Jerusalem—The Famous City
NO OTHER city in Biblical history stands out so prominently as does Jerusalem. For more than a thousand years after David captured it, it was the center of religious life for God’s covenant people of Israel. Here was where the sacred ark of the covenant was brought by David, and here was where a magnificent temple was built by Solomon. To this city every Israelite male was required to come three times a year to attend festivals. This was where the kings of Judah resided and ruled their subjects. During the time when the twelve tribes of Israel were split into two kingdoms, most of the important events in the history of the southern kingdom, the Kingdom of Judah, took place near Jerusalem, the capital city.
The history of Jerusalem stretches so far back into antiquity that its age and its beginning are lost in time. More than 1,900 years before the coming of Jesus Christ it was a city known as Salem. Abraham got near it, and to its king, Melchizedek, who was a priest of Jehovah God, he gave gifts. (Gen. 14:17-20) Eventually it came to be occupied by Jebusites, who called it Jebus.
Although the city ceased to be called Jebus after David took it, the name “Jerusalem” was apparently not given to it by the Israelites. That name appears to have been attached to it before they entered the Promised Land. The Tell el-Amarna letters, which were sent by certain rulers in Canaan to the Egyptians about the time the Israelites invaded the land, contain that name for the city. They use the form “Urusalim.”
Jerusalem is located on a plateau, over thirty miles from the Mediterranean Sea and at an elevation of about 2,550 feet. Leading up to it from the coastal plain are valleys that cut across the Shephelah or foothills that lie between the Judean plateau and the coastal plain. For ages two of these valleys have been important routes of travel between Jerusalem and the coast. They also have been the sites of many battles because of armies either attacking the Judean highlands by means of them or because of armies sweeping down from those highlands to attack people on the lowlands.
The most important of these routes is the Valley of Aijalon. It is a broad plain that provides an easy ascent to the high country. Several roads lead up from the valley to the plateau of Gibeon, which is just a few miles north of Jerusalem. Down these roads and through the Valley of Aijalon has always been the easiest route for travel from Jerusalem to the city of Joppa on the edge of the Mediterranean Sea. The Valley of Aijalon was where Joshua, while fighting the Amorites, called to Jehovah to cause the sun to stand still. (Josh. 10:5, 12) In 66 (A.D.) when the Roman Governor Gaius Cestius Gallus withdrew from besieging Jerusalem, the Jews inflicted great losses on his army as it retreated down the roads that passed through the gorges leading to the Valley of Aijalon. Because of these gorges, the route to Jerusalem was a dangerous one for a military force. A few well-positioned men could close the route. The Valley of Sorek, the other important travel route, is a little south of the Valley of Aijalon and was likewise easily closed by Jerusalem’s defending army. When these natural gates from the west to the Judean hills were closed, Jerusalem was reasonably secure from the hostile armies that periodically swept across the coastal plains.
The road to the east of Jerusalem that connected it with Jericho passed through the desolate wasteland of Judea. The deep gorges of this area, the steep ascent of 3,300 feet from Jericho to Jerusalem in a matter of fifteen miles and the lack of water made that approach to the city a hazardous one for an attacking army.
Passing through Jerusalem from north to south was one of the main roads of travel. To the north of the city the road passed through Shechem, Samaria and finally connected with the main highway from Damascus that passed by the Sea of Galilee on its way to the well-traveled coastal highway. To the south of Jerusalem the central highway passed through Bethlehem, Hebron and the southerly town of Beer-sheba. It then struck out into the desert, crossed the Sinai Peninsula and entered Egypt. Another desert highway came into Beer-sheba from the Red Sea. Thus the central highway connected Jerusalem with Egypt and the Red Sea port of Ezion-geber on the south and the busy commercial route passing through Damascus to Mesopotamia on the north.
Natural defenses were on all but the northern face of Jerusalem, which made it a difficult city to take. This was the side that enemy armies usually attacked. Along the eastern side of the city is the Kidron Valley, which turns southeasterly and goes out into the Wilderness of Judea. On the western side and curving around on the southern side to join with the Kidron Valley is the Valley of Hinnom. These deep ravines gave the city a natural strength in addition to what it had from being in a mountainous region that was not easily reached by an army. The ravines are not as deep today as they once were because of the debris that has fallen from the city during the course of the centuries.
During its long history Jerusalem has been under siege many times and was destroyed more than once, but there is no record that its inhabitants ever suffered from lack of water. Cisterns in the towers, several reservoirs and the spring of Gihon in the Kidron Valley kept them supplied with water. Early in the city’s history a tunnel was cut through the rock to a spot where a forty-foot shaft dropped down to a basin into which the water of the spring flowed. By this means the inhabitants could safely get their water supply.
Owing to the fact that Jerusalem was the city that Jehovah God had chosen to be the seat of his typical theocracy and the place for his temple, it became an outstanding city in human history. But no longer does it have the favor of Jehovah God. Because its inhabitants rejected and killed his Son, Jehovah has abandoned it. (Matt. 23:37, 38) Although it is now famous for its antiquity and its unique history and though its inhabitants may individually choose to serve the true God, it no longer has the distinction of being the place that Jehovah has chosen to have his name reside.