1.3.7 Rock/Foundation/Pillar: Confidence
Volume 1: Foundations—Chapter 3.7
Rock/Foundation/Upright Pillar: Confidence
On March 23, 1775, Patrick Henry made a speech to the Virginia House of Burgesses, a stirring, outlandish, seditious, and quintessentially American call to arms. What he said convinced the Virginian leaders (among them, Washington and Jefferson) to commit troops to the revolutionary cause. But of that fiery speech, the only line anybody really remembered was, “Give me liberty, or give me death.” Henry’s point: if one is not free, empowered to make his own choices before God and man, he’s dead where he stands.
It’s important that we understand this, for there’s still something missing from the self-portrait Yahweh has given us. Every one of the attributes we’ve examined so far translates into a benefit for man. God is light: by Him we perceive the truth. God is the Word: Christ communicates Yahweh’s love to us. God is living: He is the first cause of all subsequent life. God is the water of life: through Him we are cleansed and restored. God is the air we breathe: His Holy Spirit indwells and inspires us. And God is the bread of life: He provides everything we need. But for any of that to be a tangible benefit to us, Yahweh must add one more facet to His character: He must make it possible for us to make our own choices. He must make free will a reality. He must therefore be our rock, our fortress, our foundation, our shelter, our hiding place from the spiritual storm, the source of our confidence, and the One able to make us stand upright and unashamed in His presence. Yahweh is the liberty that banishes death.
We’ll find this concept, like the six that preceded it, ubiquitous in scripture. David writes: “For God alone my soul waits in silence; from Him comes my salvation. He only is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be greatly shaken…. For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from Him. He only is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken. On God rests my salvation and my glory; my mighty rock, my refuge is God. Trust in Him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before Him; God is a refuge for us.” (Psalm 62:1-2, 5-8) David knew, more than most of us, what it was like to have to flee from those who sought to take his life. He knew how to hide from his enemies in caves and mountain strongholds. He knew the value of strong city fortifications—a good defense. But he also sensed that these things were merely metaphors for spiritual security: that his real strength was in his relationship with Yahweh. Whether David knew it or not, the refuge and hope of which he spoke would be personified in his own descendent, the eternal heir to his throne. He is identified three times in this passage, when “salvation” is rendered yâshuw`ah—that is, Yahshua—the name of the Messiah.
The first time in scripture we see the “rock” used as a symbol of God’s protection is when Moses had expressed his desire to “see” the God who had become so vital to his life. Yahweh told him, “You cannot see My face, for man shall not see Me and live…. Behold, there is a place by Me where you shall stand on the rock, and while My glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with My hand until I have passed by. Then I will take away My hand, and you shall see My back, but My face shall not be seen.” (Exodus 33:20-22) A “cleft” is like a crevasse, a split or hollow, a place where Moses would not so much be on the rock as in it, protected by it. Yahweh was telling us, through Moses, that whatever glory we would perceive of Him could be seen only from this cleft in the “Rock.” We must stand upon it to gain the needed perspective, and hide within it to receive the necessary shelter. That “Rock” symbolizes Yahshua the Messiah.
Moses had encountered this rock symbol once before, but then it had been a source of a different Messianic symbol: water, miraculous and unexpected: “Therefore the people quarreled with Moses and said, ‘Give us water to drink.’ And Moses said to them, ‘Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test Yahweh?’ But the people thirsted there for water, and the people grumbled against Moses and said, ‘Why did you bring us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?’ So Moses cried to Yahweh, ‘What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.’” Not exactly the kind of rocks Moses needed at that moment. “And Yahweh said to Moses, ‘Pass on before the people, taking with you some of the elders of Israel, and take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb, and you shall strike the rock, and water shall come out of it, and the people will drink.’” (Exodus 17:2-6) The word translated “rock” (here and in the passages above) is the Hebrew tsur. It denotes a rock outcropping, cliff, boulder, stone mountain, or crag. The picture is one of steadfast endurance, reliability, hardness, irresistibility, impermeability, and stability, hence a place of safety and refuge. A tsur is not the kind of thing from which one would ordinarily expect to draw water, but Yahweh was making a prophetic point. The people would be given water—a picture of God’s restoration and cleansing—through the striking of the rock at Horeb. It wouldn’t be just a trickle, either, but enough to sustain everyone—a couple of million thirsty Israelites and their flocks. But the source of the water, like the Messiah it represents, would be totally unexpected, the means of its provision mysterious and counterintuitive, not to mention miraculous.
The “rock” would have to be struck in order for the living water to flow from its wound. That’s why “Jesus stood up and cried out, ‘If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, “Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.”’ Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.” (John 7:37-39) Only after Christ was crucified and had risen would the cleansing, restorative “living water”—the Holy Spirit—be available to the spiritually thirsty world. But Yahshua had promised this very thing when He’d said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” (Matthew 5:6) So Paul ties the whole metaphor together, linking the Messiah, the Spirit, the water, and the Rock: “And all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed [that is, attended or accompanied] them, and the Rock was Christ.” (I Corinthians 10:4)
But the Israelites didn’t spend the whole forty years in the wilderness camped out at Lake Horeb. When the pillar of cloud and fire moved on, so did they. And naturally, they got thirsty again. No surprise there. But they also got angry with Moses again, as if he were leading them, as if he were responsible for providing whatever food and water they got. Yahweh, of course, merely wanted to teach them another prophetic lesson about their coming salvation: “And the glory of Yahweh appeared to them, and Yahweh spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Take the staff, and assemble the congregation, you and Aaron your brother, and tell the rock before their eyes to yield its water. So you shall bring water out of the rock for them and give drink to the congregation and their cattle.’” (Numbers 20:7-8) This time, Moses was just supposed to talk to the rock—simply ask it to “yield its water.” Needless to say, this is an even less scientifically sound method for extracting water from a boulder than is hitting it with a stick. It can’t “possibly” work—unless, of course, there’s a miracle in play, which was the whole point of the object lesson. Note that Yahweh made a point of having the elders of Israel there as witnesses. Getting water out of the rock wasn’t the message; doing it by asking in faith was what He wanted them to understand.
Unfortunately, Moses was all too human. Instead of asking the rock for water as he’d been instructed to do, He lost his temper and smacked it a couple of times with his staff, spoiling Yahweh’s illustration. “Then Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock, and he said to them, ‘Hear now, you rebels: shall we bring water for you out of this rock?’ And Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock with his staff twice, and water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their livestock.” (Numbers 20:10-11) Moses would pay a price for his disobedience, just as we all earn punishment whenever we break God’s Law. Moses was denied entrance to the Promised Land. And for roughly the same reasons, we are denied entrance to heaven, the abode of God, when we violate His standards. If it were up to us, heaven would be a very lonely place, populated only by Yahweh and His angels—except for one thing: God’s mercy. What happened when Moses sinned by striking the rock instead of speaking to it? Did Yahweh say, Okay, no water for you guys. Come back tomorrow? No, He provided the water of life in spite of the sins of Moses and the people—before they deserved it (‘cause, let’s face it, that would have entailed a really long wait).
The point of the illustration, of course, was that once the rock (the Messiah) had been struck once, it (He) would henceforth be accessible through prayer, even though our logic tells us that because God is holy, He is inaccessible and distant. For people who live under the bondage of religion, this may come as something of a shock, but Yahweh wants to provide for us—freely and abundantly. He is not a harsh and vindictive tyrant who delights in seeing people trembling and groveling in fear of His righteous wrath. The only reason he let the Israelites experience a little hunger and thirst out there in the wilderness was that He wanted to teach them how to trust Him. They were never really in danger—not a single Israelite died of hunger or thirst the whole time they were out there wandering in the desert. But Yahshua would later declare: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” Our temporal needs are temporary. They are only there to teach us that the life provided by the eternal God is eternal.
One more thing is worth noting. There is a subtle shift of terminology between the Exodus incident (when the rock was to be stuck) and the Numbers event (where the rock was to be spoken to). We’ve already reviewed the definition of tsur, the world translated “rock” in the first case. But the Numbers 20 account employs a different term, sela, which, according to most lexicons, is virtually identical in meaning. But the Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament notes, “This noun [sela] is related to an Arabic root sala’a: ‘split’ (hence sil’n: ‘fissure’). As opposed to tsur, ‘rock,’ (with which it is often used interchangeably, which lays emphasis on a more massive rock; cf. Aramaic tur: ‘mountain’), it refers basically to a cleft in a rock, thence a rock or cliff.” Do you recall our discussion of Moses’ position on the “rock” as he was allowed to witness the glory of Yahweh up close and personal? He was not only “on” the rock, but was also “in” it, that is, sheltered in a cleft or fissure in the rock.
If we correlate the word usages and their symbolic functions, the idea that emerges is that the Yahshua we slew on Calvary is the “rock” (tsur) upon which we must stand in order to perceive Yahweh. He is God’s love personified, the source of the waters of cleansing. But the Yahshua who rose from the dead under His own power, the Yahshua who will soon reign in glory upon the earth, is the “rock” (sela) in which we can find restoration, refreshment, and shelter from the spiritual storm raging about us, if only we’ll ask Him for it. He is the source of the “river of living water,” that is, the Spirit of Yahweh, who will dwell within our souls, making them eternally alive. Yes, they are the same divine “person.” But as we saw in the previous chapter, the form in which Yahweh manifests Himself to us depends upon the function He wishes to perform on our behalf. Perspective and protection are two different things; Yahshua’s sacrifice allows us to see Yahweh’s love, but His unlimited authority enables us to stand before Him as faultless and righteous beings.
Tsur is used to describe the idea that Yahweh is our Rock, in the sense of being great, strong, and just: “For I will proclaim the name of Yahweh; ascribe greatness to our God, the Rock. His work is perfect, for all His ways are justice. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is He.” (Deuteronomy 32:3-4) Of course, having a God whose character is described as this kind of immovable Rock can be problematical if you’re in a state of rebellion or apostasy: “But Jeshurun [i.e., Israel in its ideal character: literally, “upright one”] grew fat, and kicked; you grew fat, stout, and sleek; then he forsook God who made him and scoffed at the Rock [tsur] of his salvation [yâshuw`ah]…. You were unmindful of the Rock [tsur] that bore you, and you forgot the God who gave you birth…. If they [Israel’s enemies] were wise, they would understand this [i.e., that Yahweh had allowed them to triumph over Israel because of her idolatry]; they would discern their latter end! How could one have chased a thousand, and two have put ten thousand to flight, unless their Rock [tsur] had sold them, and Yahweh had given them up? For their rock is not as our Rock; our enemies themselves being judges.” (Deuteronomy 32:15, 18, 29-31) Just as one’s “god” is whatever he worships, one’s “rock” is what he perceives as the source of his strength. Moses is pointing out that Israel’s God, their “Rock”—Yahweh—was the real thing, while their enemies’ gods were imposters without any real power—and on some level, they knew it. Therefore, if Israel got routed in battle, it was because Yahweh had arranged it. Tough love.
More examples: “And Hannah prayed and said, ‘My heart exults in Yahweh; my strength is exalted in Yahweh. My mouth derides my enemies, because I rejoice in Your salvation [yâshuw`ah]. There is none holy like Yahweh; there is none besides You; there is no rock [tsur] like our God.” (I Samuel 2:1-2) She wasn’t just spouting poetry. She really trusted in Yahweh’s strength: she was about to entrust her only son, Samuel, into His personal care—sort of a living bekor, or firstborn offering. A bit later, David (having been anointed as king of Israel by Hannah’s son) would continue the thought: “This God—His way is perfect; the word of Yahweh proves true; He is a shield for all those who take refuge in Him. For who is God, but Yahweh? And who is a rock [tsur], except our God? This God is my strong refuge and has made my way blameless…. Yahweh lives, and blessed be my rock [tsur], and exalted be my God, the rock [tsur] of my salvation.” (II Samuel 22:31-33, 47; cf. Psalm 18) Again, the emphasis is on God’s strength, demonstrated in His perfection and truth. It’s the reason He is exalted.
The shift to sela—the rock of refuge and shelter—is subtle. David used both terms in this passage: “He [David] said, ‘Yahweh is my rock [sela] and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock [tsur], in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold and my refuge, my savior; you save me from violence. I call upon Yahweh, who is worthy to be praised, and I am saved from my enemies.’” (II Samuel 22:2-4) One could almost say the difference is that of offence versus defense. Tsur is the rock—the high ground—upon which we stand when confronting the world in Yahweh’s strength; sela is more like the impregnable stronghold within that rock to which we can retreat—where the arrows of the adversary can’t reach us.
Isaiah describes the Messiah as just such a haven: “Behold, a King will reign in righteousness, and princes will rule in justice. Each will be like a hiding place from the wind, a shelter from the storm, like streams of water in a dry place, like the shade of a great rock [sela] in a weary land.” (Isaiah 32:1-2) The “King” in this millennial passage is obviously Yahshua the Messiah. But who are these “princes?” I think it may be a reference to the immortal believers—the participants in the rapture—who will populate the Millennial Kingdom alongside the mortal survivors of the Tribulation and their children. After all, we are described as “kings and priests” in Revelation 1:6. And we are told, “If we have died with Him, we will also live with Him; if we endure, we will also reign with Him.” (II Timothy 2:11-12) Could it be that we believers will be given the privilege of manifesting or communicating our Messiah’s “rock-ness” to the world during the Kingdom age? The prospect boggles the mind.
The picture of “God as a Rock” is not an exclusively Old Testament concept, but there are only a few New Testament instances that don’t refer directly to the Tanach. One is this parable from Yahshua: “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock [petra]. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock.” The rock here is the Messiah, of course, but it’s also the larger concept of God’s Word—the comprehensive truth of Yahweh’s plan for the redemption of mankind, culminating in Yahshua’s life and sacrifice. “And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.” (Matthew 7:24-27) In other words, it doesn’t matter how smart you are, how brilliant your arguments sound, or how skillfully you’re able to justify your actions or rationalize your behavior. If your life isn’t built on the truth of Yahweh’s word, it will all fall apart when trouble comes—and trouble always comes.
The central prophetic fact, the foundation upon which the Torah, Psalms and Prophets had been built, was the salvation of mankind through the coming Messiah—first through His sacrifice, and then through His glorious reign. The “house” that God intended to build would be based on this unshakable rock—not the shifting “sand” of human philosophy, wishful thinking, ambition, or apathy. In order to get His disciples thinking about the big picture in these terms, Yahshua once took a poll, of sorts. He asked them what people were saying about Him. Who did his contemporaries think He was, really? The answers are revealing: everybody, it seemed, was so impressed with His words and miracles, they thought He must be one of the giants of Israel’s history, come back to life, whether recent (John the Baptist, who had just been beheaded, was suggested) or someone out of the distant past—perhaps Jeremiah (who had not been prophesied to make an appearance) or Elijah (who had). Nobody who had actually seen or heard Yahshua in person thought He was just an ordinary rabbi. No one was comparing Him to the celebrated contemporary rival rabbis, Hillel and Shammai. No, He was in a class by Himself.
So “[Yahshua] said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Simon Peter replied, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’” Peter was the first to recognize (or at least the first to blurt out in public) the nature of the “rock,” the foundation upon which God intended to build His house. It was that Yahshua was the Messiah, the Christ, the Anointed One, the Son of God that the scriptures had promised. “And 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. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:15-18) There’s a play on words here that’s totally lost in the English. “Peter’s” real name was Simon (or Simeon), son of Jonah. But Yahshua gave him a nickname, Petros. This, the masculine form of the word translated “rock” in the parable above, is the kind of stone one might pick up and throw, whereas petras denotes a massive boulder, cliff, or mountain.
If I may loosely paraphrase Yahshua’s remark for American ears, He said something like, Nice flash of spiritual insight there. I know your name is Simon Johnson, but I’m going to call you “Rocky” from now on, ’cause you’ve identified the bedrock foundation upon which I’m going to enable everybody I call out from the world to stand firm and safe from the adversary. That foundation was obviously not Peter himself. His flicker of spiritual insight proved transient indeed, for in the very next breath, Yahshua was calling him the adversary—satan—for suggesting that the suffering of the cross shouldn’t really be necessary. A while later—during the very time of suffering Simon had thought should be avoidable—Peter would go so far as to deny that he even knew the Rock of his salvation. I can relate to Peter: he was slow but teachable, impetuous but persistent, weak but resilient, and intuitively aware that the only thing he had going for him was his relationship with the Messiah. If somebody said they wanted to build their church on my performance, they’d be insane, and I think Peter would have said the same thing. No, the Rock of which Yahshua was speaking wasn’t Peter; it was the truth that he had confessed: “You, Yahshua, are the Anointed One, the Son of the living God.”
The Tanach had clearly characterized Yahweh and His Messiah as our rock and foundation: “He only is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken. On God rests my salvation and my glory; my mighty rock, my refuge is God.” (Psalm 62:6-7) So for Peter to be singled out as a “chip off the old block,” so to speak, was a very good thing. But Peter himself would later point out that this is actually true of all of us who answer Yahweh’s call: we all become components of the “house” God is building upon the foundation of Christ. So Peter writes, “As you come to Him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” He’s talking about the Church, the ekklesia, the called-out assembly of believers that make up the “body of Christ.” “For it stands in Scripture: ‘Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in Him will not be put to shame.’ So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe, ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,’ and ‘A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.’ They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.” (I Peter 2:4-8) We’ll get to the scriptural premise to which Peter was referring in a moment. But first, I’d like to head off a misconception. Contrary to what it might sound like in this English translation, no one was ever “destined” to “disobey the word.” Rather, those who do disobey are destined to stumble. The word translated “destined” here is tithemi, a verb meaning to appoint, to set in place, hence to establish or ordain. Peter is merely reinforcing what I’ve been saying all along: choices carry consequences. He’s pointing out that stumbling—literally, running into an obstacle—is the inevitable result of disobedience against (or disbelief of) the Word of God, personified in Christ.
Peter was quoting from several passages, one from the Psalms, and others in Isaiah. First, “Therefore hear the word of Yahweh, you scoffers, who rule this people in Jerusalem! Because you have said, ‘We have made a covenant with death, and with Sheol we have an agreement, when the overwhelming whip passes through it will not come to us, for we have made lies our refuge, and in falsehood we have taken shelter’; therefore thus says the Lord Yahweh, ‘Behold, I am the one who has laid as a foundation in Zion, a stone, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone, of a sure foundation: Whoever believes will not be dismayed.’” (Isaiah 28:14-16) Everybody has something they consider a foundation, their place of refuge, their source of strength. Isaiah begins by identifying what the errant leaders of Israel were counting on: lies and falsehood. He then reveals the foundation they should have trusted instead: (1) the One laid by Yahweh Himself; (2) who would appear in Zion (that is, He would be an Israelite); (3) a “stone”—unbreakable, solid, and unyielding; (4) tested—examined, tried, and proven to be of great value; (5) precious—valuable, prized, rare, and glorious; (6) a cornerstone—the standard to which everything else must align itself; and (7) a foundation that is firmly placed, sure-footed, and solidly established.
The Psalmist fills in the blanks: “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. This is Yahweh’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes.” (Psalm 118:22-23) Why did Israel take refuge in lies and falsehood? Because they had already rejected the true foundation. Lies were the only alternative. Having rejected God’s foundation stone, they had nothing left upon which to build but sand. Plucked out of context like this, of course, it may seem like I (with Peter) might be extrapolating, reaching for an unwarranted conclusion. But I’m not. Just prior to this, the Psalmist said, “I thank You that You have answered me and have become my salvation.” (Psalm 118:21) What has Yahweh become? Perhaps the question is better phrased: Who? “Salvation” (as usual) is yâshuw`ah—the Messiah’s name, Yahshua: identified in the same breath as “the stone that the builders rejected.”
And what follows? “This is the day that Yahweh has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. Save us, we pray, O Yahweh! O Yahweh, we pray: give us success! Blessed is he who comes in the name of Yahweh!” What “day” is the Psalmist talking about? You may recognize this as the joyful song of the crowd who laid palm branches on the road before Yahshua’s borrowed donkey as He rode triumphantly into Jerusalem, fulfilling the prophetic requirements of both Exodus 12:3 and Daniel 9:25: Hosanna! “We bless you from the house of Yahweh. Yahweh is God, and he has made his light to shine upon us.” Yes, we’ve seen that picture before, too. “Bind the festal sacrifice with cords, up to the horns of the altar!” A mere four days after Yahshua’s triumphal entry, He became the final sacrifice, fulfilling not only the Feast of Passover, but every shred of prophetic symbolism written into the entire Levitical Law. “You are my God, and I will give thanks to You; You are my God; I will extol you. Oh give thanks to Yahweh, for He is good; for His steadfast love endures forever!” (Psalm 118: 24-28) Yes, we are to give thanks to Yahweh; but never forget who satisfied the Psalmist’s imagery. It was Yahshua—Yahweh in the flesh, Yahweh’s appointed Cornerstone.
These passages are of such incredible significance, they were quoted not only by Peter, but also by Paul, who used them to explain how God’s “Rock of Salvation” relates to the Torah. “What shall we say, then? That Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is, a righteousness that is by faith; but that Israel who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness did not succeed in reaching that law. Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works….” At first, this seems counterintuitive: Israel, at least during some periods in their long and checkered history, tried like crazy to negotiate the impenetrable maze that is the Law of God. But everybody, right up to the most anal Pharisee, blew it one way or another. So having been unsuccessful in their efforts, they remain condemned under the curse of the Law. But then the gentiles came along and, confronted with the person of Yahshua, recognized their guilt and trusted Him to cover it—all more or less simultaneously. They never even heard of the Torah, much less attempted to keep it. And yet these gentiles who simply believed are accounted by God as righteous because of their faith, while Israel’s “workers”—those who religiously pursued righteousness as if it were something that could be attained through their own efforts—were not even given points for trying. It hardly seems fair. But if we take into account what the Torah means, rather than what it merely requires, then it all starts to make sense. Though the gentile believers didn’t know to rest on the Sabbath, they were resting in Yahshua’s finished work, fulfilling the precept. Though they did not circumcise their male children, they were, through their faith, cut off from the world, fulfilling the precept. Though they didn’t physically remove the yeast from their homes for a week every spring, they did experience the freedom from corruption that a relationship with Yahweh brings to one’s life, once again, fulfilling the precept. What they believed—who they trusted and relied upon—thus became infinitely more significant than what they did.
But the Jews, who managed to keep some of the Torah’s precepts (but only out of sheer religious stubbornness) did not recognize the truth that Yahshua’s life, death, and resurrection comprised the literal fulfillment of the Torah’s requirements. They did not accept that He was the reality that cast the shadow called the Law. So Paul, like Peter, quotes Isaiah: “They have stumbled over the stumbling stone, as it is written, ‘Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense; and whoever believes in Him will not be put to shame.’” (Romans 9:30-33) That last phrase deserves a closer look—in Isaiah’s Hebrew original. “Believes” is the Hebrew verb ’aman, meaning to support, confirm, be faithful, uphold, stand firm, be established, verify, trust, or believe. It’s the root of the familiar conversational affirmation, “Amen” meaning, “truly, verily,” or “it is so.” The line, “will not be put to shame” is probably a translation mistake—not Peter’s or Paul’s but the Septuagint’s—the Greek translation of the Tanach that they both used. The TWOT notes, “The letters hš may be in error for bš, ‘be ashamed.’” The Hebrew hus means to be agitated, worry about; it’s related to the idea of showing haste, of being excited. So what Isaiah was really trying to say was apparently, “Whoever confirms and upholds the truth, standing in trust upon the concept that Yahweh is our foundation stone, will never have anything to worry about. But those who do not believe will find Yahweh and His Messiah an impediment to their religious pretensions.” Or something like that.
And where did Peter and Paul get that “rock of offense” line? It too comes from Isaiah: “But Yahweh of hosts, Him you shall regard as holy. Let Him be your fear, and let Him be your dread. And He will become a sanctuary [literally, a holy place] and a stone of offense and a rock of stumbling to both houses of Israel, a trap and a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. And many shall stumble on it. They shall fall and be broken; they shall be snared and taken.” (Isaiah 8:13-15) In context, the prophet is taking Israel to task for their fear of the belligerent Assyrian Empire to their north (and I think he’s seeing the Babylonian menace in Judah’s future as well), when they should be taking Yahweh seriously instead. Just before this, Yahweh says (and I paraphrase), You guys with your conspiracy theories have it all wrong! You would have nothing to fear from your enemies if only you honored Me. In mid-thought, the focus is narrowed from Yahweh to His Messiah as the One Israel should fear. The Hebrew noun translated “offense” is negeph, which actually denotes a blow, a strike, or a plague. TWOT again: “In several passages our root [nagaph: to strike] is applied to a serious striking of one’s foot on rocks. Wisdom guides one in walking sure-footedly (Proverbs 3:23). Indeed God promises angelic help in so protecting the godly (Psalm 91:12). Unfaithful Judah is summoned to repentance by the threat of the exile prophetically depicted as constant ‘stumbling, across dark mountains’ (Jeremiah 13:16). In the eschaton [i.e., the future] all God’s enemies will ‘stumble’ over the Messiah, the stone of stumbling (negep is used synonymously parallel to mikšôl—‘stumbling’).” The “stone of offense,” then, is a reference to it (Him) being used by God as a weapon against His enemies. That ought to be a sobering thought.
The point of all this is that Yahshua the Messiah is, in the end, either the foundation upon which one stands and the rock in which he seeks refuge, or He is an immovable impediment standing in the way of one’s self-centered agenda, ready to trip up his pretensions and pride, or worse, a stone club in the hand of Yahweh with which He intends to strike down His enemies.
This second negative contingency is the basis of the first vision recorded in the Book of Daniel. In the early sixth century B.C., the young Daniel was tasked with interpreting a dream that had troubled the most powerful monarch on the earth at the time, Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylon. After describing the big statue in the dream the king had seen, Daniel told him what it meant, and how it would all end for the world’s great gentile civilizations: “As you looked, a stone [eben] was cut out by no human hand, and it 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, all together were broken in pieces, and became like the chaff of the summer threshing floors; and the wind carried them away, so that not a trace of them could be found. But the stone [eben] that struck the image became a great mountain [tuwr] and filled the whole earth.” (Daniel 2:34-35) Considering the fact that Nebuchadnezzar himself was identified as the head of gold, he took the news pretty well. The image in the dream, it would transpire, was a calendar, a timeline of future events—specifically the course of gentile world power as it related to the coming of Yahweh’s Messiah, the “stone cut out by no human hand.” The kingdoms began with Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylon, which would be succeeded by Medo-Persia, then by Alexander’s Greece, then by Rome. All of these kingdoms, one after the other, controlled the Messiah’s capital city, Jerusalem. The calendar spanned the time between the Babylonian conquest of Judah and the coming of the Messiah, the “Rock.”
But which coming? Analyzing the dream, it’s easy to see why the “prophecy buffs” of Yahshua’s day expected the Messiah to come in and destroy Rome, ruling in its place: Daniel had revealed this very thing. It’s still the reason many Jews reject Yahshua’s Messianic claims. What they miss is that first century Rome didn’t completely match the description in the dream. Rome wouldn’t be divided into two branches (the legs of the image) until the fourth century AD—a thousand years after Daniel’s time. And it couldn’t honestly be described as “iron and clay”—partly strong and partly fragile, composed of parts that “will not adhere to each other” (see Daniel 2:42-43), until the twentieth century, with the fall of the Ottoman and Hapsburg empires leading to the rise of a European Union permeated with a large Muslim minority that’s neither culturally nor economically integrated within it. Only now—within the last couple of decades—are we at last down to the “toes” of Nebuchadnezzar’s big statue.
“And in the days of those kings [in context, he’s speaking specifically of the toes of iron and clay here—at the very end of revived Rome’s tenure: in other words, any time now] the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed, nor shall the kingdom be left to another people.” This is in sharp contrast to every other kingdom that preceded it. “It shall break in pieces all these kingdoms and bring them to an end, and it shall stand forever, just as you saw that a stone was cut from a mountain by no human hand, and that it broke in pieces the iron, the bronze, the clay, the silver, and the gold.” (Daniel 2:44-45) We need to pay close attention to God’s imagery here. The stone that destroyed the gentile power structure had been first seen being “cut from a mountain,” without human hands. A “mountain” in Yahweh’s symbolic playbook is a place of authority or power. This is thus an obvious and transparent reference to Yahshua the Messiah—derived directly from Yahweh, but manifested in a diminished form. Note that He doesn’t remain a mere stone implement in Yahweh’s hand, but is eventually revealed to be Yahweh Himself: “But the stone [eben] that struck the image became a great mountain [tuwr] and filled the whole earth.” The lesson: either stand upon Christ, or be crushed by Him. If you find yourself on the wrong side of that equation, it’s still not too late to change your position. But that won’t be the case forever.
Let us return to a passage we reviewed previously; I skipped over a couple of key words germane to our present topic. “Thus says the Lord Yahweh, ‘Behold, I am the one who has laid as a foundation in Zion, a stone, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone, of a sure foundation.” (Isaiah 28:16) As we have seen, the concept of God’s truth as a firm foundation is an important component of Yahweh’s self portrait. And here, as elsewhere, that foundation is personified in the coming Christ. The phrase “laid as a foundation” is a single Hebrew verb, yasad, meaning to found, fix firmly, establish, or lay as a foundation, hence to assign, ordain, appoint to a task, or put something solidly in place. This is precisely what Yahweh did when He “ordained” or “assigned” Yahshua to be the foundation upon which our salvation would be built (not to mention being the rock with which His enemies would eventually be “stoned” for their crimes, as we just saw). The phrase “sure foundation” uses the common Hebrew device of combining a verb with its related noun for emphasis: musad yasad—literally, “a foundation being founded.” We should bear in mind that this expression describes the “precious cornerstone” (Hebrew: pinnah). It is this Messianic Cornerstone, Yahshua, that is firmly established by Yahweh’s hand.
The tabernacle (though the broader subject must be reserved for a later chapter) is replete with symbols that together tell the story of God’s plan for our redemption. Although it had no “cornerstone” per se (since it was more like a tent than a building, portable and modular in design), its “foundation,” the bases or “sockets” that were to hold up the boards comprising the “walls” of the structure, are an important part of the tabernacle’s symbology. “You shall make the frames for the tabernacle: twenty frames for the south side; and forty bases of silver you shall make under the twenty frames, two bases under one frame for its two tenons, and two bases under the next frame for its two tenons.” (Exodus 26:18-19) And so forth for the entire structure. The courtyard surrounding the tabernacle was similarly constructed: “You shall make the court of the tabernacle. On the south side the court shall have hangings of fine twined linen a hundred cubits long for one side. Its twenty pillars and their twenty bases shall be of bronze, but the hooks of the pillars and their fillets shall be of silver.” (Exodus 27:9-10)
These “bases” (the Hebrew word is ’eden) were hunks of solid metal, weighing in at one talent—75 to 90 pounds—apiece. They were cast with holes in the top, “mortises,” so to speak, into which would be placed the “tenons” or posts protruding from the bottoms of the pillars or planks comprising the structural framework of the tabernacle or court enclosure. Both the fence surrounding the courtyard and the walls of the tabernacle represent barriers that exist between God and men. These bases therefore help explain what separates us from Yahweh, and suggest how He may be approached.
The metals tell the tale. The ’eden foundations of the outer court are made of bronze, which symbolizes judgment: our sins separate us from a holy God. (“Judgment” in Biblical usage says far more about the judicial separation of the guilty from the innocent than it does about condemnation and punishment.) Were it not for the entrance on the eastern side of the courtyard, it would be impossible for us to approach Yahweh. That being said, there is only one door, one way to approach the place where God is said to symbolically dwell. Once someone enters the courtyard, the layout dictates that he’ll encounter the altar of sacrifice and the bronze laver of cleansing before he reaches the entrance to the tabernacle itself. Again, there is only one door, facing the east. All other access to God is blocked by “walls” that are upheld by ’eden foundation bases, this time made of silver. We’ll cover more fully what these metals mean in a future chapter, but in God’s shorthand, silver represents blood—specifically, the redeeming blood of the Messiah’s sacrifice. So in a nutshell, the foundational truth of God’s plan for our redemption (that is, the truth being proclaimed by the ’eden foundations of the tabernacle’s architecture) is that (1) we begin outside, in a state of judgment, i.e., separation from God, hence condemnation (See John 3:18). (2) We may approach Him seeking forgiveness, but only if we’ll do it His way. And (3) ultimate access to Yahweh’s presence is granted exclusively through the redeeming blood of the Messiah. I can only reflect that Christians who think the Torah has nothing to teach them are disastrously mistaken.
Most of scripture’s uses of ’eden refer to the tabernacle architecture we’ve just reviewed. But the exceptions can be revealing. Remember the big statue in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream? Its legs were made of iron—strong, but not particularly valuable—and by the time we got down to the feet upon which it stood, the iron was mixed with worthless, brittle clay, making the whole statue weak and vulnerable. Compare that picture to the image of Christ as seen by His bride in the highly poetic Song of Solomon: “His legs are alabaster columns, set on bases [’eden] of gold. His appearance is like Lebanon, choice as the cedars.” (Song of Solomon 5:15) The picture is one of unassailable power, inestimable value, and stunning beauty, all rolled into one. Of course, the love-smitten bride (that’s us) is a bit biased, but that doesn’t mean she’s wrong. At the very least, this is Someone in an entirely different class than the best the world has to offer: Nebuchadnezzar’s tough-guy statue looks positively oafish in comparison—crude and clumsy.
Since Yahweh presents Himself as our rock and foundation, we should not be surprised to learn that He takes His “construction techniques” seriously. Thus we hear Him taking Job to task for presuming to inspect His workmanship, when after all, Yahweh wrote the building code! “Where were you when I laid the foundation [yasad] of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements—surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? On what were its bases [’eden] sunk, or who laid its cornerstone [pinnah—remember the Messianic ramifications of this word we saw in Isaiah 28?], when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy?” (Job 38:4-7) A geophysicist could spend his entire career trying to figure these things out, and still not get to the bottom of it. In truth, we will never really understand the building until we come to know the Builder. In the end, Yahweh Himself is the foundation, the basis, and the cornerstone of our existence.
There is something else about the concept of ’eden—a base, foundation, or pedestal—of which we should be aware. It shares its linguistic root with the Hebrew noun adon and its emphatic form, adonay: lord or master. The root verb means to be strong or firm; the emphasis is on solidity. Adon is usually used in reference to human relationships—a master to his servant, a king to his subject, or even a husband to his wife—while adonay, the intensive plural form, is used in scripture exclusively to describe our relationship with God. One might say that adon refers to personal relationships in the same way that ’eden speaks of the correlation between inanimate objects. And that observation leads us to what might come as a shocking revelation.
Consider this: the ’eden foundation holds up whatever rests upon it. Its firmness, solidity, and strength make it suited to, and capable of, supporting a burden. I believe adon/adonay should be thought of in the same terms. An adon—a lord, master, owner, or husband—does not (or at least should not) stand upon the shoulders of those to whom he is “lord,” elevating himself at their expense. On the contrary, his proper role is to support them, be their source of strength, their unshakable foundation, their unwavering moral compass. “Lordship” is not a position of privilege, but of responsibility. It’s not an occasion for arrogance, but the requirement of conscientiousness. This truth is the basis for the old European concept of noblesse oblige—that with power, wealth, or prestige comes responsibility—though in practice, European nobility almost never rose to the challenge. In our day, a husband who treats his wife and children as mere possessions—who exist only to meet his needs and do his bidding—has it completely backward. An employer who abuses and exploits his workers, seeing them as mere pawns in his own little game, doesn’t have the sense God gave geese. And politicians who act as if their positions of leadership entitle them to special privileges, perks, payoffs, or protection, are similarly deluded. People who find themselves “lords” in this world are required under God to use the power given them to elevate, uphold, and support others—their families, their coworkers, or their constituencies—not aggrandize themselves.
And as counterintuitive as it seems, the same thing appears to be true of Yahweh in His role as Adonay—Lord and Master. As we’ve seen, Yahweh consistently presents Himself as our Rock, Fortress, Foundation, and Cornerstone. Even when He’s telling us to obey Him, it’s always for our benefit, not His. As Moses declared, “See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil. If you obey the commandments of Yahweh your God that I command you today, by loving Yahweh your God, by walking in his ways, and by keeping his commandments and his statutes and his rules, then you shall live and multiply, and Yahweh your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to take possession of it.” (Deuteronomy 30:15-16) Our obedience doesn’t do a thing for Yahweh—but it does a great deal for us. The religions of man can’t seem to comprehend this, but to me it seems obvious: we are not here to support God; we cannot empower Him. The very idea is ludicrous: authority is derived from strength, not from weakness. Rather, Yahweh—in His role as our “Lord”—is here first to create us in love, then to support us, guide us, and teach us what we need to know to enjoy happy and successful lives in His presence. In order to do that, of course, He needs to be better than we are—more worthy, more knowledgeable, more honest, more powerful, and more forgiving. And He is.
But because we’ve been given free will, if one of us feels that we’re better or more qualified than Yahweh in any way, then it’s our right to declare ourselves to be “Lords” of our own lives—and many do. That, however, reveals a condition known in theological circles as being “dumb as a box of rocks,” for we aren’t capable for one minute of supporting ourselves, much less providing for our needs, inspiring ourselves, cleansing, quickening, or teaching ourselves, or illuminating our own path (to reflect upon a list of attributes with which you are now quite familiar: the self-portrait of Yahweh). No, the greater blesses the lesser; the stronger empowers the weaker; the solid foundation supports the house. Yahweh is both ’eden and Adonay.
Another symbol recruited by Yahweh to communicate this general idea of His support and enablement is the pillar, post, or upright pole. The overarching principle is of God standing on our behalf: and by so doing, He makes it possible for mankind to stand in His presence. It’s a recurring theme throughout scripture, but one that’s often overlooked because we’re usually so busy looking at the trees, we lose sight of the forest. Several words are used to convey this idea.
The first permutation of this concept we encounter in scripture is the mezuzah, the doorpost. In Exodus 12, we read of the instructions for the first Passover, how the Israelite slaves were to slay the innocent lamb and apply its blood to the doorposts of their houses, a sign to the Destroyer that they were trusting Yahweh to deliver them from death. It doesn’t take a genius to see the prophetic parallel: the blood of the Lamb of God, Yahshua, would later be applied to a Roman cross (Greek: stauros—literally, an upright pole) for precisely the same purpose. That’s obvious enough. But things get even more interesting when we explore God’s other instructions and prophecies involving the mezuzah.
First, we read, “Hear, O Israel: Yahweh our God, Yahweh is one. You shall love Yahweh your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words [dabar] that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts [mezuzah] of your house and on your gates.” (Deuteronomy 6:4-9; cf. Deuteronomy 11:18-21) What was to be written on the doorposts? God’s “Word.” If you’ll recall, the Hebrew dabar is equivalent to the Greek logos—that is (according to John 1:14), that which “became flesh and dwelled among us.” That’s right, folks. Yahweh is instructing the Israelites, in so many words, to teach their children about the coming Messiah (as symbolized by every word of the Torah), keep Him at the forefront of their awareness at all times, and memorialize His mission by writing about it on their doorposts!
Now compare that precept with this proverb: “Blessed is the one who listens to me [the personified Wisdom], watching daily at my gates, waiting beside my doors [mezuzah]. For whoever finds me finds life and obtains favor from Yahweh.” (Proverbs 8:34-35) Then factor in this scene from Ezekiel’s vision of the Millennial Temple: “The prince shall enter by the vestibule of the gate from outside, and shall take his stand by the post [mezuzah] of the gate. The priests shall offer his burnt offering and his peace offerings, and he shall worship at the threshold of the gate.” (Ezekiel 46:2) In context, the “prince” is apparently the resurrected King David, seen leading the restored Israel in the worship of the reigning Messiah, King Yahshua. Look where he’s standing: by the mezuzah of the inner court’s eastern gate—the one in which Yahweh (in the person of the risen and glorified Christ) will appear on Sabbath days and new moon feasts. Putting all of this together, the lesson seems to be that Wisdom personified—Yahweh in the flesh, King Yahshua—wants to meet us at the mezuzah, the doorpost, where the blood of the Passover sacrifice was applied in faith in order to save us from condemnation and death.
A second Hebrew word used in scripture to covey the idea of an upright pole (and what that might mean to us) is nes. We find it in the familiar story of the wilderness snakebite cure: “And Yahweh said to Moses, ‘Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole [nes], and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.’ So Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on a pole [nes]. And if a serpent bit anyone, he would look at the bronze serpent and live.” (Numbers 21:8-9) A nes, though literally a pole, indicates something more far reaching in Hebrew: it’s something lifted up, hence a euphemism for a standard, a signal, a banner, or an ensign—a rallying point.
We still might have missed the significance of that, had not Yahshua pointed out the parallel to Nicodemus: “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:14-16) The Greek verb translated “lifted up” picks up the thought begun in Hebrew with nes. Based on the word for height, whether of place or rank, hupsoo means either to lift up physically or to exalt. Yahshua was thus not only predicting the manner of His own execution, but was also prophesying the effect it would have on the world. His crucifixion, while lifting up His body to ridicule, scorn, and death, also exalted Him, elevating His status from that of beloved rabbi to Savior of mankind. (His resurrection on the third day would finish the job, unquestionably establishing His deity.)
The function of His crucifixion was, as with Moses’ snake on a stick, to confront people with the reality of their sin. The serpent had always represented evil, sin, and death—ever since it showed up in the Garden of Eden. The slithering menace killing off discontented Israelites in the wilderness was only the latest example; the final permutation—the dragon—is still in our future. By telling Moses to put a bronze snake (symbolic of sin) on a pole and making the people look at it if they wanted to be cured, God was calling for a dress rehearsal—He was establishing a precedent. Paul explains: “For our sake He [God] made Him [Yahshua] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.” (II Corinthians 5:21) Our sins were borne by the Messiah on Calvary’s pole. If we wish to be saved from the poison we have brought upon ourselves, we must—like the snake-bitten Israelites—face the reality of our sin, looking in faith to what God has provided as the ultimate cure.
The world would do well to heed the admonition revealed through Isaiah: “All you inhabitants of the world, you who dwell on the earth, when a signal [nes] is raised on the mountains, look! When a trumpet is blown, hear!” (Isaiah 18:3) This verse is in a passage describing the fate of a nation (I’m convinced it’s America) during the last days. This nation is seen raising the signal or lifting the banner—that which we have just learned is a scriptural metaphor for the cross of Christ. And the world is commanded to pay heed. Whether it’s deserved or not, America is seen by the world as a “Christian nation.” (It’s why dar al-Islam calls us “the Great Satan.”) The “trumpet” (as we shall see in a later chapter) is intimately associated with the coming harvest of believers commonly known as “the rapture” (something that will fulfill the prophetic requirements of the Feast of Trumpets—Yom Teruah—the fifth of the seven “holy convocations” instituted by Yahweh in the Torah). Isaiah seems to be saying that those who disregard the nes will be reminded of their folly when the rapture’s “last trump” blows, leaving them behind. Will it take the “blowing of the trumpet” for the world to finally pay heed to the banner of the Messiah?
A third Hebrew word used to convey this idea of God’s support and enablement through being “upright” is one we’ve seen before. The word defining the physical form of God’s Shekinah, you’ll recall, was the amud—a pillar, column, or supporting post. The visible manifestation of God that the Israelites followed in the wilderness was described as a pillar of cloud and fire. “And Yahweh went before them by day in a pillar [amud] of cloud to lead them along the way, and by night in a pillar [amud] of fire to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night. The pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night did not depart from before the people.” (Exodus 13:21-22)
This same image was built into the wilderness tabernacle, where everything was symbolic in some way of Yahweh’s plan of redemption. The portals to both the Holy Place and the Most Holy Place incorporated amud pillars, and in each case, they are associated with the eden foundations we saw earlier: “And you shall make a veil of blue and purple and scarlet yarns and fine twined linen. It shall be made with cherubim skillfully worked into it. And you shall hang it on four pillars [amud] of acacia overlaid with gold, with hooks of gold, on four bases [eden] of silver. And you shall hang the veil from the clasps, and bring the ark of the testimony in there within the veil. And the veil shall separate for you the Holy Place from the Most Holy.” (Exodus 26:31-33) Since the directions for the construction of the tabernacle were always given from God’s perspective, not man’s, the order is from the inside out. “You shall make a screen for the entrance of the tent, of blue and purple and scarlet yarns and fine twined linen, embroidered with needlework. And you shall make for the screen five pillars [amud] of acacia, and overlay them with gold. Their hooks shall be of gold, and you shall cast five bases [eden] of bronze for them.” (Exodus 26:36-37)
Amud—the pillar—is based on the verb amad, meaning to stand, remain, endure, be upright, arise, or cause someone to stand—hence to appoint, ordain, or establish him. So we should not be surprised to find the verb used in the tabernacle instructions as well. For instance: “You shall make upright [amad] frames for the tabernacle of acacia wood.” (Exodus 26:15) These “frames,” gold-covered boards or wall sections, represent us: the assembly of the faithful. If you’ll recall, these were also supported by silver eden foundations. That is, we are upheld by the ransom-blood of the Messiah, setting us apart from the earth, anchoring us, lifting us up, and enabling us to stand upright.
The idea of Yahweh’s people being enabled to stand upright before Him is, if you think about it, totally out of step with the vast preponderance of religious thought—which seems to think that man should grovel in obeisance before God. Yes, it’s true that “God has highly exalted [Yahshua] and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father,” (Philippians 2:9-10) but the respect and deference this implies in no way mitigates the face-to-face relationship Yahweh seeks to establish with His children. Like any good father, He wishes to see His children develop and grow in an atmosphere of love, support, and nurturing kindness—not authoritarian hard-fisted rule. Children should submit to their parents (as we should to God), not because the parents demand it, but because they deserve it. Such submission is always in the child’s best interests: it does nothing for the father when the child obeys, but rather, it keeps the child from harm. Isaiah was shown how the two concepts balance: “For as the new heavens and the new earth that I make shall remain [amad] before Me, says Yahweh, so shall your offspring and your name remain [amad]. From new moon to new moon, and from Sabbath to Sabbath, all flesh shall come to worship before me, declares Yahweh.” (Isaiah 66:22-23)
The parent-child picture is mirrored in the master-servant relationship, and again we see that Yahweh wishes His servants to stand upright before Him. “Praise Yahweh! Praise the name of Yahweh, give praise, O servants of Yahweh, who stand [amad] in the house of Yahweh, in the courts of the house of our God!” (Psalm 135:2) The proper attitude of praise, worship, and adoration is standing confidently (note: I didn’t say arrogantly) in God’s grace, not cringing before Him in fear of His divine retribution—no matter how much we deserved it. Like any master/employer/leader, Yahweh knows that nothing of value gets done if everybody under you (and in His case, that’s everybody) is busy covering his butt. He knows we’re going to make mistakes. But they’re part of the learning curve, not grounds for dismissal.
The Israelite tribe of Levi symbolizes those who serve Yahweh, those who consider Him their inheritance and great reward. So we read: “At that time Yahweh set apart the tribe of Levi to carry the ark of the covenant of Yahweh to stand [amad] before Yahweh to minister to Him and to bless in His name, to this day.” (Deuteronomy 10:8) “To bless” (Hebrew: barak) is related to the idea of kneeling (the idea being that a subject kneels before his lord in order to be formally blessed: picture being “knighted”). So “standing” and “kneeling” before God are oddly equated here. But as the Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament notes, “To bless in the OT means to endue with power for success, prosperity, fecundity [i.e., fruitfulness or productivity], longevity, etc.” The Levites were not only blessed themselves by God, they were also tasked with blessing others “in His name.” Of course, they couldn’t “bless” Israel like this in their own strength: such enabling had to come from the One they served—Yahweh. Blessings (like other things) flow downhill: from Yahweh to His Levite-believers to the rest of the world.
This brings us back to the primary concept being presented here: Yahweh (through Yahshua) stands on our behalf, enabling us to stand before Him. Micah, in the prophecy naming the Messiah’s birthplace, describes His mission: “But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for Me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days…. And He shall stand [amad] and shepherd his flock in the strength of Yahweh, in the majesty of the name of Yahweh his God. And they shall dwell secure, for now He shall be great to the ends of the earth.” (Micah 5:2, 4) Sheep don’t tremble in terror before their shepherd—they follow him to safety, green pastures, and abundant water. We are reminded of the scene at Horeb, when the newly freed sheeple of Israel found themselves in need of water: Yahweh told Moses, “Behold, I will stand [amad] before you there on the rock at Horeb, and you shall strike the rock, and water shall come out of it, and the people will drink.” (Exodus 17:6) Yahweh’s act of standing was what enabled Moses to bring forth water from the rock.
One more example: “Aaron shall present the goat on which the lot fell for Yahweh and use it as a sin offering, but the goat on which the lot fell for Azazel shall be presented [amad] alive before Yahweh to make atonement over it, that it may be sent away into the wilderness to Azazel.” (Leviticus 16:9-10) Azazel is usually translated “scapegoat.” It’s from two Hebrew words, ’ez (goat) and ’azal (to go away). The idea here is that while one of the goats of the Day of Atonement ritual was to be slain, the other—the scapegoat—would be sent away in to the wilderness, where it would “stand alive” before Yahweh, who would “make atonement over (or upon) it,” that is, cover or purge the sin that it symbolically carried away from the people, providing reconciliation with God in the process. The goat (actually both of them) represents Christ—the dead one symbolizing His atoning sacrifice, and the live one His living presence, “standing” before Yahweh on our behalf.
As always, what the Original Covenant scriptures predict, the Renewed Covenant explains. The Greek equivalent of the Hebrew verb amad is histemi: to stand or cause to stand, to set in place, to establish or authorize. We just saw how the scapegoat of Yom Kippurim provided reconciliation—peace with God. The thought is picked up by Paul, who says, “Since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand [histemi], and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.” (Romans 5:1-2) In other words, the Day of Atonement scapegoat that brought the people “peace with God” by “standing alive” before Him is a picture of Christ. Through faith in Him, we too are enabled to “stand alive” before Yahweh.
A few chapters later, he states the same basic principle even more clearly: “Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands [histemi] or falls. And he will be upheld [histemi], for the Lord is able to make him stand [histemi].” (Romans 14:4) The only reason we are able to stand before the Master is that He has enabled us to do so by standing up for us. In a very real sense, that is what makes Him our Master. Remember, our master or lord (adon) is analogous to the foundation (eden) of our lives: it—He—is what supports us. If one’s life is built on lies—if he is the servant of falsehood—then that false foundation will condemn him in the end. But if his life is built on the Rock, the firm foundation of Yahweh’s love, it will stand forever. Our judgmental opinions concerning others, then, are pointless, for it is the foundations upon which they have built their lives that will either uphold them or bring them down. (I should note, however, that although we aren’t to judge people, we are required and encouraged to be discerning, discriminating, and judgmental concerning principles and doctrines—that which is being presented as truth. One obvious example: though we aren’t to attack Muslims, we are to oppose and expose the evil doctrine of Islam that holds them in bondage.)
The key, then, is the source of our strength—where it comes from. Are we operating in Yahweh’s strength, or something else? In a perfect world, I suppose, it wouldn’t matter if we were weak, for no one would attack us. If everyone were meek, merciful peacemakers, pure in heart and thirsty for righteousness, then Paul’s admonition to be ready to defend oneself against Satan’s wiles wouldn’t have been necessary. “Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand [histemi] against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” There’s that concept again: it is God’s stance that enables us to stand. Our enemy is formidable, clever, and evil to the bone, and he hates us simply because Yahweh loves us. But we’re not equipped to fight this battle in our natural state: we’re talking about spiritual warfare here. It will do us no good to bring a mortal knife to a spiritual gunfight. “Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand [Greek: anthistemi—a compound of anti (against) and histemi (to stand)] in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm [histemi]. Stand [histemi] therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” (Ephesians 6:10-17)
Once again, we see the six-plus-one pattern, Yahweh’s ubiquitous septi-unity theme, for the armor is not only from God, it is God. (1) The “ whole armor” is first presented as a unified concept. The Greek panoplia is a compound that literally means “all of the tools or weapons.” The point is that to be only partially equipped for spiritual warfare is actually to leave yourself vulnerable. The ensemble must be complete if you wish to stand against the attacks that are coming. (2) Truth is a utility “belt” upon which you can hang everything you might need in the battle. If you’re equipped with truth, you won’t find yourself unprepared in the face of lies. (3) Righteousness (dikaiosune), according to Strong’s, is “the condition acceptable to God… integrity, virtue, purity of life, rightness, correctness of thinking, feeling, and acting.” It is called a “breastplate,” that which guards and protects your heart. (4) The “good news of peace” prepares you—gets you ready—for what’s coming. Peace, of course, is the reconciliation you, as a believer, have with God—you are no longer at enmity with Him (though you certainly are with the devil). This “good news” is described as “shoes” because it’s what you need to keep moving forward in your walk through life—marching, as it were, to the beat of Yahweh’s drum. (5) Faith is described as a shield, a defensive tool needed to ward off temptation, heresy, doubt, and whatever else Satan might throw at you. (6) Salvation is a helmet: it protects your head—you know, that thing you’re supposed to be thinking with. God says His people are destroyed for lack of knowledge (see Hosea 4:6). But salvation enables us to think clearly, making good decisions based on truth and fact.
And finally, (7) the Holy Spirit residing within you as a believer is described as a sword. Of all your armament, this is your only offensive weapon—but it’s not to be used against other people (remember, we aren’t to pass judgment on the servant of another), and especially not against a brother or sister in Christ. Rather, the sword of the Spirit is to be wielded against our real adversary, Satan, the one who schemes and plots against us in the spiritual realm—the one all of our defensive armor is designed to thwart. Can our ancient adversary really be defeated by us puny humans? Amazingly, yes, but only if our weapon is the one Yahweh has put into our hands: “And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, ‘Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony.’” (Revelation 12:10-11) What is our sword, then? It’s the word of God—not the logos (as we might have expected), but rather the rhema, that which has been uttered by a living voice. Our sword is that which has been spoken by the Spirit of God. It’s the scriptures: “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” (Hebrews 4:12-13) Again, we see that evil principles, not errant people, are to receive the attention of our sole offensive weapon. And it should go without saying (but it won’t) that the principles, doctrines, and motives that we must test with the Word of God aren’t only those of other people; we must test our own as well.
We’ve been looking at the Greek verb histemi, meaning “to stand or cause to stand, to set in place, to establish or authorize.” As so often happens in Koine Greek, histemi is the root or a component of several other Biblical words that will help to flesh out the idea of God standing for us, enabling us to stand in Him. One of the most blatant (and well-hidden) examples is the implement of torture upon which the Messiah was executed: the “cross.” The word in English implies a “T” shaped device or an elongated “plus sign”—two elements that “cross” at right angles. But the word in Greek technically denotes an upright stake or pole, of the kind used in fences or palisades. The word is stauros, based on stao, of which histemi is an extended form meaning the same thing. To the Romans, the whole point of this type of execution (besides the prolonged agony it entailed) was the public display, the shame, the implied warning: “Behave yourself, or this could happen to you.” The victim was made to stand and die before society with his crime written large for all the world to see: See what a bad person I am? Yahshua’s crime, according to the Roman procurator, was that He was “the King of the Jews.” Well, that was true enough, if a little premature. (Pilate’s assessment jumped the gun by exactly two thousand years, if I’m reading the prophecies correctly.) The crosspiece (patibulum in Latin) upon which the victim’s arms were outstretched and nailed was invented to prolong the torture. It allowed the victim to pull himself up enough to take one more painful breath: without it, he would suffocate in minutes, and where’s the fun—I mean, the deterrent value—in that?
If we understand the underlying meaning behind the stauros—that it’s a tool upon which one “takes a stand”—then we can glean fresh significance from several familiar passages. “Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.’” (Matthew 16:24-25) While it’s literally true that several of the original disciples were crucified for their faith, as were many of Yahshua’s followers until Constantine banned the practice in the early fourth century, Christ’s statement doesn’t necessitate a martyr’s death by crucifixion. But it does demand that we who would follow Him stand up for what we believe, as He stood up for our salvation. Self denial in this context is not pointless masochism performed to impress God. It is, rather, a fulfillment of the destiny to which Yahshua called us. He stood for us on that cruel Roman stauros, so that…what? So we could live comfortable, lukewarm suburban lives, sit in a pew on Sunday and go through all the motions of rectitude and religiosity that polite society expects of us? So that we could squirm in guilt and shame because we refuse to believe that our sins are actually forgiven? No. He stood for us so that we might stand before Him as blessed children and redeemed saints. He stood for us so that we might stand up for others who might cross our path, investing ourselves in a lost world that desperately needs the love that we have come to know—God’s love.
And what were the mockers really saying here? “Those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads and saying, ‘Aha! You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself, and come down from the cross!’ So also the chief priests with the scribes mocked him to one another, saying, ‘He saved others; he cannot save himself. Let the Christ, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross that we may see and believe.’” (Mark 15:29-32) Come down from the cross? What they were actually suggesting was, “Don’t bother standing up for us: we have no intention of standing before Yahweh in Your righteousness. We’ll stand before our maker in our own strength, in our own virtue.” It’s the same basic suggestion that Peter had made (immediately after the famous “Rock” declaration) that caused Yahshua to tell him, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” (Matthew 16:23) It wasn’t pleasant, but going to the “cross”—literally, standing up on our behalf—was the most critical step in the process of our redemption, the fulfillment of scores of prophetic symbols, types, and dress rehearsals going all the way back to the Garden of Eden. (By the way, Eden—the place—and eden—the base or foundation—are two completely different words in Hebrew, spelled differently, with different root meanings. Sorry.) The priests and scribes had said, “Come down now from the cross that we may see and believe.” If Yahshua had done that, the “belief” the mockers belatedly showed would have been sorely misplaced, for believing in someone who didn’t fulfill Yahweh’s mandate is as pointless as trusting any other dumb idol.
Another word based on histemi is the compound anistemi, meaning to rise or raise up—literally, “to stand in the midst.” So we hear Christ instructing one of the lepers He’d healed: “Rise [anistemi] and go your way; your faith has made you well.” (Luke 17:19) Again, Yahshua’s willingness to stand up on our behalf enables us to stand—in this case, to stand healed, cleansed, and restored to productive life.
Then we see the concept applied to the act of repentance in the parable of the Prodigal Son. Having come to his senses and dealt with the depth of his own depravity, the son says, “I will arise [anistemi] and go to my father, and I will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.’ And he arose and came to his father.” Arising in repentance would have been an exercise in futility if the father had been wrathful and vindictive, unwilling to forgive his wayward son. “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him.” (Luke 15:18-20) The merciful father had apparently done some “standing” and “rising” of his own in anticipation of his son’s repentance. It should not be lost on us that Yahshua died for us while we were yet sinners: we can arise in repentance only because He first allowed Himself to be lifted up like a serpent on a pole.
So what, precisely, is repentance? It’s not merely feeling sorry for your sins—the prodigal no doubt felt plenty sorry the minute he ran out of money. And it’s not a solemn pledge to “do better.” He could have done that without going home. No, repentance is a change of mind, a change of heart, a change of direction. The prodigal didn’t just sit there among the pigs he was supposed to be feeding and vow to reform his life. He “arose,” he stood up, he changed the direction his life was headed. And his father, later explaining this to his other son, told us how significant this really was: “It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.” (Luke 15:32)
Being transformed from dead to alive has to be the best kind of “rising” there is. Not surprisingly, in the real world, Yahshua did it first: “Then [Yahshua] said to them, ‘These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.’ Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise [anistemi] from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.’” (Luke 24:44-48) And as always, His rising is designed to be a precursor of our own: “For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise [anistemi] first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words.” (I Thessalonians 4:16-18) So just as we are able to stand because He stood for us, we will rise from the dead because He first arose.
These symbolic concepts are all interrelated: Yahweh is our rock, our foundation, our fortress, our refuge, our hiding place, our source of refreshing and restoration, our upright pillar, our basis, and our living cornerstone (though a stone of stumbling for those who insist upon walking about in the dark). Moreover, the doorposts of our dwelling places, the flagpole upon which is hoisted the banner of salvation, and the cruel stake of execution all point toward one unassailable truth: the sacrificial death of Yahshua the Messiah is what allows us to stand guiltless before a holy God. And His rising from that death enables us to arise into His presence as well.
The bottom line: “You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You. Trust in Yahweh forever, for Yah, Yahweh, is an everlasting rock.” (Isaiah 26:3-4) Or, in contemporary parlance, Yahweh rocks!
(First published 2013)