“The burden of the word of the LORD for Israel, saith the LORD, which stretcheth forth the heavens, and layeth the foundation of the earth, and formeth the spirit of man within him. Behold, I will make Jerusalem a cup of trembling unto all the people round about, when they shall be in the siege both against Judah and against Jerusalem. And in that day will I make Jerusalem a burdensome stone for all people: all that burden themselves with it shall be cut in pieces, though all the people of the earth be gathered together against it” (Zechariah 12:1-3).
About 2,400 years ago, the prophet Zechariah stated that God would make Jerusalem a cup of trembling (intoxication) and a burdensome stone for all people.
Ever since, Jerusalem has been “the most controversial piece of real estate on earth”!
Note that the prophecy begins with a proclamation that the God who made the earth and formed man’s spirit is the God of Israel.
The Creator God has spoken about Jerusalem. This is “the word of the LORD.” Elsewhere we are told that God is truth and cannot lie (De. 32:4; Tit. 1:2). “Thy word is truth” (Joh. 17:17).
Therefore, every individual and every nation would do well to take heed to God’s proclamation about Jerusalem.
The Creator God has proclaimed that Jerusalem belongs to Israel and any nation that interferes with it will be judged. The prophecy is “for Israel.”
It is as if Jerusalem were a massive stone in a field that someone wants to remove, but no matter how much they labor, they cannot remove it, and they become intoxicated with a fervor to solve this unsolvable problem so they cannot leave it alone though their labors even prove harmful to themselves.
Zechariah’s prophecy will find its ultimate fulfillment at Armageddon when the Antichrist’s armies representing “all the people of the earth” attack Jerusalem, but the prophecy has an application to Jerusalem’s entire history ever since Zechariah spoke those words.
Jerusalem is very much a burdensome stone to the nations in modern times.
Jerusalem a Burdensome Stone in History
Throughout the Times of the Gentiles, when Israel has been under Gentile control, Jerusalem has been a cup of trembling and a burdensome stone for many nations. The city has been captured and recaptured more than 40 times.
Jerusalem was a burdensome stone to the Babylonians. Israel refused to submit to Nebuchadnezzar’s authority, and he besieged the city three times and finally destroyed it. The Neo-Babylonian kingdom lasted only 47 more years, and was conquered by Persia.
Jerusalem was a burdensome stone to the Greek Seleucid Empire of Syria. The city was captured by Antiochus the Great in 200 BC and by Antiochus Epiphanes in 175. It was retaken by the Jewish Maccabees in 164 but then recaptured by Antiochus VII Sidetes in 134. The Greeks couldn’t well control Jerusalem, but they also couldn’t let it alone. It was a cup of trembling and a burdensome stone.
Jerusalem was a burdensome stone to the Romans. The Roman legions under Pompey conquered Jerusalem in 63 BC after a three-month siege, and the Romans found the city to be a burdensome stone for the next six centuries. It was a burdensome stone in the First Jewish War, culminating in the destruction of the city in AD 70, and it was a burdensome stone in the Second Jewish War, culminating in AD 135. Legions of Rome’s elite soldiers were thrown into these wars. Rome tried to erase the very memory of Jerusalem’s association with Israel by changing its name to Aelia Capitolina and building a Roman city over its ruins.
Jerusalem was a burdensome stone to the Catholic Crusaders. They captured the city from the Muslims in 1099 but lost it to Saladin in 1187. The Crusaders recaptured Jerusalem in 1229 and lost it in 1247. They were not able to regain it, though they expended great wealth and blood in the attempt.
Jerusalem was a burdensome stone to the Muslims. Various Muslim groups long fought over the city. It was captured by Saladin in 1187, by the Tartars in 1244, by the Ayyubids in 1247, and by the Turks in 1517.
Jerusalem was a burdensome stone to the British. The city surrendered to the British in 1917 and was under the British Mandate until 1948. Throughout that time, the British found Jerusalem and the land of Israel to be a very burdensome stone. They seemed to be intoxicated with the desire to solve the Jerusalem problem, but the great world empire builders had zero success and finally gave up in disgust and left.
Jerusalem a Burdensome Stone Today
Jerusalem continues to be a cup of trembling and a burdensome stone.
This is because she is the object of competing claims. Both Israel and the Muslims claim that Jerusalem is their God-given city. Neither side will give an inch and they are willing to fight unto the death to settle the matter.
The “Jerusalem problem” has continually been in world news in modern times. Consider some of the major news headlines from the past 100 years that featured Jerusalem and the land of “Palestine”:
In December 1917, Britain captured Jerusalem from the Ottoman Turks who had controlled it for 400 years.
In November 1947, the United Nations passed a plan calling for the partitioning of “Palestine” into Jewish and Arab states, with international control of Jerusalem.
On December 13, 1949, the United Nations voted by a large majority to internationalize Jerusalem. Israel rejected the decision and defiantly announced Jerusalem to be its capital and moved its government offices there.
In June 1967, on the last days of the Six-Day War, Israel captured east Jerusalem, regaining control of the Temple Mount for the first time in 1,897 years.
On December 9, 2017, U.S. President Donald Trump announced from the White House, “I have determined that it is time to officially recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.”
On December 18, 2017, the United Nations voted on whether to support America’s recognition of Jerusalem. The vote to declare America’s decision “null and void” was 128 in favor, 9 against, with 35 abstaining. Other than America and Israel, the only nations on earth that supported Jerusalem as Israel’s capital were Honduras, Guatemala, Micronesia, Nauru, Palau, and Togo.
Israel’s Claim to Jerusalem
Israel’s claim to Jerusalem is based on the Hebrew Scriptures (Genesis to Malachi).
Jerusalem is mentioned 670 times. In addition, it is called Zion 153 times.
The Bible says Jehovah God made an eternal covenant with Abraham and Isaac, and this covenant included possession of the land (Ge. 13:14-15; 26:1-3).
The Bible plainly says that God did not give Abraham’s covenant to Ishmael (Ge. 17:18-21). Ishmael was promised blessings, but he did not inherit God’s covenant with Abraham. Muslim Arabs claim descent from Ishmael, following Muhammad’s example. They believe that Ishmael and Hagar are buried in the Kabba at Mecca, Islam’s holiest place (Renald Showers, The Coming Apocalypse).
Jerusalem was chosen by Jehovah God that His name might be there (2 Ch. 8:6). This is not said of any other city on earth.
Jehovah God set Jerusalem in the midst of the nations (Eze. 5:5).
Jehovah God calls Jerusalem “my city” (Isa. 45:13).
Jehovah God loves Jerusalem (Ps. 78:68; 87:2).
Jehovah God has stated that He will dwell in Jerusalem forever (Ps. 132:13-14; 146:10; Mic 4:7).
Watchmen are to pray to God night and day “till he make Jerusalem a praise in the earth” (Isa. 62:6-7).
Jerusalem will be the capital of Christ’s kingdom. This is a major teaching of the Bible that is mentioned dozens of times in prophecy.
“The word that Isaiah the son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem. And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the LORD'S house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it. And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more” (Isaiah 2:1-4).
See also Ps. 2:6; 48:1-2; 68:35; 87:5-7; 102:16, 21; 110:2; 132:11-18; Isa. 4:3-5; 12:4-6; 24:23; 27:13; 30:19; 33:5, 20; 35:10; 40:2, 9; 41:27; 44:26; 46:13; 51:3, 11, 17; 52:1-2, 9; 59:20; 60:14; 61:3; 65:18-19; 66:10, 13, 20; Jer. 3:17; 17:25-26; 30:17; 31:12; 32:44; 33:10, 13, 16; 50:28; Joe. 3:1, 16-17, 20; Ob. 1:17; Mic. 4:2, 7, 8; Zep. 3:14-17; Zec. 2:4, 10, 12; 8:3-4, 8; 8:22; 9:10; 12:6-11; 14:8-11, 14, 16-17, 21; Mal. 3:4.
Jewish leaders today believe that Jerusalem is Israel’s eternal capital and they are bold and unbending on the issue. Consider some examples of statements by prominent leaders:
“But for the State of Israel there has always been and always will be one capital city--Jerusalem the Eternal. Thus it was 3,000 years ago, and thus it will be, we believe, until the end of time” (David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first Prime Minister, Dec. 13, 1949, message to the Knesset, www.knesset,gov.il).
“We must make the following absolutely clear, here and now, to the Palestinians as well as to friends and rivals alike, in Europe and throughout the world. ... Full Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem, the united and eternal capital of the Jewish people, is not and will never be a subject for negotiation with any foreign entity” (Ariel Sharon, 11th Prime Minister of Israel, March 19, 1999, mfa.gov.il).
“Jerusalem is Israel’s capital, will never be divided, and will remain the capital of the State of Israel, the capital of the Jewish people, for ever and ever” (Benjamin Netanyahu, four times elected Israel’s Prime Minister, 2009, brainyquote.com).
The Muslim Claim to Jerusalem
On the other hand, Muslims believe God gave the land in which Jerusalem is situated to Abraham and his son Ishmael.
Though the Quran itself doesn’t say which son Abraham offered on Moriah, the Hadith and Sira say it was Ishmael.
The Quran says Ishmael was an “apostle and prophet” (Surah 21:85; 38:48; 19:54).
The Quran says Allah commanded Abraham and Ishmael to build the Kabah at Mecca for a pilgrimage (Surah 2:124).
Arabs are the descendants of Ishmael who settled throughout the northern Arabian desert (“Ishmaelites,” Wycliffe Bible Encyclopedia, 1975, vol. 1, p. 862). Mohammad claimed descent from Ishmael, as do the Arabs in general.
Mohammed claimed that their father Ishmael and his mother Hagar are buried in the Kabah in Mecca. Mohammed united the Ishmaelite Arab tribes under the banner of Islam. Though Islam has spread to many non-Arab people, such as the Turks, it is fundamentally an Arab religion that claims Ishmael as a father.
Most Muslims believe that Mohammed ascended to heaven from Jerusalem during the “Night Journey” (al-Miraj). This is not stated in the Koran, which only says the following: “Glory to Him who made his servant go from the Sacred House to the farther Temple [al-masjid al-aqsā], whose surroundings we have blessed” (Koran 17:1). There has been great debate as to the meaning of al-masjid al-aqsa. There was no Jewish temple in Jerusalem in Mohammed’s lifetime, of course, as it had been destroyed 500 years previously, but the understanding that Mohammed ascended from the Jerusalem Temple Mount led early Muslim caliphs to build the Al-Aqsa mosque there in 705 to commemorate the “Night Journey.”
Muslims hold Jerusalem (which they call “al-Quds,” meaning “the holy”) to be their third most holy city, after Mecca and Medina.
Many Muslims believe that once a territory is claimed in the name of Allah that it perpetually belongs to Allah, and it is imperative that Muslims retain it. If it is recaptured by non-Muslims, it must be regained “for the sake of Allah’s honor.” Jerusalem was first captured by Muslims in 637. It was captured by the Catholic Crusaders in 1099 and recaptured by the Muslims in 1187 under Saladin. It was captured from the Ottoman Turks in 1917 by the British and from Jordan by Israel in 1967.
In 1997, Sheikh Sabri, the Palestinian Authority’s mufti of Jerusalem, said,
“Despite all the conspiracies, Jerusalem and Palestine from the River to the Mediterranean Sea will remain Islamic until judgment day” (Voice of Palestine Radio, May 9, 1997, Middle East Digest, July 1997).
“Oh Allah, destroy America, for she is ruled by Zionist Jews. ... The Muslims say to Britain, to France and to all the infidel nations that Jerusalem is Arab. We shall not respect anyone else’s wishes regarding her. The only relevant party is the Islamic nation, which will not allow infidel nations to interfere. ... Allah shall take revenge on behalf of his prophet against the colonist settlers who are sons of monkeys and pigs” (Voice of Palestine Radio, Independent Media Review and Analysis, July 13, 1997).
The Antichrist Will Solve This Dilemma
The Bible indicates that it is the Antichrist who will make it possible for the Jews to rebuild their temple in Jerusalem. At the beginning of his reign, we see the temple being measured in Revelation 11:1-2. This is the time when the Two Witnesses will preach in Jerusalem for 3.5 years (Re. 11:3), which is the first half of the Antichrist’s seven-year reign. It begins with his peace covenant with “many” in Israel (Da. 9:27).
We will look at the building of the Third Temple in the section on “The Antichrist’s Peace Pact.”
This report is excerpted from Jews in Fighter Jets: Israel Past, Present, Future, which is available from Way of Life Literature. In conjunction with the book, there is a series of PowerPoint presentations on the last 2,500 years of Israel’s history. One of those presentations covers this material on “Jerusalem: A Burdensome Stone.”
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