Living stones 5 Abraham’s seed and gentiles

In our previous studies we looked at the use of the phrase “living stones” in scripture. We considered various examples of stones either being treated as though they were alive, or being described as though they were. In Old Testament times we read of stones being set up as a witness to what the Lord had done. We also read of them being “revived”, in the days of David and Nehemiah. As we shall see in this coming 4 parts of our study, this symbolism also appears in the New Testament.

Stones can be made into Abraham’s children

Prior to the ministry of the Master, in the deserts of Judaea lived a man unlike any other. He wore rough clothing and ate wild food. John, the son of Zacharias the priest, had begun to preach God’s word to the people of Israel. Truly he must have been one of the greatest teachers of all time. He was not simply a powerful orator, but one who made the Bible come alive. Everyone flocked to hear him, common people, harlots, tax collectors, even Roman soldiers. They hung on his every word: they longed for more. Surrounded by the wilderness he was a living, breathing, life-giving, spiritual oasis. This was unlike anything the people had ever heard before. Not only did he speak God’s word with power and love, but they could actually understand him – not like the leaders! Under their guidance many of the people remained ignorant of much of the law and what God required of them (see John 7:49). So great was the respect that the people had for John that, even after his death, the rulers were terrified of saying anything to discredit him, for fear of being stoned by those who loved him (Luke 20:6).

In Luke 3 we read of the astonishing effect that John had on the people of his day. Different groups came out to see him, and many asked him one very simple question:

“What shall we do?” (verses 10,12,14).

Patiently, forcefully, John explained to each group what was needed. We can imagine that they bowed before him, accepting the instructions of God, determined to try to apply his instructions. But not everyone shared this mindset:

“When he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said unto them, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” (Matthew 3:7) [1]

How these words must have hurt the rulers! He dared to imply that they were the serpent’s seed! Well, John had barely started. He demanded that they repent of all their wicked works, that they “bring forth fruit”, manifesting their belief in God.

The leaders, almost certainly publicly shamed in the front of the common people, were incensed. They were Abraham’s seed. They could trace their lineage right back to the fathers of the nation. How dare he say such things to them? John was ready for that argument as well:

“And think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham.” (verse 9)

Bethany (5).JPG
Al-Maghtas ruins on the Jordanian side of the Jordan River are the location for the Baptism of Jesus and the ministry of John the Baptist.

Why did John use the symbol of stones being made into Abraham’s children? As we saw in our second study, it is possible that John was working at the same place where Israel crossed the river under Joshua. Maybe the “stones” which Joshua had set up (Joshua 4:9) were still visible in John’s day, at Bethabara, the ‘house of crossing’? There is, however, more to it than this. I believe John was quoting Isaiah 5. In this chapter, the Father is portrayed as the owner of a vineyard. The vine which grew there represents the people of Israel, and the vineyard, the land (verse 7). As any owner of a vine expects to see some fruit growing, so in Isaiah’s parable the Lord is portrayed as a man who at harvest time came, but found only wild grapes (verse 4). Earlier in the chapter we read of all that had been done so that the vine of Israel could take root, flourish and be fruitful:

“My wellbeloved hath a vineyard in a very fruitful hill: and he fenced it, and gathered out the stones thereof, and planted it with the choicest vine, and built a tower in the midst of it, and also made a winepress therein: and he looked that it should bring forth grapes, and it brought forth wild grapes.” (verses 1,2)

A number of these symbols appear in the Master’s later parable of the wicked husbandmen. But notice how, in preparing for Israel to enter the land, God is represented as a man gathering out stones from His vineyard, so the soil was of the very best quality. What, then (or more correctly, who) was gathered out of Canaan that Israel might possess it? There is only one answer: the Gentiles. Yes, the children of Israel had to do their part and drive out the enemy, but with the Father’s blessing, they would succeed.

How appropriate that John should have chosen this symbol.

‘If you don’t serve God’

he said to the leaders,

‘then the Gentiles will be offered the opportunity to do so. They will embrace Israel’s hope.’

In due course, especially after the ascension of the Master to heaven, this is exactly what happened. Gentiles were made “fellowheirs” (Ephesians 3:6), becoming constituent members of Abraham’s seed, through faith. By grace they became living stones.

  • Jonathan Cope

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Preceding

Living stones 1 A lifeless and a lively stone

Living stones 2 Attributes

Living stones 3 Jacob and a “living stone”

Living stones 4 Idols of wood and stone

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