Build thou the walls of Jerusalem
12th March 2023, hej
1) Build thou the walls of Jerusalem
I have seen samplers embroidered with, 'the sacrifices of God are a broken spirit'.
Many value the character shaping aspects of the Bible. Many Christians would be happy to point out that as there is no temple existing now as the God of the Bible always wished for service in people as his analogous 'temple'.
O Lord, open thou my lips; and my mouth shall shew forth thy praise. For thou desirest not sacrifice; else would I give it: thou delightest not in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise. Do good in thy good pleasure unto Zion: build thou the walls of Jerusalem. (Psalm 51:15-18)
However, at the point of speaking of the intangible spirit – the inspired Psalmist talks of Zion and then in the next breath equates Zion to the walls of Jerusalem.
The human mind is very selective in rejecting any evidence it doesn't wish to see. Many will in any case only take to heart the bits they like of the Bible. But we are asking here, 'How are we to see God?' Is it reasonable to argue for a Creator who is an Architect in all the ways we as humans know.
We are testing the idea that creation is not limited to the origins of life, and that the Bible explains the foundation of all creation, of every sort.
'Build thou' indicates an ongoing present into the future. On other words, 'Please build the walls now as I speak, please build the walls soon'. Yet fundamentally the ongoing building points to an ultimate building of purpose invested in the salvation that comes out of Zion.
Psalm 51 is not an isolated case connecting physical building to salvation. Psalm 69, one of the famous Messianic Psalms speaking of 'gal and vinegar' (verse 21) is much quoted. Many have heard of the quote 'for the zeal of thine house hath eaten me up' (Psalm 69:9) which is quoted in John 2:17 in the account of Christ clearing the Temple 'his Father's house' of merchandise. Just as in Psalm 51, 69 begins with suffering and deliverance in salvation. Christians highly value the idea that their praise is better than sacrifice.
I will praise the name of God with a song, and will magnify him with thanksgiving. This also shall please the LORD better than an ox or bullock that hath horns and hoofs. The humble shall see this, and be glad: and your heart shall live that seek God. For the LORD heareth the poor, and despiseth not his prisoners. Let the heaven and earth praise him, the seas, and every thing that moveth therein. (Psalm 69:30-34)
If the psalm had ended here, few Christians would question it. But how many Christians skip over, as unpalatable, the utterly startling ending? I will maintain its context and show the connection.
For the LORD heareth the poor, and despiseth not his prisoners. Let the heaven and earth praise him, the seas, and every thing that moveth therein. For God will save Zion, and will build the cities of Judah: that they may dwell there, and have it in possession. The seed also of his servants shall inherit it: and they that love his name shall dwell therein. (Psalm 69:34-36)
Now we understand that the praise of the poor that pleases the God of the Bible is not empty words of glory but very specific words about his physical creation in building cities. The salvation of the poor and humble is that their heart shall live in Zion.
The Psalmists after speaking of the pattern of the Christian Christ immediately after says God will save Zion – which is not some mythical soft feeling- but equated to cities of Judah. These cities of Judah are often featured on the news for Jews settling there and by so doing preventing all Middle East peace (this despite actual war in Libya, Syria and Yemen). Yes indeed there is great salvation in the suffering of Christ, but the crescendo, apex and end of that salvation for the humble is God building Zion.
Are we not seeing what is written there because we are biased? Surely, just as the psalmist, we are in over our depth in life's mire. Therefore surely, we seek the good end! If we focus on the middle, the suffering of Christ, we miss the end, which is the building of the cities of Judah.
To build cities for the humble to inherit and dwell in, requires architectural town planning and the design of many buildings and infrastructure. There is no comfort for the present generation in the best of cities of this age after some many thousands of years of learning, as they fall so far short of Utopian as to be unhealthy, with huge impacts on every aspect of the natural environment even unkindly labelled 'Vortex Cities'. Historically the life expectancy of the city dweller always fell below that of the farmer. If we are to look to a city for salvation, we need one whose physical builder and maker is God.
It is very easy because of our bias to miss the pattern of the great architect. At the very point we are thinking of, the core aspects of the Christian faith, we find strong support for the thesis that God creates in every aspect; from the stones of the earth to those of Jerusalem and the cities of Judah.
The poetry of the psalms, points to ideas expressed in the prose of the prophets. Isaiah in speaking of the future of Jerusalem writes:
Surely the isles shall wait for me, and the ships of Tarshish first, to bring thy sons from far, their silver and their gold with them, unto the name of the LORD thy God, and to the Holy One of Israel, because he hath glorified thee. And the sons of strangers shall build up thy walls, and their kings shall minister unto thee: for in my wrath I smote thee, but in my favour have I had mercy on thee. (Isaiah 60:9-10)
When would sons of strangers build the walls of Jerusalem to Glorify the Holy one of Israel? Has it ever occurred in all of recorded history? The prose looks rather concrete as Isaiah speaks of great detail. He also speaks first of wrath. There can be no doubt looking back that the walls were destroyed and rebuilt by strangers- but none in all that time made Jerusalem their capital or centre to Glorify the God of the Jewish Bible. Because it is written, and nothing is written without purpose, there is a time in our future when the Name of the Holy One of Israel is glorified in building the walls of Jerusalem.
When the walls are destroyed Nehamiah says
“The God of heaven, he will prosper us; therefore we his servants will arise and build” (Neh 2:20)
Thus saith the LORD of hosts; Consider your ways. Go up to the mountain, and bring wood, and build the house; and I will take pleasure in it, and I will be glorified, saith the LORD. Ye looked for much, and, lo, it came to little; and when ye brought it home, I did blow upon it. Why? saith the LORD of hosts. Because of mine house that is waste, and ye run every man unto his own house. (Haggai 1:7-9)
The LORD doth build up Jerusalem: he gathereth together the outcasts of Israel. He healeth the broken in heart, and bindeth up their wounds. (Psalm 147:2-3)
God's 'good pleasure' and 'favour' to Zion, and the building of physical walls of Jerusalem is therefore not just a matter of today, stretching to tomorrow but also a matter of ultimate end-point of the future depicted in the Bible. The creation of an analogous 'temple' of thankful praising people, is not instead of a physical temple, but in parallel with the process of its physical building.
In all ways and shapes the unlovely history of the walls of Jerusalem is the building work of God. A building site is always messy. Are there any lives, except that of our lord, even of the faithful that sustain critical examination as perfect and lovely? There is mess of excavations, sawn timber, cut stone, tile and plumbing, cutting poor quality works, unbuilding mistakes and rebuilding until the end, which is not an end but a point where it is 'good enough' to be fit for purpose. In the same way the Bible shows us God building the physical walls of Jerusalem.
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