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The Corner Stone

Dr. Daniel W. Paterson

The subject of the Stone or rock will be a familiar one to many of the readers of this magazine. It oftentimes speaks directly of our Lord Jesus Christ, and in circumstances of pressure and crisis. For example, in Genesis 49, in Jacob's prophetic outline of the chequered history of Israel's responsible course, we learn of the Divine intervention in Joseph and we have the promise of "the Shepherd, the Stone of Israel" (Gen. 49: 24). In the New Testament we have the precious words of the Lord Jesus Himself when He said, "And upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of hell (hades) shall not prevail against it" (Matt. 16: 18). The rock is Christ, the Son of the living God, not Peter as one of the popular modern versions assures us. Another Scripture that can be selected from the long list of references is Isaiah 26: 4. "Trust ye in the Lord for ever: for in the Lord Jehovah is everlasting strength" (Mr. Darby gives "the rock of ages" for "everlasting strength"). What substantial steadying comfort in a topsy-turvy world!

The present enquiry relates to the Corner Stone which, for many years, was a difficulty to the present writer. Where exactly in the building is this corner stone? Enquiries to builders and architects brought various replies and even the brethren and books which were consulted brought differing answers. The best I could get was from Morrish's New and Concise Bible Dictionary as "that which binds all together," without stating how or where. In recent years I came across the remarks of a Hebrew Christian of my acquaintance and his observations are offered for those who have shared my difficulty. The Scripture passages in question are as follows: (all these quotations are taken from Mr Darby's Translation)

"Therefore (the context has to be read) thus saith the Lord Jehovah: Behold, I lay for foundation in Zion a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner-stone, a sure foundation: he that trusteth shall not make haste" (Isaiah 28: 16).

"For behold, the stone that I have laid before Joshua-upon one stone are seven eyes; behold, I will engrave the graving thereof, saith Jehovah of hosts, and I will remove the iniquity of this land in one day" (Zechariah 3: 9).

"Who art thou, O great mountain? before Zerubbabel thou dost become a plain; and he shall bring forth the headstone with shoutings: Grace, grace unto it!" (Zechariah 4: 7).

"The stone which the builders rejected hath become the head of the corner (i.e. the corner stone). This is of Jehovah; it is wonderful in our eyes" (Psalm 118: 22 and 23).

"Jesus says to them, Have ye never read in the scriptures, The stone which they that builded rejected, this has become the corner-stone (lit. "Head of Corner"): this is of the Lord, and it is wonderful in our eyes? Therefore I say to you, that the kingdom of God shall be taken from you and shall be given to a nation producing the fruits of it. And he that falls on this stone shall be broken, but on whomsoever it shall fall, it shall grind him to powder."

(Matthew 21: 42-44).

"It is contained in the scripture: Behold, I lay in Zion a corner stone, elect, precious: and he that believes1 on him shall not be put to shame. To you therefore who believe is the preciousness; but to the disobedient, the stone which the builders cast away as worthless, this is become head of the corner, and a stone of stumbling and rock of offence; who stumble at the word, being disobedient, to which also they have been appointed."

(1 Peter 2: 6-8).

Here are my friends remarks:

"In Isaiah the scornful rulers of Jerusalem with their self-chosen and self-confident policy are confronted with a stone laid by Jehovah in Zion. Their building is swept away by the coming storm but the stone will abide. It is called an 'ebhen bochan, which is rendered a "tried stone" (AV, RV and J.N.D. Trans.). But Delitzsch points out that bochan is active and means testing. Brown, Driver and Biggs agree in their lexicon, but in spite of this give it a passive meaning. The fact is that it is a testing stone. Isaiah never speaks of its being built on. It is a pledge of safety to those who believe in the day that "the shelter of lies" will be swept away.

1 There is a footnote by J.N.D. on "believed"-trust in it, that is, the Stone, Christ. On (epi) implies reliance on; confidence in; the mind looking to another with trust. It occurs in this form only in Luke 24: 25 and in the passages where Isaiah 28: 6 is quoted in the New Testament-Romans 9: 33; Romans 10: 11 and here.

This stone, rejected by the builders, the rulers of the people, appears again in Zechariah, after the exile caused by the false building of the pre-exilic rulers. We now find that it is a head-stone or topstone. This is a stone cut beforehand by the architect which not only as the last stone to be dropped into place, bonds the building together, but also, by whether it fits or not, tests whether the architects plans have been truly followed. We are not called on to judge how truly Zerubbabel built for his day and generation, because in Psalm 118 we find the fulfilment expressed in the prophetic perfect, but none the less future, because this Psalm is clearly Messianic.

Even so it is with the Lord Jesus Christ. The various forms of Messianic prophecy knit together divergent lines of Old Testament thought and mould them in a pattern whose final form may not be clear but which can be inferred. Bring in the fulfilment in Christ and drop it into place as the top-stone and the house is complete in all its portions and proportions.

For the one who will work or expound without the thought of God's Messiah, the testing stone has been laid by God in Zion. He will not be able to avoid it. "Whosoever shall fall on this stone shall be broken." There is however a worse fate foretold for the man who in theory accepts the testing stone, but in practice works and expounds led by his own wisdom and will. When the top stone is hoisted to its place on the summit of his building, it will come crashing down and "on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder" (Matt. 21: 44)."

These remarks have been a help to the present writer, both architecturally and in giving a more precise exegesis of the passages. The Jewish background of the author inevitably leads him to give emphasis to the Messiah. For us, I trust, the preciousness of Christ will appear in new lustre. The testing searching value of the Word and of Christ the corner stone seems particularly relevant for this day when there is so much shoddy building.