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The Refining Fire of Jerusalem

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Image Source: ICEJ Magazine with Permission of International Christian Embassy Jerusalem

By Dr. Jürgen Bühler,  ICEJ Executive Director

The prophet Joel saw three great developments before the coming of “the great and terrible day of the Lord.” First, he saw the Spirit of God being poured out on all flesh—a revival that would cover the whole earth (Joel 2:28ff). Second, he saw the Jewish people returning to their homeland (Joel 3:1). And third, he saw the nations gathering together against Jerusalem, specifically in the valley of Jehoshaphat (“God judges” in Hebrew), a northern extension of the Kidron Valley. He had a special name for this valley—the “valley of decision.

From the very beginning, Jerusalem has been a city of decision. The first time we read about it, we find Abraham returning from a successful campaign against four kings who had taken hostages from the city-states of Sodom and Gomorrah. Abraham pursued and defeated the kings, liberated the hostages, and brought back a rich bounty of his conquest (Genesis 14).

Upon his return, Abraham reached the “valley of the Kings”—thought to be the Kidron Valley just east of Jerusalem’s Old City. There, two kings appeared to him: the King of Sodom, ruler of an unrighteous city, and Melchizedek, King of Salem. Both made an offer to Abraham. The King of Sodom offered him all the spoils of the conquest: “Give me the persons, and take the goods for yourself.” Melchizedek’s offer was far more modest: bread and wine. Melchizedek blessed him from “God Most High (El Elyon), Possessor of heaven and earthThe difference was stark! The ruler of Sodom offered riches but kept the souls. Melchizedek was Priest of the God Most High, and with bread and wine, the eternal symbols of sacrificial redemption, he offered Abraham redemption of the soul. Abraham understood this came from the same God who called him out of Ur in Chaldea. This was the Creator God, “possessor of heaven and earth,” who could claim everything he had.

It was not an easy choice. Abraham had every right to keep the riches of Sodom but he returned the spoil to its king. He then readily accepted Melchizedek’s blessing and offered back a tithe of everything he had, recognizing God’s claim over his life.

Years later, God called Abraham back to Jerusalem. “Take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you” (Genesis 22:2). This is the most demanding call anyone could ever receive from God. It meant giving up the son of promise for whom Abraham had prayed and hoped for those many years. Isaac also embodied his own calling to be a blessing to all the families of the earth. And of course, Isaac was his own flesh and blood. We can only imagine what it took for Abraham to make this agonizing journey to Jerusalem. Hebrews says Abraham’s deep belief that Isaac would be raised from the dead enabled him to walk this difficult road (Hebrews 11:17–19).

Twice Abraham made a radical decision in Jerusalem. For him, Jerusalem represented the very fact that God indeed was possessor of heaven and earth. It is the place of total surrender to God; the place to make God the highest authority and submit our rights and will to Him.

David would later make Jerusalem the capital of Israel. As with Abraham, Jerusalem became for David the place of ultimate worship and sacrifice to God. There on Mount Zion, David established a place of perpetual worship to God. One of his psalms says it is a place reserved for the humble and pure of heart (Psalm 24:1–4). Here, the Creator of heaven and earth expects our total surrender to Him. Isaiah declares that “His fire is in Zion and whose furnace is Jerusalem” (Isaiah 31:9). Jerusalem is a battleground for the soul—the place for deciding whom we will serve.

Yet in Jerusalem, God made His own decision to give everything for us. Like Abraham, He gave that which was most precious to Him—His only begotten Son. Two thousand years after Abraham, in the Kings’ valley on the slopes of the Kidron, Melchizedek appears again—now as the son of David, King of the Jews, and Son of God. There, in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus Christ, our High Priest, prayed the greatest prayer of submission: “Not My will, but Yours, be done” (Luke 22:42). And as did Isaac, Jesus carried a wooden burden up that mountain to offer Himself as an eternal sacrifice for me and you. Throughout history this offer of redemption has confronted every soul. It remains a place of decision for everyone!

Interestingly, the king of Sodom’s offer also seems to be ever-present in this city. The book of Revelation calls Jerusalem the city that is spiritually “Sodom.” There is an enduring spiritual battle over the city that manifests even in the political arena. Jerusalem is like a magnet to the rulers of this world, where the arrogance of their power is demonstrated by their desire to divide and control the City of God. But “He who sits in the heavens shall laugh; The Lord shall hold them in derision. Then He shall speak to them in His wrath, and distress them in His deep displeasure: ‘Yet I have set My King On My holy hill of Zion’” (Psalm 2:4–6).

The prophet Zechariah foresaw the drunkenness with which the world’s rulers are eager to decide the fate of Jerusalem. Yet the prophet warned: “… it shall happen in that day that I will make Jerusalem a very heavy stone for all peoples; all who would heave it away will surely be cut in pieces, though all nations of the earth are gathered against it” (Zechariah 12:2–3).

It is a dangerous thing to carelessly lift that heavy stone of Jerusalem. It is a burden that can crush even nations.

Exactly one hundred years ago, British General Edmund Allenby liberated Jerusalem from the Ottomans. When entering the city through Jaffa Gate, he dismounted his horse and asked his soldiers to do the same. “Only the King of kings should enter the city riding on a horse,” he reportedly said. Some 20 years earlier, the German Kaiser Wilhelm II visited Jerusalem and insisted that Jaffa Gate be widened for him to ride into Jerusalem on a white horse.

Dealing with Jerusalem demands humility from everyone, politicians included. Those who would too easily divide the city remind us of the prostitute who too quickly took up Solomon’s suggestion to divide her friend’s child. Let us rather seek the peace of this great city! The psalmist said, “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem. May they prosper who love you” (Psalm 122:6); the Hebrew word for peace —shalom—also means “wholeness.” To seek unity and peace can mean the difference between blessing and curse.

Therefore, make it a place of decision for you personally, and choose afresh Christ’s eternal gift of bread and wine, submitting to Him. But also, let us pray for our nations to relate rightly to the city that Jesus Christ Himself calls the city of the great King. It will be for the prospering of our own nations!

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