Temples and Tunnels
Our second day in Jerusalem was a whirlwind of visits to historic sites that gave us unique experiences. We began the day by heading to the Temple Mount on Mount Moriah. After passing through security, we gathered for teaching in the plaza outside the Dome of the Rock. From that place we could observe the sheer immensity of the space. Our tour guide, Ronen, walked us through the story of Abraham and Isaac from Genesis 22, and told us how we were standing on the mountain that Abraham had been directed to. He also gave us a brief history of who had controlled the Temple Mount. Following the teaching we had some time to walk around the Dome of the Rock. It is a truly magnificent building. Non-Muslims are not allowed to go inside, so we had to be content to observe it from the plaza.
After that we went down to the Western Wall. There have been a few times on this trip where I have found myself moved by the mere fact that I was standing on a site that is not only historic, but also extremely well known around the world. Standing in the plaza of the Western Wall was one such moment. It was remarkable to observe the mix of Hassidic Jews who were doing the same thing they do every day and tourists like us who were wide-eyed with amazement. Prior to visiting the Wall itself we went underground for a tour of the Western Wall tunnels. The tour guide down there was able to walk us through the tunnels and give us a greater understanding of the Wall’s history. Following that we came back to ground level and had a half hour to walk around, observe, and pray. Personally, I was deeply moved by the opportunity to pray with my forearm leaning up against the Western Wall. I don’t believe that God hears me any differently than He does when I pray elsewhere, but nevertheless it was special to pray in a place where so many have prayed so earnestly before me.
The present Temple Mount was constructed by Herod the Great beginning in 20 BC. Construction on it continued for 83 years until AD 64 when a halt was called to the project and 18,000 workers were laid off (riots resulted). The Temple Mount is 1/6 the size of today’s Old City and covers 35 acres. Construction of this rectangular platform required filling in a large part of the Central Valley.
Prior to breaking for lunch we had about 20 minutes to ask Ronen questions about the Western Wall. We then ate at the City of David before beginning an afternoon of teaching and exploration in the City and in Hezekiah’s tunnels. Ronen and Pastor Matt led us through a teaching lesson, and then we descended down dozens of steps to the entrance of Hezekiah’s tunnels. In short, the tunnels were built as a way of getting water from one side of Jerusalem to the other side. Now, they are open and visitors can walk through them. We had the option of walking through a shorter, dry tunnel or a longer tunnel with ankle-deep water. About one third of our group went the dry route, but I went through the tunnel with water. It was yet another incredible, unique experience. For twenty minutes we walked (at times having to hunch) through a dark tunnel that was not much wider than the width of our bodies. We had flashlights, but it was definitely not something for anyone with even a bit of claustrophobia. We left the tunnel excited about the experience that we’d had, and excited to breathe fresh air!
Pastor Matt and Ronen ended our time at the City of David by teaching us through John 9 and Jesus’s healing of the blind man. That man was instructed to wash himself at the Pool of Siloam, and Ronen showed us exactly where that pool was. Pastor Matt pointed out that the man was asked to walk a significant distance in order to get the pool, and connected that to our need to walk by faith when we are seeking God’s activity in our lives.
Our final official stop of the day was at the Southern Steps near the Temple Mount. Pastor Matt talked to us about how this was very likely the location of Peter’s sermon at Pentecost. Following his teaching, we all stood in a line at the bottom of the steps, and ascended the steps one at a time as Pastor Matt read aloud from some of the Psalms of ascent. When we reached the top he led us in a prayer for Jerusalem and our world. It was a powerful time. After about 15 minutes to explore the area on our own we returned to the hotel.
An enormous flight of steps leads to the Southern Wall from the south. They were excavated after 1967 by archaeologist Benjamin Mazar and are the northernmost extension of the Jerusalem pilgrim road leading from the Pool of Siloam to the Temple Mount via the Double Gate and the Triple Gate, collectively called the Huldah Gates. These are the steps that Jesus of Nazareth and other Jews of his era walked up to approach the Temple, especially on the great pilgrimage festivals of Passover, Shavuot and Sukkot.  The stairs that lead to the double gate are intact and "well-preserved." The steps that lead to the triple gate were mostly destroyed. / The risers are low, a mere 7 to 10 inches high, and each step is 12 to 35 inches deep, forcing the ascending pilgrims to walk with a stately, deliberate tread. The pilgrims entered the temple precincts through the double and triple gates still visible in the Southern Wall. Together, the double and triple gates are known as the Hulda Gates, after the prophetess Huldah.
In the evening a group of us had the privilege of having dinner at the Albright Institute, an archaeological research institute located in Jerusalem. It was a fun change of pace for the group, and the food was delicious!
Tomorrow marks our last full day of touring, and for me that brings some mixed emotions. On the one hand, I miss my life at home and I am anxious to return. On the other hand, it’s hard to believe the trip is drawing to a close. Walking this land during these days has been an incredible gift.