Visiting the Holy Land: Going Up to Jerusalem

July 7, 2011

 On our recent trip to Israel, we initially drove into Jerusalem from the east.  Coming up the highway from the desert area near the Jordan River, we passed the excavated ruins of Jericho, thought by archaeologists to have been one of the oldest cities in the world.  That location is over 1,000 feet below sea level, and just a few miles from the Dead Sea, the lowest place on earth.

As you head towardJerusalem, though, the elevation changes rapidly.  Jerusalem itself sits at about 3,500 feet, roughly the same elevation as Atlanta, Georgia.  Thus, in the no more than 25 miles from Jericho to Jerusalem, there is a difference in elevation of over 4,500 feet.  That is an ascent of almost 200 feet per mile—a rapid, dramatic climb, to say the least!

However, I should make it clear that there is not just a rugged ascent to Jerusalem from the east.  There is also much the same steep grade to climb in approaching Jerusalem from the west, north or south.  The oldest part of the city sits on a connected group of smaller mountains in the highlands of Judea.  Long before the Jews occupied it, Jerusalemwas a fortress city that was almost impregnable to attack because of the incredibly steep ascents from all sides.  In fact, the only way King David captured it was by his army sneaking in through a water shaft (2 Samuel 5:7-8).

This lofty location of Jerusalem is the reason Psalms 120-134 are called “The Psalms (i.e., Songs) of Ascent.”  They were sung by Jewish pilgrims journeying to Jerusalem for the annual feasts.  They may have been arranged for the latter ones to be sung within the walls of Jerusalem, or approaching the Temple itself.



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