Psalm 87. Where, O Where Is Mt. Zion?

Today’s Lectio Divina: Excerpts from Psalm 87. (MsgB)

A Korah Psalm.

He founded Zion on the Holy Mountain— and oh, how God loves His home!
Loves it far better than all the homes of Jacob put together!
God’s hometown—oh! Everyone there is talking about you!

The word’s getting out on Zion: “Men and women, right and left, get born again in her!”

God registers their names in His book: “This one, this one, and this one—born again, right here.”

Singers and dancers give credit to Zion: “All my springs are in you!”

Until my trip to Israel in 2013, I had assumed that Mt. Zion was kinda like the Rock of Gibraltar.

A place on the planet that never moved.

A highly recognized piece of land in Jerusalem that just never changed.

A point of reference on the Israeli map that Jews, Muslims and Christians from all over the world call a Holy Place.

Who would have guessed that when I stepped off the plane in Tel Aviv that my unchangeable, unmovable picture of Mt. Zion would become so shaken?

Who would believe that my journey to the Holy Land would make a beautiful song like Psalm 87 now become a search for which Mt. Zion the Sons of Korah were referring to when they wrote their catchy little tune?

Believe it or not, there have been at least three different Mt. Zions in Israel’s history and each have their unique place in God’s story.

Jerusalem, as you know, is an ancient city, predating the time of David. In the 5th chapter of 2nd Samuel, verses 6-7, we find this historical fact.

The king and his men marched to Jerusalem to attack the Jebusites, who lived there. The Jebusites said to David, “You will not get in here; even the blind and the lame can ward you off.” They thought, “David cannot get in here.” Nevertheless, David captured the fortress of Zion—which is the City of David.

So, fasten your seat belts, kids, here we go on our search for the real Mt. Zion.

As you know, Jerusalem is located high in the mountains of Israel. A city built on a series of high hills, with the highest (and best known) being the Temple Mount. Historians believe that this small flat piece of land, located 2,428 feet above sea level, was the location of the two great Jewish temples; the first being built by Solomon after David’s death (in 957 BC), and the second by Cyrus the Great (in 538 BC). It was this second temple, also known as Herod’s Temple, which stood on Mt. Zion during the days of Jesus of Nazareth. The Muslim Gold Dome of the Rock now stands on this holy site. For clarity sake, let’s call this holy place located high above the surrounding hills of Jerusalem as Zion I.

Now, here comes the rub. If you ask any policeman in Jerusalem today where Mt. Zion is (or look on a map), he will not point to the Temple Mount, but will direct you to a broad hill located outside the present walls of the Old City, just south and west of the Temple Mount (Zion I).

Why, you ask?

Here’s the scoop.

South of the Temple Mount, there are two lower hills that extend south from the Old City, divided by the Tyropoeon Valley. The western hill of these two lesser hills is a large mounded area, actually broader in size than the Temple Mount itself. This hill to the south and west of Zion I looked very impressive to first pilgrims returning to the Holy Land in the Middle Ages. Keep in mind that all of Jerusalem had been obliterated by the Romans in 70 AD, leaving pilgrims uncertain where the original City of David and Mt. Zion was. History tells us that when Byzantine pilgrims first came to the region, they looked around the present land we call Jerusalem and believed that this broader western hill just south of Zion I must have been the original City of David. So over time, this area, outside the present walls of the Old City, became known as Zion. Today, traditional Christian, Jewish, and Muslim faiths all see this southwestern hill of Jerusalem as Mt. Zion. Thus we now have two Zions! Zion I (the Temple Mount) and Zion II (the traditional site of David’s tomb).

Finally, let’s fast forward to about 100 or 150 years ago. Scholars, up until that time, had little reason to question the traditional site of David’s tomb on Mt. Zion (Zion II). But recent archaeological evidence and further study of documents dating back to the earliest times, now show that a third smaller hill located south of the Temple Mount (Zion I) and east of the traditional western hill (Zion II) was indeed, the original site of David’s City.

In 1838, the American explorer Edward Robinson crawled through a fantastic tunnel under this southeastern hill that carried water from the Gihon Spring on the eastern side of the eastern hill to the other side of this hill. What was this tunnel doing under the eastern hill? In 1880, an ancient Hebrew inscription found carved into the wall of this tunnel helped the German architect Conrad Schick to identify the tunnel as the one that Judah’s King Hezekiah constructed to bring water into Jerusalem, in the late eighth century B.C., in anticipation of an Assyrian siege, as described in the Bible (2 Kings 18:13-19:37; 2 Chronicles 32).

But the mystery deepens: What was all this doing under the smaller and less significant hill located south of the Temple Mount (Zion I) and east of the traditional site (Zion II)? A subsequent century of excavation has now conclusively established that the Jebusite city that David captured in about 1000 B.C. and then became known as the City of David (2 Samuel 5:7), was on this eastern hill, not on the western hill. The reason why is clear: The abundant waters of the Gihon Spring flow at the base of this eastern hill!

And, in truth, these are the same waters mentioned by the Sons of Korah here in Psalm 87!

Whew. What a journey. Three thousand years. Eighty-Seven Psalms, Three Mt. Zions. But only One True God who now dwells, not in a temple in Jerusalem, but in the hearts of all who call upon His Holy Name!

So as I see it, here’s the biblical mystery. As Netenal Nickalls, a friend of ours in Jerusalem, told us on our recent journey to the Holy City; in truth, recent archeological finds indicate that as followers of Yahweh, we actually go up to Jerusalem, (because of the ascent into the high mountains) but, because of King David’s placement of his original ‘Tent of Meeting’ on the lower eastern hill, we go down to Zion where the living streams of water are available to us! What a revelation. We ascend to the high God of Heaven, but fall on our knees, in humility, when we’re finally found in Zion, the City of God’s presence!

My prayer: Thank You, Lord, that as time goes by, more and more revelation comes to us concerning the deep truths found in Your ancient, Holy Word. Now that Mt. Zion exists not in a temple in Israel, but in the hearts of Your gathered saints across the globe, I rejoice that I can today go ‘up’ to God’s City, but go ‘down’ to find Your Holy Presence. For Your name’s sake. Amen.

My questions to ponder: So how can I take this amazing truth about ascending the heights of His mountains in my journey with Jesus, but then descending into God’s valleys in order to drink from His streams of living water? How might I go ‘down’ into Mt. Zion today, humbling myself in His Holy Presence so that He might exalt me for His glory alone?

So what is God speaking to you today as you ponder the Psalms?

Over a 50-week period, you and I will take a deeper look at The Psalms: God’s Songbook of Prayers. In order to keep all the blog sessions organized, we suggest you bookmark our Contemplating the Psalms home page for ease of use. Keep in mind that one of the best ways to explore the on-going applications of this blog series is to walk alongside a biblically-based, Christ-centered spiritual director who is familiar with how to make material like this part of your overall spiritual formation in God. Many of our directors in our Contemplative Activist network are available to companion you in your journey with Jesus. Click here for more info.

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