“Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem!” said the prophet Zechariah in foretelling Christ’s coming into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday.
To whom is Zechariah talking? Maybe you have heard of churches which are named Mount Zion or Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church. A book about the history of one Lutheran Church body years ago was called Zion on the Mississippi.
The name Zion occurs 150 times in the Old Testament, especially in the psalms and the prophets. So it is obviously a significant name. But what is Zion and what is the story behind it?
For hundreds of years after Joshua led the people of Israel into the promised land of Canaan, there was no centralized seat of government in Israel. By the time King David came to the throne, there were still some unconquered hot spots to be taken from the enemy. There was a fortified high point in Jerusalem, so impregnable that Israel had never been able to drive out the Jebusites who lived there. But they met their match in King David. The Jebusites bragged from this hill called Zion that even their blind and lame people could defend their walls against David and his men. David took them up on their “double-dog-dare-you.” He and his men scaled Mount Zion and took the city. From then on, it became known as the City of David.
Later, David brought the ark of the covenant to his city of Zion on the hill. So Zion became known as the place of God’s very presence. When David’s son, Solomon, built the temple on Mount Moriah, just north of there, the name Zion was applied to the whole string of hills and finally to all of Jerusalem.
If you read the psalms and the prophets, it strikes you that Zion was not so much a matter of geography, of a specific hill. Zion came to refer to the people of God. We do much the same today. When news anchors announce: “Washington today said…” they are not asserting that the streets and sidewalks of Washington D.C. began to speak. They are referring to the people who hold power there. Foreign diplomats often refer to the entire United States government as Washington. So even before the New Testament age, the psalms and the prophets use the name Zion for God’s people, for those who look to the coming Christ for salvation.
In the New Testament, Zion becomes another name for the Holy Christian Church of all believers in Christ – the marching, militant Church here on earth – and finally the glorified, triumphant Church in heaven. This is what Zion is – you and I – we are Zion. It is to us that Christ comes! So let us rejoice!