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FIRST-PERSON: Why pray for the peace of Jerusalem?

SAN ANTONIO, Texas (BP)–Is there anyone who is not painfully aware of the conflict that has been raging at both ends of Israel’s borders?

It must have been the kidnapping of the Israeli Olympic team at Munich in 1972 when Israel’s fight for survival first became more than a history lesson in Nazi atrocities for me. And since then, there is rarely a month that goes by that we are not reminded of this age-old struggle. Jerusalem’s place at the intersection of three world religions has bequeathed to this city a violent history. And so, the psalmist’s plea to pray for the peace of Jerusalem is no less urgent today.

Nevertheless, this biblical plea can seem provincial, even insensitive to the brutal realities of war. The Visigoths sacked Rome in A.D. 410. Washington D.C. was burned to the ground by British forces in 1814, and General Sherman did the same with Atlanta in 1864. During World War II, Hitler’s army decimated Stalingrad. In 1945 Allied bombing reduced the German cities of Dresden and Berlin to ruins. Nagasaki and Hiroshima hold the distinction of being the only two cities to have been the target of nuclear bombing. But why invoke the past? Beirut was bombarded in the 1980s, and parts of the city were targeted by bombs in recent days. So, why should Jerusalem, of all cities in the world, be singled out for prayer?

There are probably few cities not “prayed for” by Christians, but for God’s people Jerusalem holds a special significance. Figuratively, in Psalm 122, Jerusalem reminds us of three things.

First, Jerusalem typifies the believer’s eternal state in glory (verses 1-2). Though a temple pilgrimage is described, in fact, it is the city itself that evokes the joys of those who worship the living God. Thus, Revelation 21:9-10 breathes life into a place of mortar and stone. Amazingly, the New Jerusalem symbolizes the Bride of Christ in Heaven. To “enter into Jerusalem” is to be built up as a spiritual house (1 Peter 2:5), and be counted among the redeemed, those saved by God’s grace!

But there is more. Jerusalem also reminds us of God’s enduring protection (Psalm 122:3-4). Here the psalmist echoes back to David’s conquest of Jerusalem, and the rebuilding of the city into a strong fortress (2 Samuel 5:6-10; Psalm 48:12-14). With the security of the city assured, worshippers united in confidence within her fortified walls and offered their praises and sacrifices. So, “Jerusalem” symbolizes God’s power to keep us safe and secure. Jesus said of his disciples, “I give eternal life to them, and they shall never perish; and no one shall snatch them out of My hand.” (John 10:28)

Finally, Jerusalem reminds us of God’s lofty standards to which he holds us accountable (Psalm 122:5). Just as Jerusalem was the seat of ancient Israel’s government, so it is today. In ancient times, Israelites would sing while in pilgrimage, “Shall not the judge of all the earth do right,” as they ascended Mount Zion. There God’s righteous laws prevailed.

Modern Western culture is quickly divesting itself of its Judeo-Christian heritage, but Christ’s church is bound by the words of her Savior who said: “until heaven and earth pass away not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass away from the Law,” (Matthew 5:18). Imagine if Jerusalem became a “tel,” a mound of stratified ancient rubble, rather than the thriving city it is. Can you see how the abiding permanence of Jerusalem itself is a strong argument for living by godly standards? God’s ethical standards are as eternal as the city.

Last January I went to Israel and had the privilege of staying in Jerusalem for several days. During my stay there, I saw people from all over the world. And, of course, nearly half of Jerusalem is inhabited by Palestinians. While there, it struck me that to pray for the peace of Jerusalem today is not merely to pray exclusively for the Jewish people. The Bible prophesies that the great civilizations of the world will be undone, including our own beloved country (2 Peter 3:7, 10; Revelation 21:1). In the end Holy Scripture recognizes only one city that abides: the New Jerusalem. It is made up of redeemed people from all the tribes of the earth (Revelation 5:9). In these turbulent times let us never forget to pray for lasting peace for Israel and her neighbors, for in doing so, we pray for peace in our own cities.
Rudolph D. Gonzalez is dean of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s William R. Marshall Center for Theological Studies in San Antonio, Texas.

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  • Rudolph D. González