The tragedy of the exile was not only that so many of Judah's populace were exiled, but that they had lost the center of their worship and cultic life--the temple in Jerusalem. The opening verses of Psalm 137 were the lament of every Jewish person living in far-off Babylon:
By the rivers of Babylon--there we sat down and there we wept
when we remembered Zion.
On the willows there we hung up our harps.
For there our captors asked us for songs,
and our tormentors asked for mirth,
saying, "Sing us one of the songs of Zion!"
How could we sing the LORD's song in a foreign land?
If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand wither!
Let my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth, if I do not remember you,
if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy.
Even the Samaritan woman at the Sychar well knew that Jews considered Jerusalem the place of true worship. Jesus replied that "the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem" (John 4:19-21)--that is, Christian worship would not be localized in any one place. In retrospect, however, one can understand how Jerusalem has been at the heart of Jewish longing for all the centuries since the destruction of the temple and the dispersion of the Jewish people in the first century. These powerful feelings have shaped the politics of the Holy Land in our day and will continue to do so.
3Thus says the Lord: I will return to Zion, and will dwell in the midst of Jerusalem; Jerusalem shall be called the faithful city, and the mountain of the Lord of hosts shall be called the holy mountain. 4Thus says the Lord of hosts: Old men and old women shall again sit in the streets of Jerusalem, each with staff in hand because of their great age. 5And the streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing in its streets. 6Thus says the Lord of hosts: Even though it seems impossible to the remnant of this people in these days, should it also seem impossible to me, says the Lord of hosts? 7Thus says the Lord of hosts: I will save my people from the east country and from the west country; 8and I will bring them to live in Jerusalem. They shall be my people and I will be their God, in faithfulness and in righteousness.
9 Thus says the Lord of hosts: Let your hands be strongyou that have recently been hearing these words from the mouths of the prophets who were present when the foundation was laid for the rebuilding of the temple, the house of the Lord of hosts. 10For before those days there were no wages for people or for animals, nor was there any safety from the foe for those who went out or came in, and I set them all against one another. 11But now I will not deal with the remnant of this people as in the former days, says the Lord of hosts. 12For there shall be a sowing of peace; the vine shall yield its fruit, the ground shall give its produce, and the skies shall give their dew; and I will cause the remnant of this people to possess all these things. 13Just as you have been a cursing among the nations, O house of Judah and house of Israel, so I will save you and you shall be a blessing. Do not be afraid, but let your hands be strong.
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org