15 Mar, 21 ·
7 min read

“In every place where I cause my name to be remembered I will come to you and bless you. If you make me an altar of stone, you shall not build it of hewn stones, for if you wield your tool on it you profane it.”

Exodus 20:24b-25

My maternal grandfather was a jeweller. I’ve long been fascinated by the skill and precision required by a gem cutter. As I understand it, a ‘lapidary’ typically works with uncut stones so they have maximum freedom to fashion the most precious gem possible. They have the uncanny ability, after careful examination, to see the potential waiting to be freed from the rough stone. They don’t want their creative vision to be compromised by the previous attempts of a ‘lesser’ craftsman.

So it is with us in the hands of the Master Stonecutter. God wants us to come to Him ‘in the rough’, so to speak. He doesn’t expect or want us to approach Him with our jagged edges already smoothed out. That could be seen as an act of insolence, essentially usurping His role as the Divine life-shaper. We, on the other hand, want to be our own masters, controlling every little detail of our lives by wielding our own ‘tools’ in the vain attempt to shape and build alters to ourselves.

Only God has the wisdom, power and grace to shape our lives in the way He knows is best for us, and best for His sovereign purpose (cf. Prov. 3:5-8; Rom. 8:28).
On the day God gave Israel the Ten Commandments, He forbade the use of carved images in their worship of Him:

“You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.” (Exod. 20:4)

A little later in the narrative, God added another condition for how He wanted to be worshipped. If an alter was to be erected, it had to be made simply of earth or of rough uncut stones (Exod. 20:24-25).

While the Second Commandment makes perfect sense in the context of the idolatry practiced by all the surrounding nations, this additional regulation about uncut stones seems a bit odd. On reflection, however, it did provide Israel a stark contrast to the 400+ years they spent as slaves cutting and shaping intricately proportioned stones for Pharaoh’s pagan monuments. Israel was now free from Egyptian bondage and God told His chosen people to simply use the rocks they found lying on the desert floor, as they were. It was God, after all, who fashioned each of those rocks.

God still wants the same from His children today. He loves to take our hard hearts and mould them into His likeness. If we stubbornly resist His efforts, we expose ourselves to a number of undesirable consequences:

We delay the process of sanctification

If we grumble against God’s efforts to chip away at our impurities, He will step back and leave us to our own misguided attempts, patiently waiting for us to figure out that we’ll never succeed in reaching His divine standards on our own.

Israel was in desperate need of physical, emotional and spiritual purification from all the evil influences of Egypt, but they didn’t like the taste of God’s ‘medicine’.

“Then Moses made Israel set out from the Red Sea, and they went into the wilderness of Shur. They went three days in the wilderness and found no water. When they came to Marah, they could not drink the water of Marah because it was bitter; therefore it was named Marah. And the people grumbled against Moses, saying, “What shall we drink?” And he cried to the Lord, and the Lord showed him a log, and he threw it into the water, and the water became sweet. There the Lord made for them a statute and a rule, and there he tested them, saying, “If you will diligently listen to the voice of the Lord your God, and do that which is right in his eyes, and give ear to his commandments and keep all his statutes, I will put none of the diseases on you that I put on the Egyptians, for I am the Lord, your healer.” (Exod. 15:22-26)

We experience unnecessary hardship.

By trying to control our lives without the benefit of God’s ‘big picture’ view, we end up going down blind canyons or stepping into traps invisible to the earthbound traveller. Only God can provide the direction and perspective we need to navigate through the wilderness of life, just as He did for Israel on their journey to the Promised Land.

“'And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night. The pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night did not depart from before the people.” ... “You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles' wings and brought you to myself.” (Exod. 13:21-22; 19:4 cf. Isa. 40:1-30)

If Israel had consistently followed God’s gracious leading, their 40 year odyssey to the Promised Land could have taken weeks, but they rebelled repeatedly against God’s direction and suffered the consequences (e.g. Numbers 14).

We miss out on God’s blessings

There is no safer or more rewarding place to be than in the centre of God’s will, protected from the raging storms all around. Rather than succumbing to the world’s broken standards, we need to allow God to conform us to His holy standards. That is where true joy is to be found.

“Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.' These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel." So Moses came and called the elders of the people and set before them all these words that the LORD had commanded him. All the people answered together and said, "All that the LORD has spoken we will do." And Moses reported the words of the people to the LORD.” (Exod. 19:5-8)

Sadly, Israel’s promise to obey was soon broken – again and again and again.

“But truly, as I live, and as all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the Lord, none of the men who have seen my glory and my signs that I did in Egypt and in the wilderness, and yet have put me to the test these ten times and have not obeyed my voice, shall see the land that I swore to give to their fathers. And none of those who despised me shall see it.” (Num. 14:21-23)


Of course Jesus is the original uncut living stone (cf. Dan. 2:44-45). His perfect life, sacrificial death and victorious resurrection is the foundation for all that is good and lasting. As prophesied through King Nebuchadnezzar’s dream in Dan. 2, Jesus will return soon to smash Satan’s evil world system once and for all, filling the whole earth with His Glorious Kingdom. In the meantime, it is upon Him and His Word that our lives must be built, one uncut stone upon another, joined and fitted together in perfect unity, forming His Church, commissioned to shed light and truth in this dark and misguided world (cf. Matt. 16:16-18; 28:18-20).

“So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation— if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good. As you come to Him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For it stands in Scripture: “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in Him will not be put to shame.” So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,” and “A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.” They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do. But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.” (1 Pet. 2:1-9)

As God told Israel in that Arabian dessert:

“You have seen for yourselves that I have talked with you from heaven” (Exod. 20:22b)

the more consistently we ‘remember God’s name’ (Exod. 20:24) by recognising His sovereignty over our lives as our Heavenly Father and humbly place ourselves into His hands as our Master Builder, the more we’ll experience His blessings – one uncut stone at a time.