By Mark Meyer
Grand Lodge of Texas: June 2002
The topic of Freemasonry offers a wide array of subjects for study to the Masonic scholar interested in unlocking its mysteries. In pursuit of our quest for Masonic learning we should stop to examine the three Degrees of Ancient Craft, or Blue Lodge Masonry and ask ourselves, “What lesson (or lessons) should I be learning from each Degree?” The key to the subject matter is hidden within a little understood yet vitally important part of the ritual of the first section of each Degree.
We tell ourselves and the new initiates that the manner of candidate preparation is intended to present a condition where the “… mind might conceive before the eyes beheld the beauties of Freemasonry.” As the candidate of each Degree undergoes the ritual of circumambulation he is then presented with the theme of the Degree – contained in the Scriptural reading. The theme is often lost however, or misunderstood, because of the mystic nature of the readings. An examination of each of the Scriptural readings reveals the unique manner in which each theme is presented.
Entered Apprentice Degree
Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity! It is like the precious ointment upon the head, that ran down upon the beard, even Aaron’s beard, that went down to the skirts of his garments; as the dew of Hermon, and as the dew that descended upon the mountains of Zion: for there the Lord commanded the blessing, even life forevermore. Psalms 133
Imagine yourself as the candidate once again, hearing these words for the first time. The first sentence might tend to calm your apprehensions and uncertainties about your forthcoming experience by pronouncing in simple terms what a pleasure it is to “dwell together in unity” or to be in the presence of a body of men united together in mind and spirit of purpose. This peaceful unity is of utmost importance to Masons as it is the mortar or cement that binds us together as a fraternity. “It is like the precious ointment upon the head, that ran down upon the beard, even Aaron’s beard, that went down to the skirts of his garments;…” Aaron, the elder brother of Moses, and his sons were appointed by God to be the High Priest and ministers of God for the children of Israel (Exodus 28:1). God directed that an “oil of holy ointment” (Exodus 30:23-25) be made consisting of measured amounts of myrrh, sweet cinnamon, sweet calamus, cassia and olive oil. This “holy anointing oil” was to be poured upon Aaron and his sons as a blessing or consecration prior to their entry as priests into the tabernacle, containing all the holy vessels and the Ark of the Covenant, to minister and pray unto the Lord (Exodus 30:30). This reference therefore alludes to the sacredness of such unity. Mount Sion or Mount Hermon (Deuteronomy 4:48) was known to have copious amounts of humidity, even in the driest weather, which formed on the tents so profusely that it appeared as though it had rained the whole night. This precious dew or water provided continuous life giving growth to the plants and animals of the otherwise arid region; hence the allusion to life forevermore.
The theme of the Entered Apprentice Degree then, as foretold to the candidate through this reference to the Scripture passage, is that he is about to enter into a fraternal union with men of good character. This unity of good brethren is so precious that it is comparable to the holy anointing of the High Priest of the ancient Israelites. Further, his association with this fraternal unity promises to enrich his future life just as the dew of Mount Hermon and the mountains of Zion.
Thus he shewed me; and behold the Lord stood upon a wall made by a plumb line, with a plumb line in His hand. And the Lord said unto me, Amos, what seest thou? And I said, a plumb line. Thus saith the Lord, Behold, I will set a plumb line in the midst of my people Israel. I will not again pass by them anymore. Amos 7:7-8
This is perhaps the least understood and most misinterpreted passage of Scripture as it relates to the theme of the Fellowcraft Degree. Amos was one of the lesser prophets of the Old Testament. He was a herdsman and tender of fig trees who lived in the territory of Tekoa south of Bethlehem and was sent by God to call the people of Israel to repentance. He foretold the judgments of God which were to fall on the Syrians, Philistines, Tyrians, Edomites, Moabites and Ammonites. In this Chapter of Scripture Amos describes a vision shown to him by God. In this vision God represents to Amos the judgements he is about to bring upon Israel for their many iniquities. Verses 7 and 8 describe God’s illustration to Amos of His attitude regarding the sins and transgressions of the people of Israel. The Lord standing upon a wall made by a plumb line signifies the laws and commandments He has communicated to the people of Israel to build them into a just and upright nation. The plumb line in His hand symbolizes the strict justice He will visit upon them according to their iniquities. The phrase “I will not again pass by them anymore.” is an indication that God will no longer show them any mercy in His administration of justice.
The underlying theme of this Scripture as it applies to the Fellowcraft Degree is to admonish the candidate that he is now crossing the threshold from youth to manhood. As a man and a loyal member of the Masonic fraternity he will be more strongly bound to the fraternity by strict moral guidelines. Likewise, as an adult member of society, he will be expected to exemplify the highest standards of behavior and uphold the civil laws. As an Entered Apprentice, the candidate was introduced to the most basic moral principles, loyalty, trust and charity, which serve as the foundation upon which to build strong relationships. His development as a Fellowcraft will expose him to greater responsibilities that require a stronger discipline.
Master Mason Degree
Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth, while the evil days come not, nor the years draw nigh, when thou shalt say I have no pleasure in them; while the sun or the light, or the moon, or the stars be not darkened, nor the clouds return after the rain; in the day when the keepers of the house shall tremble, and the strong men shall bow themselves, and the grinders cease, because they are few; and those that look out of the windows be darkened, and the doors shall be shut in the streets, when the sound of the grinding is low, and he shall rise up at the voice of the bird, and all the daughters of music shall be brought low; also when they shall be afraid of that which is high, and fears shall be in the way, and the almond tree shall flourish, and the grasshopper shall be a burden, and desire shall fail; because man goeth to his long home, and the mourners go about the streets; or ever the silver cord be loosed, or the golden bowl be broken, or the pitcher be broken at the cistern. Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it. Ecclesiastes 12:1-7
The Book of Ecclesiastes was supposedly written by Solomon in order to show the vanity of the world, and of human life, and that no happiness can be expected by the human soul, but in the fear, love and obedience of God.
The Twelfth Chapter begins with the admonition to every person that he should remember to worship and praise God as his Creator beginning in the early days of his youth, while his mind is still strong and sharp, and not distracted by trivial or worldly matters, or weakened by the physical infirmities of old age. The remaining verses of this Scriptural reference describe, in a mystical way, the many ailments and infirmities that mark our passage into old age, up to and including the death of the physical body and the return of our spirit to its Creator.
The theme set forth by this Scripture for the candidate desirous of attaining the sublime degree of Master Mason is that death awaits us all. Just as Solomon expressed throughout the Book of Ecclesiastes, all earthly ambitions are but vanity and there is no real happiness to be gained in this world except in the nurturing and development of our soul through love of God and obedience to His will.