Saturday, July 28, 2012

Walking about Zion

For a variety of reasons, none of them very persuasive, I have not been posting much here lately.  Partly I've been enjoying the novelty of not-writing for a while.  I've always been a little compulsive about my writing, and in some ways the discipline of not writing has been good for me.  At least that's what I tell myself to combat the feeling that I'm just being lazy.  The other part of not writing is that between getting my older daughter back from Central America, a full schedule at work, some transitions going on around home with getting my younger daughter ready to head off to college, and trying to find time to do a little vacationing, I rarely get inspired to write much.  Plus my family has developed a killer addiction to a dominoes game called "Mexican Train" which seems to take up all our free evenings.

Okay, enough of excuses.  I actually have been thinking about something worth sharing.

Lately I've been working my way through the Psalms.  A couple weeks ago I got stuck on Psalm 48, which ends with these lines:

12 Walk about Zion, go around her,
    number her towers,
13 consider well her ramparts,
    go through her citadels,
that you may tell the next generation
14     that this is God,
our God forever and ever.
    He will guide us forever.

I read and reread these verses, trying to make some sense of them.  What's up with this?  What is the psalmist talking about?  Why does strolling around Jerusalem give grounds for saying, "this is God"?  And what are you supposed to tell the next generation?

I parked on this psalm for a few days, and even when I read onward into the 50's I found myself going back during idle moments to think on these verses.  I began to see that the establishment of Jerusalem, in the Old Testament Israelites' minds, was the ultimate act of God.  In Jewish understanding, God had been pointing to Jerusalem all through early biblical events.  

  • When Abraham returned from rescuing Lot in Genesis 14, Melchizedek came out of Salem (the older name of the city of Jerusalem, meaning "peace") to bless Abraham and share bread and wine with him.  The book of Hebrews picks up on this later, by the way.  
  • When Abraham took his son Isaac to Mount Moriah in Genesis 22 to sacrifice him because God commanded it, Jews understand that the rock on which he was about to sacrifice Isaac was the same rock that stood at the foundation of the Holy of Holies in Solomon's temple, and now stands at the foundation of the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem.  (See 2 Chronicles 3:1 for the biblical connection.) 
  • During the conquest of Israel under Joshua, Jerusalem was never conquered.  The Jebusites, the natives of that city, were too strong for the tribes of Israel.  It was not until David became king that the Israelites were able to conquer the Jebusites and take Jerusalem.  David then established his capitol there (see 2 Samuel 5).  
  • Once David's kingship established Jerusalem as the center of Israelite life, the city grew greatly in prominence.  It became the seat of a united kingdom.  The glory days of Israel's history emanated from Jerusalem.  Sadly, this united kingdom based in Jerusalem only lasted two generations, first under David and then under his son Solomon.  Solomon's son Rehoboam managed to mismanage things badly enough that the northern tribes rebelled and the kingdom was split into Israel (the northern ten tribes) and Judah (the southern two tribes).  

So Jerusalem has obviously been hugely important in Old Testament history, no question.  The city was the center of Israelite conceptions of God's activity among them as a nation.  But really, to walk about Jerusalem and ponder the city, then to turn to your kids and say, "This is our God"?  Seems a little idolatrous.

Then the other night something happened that sort of made this make sense for me.  Our pastorate met on Wednesday, and for the first time our whole family was able to attend.  Both my daughters were there, along with Julie and me.  As I sat there with our pastorate, I reveled in the growing friendships, all rooted in gathering together in worship and in God's word.  We laughed and ate and read scripture and prayed and laughed together and talked about some really hard things.  I thought over and over again about the New Testament church gathering in homes (see the end of Acts 2 for example).  I thought about what Jesus described over and over again about what life is like when God reigns over the lives of his people.  Jesus called this the "kingdom of God" and it was the cornerstone of his message.  Looking at that pastorate in action, sitting on the floor with my Bible on my lap drinking coffee and hearing various people within that group share insights or struggles or victories about God's reign in their lives, I thought, "This is like Psalm 48."

When the psalmist says "this is our God", he's not saying they should worship Jerusalem.  Rather, Jerusalem is the concrete gathering place, the specific location in time and space where the works and presence of God are located at that time.  If a foreigner had asked an Israelite, "What is your God like?" I have little doubt that the Israelite would have pointed to Jerusalem and told some of the stories of how God had foreshadowed his presence through Melchizedek and Abraham and Isaac, how he had established the nation there through David, and how the glory of the city was now crowned with the Temple, the very place where God had promised to meet his people.  

In a similar way, if someone asked me, "What is it like to be a Christian?" I might point to our pastorate.  I would talk about those relationships, that extended family.  I would retell some of the struggles and the victories that have happened for people in that group.  I would tell how we get to enjoy, support, and encourage each other.  I would carefully point out that this is all possible because of Jesus' promise to be present where we gather in his name.  

Strolling around the pastorate the other night, seeing the laughter and the prayer and the tears and the study and the discussion, I might very well have said, "This is our God -- he has done this."  

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