In my last article (Who is “The Stone That the Builders Rejected”) I presented reasons why I have come to believe that Jesus’ quotation of Psalm 118:22, 23 had reference to the Muslim “nation” beginning with Muhammad and his Arab kin – the “great nation” which God promised Abraham from the descendents of his son Ishmael.
In this article I want to explain why I believe the use of the concept of a “stone” to refer to the descendents of Ishmael as the “foundation” of God’s kingdom on earth is very appropriate – and also answer an objection to my interpretation of the prophecy.
Perhaps we don’t think of it very much, but the use of stones as altars to serve as focuses in the worship of the One God was common among the “fathers” of Judeo-Christian faith. Genesis 12:8 tells of Abraham building an altar at Bethel. Genesis 28:18, 19 tells of Abraham’s grandson Jacob taking a single stone which he had used as a pillow, making it a pillar, anointing it with oil, and making a vow to the LORD – which also is said to have taken place at Bethel. In Joshua 4 we are told that the Israelites, by God’s command, gathered 12 stones to set up as a remembrance after crossing the Jordan River.
As I’m sure is well known, Islam also has a very famous Black Stone which is a centerpiece in the Ka’ba in Mecca. The Qur’an explains that Abraham and Ishmael built the Ka’ba as a House of God in the place now known as Mecca, and set up the Black Stone. This stone is said by tradition to have come down from heaven. Some believe it is meteorite stone, though I don’t believe that has been officially confirmed.
Now despite the fact that no one seems to think Abraham, Jacob, or the Israelites were guilty of idolatry when they used stones as holy altars, anointed them with oil, and used them in their worship of God, many Jews (and Christians) delight in ridiculing Muslims as idolaters for their reverence for the Black Stone as part of their worship of the One God. Quite literally, this is a stone which the Jewish builders rejected. And that is why it was so apropos that the Psalmist and Jesus should refer to a stone when prophesying that another nation would replace the Jews as the cornerstone in the kingdom of God. The Jewish ‘builders’ rejected the nation descended from Ishmael, and they rejected the center of worship in Mecca, with its Black Stone. Therefore, the “stone” is properly a metonym for the people and religion with which it is associated.
There have been various theories as to the origin of this stone. Some believe it is a meteorite or a fragment of one; others believe it might be volcanic rock. Whatever its origin, it was definitely not hewn by human hands from a mountain or quarry. Therefore, it fits beautifully with Daniel’s interpretation of the dream of King Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 2:31-45. In that dream, Nebuchadnezzar had seen a huge statue. “Dan 2:32 The head of this image was of fine gold, its chest and arms of silver, its middle and thighs of bronze, Dan 2:33 its legs of iron, its feet partly of iron and partly of clay. Dan 2:34 As you looked, a stone was cut out by no human hand, and it struck the image on its feet of iron and clay, and broke them in pieces. Dan 2:35 Then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver, and the gold, all together were broken in pieces, and became like the chaff of the summer threshing floors; and the wind carried them away, so that not a trace of them could be found. But the stone that struck the image became a great mountain and filled the whole earth.”
The different metals in the statue represented 4 different kingdoms or empires, with the 4th becoming divided (iron mixed with clay). Nebuchadnezzar and his Babylonian kingdom were represented by the golden head. The silver chest and arms represented the Medo-Persian Empire which followed Babylon. Afterward came the bronze middle and thighs, which represented the Greek Empire of Alexander the Great. Finally, the legs and feet of iron mixed with clay represented the Roman Empire – which became divided into Eastern (Byzantine) and Western sections.
But Nebuchadnezzar saw a stone cut out without human hands which struck the feet of the statue, which were a mixture of iron and clay. This caused the statue to collapse and be destroyed, and the stone itself became a great mountain filling the earth. This stone which destroyed the statue and became a great mountain is interpreted by Daniel to mean a great kingdom which the God of heaven would set up “in the days of those kings”. This kingdom would destroy the other kingdoms, and would itself never be destroyed or left for another people.
So here we are presented with 4 consecutive Empires or Kingdoms beginning with Babylon, with no break in between them; and then a 5th kingdom or Empire which arises “in the days of those kings” – specifically, in the last days of the 4th kingdom when it was in a weak state. It seems hard for me, now, to avoid the understanding that the 5th kingdom, set up by the God of heaven and represented by a stone cut out without human hands, is none other than the religion and Empire of Islam which originated with the Arabian descendents of Ishmael and spread out to “the whole earth”. It is a kingdom which in point of fact did arise in the last days of the weakened Roman Empire, and wound up putting the finishing touch to that Empire (and indeed the whole ‘statue’) when it conquered Constantinople (the Capital of the Eastern Roman, or Byzantine, Empire – present day Istanbul) in 1453 A.D.
This “kingdom” remains intact to this day. Despite some parts of that vast kingdom having been conquered by invaders from time to time, it remains distinctively Muslim (submitted to the One God) in character. Even the Mongol hordes converted to Islam after they conquered Islamic nations. The conquerors were themselves ‘conquered’ by the religion of the One God. This kingdom has indeed not been left to another people.
Now this prophecy of the “stone cut out without hands” in Daniel fits very well with Jesus’ prophecy of “the stone which the builders rejected”. As Daniel had predicted that the kingdom would never be destroyed or left to another people, Jesus said that “Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces, and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him” (Luke 20:18). In Psalm 118, from which the quotation about “the stone that the builders rejected” is taken, the context is of a victorious conqueror. “(7) The LORD is on my side to help me; I shall look in triumph on those who hate me… (10) All nations surrounded me; in the name of the LORD I cut them off!… (15) Hark, glad songs of victory in the tents of the righteous: ‘The right hand of the LORD does valiantly’…”
In Daniel 2:44, the stone which crushes the statue is specifically said to be a kingdom, not a king. This goes hand in hand with Jesus’ prophecy, confirming that “the stone that the builders rejected” is the people/nation which replaced the Jews as the ‘cornerstone’ in God’s kingdom, not the ‘son’ and ‘heir’ of the kingdom whom the ‘tenants’ killed.
All of these things fit so well together! 🙂 The nation and kingdom which replaced the nation and kingdom of the Jews as the cornerstone of God’s kingdom is that ‘great nation’ which descended from Abraham’s firstborn son, Ishmael, which has filled/is filling the earth. And this kingdom is very fittingly represented by a “stone cut out without hands…which the builders rejected”.
This leaves us with the objection that the apostle Peter specifically ascribes to Jesus himself the honor of being “the stone that the builders rejected” (Acts 4:11, and 1 Peter 5:7). Nothing could be more explicit than the statement in Acts 4:11: “This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone.” What can I say to this? Doesn’t this undermine my whole argument which I have gone to such great lengths to establish?
If Peter and the other apostles were in fact the infallible spokesmen that many Christians claim them to be, then it would certainly be true that Peter by that one simple statement completely destroyed my argument. However, that’s simply not the case. The Biblical authors and apostles are atrocious interpreters of the “Old Testament”. Take as an example ‘Matthew’s’ statement in Matt. 2:15 that the infant Jesus was taken by his parents to Egypt, and then brought back to Galilee and Judea, in order to fulfill Hosea 11:1 – “Out of Egypt I called my son”. When one actually looks up that ‘prophecy’ of Hosea, he/she discovers that Hosea was not making a prediction about a future Messiah; instead he was making a reference to the deliverance of the Jewish people (whom God is said to call “My son”) from Egyptian slavery hundreds of years before Hosea wrote his prophecy. Hosea is pointing out the ungratefulness of the Jewish nation for the blessings they had received from God, not predicting that a baby way off in the future would spend a short period of time in Egypt before being brought back home.
Another example can be found in the letter named “Hebrews” in the New Testament. In 2:13, the author quoted Isaiah 8:18 – “Behold, I and the children whom the LORD has given me are signs and portents in Israel from the LORD of hosts, who dwells on Mount Zion.” The writer of Hebrews would have us believe that the speaker in Isaiah’s prophecy was Jesus Christ, and the “children whom the LORD has given me” were the children of God whom God gave to Jesus as his brothers. Yet that is clearly not the case. Isaiah was talking about himself and his own children. God had given him those children, and told him to give them very symbolic names (like “a remnant shall return”, “haste, haste to the spoil”, and “God is with us”), so that they would serve as signs and symbols for the Jewish people. The writer of Hebrews in fact winds up making a mockery of the prophetic Scriptures by the way he used them. By that system of “hermeneutics” (interpretation), one can make statements mean anything one wishes. I could use God’s commandment to Abraham to leave his country and kindred, and go to a land that He would show him, as a “prophecy” about Joseph and Mary fleeing to Egypt by the command of the angel!
There are plenty of other examples of such clearly wrong “interpretations” of the Old Testament by New Testament writers. Consider the examples of Peter himself in Acts 1:20 – where he refers to short excerpts from Psalm 69 (verse 25) and Psalm 109 (verse 8 ) to find guidance for replacing Judas Iscariot, the betrayer of Jesus Christ. I won’t deal with it here; just check it for yourself and see if by any stretch of the imagination those little snippets have anything to do with Judas and the apostles’ duty to replace him.
So I have no difficulty at all in acknowledging that Peter’s interpretation of “the stone that the builders rejected” is in error. It is understandable, inasmuch as the Jewish ‘builders’ did indeed reject Jesus (as they did many other prophets before him); but Peter is clearly in conflict with Jesus’ interpretation of the Psalm. I’ll accept Jesus’ interpretation over Peter’s.
Of course, one is free to question whether either Jesus or Peter got it right. Perhaps they’re both wrong, and the Psalmist was speaking only of himself. But I’m quite willing to believe that David was indeed a prophet, and he was speaking – by the Spirit of prophecy – of things future to him when he wrote that Psalm. The “I” in the Psalm was the coming deliverer who would bring God’s kingdom to the earth. The “stone” was the nation/kingdom of Ishmaelite descendents which he represented, and who would become the first followers of his God-given message.
The fact that the New Testament writers and apostles made errors in their handling of Old Testament Scriptures does not, of course, necessarily mean that they were always wrong – or even usually wrong. It does mean, though, that the exhortation of the apostle Paul is always relevant: “1Th 5:20 Do not despise prophecies, 1Th 5:21 but test everything; hold fast what is good. 1Th 5:22 Abstain from every form of evil” (1 Thessalonians 5:20-22). No ‘prophet’ gets a free pass, giving him exemption from testing.