John T. Willis

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Siloam Tunnel

My wife Evelyn and I have gone to the Siloam Tunnel in the southeast corner of ancient Jerusalem on several occasions during archaeological excavations in Israel. Quite a few of my students went with me through this intriguing tunnel. We had a great deal of fun, and we learned much about biblical history and religious teaching. We entered one end of the tunnel into the water approximately chest deep and waded through to the other end.

This water channel was hewn during the reign of King Hezekiah of Judah (715-687 BCE). This tunnel is one of the gret engineering feats of the ancient world. It stretches for 533 circuitous meters, and ultimately empties into the Siloam Pool. After refusing Sargon II, king of Assyria, to give tribute to Judah, Hezekiah enclosed many of the extramural dwellings of Jerusalem with a massive wall and redirected the Gihon waters into the more centrally located Siloam Pool by means of this tunnel, hewn through the bedrock underneath the City of David. Hezekiah's engineers began on each end of this now-existing tunnel, and chiseled through this massive bedrock region, and met almost precisely at the center of their project. This was an amazing feat. The differential in height between its beginning in the northeast and end in the southwest of the southeastern spur upon which the City of David is located was only 32 centimeters, which allowed for a steady yet controlled flow of water. When Sennacherib and the Assyrians attacked Jerusalem in 701 BCE, the people were able to survive because water was safely funneled into the city through the Siloam Tunnel.

Let me make two observations of interest.
1. Ancient human beings are VERY INTELLIGENT, VERY RESOURCEFUL, and VERY DETERMINED. ONLY in such ways did these peoples in thousands of years ago not only survived, but flourished. OH, they did not have airplanes or automobiles or iPods, BUT they PLANNED and CARRIED OUT amazing feats in ancient times.
2. After my students and I had gone only a few meters into the Siloam Tunnel, we were surrounged by TOTAL DARKNESS. No one could see anything. We were able to touch each other, and the sides of the tunnel are very narrow, so we could feel ourselves along. We knew about this, so we carried flashlights and candles. After having a little fun, we turned on little lights.
As I think of our collective experiences like this, in this case, going through the Siloam Tunnel in Jerusalem, I call to mind many powerful Biblical texts on the importance of the sharp contrast between light and darkness. You know many of these. Here are a few reminders:
Genesis 1:3-5: "Then God said, 'Let there be light;' and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there way morning, the first day."
Psalm 119:105: "Your word is a lamp to my feet
and a light to my path."
Micah 7:8-9: "Do not rejoice over me, O my enemy;
when I fall, I shall rise;
when I sit in darkness,
the Lord will be a light to me.
I must bear the indignation of the Lord,
because I have sinned against him,
until he takes my side
and executes judgment for me.
He will bring me out to the light;
I shall see his vindication."
Ephesians 5:6-14: "Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes on those who are disobedient. Therefore do not be associated with them. For once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light--for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true. Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful words of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to mention what such people do secretly; but everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for everything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says,
'Sleeper, awake!
Rise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you,"

Darkness is depressing and bemeaning. How uplifting and encouraging it is to know a God who loves us so much that he showers us with His light. I hope and pray that God's light shines in your heart, just as my fellow-students and I enjoyed light in the midst of the utter darkness of the Siloam Tunnel.

Share your thoughts with others. Let me hear from you.

John Willis


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