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The First Holy City

The fortunes of earthly Jerusalem take us from the beginning of the circumcision in Abraham to the end of the circumcision in AD70, but the entire history must be understood in the light of the process of the Ascension offering.

From our vantage point in history, with the complete chronicle in view, it is often assumed that Jerusalem was known as “the holy city” from the very start, or at least from the time of its conquest by David. But this is not the case.

Peter Leithart writes:

Calling Jerusalem the “holy city” comes so naturally to Christians that it comes as something of a surprise to realize how infrequently the phrase is used in Scripture. Not only is Jerusalem rarely called holy, but in the Old Testament this classification is found only in texts that refer to or were written in the exilic and post-exilic periods.

Joel 3:17 asserts, for example, that “Jerusalem will be holy.” Joel 3 is evidently a promise concerning the restoration period: It begins with a promise that the fortunes of Judah and Jerusalem would be restored (3:1), and the entire chapter follows a pattern of restoration, judgment and war against the nations, and the Lord’s return to Jerusalem that is found in other prophecies of the return from exile (e.g., Ezk. 37-48; Zech. 9-14?). Regardless of the dating of Joel’s prophecy, 3:17 is concerned with the return from the Babylonian exile. Three texts in Isaiah are relevant: 48:2, 52:1, and 64:10. Though these were written prior to the exile, they are in a section of Isaiah that concerns the restoration. The other Old Testament references to “holy” Jerusalem are Nehemiah 11:1, 18 and Daniel 9:24.

In her 1988 study, In An Age of Prose: A Literary Approach to Ezra-Nehemiah (Atlanta: Scholars Press), Tamara Cohn Eskenazi argues that Ezra and Nehemiah both assume that, after the return from exile, the holiness of the temple expanded to include the entire city of Jerusalem. Many bits of evidence support this interpretation. Most directly, Nehemiah twice called Jerusalem the “holy city” (Neh. 11:1, 18). Eliashib the high priest, moreover, “consecrated” the wall at the beginning of the building project (Neh. 3:1), and Levites were stationed at the gates of the city (Neh. 7:1; 13:22).

Once it is recognized that the restoration city participated in the holiness of the temple, certain odd events in Nehemiah begin to make more sense. Nehemiah’s attention to the broken walls of the city takes on a religious, not only a military, coloration; his survey of the walls parallels the priest’s inspection of the temple. Genealogies of the people who volunteered to return to the city are provided, just as genealogies were earlier required for Levites who wished to participate in the temple services (Neh 11:4-9; cf. 7:61-65). Jerusalem, being a holy city, required a demonstrably holy seed.1Peter Leithart, The Holy City, Biblical Horizons No. 55.

The First New Jerusalem

The “new Jerusalem” of Ezra and Nehemiah, typologically speaking, was a “resurrection” of the bride. According to the Law, as a woman of Israel, she had been stoned with stones (Deuteronomy 22:23-24; 22:13-21), but also according to the Law, as the daughter of a priest, she was then burned with fire (Leviticus 21:9). This added step of purification is what allows a resurrection. Like the three friends of Daniel, Jerusalem would emerge from the flames with no smell of smoke, and with only her bonds burned away. But she would never be the same again.

Since the labors of both Ezra and Nehemiah faced opposition, we should not be surprised to find that these books follow the Bible Matrix, or “Covenant-literary” pattern. Each book describes a “tour of duty,” a mission in the midst of enemies.

EZRA

Creation – The proclamation of Cyrus to return and rebuild (Initiation)
Division – The exiles return and are numbered (Delegation)
Ascension – The Altar is built and the Temple foundation laid. The Feast of Booths is celebrated (Presentation)
Testing – The reconstruction is opposed with appeals to the king, who decrees that it cease. It begins again, but opposition continues (Purification)
Maturity – The Jews appeal to the decree of Cyrus. This “law” is repeated when Darius retrieves it from the Persian archives, and then makes his own decree to rebuild the Temple. With the Temple complete, the “first Passover in the Land” is celebrated, as it was in Joshua’s time. Darius writes Ezra a letter of peace. Riches from Persia are brought to the Temple (Transformation)
Conquest – Ezra is sent to teach the people, and he establishes the pedigree and duties of a new priesthood (Vindication)
Glorification – Ezra deals with the marriages of Israelites to unconverted women (Representation)

NEHEMIAH

Creation – Nehemiah hears the exiles are in trouble and makes his request of the king (Sabbath)
Division – Nehemiah leaves by night and secretly inspects the breached walls (Passover)
Ascension – The walls are rebuilt by the exiles, beginning with the High Priest and his brothers. The priestly people are set up as guards of the holy city. Their oppression of their poor brothers is reprimanded and they repent (unlike King Zedekiah) (Firstfruits)
Testing – There is a conspiracy, but Nehemiah does not believe the false prophet hired to trap him (Pentecost)
Maturity – The wall is finished and the surrounding nations are terrified. The returned exiles and their gifts are numbered. By the seventh month, the people are living in their towns (Trumpets)
Conquest – Ezra reads the law, and the people are grief stricken. He proclaims a holy day and tells them to rejoice (Atonement)
Glorification – Nehemiah adds myrtle to the list of trees from which they were to take branches for the Feast of Booths 2“With the destruction of the Temple, the Kingdom moved into a period of outward humility, but inward glory. The myrtle tree receives notice during the post-exilic period. God had prophesied renewal in terms of the myrtle (Isaiah 55:13), and Nehemiah added it to the list of trees used for the Feast of Tabernacles (Nehemiah 8:15). Zechariah saw Israel as a myrtle grove (Zechariah 1:8-11), and it is doubtless no accident that Queen Esther’s original Hebrew name was Myrtle (Hadassah; Esther 2:7).” James B. Jordan, Through New Eyes, 92. (Booths)

EZRA-NEHEMIAH

Just as the Day of Atonement required two blood offerings, the first for the priesthood (Adamic Garden) and the second for the people (Cainite Land), so Ezra and Nehemiah concern the reconstruction of the Temple and the City respectively. Since these are, once again typologically speaking, a head and a body, the Bible Matrix architecture can be discerned in a combination of the books, with the Temple as the sacrificial head and the now-holy city as a new kind of body. The city of Cain has finally been redeemed and now possesses the sanctity of the Garden.

Creation – Proclamation of Cyrus, the Gentile sponsor (Genesis)
Division – The exiles return and are “threshed” (Exodus)
Ascension – The temple is rebuilt (Leviticus)
Testing – The daughters of men are put away (Numbers)
Maturity – The walls of a resurrected “Israel” are built (Deuteronomy)
Conquest – All foreigners and traitors are exiled (Joshua)
Glorification – Both Jews and Gentiles bring their riches (Judges)

The Last New Jerusalem

Since Jerusalem was only considered “holy” after she was slain and resurrected from the dead, it would make sense if her entire history followed the “sacrificial” thread of the Bible matrix. It would also explain why the city in Israel today no longer has any covenantal significance.

TRANSCENDENCE
Creation/Sabbath – “Salem” (peace) ruled by Melchizedek (king of righteousness) (Initiation – animal chosen)

HIERARCHY
Division/Passover – “Jebus” (trodden underfoot3This is only one of a number of possible meanings of Jebus.) Adonizedek defies the invading Israelites and is defeated, but the city remains in the possession of the Canaanite Jebusites (Delegation – animal under the sword)

ETHICS
Ascension/Firstfruits – Jerusalem conquered by David. This begins with the burial of Goliath’s head as its “foundation.” The city on the mountain becomes the subject of song, and the Temple is built (Presentation – animal lifted up)
Testing/Pentecost – The kings turn to false gods, and Nebuchadnezzar razes the city (Purification – animal incinerated)
Maturity/Trumpets – Ezra rebuilds the Temple, and Nehemiah rebuilds the city (Transformation – fragrant smoke as testimony).

OATH/SANCTIONS
Conquest/Atonement – The name of the location of Christ’s execution, Golgotha, “the place of the skull,” might be derived from Goliath of Gath, tying this conquest typologically to the first victory of the Davidic dynasty. (Vindication – The savour is accepted by God)

SUCCESSION
Glorification/Booths – The old Jerusalem and its Aaronic priesthood now redundant, condemned and destroyed, the final form of the city is not only heavenly but ruled by a better Melchizedek, Christ. 4The difference between the priesthood of Aaron and that of Melchizedek is simply that the Aaronic priesthood was limited to one nation, one genealogy. Melchizedek was a Noahic priest king, a priesthood of all nations which included local government. The reunion of Jew and Gentile in Christ, and the end of the Abrahamic divide, is pictured through the use of his name. (Representation – Reconciliation, Rest and Rule)

If you are new to this method of interpretation, please visit the Welcome page for some help to get you up to speed.

References   [ + ]

1. Peter Leithart, The Holy City, Biblical Horizons No. 55.
2. “With the destruction of the Temple, the Kingdom moved into a period of outward humility, but inward glory. The myrtle tree receives notice during the post-exilic period. God had prophesied renewal in terms of the myrtle (Isaiah 55:13), and Nehemiah added it to the list of trees used for the Feast of Tabernacles (Nehemiah 8:15). Zechariah saw Israel as a myrtle grove (Zechariah 1:8-11), and it is doubtless no accident that Queen Esther’s original Hebrew name was Myrtle (Hadassah; Esther 2:7).” James B. Jordan, Through New Eyes, 92.
3. This is only one of a number of possible meanings of Jebus.
4. The difference between the priesthood of Aaron and that of Melchizedek is simply that the Aaronic priesthood was limited to one nation, one genealogy. Melchizedek was a Noahic priest king, a priesthood of all nations which included local government. The reunion of Jew and Gentile in Christ, and the end of the Abrahamic divide, is pictured through the use of his name.

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