For those that don’t already know, I am spending the fall semester in Jerusalem, on sabbatical from Asbury Theological Seminary. I’m launching work on a commentary on the book of Joshua and am a Visiting Professor at Jerusalem University College, located up on Mt. Zion in Jerusalem. And yes, I’ll go ahead and say it: I miss Angie! She joins me in mid-October, and until then, I just don’t feel normal with the other half of my heartbeat half a world away!
I’m hoping to journal this experience regularly through this blog
Living in Jerusalem one feels the weighty presence of redemptive history, from its Hebrew origins up through the time of Jesus and through the church and beyond. It’s tempting only to think of that aspect of the story of this incomparable city.
But yesterday afternoon, I saw something I’d known about but had never really taken a good look at. You wouldn’t likely notice it walking around, and even if you noticed it, you might not realize what you were looking at.
It’s…a cable. Running from a room in the women’s dormitory of JUC, stretching south, while the Valley of Hinnom drops away some 150 or more feet, the cable extends across, connecting to a building on the other side. Both ends of this cable have a lot of history, but I’m only interested in my end for now!
Jerusalem University College occupies a building built in 1853 under the direction of Anglican Bishop Gobat, who wanted to build a Christian boys school that would serve all the population groups of Jerusalem, but especially the arabic speaking population. For now, we’ll just say the building had a long and interesting career. During the Israeli War of Independence in 1948, the school stood just above the no-mans-land separating Israeli forces from Jordanian troops,who virtually surrounded the site. The Israeli army had established a tenuous, dangerously exposed observation outpost in the Gobat School. But due to the surrounding Jordanian forces, who raked the valley with sniper fire, and the forbidding terrain, the Israeli forces could not be readily resupplied, and could not move their wounded back out for treatment.
So an army engineer, Uriel Hefetz, conceived of this cable over the valley. By day, the cable lay stretched across the valley floor hidden among the brush and vegetation. By night, soldiers cranked it up with a winch until it rose tight over the valley. A small cart inched back and forth, with just enough space for one person, or carrying capacity of about 500 pounds of supplies. Before daybreak, the soldiers winched the cable back down into the brush, out of sight. Nobody was ever the wiser about this single, tenuous thread of support, this lifeline for the embattled soldiers holed up in the Gorbat School.
What might it have felt like to be a badly wounded, suffering soldier, desperately stuffed into that tiny cart and launched over the Hinnom valley in the dark, knowing his only hope lay in that fragile and danger-fraught little car creeping along an inch of twisted steel, bobbing in the night, blown about by the winds that tear down the Hinnom valley on a Jerusalem night. Just how desperate to survive did that man have to be? But night after night, wounded were evacuated, replacements and supplies brought in, all the while a fierce enemy below never knowing.
It’s dangerous to show something like this to a biblical theologian! This is Ground Zero of God’s ages-long plan of redemption. Here the often thin, almost invisible thread of grace extended through the night across a chasm of danger and death. Here the thin red thread that hung out of Rahab’s window, that drained down the wood of Golgotha, provided the lifeline for all humanity.
In 1987, the French aerialist, Phillipe Petit, who walked between the Twin Trade Towers in New York in 1974, stepped out on the Hinnom Lifeline and strode toward the other side while 50,000 onlookers, including flamboyant Jerusalem Mayor Teddy Kollack, held their breath as he moved step-by-step to the other side. They entitled his performance, “A Bridge for Peace.”
Afterwards, Petit remarked, “That’s what the wire can do, when you link two mountains, you link the people who live on those mountains.”
Petit spoke far better than he knew.