Along with my favs – grapes and hair – I’ve been tracking rocks and iron. So imagine my joy when I came across this text in 1 Kings, when Solomon builds the Temple.
The stones used in the construction of the Temple were finished at the quarry, so there was no sound of hammer, ax, or any other iron tool at the building site.1 Kings 6:17
This is exciting stuff! I hope I can do it justice. Can I? I’ll sure try. Here we go …
As far as I can tell, God’s tale of rock and iron begins with Tubal-Cain in Genesis 4:22. Here God reveals that this descendent of Abel’s murderer was a forger of all implements of bronze and iron. Quirky details like these always grab me, so I make a note and park it for later.
It’s not til 1 Kings 8:51 that I pick up this pursuit again and start to gain momentum. Here God tells us that Tubal-Cain’s metalwork belongs to the slave-holders of Egypt, “that iron-smelting furnace.” It is the joy of giants, descendents of the serpent, like King Og of Bashan who slept on a bedstead of iron (Deut. 3:11). It is the work and weapon of the enemies of God (Judges 1:19, 2 Samuel 12:31).
As such, ironwork is forbidden to God’s people. But it’s more specific than that. God tells His people not to shape rocks with iron.
And there shalt thou build an altar unto the Lord thy God, an altar of stones: thou shalt not lift up any iron tool upon them.Deut 27:5
31 As Moses the servant of the Lord commanded the children of Israel, as it is written in the book of the law of Moses, an altar of whole stones, over which no man hath lift up any iron …Joshua 8:31
At this point, I’m got a list of questions for God. I’m in sweet pursuit. My notes are getting messier. More ALL CAPS appear.
And then the Spirit calls me back to Exodus for answers, after God has delivered His people from slavery in Egypt and led them through the waters of judgement and salvation of the Red Sea. Now the Israelites move into the desert of Shur and travel for three days without finding water.
Here, I encounter three events in the life of Israel, three events that begin to impress on me how God is using rocks and iron.
First, in the desert of Shur, the Israelites come to the oasis of Marah, where the water is too bitter to drink. God’s people complain to Moses. “So he cried out to the Lord, and the Lord showed him a tree. When he cast it into the waters, the waters were made sweet.”
Next, God’s people travel ahead and come to Rephidim. Again, there is no water there, and again the people grumble. Moses, you idiot! Take us back to Egypt before we die of thirst! (Exod. 17:1-7). God tells Moses to take his staff, the one he used to strike the water of the Nile, and go to the rock at Mount Sinai. There, as the Lord stood before him, Moses struck the rock, and water came gushing out, as the elders looked on.
Finally, a full 40 years later, God’s people arrive in the wilderness of Zin and camp at Kadesh (Num. 20:1-12). Once again, there is no water, and the people blame Moses. Why did you bring us to this horrible place of death? At least we had bread and grapes and water in Egypt! This time, God tells Moses to speak to the rock, and the rock will answer with water. But Moses is hopping mad at his moany family. “Listen, you rebels!” he shouted. “Must we bring you water from this rock?” And in his anger, he strikes the rock.
It used to puzzle me what happened next, the severity of God’s judgement. As a result of his mere moment of exasperation, Moses is denied entry to the Promised Land! HARSH, right?
But look at what God is revealing here. When Moses struck the rock a second time, God punished him because he had interfered with a significant set of revelatory symbols: Three events that foreshadow the death of Jesus Christ and the gift of the Holy Spirit.
First, as he hangs on the tree, Jesus tastes bitter wine, offered on a sponge on a hyssop branch (John 19:16-30) and cries out “It is finished!” Sweet victory!
Next, after Jesus dies, soldiers strike him through with a spear, as several women and one of his disciples look on (John 19:25-26, 31-37).
And finally, the violence of salvation completed, 40 days after his resurrection, Jesus appears to His disciples and promises them the power of the Holy Spirit, rivers of living water (Luke 24:49, John 7:37-39).
You see, as Paul tells us, the rock that Joshua used to build an altar, the stone that the builders used for Solomon’s Temple, the stone that the Babel builders rejected, the rock that Moses struck and then struck again in anger, that Rock was Christ (1 Corinthians 10:1-4).
And the iron? The iron that God’s people weren’t to use is the nails that pierced our Saviour’s hands, the spear that soldiers plunged into His side (John 20:25), the chains that later imprisoned God’s people, the saws that hacked them in two, the swords that saw their earthly end (Heb. 11).
But wait! Even the tools that Satan borrows will ultimately defeat him. Even the iron that pierced the hands and side of Jesus Christ belongs to Him, our King, our Rock of Ages.
11 And I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse, and He who sat on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and wages war.Revelation 19:11-16
12 His eyes are a flame of fire, and on His head are many diadems; and He has a name written on Him which no one knows except Himself.
13 He is clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God.
14 And the armies which are in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, were following Him on white horses.
15 From His mouth comes a sharp sword, so that with it He may strike down the nations, and He will rule them with a rod of iron; and He treads the wine press of the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty.
16 And on His robe and on His thigh He has a name written, “KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS.”
This lifts to the sky, onward and upward. It makes clear why the shadows and types that God gives His image-bearers are sacred and their desecration criminal. God is speaking to us through typology as it draws us heavenward to consummation. I think of the casualness with which our society treats the marriage covenant magnified in the light Song of Songs and Revelation 19-22. This is not petty theft from God but larceny on a grand scale.
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I feel more anger towards Christians’ desecration of God’s sacred pictures, but I’m thinking that through now in light of your response. We should know better