Longing For Zion

The Ageless Allure of Jerusalem

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17 May 2017
Longing For Zion

“How lovely is your dwelling place, Lord Almighty!
My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the Lord…”

(Psalm 48:1-2a -NIV)

This is a year of Jubilee celebrations for Jerusalem. In 2017, Israel marks fifty years since the city was reunited in the Six-Day War, as well as one hundred years since the liberation of Jerusalem by British General Sir Edmund Allenby. Yet this year also holds one more important Jubilee salute for Jerusalem: The discovery of the ruins of the ancient City of David by Sir Charles Warren in 1867, exactly 150 years ago.

Warren came to the Holy Land under a commission from the Palestine Exploration Fund, chartered by Queen Victoria, to study the suitability of the land for Jewish settlement. But his time here was most notable for his efforts to uncover the site of the Jewish temples.

Denied permission by the Turks to excavate on the Temple Mount, Warren began digging down several meters away from its retaining walls and then tried to burrow sideways to reach the Mount from below. During this tunneling activity, he inadvertently came upon a circular crevice in the bedrock leading hundreds of feet south and eventually reaching the Gihon Spring. Now known as Warren’s Shaft, it turned out the long tunnel was largely a natural formation. But his digs in the Gihon area soon revealed ancient fortifications and a vertical, man-made shaft leading down to the spring from above, prompting him to conclude that the original City of David lay south of the Temple Mount. David’s actual city had become so lost under centuries of rubble that “Zion” eventually shifted westward to present-day Mt. Zion. Yet Warren’s theory has since been proven correct, and his gritty efforts birthed the new field of biblical archaeology.

WITH THIS unlocking of Jerusalem’s biblical past 150 years ago, the city re-emerged onto the world stage. The discovery seemed to stoke the Jewish longing to return to Zion. In the years following, the first waves of the modern-day Aliyah began arriving from Russia. Israeli president Reuven Rivlin recently recalled how these early pioneers were drawn by their yearning for Jerusalem. They may have settled along the coastal plain in such new towns as Rishion LeZion and Petah Tikvah, but in their hearts they were returning to Jerusalem. Many had just started walking in the direction of Jerusalem, which they knew because their daily prayers had always pointed the way.

The ancient City of David continues to give up her secrets and to draw Jews back up to Zion. Excavations of the site accelerated following that incredible Jubilee release fifty years ago, when eastern Jerusalem returned to Jewish hands. Since then, archaeologists have located David’s Palace, his likely treasury vault, and the outer walls and towers protecting his fortress city. A number of bulla, or clay seals, have been found in the palace confines with the names in ancient Hebrew of King Hezekiah and several royal advisers to the Judean kings, all mentioned in Scripture. Other proofs have surfaced elsewhere in the land, such as the Tel Dan stele (inscribed stone) referencing the “House of David,” which confirm that David and Solomon ruled over a large kingdom. This has all validated that the Jews are not foreigners who have stolen this land from others, but are a native people who have returned to their ancestral homeland.

WHEN THE Temple envisioned by King David was completed by his son Solomon, Jerusalem became more than just an administrative capital. It was transformed into a majestic center of worship and pilgrimage for Jews and others who revered the Creator God. From Jerusalem, the Jews developed one of the greatest cultures of antiquity, which would have lasting, universal significance.

Inspired by David – their renowned warrior/poet – the Jews began writing songs to express their devotion and awe for Jerusalem, and especially for the courts of the Lord. These hymns not only extolled the Lord God, but also exalted Jerusalem as His resting place. There were even specific psalms to be sung while ascending up to the city and when entering the Temple courts. Jerusalem acquired such a lofty status that even visiting royalty were driven to their knees.

When the Jews were later taken captive, the Babylonians knew how to make the pain of exile really sting, demanding: “Sing us one of the songs of Zion.” (Psalm 137:3)

And when the Jews returned and built the Second Temple, Jerusalem took on even more allure and grandeur, only to later be sacked by the Romans. For centuries afterwards, the city languished and the Temple lay desolate. But the pull of Jerusalem was always there, as Jews continued to pray towards her and long for what they had lost. Even well into Christian times, Jerusalem was still viewed as the center of the world, as attested by the famous 15th century map by Heinrich Buenting.

TODAY, the incredible finds in the ancient City of David are rekindling the longing for Zion. They are awakening a sense of pride within the Jewish people and deepening their attachment to the land and the city. They realize their ancestral heritage is truly rooted in this land; that they are not intruders, but have come home to Zion. For instance, a brand new poll of Israeli Jews has found that 79% want to retain a unified Jerusalem under Israeli sovereignty, while 83% oppose transferring the Temple Mount to the Palestinians. In this year of Jubilee for Jerusalem, what will happen next to ignite an even greater longing for the courts of the Lord? Does the City of David hold more secret treasures which it will give up this year?

For Christians, the ongoing discoveries in the City of David also hold great worth. They show our Bible is true and strengthen our hope in the soon return of that remarkable Son of David, to take up his throne in Jerusalem. And as for exalting Jerusalem – the New Testament even presents the city as a bride coming down from heaven

So make sure to come join us in Jerusalem for this Jubilee celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles. There is much to see and experience in the City of God.


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