Gihon Spring in Ophel – Jerusalem, Israel

In the City of David or Ophel is a complex ancient water system. The city itself is situated on a hill of limestone. Underground water contains enough Carbon Dioxide to form karstic caves. These caves have been exploited over time to form water shafts and tunnels by the inhabitants of Jerusalem.

One key part of this system is the Gihon Spring.  This is found in a cave deep within the eastern slope of the hill next to the Kidron Valley. It serves as the only source of water for the Ophel.

Scriptural Significance

This important spring would be the focal point of key military events in the Bible:

  • Solomon was anointed King here (I Kings 1: 32 – 45) 
  • Hezekiah redirected the water from here in advance of an Assyrian invasion (II Chronicles 32: 30)
  • Manasseh built a defensive perimeter wall to the West of the Spring (II Chronicles 33: 14)

Did You Know?

The name ‘Gihon’ actually comes from the Hebrew word meaning ‘to gush forth’.  The spring’s flow is dependent upon the season you’re in and amount of precipitation recently received. Below the spring is a subterranean cave that collects rainfall.  Once this cave is filled to the brim, it is siphoned up through the cracks and crevices in the rocks and pours into the Gihon Spring above it. Here the water pools inside of another cave that also has been formed out of the limestone rock.  

King’s Garden and the Siloam Channel

At one point, water flowed from the Gihon Spring into the Kidron Valley. Terracing allowed the water to flow in such a way as to irrigate much of the side of the hill leading down the valley. In Scripture, this watered terrace is referred to as the ‘King’s Garden’ (see II Kings 25:4; Jeremiah 52:7; Nehemiah 3:15).

About 1800BC, an aqueduct was cut leading from the Gihon Spring heading south along the eastern slope of the City of David. This channel led around Ophel’s southern edge and emptied into a reservoir in the Tyropoeon Valley. The aqueduct was then covered over by large rock slabs.

Scriptural Significance

The King’s Garden is referenced in the Bible at the time of the 1st Temple’s Destruction and during Jerusalem’s later restoration:

  • Zedekiah appears to have fled Jerusalem from here once the Babylonians stormed the city (II Kings 25: 4; Jeremiah 52: 7) 
  • During the time of Nehemiah, Shallun placed a vault over the Gihon Spring and repaired the wall next to the Pool of Siloam – both of which were in close proximity to the King’s Garden (Nehemiah 3: 15)

The Siloam Channel may in fact be the ‘waters of Shiloah that go softly’ as mentioned in Isaiah 8: 5.  After Hezekiah’s Tunnel was cut, the inhabitants of Jerusalem apparently blocked up the channel so as to prevent the Assyrians from getting at the drinking water (II Chronicles 32: 4).

Warren’s Shaft

The difficulty with the Gihon Spring is that it resides just outside of the city walls.   The early inhabitants of the Ophel or City of David were the Jebusites. To get the water into the city, they apparently dug a kind of shaft. Using natural karstic fissures in the rock, a tunnel was dug leading to the spring from within the city walls.

In 2 Samuel 5: 8, we read of the confident position the Jebusites had given their strong walls and secured supply of water. When King David went to conquer the city for Israel, he promised command of his military to that soldier who could scale the shaft and get Israel’s forces inside the city walls. Connecting this passage with I Chronicles 11: 4 – 7, Joab apparently did exactly that. He climbed up this important water shaft and was able take the city from within.

What’s the Point?

From the time General Warren discovered this shaft in the 1860’s until the early 1990’s, skeptics argued that the water shaft only dated back to the 9th Century BC. This is well after the time of David. 

Then the remains of fortifications and additional waterworks were located near the Gihon Spring which dated as far back as 2000BC. Two enormous towers were uncovered that jutted out eastward from the walls of the city. They protected the water supply of the area and proved the existence of defense works well prior to the time of David. 

The water shaft is located in the place the Bible said it should be. This bears witness to the fact that the Bible is the recorded record of real people, places, and things.

Did You Know?

In 1867, British General Sir Charles Warren went to Jerusalem with the Palestine Exploration Fund. He is credited with conducting the first major excavations of Jerusalem – and as a result, ushered in the modern era of Biblical Archeology. His most important discovery was this water shaft that now bears his name. General Warren would also achieve fame as the head of the London Metropolitan Police from 1886 through 1888. This was when the ‘Jack the Ripper’ murders took place.