“You also, as living stones, are being built up into a spiritual house for a holy priesthood.” (1 Peter 2:5)
Have you ever had the sheer joy of reading H.V.Morton’s book, “In the Steps of the Master”? Published in 1934, as a result of his wide travels in the Middle East, he had a manner of writing that leaves the reader with vivid mental images. The following passage (from pages 62 – 65) is most helpful when connected with the words of Peter, quoted above.
“About 85 years ago (i.e. 1850) a man named Barclay was walking round the walls of Jerusalem with his dog and a gun. When he came to the Damascus Gate he discovered that the dog was missing. He whistled, but the animal did not appear. Turning back he saw the dog crawling out apparently from beneath the city walls, where he had evidently made a find. He stood barking, asking his master to come and look at his discovery. When Barclay went over, he found that bushes, shrubs and the debris of centuries concealed the opening to a cavern which ran under the walls and beneath the city.
Such a discovery in Jerusalem fires the imagination . . . . Barclay wisely said nothing and, returning on the following day with a search-party, widened the small hole into which his dog had jumped and entered the cave. The torches of the search party lit up a weird and terrifying scene. The explorers stood in a snow-white cavern, so large that its extremity was hidden in the darkness. One glance at the stone walls told them that it had been artificially made. The torchlight was not powerful enough to penetrate to the end of the cavern. It was an immense excavation that ran on and on beneath the streets of the Old City.
It was soon realised that they had discovered Solomon’s Quarries – called by Josephus the “Royal Quarries” – the quarries which, lost for nearly two centuries, had provided the stone for Solomon’s Temple about nine hundred years before Christ. I think these quarries are one of the most interesting sights in Jerusalem. They are neglected by the average sightseer. . . When I visited the quarries, an old Arab who sits at the entrance gave me a lantern and warned me not to fall down any of the frightful precipices, for Solomon’s quarries are no place for the short-sighted or the stumbler. . . . I went into the darkness, swinging my lantern, and the path led steeply down into an enormous entrance cave like a buried cathedral. From this excavation, wide, high passages led off in many directions. I pulled up sharply on the edge of chasms and, waving my lantern in the darkness, saw that the rock fell away to lower workings, to more distant and deeper caverns.
It has been estimated that in ancient times sufficient stone had been removed from these quarries to build the modern city of Jerusalem twice over. It is a peculiar and unusual pure white stone, soft to work, but hardening rapidly when exposed to the atmosphere. The Arabs call these caverns the “cotton caves” because they are so white.
On every hand I noticed the signs of workmen. With a feeling of awe and bewilderment, a feeling that I was dropping down through the very floor of Time, I knew that these workmen had been dead for nearly three thousand years. Yet the marks made by the Phoenician stone-cutters when Solomon was king of Jerusalem were as clean, as sharp and, apparently, as recent, as the marks a man sees in the Portland quarries today.
The workmen had cut niches in the walls for their lamps. And it all seemed so new, so modern, that I had the odd feeling that it was lunch-hour during the building of the Temple and that at any moment I might hear the returning feet of Solomon’s quarreymen, kicking aside the chips and stones as they poured back to work.
Down in the darkness of Solomon’s quarries, with the white dust of the stone on my clothes, the building of the Temple took on a reality that surprised me. It frequently happens in Palestine that some verse of the Bible, hitherto meaningless, suddenly unlocks itself, and one is left amazed by its minute accuracy. I realised the real meaning of a verse which must have puzzled many people. 1 Kings 6, verse 7, describing the building of the House of the Lord, says
“And the house, when it was in building, was built of stone made ready before it was brought thither; so that there was neither hammer nor axe nor any tool of iron heard in the house, while it was in building.”
I have always imagined that this verse meant that the Temple stone was quarried far away out of earshot ofJerusalem. What else could it have meant? But why should the writer of Kings have stressed the obvious fact that distant quarrying could not be heard on Mount Moriah? Obviously the point of this verse is that the stone with which Solomon built his Temple came almost from beneath the Temple, yet not a soul heard the cutting of the stones!
In these quarries you can see how the stone was broken from the bed, how it was passed at once to the masons, who shaped and smoothed it – the floor is in places many feet deep in tons of chips – and how it went straight into the daylight ready to take its place in the building of the Temple. No matter how earnestly those in the streets of the city above might have listened for the sound of hammers, they could have heard nothing.”
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Here then is the message to the redeemed. At birth we are said to be “fashioned in iniquity”, and one spoke about “the pit from which I was digged“. In the quarry of this world we are fashioned and shaped, by circumstances and environments, by success and failure, by parents and children, by the hands of friend and foe alike, each being a mason in God’s hands, in the darkness of this world, until we are ready to enter the blazing light of God’s presence, there to be placed on His Temple mount, there to be fitted into a spiritual structure, in readiness to act in the capacity of a “royal priesthood” in days of resurrection.
No wonder that Peter, concluding his passage about “living stones” should say that we have been “called out of DARKNESS into His MARVELLOUS LIGHT.” (1 Peter 2:9)