When Jesus was doing His “sermons” from the two mounts, He talked about stones twice. He referenced one prophecy that was being fulfilled and made a prophecy that happened forty years later. Jesus built His first lesson, starting with John the Baptist, laid a platform of parables about the kingdom, and finishes His fortress with a combination of Psalm 118:22 and Isaiah 28:16. These two lessons started His time (Matthew 21:42) on the Temple Mount and finished His day there (Matthew 24:2). He references a mistake the builders of the first Temple made with the cornerstone and how they corrected the mistake to finish the building, and foretold that the stones of the Temple would be torn down.
We love to throw the imagery of Jesus being our rock, fortress, refuge, foundation, and stronghold around (Psalm 18:2) but places that inspired David and others to use those thoughts would add reality to their words. The rocks or mountains in the Negev and the desert west and south of the Dead Sea hold the key. Masada is one such place that clearly shows what David was envisioning when he penned his praises to God. These tall rugged mountains often stand proud, surrounded by plains that afford good views of the land.
Stone or Rock—We moderns have broken the meaning of rock and stone and cemented them into a slurry of inappropriate use. In doing this, we lose some of the meaning of rock and handle the term stone with less importance. Because of my science background, I will admit the materials I am talking about have the same origin. The difference rests in where they are and if a man has done anything to them. What I see in Scripture is rocks are anchored in the ground and not moved by man, while stones, by human efforts, are dug free, cut out, or picked up and handled. Before you think I have fallen and hit my head on a rock, or someone threw a stone at me, let me give some examples.
- Matthew 27:60-Jesus was laid in a new tomb cut into rock (petra) and they rolled a large stone (lithos) into the entrance.
- Matthew 7:24-the wise builder dug down and built his house on rock.
- Psalm 118:22- the stone that the builders rejected became the cornerstone.
Rocks—David was around rocks. He sat on them as a shepherd and hid among them as a fugitive. He also picked up stones to throw in his sling. So, for him to take the poetic leap and see the qualities of God is not a huge jump. His heart and his creative nature as a songwriter/musician saw their qualities as a reflection of God’s love, care, and protection for him and Israel. There are many times the terms rock, refuge, and fortress appear in the same verse. I will list some but use a concordance or search tool to help you study.
David and the Psalmist use rocks, but so do the prophets. These are from the NIV. Your favorite version may use other terms.
Turn your ear to me, come quickly to my rescue; be my rock of refuge, a strong fortress to save me.
Truly he is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will never be shaken.
Be my rock of refuge, to which I can always go; give the command to save me, for you are my rock and my fortress.
I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.”
You have forgotten God your Savior; you have not remembered the Rock, your fortress.
I will highlight Psalm 18:2– The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. I like to think that David wrote that around the time of 1 Samuel 20:42 and then use part of it again in his opus work of 2 Samuel 22:2. David was running for his life, his world just collapsed and he pens a song to help remind himself who his God is. Psalm 18 pretty well covers David’s need for protection.
Stone—Rocks that are being useful to man are stone. There were gemstones in the breastplate that was made for the priest. David picked up stones to throw at Goliath. Rock was cut into stone water pots, blocks for buildings, thrown at people, and as memorials or markers. Depending on the translation you like Genesis 49:29 is the blessing to Joseph, and it says that I will be blessed because of the Hand of Shepherd and Stone/Rock of Israel. (I could not find a good Hebrew text that would clear that word up for me. Both terms are used in various translations).
Another type of stone that gets a lot of attention is the ones that become cornerstones. I have heard that the builders of Solomon’s Temple got a stone that they could not figure out where it belonged. In their frustration, they threw it away. They then complained that the cornerstone (the one that determined the angles and lines of the building) had not been sent. Psalm 118 tells the story that the one they rejected was that stone. They had to retrieve the stone. Jesus quotes that verse and Paul and Peter refer to Jesus as that stone. In Greek, the phrase is kephale gonia. I pieced together a loose translation of chief angle. Jesus is the chief stone that determined how His Church would be laid out and built.
Recap—Jesus is the Rock, who is our fortress and refuge, who became the Stone of Israel when He was born, and He became the Cornerstone of His Church.