Of course I’ve always known about the existence of “the wailing wall” in Jerusalem, but I confess I never really knew what it was. To be really honest, I think I thought it was a Catholic thing when I was younger. As an adult Christian, the most connected I’ve ever really been to the concept of the wailing wall was in a song by Point of Grace called “You Are the Answer” …
They line the wailing wall
The masses fill up St. Peter’s square
Spill out of desperate prayer
This song is basically about peoples’ desperate needs and God’s abundant provision for those needs. And from even this crazy-limited perspective of this song, I always took the wailing wall to be a place where people gathered when that desperate human need was more pronounced than usual. Turns out, I wasn’t all that terribly far off.
The wailing wall is simply a part of the retaining wall that Herod the Great built to hold up the Temple Mount esplanade in Jerusalem just before the time of Jesus. The section of wall is probably a little more than 100 feet long, on the south end of the western face of the retaining wall. The open section of wall called the “wailing wall” spans between two walls protruding out from the retaining wall which belong to structures that have been built in this area over the centuries. Plus, the level of the ground has risen dozens of feet on this side of the temple mount in that time as well, so the ground people walk on to approach the wailing wall is actually vertically positioned about halfway up the retaining wall compared to where it would have been in Jesus’ day.
What’s so special about this section of wall?
The 2nd Jewish temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD, displacing Jews all over the world. When the Muslims set up shop in the 7th century, they built the Dome of the Rock where the temple used to be. This pretty much solidified the temple mount as a Muslim holy site to which Jews and Christians do not have access.
Over the many hundreds of years since this time, ostensibly because in their eyes God still dwells in the temple, the Jews (and some Christians I’m sure) have sought out places at least close to the old site of the temple to be considered “holy sites”. This section of wall is close to where the temple used to be, so in the eyes of many, it’s the holiest place they can get to. As a result, many Jews and Christians treat the wailing wall with tremendous reverence – as they would have treated the temple, where it still standing atop Mount Moriah. They believe that if they touch the wall, then their prayers will carry special weight. Or, they write prayers on small pieces of paper, which they then roll up and stuff into the cracks in the wall. Also, we had to cover our heads when approaching the wall because it is a holy site.
I felt sorry for the people there. It made me sad to think that people are so unfamiliar with who God really is that they still believe somehow God dwells in those rocks or on that mountain. And they didn’t just believe it a little. I saw people VERY worked up, special apparatus everywhere for confession and prayer, and more than one person in our group talked about how Catholic or Jewish friends had sent prayers with them to be stuck in the wall or relayed to God by the person on our tour … I guess because the person sending the prayer thought the person going to Jerusalem would be closer to God when they got there. Do they think God lives in Jerusalem? … and that He’s hard of hearing?
Touching a wall doesn’t make your prayers special. Being in one place instead of another does not make God hear your prayers more clearly. There is no special power in that span of rock, or any other for that matter.
The Most High does not live in houses made by men. As the prophet says:
“Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool.”
“What kind of house will you build for me?” says the Lord, “or where will my resting place be?”
“Has not my hand made all these things?” (Acts 7:48-50)
Ultimately, I did approach the wall to pray, but I prayed for all the people touching or who would touch the wall. I prayed that the eyes of their hearts would be opened to who God really is and where God really lives (for those who have allowed Jesus’ work on the cross to repair the separation from God our sin has caused).
Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)
The wailing wall doesn’t make God hear you. Jesus does.