Hezekiah’s Tunnel

Pilgrimage_compThis week’s blog is excerpted from my new non-fiction book, Pilgrimage: My Journey to a Deeper Faith In the Land Where Jesus Walked. (Bethany House Copyright 2013)



Hezekiah’s Tunnel

downloadThe icy water takes my breath away. I wade into it, stepping down, and down again, until it reaches my thighs. But the shivery water isn’t the worst part of this trek through King Hezekiah’s tunnel. There is no light in here, electric or natural, and the claustrophobic tunnel meanders underground as if excavated by drunkards. Ahead of me, a tall man stoops to keep from smacking his head on the stone ceiling. A heavyset woman looks as though she regrets this adventure as she squeezes between the slimy walls. None of us can turn back. There’s only enough room to walk single file.Gods and Kings

This water system, deep below the city of Jerusalem, is manmade. The Bible tells us that “It was Hezekiah who blocked the upper outlet of the Gihon spring and channeled the water down to the west side of the City of David” (2 Chronicles 32:30). I know the story well. The first novel I ever wrote, Gods and Kings, was part a three-book series about the life of King Hezekiah, who reigned in Jerusalem seven hundred years before Christ. With no supply of fresh water in the city and the vicious Assyrian army marching toward him, Hezekiah needed to find a way to safeguard the freshwater spring, located outside the city walls. His solution was to dig an underground tunnel from the spring to a new reservoir within the walls. Pressured to complete the work before the Assyrians attacked, he ordered the workers to start digging from opposite ends and meet in the middle.

IMG_0154“Hey, is it safe to trust a tunnel that was dug 2,700 years ago?” someone asks as we slosh forward. I shake my head but no one sees me in the dark. No. I don’t trust an ancient tunnel, especially in a city that has occasional earthquakes. I can only trust God—and keep moving, shining my feeble flashlight. The chiseled floor is uneven and rough, and since we can’t see our feet below the inky water, we shuffle slowly, careful not to stumble and fall. I’m not a big fan of caves, and this manmade one with its straight walls and squared-off ceiling is dark and creepy. The weight of the mountain above my head feels crush332_507041389024_3670_ning.

“How much farther?” someone asks in a shaky voice. I don’t dare tell her that this serpentine tunnel will wind for nearly a third of a mile and take about half an hour to walk through. The college students in our group try to lighten the atmosphere with laughter and jokes. Then one of them starts to sing: “Fill it up and let it overflow . . .” It’s an upbeat version of “Amazing Grace” with an added refrain, “Fill it up and let it overflow, let it overflow with love.” Soon, everyone joins in.

Siloam11We reach the middle and stop to see the spot where the two tunnels met. Here, chiseled into the rock, was the oldest Hebrew inscription ever discovered, written by Hezekiah’s men to explain how they had broken through after digging from opposite ends. The inscription is in a museum in Turkey, not here. We shine our flashlights on the wall and see where it once was, and also how the chisel marks slant from opposite directions at the meeting point.

This tunnel is an engineering marvel, especially when you consider that it was dug in 700 BC. Experts still aren’t sure how anyone could dig two meandering tunnels that began a third of a mile apart and get them to meet up in the middle, deep underground. Impossible! Everyone who hears the story and sees the tunnel is impressed with King Hezekiah and his men.

But God wasn’t impressed. He sent the prophet Isaiah to rebuke the king for all of his plans, saying, “You built a reservoir between the two walls for the water of the Old Pool, but you did not look to the One who made it, or have regard for the One who planned it long ago’” (Isaiah 22:11). In other words, Hezekiah was relying on his own preparations instead of trusting God.

Fifteen minutes later, a pinprick of light in the distance tells us we are almost to the end. I have a new respect for that old cliché about DSCN1594seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. I hear a lot of grateful sighs, including my own, when we wade out into the blinding sunlight. As we sit in the sun to warm up and let our clothes dry out, I’m still thinking of Hezekiah.

BSBA270104100The city of Jerusalem was saved from the Assyrians, but not by this tunnel. When the most powerful army on earth surrounded Hezekiah, demanding surrender, he knew he’d reached the end of his resources. Facing an impossible situation, he went up to the Temple and knelt before God, placing his hope and trust in Him: “O Lord Almighty, God of Israel,” he prayed. “You alone are God over all the kingdoms of the earth . . . Now, O Lord our God, deliver us from [the enemy’s] hand, so that all kingdoms on earth may know that you alone, O Lord, are God” (Isaiah 37:16, 20). That night, the angel of the Lord walked among the sleeping Assyrian warriors and put to death a hundred and eighty-five thousand of them. At dawn, the horrified king of Assyria gathered up his few surviving soldiers and bolted for home.

Angel-destroying-AssyriansIt’s okay to make plans, but the lesson of Hezekiah’s tunnel is that when we put our trust in God, not only is He victorious but He is glorified. I think of the struggles I’ve experienced lately as life has veered out of my control, the times when I’ve panicked as the water has crept higher and higher until it seemed to reach my neck. In spite of all my feverish plans and schemes, the enemy has besieged and surrounded me, leaving me trapped with no way to escape. But as I sit in the sunlight outside Hezekiah’s tunnel, I think of God’s promise from Isaiah, the prophet in Hezekiah’s time: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you” (Isaiah 43:1-2).

light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnelWe can step into the deep water, the darkness, the unknown—and trust God. At the end of the tunnel, we will emerge into dazzling sunlight.

Which Way?

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if our lives had warning signs like the one in this photograph, letting us know when we’re heading toward danger?

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I spotted this sign while hiking in Israel, and believe me, the abyss was enormous and without guardrails to keep unwary hikers from falling over the edge.  I’ve been thinking about that hike a lot as I stand at an important crossroads in my life. I wish I knew which path was the right one, what dangers and challenges lay along each trail, so I could make the best choice. What if one path takes me in the wrong direction or comes to a dead end? Or an abyss?
In seeking guidance, I recall my hike in Israel. This is a photograph, taken from our hotel, of the terrain we hiked through in the Wilderness of Zin.

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The Israelites traveled through this same wilderness on their way to the Promised Land—and isn’t that where we all want to end up, in the place where God wants us to be? But first we sometimes have to trek through dry, difficult places.

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Only a fool would head out into this trackless waste without a guide. And without water! The path was barely distinguishable from the surrounding landscape, at times, and it would have been very easy to wander off and become lost.

The hike was challenging, the sun merciless overhead, but our guide promised us beauty—and some lessons along the way. And here is our first surprise—an oasis where we least expected it.

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I noticed as we followed our guide that everyone stayed within sight of him. No one lagged behind or wandered away. He had our complete trust. And eventually we reached this beautiful valley, hidden in the middle of the vast wilderness. We also reached a dead end. The narrow path we had been following suddenly ended at this high, rocky cliff.

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By now, we had been hiking for several hours and the prospect of retracing our steps beneath the blazing, afternoon sun had us pretty discouraged. Maybe we had gone the wrong way and our guide didn’t want to tell us.

He let us rest and quench our thirst. And while we did, he talked about trusting God to lead us through our wilderness times the way we had been trusting him in this wilderness. He explained how we need a full supply of water—God’s Word—stored up in our hearts during the good times so it can carry us through the bad ones.

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Yes, we had reached a dead end, he said. And so often when we reach dead ends in life we panic and scramble to save ourselves, looking for a way out instead of quietly waiting and trusting God. These were good lessons to remember. But what were we going to do now at this dead end?

When we were rested, our guide led us closer to the face of the cliff. And guess what—he knew the way out all along. Straight up the side of the cliff!Israel 09 031

It wasn’t an easy path by any means. In fact, it was terrifying in places.
Don’t let my happy smile fool you—I was shaking in my shoes!

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But after an invigorating climb, we all arrived safely on top—and there was our air-conditioned tour bus, waiting to take us back to our hotel.

Today as I stand at my crossroads, I’m trusting God to help me choose the right path. If I let Him be my guide, if I follow where He leads and stay close to His side, even when the terrain is difficult, I might find an oasis or two to refresh me along the way.

I’ve been delving into His Word as I prepare for my journey, making sure I won’t run dry. And while I can expect His path to be challenging, I know there will be no dead ends. I will arrive safely at last—exactly where God wants me to be.
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“He set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand.”  (Psalm 40:2)

****If you enjoyed this Blog, you may be interested in my upcoming nonfiction work, “Pilgrimage, My Journey to a Deeper Faith in the Land Where Jesus Walked” Available this November! To order please Click Here! ***