The Rock of Ages and Jacob’s Pillow

There is none holy as the Lord: for there is none beside thee: neither is there any rock like our God.  I Sam. 2:2

Stone of Scone 1

Could it be that Joseph’s pillow, the rock that Moses struck and the Stone of Scone are the same rock?  Who is…what is the Rock of Ages and where did the story begin?    

If you choose to continue reading, you may come to see God in a light you have never seen Him before….For our forefather Jacob, God was “The God of the Rock.”

“You are a rock,” I said to my good friend who continually demonstrates he is a true friend. Where did that analogy originate?  As early as Genesis God is associated with a rock and the “Rock” imagery is consistent throughout the old and new testament scripture as it relates to God being our rock.  

A Special Rock

Was there a specific rock in Israel’s history….a rock that caused God to be referred to as a rock?

Like most legends the truth is debatable, but I hope to add to the legend of “The Rock”  discovered by Jacob at Bethel.  

The evidence is intriguing that a particular rock plays a central role throughout Bible history and later in Scottish and British history.  I will present evidence that Jacob took a particular rock with him to Egypt… the Jewish multitude carried it in the wilderness…Moses stuck it…the builders of the temple rejected it…Jeremiah the Prophet rescued it…escaping Jews carried it to Scotland…the people of Scotland used it during the coronation of their Kings… England captured it from Scotland…the people of England used it to Crown their Kings…it resided in Westminster Abbey after being fitted into a Coronation chair by Edward I in 1296…and in 1996 returned to Scotland where it resides today in Edinburgh Castle alongside the crown jewels of Scotland.    

The Pillow Stone

The legend of “The Rock” all started when Jacob fled his father Isaac’s home out of fear of retribution from his brother Esau.  Jacob and his mother Rebecca conspired together to steal Esau’s blessing. In modern vernacular this act would be comparable to fraudulently tampering with a Will.   Once discovered, Jacob fled for his life to the family of his uncle Laban. Laban was his mother’s brother.  

One night during the journey, as he camped, he chose a stone for a pillow and fell asleep.  That night he sees visions of angels ascending and descending to heaven up and down a ladder. This vision was so real to Jacob and so moved him that it would become a defining event in his life.

After the vision, he set the pillow stone on end as a pillar and did a strange thing.  He anointed the stone with oil.  Here is the account from Genesis.  

Jacob said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven.”

Early the next morning Jacob took the stone, set it up on end as a pillar and anointed it with oil.  And he renamed the place Bethel.   

Then Jacob made a vow saying, “If God will be with me and will watch over me on this journey I am taking, and will give me food to eat and clothes to wear, so that I return safely to my father’s household, then the Lord will be my God and this stone that I have set up as a pillar will be God’s house, and of all that you give me I will give you a tenth” (Genesis 28:17-22).

Notice here that Jacob anointed the rock and pronounces over it that it will be God’s house.  The word for Messiah in Hebrew means “the anointed one” and the Greek translation is “Christ.”

So Jacob makes this stone the anointed stone or the Messiah of stones. This stone will be God’s house.  

The name Beth-El means in Hebrew “house of God” In 2015, Bethel, Israel became a sister city with Florence, Alabama, my hometown for most of my adult life.  

Beth EL

Bethel. From the book Holy Land photographed by Daniel B. Shepp. 1894

God reminds Jacob of the stone

Twenty two years after Jacob anoints the stone, he finds himself fleeing again, this time to get out from under his overbearing uncle and now father-in-law Laban.  God again comes to Jacob in a dream and refers to Himself as the God of Bethel and reminds Jacob of his three-part vow, 1. To make the God of Bethel his God.  2. To use the anointed stone to be the house of God. and 3. To give God a tenth (Genesis 31).

These were three big vows, but the only promise that would require a certain inconvenient diligence would be keeping up with a large stone.  

The exact location of Jacob’s Bethel is unknown, but the city existed in ancient times and even today about 10 miles north of Jerusalem.

The Bible doesn’t specifically tell us that Jacob or the Israelites kept and transported the pillar stone, however the Old Testament Bible does on several occasions speak of a special rock or stone.  And too, It makes sense that such a detailed account of the stone and its significance  would cause Jacob to value the stone and it would act as an important keepsake to the large family that God promised him.     

Does the scripture give us any clues about Jacob and this stone?  Is there an inference the children of Israel carried the stone with them as they traveled from place to place?  Did they carry it through the wilderness?  Did it go with them into the promised land?

There is scriptural inference that the answer to these questions is yes.  And the language of the Israelites gives us indication a rock with Messianic implications played a significant role in their history.

The Stone put in the care of Joseph

The first indication the “the pillar stone” is kept as a possession comes as a dying Jacob gives his prophetic blessing to each of his twelve sons.  Listen to how Jacob concludes his blessing to his eleventh son Joseph as he refers to the God of Israel.  He said, “The archers attacked him, shot at him, and were hostile toward him. Yet his bow remained steady, and his strong arms were made agile by the hand of the Mighty One of Jacob, by the name of the Shepherd, the Rock of Israel” (Genesis 49:23-24).

Who bears the title “the Rock of Israel”?  Who ever heard of a rock being a shepherd?  This is the only time this title is specifically used in scripture, but without a doubt it is another title for the one also known as the Mighty One or God of Jacob.    

Had Jacob kept the anointed Messiah stone as a sacred possession?  Did he believe that it was the house of God where he dreamed about the angels ascending and descending to Heaven.  Did they believe the stone acted as a Shepherd over Israel?

We do know that the town of Bethel was given to Joseph, the prince among his brothers by way of Ephraim’s inheritance.  Joshua chapter 18 tells of God’s providence, when Ephraim inherits Bethel through the drawing of lots to divide the land of Israel among the twelve tribes.  It is no coincidence that Joseph inherited Bethel for he is the prototype for the Messiah or anointed one to come.  See my article To My Jewish Friends – The Two Messiahs.

How can a stone be a Shepard?  Doesn’t a Shepherd lead you beside still waters to keep the flock properly watered? Could it have been this same Shepard Stone that Moses struck when Israel needed water at Mt. Sinai?  

The Rock Moses struck that brought forth water in the desert

Rock with spicket

The rock Moses struck is first mentioned in Exodus 17:6. Behold, I will stand before thee there upon the rock in Horeb. Notice the use of the phrase “the rock.”  Was Moses saying this is the only rock there around Mt. Horeb (or Sinai as it is most commonly called).  Moses is saying he is standing on “the rock.”  Obviously, “the rock” needs no introduction to those hearing his voice.

The word “the” is one of the most common words in English. It is our only definite article. Nouns in English are preceded by the definite article when the speaker believes that the listener already knows what he is referring to.

In a separate instance Moses is on top of Mt. Sinai receiving the tablets of stone and it says Moses stands upon a rock while the glory of the Lord passes by.  The word “a” preceding rock allows us to know that this is no particular rock. However, in Exodus 17 the rock here is “the rock” and must be a particular rock that is known.  

What is so special about “the rock” Moses struck?  When Moses struck the rock, out came water that kept millions alive. You might say it was living water.  

Obviously, water does not flow from a rock, unless maybe that rock is somehow covering an underground stream or covering a well.  So striking a rock and breaking it, so water might flow, would make some sense, but this is not the sense we get from this passage.  This was no logical event.  This was water flowing from a rock to water millions.  This was a miracle.  Impossible for just any old rock, but not so odd for a Messiah stone.    Scripture will further refute the idea this was a rock covering an underwater steam later when God tells Moses to speak to “the rock” in a different location.  

By the time of Israel’s wanderings in the wilderness, Israel’s relationship to the rock is long-established. This association is certainly more understandable if a special God rock was always nearby to remind them of their forefather Jacob’s God experience.

We mentioned earlier the reference to God as “the Rock of Israel” in Genesis.  Again in Deuteronomy 32, “He is the Rock, his work is perfect: for all his ways are judgment: a God of truth and without iniquity, just and right is He.” Over and over in chapter 32, God’s prophet Moses establishes God as “the rock.” Moses calls the God of Jacob “The Rock of his salvation.”  God would always be associated with the Pillar stone to the children of Israel.  The Messiah stone is where father Jacob met God and made him a promise.  

The musical group Petra made famous a verse from the book of II Samuel 22.  The song’s chorus goes, “The Lord liveth; and blessed be my rock; and let the God of my salvation be exalted.

In the II Samuel 23, Samuel records David’s last composition.  There David writes in verse three, “The Rock of Israel has talked to me.”        

David writes in the Psalms about the God Rock.     From the end of the earth will I cry unto thee, when my heart is overwhelmed: lead me to the rock that is higher than I.  Psa. 61:2

O come, let us sing unto the Lord: let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation. Psa. 95:1

Also the great prophet Isaiah writes, “Trust in the LORD forever, for the LORD, the LORD himself, is the Rock of ages.” Isa. 26:4

In addition to these scriptural references to “the rock” there are other ancient jewish writings that speak of a special rock.

The Mishnah and Talmud(Jewish commentaries on the OT) refer to the rock.*  The Mishnah in tractate Yoma(Jewish commentary) mentions a stone situated in the Holy of Holies that was called Shetiya (foundation stone) and had been revealed by the early prophets.

In the days when Selichot (prayers of mourning for sin) are recited, in the days leading up to Rosh Hashana until Yom Kippur, the prayers include the following references: Upon it lying the stone from which the foundation was hewnWho gives ear from which the waters flow (i.e. This could also be a reference to the waters flowing from the rock in the desert.)

This stone is frequently referred to as a pillar.  Is it coincidental that the Lord led the Israelites while in the wilderness for forty years with a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night?

This seems very bizarre to us today and must have been bizarre to Israel in the beginning.  It is quite possible the Israelites saw a connection between the pillar stone kept in the treasury of the tabernacle and the pillar of fire and cloud.   This could be yet another reminder that their God is the God of the Pillar stone of Jacob?  

The Lord used the stone as only one of a number of things to point to himself and His coming. It acted as a prophetic symbol pointing to the Messiah and the true rock of Israel.

The Rock that Moses struck a second time  

Few acts of God have caught more criticism than God’s dealing with Moses in the Edomite Desert in Kadesh. In Kadesh, the people cry out again to Moses to bring them water to drink.  For a second time the Lord speaks to Moses about bringing the water out of the rock.  This time the instructions are somewhat different. Moses does not follow the instructions precisely and instead repeats what he did the first time he received water from the rock.

God punished him for not following the precise instructions.  Names like capricious and arbitrary are given to God by those proving the Lord is not a good God. They point to what seems an overly harsh punishment of Moses for not obeying the Lord’s precise instructions.

On the first occasion that the children of Israel became desperate for water, the Lord had Moses to strike the rock to bring forth water for the people. Moses strikes the rock, water flows, and the people are saved and satisfied.

On the second occasion where the people became desperate for water in the Desert of Zin the Lord gives Moses different instructions. “Take the staff, and you and your brother Aaron gather the assembly together. Speak to that rock before their eyes and it will pour out its water. You will bring water out of the rock for the community so they and their livestock can drink” (Numbers 20:8)

desert of zin

Desert of Zin

But instead, by this time Moses frustration and disposition of anger toward his troop is revealed.  Moses rebuked the children of Israel calling them rebels, and lost perspective as to his real place in the hierarchy of God and instead of speaking to the rock, he lifted his rod and struck the rock.  Still, even with this disobedience to the Lord’s instructions, the water poured out.

Lots of potential lessons could be drawn from this episode.  We could speculate about Moses motives for his actions here.  The temptation for a leader to strengthen his power and influence are always there.  But more importantly here we see that even with Moses disobedience, God still shows mercy, gives water and uses the disobedience as a teachable moment.  

But the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them” (Numbers 20:12).

This remains an unusual little story till you add in the possibility that this was not just any rock that Moses was striking.  This is the anointed Rock.  The Messiah Rock, the Rock associated with the Messiah Himself.  Speaking to this rock is not nearly as unusual as it sounds, for concerning the divine presence that went with them Israel would say “let us sing to the rock of our salvation.  It is clear they associated their very salvation to a rock that was God.  

In this case the meaning of what Moses did becomes very clear to us.  The Messiah was to be struck once and from that striking was to come forth living waters to all that trusted in Him. One striking was sufficient and after that our Rock would continue to be our source, but now through a relationship. From this point on we talk as friends and bring our needs to Him.  He promises to respond and satisfy our need.   

The Lord is the ultimate storyteller and when we see the Lord taking an action like He did against Moses, he wants us to ask questions.  He wants us to look deeper and learn the deeper counsel He provides.  

When you understand the significance, importance and the depth of the Lord’s instruction, you understand that the Lord is not punishing Moses as much as He is using his actions toward Moses as a teaching moment for us (I believe we can be assured that God and Moses are reconciled with one another as Moses now sees clearly and understands the bigger picture).

Moses always represents the law.  The promised land always represents the future Kingdom of God where the Lord is the King.  For the law to be satisfied the Messiah must be struck down to make restitution to God for sin against the law.  The Law served its purpose. It humbled us. It showed us we are undone and made us recognize our need for a saviour.

The law requires punishment for lawbreakers.  It requires striking.  The law, embodied by Moses, is not to go into or be our guide in the promised land.

Recall the Lord’s words in the verse.  “Because you did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites”  Not trusting enough is the issue and still is.  The Messiah was struck once and that was enough.  Moses shows he is not trusting in that sacrifice or that the first striking of the Messiah is sufficient or that He believed that the Lord was Holy enough.

Most every translation on Numbers 20:11 translates that Moses struck the rock twice at Kadesh.  However, I believe this is a misleading translation of the word Paam in Hebrew.  In most instances it is translated twice, but in Nahum 1:9 the word is translated “a second time”.  I believe this is the more accurate translation.  Moses did not strike the rock twice in the desert at Kadesh, he struck the same rock, the Messiah Rock, for the second time.  

With this new translation there are several significant things revealed to us.  The act of striking is a requirement for lawbreakers.  Moses shows here by striking the rock for the second time, he is holding on to the old way of the law, the past, though the Lord is revealing a better way.  The way of a relationship with the Messiah is the new way, and the Lord is showing us that the old way is no longer acceptable.

However, notice this subtle thing God said to Moses and Aaron in Number 20 verse 8.  “Take the rod, gather the community together, and then you and your brother Aaron are to speak to the rock right before their eyes. It will release water. As you bring water to them from the rock, the community and the cattle will be able to drink.”

Why would the Lord ordered Moses to “take the rod” if he didn’t want him to use it?  The cross Jesus bore is the rod.  It is the striking of the Messiah.  It is no longer “the way” but the Lord never wants us to forget the cross or that the price the law requires was paid.  

We see in Moses the frustration and failure that comes with using the law as a standard to judge.  He would be allowed to go up on the mountain and look on into the new and better land just as the law looks on to the better way, but He would not be allowed to go.  Trusting God is the ticket to get there and never again the keeping of the law.

The Lord is making one thing extraordinarily clear.  If someone of the stature and standing of Moses was not allowed to “enter in” based on his merit, then no other mortal will enter that way either.  It should have been time for Moses to lead with the heart of the Lord for the people, but instead after 40 years judging the people according to the law, this had caused him to develop a contempt for the people.  And that is what we all do, when we measure people by the law.  We develop contempt for their weaknesses and sinfulness. Unfortunately for Moses, it was time for someone new to lead.

Moses is confident the Lord will provide   

Moses made a request of the King of Edom shortly after the incident in Kadesh.  He asked for safe passage through their land.  The King of Edom refused Moses request for safe passage and threatened to attack them if they tried it.    

In his second attempt to negotiate with the King of Edom, Moses strangely promises the King that the million plus Israelites with livestock will not drink their water along the journey through the land.  What is strange is that the journey is one hundred miles to travel on foot through desert terrain.  How could Moses make such a promise without confidence of having a secret source of water. I believe by now Moses trusted in the God of the Rock to provide water again as they needed it.

Moses made a similar offer to Sihon, the King of the Amorites.  He promised not to drink their water over the 75 mile journey.

The Rock in Jerusalem

Even after the Israelites take the land of Canaan and establish Israel as a nation, there are indications in scripture that a  pillar rock is still an honored relic among the Israelites.

One legend says that the Pillar stone resided in the tabernacle in Jerusalem and was practically forgotten till Solomon began work on God’s Temple. As the Temple is being built many believe the stone should be used in the Temple construction as the cornerstone of the Temple, but the stone was rejected by the builder as inadequate. Once rejected as the cornerstone of the Temple, it was decided the Rock would be kept in the Holy of Holies.

There is some Biblical reference to a special stone being placed inside the new Temple and that for centuries every new King of Judah was anointed or coronated while standing on it.

When Joash was brought forth and proclaimed the heir of David’s Throne, he was anointed King, the account from II Kings states, “When Athaliah heard all the noise made by the palace guards and the people, she hurried to the LORD’s Temple to see what was happening. When she arrived, she saw the newly crowned king standing in his place of authority by the pillar, as was the custom at times of coronation” (II Kings 11:14).  Other versions render the verse that the King stood by the pillar as was his right and yet another says as was the Royal custom.

Destruction of Solomon’s Temple

In the fourth century B.C. the prophet Jeremiah was God’s man in the land of Israel.  He warned them about Babylon. In 587 B.C. Israel was overrun by the Babylonians and King Nebuchadnezzar II, who destroyed the Temple and took the Israelites into Babylonian captivity into what is now modern-day Iraq.

From this point on the legend of the stone is a bit more sketchy, without any Biblical reference to a specific physical stone.  

We know that the last Jewish king was King Zedekiah.  We also know the execution of King Zedekiah’s sons were carried out before his eyes.  Then King Nebuchadnezzar II ordered his eyes put out, and a life sentence in a Babylonian prison.  Zedekiah’s sons were all killed by Nebuchadnezzar in his attempt to do away with the Royal line of David. (Jeremiah 52)

Was the stone lost forever when the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem and Solomon’s Temple?

Smuggled out of Jerusalem and eventually to Scotland

This part is mostly legend with little corroborating documentation, but is certainly believed by many.  

Jeremiah tells us in chapter 43 that God warns the remnant left in Israel after the Babylonian invasion, to remain in Judah and not to go to Egypt.  If they leave, He will bring upon them famine, plague and the sword.  The military leaders reject the warning, call Jeremiah a liar and moved to Egypt.  They took Jeremiah and his servant Baruk with them. It is believed by some that Jeremiah smuggled out precious antiquities of Israel. These treasures included Jacob’s pillar, the harp of David and other relics hidden prior to the invasion.

Jeremiah continues his warning once in Egypt.  It is believed that Jeremiah eventually left Egypt with Greek mercenaries living in Tahpanhes, Egypt call Milesians, along  with a few other Israelites  wanting to avoid the plagues of God upon the Israelites in Egypt.   Legend has it that they sailed the Mediterranean eventually landing in Ireland.

The Rock during the time of Jesus

By the time of Jesus 500 years later, the old temple relics and the stone had been long gone, but their memory as symbols still remained.  In I Corinthians chapter 10 Paul speaks to the church at Corinth regarding his Jewish ancestors.  He reminds them of passing through the Red Sea, of the pillar of cloud that guided them.  Again he reminded them they all drank from the spiritual rock that traveled with them.  He then identifies the Rock as the Messiah.  Vs. 4

Jesus is referred to as a rock three times in the New Testament.  Both Paul and Peter referred to a quote from the prophet Isaiah.  As it is written: “See, I lay in Zion a stone that causes people to stumble and a rock that makes them fall, and the one who believes in him will never be put to shame.”  Rom. 9:33  I Pet 2:6 referring to Isa. 8:14 and Isa. 28:16  

The Mystery of the Rock revealed

With the legend of “the rock” firmly implanted in the minds of the first century Jewish people, Jesus makes a startling revelation as to His identity.  We all remember His famous discourse with Peter when Jesus asks Peter, “But who do you say I am.”  Peter replies, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God!”  To which Jesus replies, “this is a revelation from the Father in Heaven.  Upon this rock I will build my church.”

And what is this rock upon which He will build His church?  Is it this confession made by Peter, the one whose name means rock?  Yes, in part it is this confession, but more importantly, Jesus is building his Church upon himself, the cornerstone.  He is Bethel.  He entered into the anointed rock at Bethel and went with the people.  He is “The House of God.”  Through Him we have access to the ladder and to the Heavenly realm.  

Modern Day Legend

There is, without a doubt, a special stone known as “the Stone of Scone” or “the Coronation Stone.”  It’s history dates back to the founding of the Scottish people around the sixth century B.C.   

stone Church

Monastery at Scone

According to the publication Historic UK, the The Celtic name of the stone upon which the true kings of Scotland have traditionally been crowned is Lia Fail, “the speaking stone”, or the stone which would proclaim the chosen king.

Originally, the stone played a part in the crowning ceremonies of the Scots kings of Dalriada, in the west of Scotland, an area just north of Glasgow now called Argyll.

When Kenneth I, the 36th King of Dalriada united the Scots and Pictish kingdoms and moved his capital to Scone from western Scotland around 840 AD.  The Stone of Destiny moved there too. All future Scottish kings would henceforth be enthroned on the Stone of Destiny atop Moot Hill at Scone Palace in Perthshire.

The stone in question is no ornately carved megalith, just a simple oblong block of red sandstone.  It measures  650mm in length by 400mm wide, and 27mm deep: with chisel marks apparent on its flat top.  So where did this magical or mythical stone originate from, and why was it held in such reverence by the kings of old?

One legend dates back to biblical times and states that it is the same stone which Jacob used as a pillow at Bethel. Later, according to Jewish legend, it became the pedestal of the ark in the Temple. The stone was brought from Syria to Egypt by King Gathelus.  He then fled to Spain following the defeat of the Egyptian army. A descendant of Gathelus brought the stone to Ireland, and was crowned on it as King of Ireland. And from Ireland, the stone moved with the invading Scots to Argyll.

What is sure however, is that the Stone of Destiny remained at Scone until it was forcibly removed by the English King Edward I (“Hammer of the Scots”) after his Scottish victories in 1296, and taken to Westminster Abbey in London.

stone throne

The Coronation Chair

The current Coronation Chair originally built to house the stone in 1301 and first used at the coronation of Edward II.  Thereafter used to crown every subsequent king and queen of England. 

Still another interesting legend surrounds this mystical stone.  This one suggests that as King Edward I approached the Abbot of Perth, the monks of Scone hurriedly removed the Stone of Destiny and hid it.  He replaced it with a drainage cover stone of similar size and hid the real stone on Dunsinnan Hill.  It was the drainage cover which the English King carried off in triumph back to London.  

Perhaps this legend is not so far-fetched.  It could help to explain why the Coronation Stone is so geologically similar to the sandstone commonly found around Scone.

On St. Andrews Day, 30 November 1996, 10,000 people lined Edinburgh’s Royal Mile to witness the Stone of Destiny return to Scotland for the first time in 700 years.

In a service at St Giles cathedral the Church of Scotland Moderator, the Right Reverend John MacIndoe, formally accepted the stone’s return.

royal stone

I hope you enjoyed reading about the legend of “the rock”.   Let me end with a refrain from the great psalmist King David from Psalm 18. The LORD is my rock, my fortress, my deliverer, my God, my stronghold in whom I take refuge, my shield, the glory of my salvation, and my high tower.”

Blessed be the name of the Lord.

For more on the modern-day legend see

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