It took nearly twenty-five years after Pompey’s triumph in Jerusalem for the Romans to finally establish a stable government in Judea. Pompey returned almost immediately to Rome where he was vying with Caesar for supreme rule of the Empire. In his absence he appointed two men to govern from Jerusalem, his minister Antipater, who was the son of an Edomite convert to Judaism, and a High Priest named Hyrcanus, who was of Maccabean descent. In 48 BC Pompey was defeated by Caesar in Italy and he fled to Egypt. Caesar gave hot pursuit but two days before he arrived, the Egyptians had already put Pompey to death. Egypt was in the midst of a civil war between King Ptolemy XIII and his deposed queen Cleopatra. During Caesar’s brief stay in Alexandria he threw his lot in with the enchanting young queen. Meanwhile in Jerusalem Antipater, Pompey’s former ally, seeing an opportunity to ingratiate himself with Caesar raised an army to 3,000 local Jews, rallied sympathetic Egyptian Jews, attacked, and defeated Caesar’s opponents. Before returning to Rome, Caesar restored Cleopatra to the throne and then gratefully turned his attention to Judea. He confirmed the high priestly rule of the Jews to Hyrcanus and gave permission for the walls of Jerusalem to be repaired. He granted the governmental power over Judea to Antipater as procurator. In addition, Antipater’s older son, Phasael, and younger son, Herod, were appointed tetrarchs of Jerusalem and Galilee respectively.
The restoration of the Temple in 516 BC and the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem seventy two years later in 444 BC once again secured the Jewish identity in their relationship with God. It established a focal point for their worship, prayer and sacrifices. Even those Jews yet scattered among the surrounding nations in the diaspora, first dating from 700 BC, found solace in being able to pray toward the Temple in Jerusalem as Solomon had prescribed in his dedication prayer (1 Kings 8:29-30, 35,38,42, 44, & 48). With successive generations of Persian kings, plagued by internal power struggles, the influence of their empire began to wane. This gave opportunity for a period of Jewish self-rule by a dynasty of high priests claiming to have descended from the Davidic priest Zadok. Unfortunately these priests, like the secular rulers of the empire of which they were a part, fell prey to infighting and division themselves. Peace and stability in Jerusalem under their rule could not be sustained and sedition within their ranks eventually led to the murder of a high priest over contention as to who should control the riches of the Temple treasury. News of the unrest in Jerusalem gave incentive for the Persian governor to attack Jerusalem and loot its wealth.
The fall of Jerusalem, deportation of its inhabitants, and destruction of the Temple by the Babylonians in 586 BC did not alter God’s ultimate plans for them. He had sealed the destiny of the land and the Jewish people dating back fifteen hundred centuries with His promises to Abraham. In addition God had revealed His eternal purposes for Jerusalem and the Temple mount to David and Solomon four hundred years earlier. Nevertheless, this catastrophic event did set in motion an unimaginable cycle of judgments and restorative miracles, the repercussions of which are still unfolding today in God’s relentless pursuit to fulfill that destiny.
At the dedication of the Temple, following Solomon’s prayer, “fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt offering and sacrifices, and the glory of the Lord filled the temple” (2 Chronicles 7:1 NIV). This took place around 950 BC. Later the Lord appeared to Solomon one night reassuring him again that his prayer had been heard. “I have heard your prayer and have chosen this place for myself as a temple for sacrifices” (7:12). But it was much more than a simple personal reassurance. God’s intent was to spell out for all the people of Israel, including every succeeding generation, three predictions that would shape their destiny for nearly three millennia. First, He promised to answer their prayers. “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and heal their land. Now my eyes will be open and my ears attentive to the prayers offered in this place” (7:14-15 emphasis mine). Second, He confirmed once again the sacredness of Mount Moriah and the temple built upon it. “I have chosen and consecrated this temple so that my Name may be here forever. My eyes and my heart will always be here” (2 Chronicles 7:16 NIV emphasis mine). And finally, accompanying these eternal promises of answered prayer and His lasting presence in this place was also a solemn warning. Should Israel turn away from Him and worship other gods, He cautioned, they would be uprooted from the land and made an object of ridicule among the nations. The Temple He predicted, would “become a heap of rubble” (7:21).
It is critically important to pause and reflect upon the foundational significance of these two historical events on Mount Moriah. The similarities are remarkable and underscore emphatically God’s initiative to set aside this ground above all other places on earth as His redemptive meeting place with His people. The two men whom God used are both Judeo-Christian fathers of the faith. Both were sovereignly directed to this place, had the angel of the Lord appear to them, miraculously experienced God’s deliverance, worshipped God there through offering sacrifices, and designated the location as eternally hallowed ground. All debate over the origins of what is now called the Temple Mount or Noble Sanctuary and ultimately Jerusalem’s eternal destiny must begin with acknowledging these facts. They provide the only legitimate reference point from which meaning can be derived in reckoning with the fate of that mountain over the past three thousand years