“As it is written, Behold, I lay in Sion a stumblingstone and rock of offence: and whosoever believes on Him shall not be ashamed.” (Romans 9:33)
I don’t like feeling ashamed. But what is this really talking about here? This wasn’t a new idea that Paul was sharing. He was quoting from the Tanach, the Old Testament, familiar verses from Isaiah. I think these are tough verses. And lots of commentators chose not to comment on them, so I suppose they thought them difficult verses too. But what if they are difficult because the Lord really wants us to take time out to really think about it, to really ask Him what He means? What if it’s not supposed to be easy? What if we’re supposed to really rely on Him to give us understanding? What if He really wants us to meditate on things and wait on Him to open our eyes? Maybe it’s good to just think about and pray about His word for a while. Maybe then I wouldn’t have to be ashamed of having made a hasty misjudgment. So I think I’ll do that; I’ll keep coming back to these verses today and praying about them and meditating on them and asking You about them.
I guess my biggest question is this- Lord, are You only a stumblingblock , rock of offense, and snare for those who don’t believe? Or are You a stumblingblock, rock of offense, and snare for us all until we come to believe? Who that comes to You has not had to struggle against ourselves to get there? Who that has come to You has not had to trash our old ways of thinking? Are Your ways really so easy to understand before we seek You to do a work in our hearts? And what about even after I know You?
This is actually just as applicable to any person now as it was to both houses of Israel when Isaiah spoke these words. But we really need to understand the whole context like the Jews who were listening would have understood to do. The king of Israel was teaming up with the king of Syria to defeat Ahaz, king of Judah. That was an unGodly decision on Israel’s part. So God sent Isaiah to Ahaz to tell him that He had it all under control. And the Lord told Ahaz, “Ask a sign of the LORD your God; ask it either in the depth, or in the height above.” But Ahaz wouldn’t do it. He said he didn’t want to “tempt the Lord.” Isaiah wasn’t very happy with him. He called it “wearying God.” That can also mean to grieve. So the Lord gave a sign. Here it is- “Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call His name Immanuel.”
So this actually relates to everyone now because Your birth was just prophesied. And this is all about how You, Lord, wanted the people to relate to You not just when You were born, but at every moment in time, from then till now. And Isaiah starts sharing in chapter 8 how You instructed him not to walk in the way of the people. And this is important. In verses 8:13-15 You instruct, “Sanctify the LORD of hosts Himself; and let Him be your fear, and let HIm be your dread. And He shall be for a sanctuary; but for a stone of stumbling and for a rock of offence to both the houses of Israel, for a gin and for a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. And many among them shall stumble, and fall, and be broken, and be snared, and be taken.” Now that’s some warning, but it’s also some truth.
I’m really not so sure that You, Lord, don’t start off as a stumbling block to us all. I mean in all honesty, who started off thinking like You from birth? Every one of us is a sinner and fallen by nature. We don’t think like You and we don’t act like You naturally. Are You “easy” to grasp for anyone at first? I guess what I’m saying is that don’t we each have to come to a point where we are confronted with who You really are as opposed to who we want to make You be? When we finally start to see who You really are, doesn’t it hurt? Doesn’t that kind of change the way I see myself? And doesn’t facing that kind of truth about myself hurt? Aren’t You a stumbling stone that hurts to stumble over at first? And maybe even along the way. I mean, to realize that I’m a sinner and not as good a person as I thought, pretty much stinks. To find that I can’t know You on my own based on the good things I do, doesn’t that hurt? What about finding out I’m not the one in charge of me? Don’t those things hurt and don’t I often want to fight against those things?
So, I stumble and stub my toes over the things I didn’t realize were in my path, and I don’t like it when I find out those truths are there. Ezekiel warned “Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, each according to his conduct,’ declares the Lord GOD. ‘Repent and turn away from all your transgressions, so that iniquity may not become a stumbling block to you.’” Ezekiel 18:30 (T. Hegg translation) The Hebrew word here for “stumbling block” is “mishkol.” It means “to ruin.” And what is the Lord talking about here but changing ones way of life before it ruins us. But what ruins us, what causes us pain and sorrow and destroys our lives? Iniquity.
What is “iniquity”? “Pesha” here isn’t just about sin. It’s about broken relationships as in broken treaties and contracts and covenants. It’s rebelling against You, Lord, and declaring, “I’ll do it my way.” Isn’t that what the king of Israel was doing? Isn’t that what Ahaz did when he didn’t choose a sign? “Sorry, Lord, I don’t want to do it that way. You do it.” Isn’t that so easy for us to do and not call it rebellion? You say, “Forgive.” I say, “Sorry, can’t do that right now.” How am I so different than Ahaz? You say, “Go.” I say, “I can’t, I don’t know how I’m getting there.” And we don’t even call it rebellion. And we think we aren’t the ones stumbling over You.
Coming to know You and turn to You will take some stumbling and falling and brokenness. Jesus, You said in Matthew 21:44 “And whosoever shall fall on this stone shall be broken: but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder.” So which am I going to do? Will I fall upon You, or will I continually fall against You? Both hurt, but falling down upon You leads to submission and wholeness in You. The one that refuses to submit, shall be that one who is led to his own ruin, that one who is led to his own destruction. One choice removes the greater pain, one choice shall live in the pain forever.
The words of God, yes, they are a stumbling block to each of us. And each one of us must decide what we are going to do with them. They bring pain to our ego. They change our plans. They turn our world upside down. They look foolish to our ideas of proper conduct and the way things should go. They make us feel trapped. Well, as long as we rebel. But then we never really do fully appreciate Your Word, Lord, until we stumble upon the truth. First it has to trip us up for us to get it. I think Skip Moen expressed it well when he said “Torah cannot be merely a set of ethical principles or moral regulations. It must be a deeply personal encounter with God’s view of life in this world. We have often noted that the Bible is confrontational, not devotional. God’s words demand response. They stand in front of us, implacable, relentless, uncompromising. We either stand upon them or we fall over them. Unfortunately, most of us fall, attempting to circumvent their requirements. As R. Huna notes, until we encounter the words of the Lord as individual ultimatums, we haven’t engaged the enemy – ourselves.”
And maybe that’s why I’m so restless lately. I’ve stumbled upon so much. And stumbling woke me up. Yeah, it was painful, but You showed me how to remove the pain once I was able to experience it. And I have to go through it, just like You had to go through the cross. But I could be like the one thief that died on the cross alone and rebellious; or I can be like the thief who fell upon You and was accepted in You. He didn’t escape stumbling and falling, but he figured out Who to fall upon, and was lifted up by the One he fell upon.
Lord, I just want to sanctify You and let You be my fear and my dread. When Your word knocks me for a loop, I want to listen and obey and change my way of thinking. I want to learn to fall upon You. I want to submit and follow and change my way of living. I want to live out Your word in my life. And I know it’s going to hurt at first because it’s a total change. But You are changing me from my image into Yours, and it’s worth any amount of pain to be like You. I’m not afraid of pain, Lord, if it will draw me closer to You.
It’s funny, but the last four or five years, I think I’ve stumbled more than ever. I have hurt more in these last years emotionally than in all my life combined. Why? Because when You told me something, I decided to listen and act upon it. And then, everything just seems to oppose that. It’s like “all hell breaks loose.” But that’s OK. I’d rather trip over You, I’d rather feel the pain that comes in obeying You, and following You, than have the “freedom” of doing things my own way. And I’ll take it as long as You allow it. ‘Cause I’m in this, in You, for the long haul.
Maybe that’s what Isaiah meant in Isaiah 28:16 “Therefore thus says the Lord GOD, ‘Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner stone, a sure foundation: he that believes shall not make haste.” I guess I’ll learn not to rush into things but I’ll take it one step at a time with You, Lord. And it’s gonna last. Of this kingdom, there is no end. And, as I patiently wait, and as I learn to wait, I will not end in frustration or disappointment. Because what You have promised, what Your word says, it will come to pass. I will never be put to shame for trusting. I may have to wait, but I will see the fruit of You word as I walk in faith.