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'And when He was come near, He beheld the city, and wept over it.' Luke 19:41
The Charm of Jerusalem
In every age, the memory of Jerusalem has stirred the deepest feelings. Jews, Christians, and Mohammedans turn to it with reverent affection. It almost seems as if in some sense each could call it his 'happy home,' the 'name ever dear' to him. For our holiest thoughts of the past, and our happiest hopes for the future, connect themselves with 'the city of our God.' We know from many passages of the Old Testament, but especially from the Book of Psalms, with what ardent longing the exiles from Palestine looked towards it; and during the long centuries of dispersion and cruel persecution, up to this day, the same aspirations have breathed in almost every service of the synagogue, and in none more earnestly than in that of the passover night, which to us is for ever associated with the death of our Savior. It is this one grand presence there of 'the Desire of all nations,' which has for ever cast a hallowed light round Jerusalem and the Temple, and given fulfillment to the prophecy--'Many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of Jehovah, to the house of the God of Jacob; and He will teach us of His ways, and we will walk in His paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of Jehovah from Jerusalem.' (Isa 2:3) His feet have trodden the busy streets of Jerusalem, and the shady recesses of the Mount of Olives; His figure has 'filled with glory' the Temple and its services; His person has given meaning to the land and the people; and the decease which He accomplished at Jerusalem has been for the life of all nations. These facts can never be past--they are eternally present; not only to our faith, but also to our hope; for He 'shall so come in like manner' as the 'men of Galilee' had on Mount Olivet 'seen Him go into heaven.'
But our memories of Jerusalem stretch far back beyond these scenes. In the distance of a remote antiquity we read of Melchisedek, the typical priest-king of Salem, who went out to meet Abraham, the ancestor of the Hebrew race, and blessed him. A little later, and this same Abraham was coming up from Hebron on his mournful journey, to offer up his only son. A few miles south of the city, the road by which he travelled climbs the top of a high promontory, that juts into the deep Kedron valley. From this spot, through the cleft of the mountains which the Kedron has made for its course, one object rose up straight before him. It was Moriah, the mount on which the sacrifice of Isaac was to be offered. Here Solomon afterwards built the Temple. For over Mount Moriah David had seen the hand of the destroying angel stayed, probably just above where afterwards from the large altar of burnt-offering the smoke of countless sacrifices rose day by day. On the opposite hill of Zion, separated only by a ravine from Moriah, stood the city and the palace of David, and close by the site of the Temple the tower of David. After that period an ever- shifting historical panorama passes before our view, unchanged only in this, that, amidst all the varying events, Jerusalem remains the one center of interest and attractions, till we come to that Presence which has made it, even in its desolateness, 'Hephzibah,' 'sought out,' 'a city not forsaken.' (Isa 62:4)
Origin of the Name
The Rabbis have a curious conceit about the origin of the name Jerusalem, which is commonly taken to mean, 'the foundation,' 'the abode,' or 'the inheritance of peace.' They make it a compound of Jireh and Shalem, and say that Abraham called it 'Jehovah- Jireh,' while Shem had named it Shalem, but that God combined the two into Jireh-Shalem, Jerushalaim, or Jerusalem. There was certainly something peculiar in the choice of Palestine to be the country of the chosen people, as well as of Jerusalem to be its capital. The political importance of the land must be judged from its situation rather than its size. Lying midway between the east and the west, and placed between the great military monarchies, first of Egypt and Assyria, and then of Rome and the East, it naturally became the battle-field of the nations and the highway of the world. As for Jerusalem, its situation was entirely unique. Pitched on a height of about 2,610 feet above the level of the sea, its climate was more healthy, equable, and temperate than that of any other part of the country. From the top of Mount Olivet an unrivalled view of the most interesting localities in the land might be obtained. To the east the eye would wander over the intervening plains to Jericho, mark the tortuous windings of Jordan, and the sullen grey of the Dead Sea, finally resting on Pisgah and the mountains of Moab and Ammon. To the south, you might see beyond 'the king's gardens,' as far as the grey tops of 'the hill country of Judea.' Westwards, the view would be arrested by the mountains of Bether, (Song 2:17) whilst the haze in the distant horizon marked the line of the Great Sea. To the north, such well-known localities met the eye as Mizpeh, Gibeon, Ajalon, Michmash, Ramah, and Anathoth. But, above all, just at your feet, the Holy City would lie in all her magnificence, like 'a bride adorned for her husband.'
The Situation of Jerusalem
'Beautiful for situation, the joy of the whole earth, is Mount Zion, on the sides of the north, the city of the Great King....Walk about Zion, and go round about her: tell the towers thereof. Mark ye well her fortifications, consider her palaces.' If this could be said of Jerusalem even in the humbler days of her native monarchy, (Psa 48:2,12,13) it was emphatically true at the time when Jesus 'beheld the city,' after Herod the Great had adorned it with his wonted splendor. As the pilgrim bands 'came up' from all parts of the country to the great feasts, they must have stood took captive when its beauty first burst upon their gaze. Not merely remembrances of the past, or the sacred associations connected with the present, but the grandeur of the scene before them must have kindled their admiration into enthusiasm. For Jerusalem was a city of palaces, and right royally enthroned as none other. Placed on an eminence higher than the immediate neighborhood, it was cut off and isolated by deep valleys on all sides but one, giving it the appearance of an immense natural fortress. All round it, on three sides, like a natural fosse, ran the deep ravines of the Valley of Hinnom and of the Black Valley, or Kedron, which merged to the south of the city, descending in such steep slope that where the two meet is 670 feet below the point whence each had started. Only on the north-west was the city, as it were, bound to the mainland. And as if to give it yet more the character of a series of fortress-islands, a deep natural cleft--the Tyropoeon--ran south and north right through the middle of the city, then turned sharply westwards, separating Mount Zion from Mount Acra. Similarly, Acra was divided from Mount Moriah, and the latter again by an artificial valley from Bezetha, or the New Town. Sheer up from these encircling ravines rose the city of marble and cedar-covered palaces. Up that middle cleft, down in the valley, and along the slopes of the hills, crept the busy town, with its streets, markets, and bazaars. But alone, and isolated in its grandeur, stood the Temple Mount. Terrace upon terrace its courts rose, till, high above the city, within the enclosure of marble cloisters, cedar- roofed and richly ornamented, the Temple itself stood out a mass of snowy marble and of gold, glittering in the sunlight against the half-encircling green background of Olivet. In all his wanderings the Jew had not seen a city like his own Jerusalem. Not Antioch in Asia, not even imperial Rome herself, excelled it in architectural splendor. Nor has there been, either in ancient or modern times, a sacred building equal to the Temple, whether for situation or magnificence; nor yet have there been festive throngs like those joyous hundreds of thousands who, with their hymns of praise, crowded towards the city on the eve of a Passover. No wonder that the song burst from the lips of those pilgrims: