God,

   I will seek your good (Ps. 122)

As I’ve taken these notes, a song has been stuck in my head. I learned this old hymn in Sunday school as a child (words by Isaac Watts, refrain and music by Robert Lowry). The city thus became nostalgically lodged in my childhood faith, years before I ever went there.

Come, we that love the Lord,

And let our joys be known;

Join in a song with sweet accord,

Join in a song with sweet accord

And thus surround the throne,

And thus surround the throne.

We’re marching to Zion,

Beautiful, beautiful Zion;

We’re marching upward to Zion,

The beautiful city of God.

Finally, I wanted to recommend a lovely 2-CD set of music called "Jerusalem: City of Two Peaces," which I discuss here:


1. The fact that Jerusalem became more significant than Shechem and Shiloh---and only in the eras of David and Solomon---reminds me of my "Changing Bibles" post for May 18, 2012, where I discussed the ambivalence in the biblical sources about an Israelite king. Some passages (that I discovered and discussed there) affirm that Yahweh is Israel's true king and thus was not according to God's original plan---as, one might argue, these other two cities were God's original places of importance and worship. But God incorporated the monarchy---and specifically King David---as a "type of God's kingdom." And so the career of David---and now, we can add, the Jebusite city that he conquered for the Israelites---became significant for Israel's messianic hope. It is interesting to reflect theologically about the way God seems to adapt and be reflexible in these aspects of Israel's experience.

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