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The History of Jerusalem (part 1)


Jerusalem is regarded as a sacred city by the three monotheistic faiths of the world, Judaism, Christianity and Islam. However, as the capital of the State of Israel since +/- 1000 BC, and the place where God chose to have his temple built, it became the spill around which the Jewish people's lives revolved. All Jewish males were required to travel to Jerusalem three times a year to attend the main feasts of Israel (Ex 23:14-17). The king's throne was established there and the people relied on their king to solve their problems and judge disputes (2 Sam 15:3-6; 1Ki 3:24-28). Thus their spiritual, social, judicial and political lives revolved around Jerusalem.

In the first 5 books of the Bible, the law of God was given to the Israelites through Moses. In Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings and Chronicles, Israel's history in the Promised Land is interpreted according to the law. F.F. Bruce (in Douglas, p.138) states that God's revelation in the Old Testament was given in two inseparable ways, i.e. "by mighty works and prophetic words." They are inseparable, because God's works had to be interpreted to the people by the prophets through His words. On the other hand, the prophets' words would not have carried much weight had they not been vindicated by God's works. Thus the history of Jerusalem is intermingled with prophecy and cannot be separated.


The first references to Jerusalem

In Gen 14:18 Melchizedek, king of Salem, met Abraham and blessed him. As the 'tent' of God was in 'Salem' (Ps 76:2), this is interpreted as an early name for Jerusalem. "Salem' (Gk) means 'safe, at peace'. However, historically, Jerusalem has rarely enjoyed peace.

When the Israelites entered Canaan after 400 years of slavery in Egypt, they started taking possession of the land promised to them by God through their forefathers (Josh 1:6). In fact, God made an "everlasting covenant" with Abraham in which He promised to give "the whole land of Canaan" to Abraham and to his descendants as an "everlasting possession" (Gen 17:7-8). After Joshua had conquered a few cities, the king of Jerusalem and 4 other Amorite kings attacked him at Gibeon. He roundly defeated them and had all five kings killed (Josh 10:1-25). Later, when the land of Canaan was divided among the tribes of Israel, Benjamin was given "the Jebusite city (that is, Jerusalem)" (Josh 18:28).

After the death of Joshua large areas of land were still to be taken over (Josh 13:1). Every tribe had to go out and conquer their own territory. Judah helped Benjamin and Jerusalem was taken. "They put the city to the sword and set it on fire" (Jdg 1:8). "The Benjamites, however, failed to dislodge the Jebusites, who were living in Jerusalem" (Jdg 1:21), and so they lived there together. These two verses can only be explained in the light of 2 Sam 5:6-7 where king David's conquest of Jerusalem is described: The Jebusites taunted him that he would not be able to "get in" there, but he captured the "fortress", conquered the Jebusites and "took up residence in the fortress and called it the City of David". So it is evident that Judah and Benjamin had failed to conquer the fortress of Jerusalem (or mount Zion) where the Jebusites were living.

Jerusalem in the time of David, king of Israel

David immediately set about building up the city around the fortress "from the supporting terraces to the surrounding wall," (1 Chron 11:8) and restored the rest of the city. Then Hiram, king of Tyre, sent cedar logs, carpenters and stonemasons, and built a palace for David. David also pitched a tent for the ark of the covenant of the Lord, and brought it up to the City of David. (1 Chron 15) (This 'ark' was a wooden box overlaid with gold containing the two stone tablets on which God had written the ten commandments - Deut 10:3-5. Over the ark was the "atonement cover" - Ex 26:34, where God met with Moses - Ex 25:22.)

When David was settled in his palace, he wanted to build a temple for the ark of God. However, Nathan the prophet told him that he had fought many wars and shed much blood, and that therefore he was not to be the one to build the temple. (1 Chron 22:8)  Instead, his son and heir would build a house for God's Name (2 Sam 7:13) and God would establish David's throne "forever." (2 Sam 7:16)


Some time later God sent a plague on Israel in response to a sin committed by David. When the angel of the Lord was over the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite, about to destroy Jerusalem, David confessed his sin. God then told him to go up and build an altar on this threshing floor. David bought the site, built an altar and sacrificed offerings on it, and God withdrew the avenging angel.  (1 Chron 21:1-28)  "Then David said, The house of the Lord God is to be here, and also the altar of burnt offering for Israel" (1 Chron 22:1). So David started collecting gold, silver, iron, wood and stones for the building of the temple, which "should be of great magnificence and fame and splendor in the sight of all the nations." (1 Chron 22:5)

David also gathered the priests (descendants of Aaron) and Levites together, and allotted them tasks for the service of the temple. Then he instructed his son, Solomon, to build the temple and to be "careful to observe the decrees and laws that the Lord gave Moses for Israel," so that he would "have success." (1 Chron 22:12-13

Jerusalem in the time of Solomon, king of Israel

Solomon spent the first four years of his reign making preparations for the building of the temple. Hiram, king of Tyre, again provided cedar logs as well as skilled craftsmen for every aspect of the work. He built the temple according to the plan provided by David his father (1 Chron 28:11-19). Solomon prepared stones and wood beforehand so that no iron tools were heard at the temple site (1 Ki 6:7).

The ark of the Lord's covenant was brought into the inner sanctuary of the temple. When the priests withdrew, the cloud of "the glory of the Lord filled his temple" (1 Ki 8:11). ). During Solomon's prayer of consecration, he asked that God would always hear from heaven if His people prayed in or towards the temple; even if they had been taken captive by their enemies and prayed toward the land, the city and the temple (1 Ki 8: 22-53). After Solomon's dedication of the temple God told him:

"If you walk before me as David your father did, and do all I command.....I will establish your royal throne, as I covenanted with David.....But if you turn away and forsake the decrees and commands I have given you and go off to serve other gods.....then I will uproot Israel from my land, which I have given them, and I will reject this temple I have consecrated for my Name." (2 Chron 7:17-20)

Solomon spent 7 years building the temple and 13 years building the royal palace. He also built the wall of Jerusalem, but at this point no description of it is given.


1. Douglas, J. D. (ed) New Bible Dictionary, Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 1962.

2. Nave, O. J. Nave's Topical Bible, Hendrickson Publishers.

3. Thompson, F. C. The Thompson Chain-Reference Bible (N.I.V.), Michigan, U.S.A.: Zondervan Bible Publishers, 1983.

All Scripture quotations are from the New International Version, International Bible Society, 1973, 1978.


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Posted in: Bible by on May 1, 2010 @ 4:44 am

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