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Notebook: Great Cities of the Old Testament - Jerusalem

J Grant

Of all the cities in the Old Testament, none is more significant than Jerusalem. It has a great past and will have a glorious future, even although today it is the subject of dispute, warfare, claims and counter claims.

Its position

From the geographic point of view Jerusalem does not appear to be positioned in an area that would make it a great capital. Unlike Ur, Nineveh, and Babylon it did not bestride any trade routes. Indeed it sits at a height of approximately 2,500 feet with wilderness around it. Its height did give it an advantage when attacked as it was surrounded by natural defences on all sides apart from the north.

Early history

The first mention of the city in the Scriptures is when Abraham was returning from the rescue of Lot (Gen 14.18). Melchizedek, King of Salem, brought bread and wine to the returning victor. The later mention of Jerusalem, as "Salem" (Ps 76.2) confirms that this indeed was the place later known as Jerusalem.

At that time, and for many years to follow, even after the conquest of Canaan, up to the reign of David, Jerusalem was not the capital of Israel. Joshua faced Adoni-zedek, king of Jerusalem (Josh 10.1) and defeated him and his allies in battle, but did not take full possession of the city. When Canaan was being divided among the tribes it is stated that the Jebusites were there (Josh 15.8) and the men of Judah "could not drive them out" (Josh 15.63), even although they smote the city, put it to the sword, and destroyed it by fire (Judg 1.8). In that era it was called Jebus (Judg 19.10).

It is clear, however, that Israelites lived in the area of Jerusalem, for David left the head of Goliath there as he passed on his way back to Bethlehem after his great triumph in the valley of Elah (1 Sam 17.54). The Jebusites, however, still possessed the fortress, Jebus.

The capture of this fortress took place when David was king in Hebron (2 Sam 5.4-10). So impregnable did the Jebusites consider their fortress to be that they stated that, even if only the blind and the lame were left there, the fortress could be defended. As a reward for his prominent part in the victory Joab became captain over David’s armies (1 Chr 11.4-6). This brought about the removal of one of the last Gentile controlled areas in Canaan. It is generally accepted that the population of Jerusalem at that time was around 2,000-3,000.

The reign of the kings

With David there commenced the era when Jerusalem was the capital of the land of Israel. When Solomon came to the throne he built the Temple that his father had wished to build. This David had not been allowed to do and the task fell to Solomon.

The kingdom was now at the height of its power. Above the Temple there rose the Shekinah, the glory that testified to the presence of the Lord. There the people came to worship. Surrounding nations acknowledged Solomon’s power, and wondered at his wisdom and his wealth. Up until the death of Solomon it was capital of all twelve tribes, but from the reign of his son Rehoboam it was capital of the two tribes who constituted the kingdom of Judah.

During the reign of Hezekiah, the Assyrian king Sennacherib attempted to take Jerusalem, but was unsuccessful. The capture and destruction of the city took place in 586 BC when the armies of Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, an empire then at the zenith of its power, took the city and destroyed the Temple. The kingdom of Judah then ceased to exist and the people were carried away captive. The last three kings of Judah, Jehoahaz, Jehoiakim and Jehoiachin, had been nothing more than vassals, first of the king of Egypt and then of Nebuchadnezzar. The cause of this tragedy was the sinfulness of the nation as they had turned away from the Lord.

The return from the Captivity

During the seventy years that followed, the Medes and the Persians succeeded Babylon as the dominant power. Cyrus, king of Persia instructed the Jews to go back to Jerusalem and rebuild the Temple (Ezra 1.2). There were three phases of this return, the first led by Zerubbabel (Ezra 2.2), the second under Ezra (Ezra 7.1), and the third under Nehemiah (Neh 2.1-8). The Temple was rebuilt, and although not having the magnificence of Solomon’s Temple it was a glorious moment for Israel when the Temple worship re-commenced.

Nothing is stated in Scripture as to what took place in Jerusalem after the completion of the Temple in the days of Nehemiah. Secular history records the events, but the New Testament opens with the birth of the Lord when the king was Herod the Great who ruled owing allegiance to Rome. Over a period of 46 years a great Temple was built, that which the Lord Jesus entered and from which He threw out the money changers.

The future

Jerusalem not only has a great past, but it also has a great future. Through its gates will enter, in triumphant return, the Lord Jesus, the true King of Israel, to set up His Kingdom which will bow to His sceptre for 1,000 years. This will be the capital city of the world during His glorious millennial reign.


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