Israel 2016: Between the Surreal and a Holy Place
Our plan today was to visit the Kotel (Western Wall) and then go shopping. At least that was the general outline. Pete and I had other things in mind – activities which involved more walking and exploration, and less exchange of hard currency. It would be cheaper, of course, but more importantly, it would help vigorous teenage boys expend more energy and perhaps enjoy their time in Jerusalem a little more.
We are now veterans at navigating Jerusalem. Drive through Ein Kerem (hometown of John the Baptist) up to Mount Herzl, get on the light rail, and ride to the City Hall. Walk down to the Jaffa Gate, and wind our way through the Jewish Quarter to the Kotel. It was easy – aside from forgetting to remove my wallet from my pocket at the security checkpoint. Not a problem, other than embarrassment when the sensor announced my faux pas. The officer was patient and professional; he sees this a thousand times a day. Put the wallet on the table, go back through the sensor, and all is well.
This is my third time to the Kotel. It’s the first time for the young people with us. The women went to their side, leaving the six of us men to move through the crowds on our side. Tommy and Pete led the way, followed by Pete’s sons Jeremiah, Joseph, and Silas. I brought up the rear. Eventually we found space at the wall where all of us could touch the ancient stones and pray side by side. What I prayed recalled the words of the Son of David who dedicated this holy place above us:
“But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain You. How much less this temple which I have built! Yet regard the prayer of Your servant and his supplication, O Lord my God, and listen to the cry and the prayer which Your servant is praying before You today: that Your eyes may be open toward this temple night and day, toward the place of which You said, ‘My name shall be there,’ that You may hear the prayer which Your servant makes toward this place. And may You hear the supplication of Your servant and of Your people Israel, when they pray toward this place. Hear in heaven Your dwelling place; and when You hear, forgive. (I Kings 8:27-30 NKJV)
Why do we pray toward Jerusalem? That is why. It is His city, the place He has chosen from all the places on this planet. The one place where His visible glory appeared and remained for centuries – and will return one day.
When first I visited the Kotel in 2012, I did not feel the Presence of YHVH in the stones. Perhaps that is because I was looking in the wrong place. The stones of that massive retaining wall do recall the feet which walked over them 2,000 years ago, but what they know now is the presence of the Almighty in His people, both Jews and Christians. It was a blessed day when Israel regained custody of this place nearly 50 years ago. That is when the prayers of our Jewish brethren intensified in their earnestness for the restoration of all Israel, the return of all the galuts (exiles), and the reestablishment of the Holy Temple. Whether it is their faithfulness or the approach of the appointment the Almighty made from the beginning of time, or a combination of both, we have reached another trigger point in the prophetic history of this earth.
As always, Mount Moriah, the Temple Mount, is in the eye of the storm.
And my prayer? Simply this: “Our Father in Heaven, haste the day that your Holy Temple is built again and all the nations see Your Glory.”
I have had sufficient reason this week to consider why I want the Temple rebuilt. Is it to see Messiah return and reign from it? Yes, but there is more than that. It may be that the Temple will stand for centuries before Messiah comes to sanctify it, so what is the purpose of such a house? YHVH Himself tells us: It is to be a house of prayer for all nations. Apparently the Second Temple was not such a house, or at least had ceased to be one in the First Century when Yeshua drove out the money changers and challenged the corrupt priesthood.
But there is another reason I want to see the Third Temple. It is connected to the Temple’s main purpose, and in fact appears on both sides of that passage about it being a house of prayer for all nations:
“Also the sons of the foreigner who join themselves to the Lord, to serve Him, and to love the name of the Lord, to be His servants—everyone who keeps from defiling the Sabbath, and holds fast My covenant—even them I will bring to My holy mountain, and make them joyful in My house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on My altar; for My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations.” The Lord God, who gathers the outcasts of Israel, says, “Yet I will gather to him others besides those who are gathered to him.” (Isaiah 56:6-8 NKJV)
The God-fearers in Yeshua’s day could not come freely to the Temple. There was a list of ordinances created by the Temple administration to keep them at arm’s length, and a wall of separation to stop them from progressing very far into its courts. That is why He had to do what He did, and why His atoning death and resurrection opened the way for all of us not born into Israel to become part of Israel. We are those “others” gathered to Israel. We are the reason, as Paul says, that Yeshua broke down that middle wall of separation and that law of man-made ordinances which kept us far off and separated us from Jewish Israel (Ephesians 2:14-22). Now we really can be one people – if only we would get past our mutual fear and mistrust.
And so I prayed for us to return, to be no longer far off, but once again a united Israel brought near to the glory of our King and the blessing of all nations. This, too, is what Solomon Son of David taught us:
Moreover, concerning a foreigner, who is not of Your people Israel, but has come from a far country for Your name’s sake (for they will hear of Your great name and Your strong hand and Your outstretched arm), when he comes and prays toward this temple, hear in heaven Your dwelling place, and do according to all for which the foreigner calls to You, that all peoples of the earth may know Your name and fear You, as do Your people Israel, and that they may know that this temple which I have built is called by Your name. (I Kings 8:41-43 NKJV)
Yeshua said the true worshippers of YHVH would worship Him in spirit and in truth (John 4:21-24). Perhaps what He said relates to what Hosea said centuries earlier:
For the children of Israel shall abide many days without king or prince, without sacrifice or sacred pillar, without ephod or teraphim. Afterward the children of Israel shall return and seek the Lord their God and David their king. They shall fear the Lord and His goodness in the latter days. (Hosea 3:4-5 NKJV)
Maybe we all had to lose the Temple so that we would be shaken out of our complacency. My spiritual ancestors of Joseph/Ephraim (those “Lost Tribes” of Israel’s northern kingdom) were the first to go through this harsh learning process. Judah followed soon after, thanks to the Babylonians. Apparently the lesson was not well learned by any of us, and so the Romans had to repeat it for us all. Now maybe we have come to the point of appreciating YHVH for Who He is rather than the forms He has given us to represent Him. That is worshipping in spirit and truth. This week I have seen Jews do that very thing, and I have witnessed Christians joining with them. Is this what Yeshua meant when He told Doubting Thomas that those who have not seen Him and still believe are blessed more than those who see? If so then maybe my Jewish brethren who have not seen Messiah are more blessed than I. Even if not, the fact is that none of us have seen the visible manifestation of the Creator’s glory which is the Temple, and yet we believe in that Creator and His covenant promises.
Does this mean the Holy Temple is soon to come? I pray so.
When we finished our separate prayers at the Kotel, we retreated to the courtyard to await our ladies. It was a curious joy to see the mixed worshippers there. Mostly Jews, of course, but many Christians and some like me, in that Hebrew world that falls somewhere between Judaism and Christianity. How beautiful are both halves of our faith. I was reminded of this as I watched an Orthodox father teach his little son to shake the lulav. The child does not yet know the significance of what he is doing, but his father is faithful to the traditions of his fathers, grounded as they are in the Torah of YHVH. Who am I to find fault with him? I have found more wisdom in observing, learning, and rejoicing in such expressions of love to the God we jointly serve.
The Kotel is a holy place. Not because of the stones, but because of the people whose hearts are slowing turning from stone to flesh. One day we will say the same about the Har Habayit – the Temple Mount. It is not so now.
Pete and I wanted to ascend to the Temple Mount if possible. Today it was possible, but not all wanted to join us. This was the only day for shopping in the Old City, and loved ones back home expect and deserve something precious from the Holy Land. Jeremiah decided not to join us because he knows what is on that mountain is something far different from the Temple of the Lord. This young man has already cultivated a sensitive spirit. It is impressive in someone not yet 18 years of age. Not wanting to endure the assaults of the less-than-holy spirits on the mount, he opted to join the shoppers, anticipating that one day he will ascend the mount and enter the courts of YHVH.
Only Joseph chose to make the journey with his father and me. At 15 Joseph is still trying to understand who he is and how this eternal God relates to him. He has made immense progress in this understanding while in Jerusalem. Today he took several steps forward on that journey. However, we failed to prepare him for the mundane requirements of passing Temple Mount security. Pete and I had tucked our tzit-tzits into our pockets. Joseph didn’t get the memo. The efficient security officer asked him if he was Jewish, and when he replied in the negative, the man told Joseph to remove the tzit-tzits. Once that little glitch was overcome – with some prompt and bold action by his father – Joseph was ready to ascend.
One would expect that the sense of holiness would grow as we ascended higher. It was not so. Each step on the ramp took us farther away from the prayers and worship of the people at the Kotel. By the time we reached the final Israeli checkpoint at the top, the sounds below were but a distant echo. When we passed the Muslim security, it was a distant memory. What we encountered thereafter was the simultaneously ostentatious and dilapidated domain of a usurper god.
Even before we could take in the sight of the Dome of the Rock above us and the Al Aqsa Mosque to our right, two Arab gentlemen approached us with offers to guide us around the site for a small fee. With my mouth I politely declined their offers. With my mind I wondered if they had heard the story of similar merchants being ejected from this holy place several centuries ago. Even if they had, it would not have mattered. Their holy place is not a house of prayer for all the nations, but a shrine to the god of a prophet who continues to shake his fist and wave his sword in the face of the nations, demanding their submission.
Should we have been surprised that we felt out-of-place? Or surprised that we had to be watchful lest we offend? Our very presence was an offense to our hosts. Joseph learned that when a security official explained to him in easily understood Arabic that he should remove his Israeli Army ball cap and stuff it into his pocket. We saw others who had learned the same lesson: men who showed up in the standard tourist garb of shorts and t-shirts, only to learn that long pants were required for the privilege of walking around Islam’s third holiest site. For that oversight they paid an exorbitant sum to purchase flimsy white skirts to cover their legs. It was a ridiculous display; Islam has excelled at making infidels the subject of ridicule for about 1,500 years.
Throughout our circuitous walk around the Temple Mount, the gaudy dome on top of the hill commanded our attention. It stands atop a holy place. Is it yet holy? Yes. Is it clean – fit for the habitation of the Almighty God? No. It is an affront to Him.
The Al Asa Mosque did not impress me. All I saw in it was an obstruction for those who would ascend the Mount from the south. Ezekiel tells us that when Messiah’s Temple is in operation, those who enter from the south will exit from the north, and those who enter from the north will exit from the south (Ezekiel 46:9-10). That sounds very orderly to me. I surmise it will also be more neat and clean and green and pleasantly fragrant than what we encountered today. It would seem that our Muslim neighbors have little regard for picking up the trash in their third holiest site.
What did impress me was the Eastern Gate. I have seen it from the outside, and now I know what it looks like from the inside. These present walls of Jerusalem have stood for about 500 years, and I am told that the Eastern Gate has remained shut the entire time. One day my God and King will come through that gate, again according to the words of Ezekiel (Ezekiel 43:1-5, 44:1-3, 46:1-8). How surreal to think that the God of the Universe would be walking through that gate and over the path I was walking, and that at present the flimsy efforts of man stand against Him. Have these people never heard about the judgment rendered on the Babylonians, Greeks, Romans, Crusaders, and others who trampled contemptuously on the place where God cemented His covenant with Abraham? Perhaps when that other mountain to the east splits into two pieces they will understand.
As I gazed at the Mount of Olives, I wondered where Messiah’s foot would land on that great day. In the same place where He ascended, of course. But where is that? What part of the mountain will become a valley, the channel of a river of living water to heal the nations? And how long before that healing comes about? Are we near the end of this forty-two months? Have the courts of the Temple been trampled by the Gentiles long enough?
This I have pondered ever since we made our way down from the Temple Mount. It is hard to ponder such things while there, considering the need to be on guard both physically and spiritually. It is an unholy holy place, and therefore surreal. The Presence of the Almighty is not there – yet.
Where is that Presence? I have seen it; it is in the hearts of His people, both Jewish and non-Jewish. There is in this land of Israel and around the globe a love growing between them that is as yet hardly perceptible, but which one day will astonish the world. That is the real holy place – the place of a genuine love between brothers who once feared and hated each other, but who are determined to love one another even when it is inconvenient and incomprehensible.
That, perhaps, is what has been lacking until now. We cannot come to the Mount of God until we first love our brother. Fifty years ago, Jews and Christians had not learned that lesson, and therefore Israel was right to relinquish control over the Temple Mount. We may have another fifty years before we are ready, but I see now the path we must travel: the path from a surreal present to a holy future.