The Western Wall


The Western Wall

July 25th, 1971 @ 10:50 AM

Behold, your house is left unto you desolate.
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Dr. W. A. Criswell

Matthew 23:38

7-25-71    10:50 a.m.




On the radio and on television you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas.  This is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Western Wall.  It is actually a message concerning the sovereignty of God as we follow the story of the holy temple of Jehovah, in Jerusalem.  Not for you to follow it in your Bible because I will turn from passage to passage.

In 2 Samuel chapter 7, King David said unto Nathan the prophet, “See now, I dwell in a house of cedar, but the ark of God dwelleth within curtains” [2 Samuel 7:2].  He had built himself a beautiful and gracious palace; God had given him victory over all of his enemies around.  And seeing the ark of the Lord in the little curtained tabernacle, he had it in his heart to build a great sanctuary where God could be worshipped, and spake so to Nathan.

When Nathan heard it, he said to the king, “Go, and do all that is in thine heart; for the Lord is with thee” [2 Samuel 7:3].  But that night the Lord appeared to Nathan and gave him the message for David.  And the message was this: that David was a man of blood, and a man of war [1 Chronicles 28:3], and he would not be privileged to build that holy sanctuary.  But the Lord continued His message to His favorite and beloved king: “And David, when thy days be fulfilled, and thou shalt sleep with thy fathers, I will set up thy seed after thee, a son shall be born unto thee; and he shall build an house for My name” [2 Samuel 7:12-13].

Then when I turn the pages, I read in Chronicles, David’s prayer before the Lord as he invests his son Solomon to be the king after him [1 Chronicles 29:10-15].  And David says, “O Lord our God, all this store,” he gathered together a vast preparation [1 Chronicles 29:1-9], “all of this store we have prepared to build Thee an house for Thy holy name, and all of it comes of Thine own hand” [1 Chronicles 29:16]. 

Then when I turn the page again, in the third chapter of 2 Chronicles: “Then Solomon, beginning to reign, began to build the house of the Lord at Jerusalem in Mount Moriah” [2 Chronicles 3:1].  In the place where Abraham offered up Isaac [Genesis 22:1-10], in the place that David bought of Araunah the Jebusite [2 Samuel 24:23-24], for an offering of propitiation, in the presence of the judgment and wrath of God upon the sin of the people [2 Samuel 24:10-21]; in that place did Solomon begin to build the house of the Lord [2 Chronicles 3:1].

It stood for four hundred seventeen years.  And in order to find a platform upon which to build the beautiful sanctuary, Solomon built four walls around Mount Moriah: a northern, an eastern, a southern, and a western wall; filled in the opening with dirt and with great rock.  And when the sanctuary was erected it faced the east.  In front, the great altar of burnt offering, then the laver, then the temple itself [Exodus 30:18-19], which pushed the Holy of Holies back and close to the western wall.  Therefore, the western wall, the retainer wall that held the soil that supported the acreage and the platform for the temple, the western wall, being closest to the Holy of Holies, was looked upon as the most sacred of the pieces and stones of the enclosure.

After the passage of four hundred seventeen years, in 587 BC, Nebuchadnezzar came with the bitter, and merciless, and cruel Chaldeans, destroyed Jerusalem, burned the temple with fire, destroyed the temple, carried the people into captivity [Jeremiah 39:1-10, 52:4-30], and the next time we see the ark of the covenant with its cherubim looking full upon the mercy seat, is in heaven [Revelation 11:19].  People ask me, “What became of the ark?”  It’s in heaven.  John saw it in the sanctuary in heaven.  But Jeremiah predicted that after seventy years the people would come back from the Babylonian captivity [Jeremiah 29:10-14], and come back they did [Ezra 1:1-2:65].

And in the third chapter of Ezra is described the laying of the foundation of the second temple:


And all the people shouted with a great shout, when they praised the Lord, because the Lord God had helped them lay the foundation of the temple.

But many of the priests and Levites and chief of the fathers, who were ancient men, old men, who had seen the former house, who had seen Solomon’s temple, when the foundation of this house was laid before their eyes, they wept with a loud voice, and there was a commingling and a great indiscernible noise.

Many of the people shouted for joy when the foundation was laid, many of them wept with lamentation, remembering the glory of the former house.

[Ezra 3:11, 12]


And it was upon an occasion like that that the word of the Lord came to Haggai, and said to Haggai, “Speak now to Zerubbabel,” the governor who led the remnant back from Babylon to Judah,


Speak now to Zerubbabel, and speak to Joshua the high priest, and to all of the people, and say to them

Is it not true, in your eyes this house, in comparison, is as nothing compared to the former temple, Solomon’s temple, this new second temple is as nothing.

Yet now, saith the Lord, Be strong, O Zerubabel, and be strong, O Joshua the high priest, and be strong, all ye people of the land; for thus saith the Lord,

The glory of this latter house shall be greater than the glory of the former, saith the Lord of hosts.

[Haggai 2:2-4, 9]


What an astonishing thing for Haggai the prophet of God to say.  “Thus saith the Lord, this second temple, so despised and mean in your eyes, the glory of it shall be greater than Solomon’s temple” [Haggai 2:9].

Now that was in 535 BC.  And in 515, twenty years later, the sanctuary was built.  And this continued through the years and the years until 37 BC when Herod became king over Judea.  And Herod had it in his heart to build a glorious temple.  The Jews, not trusting him, would not acquiesce until Herod gathered all the material, lavish, abounding, rich.  And Herod, under supervision of the priests, traded stone for stone from the temple of Zerubbabel to the more glorious temple that he erected.  And for the rest of Herod’s reign, and after Herod’s death until 64 AD, that glorious second temple was in erection.

Josephus says––and he describes it at great and meticulous length––that the temple itself looked like a great pile of snow made out of pure white marble.  The entire front of it was solid gold.  On top of the roof, to keep birds from lighting on it were sharp golden spikes.  And around the entire area were great cloisters, colonnaded porches.  And the pavement of the temple, the entire acreage was paved with multi-colored marble.  It was one of the wonders of the world.

Second: the glory of the second temple not only exceeded that of Solomon’s because of its richness and its abounding colonnaded cloisters and marble and riches, gold and silver grapes and vines and bronze gates and doors that dazzled the eyes when the sun was reflected against them, not only was this temple greater as Herod made it, but also it was greater because into that temple did the Lord Jesus, the Son of God, come.  The Lord visited His people incarnate, and He walked on those pavements, and He prayed in that sacred place [Luke 21:37].

Then upon a day, before the Lord was rejected and cast out and crucified [Matthew 27:22-50], “As Jesus went out and departed from the temple, His disciples came to Him for to show Him the buildings of the temple” [Matthew 24:1]; those beautiful colonnaded cloisters, the abounding marble and gold and silver and bronze and brass, one of the wonders of the world, “to show Him the buildings of the temple.”  “And Jesus said unto them, See ye not all these things?  Verily, truly, I say unto you, there shall not be left here one stone upon another that shall not be thrown down” [Matthew 24:2].  Then in the visit of our Lord to the city, coming over the Mount of Olives and looking upon it:


When He was come near, He beheld the city, and wept over it,

Saying, If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong into thy peace! but now they are hid from thine eyes.

For the days shall come upon thee, that thine enemies shall cast a trench about thee, and compass thee round, and hedge thee in on every side,

And shall lay thee even with the ground, and thy children within thee: and they shall leave in thee no stone one upon another; because thou knewest not the time of thy visitation.

[Luke 19:41-44]

And when ye shall see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then know that the desolation thereof is nigh.

Then let them that are in Judah flee to the mountains . . .

And woe unto them that are with child in those days, and to those that give suck . . . for there shall be great distress in the land, and wrath upon the people.

And they shall fall by the edge of the sword, and shall be led away captive into all nations: and Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled.

[Luke 21:20-22]


O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that stonest the prophets, and killest those who are sent unto thee; how oft would I have gathered thy children together, as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and you would not!

Behold, your house is left unto you desolate.

[Luke 13:34, 35]


And in the launching of the Christian faith, again and again and again, as in the letter to the little congregation of the Hebrews, “In that God saith, A new covenant, He hath made the first old.  Now that which decayeth and waxeth old is ready to vanish away”  [Hebrews 8:13].  As the Christian message was preached it carried with it that prophecy, repeated again and again of our Lord, and repeated by the apostles, that the judgment of God shall fall upon Judah and upon Jerusalem and upon the holy temple; and all of it shall be destroyed.  These things were said by our Lord in 33 AD.

In 66 AD, thirty-three years later, in 66 AD, led by a fanatical and unreasonable party of Zealots and Sicarii, the Jewish people in Jerusalem stormed the Tower of Antonio, the great bastion of the Jewish legion, and took it and slew all of the Roman soldiers.  They stormed Masada and took it.  When news of the rebellion came, Cestius Gallus, who was the governor of Syria, came down with thirty thousand Roman soldiers and besieged the city.  The Jews sallying forth against him were victorious; and they put Cestius Gallus’ legions in flight.  They overtook them at Beth-Horan, down toward Judah down toward Caesarea, and they slew six thousand of those Roman soldiers.  From that moment on, from one side of Palestine to the other, from Dan to Beersheba, the entire province was aflame in war.

Nero the emperor, as dull as he was in some respects, could easily see that if that rebellion succeeded it meant the dissolution of the empire because other provinces would likewise rebel.  So he chose a man of humble origin but of unusual gifts, who had risen high in the Roman army, by the name of Vespasian; and sent Vespasian to quell the rebellion.  Vespasian gathered his legions from all through the Roman Empire, and began the conquest of the Roman province of Palestine.  He started first in the north, in February 66 AD.  The army of the north, the Jewish army of the north, the Jewish army of Galilee was led by a learned and brilliant Jew of a great and famous family by the name of Josephus.  But they were no match for the legionaires; and Vespasian destroyed the army of the north and put Josephus in chains.  Thirty thousand four hundred of the men of the army of the north he sold into slavery, and six thousand of the choicest youth of Galilee he sent as a present to Nero.

In those days, as Vespasian pushed and conquered the province and shut up the people in Jerusalem, Nero died.  And after a brief reign by Otho, who was killed, and Vitellius who was slain, the legions in Judea acclaimed Vespasian emperor Kaisar, Caesar.  And the thing spread through all the legions of the east, and finally to Rome.  So Vespasian went to Rome to assume the office of emperor and Caesar of the empire.  He left his son Titus in Palestine to prosecute the war to its consummation.  Titus therefore gathered other soldiers, gathered other legions in the east, and following the course of his famous father who was now emperor and whom he succeeded as emperor, Titus pressed the Jews together and together and together until he shut them up in the holy city of Jerusalem.

Jerusalem at that time had a population of about two hundred fifty thousand people.  But because it was the Passover season and there were uncounted thousands of pilgrims there to celebrate the Passover, and because the Jewish people had fled before the approaching conquering army of the Romans, the population inside the walls of Jerusalem at the beginning of the siege numbered two million seven hundred thousand two hundred.  The tragedy of the wretched and miserable city lay on the inside.  Doubtless they could have stood a siege forever.  The walls of Jerusalem, three were impregnable.  The Tower of Antonio was invincible, and beside that the temple was walled and guarded.  But on the inside of Jerusalem there was civil and incessant war.  Simon Ben Gurius held the temple and the lower city; John of Gischala held the upper city.  And destroying the city in between them, day and night they warred one against another.  They burned each other’s provisions; and the food that could have kept the city in siege for years and years was destroyed.  And immediately famine began to progress, as whole families and houses were consumed.

Over the walls of the city, in that dread siege, the Jews themselves threw out six hundred thousand corpses that had been either slain by their hands in the civil war or had been destroyed by famine.  And when they thought one was of a humor to defect to the Romans, they cut his throat.  And when one succeeded in defecting, they began to swallow gold coins to find sustenance when they went outside.  These who were attendant on the Roman army, Assyrians, Arabians, a host of vultures; when they learned that there was gold inside these deserters, they took and dissected.  One night they dissected more than two thousand of them, searching through the viscera for gold

 When Titus saw in his rounds the valleys filled with corpses, and when Titus learned of the dissection of those that defected, with a groan he raised his hands and spread them before God and said, “I call heaven to witness that I am not chargeable for these crimes.”  So awesome and so terrible was the days of those tragic judgments of God.  Listen to the lament, again, of Jesus: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, behold your house is left unto you desolate” [Luke 13:34-35].

As Josephus, who predicted the investiture of Vespasian that he would be Roman emperor; when it came to pass, Vespasian had Josephus brought before him, publicly cut off his chains, elevated him, and used Josephus to make appeal to the Jews to lay down their arms and to make peace with Rome.  So Josephus was present for every day and every syllable of this tragic story.  And as Josephus tells the story of the destruction of the city and of the temple, he will pause once in a while to lament.  As the lamentation you read a moment ago from Jeremiah, he will pause to lament, or he will pause to speak of his own heart as he watches the Romans and the Jews fight to the death.  Now this is a lament of Josephus.  “O Jerusalem,” said Jesus, “behold your house is left unto you desolate” [Luke 13:34-35].  Listen to the lament, one of them, I copied out of Josephus.


O most wretched city, what misery so great as thou didst suffer from thine intestine, internecine hatred, those factions warring and tearing the body to pieces.  For thou couldst be no longer a place fit for God, nor couldst thou long continue in existence after thou hast been a sepulcher for the bodies of thine own people, and hast made the holy house itself, the temple, a burying place in this civil war.  Yet mayest thou again grow better, if perchance thou wilt hereafter appease the anger of that God who is the author of thy destruction.


And listen again as Josephus continues, time and again will he do this, quoting:


I shall speak my mind here briefly, that neither did any other city ever suffer such miseries, nor did any age ever breed a generation more fruitful in wickedness than this was from the beginning of the world. They brought the Hebrew nation into contempt, they were the slaves, the scum, and the spurious and abortive offspring of our nation, while they overthrew the city themselves, and didst almost draw that fire upon the temple which they seemed to think came too slowly.  And indeed, when they saw that temple burning from the upper city, they were neither troubled at it nor did they shed any tears on that account, while yet those passions were discovered among the Romans themselves.  When the temple was burned and the city was aflame, there were seen among the Roman soldiers tears; but not among the Jews.


Then he says again:


I suppose had the Romans made any longer delay in coming, that the city would have either been swallowed up by the ground opening upon it, or else been destroyed as the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah perished for it brought forth a generation of men much more atheistical than those that suffered such punishment in Sodom and Gomorrah.


The wretchedness and the indescribable slaughter of those days; there were one million, three hundred seventy-seven thousand, four hundred ninety who were slain or died in famine.

On the fifteenth day, the outer wall was breeched.  On the twenty-fourth day, the inner wall fell.  On the seventy-second day, the Tower of Antonio fell.  Twelve days later, on the eighty-fourth day, the seventeenth of August, AD 70, the daily sacrifice ceased.  As [Hebrews 8:13] predicted, “It would soon vanish away.”  On the one hundred fifth day, the temple and the lower city were destroyed and on fire.  And on the one hundred thirty-fourth day, the whole city was aflame.  On the day that the temple sacrifice ceased, after five hundred and ninety years, on the day that it ceased, being on the Tower of Antonio, the Roman general and his commanders could look into the temple court.

And when the sacrifice ceased, the people fell into great lamentation and wailing.  And it was then once again, as he had done several times, Titus called for Josephus and set him on the wall, and said to Josephus, “Make appeal to your people that they stop this war, and lay down their arms, and make peace with the Romans; for we are people of clemency and kindness.”  Josephus made the appeal, and in the appeal he said, as Titus said, “Choose out men, and I’ll choose out men, and you choose anywhere in the earth, and we’ll fight the war there; but not in this sacred place, that your temple might be spared.”

The answer to that was, with contempt for Josephus, looked upon as a traitor––Jeremiah had done the same thing, pleading with his fellow countrymen to make peace with Nebuchadnezzar and with the Babylonians [Jeremiah 27:12-14]; and they took Jeremiah and put him in a pit to die [Jeremiah 38:6]––so with Josephus, they looked upon him as a traitor.  They threw rocks at him, one of which hit him, knocked him to the ground and unconscious.  And as for the proposal of Titus, that they not fight the war in that sacred place where the temple was, “but choose any place in the earth and fight it there,” the leaders of the Jewish insurrectionists said, “This city will never fall because God lives in this city, and His name is worshipped in this holy place, and God is present here.”  There was nothing to do but to press the war.

Titus called his commanders together, and it was agreed that the temple would be spared.  But the demoniacal Roman soldiers, infuriated by the resistance of the Jews, and also greedy for plunder, refused to listen to the commands of Titus, even when he raised his fist.  And the soldiers, infuriated, poured into the temple area and fought the Jews hand to hand because of the constricted place.  And as the walls began to fall and to crumble, and burning charred beams fell out of the ceilings, and as the people cried in anguish, there was a Roman soldier, who lifted up on the shoulders of another soldier, took a lighted flaming torch, and flew it in the window of the temple.  It happened to fall upon combustible material, and the temple went up in flames.  It was a scene of blood, and of agony, and of death, and of war, and of cursing as the Roman soldiers quarreled over the prey.

And then, silence.  Having conquered the entire city, and the whole city in flames and the very foundations dug up, Titus and the Roman army first slew all the old, all the infirm, all the sick, all the crippled, all the insurrectionists, and all of the robbers.  Second, they chose all the most beautiful and the tallest of the youth, in order to grace the Roman triumph of Titus in Rome.  Then they took all of the able bodied above seventeen and sent them to work in the mines of Egypt.  Then they took the strongest and most able bodied and sent them as presents to the provinces of the Roman Empire, there to be gladiators to fight in the theater against wild beasts.  And everyone above seventeen years of age they sold as slaves.

And silence, the silence of death and destruction and desolation, settled upon the holy city.  “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets and stonest them which are sent unto thee, behold, your house is left unto you desolate” [Luke 13:34-35].  Not one stone upon another, the temple is completely gone, and just abiding, the foundation stones of the retaining wall that supported the land, the acreage, the platform upon which the glorious temple was built.  Is that all?

I have stood in Pergamos, from the beginning a capital city, one of the most beautiful in the world; it is gone.  There is nothing there but a few broken columns and pavement.  There is nothing of Thyatira, nothing.  There is nothing of Philadelphia, nothing.  There is nothing at Sardis, the great capital of the Lydian Empire and the great jewel of Cretius, but a few broken pieces of marble.  Laodicea has perished from the earth; even its name is gone, sunk into the ground, covered over with dirt.  And Ephesus, just a concourse of vast ruins.

These were the queenliest cities in the earth; they are gone.  And at Ephesus, I wanted to see the place where stood one of the Seven Wonders of the world, the great temple of Diana; a hole filled with marsh and bulrushes and reeds and malaria breeding mosquitoes in the pond.  The great temple of Diana, gone.  Does anybody come to worship there?  Does anybody come to lament there?  Does anyone come to call upon the name of God there?  They are gone forever.

But in Jerusalem, and the temple mount, and the Western Wall, I read from the book that the chief rabbi of Israel placed in my hands.


Ever since the temple was destroyed, and the Jewish people deprived of Mount Moriah, we have always yearned, dreamed, and hoped with all our heart and with all our souls to return there, to return to God’s dwelling place, to our days as of old in the restored house of our life and glory.  All through the generations we embraced the remains of the walls of the temple mount, and knocked at its gates.  We climbed mountains and descended into valleys in order to peer at the temple mount through the cracks in its walls.  We especially sought the stones of the Western Wall, lavishing kisses and rivers of tears on it, writhing in its dust; always in the full knowledge that the divine presence never forsakes the Western Wall, which is so close, so close to the site of the Holy of Holies, pressed against the Holy of Holies.

As our sages have said, commenting on Song of Songs 2:14, just as the dove never abandons her cote, even after you have taken her dovelets from under her, so the Jewish people, notwithstanding the temple was destroyed, never ceased going up to Jerusalem on the three pilgrimage festivals each year to pray there opposite the temple mount, which is the gate of heaven.

When the Jews were forbidden to enter Jerusalem, they would go up to the mountains around her in order to gaze at the temple mount, to mourn the destruction of our God’s house, and to pray for its restoration.  At first they would come to the mountain on the southwest of the city known as Mount Zion; then for a number of centuries they went up to the Mount of Olives to pray facing the temple mount.  Sixteen hundred years ago our sages interpreted the passage in the Song of Songs 2:9, “Behold he stands behind our wall,” to refer to the Western Wall of the temple mount.  And even though the temple was destroyed, the divine presence never forsakes the Western Wall; for it is the closest place to the site of the Holy of Holies.

Over many generations the Jewish people poured out their grief over their own exile, and over the exile of the divine presence onto the stones of the Western Wall.  That is how the Gentiles came to call the wall the Wall of Tears, or the Wailing Wall.  And whenever Jews had the privilege of coming right up to the wall, they kissed its stones and wallowed in its dust, and would recite the following prayer: ‘We thank You God our God for having kept us alive, and sustaining us, and making it possible for us to come to Your chosen house.  May it be your last will that just as we have beheld it in its destruction, so may we be privileged to behold it when it is rebuilt, when the exiles of Israel have been ingathered.’

The Western Wall, which fell under Jordanian control in 1948 fighting, for nineteen years we were cut off from our wall which stood there solitary while we were only able to peer at it through cracks from afar.  Our hearts filled with longing.  Then with the help of Him who caused His presence to dwell at this holy place, the valiant soldiers of the Israel defense forces, fighting like lions, this is June of 1967, delivered our wall from the alien conquerors.  And we have been privileged to return to this remnant of the house of our Lord, and to pray beside it.


What do you think of that?  If I had five hours or ten, I’d tell you what I think of it; but I just summarize.  Nobody weeps, or laments, or mourns over the temple of Diana.  The Romans have disappeared from the earth; the Italians take their place.  The ancient Hellenes have disappeared from the earth; the Greeks have taken their place.  All of the ancient nations have disappeared from the face of the earth, and their cities are in ruins.

But God, in His sovereign grace, in Ezekiel chapter 40 to 48 the temple is rebuilt.  In Daniel chapter 9, the temple is rebuilt [Daniel 9:26].  In 2 Thessalonians chapter 2, the temple is rebuilt [2 Thessalonians 2:4].  In Revelation chapter 11, the temple is rebuilt [Revelation 11:19].  There is a sovereign providence above the nations in the hands of Almighty God.  And whether we live or whether we die lies in the sovereign purposes and the imponderables of Almighty God.  And the Lord that presides over the nations of the earth, guiding to its ultimate destiny the glorious consummation of Israel regathered in their land, that same Lord God judges America, and England, and all of the families and tribes of the earth.  And the same Lord God reigns over us and judges us as a people, as a nation, as families, and as human souls.


God of our fathers, known of old,

Lord of our far-flung battle line,

Beneath whose awful Hand we hold

Dominion over palm and pine—

Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,

Lest we forget—lest we forget!

Far-called, our navies melt away;

On dune and headland sinks the fire,

Lo, all our pomp of yesterday

Is one with Nineveh, and Tyre!

 and Jerusalem—

Judge of the Nations, spare us yet,

Lest we forget—lest we forget!

[from “Recessional,” Rudyard Kipling, 1897]


It lies in the hands of God.  What greater strength for a nation than to give itself to the purposes of God?  What sweeter benediction for a family than to devote itself to the purposes of God?  What greater achievement in human life than to give yourself to the calling of God?  Would you?

A family you, a couple you, or a one somebody you; in a moment we shall sing our hymn of appeal.  And while we sing it, in the balcony round, you, down one of these stairways, on the lower floor, you, into the aisle and down to the front, “Here I come, pastor, and here I am [Romans 10:8-13].  The whole family of us are coming today.”  Or just you, as the Holy Spirit shall press the appeal to your heart, make the decision now.  And when you stand up, stand up coming.  “Here I am.  Here I come.”  In your heart, where you are, make the decision now.  And in a moment, come.  God bless you and angels attend you in the way as you take that first step.  Trust in God for the rest, while we stand and while we sing.