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B'resheet/Genesis 35:14 And Ya'akov set up a pillar in the place that He spoke with him, a pillar of stone
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G-d has summoned Ya'akov and his entire household to appear before Him at Bethel, some time after he returned to the land of Canaan from Padan Aram. There, G-d appears to Ya'akov and has repeated the change of name that Ya'akov was given during his all-night wrestling match; He has shared the name "El Shaddai" with Ya'akov and impressed upon him the basic command - ", be fruitful and multiply" (35:11) - given to Adam and Noah, before promising many nations and kings to descend from him and affirming the gift of the Land to his descendants. The text starts the description of Ya'akov's response, which will be a complete act of worship including a drink offering and an oil offering, both poured out on the pillar as a sacrifice to G-d and a means of sanctifying the place where the revelation took place, which Ya'akov will also name as "the house of G-d", before the household move on.
The root , which is not used in the Qal stem, supplies three of the words in the text. The first, , is the Hifil 3ms prefix form with a vav-conversive for past-tense narrative sequence; in the Hifil stem, the root has three meanings: to set, place; to set up, erect; to fix, appoint (Davidson). The second, , is a fs noun, which can be a pillar or monument, or a statue or idol. The third, , which looks as thought it ought to be a construct form of the second, is another fs noun, which can also be a pillar or monument, but is also used as a stand or position. Here it makes sense to see the verb with the "set up or erect" meaning, and both nouns as 'pillar' or 'standing-stone'. Being a natural stone, Ya'akov can then use it as an altar on which to pour out his wine and oil portions and it will remain there in place as a memorial.
Ibn Ezra maintains that this the the pillar that Ya'akov had already set up in the same place twenty years before when he was met by G-d on the way out of the Land, going to Padan Aram (28:18). This would denote a full circle movement of exit and re-entry, so to speak, through the same customs post. In favour of Ibn Ezra's proposal is that the same names Luz and Bethel are used (compare 28:19 with 35:6) and that ancient custom was to respect other people's standing stones. The Radak, on the other hand insists that it was a new pillar; Ya'akov chose a new stone and carried out the setting-up process as part of creating a new memorial to reflect the new and greater revelation that he had been given. In Radak's favour is that the text earlier relates Ya'akov building an altar (35:7), yet here explicitly uses the "set up" verb again.
What is a standing stone? The word is constructed in the usual way, by adding a prefix to the verb to form a feminine noun denoting either the place of the verb action or a tool used in the process. A standing stone is the place of standing up, or perhaps an appointed place. Nahum Sarna explains that "it denotes a single upright slab of stone. Believed to be the repository of a divinity or spirit, it was often used as a cultic object." For this reason, standing stones are strictly proscribed in the Torah as being idolatrous; for example, "You are not to make yourselves any idols, erect a carved statue or a standing-stone, or place any carved stone anywhere in your land in order to bow down to it" (Vayikra 26:1, CJB). The Israelites are instructed that when they get into the Land and dispossess the seven nations living there, "You are not to worship their gods, serve them or follow their practices; rather, you are to demolish them completely and smash their standing-stones to pieces" (Shemot 23:24, CJB). This accomplishes two things: first, it desacralises the stones and the places, also destroying the memory of what might have happened there; secondly, it removes the physical marker so that no-one else will stop and enquire what (pagan) event had happened there, or even know that had been anything significant at that place.
There are, Sarna continues, "also the legitimate standing stones, such as, for instance, one that simply memorialises the dead." Ya'akov will set one up over Rachel's grave (35:20), and David's son Absalom sets one up for himself because he had no children (2 Samuel 18:18). Ya'akov and Laban have recently set one up and covered it with stones, in Laban's words, "This heap is a witness between you and me this day" (B'resheet 31:48, NASB) and a boundary marker between them: "I will not pass by this heap to you for harm, and you will not pass by this heap and this pillar to me, for harm" (v. 52, NASB). Before dying, Joshua summoned the elders of Israel and challenged them to follow HaShem, setting up a great stone at Shechem and told the people, "See, this very stone shall be a witness against us, for it heard all the words that the L-RD spoke to us; it shall be a witness against you, lest you break faith with your G-d" (Joshua 24:27). When the Israelites crossed the Jordan to enter the Land,HaShem told them to pick twelve stones from the middle of the Jordan river bed, then "Joshua set up in Gilgal the twelve stones they had taken from the Jordan. He charged the Israelites as follows: 'In time to come, when your children ask their fathers, "What is the meaning of those stones?" tell your children: "Here the Israelites crossed the Jordan on dry land"'" (Joshua 4:20-22, JPS). HaShem Himself orders the Israelites to set up a memorial of what had happened that day.
Some of these traditions are generally observed around the world today. Most graves have headstones over them or at one end to tell everyone who is buried in that grave; plaques are mounted on houses to tell you that "Samuel Taylor Coleridge was born here on 21st October 1772"; steles are erected to commemorate the sites of famous battles or eloquent speeches. At each of these, people may stop and enquire, "What happened here?" On a smaller and more personal scale, people may keep a picture, an ornament or a piece of jewelry in a box or on the sitting room mantlepiece to remind them of a loved one or an event in their lives or the life of a relative: the bullet that nearly killed your grandfather in the war and the tobacco tin that stopped it. But these are physical memorials rather than emotional markers. The latter also exist in our memories; hooks which enable us to remember milestones that are important to us: the first time we got an A+ grade for an assignment, if we sang or played in a public concert, when we met our partner for the first time, when our children were born - these are critical memories that provide anchors and high points in our minds. Most people revisit them frequently, re-experiencing the joys (or sorrows), the thrills (and spills) and even tiny details such as the colour of the wallpaper, the sparkle in her eyes as she said 'Yes', or what was for lunch in the canteen. All these are bound up in the memory hooks and can be retrieved and remembered again when those key memories are triggered.
There is still another type of standing stone; these are spiritual markers and, just like memory hooks, enable us to reconnect with spiritual events in our lives. Holocaust survivors can burst into tears when they see - perhaps for the first time in years, if they have suppressed or denied their Jewish identity - someone lighting shabbat candles, as it reminds them of their Bubbe doing it back in the Old Country. People who once knew faith but have walked away from the L-rd won't accept an invitation to a baptism, because it reminds them of when they were baptised and what they felt at the time. A key memory, for most believers, has to be the time they turned to Yeshua and accepted Him as Messiah; a rush of emotion, a welling up of enthusiasm, a warmth in the heart when we remember the love and assurance we felt when finding our spiritual home and peace in Him. John Wesley recorded May 24th 1738 in his journal as that day for him; no small matter for a man whose preaching is reputed to have spared England the equivalent of the French Revolution.
So, what are the standing stones in your life and why are they there? Have they been put up as memorials of what G-d has done for you, the highs and lows of your walk with Him and the trials He has brought you through? Or are they self-centred memorials of what you have done, your accomplishments and how clever you have been? When you revisit the standing stones in your mind, are you filled with worship and thanks to G-d, or quietly (or perhaps not so quietly) proud of yourself? Just as physical standing stones can be legitimate and approved or instituted by G-d, or illegitimate idols or sites of worship dedicated to someone or something other than the One True G-d, so the standing stones in our lives can be also. The illegitimate physical ones are to be torn down and destroyed; illegitimate life ones also, although brought to the cross, they can sometimes be refashioned into a legitimate memorial when correctly refocused. We all erect standing stones in our lives - the question is what they commemorate and who is their focus.
Further Study: Isaiah 51:9-11; 2 Timothy 2:8-9; Revelation 3:2-3
Application: Why not try casting your mind back through the years and consider the key hooks in your memory. Are they memorials of what G-d has done or what you have done? Bring them to Yeshua and ask Him to show you where He was and what He was doing so that you can bring out the heavenly connections in the whole of your life.
Comment - 17:27 25Nov15 Tom Hiney: Standing stones: 1. At school a WAKE UP CALL by G-D TO POINT ME IN THE DIRECTION of ministry, aged 16; 2. At Sandhurst a similar Wake up call, aged 20; 3. In Cyprus, AGED 23 IN THE FORM OF A DILEMNA, this time G-d nudging me; 4. In Ghana serving in the army in the Congo, aged 26, G-d REMINDING me of the ministry; 5. In Malaya G-d MADE THINK THAT IT WAS HIGH TIME that I decided; 6. In Arabia, I felt that G-D was GIVING ME AN ULTIMATUM, aged 30, so I left the Army and gave in.
© Jonathan Allen, 2015
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