I grew up singing this song. I hear the melody in my head even as I write the words. The song teaches us that Jesus was crucified on top of a hill, far in the distance, but this might not have been the case.
There stands a hill just outside the walls of Jerusalem. On its side you can see an image that looks like a skull, with eyes, nose and mouth outlined by caves covered with the soot of ancient fires. Many suppose that Jesus hung on a cross at the top of this particular rock outcropping. However, from the road at the bottom of this hill, it would have been difficult to see the victims of crucifixion and challenging to climb to the top to get a closer look.
We must remember that the Romans desired not merely to kill those they crucified. They desired to inflict maximum torture and humiliation. As a result, they crucified offenders in locations that would draw the greatest crowds. From up close the crowds could hurl abuse, cast stones, spit and jeer. From up close they could read the inscription nailed to the top of the cross that outlined the criminal’s offenses. From up close they could look on his nakedness. Proximity maximized humiliation.
The road at the bottom of Golgotha leads directly into the city. For thousands of years, countless people have entered and exited the city of Jerusalem along this route. To this day it remains a hub of activity. It was almost certainly in this place, at the foot of “The Place of the Skull,” that Jesus was crucified. It was in this place that every passerby could join in the pleasure of humiliating “the King of the Jews.”
So perhaps we should change the opening line like this – “By the road, close at hand….” But let us keep the following line as it reminds of our Savior’s humiliation – “…stood an old rugged cross, the emblem of suffering and shame.”
In every way, Jesus suffered for us!