Wednesday, March 16, 2016

The stumbling stone and rock of offense

I ran across this verse recently and was intrigued by it:

As it is written, Behold, I lay in Sion a stumblingstone and rock of offence: and whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed. (Romans 9:33)

Here Paul quotes somebody about how Christ would become a stumbling block to the Jews. I was curious about who he might be quoting, so I went looking for a possible source.

Compare this to Isaiah 8:14:

And he shall be for a sanctuary; but for a stone of stumbling and for a rock of offence to both the houses of Israel, for a gin and for a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem.

We’ve got the idea that the Lord would be a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense to Israel, but the idea that God would lay it doesn’t seem present. Plus the part about how those who believed would not be ashamed isn’t there quite the same way or in the same order.
(By the way, a gin is old name for a trap.)

How about this one:

Therefore thus saith the Lord God, Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner stone, a sure foundation: he that believeth shall not make haste. (Isaiah 28:16)

This has the idea that the Lord would lay a foundation stone in Zion, but the idea that people would stumble isn’t present. 

The idea that the believer would not make haste at first didn’t make much sense to me, until I realized it was still playing with the idea of Christ as a stumbling stone. If you know there is going to be a rock you might stumble over, you don’t go running around.  You take your time and watch your steps carefully. In the same way, if the Jews knew the Messiah was coming and people would stumble and get offended because of Him, this would be a warning to be careful and not rush to judgment.

Let’s look at Jeremiah 6:21:

Therefore thus saith the Lord, Behold, I will lay stumblingblocks before this people, and the fathers and the sons together shall fall upon them; the neighbour and his friend shall perish.

This has the idea that the Lord would lay stumbling blocks, but there isn’t just one. And it elaborates on who is going to be affected by it—Fathers and sons and neighbors and friends.  In that kind of scenario the stumbling block doesn’t affect just a particular generation, both fathers and sons are affected.  And it isn’t a situation where one can get away with enduring on borrowed light because one’s neighbors and friends will oppose it.  It’s going to take real strength and testimony to endure.

Okay, getting back to the comparison, it seems to me that if we’re looking for a source that is an exact quote, the source is lost.  Or, we could say that maybe Paul was synthesizing several verses together, two from Isaiah and one from Jeremiah.

But let’s look at the meaning for a bit. 

Who says they will lay a stumbling block in Zion?  This is the Lord speaking on behalf of the Father about Christ’s mortal life and mission as Messiah.  God doesn’t lay stumbling stones deliberately to make Zion’s people make mistakes and sin.  But He does lay doctrinal foundations that are difficult for worldly members to accept, and He does send prophets, and He did send the Messiah whom worldly members would have a difficult time accepting.  And it isn’t that He wants to make it difficult for the worldly to accept the Messiah or the doctrines. Rather, the worldliness has to yield to the truth and testimony, and that is a struggle that many don’t want to make.

This is the problem the Jews had with Christ.  His teachings conflicted with their worldly notions.

So how does this help us today?  Even today there are church doctrines and practices and even some policies that are hard for some members to accept.  Do we stumble over them and object, or do we humble ourselves to recognize the truth that skewers sin and lies?  When people in the church stumble over these things there is a problem in the hearts of the people.