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Monday, November 03, 2014

Stones as witnesses in the Bible

There are a number of places in the Bible, mostly in the Old Testament, where someone used a stone as a reminder of an important event. Important events included acknowledging God’s help and reaching agreement with another party in a dispute. Perhaps there are other cases, but here are those that I found, all quoted from the World English Bible, which is in the public domain.

Genesis 28:10 Jacob went out from Beersheba, and went toward Haran. 11 He came to a certain place, and stayed there all night, because the sun had set. He took one of the stones of the place, and put it under his head, and lay down in that place to sleep. 12 He dreamed. Behold, a stairway set upon the earth, and its top reached to heaven. Behold, the angels of God ascending and descending on it. 13 Behold, Yahweh stood above it, and said, “I am Yahweh, the God of Abraham your father, and the God of Isaac. I will give the land whereon you lie to you and to your offspring. 14 Your offspring will be as the dust of the earth, and you will spread abroad to the west, and to the east, and to the north, and to the south. In you and in your offspring will all the families of the earth be blessed. 15 Behold, I am with you, and will keep you, wherever you go, and will bring you again into this land. For I will not leave you, until I have done that which I have spoken of to you.”

16 Jacob awakened out of his sleep, and he said, “Surely Yahweh is in this place, and I didn’t know it.” 17 He was afraid, and said, “How dreadful is this place! This is none other than God’s house, and this is the gate of heaven.”

18 Jacob rose up early in the morning, and took the stone that he had put under his head, and set it up for a pillar, and poured oil on its top. 19 He called the name of that place Bethel, but the name of the city was Luz at the first. 20 Jacob vowed a vow, saying, “If God will be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat, and clothing to put on, 21 so that I come again to my father’s house in peace, and Yahweh will be my God, 22 then this stone, which I have set up for a pillar, will be God’s house. Of all that you will give me I will surely give a tenth to you.”

Genesis 31:45 Jacob took a stone, and set it up for a pillar. 46 Jacob said to his relatives, “Gather stones.” They took stones, and made a heap. They ate there by the heap. 47 Laban called it Jegar Sahadutha,* but Jacob called it Galeed.* 48 Laban said, “This heap is witness between me and you today.” Therefore it was named Galeed 49 and Mizpah, for he said, “Yahweh watch between me and you, when we are absent one from another. 50 If you afflict my daughters, or if you take wives in addition to my daughters, no man is with us; behold, God is witness between me and you.” 51 Laban said to Jacob, “See this heap, and see the pillar, which I have set between me and you. 52 May this heap be a witness, and the pillar be a witness, that I will not pass over this heap to you, and that you will not pass over this heap and this pillar to me, for harm. 53 The God of Abraham, and the God of Nahor, the God of their father, judge between us.” Then Jacob swore by the fear of his father, Isaac. *The two names both mean "witness heap," in Aramaic and Hebrew, respectively.

Exodus 24: 3 Moses came and told the people all Yahweh’s words, and all the ordinances; and all the people answered with one voice, and said, “All the words which Yahweh has spoken will we do.”

4 Moses wrote all Yahweh’s words, and rose up early in the morning, and built an altar under the mountain, and twelve pillars for the twelve tribes of Israel. (The Bible doesn't explicitly say that the altar was made of stone, but almost all the altars in the Old Testament used such materials. This was after Moses received the Ten Commandments, which, according to scripture, were graved on two stone tablets by God. In a sense, those tablets -- both versions -- Moses broke the first ones in anger, were also memorial stones, of an agreement between God and the Israelites.)

Deuteronomy 16:22 warns against setting up a stone for the wrong purposes, presumably to commemorate an agreement that God could not honor, or to use in the worship of another god: “Neither shall you set yourself up a sacred stone which Yahweh your God hates.”

Deuteronomy 27:1 Moses and the elders of Israel commanded the people, saying, “Keep all the commandment which I command you today. 2 It shall be on the day when you shall pass over the Jordan to the land which Yahweh your God gives you, that you shall set yourself up great stones, and coat them with plaster. 3 You shall write on them all the words of this law, when you have passed over; that you may go in to the land which Yahweh your God gives you, a land flowing with milk and honey, as Yahweh, the God of your fathers, has promised you. 4 It shall be, when you have crossed over the Jordan, that you shall set up these stones, which I command you today, on Mount Ebal, and you shall coat them with plaster. 5 There you shall build an altar to Yahweh your God, an altar of stones. You shall not use any iron tool on them. 6 You shall build Yahweh your God’s altar of uncut stones. You shall offer burnt offerings on it to Yahweh your God. 7 You shall sacrifice peace offerings, and shall eat there. You shall rejoice before Yahweh your God. 8 You shall write on the stones all the words of this law very plainly.”

Joshua 24:21 The people said to Joshua, “No, but we will serve Yahweh.” 22 Joshua said to the people, “You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen Yahweh yourselves, to serve him.”

They said, “We are witnesses.”

23 “Now therefore put away the foreign gods which are among you, and incline your heart to Yahweh, the God of Israel.”

24 The people said to Joshua, “We will serve Yahweh our God, and we will listen to his voice.”
25 So Joshua made a covenant with the people that day, and made for them a statute and an ordinance in Shechem. 26 Joshua wrote these words in the book of the law of God; and he took a great stone, and set it up there under the oak that was by the sanctuary of Yahweh. 27 Joshua said to all the people, “Behold, this stone shall be a witness against us, for it has heard all Yahweh’s words which he spoke to us. It shall be therefore a witness against you, lest you deny your God.”

1 Samuel 7: 10 As Samuel was offering up the burnt offering, the Philistines came near to battle against Israel; but Yahweh thundered with a great thunder on that day on the Philistines, and confused them; and they were struck down before Israel. 11 The men of Israel went out of Mizpah, and pursued the Philistines, and struck them, until they came under Beth Kar.

12 Then Samuel took a stone, and set it between Mizpah and Shen, and called its name Ebenezer,* saying, “Yahweh helped us until now.” *Ebenezer meant "stone of help." There was no Bible character named Ebenezer, by the way.

2 Samuel 18: 18 Now Absalom in his lifetime had taken and reared up for himself the pillar which is in the king’s valley, for he said, “I have no son to keep my name in memory.” He called the pillar after his own name. It is called Absalom’s monument, to this day. (This use of a stone was probably not pleasing to God, but an expression of pride by Absalom.)

1 Kings 18:30 Elijah said to all the people, “Come near to me!”; and all the people came near to him. He repaired Yahweh’s altar that had been thrown down. 31 Elijah took twelve stones, according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob, to whom Yahweh’s word came, saying, “Israel shall be your name.” 32a With the stones he built an altar in Yahweh’s name.

2 Chronicles 33:1 Manasseh was twelve years old when he began to reign, and he reigned fifty-five years in Jerusalem. 2 He did that which was evil in Yahweh’s sight, after the abominations of the nations whom Yahweh cast out before the children of Israel. 3 For he built again the high places which Hezekiah his father had broken down; and he raised up altars for the Baals, made Asheroth, and worshiped all the army of the sky, and served them. 4 He built altars in Yahweh’s house, of which Yahweh said, “My name shall be in Jerusalem forever.” 5 He built altars for all the army of the sky in the two courts of Yahweh’s house. 6 He also made his children to pass through the fire in the valley of the son of Hinnom. He practiced sorcery, divination, and witchcraft, and dealt with those who had familiar spirits, and with wizards. He did much evil in Yahweh’s sight, to provoke him to anger. 7 He set the engraved image of the idol, which he had made, in God’s house, of which God said to David and to Solomon his son, “In this house, and in Jerusalem, which I have chosen out of all the tribes of Israel, I will put my name forever. 8 I will not any more remove the foot of Israel from off the land which I have appointed for your fathers, if only they will observe to do all that I have commanded them, even all the law, the statutes, and the ordinances given by Moses.” 9 Manasseh seduced Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that they did more evil than did the nations whom Yahweh destroyed before the children of Israel.

10 Yahweh spoke to Manasseh, and to his people; but they didn’t listen. 11 Therefore Yahweh brought on them the captains of the army of the king of Assyria, who took Manasseh in chains, bound him with fetters, and carried him to Babylon.

12 When he was in distress, he begged Yahweh his God, and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers. 13 He prayed to him; and he was entreated by him, and heard his supplication, and brought him again to Jerusalem into his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that Yahweh was God.

14 Now after this, he built an outer wall to David’s city, on the west side of Gihon, in the valley, even to the entrance at the fish gate. He encircled Ophel with it, and raised it up to a very great height; and he put valiant captains in all the fortified cities of Judah. 15 He took away the foreign gods, and the idol out of Yahweh’s house, and all the altars that he had built in the mountain of Yahweh’s house, and in Jerusalem, and cast them out of the city. 16 He built up Yahweh’s altar, and offered sacrifices of peace offerings and of thanksgiving on it, and commanded Judah to serve Yahweh, the God of Israel. 17 Nevertheless the people sacrificed still in the high places, but only to Yahweh their God. (One of the most remarkable stories in the Old Testament, in which Manasseh used altars, probably made of stone, to worship idols in the very house of God, and then sincerely repented, and discarded all of these, and “built up Yahweh’s altar.” Yahweh’s altar in the tabernacle was not made of stone (see here.) The altar in the temple constructed by Solomon was most likely made of bronze (see here.)

Psalm 118:22 The stone which the builders rejected

has become the cornerstone. (This seems to be prophetic. See the 2 passages quoted below.)

Mark 12:10 Haven’t you even read this Scripture:

‘The stone which the builders rejected,

the same was made the head of the corner.

11  This was from the Lord,

it is marvelous in our eyes’?”

Ephesians 2:18 For through him we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God, 20 being built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the chief cornerstone; 21 in whom the whole building, fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord; 22 in whom you also are built together for a habitation of God in the Spirit.

Jeremiah 43:8 Then Yahweh’s word came to Jeremiah in Tahpanhes, saying, 9 “Take great stones in your hand, and hide them in mortar in the brick work, which is at the entry of Pharaoh’s house in Tahpanhes, in the sight of the men of Judah; 10 and tell them, Yahweh of Armies, the God of Israel, says: ‘Behold, I will send and take Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, my servant, and will set his throne on these stones that I have hidden; and he will spread his royal pavilion over them. 11 He will come, and will strike the land of Egypt; such as are for death will be put to death, and such as are for captivity to captivity, and such as are for the sword to the sword.

We now come to the New Testament, but see also the quotations related to Psalm 118, above.
Matthew 16: 15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”

16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

17 Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. 18 I also tell you that you are Peter,* and on this rock† I will build my assembly, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. (*A text note says "Peter’s name, Petros in Greek, is the word for a specific rock or stone. †A text note says "Greek, petra, a rock mass or bedrock." As I understand it, Jesus was mostly, or entirely, saying that His church was to be built on the figurative rock, or truth, that Christ is "the Son of the living God.")

Romans 9:30 What shall we say then? That the Gentiles, who didn’t follow after righteousness, attained to righteousness, even the righteousness which is of faith; 31 but Israel, following after a law of righteousness, didn’t arrive at the law of righteousness. 32 Why? Because they didn’t seek it by faith, but as it were by works of the law. They stumbled over the stumbling stone; 33 even as it is written,

“Behold, I lay in Zion a stumbling stone and a rock of offense;

and no one who believes in him will be disappointed.” Paul was quoting Isaiah 8:14 and Isaiah 28:16 “Therefore thus says the Lord Yahweh, ‘Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious cornerstone of a sure foundation. He who believes shall not act hastily. . . .’”

1 Peter also quotes Isaiah: 1 Peter 2:1 Putting away therefore all wickedness, all deceit, hypocrisies, envies, and all evil speaking, 2 as newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the Word, that with it you may grow, 3 if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is gracious: 4 coming to him, a living stone, rejected indeed by men, but chosen by God, precious. 5 You also, as living stones, are built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 6 Because it is contained in Scripture,

“Behold, I lay in Zion a chief cornerstone, chosen, and precious:

He who believes in him will not be disappointed.”

We dont use stones in this way much, or any, anymore. We sign court documents, or take pictures, or post on Facebook. But what if we did use stones as witnesses? What events, what decisions, might we have marked? As an exercise, I’m planning to look at my own life, and make a list of important events and decisions that have shaped it. It will be personal -- I’m not going to post it. Perhaps you should do the same. Thanks for reading! 

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