Stones of Life and Death
Of course, the sex of a child is not a choice between light and darkness or life and death. Sex, like circumcision, is a horizontal demarcation, a delegation of roles within humanity. In contrast, the white stone and the black stone within the “liturgical scrotum” of the High Priest signified a vertical demarcation, a window to the glory of heaven above and a door to the darkness of the abyss below. It is no accident, in the history from Adam to Noah, which “precapitulates” Israel’s annual festal calendar and places the Great Flood at the Day of Atonement, that two birds hover over the waters. Like Noah, the High Priest presided over the death and resurrection of the “cosmos.” As the legal representative of all Creation, he would emerge from the Sanctuary with a renewed promise of a fruitful land and fruitful wombs following the shedding of blameless blood, the demands of Law of Moses satisfied that the promises to blameless Abraham might endure. In Genesis 8, the black and white stones are prefigured in the ministries of a raven which presumably feasted on the flesh of floating corpses (below) and a dove which carried an olive branch in its mouth (above). Noah then made the first “ascension” (an offering by fire) as a testimony to heaven (above) that the will of God had been done on earth (below).
This theme of historical continuity via blessing and cursing as expressed in the birds of the air is reprised in the events of Genesis 15, which also conferred the fruit of the loins in a rite which required a deep “Adamic” sleep. But a consideration of actual stones as instruments of blessing and cursing within the realm of “the dry land” (or its priestly representative, the land of Canaan) sheds light on some interesting passages of Scripture, some of them well known and some of them understandably obscure.
– Bearing in mind the nature of the curses pronounced upon Canaan by Noah, it seems that the sin of Ham was an attempt to seize the blessing upon the firstborn for his own son. Noah was in a deep sleep, at rest with His God, “naked” in his sanctuary behind a veil. This suggests that he may have intended to pronounce Covenantal blessings when he awoke. Perhaps Ham assumed that Noah was actually on his death bed and sought to steal Noah’s evident fruitfulness in land and womb as the first qualified legal representative of all Creation. This intention is supported by the fact that Ham boasted about the violation to his brothers. Consequently, God destroyed the firstborn of Egypt (the land of Ham, Psalm 78:51; 105:23, 27; 106:22; 1 Chronicles 4:40) and repossessed the land of Canaan (Joshua 21:45).
– Stoning for transgressions of the Law including murder and adultery set the stones of the Land against the stones of Man. Setting up pillars or piles of stones (and ultimately, stone temples) as memorials served the opposite purpose, a sign of historical continuity. Stones that are engraved (such as the tablets of the Law or the gemstones worn by the High Priest), or quarried and hewn (such as the stones of the Temple) speak of an earth in submission to heaven, and thus an investiture with glory, nature civilized, gathered and integrated as culture.
– Leviticus 21:20, 22:24 and Deuteronomy 23:1 tell us that any man or animal within Israel with its penis cut off or its testicles crushed (among a list of other physical defects) was not to be admitted to the assembly of the Lord. The reason is not that God despised eunuchs but that Israelites worshiped God as living sacrifices. Physical defects pictured moral defects. But those with physical defects were not worse sinners. Those who could approach the Lord were to mediate on behalf of those who could not. And those who could approach the Lord were symbolically cut off anyway, both in circumcision and in the sacrifices slain on their behalf. Of course, Jesus was the sacrifice without blemish who was cut off without any opportunity to procreate (Isaiah 53:8). As the True Jew, He became circumcision, He became eunuchry, through circumcision of heart, indeed eunuchry of heart (Matthew 19:12). This is why Paul wishes that those who assumed they had access to God through mere circumcision of flesh would emasculate themselves (Galatians 5:12). Then they might perceive their desperate spiritual state as Adams who had seized dominion on earth without nakedness before heaven.
– Deuteronomy 25:11-12 is a passage that suffers some ridicule from those who fail to read the Bible on its own terms. “When men fight with one another and the wife of the one draws near to rescue her husband from the hand of him who is beating him and puts out her hand and seizes him by the private parts, then you shall cut off her hand. Your eye shall have no pity.” This seemingly random miscellaneous law follows the biblical Covenant pattern. The overall allusion is to Eve stealing fruit from the “kingly” Tree of Knowledge. The Israelite men are brothers fighting like Cain and Abel, Jacob and Esau (Genesis/Sabbath). The woman (who desires preeminence through offspring, Exodus/Passover) “draws near,” an ironic reference to the “nearbringing” offering (qorban) (Leviticus/Firstfruits). But her intention is to “cut off” her husband’s rival from the assembly of the Lord (Numbers/Pentecost) and the inheritance of Israel, (Deuteronomy/Trumpets), by breaking his stones. The Sanction (Joshua/Atonement) is that her hand be cut off, excluding her from worship, a just punishment for her intended theft of the future as a self-styled judge usurping the seat of Moses (Judges/Booths).
– In Jeremiah 13, the prophet is commanded to purchase, wear and bury a loincloth. When retrieved, he could not wear it because it was spoiled. The Lord interprets the sign for Jeremiah: “Thus says the Lord: Even so will I spoil the pride of Judah and the great pride of Jerusalem. This evil people, who refuse to hear my words, who stubbornly follow their own heart and have gone after other gods to serve them and worship them, shall be like this loincloth, which is good for nothing. For as the loincloth clings to the waist of a man, so I made the whole house of Israel and the whole house of Judah cling to me, declares the Lord, that they might be for me a people, a name, a praise, and a glory, but they would not listen.” The loincloth as a covering of the genitals signified the nation of Israel as the firstborn of God, His own offspring in the history of the world, an office ultimately fulfilled in the birth and ministry of Christ, who rose from the grave unspoiled.
– A better known passage is the notorious metaphorical reference to the penis size and quantity of seed of the Egyptians in Ezekiel 23. The prophets served as God’s “repo men,” so the context is fruitfulness at God’s hand through patient faith in the promises to Abraham rather than through compromises with godless kings whose kingdoms consisted of “stolen fruit.” This reference takes us back not only to the rivalry between Israel and Egypt concerning historical succession after the death of Joseph, but also to the rivalry between the offspring of Hagar and Sarah which was fulfilled in the terrible visitation at Passover. By implication, Paul condemns first century Jerusalem with the same brand of kingly lust, and the same desire for a return to slavery (Galatians 4:1-31).
– The cause-and-effect relationship between Oath and Sanctions also explains the judgment upon Michal in 2 Samuel 6. Not only was the return of the Ark containing the “stones” of Moses being celebrated but David was also wearing a linen ephod. Although he was the only one wearing an ephod, he was not naked, since “David was clothed with a robe of fine linen, as also were all the Levites who were carrying the ark, and the singers and Chenaniah the leader of the music of the singers” (1 Chronicles 15:27). In her heart, Michal despised not his physical nakedness but his liturgical nakedness, since he was dressed like a mere priest, with no crown or robe to indicate his station. Since that humility (Oath) was actually the basis of David’s kingly exaltation by God (Sanctions), it was Michal who was rendered barren. The public downfall of her father, King Saul, began when he offered a sacrifice to God as a king (1 Samuel 13:8-13).
– Our final example here is the promise of a white stone with a new name written on it to the faithful of Pergamum in Revelation 2:17. This combines the act of engraving as an image of the “character” of God being written on human flesh with the acceptance of the sacrifice by God on the Day of Atonement and the renaming of Abram, Sarai, Jacob and Joseph following their trials and tribulations of faith.
In Moses’ final blessing upon the tribes of Israel (Deuteronomy 33), the blessing upon his own tribe of Levi refers not only to the Urim and Thummim but also to the power of faithful priesthood over godless kingdoms. Verses 8-11 work subtly through the elements of the Tabernacle in its sevenfold Covenantal arrangement, beginning with the Urim and Thummim as representatives of the tablets in the Ark and ending with the Lord responding to Levi’s faithfulness by crushing the loins of his adversaries, a reference to the priestly ministry of Phinehas who speared the adulterers through the belly (or genitals) while in the act (Numbers 25:7). The tongue and the penis, the sword and the cup, are all extensions of Adamic authority, “power tools” which bring great blessing when employed with humble wisdom, or great cursing when used in rebellion against God. Faithfulness to God in worship and service is the deciding factor between positive and negative Sanctions in history.
Mike Bull is a graphic designer in the Blue Mountains of Australia, and author, most recently, of Moses and the Revelation.