A Jerusalem True to Its Name
“Be joyful forever in what I am creating. For here I am creating Jerusalem a cause for joyfulness.”—ISAIAH 65:18.
1. How did Ezra feel about God’s chosen city?
AS A keen student of God’s Word, the Jewish priest Ezra cherished the connection that Jerusalem once had with Jehovah’s pure worship. (Deuteronomy 12:5; Ezra 7:27) His love for God’s city is revealed in the portion of the Bible that he was inspired to write—First and Second Chronicles and Ezra. In these historical records, the name Jerusalem is found nearly a quarter of the over 800 times it appears in the entire Bible.
2. What prophetic meaning can we see in the significance of the name Jerusalem?
2 In Biblical Hebrew, “Jerusalem” can be understood as being in a form of the Hebrew language called the dual. The dual is most often used for objects that come in pairs, such as eyes, ears, hands, and feet. In this dual form, the name Jerusalem can be viewed as prophetic of a peace that God’s people would experience in a twofold sense—spiritually and physically. The Scriptures do not reveal whether Ezra fully understood this. As a priest, though, he did his best to help the Jews to enjoy peace with God. And he certainly worked hard so that Jerusalem would live up to the meaning of its name, that is, “Possession [or, Foundation] of Twofold Peace.”—Ezra 7:6.
3. How many years pass before we are again introduced to the activities of Ezra, and in what circumstances do we find him?
3 The Bible does not state where Ezra was during the 12 years that intervened between his visit to Jerusalem and Nehemiah’s arrival in the city. The poor spiritual condition of the nation during that time suggests that Ezra was absent. Yet, we find Ezra serving again as a faithful priest in Jerusalem just after the city’s wall had been rebuilt.
A Wonderful Assembly Day
4. What was significant about the first day of Israel’s seventh month?
4 The wall of Jerusalem was finished just in time for the important festival month of Tishri, the seventh month on Israel’s religious calendar. The first day of Tishri was a special new moon feast called Festival of Trumpet Blast. On that day, priests blew on trumpets while sacrifices were offered to Jehovah. (Numbers 10:10; 29:1) This day prepared the Israelites for the annual Day of Atonement on the 10th of Tishri and the joyful Festival of Ingathering from the 15th to the 21st of the same month.
5. (a) How did Ezra and Nehemiah make good use of “the first day of the seventh month”? (b) Why did the Israelites weep?
5 On “the first day of the seventh month,” “all the people” gathered, likely being encouraged to do so by Nehemiah and Ezra. Men, women, and “all intelligent enough to listen” were included. Thus, young children were present and were attentive while Ezra stood on a podium and read the Law “from daybreak till midday.” (Nehemiah 8:1-4) At regular intervals, the Levites helped the people to understand what was being read. This moved the Israelites to tears as they realized how far short they and their forefathers had fallen from obedience to God’s Law.—Nehemiah 8:5-9.
6, 7. What can Christians learn from what Nehemiah did to stop the Jews from weeping?
6 But this was not the time for mournful weeping. It was a festival, and the people had just completed the work of rebuilding Jerusalem’s wall. Nehemiah therefore helped them to get into the right frame of mind by saying: “Go, eat the fatty things and drink the sweet things, and send portions to the one for whom nothing has been prepared; for this day is holy to our Lord, and do not feel hurt, for the joy of Jehovah is your stronghold.” Obediently, “all the people went away to eat and drink and to send out portions and to carry on a great rejoicing, for they had understood the words that had been made known to them.”—Nehemiah 8:10-12.
7 God’s people today can learn much from this account. Those privileged to have parts at meetings and assemblies should keep the foregoing in mind. In addition to providing corrective counsel that is sometimes necessary, such occasions highlight the benefits and blessings that come from meeting God’s requirements. Commendation is given for fine works performed and encouragement to endure is provided. God’s people should go away from such gatherings with joy of heart because of the upbuilding instruction they have received from God’s Word.—Hebrews 10:24, 25.
Another Joyful Gathering
8, 9. What special meeting took place on the second day of the seventh month, resulting in what for God’s people?
8 On the second day of that special month, “the heads of the fathers of all the people, the priests and the Levites, gathered themselves together to Ezra the copyist, even to gain insight into the words of the law.” (Nehemiah 8:13) Ezra was well qualified to conduct this meeting, since he “had prepared his heart to consult the law of Jehovah and to do it and to teach in Israel regulation and justice.” (Ezra 7:10) No doubt, this meeting highlighted areas where God’s people needed to conform more closely to the Law covenant. Of immediate concern was the need to make proper preparations to celebrate the upcoming Festival of Booths.
9 This week-long festival was held in the correct way, with all the people dwelling in temporary shelters made from the branches and leaves of various trees. The people erected these booths on their flat roofs, in their courtyards, in the temple courtyards, and in the public squares of Jerusalem. (Nehemiah 8:15, 16) What a fine opportunity this was to congregate the people and read to them from God’s Law! (Compare Deuteronomy 31:10-13.) This was done each day, “from the first day until the last day” of the festival, resulting in “very great rejoicing” on the part of God’s people.—Nehemiah 8:17, 18.
We Should Not Neglect God’s House
10. Why was a special gathering arranged on the 24th day of the seventh month?
10 There is a proper time and place to correct serious deficiencies among God’s people. Apparently realizing that this was such a time, Ezra and Nehemiah arranged for a day of fasting on the 24th of the month of Tishri. Again God’s Law was read, and the people made confession of their sins. Then the Levites reviewed God’s merciful dealings with his wayward people, made beautiful expressions of praise to Jehovah, and contracted “a trustworthy arrangement” attested by the seal of their princes, Levites, and priests.—Nehemiah 9:1-38.
11. To what “trustworthy arrangement” did the Jews bind themselves?
11 The people in general took an oath to carry out the written “trustworthy arrangement.” They would “walk in the law of the true God.” And they agreed not to enter into marriage alliances with “the peoples of the land.” (Nehemiah 10:28-30) Moreover, the Jews bound themselves to observe the Sabbath, to make an annual financial contribution in support of true worship, to supply wood for the altar of sacrifice, to give the firstborn of their flocks and herds for sacrifices, and to bring the firstfruits of their land to the dining halls of the temple. Clearly, they were determined ‘not to neglect the house of their God.’—Nehemiah 10:32-39.
12. What is involved in not neglecting God’s house today?
12 Today, Jehovah’s people must be careful not to neglect their privilege of ‘rendering sacred service’ in the courtyards of Jehovah’s great spiritual temple. (Revelation 7:15) This involves regular heartfelt prayers for the advancement of Jehovah’s worship. Living in harmony with such prayers requires preparation for Christian meetings and participation in them, sharing in arrangements to preach the good news, and helping interested ones by returning and, if possible, conducting Bible studies with them. Many who do not want to neglect God’s house make financial contributions toward the preaching work and the maintenance of places of true worship. We may also be able to give our support to the building of urgently needed meeting places as well as to keep them clean and tidy. An important way to show love for God’s spiritual house is to work for the peace of fellow believers and to assist any who are in need of material or spiritual help.—Matthew 24:14; 28:19, 20; Hebrews 13:15, 16.
A Joyful Inauguration
13. What urgent matter required attention before Jerusalem’s wall could be inaugurated, and what fine example did many set?
13 The “trustworthy arrangement” sealed in Nehemiah’s day prepared God’s ancient people for the day of the inauguration of Jerusalem’s wall. But another urgent matter still needed attention. Now enclosed by a large wall with 12 gates, Jerusalem needed a larger population. Though some Israelites lived there, “the city was wide and great, and there were few people inside it.” (Nehemiah 7:4) To solve this problem, the people “cast lots to bring in one out of every ten to dwell in Jerusalem the holy city.” The willing response to this arrangement moved the people to bless “all the men who volunteered to dwell in Jerusalem.” (Nehemiah 11:1, 2) What a fine example for true worshipers today whose circumstances allow them to move to where there is a greater need for mature Christian help!
14. What happened on the day of the inauguration of Jerusalem’s wall?
14 Important preparations soon began for the great day of the inauguration of Jerusalem’s wall. Musicians and singers were gathered from the surrounding cities of Judah. These were formed into two large thanksgiving choirs, each to be followed by a procession. (Nehemiah 12:27-31, 36, 38) The choirs and processions started from a point on the wall farthest from the temple, probably from the Valley Gate, and marched in opposite directions until they met at God’s house. “They proceeded to sacrifice on that day great sacrifices and to rejoice, for the true God himself caused them to rejoice with great joy. And also the women and the children themselves rejoiced, so that the rejoicing of Jerusalem could be heard far away.”—Nehemiah 12:43.
15. Why was the dedication of Jerusalem’s wall not a cause for permanent joy?
15 The Bible does not give the date of this joyful celebration. Undoubtedly, it was a highlight, if not the climax, of Jerusalem’s restoration. Of course, much building work needed to be done inside the city. In time, Jerusalem’s citizens lost their fine spiritual standing. For example, when Nehemiah visited the city for a second time, he found that God’s house was again being neglected and that the Israelites were again marrying pagan women. (Nehemiah 13:6-11, 15, 23) These same bad conditions are confirmed in the writings of the prophet Malachi. (Malachi 1:6-8; 2:11; 3:8) So the dedication of Jerusalem’s wall was not a cause for permanent joy.
A Cause for Everlasting Joy
16. What climactic events are God’s people looking forward to?
16 Today, Jehovah’s people long for the time when God will triumph over all his enemies. This will start with the destruction of “Babylon the Great”—a figurative city that embraces all forms of false religion. (Revelation 18:2, 8) The destruction of false religion will mark the first phase of the coming great tribulation. (Matthew 24:21, 22) Ahead of us too is a truly momentous event—the heavenly marriage of the Lord Jesus Christ to his bride of 144,000 citizens of “New Jerusalem.” (Revelation 19:7; 21:2) We cannot say exactly when that climactic union will be completed, but it certainly will be a joyous event.—See The Watchtower, August 15, 1990, pages 30-1.
17. What do we know about the completion of New Jerusalem?
17 We do know that the completion of New Jerusalem is very near. (Matthew 24:3, 7-14; Revelation 12:12) Unlike the earthly city of Jerusalem, it will never be a cause for disappointment. This is because all its citizens are spirit-anointed, tested, and refined followers of Jesus Christ. Upon their faithfulness to death, each one will have proved to be everlastingly loyal to the Universal Sovereign, Jehovah God. That has significant meaning for the rest of mankind—the living and the dead!
18. Why should we ‘exult and be joyful forever’?
18 Consider what will happen when New Jerusalem turns its attention to humans who exercise faith in Jesus’ ransom sacrifice. “Look!” wrote the apostle John. “The tent of God is with mankind, and he will reside with them, and they will be his peoples. And God himself will be with them. And he will wipe out every tear from their eyes, and death will be no more, neither will mourning nor outcry nor pain be anymore. The former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:2-4) Furthermore, God will use this citylike arrangement to lift mankind to human perfection. (Revelation 22:1, 2) What wonderful reasons these are to ‘exult and be joyful forever in what God is now creating’!—Isaiah 65:18.
19. What is the spiritual paradise into which Christians have been gathered?
19 However, repentant humans do not have to wait until then to receive help from God. In the year 1919, Jehovah started to gather the final members of the 144,000 into a spiritual paradise, where the fruits of God’s spirit—such as love, joy, and peace—abound. (Galatians 5:22, 23) An outstanding feature of this spiritual paradise has been the faith of its anointed inhabitants, who have been wonderfully productive in spearheading the preaching of the good news of God’s Kingdom in all the inhabited earth. (Matthew 21:43; 24:14) As a result, nearly six million “other sheep,” who have an earthly hope, have also been allowed to enter the spiritual paradise and enjoy productive work. (John 10:16) They have qualified for this by dedicating themselves to Jehovah God on the basis of their faith in the ransom sacrifice of his Son, Jesus Christ. Their association with the prospective members of New Jerusalem has indeed proved to be a blessing. Thus, by his dealings with anointed Christians, Jehovah has laid a firm foundation for “a new earth”—a society of God-fearing humans who will inherit the earthly realm of the heavenly Kingdom.—Isaiah 65:17; 2 Peter 3:13.
20. How will New Jerusalem live up to the meaning of its name?
20 The peaceful conditions now enjoyed by Jehovah’s people in their spiritual paradise will soon be experienced in a physical paradise on earth. That will happen when New Jerusalem descends out of heaven to bless mankind. In a twofold way, God’s people will enjoy the peaceful conditions promised at Isaiah 65:21-25. As Jehovah’s united worshipers in the spiritual paradise, the anointed ones yet to take their place in the heavenly New Jerusalem and those of the “other sheep” are now experiencing God-given peace. And such peace will extend into the physical Paradise, when ‘God’s will takes place in all the earth, even as it does in heaven.’ (Matthew 6:10) Yes, God’s glorious heavenly city will prove true to the name Jerusalem as the solid ‘Foundation of Twofold Peace.’ For all eternity, it will stand as a praiseworthy credit to its Grand Creator, Jehovah God, and to its Bridegroom King, Jesus Christ.
Do You Recall?
□ What was accomplished when Nehemiah assembled the people in Jerusalem?
□ What did ancient Jews have to do so as not to neglect the house of God, and what are we called upon to do?
□ How is “Jerusalem” involved in bringing about lasting joy and peace?
[Map on page 23]
(For fully formatted text, see publication)
GATES OF JERUSALEM
Numbers represent present-day elevation in meters
GATE OF THE OLD CITY
GATE OF EPHRAIM
Early North Wall
CITY OF DAVID
GATE OF THE ASH-HEAPS
Valley of Hinnom
GATE OF THE GUARD
Spring of Gihon
Tyropoeon (Central) Valley
Torrent Valley of Kidron
Likely extent of Jerusalem’s wall at the time of the city’s destruction and when Nehemiah took the lead in the rebuilding of the wall