Long before the Israelites entered Canaan, pagans in the Middle East erected sacred stones to honor their gods, to declare covenants and treaties between cities, or to honor an important event that could only be explained by the supernatural. These stones were extremely heavy and stood as tall as twenty feet high.
Although many standing stones were simple and small, archaeologists uncovered several impressive stones at Tel Gezer. The stones, which were probably put in place before 3000 BC, weigh more than 25 tons each, stand 20 feet tall, and are sunk 20 feet into the earth. Amazingly, they were probably brought to Gezer from a quarry over three miles away!
The Hebrew word translated “standing stones” is massebah and means “to set up.” The Israelites followed ancient customs by setting up standing stones as a reminder of God’s covenant and supernatural acts on their behalf. The story of the stone was passed down from generation to generation through oral tradition.
On several occasions, the Bible mentions significant events that were commemorated with standing stones:
Jacob set up stone pillars at Bethel in order to remember his powerful dream, in which God reaffirmed his covenant with him (Genesis 28:18-21, 35:14-15).
Moses built twelve standing stones at the foot of Mount Sinai after receiving the Ten Commandments and other laws (Exodus 24:2-4).
The Israelites erected standing stones to remember their miraculous crossing of the Jordan River (Joshua 4:2-3, 8-9).
Joshua built a standing stone when the covenant was renewed at Shechem (Joshua 24:27).
In the New Testament, Peter builds on standing stone imagery when he describes believers as “living stones” (1 Peter 2:5). Peter probably wanted his readers to think of themselves as living standing stones-people who live out their faith so boldly that others take notice. As living stones, Christians should proudly tell about the difference that God has made in their lives.
Archaeologists have unearthed many standing stones, including one found in 1993 at Tel Dan, mentioning the name “David.” However, to date, no massebah has been found that specifically coincides with a Biblical story.
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