Zion: The Enigma of the Ages
by: Gary Stearman
There is a word in the Bible that conceals a great mystery. The word is “Zion.” It appears numerous times in the Old Testament. In the New Testament it appears seven times by name. But its significant implications rise to a fullness of meaning that is beautiful to behold. In the sheer weight of its importance, it offers a historical insight into Scripture that is unparalleled. We shall examine its meanings and purposes – past, present and future. In history and prophecy, few terms can match its grandeur. Not only can it be studied historically, but geographically, culturally, theologically, metaphysically and prophetically. As we progress, we'll touch upon the metaphysical truths associated with Zion and its uses as a symbol of God's redemptive work among His elect. But perhaps the best way to begin this study is to look at the historical Zion, a geographic location associated with a key event in the life of David. His reign began in Hebron. At the same time, the Jebusites controlled Mt. Moriah. It had long been a choice site, favorably situated on high ground for defense, and possessed of a long spiritual history. A thousand years before, in the days of Abraham, Melchizedek had presided over this region, known as Salem.
Zion is the name of a physical location. Though it never appears on maps of the Holy Land, it is, nevertheless, a well-defined section of terra firma. It defines the city of Jerusalem. Over the long ages of Hebrew history, it has been contested by many pretenders to the throne of world dominion. Biblically, of course, we know that this parcel of land has been promised to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, the Twelve Tribes and the throne of David through the line of Judah. With this in mind, let us review Zion's historical provenance, or line of possession, as presented in the Bible.
The first time the word “Zion” is used in the Bible, it records David's victory over the Jebusites:
“David was thirty years old when he began to reign, and he reigned forty years.
“In Hebron he reigned over Judah seven years and six months: and in Jerusalem he reigned thirty and three years over all Israel and Judah.
“And the king and his men went to Jerusalem unto the Jebusites, the inhabitants of the land: which spake unto David, saying, Except thou take away the blind and the lame, thou shalt not come in hither: thinking, David cannot come in hither.
“Nevertheless David took the strong hold of Zion: the same is the city of David.
“And David said on that day, Whosoever getteth up to the gutter, and smiteth the Jebusites, and the lame and the blind, that are hated of David's soul, he shall be chief and captain. Wherefore they said, The blind and the lame shall not come into the house.
“So David dwelt in the fort, and called it the city of David. And David built round about from Millo and inward.
“And David went on, and grew great, and the Lord God of hosts was with him” (II Samuel 5:4-10).
The ancient area that would later come to be known as Jerusalem was situated on a plateau. Below, on the west and south side of this low mountain, was the “king's dale,” mentioned in Genesis 14:17 as the meeting place of Abraham and Melchizedek. Later, Abraham returns to the same place. In Genesis 22, the Lord instructs him to travel to the “land of Moriah,” and to offer Isaac upon one of the mountains there. This is the Mt. Moriah upon which Solomon later built the First Temple. On the east side of Moriah's plateau was the Brook Kidron. Between them, the valley called Hinnom divided the high ground. Between the brook and the valley was a long, narrow ridge of rising ground. At its southern end, the fortress of Jebus. It was extremely well fortified, and had access to a spring that could be reached from within the fortress by a hidden tunnel. This vertical shaft had been cut over 120 feet through solid rock in times so ancient that no historical record exists telling who had accomplished the magnificent feat. Some say that it dates all the way back to Melchizedek, in the days of Abraham. Whatever its origins, it enabled the residents of the city to supply themselves with water, should their habitation ever come under siege. They felt so secure in their rocky fort that one of them had taunted David, saying that “the lame and the blind” were all they needed to defend themselves. The king responded by proclaiming that whoever should be first to climb up the “gutter” (subterranean aqueduct) into the city would be made commander-in-chief of his forces. The valiant Joab accomplished the deed, and the city was breached. In the years following, a wealthy Jebusite named Araunah became important in the development of the site for an altar and the coming Temple. His name means “lord” or “aristocrat.” He was a nobleman who had apparently helped David to overthrow the fortified city. Josephus writes of him, that he “…was a wealthy man among the Jebusites, but was not slain by David in the siege of Jerusalem because of the good will he bore to the Hebrews, and a particular benignity and affection which he had to the king himself” (Ant. VII,III,3). David paid him the large sum of fifty silver shekels for the threshing floor (II Samuel 24:24) and six hundred shekels of gold for the so-called “place”(I Chronicles 21:25), that is, the top of Mt. Moriah. The location is clearly linked to Solomon's final choice for the Temple site, as given in II Chronicles 3:1:
“Then Solomon began to build the house of the LORD at Jerusalem in mount Moriah, where the LORD appeared unto David his father, in the place that David had prepared in the threshingfloor of Ornan the Jebusite.” (In this verse, “Ornan” is the Hebrew spelling for “Araunah.”)
Thus, the history of Mt. Moriah is defined from the early days of the patriarch Abraham, who met Melchizedek, king of Salem, at the king's dale. Later, the Lord instructed him to take Isaac to Moriah, to the top of a mountain there. It was this site that later came into the possession of Araunah and was sold to King David at the Lord's own instruction. Mount Zion was not chosen arbitrarily. It was far more than a convenient location for a center of worship. The Lord, Himself, led Abraham and David to the hill. There was something remarkable about this place.
The Gates of Zion
Among the many qualities that make Mt. Zion so extraordinary is the Lord's view of it. From among all the Earth's beautiful landscapes, seascapes and mountain vistas, He has chosen this place, predestinating it to oversee the establishment of His kingdom. Psalm 87 is a poetic statement of His love for this place. Its seven verses constitute a complete statement of God's adoration for the historic, holy mountain:
“A Psalm or Song for the sons of Korah.
“His foundation is in the holy mountains.
“The LORD loveth the gates of Zion more than all the dwellings of Jacob.
“Glorious things are spoken of thee, O city of God. Selah.
“I will make mention of Rahab and Babylon to them that know me: behold Philistia, and Tyre, with Ethiopia; this man was born there.”
“And of Zion it shall be said, This and that man was born in her: and the highest himself shall establish her.”
“The LORD shall count, when he writeth up the people, that this man was born there. Selah.”
“As well the singers as the players on instruments shall be there: all my springs are in thee.”
Jewish teaching concerning this Psalm recalls the historic fact that Korah's sons refused to join in his revolt. Korah, great-grandson of Levi, was condemned to death by divine judgment. By contrast, his offspring were greatly respected. In David's era, the offspring of Korah were one of the most renowned families of the Levite Tribe. They were David's staunchest defenders. As far back as the days of Moses, they had been elected watchmen over the entrances to the camp. After the Temple was built in the days of Solomon, they were said to be keepers of the temple gates. They composed this song of praise to Jerusalem. Its prophetic view is remarkable, indeed.
In Scripture, “gates” refer to seats of authority, administration and courts of justice. Of course, they protect the city from the enemy, but they are also said to be gathering places for the city elders, as in Deuteronomy 21:19, where a rebellious son is to be brought for correction:
“Then shall his father and his mother lay hold on him, and bring him out unto the elders of his city, and unto the gate of his place.”
When Boaz had questions concerning the legalities of his possible marriage to Ruth, he took it before the elders of the gate:
“Then went Boaz up to the gate, and sat him down there: and, behold, the kinsman of whom Boaz spake came by; unto whom he said, Ho, such a one! turn aside, sit down here. And he turned aside, and sat down” (Ruth 4:1).
Seen in this light, the “gates of Zion” are the ultimate expression of God's administration on planet Earth during the Kingdom Age. Of all the territory granted to Abraham for the Twelve Tribes, the Lord loves this place above them all. And no wonder, since Hebrew history tells us that Jerusalem has traditionally had thirteen gates – one for each of the Twelve Tribes, plus one for everyone else who would enter. They symbolize entry points for the redeemed of all the ages.
Zion, the Excellent
Prophetically, Psalm 87 is one of the richest of all the Psalms. It begins with a statement about a foundation, laid in the holy mountains. It is fascinating that the word “Zion” is inscrutable in terms of a single, express meaning. Etymologically, it is a composite of several Hebrew words that convey the ideas associated with the creation of a lasting structure. For example, one of its roots is zoh, meaning “foundation,” “to erect,” or, “a monument.” Other roots are zahah and zih, which speak of “a structure,” or building. It also contains the idea of zihn, [ihz], “to protect.” Some Talmudic scholars say that, by extension, Zion is to be interpreted as mitzuyan, “outstanding,” “distinguished,” or “excellent.” Taken together, these ideas are representative of a monumental tribute to the Lord's power, a structure whose eternal protection encloses the saints of all ages. The central idea of Zion is the expression of the Lord's faithfulness toward mankind, and man's righteous perseverance toward the final perfection of faith. Yet it is more than just a metaphor; it is a city. It is Jerusalem. And ultimately, it is the New Jerusalem. The third verse of Psalm 87 hints at these glories to come. Here, it is called the “city of God.” This is another reminder of Abraham's faith. As given in Hebrews 11:10, “… he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God.”
The future glories are mentioned as a reminder to the faithful that the present struggles to establish Zion are far from complete. At the end of Psalm 87:6 is the word “Selah.”
It is a reminder that the reader should pause, remember and meditate upon the foregoing idea.
The splendor of Zion is the subject of the Bible, reaching its height in the New Testament city called, “New Jerusalem.”
The World System
Psalm 87:4 speaks cryptically of Rahab and Babylon. Here, the Lord, Himself, takes up the discourse, making mention to the wise. After all, a word to the wise is enough. Those who have studied Scripture know that the rise of Zion means the fall of the nations. In Hebrew, rahab [cvr] means, “arrogant.” But it is also a metaphor for Egypt, which is the Bible's leading type of the world system. Historically, Egypt was allowed, by God, to help Israel in times of famine. But their help came with a price. Israel became enslaved to their system. Egypt is referred to as the southern power. In Isaiah 30:6 and 7, we see the Lord's view of Egypt:
“The burden of the beasts of the south: into the land of trouble and anguish, from whence come the young and old lion, the viper and fiery flying serpent, they will carry their riches upon the shoulders of young asses, and their treasures upon the bunches of camels, to a people that shall not profit them.
“For the Egyptians shall help in vain, and to no purpose: therefore have I cried concerning this, Their strength is to sit still.”
Here, the word “strength” is translated from rahab. This verse says that the Egyptians core of strength is Rahab. The Jews teach that Rahab is the monster of the deep sea, who represents the world system of the latter days. Isaiah 51:9 speaks of Rahab in this very way:
“Awake, awake, put on strength, O arm of the LORD; awake, as in the ancient days, in the generations of old. Art thou not it that hath cut Rahab, and wounded the dragon?”
Psalm 89:9 and 10 speak of Rahab's destruction in the context of God's final judgment of the nations:
“Thou rulest the raging of the sea: when the waves thereof arise, thou stillest them.
“Thou hast broken Rahab in pieces, as one that is slain; thou hast scattered thine enemies with thy strong arm.”
Rahab is finally seen in Revelation 13, as John watches him rise to power before his final judgment. He is the ultimate expression of global power, a serpent, in league with various great nations:
“And I stood upon the sand of the sea, and saw a beast rise up out of the sea, having seven heads and ten horns, and upon his horns ten crowns, and upon his heads the name of blasphemy.
“And the beast which I saw was like unto a leopard, and his feet were as the feet of a bear, and his mouth as the mouth of a lion: and the dragon gave him his power, and his seat, and great authority” (Rev. 13:1,2).
Psalm 87:4 also mentions Babylon, the northern power, and the birthplace of pagan idolatry. The gods of Babylon gave birth to the mystery religion of Ishtar and Tammuz. Its occult worship of death and rebirth established the pattern taken up in Egypt, Greece and Rome.
In the New Testament, “MYSTERY BABYLON THE GREAT” is the “mother of harlots.” It is the antithesis of the New Jerusalem, the Holy City called Zion in the Old Testament. The mystery city of Revelation 18 is to be interpreted symbolically and allegorically. Some have called it Rome; others have stated that it has a global presence. But its two intertwined parts – corrupted religion and fraudulent commercialism, are destroyed almost overnight. Taken together, Rahab and Babylon represent the latter-day internationalist despotism, finally taken into control by, none other than, the Antichrist. They represent the worst in politics, religion and commercialism. Psalm 87:4 continues by mentioning three other types of Gentile world power:
“... behold Philistia, and Tyre, with Ethiopia; this man was born there.”
First come the Philistines. These ancient “sea people” came to Israel from the isles of the Mediterranean. They represent outside invaders who attempt to take over the Land. The original Philistines were lovers of battle. Though they faded from history around the 9th century B.C., their name became indelibly imprinted on the Holy Land. The world insists upon calling Israel “Palestine,” in memory of the Philistines, to this very day. Others, who have come in contemporary times to make the same claim as their ancient namesakes, are relying upon the world to forget that theirs is a false heritage. Interestingly, the modern “Palestinians” are also invaders from outside the Land. Tyre, mentioned next, is the seat of the ancient Phoenician traders. They are called the “merchants of Tarshish.” They are the Bible's perfect symbol of arrogant globalism. Tyre's traders spurned the laws of any land, preferring to live by the law of the sea, that favored their own accumulation of wealth and power. They were rich and proud, and are the symbol of this class of Gentile despotism. Finally, we come to Ethiopia, which is translated from the Hebrew, “Cush.” Isaiah 18 envisions Ethiopia as a faraway nation, which fell into disrepute. In the end, however, some of them returned to Zion. They seem to represent a dispersed mixed people, fallen on hard times. Modern Cush encompasses the Sudan, Ethiopia, and parts of Egypt and Libya. After mentioning these five national types (Rahab, Babylon, Philistia, Tyre, and Ethiopia), we find the curious note that, “… this man was born there” (Psalm 87:4). Since the subject has been the world system, we must assume that the Lord is noting those who are born to this system. In the light of the verses that follow, we assume that this is a final accounting of those condemned to be counted part of the world system. Then, in Psalm 87:5, by contrast, we come again to Zion, city of God and home of the redeemed. Here, the Lord is accounting those elect who will make up His kingdom. We are reminded of Daniel 7:10, in which the Lord takes up the work of the final judgment of the nations. There, we find the words, “… the judgment was set, and the books were opened.”
The phrase, “this and that man” (Psalm 87:5) is translated from a Hebrew expression that means “each and every single individual.” Among the redeemed, each individual will be given special care and consideration. It is in this final tally of the people that the foundation of Zion will, at last, be brought to fulfillment. Psalm 87:6 depicts the Lord writing up the people. Clearly, this is the accounting process that will discriminate between the living and the dead:
“The LORD shall count, when he writeth up the people, that this man was born there. Selah.”
There will be a day, perhaps most clearly seen in the book of Revelation, when the redeemed will be placed with finality in the book of life:
“And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them.
“And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life...” (Rev. 20:11,12).
Note that Psalm 87:6 is followed by a second “Selah.” As we pause to consider those born in Zion, it becomes obvious that the fortress of Zion is a magnificent symbol of safety for those who receive the Lord's salvation, and are written in the Lamb's book of life.
Psalm 87:7 bring us to a scene of great jubilation, in which “singers and players” mark the deliverance of those safe in Christ. Perhaps we are looking at another view of Revelation 14, in which heaven celebrates the deliverance of the 144,000:
“And I looked, and, lo, a Lamb stood on the mount Sion, and with him an hundred forty and four thousand, having his Father's name written in their foreheads.
“And I heard a voice from heaven, as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of a great thunder: and I heard the voice of harpers harping with their harps:
“And they sung as it were a new song before the throne, and before the four beasts, and the elders: and no man could learn that song but the hundred and forty and four thousand, which were redeemed from the earth” (Revelation 14:1-3).
Zion, the Redeemed of All Ages
As we have seen, the historical “fortress of Zion” is also the city “whose builder and maker is God.” The city of Abraham and Melchizedek is the foundational city of redemption.
As a descriptive term, Zion illustrates both the foundation of redemption, and the final, finished structure. Isaiah 28:16, written to the apostate northern tribes of Israel, is the Lord's proclamation that He will not allow them to destroy His plan:
“Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD, Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner stone, a sure foundation: he that believeth shall not make haste.”
Christians realize that the foundation is more than physical stone. It is the Lord, who came and was rejected, as in Psalm 118:22, where we read, “The stone which the builders refused is become the head stone of the corner.”
The Temple of Solomon, torn down and rebuilt again in the days of Herod's “Second Temple,” is the physical model of the heavenly Temple. On a future day, the millennial Temple will be built by the Lord, Himself. In fact, the name of that place will ultimately be Jehovah Shamah, “The LORD is there” (Ezekiel 48:35).
The awe-inspiring conditions which will mark the entry into that period are given in Isaiah 24:23:
“Then the moon shall be confounded, and the sun ashamed, when the LORD of hosts shall reign in mount Zion, and in Jerusalem, and before his ancients gloriously.”
The final disposition of Zion is to be the home of the redeemed. The House of David will, at last, come to their promised place and live in peace:
“Therefore the redeemed of the LORD shall return, and come with singing unto Zion; and everlasting joy shall be upon their head: they shall obtain gladness and joy; and sorrow and mourning shall flee away” (Isaiah 51:11).
This beautiful prophecy becomes fully realized in the New Testament book of Revelation, where the one-hundred and forty-four thousand are seen standing on Mt. Zion. They are the brilliant gem of redeemed Israel, and the realization of Old Testament prophecy.
When He came the first time, the Chief Cornerstone (Christ) was rejected, and He became the Foundation for the church. Thus, the concepts of Zion in the New Testament are metaphysical, spiritual and prophetic.
Zion in the New Testament
In the New Testament, “Zion” appears exactly seven times. In the King James Version of the Bible, it appears as “Sion,” in accordance with its initial letter, as spelled in the Greek language. Though it appears this way, it is used in the same spiritual sense as its Old Testament counterpart. As might be expected, many of its uses are direct quotes from the Old Testament.
In the Gospels of Matthew and John, the long-awaited Messiah-King is announced to the “daughter of Zion.” This call to the Jewish elders should have alerted them to all the Old Testament prophecies having to do with His Coming. In Romans 9:33, Zion is mentioned in a reference from Psalm 118:22. Paul uses this as an reminder that Israel failed to receive their Messiah, instead perceiving Him as a “stumblingstone and a rock of offence.” In Romans 11:26, Paul quotes from Isaiah 59:20, “There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob.”
Zion is also seen in the figurative language of Paul's writings. Recalling that one of Zion's chief meanings is “foundation,” it makes perfect sense that Paul would describe his ministry and the outworking of salvation in the language of Zion:
“According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise masterbuilder, I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon. But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon.”
“For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ.”
“Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble” (I Corinthians 3:10-12).
This thought is also found in Ephesians, the epistle dedicated to the believer's position in Christ. In the second chapter, Paul describes the body of Christ as being spiritually incorporated into the very structure of the Lord's Temple. Though it is impossible for mere humans to imagine being engineered into the very structure of a building, it is, nevertheless, a metaphysical truth. In the Kingdom of Heaven, the physical and the spiritual become one.
This is the New Testament Zion:
“Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God;”
“And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone;”
“In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord:”
“In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit”. (Ephesians 2:19-22).
The Apostle Peter also sees the church as a living structure – spiritual Zion:
“To whom coming, as unto a living stone, disallowed indeed of men, but chosen of God, and precious,
“Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ.
“Wherefore also it is contained in the scripture, Behold, I lay in Sion a chief corner stone, elect, precious: and he that believeth on him shall not be confounded.
“Unto you therefore which believe he is precious: but unto them which be disobedient, the stone which the builders disallowed, the same is made the head of the corner” (I Peter 2:4-7).
This idea is mirrored in a wonderful statement directed toward the Philadelphian church. Revelation 3:12 connects the statements of Paul and Peter with the ancient dream of Zion and the prophesied New Jerusalem:
“Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out: and I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, which is new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from my God: and I will write upon him my new name.”
The book of Hebrews was written to persuade Hebrew-Christian believers of the superiority of Christ as High Priest, and the efficacy of His blood offering. In the process, it contrasts Mt. Horeb, the place of the Law, with Mt. Zion, the place of grace and truth:
“But ye are come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels” (Hebrews 12:22).
Here, at last, is seen the beautiful city of God, and the final dwelling place of all the redeemed. With his spiritual eyes, Abraham saw this city, and knew that God would bring him there in the end. The Apostle John was blessed with a vision of this city, which he wrote about in Revelation 21:10-14:
“And he carried me away in the spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me that great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God,
“Having the glory of God: and her light was like unto a stone most precious, even like a jasper stone, clear as crystal;
“And had a wall great and high, and had twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and names written thereon, which are the names of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel:
“On the east three gates; on the north three gates; on the south three gates; and on the west three gates.
“And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and in them the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.”
Here, at last, is the heavenly Zion. Beautiful beyond comprehension, its gates and foundations bring together the leaders of spiritual Israel and the church. It is the summation of God's long-term plan to redeem the broken universe. Its Temple is a living structure – a vital union of the Father, Son and Spirit with those whom He has chosen. It is illuminated by His light, and is a source of continual blessing to the nations on the Earth below. Zion, home of the redeemed, is our destiny. As we think about today's Israel and the church under siege, we should always remember that this world, under the despotism of the nations, is not our home. We are aliens here; our true citizenship is yet to be realized in Zion, home of the redeemed. Wonderful things await the faithful.