The following article critically discusses the theology of Zion and the resulting false sense of security that arose amongst the people of Jerusalem. Themes presented include:
1. Zion, Eternal and Everlasting – An outline of the magnificence of Jerusalem as seen through the psalmist’s eyes,
2. Zion Traditions – The Theology’s foundations,
3. The Meaning of Zion – An outline of the term and its origins,
4. Zion the Invincible – Discussion relating to the people’s perception of Zion’s inviolability, and
5. The Decline – The degradation of the people and their refusal to repent.
In addition, the article discusses Christians today and whether a false sense of security can arise in trusting material blessing.
Zion Eternal and Everlasting
Zion, the name conjures images of a majestic kingdom beyond compare, an imposing fortress upon a Holy mountain, shining in glory, its turrets proclaiming its invincibility to the known world. God’s chosen King in reign, and the temple, epicenter of God’s worship on earth. Such imagery is not without basis, the psalmist writes “Walk around Zion, go all around it, count its towers. Consider well its ramparts, pass between its citadels, so you may describe it for generations to come. For this is God, our God, eternal and everlasting” (Ps 48: 12-14). Living in such a city with the assurance of God’s protection, vividly manifested in such physical existence, would no doubt afford a sense of security.
As Brown (2002) states “Indeed those ‘born in [Zion]’ are ‘registered’ in a list of faithful worshippers (Ps 87: 5-7). If refuge under God’s ‘wings’ is the locus of Israel’s protection, then Zion is God’s ‘nesting place’ and Israel is her brood (cf. Mat 23: 37)” (p. 23). Through poetic exhortation the psalm reconstructs Zion’s physical majesty; God’s presence is almost felt in residence. The psalmist doesn’t seek to turn God into a building; rather, God’s saving presence, forever indwelling and as visible as the fortress itself. The reader is placed into the feeling of Divine protection (Brown, 2002, p.23).
A glimpse of how the Israelites must have felt living in the City of David, Kingdom of Zion and home of the eternal God begins to emerge. The theology of Zion, like the ramparts of Jerusalem, grew from humble beginnings; expounding these traditions helps understand what would ultimately lead to a state of degradation born partly from a false sense of security.
Strong (1997) States “The theology of Zion encompassed an important complex of ideas centering on the idea of Israel’s God as the Great King of the divine assembly. Zion theology, serving as the royal theology of the Davidic dynasty, asserted that the Lord is the divine Great King, who controls all forces of chaos, thereby providing for the protection and fertility of the nation”. Whilst Strong draws his summation from the psalms such as Ps 47:7-9 and Ps 146:10, it is apparent that the theology of Zion also grew from the historical books of scripture. Groves asserts ” In the Historical Books the Zion traditions are the theology and traditions concerning the rule of Yahweh on earth by means of the election of (1) the house of David, the dynasty through whom he would rule, and (2) Zion/Jerusalem, the place from which he would rule” (p. 1019).
Whilst it is evident Zion Theology emerged from the Historical books leading to the conquest of Jerusalem by David, Levenson (1996) highlights the dozens of Zion traditions prominent in the prophetic book of Isaiah including 8:5-10; 17:12-14; 24:21-23; 25:6-12 and 60- 62 to name a few. Zion in these passages is mentioned explicitly or as deeper theological concepts throughout (p. 1099). It is clear that the Theology of Zion formed through three separate streams of scripture; Historical, Poetic (Psalms) and Prophetic (Isaiah onwards). Pinpointing the exact meaning of Zion is not straight forward, as the theology of Zion increasingly matured over time and through different channels of scripture, comparatively the meaning of the term also converged from different sources.
The Meaning of Zion
The initial term has been traced to the original name of a fortress in Jerusalem, prior to David’s conquest of the city from the Jebusites. When Solomon succeeded David and built the temple of Yahweh it was placed upon a ridge that came to be known as Mount Zion (Ps 78:68-69). The term Zion therefore was inherited to the Temple Mount, however Zion eventually designated the city or Holy City itself Zion the City of David. Finally Zion came to rest to encompass Israel itself, the fates of the Temple Mount, Jerusalem and the whole house of Israel where now intertwined in the term Zion, though now interchangeable and could refer to any and all three (Levenson, 1996, p. 1096). VanGermeren, however, saw the term Mount Zion as standing for the vision of God’s kingship. “God’s kingdom is greater than Jerusalem but receives its visible expression in the temple and palace of Jerusalem. Yahweh and his dwelling (temple) are associated with Zion. Further David, is closely related to the Zion tradition because Yahweh commended him for his desire to build a temple in Jerusalem” (VanGermeren, 1991, p. 354). To the people at the time, Zion the City of David, represented a refuge and the pinnacle of God’s presence amongst them. It is from here that confidence in Zion’s invincibility would grow.
Zion The Invincible
Through the reigns of David and Solomon, Zion (the City) remained unscathed by any external force. During Rehoboam’s reign, in a time when Judah did evil in the eyes of the Lord, (1 Kgs 14:22) the temple and Jerusalem were attacked by the King of Egypt (1 Kgs 14:25), however, Jerusalem recovered. Groves highlights the events leading to the exile, “The signal event in the period between the schism of the kingdoms and the exile of Israel was the miraculous deliverance of Zion/Jerusalem from the hand of the Assyrian King Senacherib (2 Kings 18:13 -19:37; 2 Chron 32:1-23) during Hezekiah’s reign. This reinforced the popular belief that Zion/Jerusalem was inviolable because Yahweh’s name dwelt there” (p. 1024).
After the reign of Hezekiah, his son Manasseh took charge, unfortunately as Arnold state “Manasseh became one of Judah’s most wicked kings, and eventually undid all the reforms his father had established. His evil led to a spiritual decline from which Judah never recovered (Jer 15:4)” (Arnold, 1999, p. 367).
The confidence in the temple as a sanctuary of protection led to a false sense of security and to the notion that people can worship God and ‘get away with murder’ and exploitation of the poor. (Anderson ,2000, p. 173). Arnold (1999)reinforces this sentiment stating “Many people continued to trust in empty religious rituals, and believed God would bless Jerusalem no matter how they lived. God sent Jeremiah to warn the people to repent, but unfortunately, most did not listen” (p. 385). Jeremiah’s heartfelt sermon given at the gates of Zion (Jerusalem) emphasizes the condition of the people;
“Hear the word of the LORD, all you people of Judah who come through these gates to worship the LORD. This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Reform your ways and your actions, and I will let you live in this place. Do not trust in deceptive words and say, “This is the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD!” If you really change your ways and your actions and deal with each other justly, if you do not oppress the alien, the fatherless or the widow and do not shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not follow other gods to your own harm, then I will let you live in this place, in the land I gave your forefathers for ever and ever. But look, you are trusting in deceptive words that are worthless. ‘Will you steal and murder, commit adultery and perjury, burn incense to Baal and follow other gods you have not known, and then come and stand before me in this house, which bears my Name, and say, “We are safe”safe to do all these detestable things?” (Jer 7:2-10).
Although God continued his call for repentance, through his Prophet Jeremiah, the people refused to listen, ultimately God raised Babylon and Nebuchadnezzar as his instrument of judgment against Judah’s sins. Zion, the city of David, would finally fall.
Calling ‘Lord’ ‘Lord’ in the new temple
Approximately 2500 years later, the gift of God’s grace and mercy, given in Christ to those who believe, still calls for a level of righteousness amongst Christians. Arnold (1999)states “Today, God still expects sincere commitments from his children. Half-hearted repentance and faith have no place in God’s service” (p. 386). In the Sermon on the Mount, Christ himself states unless righteousness surpasses the Pharisees and teachers of the Law you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven (Mt 5:20). Non forgiveness extended to others warrants the non forgiveness of our sins from the Father (Mt 6:14) and Christ’s warning of not all those that say ‘Lord’ ‘Lord’ (reminiscent here of Jer 7:2) will enter the Kingdom of heaven gives clear indication of a call to righteousness. Again Arnold (1999) affirms “many people today trust in rituals for security. They think God will accept them because of their baptism, church attendance, faithful giving, or service to their Church. But as Jeremiah warns apart from faith, even important church activities are empty rituals” (p. 387).
The apostle Paul states “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit will reap eternal life” (Gal 6:7-8). Today it seems many Christians hold firmly to John 3:16 whilst avoiding the other 66 books of the bible. It is clear that the sinful nature is to be overcome by faith in Christ and the work the Holy Spirit can do in a human that truly repents. However, as was the case for those in Zion, believing that as a Christian one can do as one pleases, for “I am saved in Christ”, lends itself to a false sense of security. The new temple has arrived but as Paul states “Do you not know your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body” (1 Cor 6:19-20).
This article has critically discussed the core aspects of Zion Theology in relation to the false sense of security that developed amongst those living in Jerusalem. It is clear that the term Zion extended to encompass both the city and the people themselves and through the Davidic line of Kings a level of protection was extended to them whilst they remained faithful to Yahweh. The people, however, forgot Yahweh’s Law; they turned to false Gods and to sinful practice whilst believing their protection was eternal within the Holy City.
Comparatively a warning is presented for modern Christians, God still expects us to keep to his ways, however, only through total faith in Christ and a repenting heart we are able to remain on the narrow road and not get lost in false senses of security along the way.
Anderson, B.W. (2000). Out of the Depths. The Psalms speak for us today. Louisville, KY: Westminister John Knox press
Arnold, B.T. Beyer, B.E. (1999). Encountering the Old Testament. Grand Rapids: MI, Baker Books.
Brown, W.P. (2002). Seeing the Psalms. A Theology of Metaphor. Louisville, KY: Westminister John Knox press
Levenson, J.D. (1996). “Zion Traditions” in Freedman, D.N. (ed). The Anchor Bible Dictionary. Doubleday: New York.
Strong, J. T. (1997). “Zion” in VanGemeren W. A. (ed). New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology and Exegesis (vols. 1-6). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
VanGemeren, W.A. (1991). “Appendix: Zion Theology” In The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Volume 5. 354. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.