Sunday, October 29, 2017

The Rev. Know-it-all’s Guide to the Holy Land, part 13

Continued from last week…

I know this is all very confusing. Perhaps this will help. Put your right hand flat on the table. Pretend you are miles above Jerusalem.  You are looking toward the south. The gap between thumb and the pointing finger next to it is the valley of the Kidron brook. The gap between pointing finger and middle finger is the Tyropoeon valley. The next three fingers bunched together are the hill of Zion.  Let’s look at the pointing finger. The City of David only occupied the first half of the finger up to the second joint. The high point, the knuckle, was Mount Moriah where tradition held that Abraham went to sacrifice Isaac.  That was the highest point in the ancient city.

On it was a high point that was a threshing floor used to separate the grain and the chaff, using the prevailing winds from the Mediterranean about 30 miles west of Jerusalem. David had a vision of an angel who was destroying the people of Jerusalem because of the sins of David, and there David cried out for mercy. (2 Samuel 24:16ff) He bought the threshing floor from Araunah the Jebusite (Canaanite) and planned to build a temple to house the Ark of the Covenant. He was forbidden the task because he was a man of bloodshed. The temple was ultimately built by the Son of David, Solomon. It seems to have been built on a perfectly square platform formed around the uneven rocky summit by retaining walls, 500 cubits by 500 cubits.

The Holy of Holies on which the Ark of the Covenant rested was the bare rock of the threshing floor. The sacred precincts were built around the Holy of Holies and the Holy Place that stood before it. They were like nesting boxes one within another, the court of the priests, the court of the men of Israel, the court of the women. Gentiles did not go up onto this sacred enclosure. When the temple was rebuilt after the return from Babylon about 500 years before the time of Christ, it was rebuilt on the original foundations, but possessed none of the grandeur of the temple of Solomon. Herod the Great who killed the babies trained thousands of priest and Levites (assistants to the priests) as carpenters and stone masons who tore down the temple and rebuilt it from within while the sacrifices and rituals continued uninterrupted. He was constrained to keep the basic dimensions of the temple, but he could build up and the central shrine which houses the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies reached up more than ten stories. It glistened with white marble and gypsum plaster polished to look like marble and the front was reputedly plated in gold.

He expanded the platform on which the temple stood so that the whole thing is equivalent to ten football fields. The original 500-cubit square war was marked by a low wall into which were placed signs in Aramaic, Latin and Greek warning non-Jews not to enter lest they be torn apart by the mob.  What you see in our time is this same platform, but the temple itself is gone. There is a mosque on the far south side of the platform called the Al Aqsa, and over the stone floor of the Holy of Holies (the Eben Shetiyah or foundation stone) there is a shrine, not a mosque called the dome of Omar.  In the center of the temple, after it was rebuilt in 530 BC, was an empty threshing floor with a flattened rectangular spot in its center. This flattened spot is 2.5 cubits long, 1.5 cubits wide, exactly the dimension of the Ark. The Ark of the Covenant had been lost. All that’s left is the threshing floor of Araunah and an empty spot where the Ark once stood 2,500 years ago.

Now as the people were in expectation, and all reasoned in their hearts about John, whether he was the Messiah or not, John answered, saying to all, “I indeed baptize you with water; but One mightier than I is coming, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to loose. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clean out His threshing floor, and gather the wheat into His barn; but the chaff He will burn with unquenchable fire.” (Luke 3: 17-15)

It is interesting that the floor of the Holy of Holies the focal point of Judaism was a threshing floor and that the focal point of Christian worship begins as a piece of bread made of winnowed wheat.

To be continued…

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