Day 215: The Quiet Miracle of Hezekiah’s Tunnel (2 Chronicles 32:2-4)

2 And when Hezekiah saw that Sennacherib had come and intended to fight against Jerusalem, 3 he planned with his officers and his mighty men to stop the water of the springs that were outside the city; and they helped him. 4 A great many people were gathered, and they stopped all the springs and the brook that flowed through the land, saying, “Why should the kings of Assyria come and find much water?”  (2 Chronicles 32:2-4)

There are a lot of unexplained building projects in the ancient world. How were the pyramids constructed? What was the reason for Stonehenge, or the giant heads on Easter Island? You can go down the rabbit hole of the Internet and spend a week reading up on theories about ancient aliens and so much more. 

But one of the “mysteries” that doesn’t get as much attention is how Hezekiah was able to re-route the Gihon Spring so it couldn’t be accessed by the Assyrian army; while at the same time connecting it to the Pool of Siloam so the inhabitants of Jerusalem could have fresh water while they were besieged by Assyria. And how could he pull off such a feat of engineering with the Assyrian army bearing down on Jerusalem?

One article argues that such a project would have taken four years to complete. If the attack of the Assyrians was imminent, how could Hezekiah complete it in time?

A possible answer was provided in 1880 when a sixteen year old pupil of a German missionary named Conrad Schick discovered an inscription on the wall of Hezekiah’s tunnel. The tunnel itself had been discovered by American Biblical scholar Edward Robinson, but his team missed the inscription.

The inscription is six lines long. Some of the letters have faded and become illegible, and one word (zada) is doubtful and remains untranslated. But here’s what it says:

… the tunnel … and this is the story of the tunnel while …the axes were against each other and while three cubits were left to (cut?) … the voice of a man …called to his counterpart, (for) there was ZADA in the rock, on the right … and on the day of the tunnel (being finished) the stonecutters struck each man towards his counterpart, ax against ax and flowed water from the source to the pool for 1,200 cubits. and (100?)cubits was the height over the head of the stonecutters …

The gist: Hezekiah had two teams of tunnel diggers who worked from opposite directions, and met in the middle. The inscription marks the spot at which a worker on one side of the wall heard the voice of a worker on the other side. Their axes met, and water began flowing the length of the 1,200 cubit tunnel. This was at a point 100 cubits below the surface.

30 This same Hezekiah closed the upper outlet of the waters of Gihon and directed them down to the west side of the city of David. And Hezekiah prospered in all his works.

2 Chron 32:30

There is nothing explicitly in Scripture that corroborates the details in the Siloam inscription. However, the prophet Isaiah records God’s answer to Hezekiah’s prayer for deliverance from Sennacherib (see Day 206, xx). Here is a portion of God’s response:

31 And the surviving remnant of the house of Judah shall again take root downward and bear fruit upward. 32 For out of Jerusalem shall go a remnant, and out of Mount Zion a band of survivors. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this. 33 “Therefore thus says the Lord concerning the king of Assyria: He shall not come into this city or shoot an arrow there or come before it with a shield or cast up a siege mound against it. 34 By the way that he came, by the same he shall return, and he shall not come into this city, declares the Lord. 35 For I will defend this city to save it, for my own sake and for the sake of my servant David.”

Isaiah 37:31

It’s possible that God was doing more than giving Hezekiah a promise that God’s people had been firmly planted in the ground and would continue to bear fruit. Maybe this wasn’t just a description of how plants grow–with roots going down and branches going up.

Perhaps it was a project plan.

Of all the miracles recorded in the Old Testament, the miracle of two ancient civil engineering teams connecting their separate tunnels may be the most subtle. The biblical writers themselves do not directly attribute this feat of engineering to God. But think about it: what did it take for two teams of miners, beginning at two points a half mile from each other and without modern equipment; to connect their tunnels at a point 150 feet below street level–all while facing the threat of a barbaric army breathing down their neck? Speaking as someone who has destroyed multiple sheets of drywall trying to find a stud in my garage (even with a stud finder– yes, I’m an idiot), I consider this accomplishment to be right up there with the pyramids.

Beloved, God is faithful with the details. There are probably a dozen quiet miracles taking place every minute of every day of our lives. Today, let the quiet miracle of Hezekiah’s tunnel tune your heart to sing God’s praise.

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