by Joseph Hunting

It is interesting to observe the 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 Jewish people of course the name Zion has deep significance. Zion was originally a Jebusite fortress which David transformed into the capital of his kingdom, and it has been immortalized in the Psalms:-

"Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised in the city of our God, in his holy mountain. Beautiful in elevation, the joy of the whole land, is Mount Zion ... the city of the great King" (Psalm 48:1,2).

"For the LORD has chosen Zion; he has desired it for his habitation: 'This is my resting place for ever; here I will dwell, for I have desired it'" (Psalm 132:13,14).

Israel has had an enduring love affair with Zion for three thousand years. Of that period they have spent over two thirds of the time wandering in other lands. But no matter how fair their capitals where they have gone, they have had eyes only for their beloved Zion.

In Babylon their captors demanded of them: "Sing us one of the songs of Zion!" But they replied: "How shall we sing the LORD's song in a foreign land? If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her skill! If I do not remember you, let my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth-if I do not exalt Jerusalem above my chief joy" (Psalm 137:3-7).

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

With the passing of time the names of Jerusalem and Zion became synonymous as revealed by the captives in Babylon. Jerusalem became the capital of Israel when David vanquished the Jebusites, and it was on Mt. Moriah that Solomon built the first Temple-surely no holier spot on earth than Zion.

When Herod the Great extended and beautified Zerubbabel's second Temple after the Babylonian captivity, he built a massive retaining wall along its western side. The visible portion of the wall exposed today belies its true length and depth. It is estimated that the wall is over four hundred metres long, 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 the Roman occupation of the land Judea was seething with unrest bordering on outright revolt against Rome, and in 67 AD the Roman general returned to Rome, was made emperor, and his eldest son Titus was given the task of finally quelling the Jewish revolt. He besieged Jerusalem, he cut off the city completely, and this caused terrible suffering and privation to the people.

The last sacrifice was offered in the Temple on 6th of August 70 AD, and days later the Roman legions burst through Jerusalem's defences and ruthlessly slaughtered the pitiful inhabitants. The Temple was destroyed on the anniversary of its first 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 until as the Messiah predicted: "Not one stone shall be left upon another that shall not be thrown down" (Luke 21:6).

Jerusalem was ploughed over and sown with salt to symbolize its total destruction. And in order to leave a lasting monument to the might of imperial Rome, Titus ordered that the massive retaining wall be left intact, its huge 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. Where is Aelia Capitolina now? It has disappeared except perhaps for an odd archway here or a couple of columns there. But this generation has witnessed the rebirth of Israel and the return of Jerusalem to be its capital.

In the light of all that has happened in recent years, especially in the building up and expansion and beautifying of Jerusalem, the words of the Scriptures have never been more meaningful: "You will arise and have mercy on Zion; for the time to favour her, yes, the set time has come. For your servants take pleasure in her stones, and show favour to the dust ... 

"For the LORD shall build up Zion; he shall appear in his glory ... This will be written for the generation to come (literally for the last generation), that a people yet to be created may praise the LORD" (Psalm 102:13,14,18).

The Lord has shown mercy to Zion in all its three aspects: Zion the land, Zion the city, Zion the people. The prophet Isaiah refers to Zion as the land of Israel: "For the LORD will comfort Zion, he will comfort all her waste places; he will make her wilderness like Eden, and her desert like the garden of the LORD; joy and gladness will be found in it, thanksgiving and the voice of melody" (51:3)

He also refers to Zion as God's people: "And I have put my words in your mouth; I have covered you with the shadow of my hand, that I may plant the heavens, lay the foundation of the earth, and say to Zion, 'You are my people'" (41:16).

We have seen Zion referred to as the "city of the great King", and once again we turn to Isaiah to hear the words: "See, I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands; your walls are continually before me" (49:16), and "The LORD loves the gates of Zion more than all the dwellings of Jacob. Glorious things are spoken of you, O city of God!" (Psalm 87:2,3).

After two thousand years of desolation and neglect (Zion the land), and two thousand years of persecution among the nations (Zion the people), the Lord has now restored the people to the land, and the city to the people! Little did Titus realize how enduring would be the monument he left standing! Those stones today are truly the fulfilment of "Your servants take melancholy pleasure in the stones of her ruins, and show pity for her dust" (Amp).