Altars of Uncut Stones

This entry is part 129 of 364 in the series Inquiring Minds
Image by Parker_West from Pixabay

In Deuteronomy 27, the altar on Mount Nebal had an altar of stones that were not fashioned by humans with an iron toll. Are there other places in the Bible? Is there a theological principle or significance here?

There is another place where the stones are uncut. The Temple’s walls in Jerusalem were also uncut stones. Also, many of the altars that were made were made with uncut stones. The forefathers of Israel, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob made such altars.

The connection is that all of these are places of worship to God. The principle I see here is that fashioning the stem would make the altars and object of worship made by human hands rather than the stones God created. This makes the altars in a human image rather than God’s image.

When we fashion the objects of worship we make them ours instead of God’s. It may be related to idolatry in the Old Testament especially. Images of worship in the nations around the Israelites were made by human hands. Idols themselves are made by human hands.

Think of the second commandment that we should not make idols, carved images that resemble things in heaven and on earth (Exodus 20:4). Isaiah provides an interesting and comical approach to idols (Isaiah 44:9-20).

It begins with an ironsmith or a man who grows a tree in the forest (Isaiah 44:12-14). After cutting down the tree, the carpenter takes part of the tree and burns it as fuel in the fire to warm himself and cook his food (Isaiah 44:15-16).

But the other part of the tree he forms into a god and worshiped it because it has supplied him with food and warned him. He points out the ironic and foolish idea of worshiping something that came from a tree he burned to provide for himself.

The idol had nothing to do with taking care of him. And yet he worships it (Isaiah 44:17). Yet it is God who makes the tree grow. The man has done everything to take care at himself. The idol said nothing or did nothing.

It is God who speaks and does many great things for us. The idol is worthless. He finishes by packing the punch of the ironic nature of wood. All you see is a man who fashioned a block of wood and bows down to a lifeless piece of wood to worship it for doing nothing (Isaiah 44:18-20).

The point of the matter is that when we fashion anything out of the materials that nature provides, that God created, we change its constitution. It becomes something that we have made rather than something God has made. So when we worship him, we must worship with what he has made rather than what we make.

Even in the New Testament God calls us to offer our bodies as a sacrifice to him (Romans 12:1-2). Our worship to God must not focus on any images made by our own hands or even images in heaven or on earth. God is Spirit and no image completely encompasses his entire nature.

When the Israelites made a golden calf and worshiped it, calves represent strength and might. But these do not encompass all of God’s attributes. They only focus on one. Nothing in creation can include everything that God is. Creation is finite and God is infinite. In highlighting one of his attributes, we ignore the rest.

In our worship to God we must offer ourselves without other images. God makes a distinction between the things he creates in the things we make. We change these things and they become images from us rather than from God. And then we use these things in worship.

During our worship we must worship God for the things he has created and how amazing he is because he can create these things. There’s a distinction between worshiping God because of his creation and worshiping his creation (Romans 1:22-23, 25). We must always make this distinction in worship so that our object of worship remains God instead of the objects around us.

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