Jerusalem – the Most Improbable City on the World Map
An ancient, world-famous city with no source of natural wealth or strategic value – no harbor, no navigable waterway, no major trade routes, militarily isolated with valleys on all four sides, not even a natural water source within its walls – Jerusalem, an improbable city in the desert.[i] How could Jerusalem play a role in weighing the possibility that Jesus is the Son of God?
Happenings of great religious significance began at the place about 1000 years before the future city would ever come to be called Jerusalem. Its entire existence is based almost solely on its religious heritage. A 2000-year history leading up to the era of Jesus of Nazareth produced a legacy of kings, births, deaths, prophecies, angels, sacrifices, blessings, war, exile and restoration. Were these various happenings somehow leading to a particular point in time?
It began when one day God instructed Abram to move to an unnamed location. By faith, he and his family resettled in a strange land near Salem.[ii] During these years, God blessed Abram, changed his name to Abraham and promised that he would become the father of a great nation.[iii] His miraculous son, Isaac, would be born as the first step in fulfilling God’s promise.
Isaac would pass on his father Abraham’s blessing to his own son, Jacob, in-spite-of his deception to steal the birthright blessing from his older paternal twin brother Esau. Fleeing for his life from Esau, it would not be until 20 years later when Jacob decided to return home near Salem. The night before returning from exile to the land of Abraham, God changed Jacob’s name to Israel.[iv]
Many years later, Israel along with his 11 sons and their families moved to Egypt under the protection of his long lost son, Joseph, who had become the second most powerful man next to Pharaoh. Over the next 400 years the 12 tribes of the Children of Israel became slaves of Egypt.
Meanwhile, during the absence of the clan of Israel, the Jebusites occupied Salem, the city now being known as Jebus.[v]
Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt through the parted Red Sea to Mount Sinai where he received the Law from God. Not just the Law, it also included prophecies in the form of promises of future blessings, protection from their enemies, and the place. Five big promises in the Law were tied to the place – a new homeland; establishment of a kingdom; a permanent dwelling place for His Name; a permanent place to observe the Feasts; and the judgment seat of Israel. God just didn’t yet say exactly where the place would be.[vi]
As a visual sign of His promise, God sent an angel in the form of a pillar of cloud by day and fire by night to lead them to the place that He had already chosen for their new homeland. It would be the first of the five big promises that came to be known as “The Promised Land.” Hinting at the specific location of the place, God twice called out the occupants of Salem – the Jebusites:[vii]
EX 23::20, 23 “See, I am sending an angel ahead of you to guard you along the way and to bring you to the place I have prepared.… “For My angel will go before you and bring you in to the land of the Amorites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Canaanites, the Hivites and the Jebusites…”(NASB)
EX 33:1-2 “Then the LORD spoke to Moses, “Depart, go up from here, you and the people whom you have brought up from the land of Egypt, to the land of which I swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, saying, ‘To your descendants I will give it.’” I will send an angel before you and I will drive out the Canaanite, the Amorite, the Hittite, the Perizzite, the Hivite and the Jebusite.” (NASB)
God predicted to Moses the Hebrews would one day want a king to rule them like the other nations. When that time came, God promised to guide Israel in choosing their king from among their own people. It would become the second of the five big promises tied to the place.[viii]As predicted, centuries later the people did exactly that – they wanted a king like the other nations – but the people chose their own first king, Saul, by casting lots.[ix]
As time would bear out, the people’s choice failed. Saul did not seek God’s guidance and it would cost him the lives of himself and his three sons on the battlefield. With Saul’s failed kingship and death, this time Israel accepted God’s choice anointing as their king, David, son of Jesse of Bethlehem.[x]
Promise of a kingdom for Israel had only been partially fulfilled. David was a king without a throne and he had an eye on Jebus that was still occupied by the Jebusites. Every attempt by the fledgling nation of Israel to defeat the Jebusites up to this point had been unsuccessful.[xi]
David, the giant slayer, had become famous as a skilled warrior while serving in King Saul’s army. He gathered the people of Israel from the surrounding areas to form a large army, went to war with Jebus and took the city. Salem – Jebus – now was called the City of David. Soon thereafter, the city encompassed the Mounts Moriah and Zion and become known as the City of Jerusalem, the throne of David.[xii]Jerusalem, a city with no logical reason for existence became the city of the kingdom of David.
An interwoven trail of blessings, testing of faith, much drama, prophecies made and fulfilled over the course of a millennia climaxed with the glory days of Jerusalem under King David. It would be short lived – the end of David’s reign marked the beginning of the nation’s deterioration that spiraled out of control to the point it would eventually all be lost when Jerusalem was exiled to Babylon.
A comeback for Jerusalem a millennium after David’s reign reached its height of glory under King Herod when Jesus of Nazareth, born of the royal lineage of David, appeared on the scene. Six prophecies by three prophets predicted that the Messiah would come from the House of David.[xiii] Lucky for a charlatan named Jesus or was it part of God’s plan for the Messiah?
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[i]“Jerusalem .” New World Encyclopedia. “Jerusalem Archaeological Sites: Biblical Water Systems.” Jewish Virtual Library. 2014.
[ii] Genesis 11-15. “Historical Timeline.” The Biblical Zionist. 2009. <http://www.biblicalzionist.com/timeline.htm> Uittenbogaard, Arie. “Salem meaning | Salem etymology.” <http://www.abarim-publications.com/Meaning/Salem.html#.U5SQqCjyTih> Josephus. Wars of the Jews. Book VI, Chapter X.
[iii] Genesis 17.
[iv] Genesis 32, 35.
[v]I Chronicles 11; Judges 1, 19; Joshua 15; Psalms 76
[vi] Exodus 23, 33; Deuteronomy 12, 17.
[vii]Ryrie Study Bible. Ed. Ryrie Charles C. “Laws relating to conquests” ref. Ex. 23:20-33.
[ix] I Samuel 10
[x] I Chronicles 11
[xi] I Chronicles 11
[xii] I Chronicles 17. Josephus, Antiquity of the Jews, Book VII, Chapter III.1-2.
[xiii] Isaiah 9 & 11. Jeremiah 23 & 33. Zechariah 3 & 6.