Monday, October 22, 2012

Who is the Rock?

Scripture has so many underlying pictures and themes!  Mountains, fish, trees, bread - to name a few.  A friend of mine recently did an exhaustive study on mountaintop experiences. In this post, I want to take a look at the elements of stones and rocks.  There are too many references to rocks and stones to mention them all, but I would like to highlight a few.

In OT Hebrew, the word for stone is 'eban, and the word for rock is tsur.   In NT Greek, the word for stone is lithos, and the word for rock is petra.  In all cases, whenever the word stone was used, the context was as something that was active and moveable, and when rock was used, it was more like an immoveable fortress.  The word Cephas (used nine times in reference to Peter - in John 1:42, as well as in 1 Corinthians and Galatians) is actually a Latin transliteration of the Aramaic word Kapha.  That particular word can be used with both moveable stone and and immoveable rock contexts.

Our first major theme of a stone is in Genesis 28, when Jacob was fleeing from his brother and on his way to find a bride.  One night, as he lay sleeping somewhere between Beersheva and Haran, he placed a rock under his head and had a dream. 

In this dream, angels were ascending and descending a ladder, or staircase.  When we fast forward to John 1:51, what do we see?  In the midst of a conversation with Nathaniel about whether Yeshua was the Messiah, we read this:  And He said to him, “Most assuredly, I say to you, hereafter you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”

Yeshua was claiming to be the Messiah here.  Looking back to Jacob's ladder, we can see that it is a representation of the cross, bridging the heavens and the earth.  The Lord God revealed Himself to Jacob at this time and repeated the promises that were made to Abraham and Isaac - the promises of the Land, the Seed, and the Blessing of the Nations.

What did Jacob do in the morning?  Genesis 28:18 tells us:  Then Jacob rose early in the morning, and took the stone that he had put at his head, set it up as a pillar, and poured oil on top of it.  (The Hebrew word for top is rosh; perhaps you have heard of the Jewish celebration Rosh Hashanah, which literally means head of the year).  When kings and priests were anointed, they had oil poured on their heads.  The words Messiah and Christ both mean anointed.  This stone, anointed by Jacob, was a picture of the future Messiah.  Jacob named the place Bethel, meaning House of God.

Many years later, Jacob comes back to the very same place, with his wives and children and having made peace with his brother.  In Genesis 35, God again reiterates the promise of the Land, the Seed, and the Blessing, and gives Jacob the name Israel, which means Contends with God.  Immediately, Jacob set up another pillar of stone and anointed it with oil.

In Genesis 49, tucked right in the middle of Jacob's blessing to Joseph, is another allusion to the Rock.  Verse 24 says, But his bow remained in strength, and the arms of his hands were made strong by the hands of the Mighty God of Jacob (From there is the Shepherd, the Stone of Israel).  This is giving us a snapshot of the future Messiah, our Good Shepherd.

In the book of Exodus, the Ten Commandments were written on - you guessed it - stone!   I find it interesting that the Law of Moses repeatedly says that when a crime punishable by death was committed, the guilty party was to be stoned.  It is a picture of judgment from God Himself!

When David slew Goliath, what was his weapon?  Stones, of course.  I just love David's words to Goliath here in 1 Samuel 17:   Then David said to the Philistine, “You come to me with a sword, with a spear, and with a javelin. But I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied.  It leaves us no doubt in Whose name David cast those stones!

Near the end of his life, King David was preparing to build the temple in Jerusalem (which his son Solomon would complete). 1 Chronicles 22:2 tells us,  So David commanded to gather the aliens who were in the land of Israel; and he appointed masons to cut hewn stones to build the house of God.

We cannot miss the connotation in Psalm 118:22 - The stone which the builders rejected Has become the chief cornerstone.  Also Isaiah 28:16 says, Therefore thus says the Lord GOD: “Behold, I lay in Zion a stone for a foundation, A tried stone, a precious cornerstone, a sure foundation.  Matthew, Mark, and Luke all record Yeshua quoting Psalm 118:22, and it is repeated in Acts 4:11 by Peter. 

The book of Daniel has an awesome picture of a stone in chapter 2.  The context is the dream that King Nebuchadnezzar had about the statue made from different elements, which represent different kingdoms of the earth.  Then what happens?  We read in verses 34 and 35, You watched while a stone was cut out without hands, which struck the image on its feet of iron and clay, and broke them in pieces.  Then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver, and the gold were crushed together, and became like chaff from the summer threshing floors; the wind carried them away so that no trace of them was found. And the stone that struck the image became a great mountain and filled the whole earth.  The stone is the Messiah of course, who will one day return and take dominion over the whole earth.

Later, Daniel was placed in a cave full of hungry lions, and a stone was placed over the cave to lock him in.  Could that stone be a picture of the One who protected him?  And where else have we read of a stone placed over a cave?  Hint:  When He came back to life, the stone moved!

When Yeshua performed His first miracle, it was at a wedding.  They had run out of wine, so He told the servants to fill the stone jars with water.  These jars were used for ritual outer cleansing.  Of course, we know that He changed the water into the most fabulous wine that anyone had ever tasted.  Again, the stone is a picture of Him - and when we allow Him to change us, we will never be the same.  Wine is a symbol of the Holy Spirit, and these stone jars can also represent us, as living stones, filled with the Spirit - no longer with water by which we attempt to cleanse ourselves.

Romans 9:33 refers back to Isaiah 8:14, and we actually see both words used here.  As it is written: “Behold, I lay in Zion a stumbling stone and rock of offense, And whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame.”

In Matthew 16, Peter had just declared Yeshua to be the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.  Yeshua replied, And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.  In light of all the other scriptures regarding the rock and the stone, I highly doubt that Yeshua was saying that His ekklesia would be built on Peter himself, but rather, on Peter's declaration.  And Peter was to be one of the living stones, as are all who believe.

Ephesians 2:19-21 confirms this concept.  Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God,  having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord

Peter himself tells us exactly who the Rock is, in 1 Peter 2:4-7:  Coming to Him as to a living stone, rejected indeed by men, but chosen by God and precious, you also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.  Therefore it is also contained in the Scripture, “Behold, I lay in Zion,a chief cornerstone, elect, precious, and he who believes on Him will by no means be put to shame.” (He refers back to Isaiah 28:16 here).  Therefore, to you who believe, He is precious; but to those who are disobedient, “The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone,” (referring back to Psalm 118).  I just want to say that any attempt to make Peter into The Rock takes glory away from God and places it onto a man.

And now for a little comic relief
In closing, there are so many more uses of rocks and stones in scripture!  Precious stones, memorial stones, water from the rock in the wilderness, and many more.  I hope you will take time to check some of them out. 

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