Jerusalem! The very name evokes a stirring in the heart and soul. It has been called by many names: City of God, City of David, Zion, the City of the Great King, Ariel (Lion of God), Moriah (chosen of the Lord). But only one name has resonated down through the centuries—Jerusalem! David’s Capital!
A world map drawn in 1581 has Jerusalem at its very center with what were the then-known continents of the world surrounding it. It resembles a ship’s propeller with the shaft in the center being Jerusalem. Another analogy is of Jerusalem as the navel of the earth. Why? According to Midrash Tanchuma, Qedoshim: “As the navel is set in the centre of the human body, so is the land of Israel the navel of the world...situated in the centre of the world, and Jerusalem in the centre of the land of Israel, and the sanctuary in the centre of Jerusalem, and the holy place in the centre of the sanctuary, and the ark in the centre of the holy place, and the foundation stone before the holy place, because from it the world was founded.”
Jerusalem’s history can be summed up in one word: troubled! Lying as it does between the rival empires of Egypt to the south and Syria to the north, both striving for dominance in the region, Israel was constantly trampled by opposing armies. It has been conquered at various times by the Canaanites, Jebusites, Babylonians, Assyrians, Persians, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Crusaders, Ottomans, and the British.
While its origins are shrouded in the hazy mists of antiquity, archaeological evidence of human habitation goes back some 4,000 years. Jerusalem is first mentioned in the Bible in Joshua 10:1. We read there that Adoni-Bezek was the king of Jerusalem and fought unsuccessfully against Joshua. The Israelites first occupied Jerusalem during the days of the Judges (see Judges 1:21), but did not completely inhabit and control the city until 1049 BC when David wrested it from the Jebusites and declared it the capital city of the Jewish people.
In Jerusalem, Sacred City of Mankind, Teddy Kollek (long-time Mayor of Jerusalem and one of my dear personal friends) and Moshe Pearlman wrote: “The spiritual attachment of the Jews to Jerusalem has remained unbroken; it is a unique attachment. Should one doubt that statement, he would have to look long and hard to find another relationship in history where a people, even in captivity, remained so passionately attached to a city for 3,000 years.”
When the Jews were driven from their land at various times, wherever they found themselves in exile, they faced toward Jerusalem when praying. After Darius signed a decree making it illegal to pray to anyone except him, Daniel 6:10 records: “Now when Daniel learned that the decree had been published, he went home to his upstairs room where the windows opened toward Jerusalem. Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before.”
Jewish synagogues faced toward Jerusalem. When a Jew built a house, part of a wall was left unfinished to symbolize that it was only a temporary dwelling—until he could return to his permanent home, Jerusalem. Even the traditional smashing of a glass during a wedding ceremony has its roots in the Temple in Jerusalem. This act of remembering the loss of the center of Jewish festivities during the marriage feast calls “Jerusalem my highest joy” (Psalm 137:6).
When compared with the great cities of the world, Jerusalem is small. It stands alongside no great river as do London, Paris, and Rome. It boasts no port, no major industries, no mineral wealth or even an adequate water supply. The city doesn’t stand on a major thoroughfare connected to the rest of the world. Why, then, is Jerusalem the navel of the earth, the shaft that propels the world ever forward?
The answer can be found in its spiritual significance. Jerusalem is the home of two of the world’s monotheistic faiths, Judaism and Christianity, and is claimed by a third, Islam. Biblical prophets proclaimed that from Jerusalem the Word of the Lord would go out to the world—a Word which would change the moral standards of all mankind.
The spiritual stature of Jerusalem is echoed in its physical location; it sits upon the Judean hills high above the surrounding countryside. Traveling to Jerusalem is always spoken of as “going up to Jerusalem.” Those who leave the City of God are said to “go down”— in perhaps more than just the physical sense.
For the Jewish people whose cry for centuries has been, “Next year in Jerusalem,” it is more than a spot on a map; it is not just a tourist mecca where one can visit various holy sites; Jerusalem is the Holy City. It is the essence of all for which the Jews have hoped and prayed and cried and died. It is their God-given land. “The LORD had said to David and to Solomon his son, ‘In this house and in Jerusalem, which I have chosen out of all tribes of Israel, I will put My name forever’” (2 Kings 21:7).
Jerusalem is the only city God claims as His own. It will forever be the center of the world.