by Joseph Hunting

It is interesting to observe various reactions to the name, ZION. To the anti-Semite it is a dirty word and is associated with swastikas daubed on synagogue walls. In the United nations Zionism was equated with racism. True lovers of Zion among the Gentiles sing with gusto: “We’re marching upward to Zion, the beautiful city of God.”

To the Jews, of course, the name ZION has deep significance indeed. It was originally a Jebusite fortress which David transformed into the capital of his kingdom, and has been immortalized in the Psalms.

Israel has had an enduring love affair with Zion for three thousand years. Of that period over two thirds has been spent wandering in other lands. No matter how fair their capitals the wanderers had eyes only for their beloved Zion. In Babylon their captors demanded, "Sing us one of the songs of Zion". But they replied, "How shall we sing the Lord's song in a strange land? If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning. If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth; if I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy" (Psalm 137:3-6).

Originally, Mt. Zion was a prominence adjacent to Mt. Moriah and bounded by two valleys, Hinnom and Kidron, which joined to form a wadi just south of Mt. Zion. It was on this southernmost prominence bounded by the valleys Hinnom and Kidron that the Jebusites built their fortress city.

With the passing of time the names Jerusalem and Zion became synonymous, as revealed by the captives in Babylon. Jerusalem became the capital of Israel and it was on Mt. Moriah that Solomon built the first Temple. Surely there is no more holy spot on this planet.

When Herod the Great extended and beautified Zerubbabel’s second Temple he built a massive retaining wall along its western side. The visible portion of the wall exposed belies its true length and depth. It is estimated that the wall is over four hundred metres and a shaft reveals that much of the wall is still beneath the present surface. If Herod’s Temple was one of the architectural wonders of the ancient world, the grandeur of this massive wall was in keeping with it.

During 66 A.D. Judaea was seething with unrest bordering on outright revolt against Rome. In 67 A.D. the Roman general Vespasian crushed a revolt by the Jews. Vespasian returned to Rome and was made emperor in 69 A.D. His eldest son, Titus, was given the task of finally quelling the Jewish revolt in Palestine. He besieged Jerusalem; he cut off the city completely, and this caused terrible suffering and privation.

The last sacrifice was offered in the Temple on August 6th 70 A.D. Days later, the Roman legions burst through Jerusalem’s defences and ruthlessly slaughtered its pitiful inhabitants. The Temple was destroyed on the anniversary of its destruction by the Babylonians six centuries earlier.

Jerusalem ’s destruction was absolute and final as far as the Romans were concerned. The magnificent Temple was torn down stone by stone. Finally Jerusalem was plowed over and sown with salt to a depth of five inches to symbolize its total desolation.

In order to leave a lasting monument to the might of imperial Rome, Titus ordered that the massive retaining wall be left intact, its massive stones to bear mute testimony for generations to come. Finally a Roman city, Aelia Capitolina, was built where Jerusalem once stood and a Temple to Zeus totally desecrated the Holy Place.

It has been said that “man proposes and God disposes”. Aelia Capitolina has disappeared except for an archway here and a row of columns there. But this generation, perhaps the last, has witnessed the rebirth of Israel and the return to Jerusalem to be its capital.

I have pondered the words of David and their relevance for today for many years. In the light of all that has happened David’s promise has never been more meaningful than it is for today. "Thou shalt arise and have mercy upon Zion for the time to favour her, yes the set time is come. For thy servants take pleasure in her stones and favour the dust thereof." (Psalm 102:13-14)

Not only has the Lord shown mercy to Zion the Land (Isaiah 51:3) after nearly two thousand years of desolation and neglect, and to Zion’s people (Isaiah 51:16) after the centuries of persecution among the nations, but now He has restored the people to their Land and to their beloved Zion the City (Psalm 48:1,2; 87:2,3).

Little did Titus realize how enduring would be the monument he left standing. Those stones today, the very stones revered by every Jew, are truly the fulfilment of "Your servants take melancholy pleasure in the stones of her ruins, and show pity for her dust" (Amp.).