The Scriptures and Royal Arch Ritual

Everett R. Turnbull & Ray V. Denslow

The stone which the builders refused is become the head of the corner. Did ye never read in Scriptures, the stone which the builders rejected is become the headstone of the corner?

Several variations of the same theme are used in the chapter ritual. They incorporate the quotations from various parts of the Bible, Old Testament and New. All the verses together emphasize how central the thought is.

Difficult as it may be to indicate in English, we should recognize that all the variant verses trace to one source, to the Hebrew of Psalms 118, The impression that the original gives is something jubilant, ever triumphant.

"I shall not die but live and declare the works of God. . . . Open to me the gates of righteousness. . . . The stone which the builders refused is become the chief cornerstone."

English readers have sometimes suggested that the cornerstone assumes merely a decorative and ornamental place in the building. Hebrew traditions looked on the cornerstone as strategic, fundamental, and cohesive to the structure. In the realm of personal experience for each one of us, thought gives special place to the cornerstone.

The idea of rejection and of later acceptance has happened to every one. Ideas that we refused to entertain, and concepts that we have rejected, may have the power to return and to command our fullest respect and loyalty. Sentiment that we ignored, or brushed aside, may have within it the seed of renewal. What made no appeal to a person, may even be revived for him more strongly as the bulwark he respects.

An event, or piece of work, that won only passing attention may hold within itself the decisive dominion of returning to faith. King Lear found that he could have a home only with the daughter he had disinherited. In the process of inner growth, we may come to rely heavily with true dependence upon those very ideas or people whom we ourselves had dismissed and cast aside.

In every work of genius, Emerson suggested, we recognize our own rejected thought. Archaeology has unearthed many examples of tools and utensils discarded by changing styles, but later re-adapted and copied as model to serve the needs of another generation. Works of art, bits of beauty, household remedies, which seem out of date and have been tossed aside may easily under other circumstances make us rely on them with utter dependence.

Loyalties, memberships, ideas, that we took lightly may become trusted bedrock. What we argued against, as unfit for use, may loom significant for us under changed perspective. Glibly, and in off-hand way, we may be ready to say "heave it among the rubbish" . . . only later to discover how many worthwhile and significant things have been retrieved from the rubbish heap and restored to places of honor and usefulness. For example, have you not known those who debated heatedly against Freemasonry and other good causes, show a change of heart and serve the fraternity with ardor? Very often such things as loyal principles and reputations and sentiments, trusted friends and warm associations, health and citizenship, are examples of what people (our own friends, even you and I ) have grown to value and appreciate fully only after we have neglected and ignored. Yes, indeed, it is an important lesson that Royal Arch Masonry emphasizes: that the stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.

So it is also of social legislation and once radical ideas, such as the care of the sick and the aged. That which was kicked aside and repudiated, later established its real value. Kick aside religion, try to forget the Bible, and someday you may live to return to them!

We lose the Master name, and forget it, and then we spend our days and effort to retrieve what we have lost. In a deep sense, thought often means that we shall be reinvested with that we too easily gave away.

Perhaps more than any single agency, Freemasonry in general, and Royal Arch Masonry in particular, keep alive the knowledge and the study of the English Bible. This represents one of the greatest contributions of the fraternity. To a generation which has, in large measure, forgotten the habit of regular Bible reading, Freemasonry makes the Bible its chief reliance. Close attention to the ritual and the Bible passages quoted, can equip one with considerable knowledge and familiarity with the Bible.

Chiefly, three books have contributed heavily to the Royal Arch ritual: those parts which deal with the construction of the Tabernacle as given in Exodus, I Kings, and Ezekiel, (and the parallel passages in Chronicles). Everywhere in Masonic symbolism we find the Book of Law is its principal inspiration, and especially from those parts of the Book which are not widely read.

The aprons, with sash or girdle to hold close to the body, have been traced by scholars to Exodus 28 and the vestments of the high priest. The breast plate of twelve precious stones, arranged in four rows, is described in the same chapter. Likewise, the jewels of the officers may be traced to the ornamental chains or necklaces with bells and pomegranates and rings described in that chapter. That no shoes are mentioned there may explain customs in the early degrees.

Even the color scheme of the blue lodge and upper bodies, and the veils in the Royal Arch, find their origin in the curtains and hanging of the same section of Exodus. The blue lodge takes its name and color from the indigo-blue of the Temple as its most prominent color; and next in order is the crimson-red. Nowhere in the Temple was the color green mentioned ; and green is not included in the earlier degrees. Tyrian purple and scarlet were the colors of royalty in the Bible, and have become respected Masonic colors. Our sprig of acacia has been identified by scholars with the shittim wood, used in the making of the Tabernacle.

From I Kings (and the companion chapter in Chronicles) we have the prayer of King Solomon at the dedication of the first temple, in which Hiram Abif assisted. These two books supply us with the names of Cyrus and Zedekiah and much of our ritualistic work. The mention of the tribe of Judah derives from this section — Boaz and Jachin are mentioned in I Kings 7.21 ; and Adoniram is named in I Kings 4.

The prophet Ezekiel is the source of the lesson on the "gate which is shut" and is not to be opened (c 44), and gives us the counsel to mark well. The English of the King James Version, to which Freemasonry is committed, does not make clear that we have a favorite expression of the prophet Ezekiel. In the original Hebrew, Ezekiel uses the same idiom; but the English translations do not indicate this in such passages as:

"Son of man, behold with thine eyes, and hear with thine ears, AND SET THINE HEART UPON ALL that I shall show thee" with "The Lord said unto me, Son of man, MARK WELL, and behold with thine eyes, and hear with thine ears all that I say unto thee. . . ." (40.6; 44.4–5)

And frequently, Ezekiel speaks of "set thy face." We shall return to some of these references later.

The word "ROD" is well known in the chapter ritual, and again the English does not suggest how many different readings and associations there are for this in the Hebrew. This single word, rod, can add considerably to our real knowledge of the Bible. Jacob, in Genesis 30, used a rod of poplar (makel) in his cattle breeding. The shepherd psalm tells of shevet, thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.

Moses and Aaron, in Exodus, used a matteh as rod from the shittim or acacia wood. This was the rod that became a serpent in the presence of Pharaoh, and otherwise served Moses as a rod of authority and the instrument by which, on two separate occasions, he sought to gain water from the rock. The rod of Aaron blossomed (Numbers 17), and it is similar to the rod dropped before the veils, or later found in the Ark of the Covenant. The prophet Ezekiel uses the same word, rod (matteh) 7.10,

"The morning is gone forth; the rod hath blossomed, pride hath budded, violence is risen to a rod of wickedness. . ."

Jonathan (I Samuel 14.21) used a matteh rod to help himself to some honey.

Most of the references to rod come from the Book of Exodus. This book also furnishes us with the episode which was the turning-point in the life of Moses, the burning bush, and the discovery of God as "I am that I am." All the references to manna, to the pot of incense in the ark, the portable Ark of the Covenant carried on staves and its contents, come from Exodus and some parallels in Numbers.

The sons of Noah were (Genesis 6) Shem, Ham, and Japheth. Rabboni means most excellent master, as school-master and head of academy who raises up many disciples. Only one verse comes from the prophet Isaiah 42.16, to "lead the blind by a way they know not."

Passages in the ritual are quoted from the prophet Haggai, from the prophet Amos, from Zechariah, Psalms 122 and 23, and Deuteronomy to be identified. (31)

The Levites were instructed to bear the Ark of the Covenant, which was to contain the Book. A curious misinterpretation involves a related verse (29.4) which has for us very close associations with Exodus and Ezekiel. The King James reads:

Yet the Lord hath not given an heart to perceive, and eyes to see, and ears to hear UNTO THIS DAY.

In the Hebrew, the intent and meaning is quite different and should be represented in English as,

Not until this day, as it were, did God give you heart to understand, and eyes to see, and ears to hear.

That is, only now did you notice and pay attention, and mark well, and begin to understand!

This accords with the teachings of Royal Arch Masonry, that we should not be thoughtless, but that we should take heed and appreciate fully the singular form and beauty of people, and places, and ideas.

Three books have contributed most from the Bible to Royal Arch ritual, the Books of Exodus and I Kings and Ezekiel, in their chapters on the construction of the Temple. One verse runs through these books as refrain, using the same words in Hebrew, with important emphasis.

"And let them make me a sanctuary that I may dwell AMONG THEM (Exodus 25.8)

In I Kings 6.13, we read,

"And I shall dwell among the children of Israel, and will not forsake my people Israel."

Then Ezekiel, in that chapter where he speaks of coming "by way of the east gate" and even distressed by some of the things that he saw adds "(43.9) AND I will dwell in the midst of THEM forever."

An important aside which will help in the understanding. The question has been asked: why did the Hebrews have to call upon the people of Tyre for help in constructing the Temple! Why were the Hebrews so deficient in the building trades? The customary answer given, is that the people of Israel were forbidden by the commandments to "make any manner of likeness of anything in heaven or earth," and thus prevented the development of the plastic and building arts. To that answer, I disagree. Instead, the intent and effect of that second commandment on the Hebrew, forbidding the likeness of anything, was a constant reminder that the noblest emotions and highest ideals of life cannot be expressed in any art-form. Not even in speech can the full idea be given.

That is the point of the Hebrew, and its consistent interpretation of the three verses in Exodus, Kings, and Ezekiel. God does NOT reside in the structure. We cannot localize God within a building. We, together, will build. God resides only in the hopes and purposes and hearts of men. The promises of God are that He will dwell within the innermost efforts and springs of men. The task of the building goes on all the time, it is never completed. Only thus can the aspirations of mankind find in God and the Bible their chief cornerstone and true bedrock!

History of Royal Arch Masonry Vol. 1