The present walls around the Old City were built from 1537 to 1541 by Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent after the Ottoman conquest of Israel. At that time most of the ancient walls were reduced to rubble. Suleiman ordered that Jerusalem be fortified to protect its people against marauding Bedouins. The walls were rebuilt upon the foundations of the walls constructed during the time of the Second Temple and the later Roman expansion. For the most part, the modern gates of the city are not closely related to the walls and gates that existed in Roman times or earlier. There is some debate about the correct location of some of the ancient gates and walls. However visitors to the recently restored Jewish Quarter in the Old City can see an uncovered section of the wall built by Nehemiah at the time of the return from the Babylonian exile.
The Old City retains its charm and fascination to these days. Narrow crowded shops and the Oriental bazaar with its many markets offer endless adventure for visitors and pilgrims. It is hard to escape the feeling that one has stepped into the timeless, changeless past. Each quarter of the Old City brings an immediate shift in architecture and shops, in passers-by and inhabitants alike.
The Temple Mount is conspicuous whether viewed from the Mount of Olives, or from the Lutheran church tower across from the Holy Sepulchre, or from the Citadel Museum roof. Normally tranquil and peaceful with its park like setting, one would hardly guess that this small parcel of land, only 35 acres, is the center of the world and the hottest piece of real estate anywhere on earth. Biblically speaking, it's most exciting history lies yet ahead!
Two temples of Yahweh have been located on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem in times past. Solomon's Temple called by the Jews, "The First Temple," was destroyed by the siege of Nebuchadnezzar and the armies of Babylon on the 9th of Av in 586 BC. Some seventy years later, approximately, Jewish exiles were allowed to return to Jerusalem to build an altar, the "Second" Jewish temple and finally the walls of the city. Although modest in comparison to the First Temple, the Second Temple was greatly enlarged and expanded by Herod the Great. This latter temple was the Temple in which Jesus was dedicated, and where He taught and cast out the money changers on two occasions. The New Testament contains three references to a Third Jewish Temple standing on the site at the end of the present age. Likewise there are Scriptural reasons (Christians believe) that a coming Third Temple will be followed by a Fourth. The location of the First and Second Temples is a matter of keen interest among devout Jews in Israel today as the Third Temple must be built on the consecrated ground where the First and Second Temples stood. This site is currently under the control of the Muslim WAQF. The Temple Mount has been the flash-point of the ongoing “Temple Mount Intifada” sparked after the collapse of the Camp David Peace talks in July 2000.
Ezekiel, whose name means "God strengthens," had trained for the temple priesthood in Jerusalem, which he intended to enter at age 30. But he was carried into captivity by General (soon to be King) Nebuchadnezzar in 597 BC (probably at age 25, Ezekiel 1:1,2)--along with a number of fellow countrymen including King Jehoiachin. He was a contemporary of Daniel, though a few years older at the time of their deportation. In fact Daniel, his three friends (Dan. 1), and 10,000 Jewish hostages had been taken to Babylon 8 years earlier in 605 after Nebuchadnezzar's defeat of the Egyptian armies at the Battle of Carchemish (Jeremiah 46:2). Shortly after reaching Babylon, Ezekiel found himself called by God to awaken the remnant of the Jews in exile, to comfort them, to make them fully aware of God's continuing purposes for Israel. He was also to remind them also of God's dealings with all the nations. Ezekiel's clear and dazzling visions of the glory and splendor of the presence of God are accompanied by warnings of impending destruction of the temple and the beloved city. His wife died in 597 as a sign from God that the siege of Jerusalem had begun (24:16-18). The prophets words came true in the final destruction of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar II in 586 BC, however Ezekiel's work continued until his death about 570 BC. Ezekiel was a young married man who intended to enter the Temple priesthood when he reached the age of 30. He was taken captive in 597 B.C.E and appointed to care for the exiles in his company. The Book of Ezekiel opens with an awesome vision of God's chariot throne and mighty angels accompanying the remnant of His people into exile. In September 592, Ezekiel was taken to Jerusalem "in visions of God." The terrible idolatrous state of the temple was unfolded to him by The Angel of the Lord. Ezekiel also witnessed the departure of the Shekinah, the divine presence, in stages from the temple, the temple courts, and finally from above the Eastern gate, (Ezekiel 10-11)
In 587 Ezekiel's young wife died as a sign from God that Jerusalem was about to fall, (Ezek. 24:16-18). The prophet was not allowed to mourn her passing. Similarly, Daniel's' great vision of the Millennial Temple was given to him about 572 B.C. While Daniel spent a long and productive life as a major statesmen in the successive governments of Babylon, accompanied by some 10,000 of his countrymen, and while Ezekiel accompanied another large group of later exiles to Babylon, the prophet Jeremiah was chosen to remain in Jerusalem during the final siege and destruction. Jeremiah, "the weeping prophet" took the judgments falling on Judah as if they were God's personal judgments upon himself. He was not, however, allowed by God to pray for the people (Jeremiah. 8:16):
I am the man who has seen affliction under the rod of his wrath; he has driven and brought me into darkness without any light; surely against me he turns his hand again and again the whole day long. He has made my flesh and my skin waste away, and broken my bones; he has besieged and enveloped me with bitterness and tribulation; he has made me dwell in darkness like the dead of long ago. He has walled me about so that I cannot escape; he has put heavy chains on me; though I call and cry for help, he shuts out my prayer; he has blocked my ways with hewn stones, he has made my paths crooked. He is to me like a bear lying in wait, like a lion in hiding; he led me off my way and tore me to pieces; he has made me desolate; he bent his bow and set me as a mark for his arrow. He drove into my heart the arrows of his quiver; I have become the laughingstock of all peoples, the burden of their songs all day long. He has filled me with bitterness, he has sated me with wormwood. He has made my teeth grind on gravel, and made me cower in ashes; my soul is bereft of peace, I have forgotten what happiness is; so I say, "Gone is my glory, and my expectation from the LORD." (Lamentations 3:1-18)
For forty years Jeremiah continued to preach and warn the people, all without any reward or sense of accomplishment. He was told to prophesy about the coming judgment on Israel's judgment as other prophets also did, and he was given promises of the future restoration and blessing of Israel. Jeremiah specifically predicted the destruction of the Jerusalem and the seventy year captivity of the people. He also pronounced judgment on those who destroyed her, Babylon:
And the whole land shall be a desolation and an astonishment, and these nations shall serve the king of Babylon seventy years. Then it will come to pass, when seventy years are completed, that I will punish the king of Babylon and that nation, the land of the Chaldeans, for their iniquity,' says the Lord; 'and I will make it a perpetual desolation. (Jeremiah 25:12,13).
For thus says the LORD: "When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfil to you my promise and bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you, says the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me; when you seek me with all your heart, will be found by you, says the LORD, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, says the LORD, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile." (Jeremiah. 29:10-14)
Babylon was of course subsequently judged and leveled as predicted. In 553 B.C.E. Babylon fell to the Medes and the Persians (Daniel 5). So significant were the prophecies of Jeremiah (50-51) against Babylon that major portions of his predictions await fulfillment in our own day. Tradition has it that Jeremiah was martyred about 584 after being taken captive to Egypt by his fellow countrymen who tried to flee Nebuchadnezzar. The Lamentations of Jeremiah are read every year, to this day, by devout Jews gathering at the Western Wall of the Temple Mount on the 9th day of the month of Av. It was on the 9th of Av, 586 B.C.E. that the magnificent temple of Solomon was destroyed. It was on the 9th of Av in the year 70 C.E. when the Second Temple was destroyed by the Romans.
The 8th through 12th Chapters of Ezekiel are revelations of what was malignantly wrong in Jerusalem. So serious and deep-rooted was the national idolatry that God could only move in judgment---violently destroying most of his covenant people. Ezekiel's knowledge of what was then going on in Jerusalem, several hundred miles away, came to him in a series of great visions. When he received the divine revelation described in Chapter 8, he was sitting in his house in exile with the elders of Israel with him, waiting for a prophetic word from God. There the Spirit of God caught him up by a lock of his hair and transported him to Jerusalem, so he could have a bird's eye view of what was happening in the temple itself. Ezekiel's vision gives us insights that enable us to judge the inner state of our hearts before God, and if necessary to submit ourselves to God's corrective open-heart surgery.
"In the sixth year, in the sixth month, on the fifth day of the month, as I sat my house, with the elders of Judah sitting before me, the hand of the Lord GOD fell there upon me (Ezekiel). Then I beheld, and lo, a form that had the appearance of a man; below what appeared to be his loins it was fire, and above his loins it was like the appearance of brightness, like gleaming bronze. He put forth the form of a hand, and took me by a lock of my head; and the Spirit lifted me up between earth and heaven, and brought me in visions of God to Jerusalem, to the entrance of the gateway of the inner court that faces north, where was (located) the seat of the image of jealousy, which provokes (God) to jealousy. And behold, the (Shekinah) glory of the God of Israel was there, like the vision that I saw in the plain."
The Shekinah, or Cloud of Glory, is here shown as the outshining “Presence” which accompanied the people of Israel in their wilderness wanderings---a Pillar of Fire by night and a Pillar of Cloud by day. The awesome Presence of the majesty and ineffable splendor of God at the time of the dedication of the First Temple by Solomon, 373 years earlier, is recorded in II Chronicles 7:1-3. In Ezekiel's time, the manifested presence of God as the Shekinah departed from the Temple (Ezekiel 10ff), to leave Jerusalem in stages, obviously with great reluctance. However, in a yet-future day, the glowing cloud of the Shekinah will rest once again over Jerusalem marking the return of Messiah and the fulfillment of Israel's final destiny as chief among the nations, (Matthew 24:29-31, Isaiah 4:2-6). The image which provoked God to jealousy described was probably an obscene statue or image indicating the nation's open tolerance of sexual immorality. The "pillars" of Baal in the Old Testament were carved phallic symbols to remind the worshiper of unrestrained male virility associated with that pagan God. That such a symbol should be found anywhere near the temple, which was carefully marked off in zones of increasing holiness, should have been unthinkable to God's people. The worship of pagan deities such as Baal allowed the people of Israel to become sexually indulgent and permissive, to rational selfish behavior that was prohibited by the Law of Moses. God continues to give Ezekiel a personal tour around the Temple Mount:
"Then he said to me, 'Son of man, lift up your eyes now in the direction of the north.' So I lifted up my eyes toward the north, and behold, north of the altar gate, in the entrance was this image of jealousy. And he said to me, 'Son of man, do you see what they are doing, the great abominations that the house of Israel are committing here, to drive me far from my sanctuary? But you will see still greater abominations.'"
A holy God can not have fellowship and remain in communion and intimate relationship with an unclean and profaned people. The Apostle Paul instructs us,
"What partnership have righteousness and iniquity? Or what fellowship does light have with darkness? What accord does Christ have with Belial?...What agreement has the temple of God (our bodies) with idols?" (2 Corinthians 6:14,15)
And he brought me to the door of the court; and when I looked, and behold, there was a hole in the wall. Then he said to me, 'Son of man, dig in the wall': and when I dug in the wall, lo, there was a door. And he said to me, 'Go in, and see the vile abominations that they are committing here.' So I went in and saw; and there, portrayed upon the wall round about, were all kinds of creeping things, and loathsome beasts, and all the idols of the house of Israel. And before them stood seventy men of the elders of the house of Israel, with Jaazaniah, ("Yahweh hears"), the son of Shaphan standing among them. Each had his censer in his hand, and the cloud of incense went up. Then he said to me, 'Son of man, have you seen what the elders of the house of Israel are doing in the dark, every man in his room(s) of pictures? For they say, "The LORD does not see us, the LORD has forsaken the land."' He also said to me, 'You will see still greater abominations which they commit.'"
"Then he brought me to the entrance of the north gate of the house of the LORD; and behold, there sat women weeping for Tammuz. Then he said to me, 'Have you seen this, O son of man? You will see still greater abominations than these.'"
The heart of all false religion in the world traces back to Nimrod and the Babylonian mystery religion. Tammuz was the divine child who died and was raised again, mentioned in connection with Semiramis, his mother, the wife of Nimrod.
Tammuz seems to have been virgin born without benefit of normal sexual intercourse in marriage. The cult of the mother-and-child was perpetuated in Egypt as Isis and Osiris, in Greece as Venus and Cupid, in Rome as Aphrodite and Eros, etc. Worship of the Great Mother and the nature/fertility rites of Canaan (Baal worship) are variations on this central idolatry of Babylon. Temple prostitution was common among the Canaanites whom the Israelites were supposed to have totally destroyed upon entering the land under Joshua. Instead the Israelites accommodated and incorporated Canaanite idolatries into the worship of Yahweh
And he brought me into the inner court of the house of the LORD; and behold, at the door of the temple of the LORD, between the porch and the altar, were about twenty-five men, with their backs to the temple of the LORD, and their faces towards the east, worshiping the sun to the east. Then he said to me, 'Have you seen this, O son of man? Is it too slight a thing for the for the house of Judah to commit the abominations which they commit here, that they should fill the land with violence, and provoke me further to anger? Lo, they put the branch to the nose. Therefore I will deal in my wrath; my eye will not spare, nor will I have pity; and though they cry in my eyes with a loud voice, I will not hear them.'"
The Temple in Jerusalem faced east to symbolize that hope and light and the eventual appearing of the Messiah would come from the direction of the rising sun. Open and deliberate sun worship (which was central to the Egyptian religion, for example) was a flaunting of the law of Moses forbidding the worship of the "host of heaven," that is the sun, moon, stars, or the angelic beings they symbolize. In turning their backs to the Holy of Holies in order to bow to the east, the twenty-four representative temple elders were turning their backs to God and to the sanctuary where God was to be served and revered. By their actions they were denying the very purpose for which the temple was built. The true temple of God today is the body of every believer, and true and proper service to God is to allow Him to put His temples to the holy uses He has made us for. Scripture reveals that violence and lawlessness in a nation are the results of spiritual decline and rejection of God and His ways. Taylor says, "When church leadership becomes corrupted there is no end of chaos that is caused to the life of the nation."
The euphemistic expression "to put the branch to the nose" perhaps is somewhat equivalent to our modern expression, "to thumb one's nose at someone." It probably means something even more vulgar, literally it is "to put forth a stench before the nose (of God)."
After ignoring repeated warnings from a long-suffering and patient, merciful God, there do come times in all our lives, and in national and corporate life as well, when judgment can no longer be averted. Ezekiel is given to see God's prompt action of judgment against all Jerusalem which is to be carried out for Him by angels sent for that purpose. The year, the month, the day, and the hour for judgment had arrived. Our attention is called to the fact that judgment begins at the sanctuary. Perhaps this is the inspiration for Peter's word to the church, "The time has come for judgment to begin with the household of God. And if it begins with us, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God? And 'if the righteous man is scarcely saved, where will the sinner and ungodly appear?'" (1 Peter 4:17,18, Prov. 11:31)
The scripture text in Ezekiel continues:
"Now the (Shekinah) glory of the God of Israel had gone up from the cherubim on which it rested to the threshold of the house; and he called to the man clothed in linen, who had the writing case at his side. And the LORD said to him, 'Go through the city, through Jerusalem, and put a mark upon the foreheads of the men who sigh and groan over all the abominations that are committed in it.' And to the others he said in my hearing, 'Pass through the city after him, and smite; your eye shall not spare, and you shall show no pity; slay old men outright, young men and maidens, little children and women, but touch no one upon whom is the mark. And begin at my sanctuary.' So they began with the elders who were before the house. Then he said to them, 'Defile the house, and fill the courts with the slain. Go forth.' So they went forth, and smote in the city. And while they were smiting, and I was left alone, I fell upon my face, and cried, 'Ah Lord GOD! Wilt thou destroy all that remains of Israel in the outpouring of thy wrath upon Jerusalem?' "Then he (God) said to me, 'The guilt of the house of Israel and Judah is exceedingly great; the land is full of blood, and the city full of injustice; for they say, 'The LORD has forsaken the land, and the LORD does not see' As for me, my eye will not spare, nor will I have pity, but I will requite their deeds upon their heads.' Ezekiel's lament (that all of his people would surely be destroyed if God persists in his slaughter of men, women and children without pity or without sparing) continues, "Ah Lord GOD! wilt thou make a full end of the remnant of Israel?" (Ezekiel 11:13) According to the Bible judgment is "God's strange work." God is long-suffering and reluctant to judge, yet as a Just God, He must inevitably deal with human evil:
"For the Lord will not cast off for ever, but, though he cause grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love; for he does not willingly afflict or grieve the sons of men. To crush under foot all the prisoners of the earth, to turn aside the right of a man in the presence of the Most High, to subvert a man in his cause, the Lord does not approve. Who has commanded and it came to pass, unless the Lord has ordained it? Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that good and evil come? Why should a living man complain, a man, about the punishment of his sins?" (Lamentations 3:30-39)
In response to his prayers, an answer from God comes, granting a great promise, which would come to pass in the distant future to bless all of Israel,
"And the word of the LORD came to me: 'Son of man, your brethren, even your brethren, your fellow exiles, the whole house of Israel, all of them, are those of whom the inhabitants of Jerusalem have said, 'They have gone far from the LORD; to us this land is given for a possession.' Therefore say, 'Thus says the Lord GOD: Though I removed them far off among the nations, and though I scattered among the countries, yet I have been a sanctuary in small measure (or, "for a little while"), in the countries where they have gone.' Therefore say, 'Thus says the Lord GOD: I will gather you from the peoples, and I will assemble you out of the countries where they have gone.' And I will give you the land of Israel.' And when they come there, they will remove from it all its detestable things, and all its abominations. And I will give them a new heart, and put a new spirit within them; I will take the stony heart out of their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, that they may walk in my statutes and keep my ordinances and obey them; and they shall be my people, and I will be their God. But as for those whose heart goes after their detestable things and their abominations, I will requite their deeds upon their own heads, says the Lord GOD." (Ezekiel 11:14-21)
Israel has suffered the loss of Jerusalem and the precious Temple Mount for over 2500 years. The prophecies of Daniel, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel have all shown themselves to be explicitly accurate. The “Times of the Gentiles” has concurrently run its course throughout that long span of time. Today, the devout Jews of Israel and the world are looking to rebuild the ancient temple. The failure of the Oslo Peace Process has sparked a renewed sense of urgency within Jewry to commit to the task of insisting on a presence once again on Mount Moriah. Thus, Israel today is beginning to adjust its national longing away from the Wailing Wall, and higher up the mountain…to the place where the ancient temples of Solomon and Zerrubabel once stood, and the place where the Shekinah glory of God once dwelt among them.