Its religious importance to so many of the people of the world has helped lead to efforts to make it an international city under United Nations control. "The City of Jerusalem ... shall be administered by the United Nations." (U.N. General Assembly Resolution 181, enacted in 1947)
In biblical terms, Jerusalem is the only "holy city." It is referred to as such throughout both Old and New Testaments. "And the rulers of the people dwelt at Jerusalem: the rest of the people also cast lots, to bring one of ten to dwell in Jerusalem the holy city, and nine parts [to dwell] in [other] cities. ...All the Levites in the holy city were two hundred fourscore and four." (Neh 11:1, 18 KJV) "Awake, awake; put on thy strength, O Zion; put on thy beautiful garments, O Jerusalem, the holy city: for henceforth there shall no more come into thee the uncircumcised and the unclean." (Isa 52:1 KJV) "Then the devil taketh him up into the holy city, and setteth him on a pinnacle of the temple." (Matthew 4:5 KJV) "...and came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many." (Matthew 27:53 KJV) See also Isaiah 48:2; Daniel 9:24; Mark 4:5; and Rev 11:2, 22:19.
This usage of the term is not simply due to familiarity with the location on the part of Bible writers, all of whom were Hebrews who spent most of their lives in the Middle East. It is due to a choice on God's part. The Creator's choice of this particular city was announced at the time of King David, who took the city out of the hands of its long-time inhabitants, the pagan Jebusites. The Almighty referred to it as, "Jerusalem, the city which I have chosen me to put my name there." (1Ki 11:36) God specified, "I have chosen Jerusalem, that my name might be there; and have chosen David to be over my people Israel." (2 Chronicles 6:6) It was there that God had King David place the holy tabernacle with its Ark of the Covenant. And there is where God told David he would have his temple built.
But that was not the beginning of Jerusalem as a center of true worship. The first mention of Jerusalem's existence is found in the book of Genesis, where it is referred to as "Salem." Abraham was living as an alien in the land God promised to him, when a
marauding band led by the kings of several Canaanite cities swept down and took captive Abraham's nephew Lot. Abraham allied himself with the kings of some other nearby cities and, with a small military force, he defeated the hostile kings and rescued his nephew. At this point there appeared on the scene a man named Melchizedek who is identified as "king of Salem." He was also called "priest of the most high God," and he apparently led Abraham in a celebratory worship service, at the end of which Abraham tithed a tenth of the spoils of war to this priest. "And Melchizedek king of Salem brought forth bread and wine: and he was the priest of the most high God." (Gen 14:18 KJV)
Besides the account in Genesis, the writer of the letter to the Hebrews in the New Testament tells the same story: "For this Melchisedec, king of Salem, priest of the most high God, who met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings, and blessed him; To whom also Abraham gave a tenth part of all; first being by interpretation King of righteousness, and after that also King of Salem, which is, King of peace." (Hebrews 7:1-2 KJV)
There is no doubt that Salem and Jerusalem are one and the same, because the Psalmist refers to the Jewish holy city by its ancient name: "In Salem also is his tabernacle, and his dwelling place in Zion." (Psalm 76:2 KJV) So, under the priesthood of Melchizedek, Jerusalem was a holy city and a center of true worship at least as far back as the time of Abraham.
The next time we read about the city, it was inhabited by the Canaanite people called Jebusites. This was at the time of the Israeli invasion of the Promised Land under the leadership of Moses' successor Joshua. He had instructions from God to wipe out the corrupt inhabitants of the land and to empty their cities for settlement by the Jews, recently freed from Egyptian slavery. However, Joshua and his successors failed to carry out these instructions completely, and one of the cities they left intact with its pagan Canaanite population was the city of Jerusalem.
"As for the Jebusites the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the children of Judah could not drive them out: but the Jebusites dwell with the children of Judah at