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A House Built upon sand shall neither stand well nor stand long.(1)
— Dr. John S. Nagy
Summary: King Solomon’s choice of location to Build his Temple upon has many overlaying references that have much significance to Masons. Examining its rich history reveals Strong criteria for its selection. Masons would do well to understand the connections this Temple location has for any other Building they may conceive, design and eventually Build.
Far too many Masons have grown up in cultures that do not give full credence to the rich metaphors that allow for instant understanding of the Masonic symbols before them. The Threshing-floor is one such metaphor of a special location for activity that all Masons should be prepared to engage in very early in their Masonic Journey.
On the Threshing-floor, the fruit of the harvest is laid out before them; further Work is put forth to separate the grain heads from the chaff that nurtured the grain to maturity. Winnowing efforts are put forth in this activity, forcing movement of the chaff away from the grain so desired.
Like threshers from any era, Masons must also learn how to separate that which is important from that which is not. Without this vital skill, further improvement in Masonry, a primary goal for Masons at any stage, will not occur. Masons should learn this skill early on as Entered Apprentice Masons and apply it at all times from then on.
This crucial skill though is not pointed out as a Foundation to which Masonry is Built upon. Archaic references to the Foundation are few and modern day Masons would be hard pressed to provide exact connections to the Foundation if they were limited to the Ritual references themselves.
Yet, if Masons took time to examine Ritual carefully and look into the history of King Solomon’s Temple, as provided by the Volume of Sacred Law and specifically the land in which it was Built upon, they would find a rich harvest of connections. Before them would be an abundance of lessons that would profit them and those they encounter. They would have examples of human desire focused in grand style to assure actions were honorable and respecting. They would discover deeper meaning and understanding that made for better choices in life. They would also create a clarity and continuity surrounding the Work that they endeavor to undertake as Masons in Masonry.
We each Build a Temple that is our own. The plans for that Temple are Masonic in origin and follow the prototype of that which was Built by King Solomon many years ago. That foundation is upon a mountain called “Moriah.” The significance of this name is important to all Masons. The significance of its history is just as important.
The name “Moriah” occurs first in our Volume of Sacred Law in the Book of Genesis. It is attributed to a mountain range that has a rich history that Masons would do well to know and learn from. Traditionally, Moriah is the location of a specific mountain but Rabbinical tradition often attributes many significant occurrences directly to Mount Moriah particularly; many of which Masons would benefit from by knowing how they support their Masonic Work.
One such occurrence was the story of a man who is credited to be the father of three monotheistic religions. The Moriah mountain range was the location to which the Friend of God(2) also known as “Abraham,” intended to sacrifice his son Isaac to his Lord.(3)
As an interesting tangent to this, it is important to know what the word “sacrifice” originally meant many years ago; its meaning was “to make Holy.” It was believed at that time that gifts must be offered to that which was revered and worshiped. To do this, one must “make Holy” that gift in order for it to be acceptable. This often involved burning such offerings. This method of sacrificing is called “holocaust,” which is from a Greek root word meaning “burnt whole”; a practice which was believed to make that gift transcend into the spiritual domain. The unfortunate aspect of the word “sacrifice” today is that it has changed over the years from its original meaning. It has shifted semantically to mean “to give up” and hence “loose something;” usually for some greater good.
True sacrifice though involves no loss whatsoever. It only involves a willing act of glad-full giving. In this respect, to truly sacrifice, Masons must willingly and gladly offer up to “make Holy” that which they have been blessed with, giving only their best; no greater gift in sacrifice could be made.
As important as the act of sacrifice has been emphasized to us over the years, the Volume of Sacred Law tells us that sacrifice itself is not the most desirable actions to take. If fact, it tells us that “the performance of charity(4) and prudence(5) is more desirable to God than sacrifice.(6)” It also tells us that “Loving-kindness(7) I desire, not sacrifice, and the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.(8)”
As many Masons will admit outright, much of these sentiments are emphasized in Ritual throughout the degrees.
The next event significant to Masonic Work came with travels of the next generation. It was Jacob, the grandson of Abraham, that subsequently had occasion to visit Moriah(9) and with grand significance to Masons. It was while he was upon Moriah , that he took its freestones and made a pillow to support him in his sleep. During his sleep that night, Jacob dreamt(10) of a connection between Heaven and Earth called a “Sullam.”(11) Sullam means “a graduated ramp, staircase or ladder.” It is the first and last time this word is used within the Volume of Sacred Law.
In that dream, Jacob saw God’s Angels ascending and descending this connection. Upon waking from his dream, Jacobs said, “Surely Jehovah is in this place; and I knew not. This is none other than the House of God, and this is the gate to heaven.” Jacob proceeded to rename the location “Bethal”, which means “House of God.” He also set up the first of two stone pillars to acknowledge this belief, saying, “This stone which I have set for a Pillar shall be God’s House.”
The Ladder of Jacob’s dream is most significant to Masons and their Work, especially at the EA level. The ladder represents the connection between Heaven and Earth. There are too few Masons that know the double significance of this. The Compasses and Square are symbolic of Heaven and Earth too. The connection dreamt of by Jacob also exists between these two. Masons associate the rungs of Jacob’s Ladder with the Seven Virtues that are spoken of in the EA Lecture. The message Masons should glean from these elements is that the connection between Heaven and Earth, and hence Masonry itself, is Strengthened through the practice of these Virtues, as symbolized by the ladder’s rungs.
More Masonic significance occurred years later. Mount Moriah came under ownership of a Jebusite(12) ruler named “Ornan” and whose Hittite title was “Araunah.” Ornan used the location as a threshing –floor. In modern times, threshing-floors are not what many Masons might be exposed to much less have any experience with. In fact, a random survey of Brothers may turn up only a few who understand what the act of threshing is. For many of us with a passing interest, we would look up this word and find that threshing is the act of breaking off the grain heads from the chaff that it grew upon. Further investigation would reveal that this act was followed by something called “winnowing;” a divestment of the chaff from the desired grain it was once connected to. This was sometimes done by rigorously fanning the grain and chaff but was best accomplished in a well lit open space that had lots of wind. The wind was useful in that it carried the lighter chaff away from the heavier grain by merely throwing all of it up into the air. Ornan’s Threshing floor was on the top of Mount Moriah which had both aspects of light and wind in abundance.
Of course, Masons will recognize immediately the significance of the threshing-floor. It is a place where that which is important is separated from that which is unimportant; truth from falsehood; that which nurtures from that which doesn’t; the very actions that Masons must take upon themselves as they progress through their Masonic Work. Obviously the use of Light and a fair amount of directed Wind, in the form of Spiritual guidance, is very useful in this activity. This should start to occur immediately upon Entering upon the threshing-floor.
Of interest to note: The entrance of the threshing-floor is called the “threshold.” Masons will recognize immediately that the threshold is symbolic of the entrance or porch to which all Masons must Pass through to bring them to Light and Spirit; abundantly found upon the Masonic threshing-floor within any existing Masonic Temple.
Threshing and Winnowing are common metaphors for the exercising of judgment(13) and purification.(14) They are also vital skills that help Masons to Divest themselves from the Vices and Superfluities of life.(15) The threshing-floor also symbolizes blessings and abundance for Masons. As stated in the Volume of Sacred Law: And your contribution shall be counted to you as though it were the grain of the threshing floor, and as the fullness of the winepress.(16), The threshing floors will be filled with grain; the vats shall overflow with wine and oil.(17) and When ye have heaved the best thereof from it, then it shall be counted [to you] as the increase of the threshing-floor, and as produce of the winepress.(18)
This scripture echoes the sentiments often heard within the halls of Masonic discourse: You get from Masonry what you put in.
Yet further significance for Masons came into play when King David had reign over the people of this area in and around Mount Moriah. It was this very mountain location, Ornan’s Threshing-floor, that King David noticed an angel of the Lord.(19) When King David took notice, this angel was visiting a three day plague upon the surrounding communities as punishment to King David for taking a census of the war capable men within his kingdom. God didn’t like this and hence His angel was sent. When King David first noticed God’s messenger, it was about to visit that plague upon King David’s people in Jerusalem too. The angel held off though and the prophet Gad immediately instructed King David to Build an Altar to the Lord God to give thanks. King David complied immediately without any hesitation of mind in him whatsoever. The message of King David’s actions should be a clear and firm lesson to Masons: One must take action without hesitation when the instruction is sound and communicates Good Orderly Direction.
There was of course the formality of Building upon land that was not rightfully his. King David recognized this issue and made effort to purchase the threshing-floor from Ornan. Being subject to King David’s rule, Ornan offered up the land freely, along with an array of suitable sacrifices(20) for the intended Altar. King David would not hear of it however; he said to Ornan, “No, but I will buy it for the full price.”(21) His reasoning was straightforward. King David would neither take for his Lord what was someone else’s, nor offer burnt offerings which cost him nothing.(22)
His actions offered some other clear and firm lessons for all Masons to learn from. One lesson was to make sure that the Foundation one Builds upon and what was to be offered to be “made Holy” was procured fairly and equitably before proceeding. Another lesson provided was to treat others fairly and rightfully even if one may reign over them. Yet another lesson that is important for Masons to note is to deal in such a way that there is never any question of ownership.
Mount Moriah’s significance to Masons doesn’t stop there. It is also the location where King David’s son, King Solomon, Built a Temple and dwelling place for the Most High. The Temple was Built upon what was originally Ornan’s Threshing-floor, and surrounded King David’s Altar, the eventual resting place of the Arc of the Covenant.
Masons use the Building of King Solomon’s Temple as a basis for many of the metaphors and symbols used within Masonry. One such symbol, the checkered pavement found upon the ground floor which occupies the very place where threshing once occurred, should remind Masons of the “Wheat and Chaff” that must be separated in their own lives once they are initiated into the fellowship; a skill that becomes more and more valuable as other Work is taken on in higher degrees.
Candidates arriving at this threshing-floor, approach it from “the lofty towers of Babel, where language was confounded and Masonry lost.” Coming upon this threshing-floor of Ornan the Jebusite, they find that language is restored and Masonry is found. Upon initiation, Masons come out of the profane world, filled with much darkness, ignorance and confusion, as there was at the tower of Babel, and that they approach a Masonic world, where there is Light, Understanding and Order, as at the Temple Built upon Ornan’s threshing-floor.
Reviewing all these events should help bring things into prospective as to the overall significance of this Temple Mount location. The place where Abraham was willing to sacrifice his son Isaac; where Jacob dreamt of a heavenly connection and acknowledged God’s presence; where King Ornan threshed to separate the important from the unimportant; where King David Built an Altar in thanks to the Lord; where King Solomon built a Temple to House that Altar and the Lord; all occurred upon Moriah. As significant as all these events may now seem to Masonic readers, the meaning behind this specific location should bear far more significance.
For all of these events to unfold, specific aspects needed to be in place. A willingness to offer to “make Holy” blessings was one such aspect. A willingness to separate that which is important from that which is not is another. A willingness to acknowledge God’s presence and the connection between Heaven and Earth was a third and forth. A willingness to Build Sacred structures was a fifth aspect. Masons may ask themselves “what was the driving force behind all this willingness; what supported all this?” And they would not have far to look to find the answer.
Moriah means “God is my Teacher.” Strict interpretation of the word conveys that it specifically means “ordained/considered by Yahweh.” Being the Foundation of so many events, it is clear that all of them were supported upon the Instruction of God.
About the Article: This article is based on the Masonic writings, “The Threshing-floor” and “The Threshing-floor Catechism” written by Dr. John S. Nagy. They are found in the book “Building Boaz – Uncommon Catechism for Uncommon Masonic Education – Volume 2” by the same author. The book is published by PG Publishing.
About the Author: Dr. John S. Nagy is a Master Mason and member of Tampa Bay Lodge No. 252 in Tampa Bay Florida and also the Florida Lodge of Research. He is their Lodge Musician and occasional Masonic Education provider.
(1) Matthew 7:26-27
(2) Isaiah 41:8, 2 Chronicles 20:7
(3) Genesis 22:10
(6) Proverbs 21:3
(8) Hosea 6:6
(9) Although the location of this event is clearly stated as not Moriah in the Volume of Sacred Law, Rabbinical tradition states that this location was indeed accepted as Mount Moriah.
(10) Genesis 28:12
(11) Those interested in the construct of Hebrew words would do well to investigate the significance of the Hebrew letters “SLM.”
(12) 1 Chronicles 21:15
(13) Daniel 2:35
(14) Matthew 3:12, Luke 3:17
(15) Hosea 13:3
(16) Numbers 18:27
(17) Joel 2:24
(18) Numbers 18:30
(19) 1 Chronicles 21:16
(20) 1 Chronicles 21:23
(21) 1 Chronicles 21:22
(22) 1 Chronicles 21:24