The wailing wall in Jerusalem is a daily pilgrimage for many Jews, plus a popular tourist destination. But what is the actual biblical history/significance?
To understand the significance of the Wailing Wall, we must first look at the importance of the temple grounds where it stands. The divine presence that manifested in the Jerusalem temple played a central role in Israel’s life and worship. The temple was the heart of Israel and is rich in history through the Kings. The original temple was built on the site of a threshing floor that King David purchased from Araunah the Jebusite:
2SAM. 24:18 So Gad came to David that day and said to him, “Go up, erect an altar to the Lord on the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite.”
2SAM. 24:19 Then David went up in accordance with the word of Gad, just as the Lord had commanded.
2SAM. 24:20 And Araunah looked down and saw the king and his servants crossing over toward him; so Araunah went out and bowed his face to the ground before the king.
2SAM. 24:21 Then Araunah said, “Why has my lord the king come to his servant?” And David said, “To buy the threshing floor from you, in order to build an altar to the Lord, so that the plague may be withdrawn from the people.”
2SAM. 24:22 Araunah then said to David, “Let my lord the king take and offer up what is good in his sight. Look, here are the oxen for the burnt offering, the threshing sledges and the yokes of the oxen for the wood.
2SAM. 24:23 Everything, O king, Araunah gives to the king.” And Araunah said to the king, “May the Lord your God be favorable to you.”
2SAM. 24:24 However, the king said to Araunah, “No, but I will certainly buy it from you for a price; for I will not offer burnt offerings to the Lord my God that cost me nothing.” So David bought the threshing floor and the oxen for fifty
shekels of silver.
2SAM. 24:25 Then David built there an altar to the Lord, and he offered burnt offerings and peace offerings. And the Lord responded to prayer for the land, and the plague was withdrawn from Israel.
Additionally, the threshing floor was located on Mount Moriah, where Abraham was tested by God in Genesis:
GEN. 22:1 Now it came about after these things, that God tested Abraham, and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.”
GEN. 22:2 He said, “Take now your son, your only son, whom you love, Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I will tell you.”
The Temple is the representative dwelling place of God and the focal point of Israel’s worship. Various kinds of sacrifices were performed at the temple to remove impurities, atone for sins, and make peace with God. Furthermore, the temple’s innermost room, called the Holy of Holies, housed the ark of the covenant during Solomon's reign:
1KINGS 8:1 Then Solomon assembled the elders of Israel and all the heads of the tribes, the leaders of the fathers’ households of the sons of Israel, to King Solomon in Jerusalem, to bring up the ark of the covenant of the Lord from the city of David, that is, Zion.
1KINGS 8:2 So all the men of Israel assembled themselves before King Solomon at the feast, in the month Ethanim, that is, the seventh month.
1KINGS 8:3 Then all the elders of Israel came, and the priests took up the ark.
1KINGS 8:4 And they brought up the ark of the Lord, the tent of meeting, and all the holy utensils which were in the tent; the priests and the Levites brought them up.
1KINGS 8:5 And King Solomon and all the congregation of Israel, who were gathered together to him, were with him before the ark, sacrificing so many sheep and oxen that they could not be counted or numbered.
1KINGS 8:6 Then the priests brought the ark of the covenant of the Lord to its place, into the inner sanctuary of the house, to the Most Holy Place, under the wings of the cherubim.
During David's Kingship, the Lord made a covenant with him which proclaimed that David's descendant will erect the Holy Temple in Israel:
1CHR 17:11 When your days are fulfilled that you must go to be with your fathers, then I will set up one of your descendants after you, who will be from your sons; and I will establish his kingdom.
1CHR 17:12 He shall build for Me a house, and I will establish his throne forever.
Therefore, the first temple was built by King Solomon, David's son, around 950BC:
1KINGS 6:1 Now it came about in the four hundred and eightieth year after the sons of Israel came out of the land of Egypt, in the fourth year of Solomon’s reign over Israel, in the month of Ziv, that is, the second month, that he [a]began to build the house of the Lord.
Unfortunately, King Solomon's temple was destroyed around 605BC by the Babylonian King, Nebuchadnezzar, after three grueling attacks on Israel:
2 KINGS 25:8 Now on the seventh day of the fifth month, which was the nineteenth year of King Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, Nebuzaradan the captain of the bodyguards, a servant of the king of Babylon, came to Jerusalem.
2 KINGS 25:9 And he burned the house of the Lord, the king’s house, and all the houses of Jerusalem; even every great house he burned with fire.
What followed was a period of captivity under Babylonian kings, and later, Medo-Persian kings, after the Medes defeated Babylon in around 539BC. The exact time of that captivity was seventy years, just as Jeremiah had promised to Israel:
2 CHR. 36:22 Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia — in order to fulfill the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah — the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he sent a proclamation throughout his kingdom, and also put it in writing, saying,
2 CHR. 36:23 “Thus says Cyrus king of Persia, ‘The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and He has appointed me to build Him a house in Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever there is among you of all His people, may the Lord his God be with him, and let him go up!’”
Jewish exiles returned to Jerusalem, under the edict of the Persian King Cyrus, and began to rebuild the temple, led by Zerubbabel:
EZRA 3:7 Then they gave money to the masons and carpenters, and food, drink and oil to the Sidonians and to the Tyrians, to bring cedar wood from Lebanon to the sea at Joppa, according to the permission they had from Cyrus king of Persia.
EZRA 3:8 Now in the second year of their coming to the house of God at Jerusalem in the second month, Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel and Jeshua the son of Jozadak and the rest of their brothers the priests and the Levites, and all
who came from the captivity to Jerusalem, began the work and appointed the Levites from twenty years and older to oversee the work of the house of the LORD.
EZRA 3:9 Then Jeshua with his sons and brothers stood united with Kadmiel and his sons, the sons of Judah and the sons of Henadad with their sons and brothers the Levites, to oversee the workmen in the temple of God.
The second temple was completed around 516BC, under the reign of the Persian King, Darius:
EZRA 6:14 And the elders of the Jews were successful in building through the prophesying of Haggai the prophet and Zechariah the son of Iddo. And they finished building according to the command of the God of Israel and the decree of Cyrus, Darius, and Artaxerxes king of Persia.
EZRA 6:15 This temple was completed on the third day of the month Adar; it was the sixth year of the reign of King Darius.
EZRA 6:16 And the sons of Israel, the priests, the Levites and the rest of the exiles, celebrated the dedication of this house of God with joy.
After many years under Gentile rule, Israel's temple began to break down. Under the rule of Herod the Great, the temple in Jerusalem saw extensive renovations beginning around 20BC, during the 18th year of his reign as see in the writings of Josephus, an extra-biblical historian:
1. [An. 20.] And now Herod, in the eighteenth year of his reign,15 and after the acts already mentioned, undertook a very great work; that is to build of himself the temple of God, (28) and make it larger in compass, and to raise it to a most magnificent altitude: as esteeming it to be the most glorious of all his actions, as it really was, to bring it to perfection; and that this would be sufficient for an everlasting memorial of him.
The core temple likely was finished within several years, but construction on the entire complex continued for decades and would have been ongoing during the events narrated in the Gospels and Acts.
Although Herod’s project was the largest building site in the ancient world, its grandeur was short-lived. After being completed in the early AD 60s, the temple complex was destroyed by the Romans in AD 70 again, recorded by historian Josephus:
“Now as soon as the army had no more people to slay or to plunder, because there remained none to be the objects of their fury, Titus Caesar gave orders that they should now demolish the entire city and Temple” (War of the Jews, Book VII, Chap.1)
This temple is the same temple recorded throughout the New Testament scriptures, the same temple that Jesus went to for Passover in the Gospels.
Today, several portions of a grand retaining wall built by Herod can still be seen in Jerusalem, the most famous being the Western Wall, also known as the Wailing Wall. This is a 1,600-foot long portion of the retaining wall that Herod had erected to expand the temple mount. For Jews, this is the most sacred and holy site ever known to them. Many Jews visit the Western Wall to pray and to slip written prayers into the crevices between the huge rocks that make up the wall. The sacred nature of this site makes it a point of conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, especially since the Dome of the Rock, a holy site in Islam, is partially located on the bed of the ancient Israelite temple. The retaining wall built by King Herod and the Temple Mount that it supports are the most sought-after pieces of religious real estate in the world.
Every age since Israel's formation has included a temple for sacrificial services and has been paramount to their rich history and worship. Today, in the age of the Church, there is a temple and a sacrifice still. The Bible says that the temple today is found in the body of all believers:
EPHESIANS 2:19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household,
EPHESIANS 2:20 having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone,
EPHESIANS 2:21 in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord,
EPHESIANS 2:22 in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit.
Moreover, one day the Lord will reign over the earth and over Israel and those recorded for life in the Millennial Kingdom. He will occupy Mt. Zion (the same location described above) in a flaming fire, as spoken in the Prophets:
IS. 4:2 In that day the Branch of the LORD will be beautiful and glorious, and the fruit of the earth will be the pride and the adornment of the survivors of Israel.
IS. 4:3 It will come about that he who is left in Zion and remains in Jerusalem will be called holy — everyone who is recorded for life in Jerusalem.
IS. 4:4 When the Lord has washed away the filth of the daughters of Zion and purged the bloodshed of Jerusalem from her midst, by the spirit of judgment and the spirit of burning,
IS. 4:5 then the LORD will create over the whole area of Mount Zion and over her assemblies a cloud by day, even smoke, and the brightness of a flaming fire by night; for over all the glory will be a canopy.
For an in-depth study on the Temple, we suggest our Ezra, Ezekiel and Daniel Old Testament Studies and our Revelation Teaching in the New Testament.