Just a few feet from the Damascus Gate in Jerusalem’s Old City, there’s a forgotten gate to the past.
Thousands of people stream in and out of the Damascus Gate every day. It is easily the most colorful and dramatic of the city’s eight major gates. It’s a shock to your senses to enter it for the first time. Merchants are selling everything from toys to fresh produce, and the noise of shouting vendors is incredibly loud. The smell of spices fills the air, and the gate itself will make you feel as if you’re walking back in time. And the gate is old, built almost 500 years ago!
But if you really want to go back in time, take 125 steps to the east, and then look down. You’ll see a narrow entrance and a bored ticket-taker. The gate he guards? It’s more than four times older than the one above him. Many would argue that it is far older than that, dating back to some of the first kings Jerusalem ever knew.
Almost no one ever visits the largest ancient quarry in Jerusalem, but 2,100 years ago, it was a massive area of work.
Stone masons working for Herod the Great quarried the cave for years, cutting out stones and leaving a massive cave that stretches for five city blocks underneath today’s Muslim Quarter of the Old City. Want to know where the great stones of the Western Wall were originally found? Explore this cave – they call it “Zedekiah’s Cave” – and you’ll see the evidence of where the cutters left off with the last row of stones.
But this is more than a walk back in time, or a tour of masonry history.
When you finish your visit to the cave, take one more look at the Northern Wall of the Old City. It’s easy to see the remnant of rock that once covered the hills of what we now know as Jerusalem. When Abraham brought Isaac to “Mt. Moriah” more than 3,000 years ago? There was no city. There were just massive hills of rock, waiting on history to build, expand, and rebuild the great city. This side of the Old City will help you visualize this more than any other place.
As any stone mason would know, eventually the good rock was all gone from this area. When workers decided the quality of stone in a particular vein of rock was no longer of high-enough quality, they packed up, left that area and searched for another quarry. There are several places around Jerusalem where the masons reached the end of the line, including in the far reaches of Zedekiah’s Cave.
Above ground, one of those left-behind sites looked like a human skull. Because of that, people gave it a nickname. They called the hill “ Golgotha.” In one way, it was nothing more than a place where the stone masons decided to no longer work the rock. In another way, people began using it as a gruesome place of execution.
One of those executed there? Jesus.
One thousand years before, Psalm 118 had spoken of a day when God would use something as routine as a stone quarry to provide the backdrop of history’s most important event. Hear the words again:
The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief corner stone.
This is the Lord’s doing; It is marvelous in our eyes. This is the day which the Lord has made; Let us rejoice and be glad in it. (Psalm 118:22-24, NASB)
He was the cornerstone.
Crucified in front of rejected stones.
And it was the Lord’s doing.
Trust this God who gives such an amazing grace gift.
And rejoice in it.