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What is the symbolic meaning of the term rock in the scriptures?

TitleWhat is the symbolic meaning of the term rock in the scriptures?
Publication TypeMagazine Article
Year of Publication1984
AuthorsMatthews, Robert J.
Issue Number1
Date PublishedJanuary 1984
KeywordsMetaphor; Rock; Symbolism

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What is the symbolic meaning of the term rock in the scriptures?

Robert J. Matthews, dean of Religious Education, Brigham Young University. Experienced builders know that a structure cannot endure unless its foundation is strong. The words rock and stone, referring to the prime elements in ancient foundations, are used in the scriptures as metaphors signifying strength, steadiness, and durability. The prophets used these metaphors in a variety of ways, conveying an impression of the unwavering character of God as well as the need for spiritual solidarity in the foundation and structure of our own lives.

By looking at the statements of the prophets, we can see how meaningful these symbols are.

Moses spoke of the God of Israel as a Rock: “Ascribe ye greatness unto our God. He is the Rock, his work is perfect, … a God of truth and without iniquity.” (Deut. 32:3–4.) David wrote, “the Lord is my rock, and my fortress, … my shield, … my high tower.” (2 Sam. 22:2–3.) Enoch heard the Lord say, “I am Messiah, the King of Zion, the Rock of Heaven.” (Moses 7:53.) Paul explained that the children of Israel under the leadership of Moses “drank of that spiritual rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ.” (1 Cor. 10:4.) Nephi praised the Lord as the “rock of my salvation” and the “rock of my righteousness.” (2 Ne. 4:30, 35.) The patriarch Jacob spoke of the Lord as “the shepherd, the stone of Israel.” (Gen. 49:24.) This stone is identified in latter-day revelation as Jesus Christ: “I am in your midst, and I am the good shepherd, and the stone of Israel. He that buildeth upon this rock shall never fall.” (D&C 50:44; see also “Jesus Christ, Rock,” in Topical Guide, LDS edition of the King James Version of the Bible.)

Isaiah spoke particularly of the Lord as “a tried stone, a precious corner stone, a sure foundation.” (Isa. 28:16.) And Paul explained that the faithful Saints belong to the household of God “built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone.” (Eph. 2:20.)

The prophets had revealed that Jesus would be rejected of the world, and they declared that even so, he is the only way to salvation. Therefore it is written that “the stone which the builders refused is become the head stone of the corner.” (Ps. 118:22.) Jesus told the rulers of the Jews that he was that stone, and added that “whosoever shall fall on this stone shall be broken: but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder.” (Matt. 21:44.) And Peter, declaring to the people that Jesus of Nazareth was raised from the dead, said that “this is the stone which was set at nought of you builders, which is become the head of the corner. Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” (Acts 4:11–12.) Therefore Jesus is called a stumbling stone to those who reject him, “a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence, even to them which stumble at the word, being disobedient.” (1 Pet. 2:8.) The Nephite prophet Jacob explained that “by the stumbling of the Jews they will reject the stone upon which they might build and have safe foundation. But … this stone shall become the great, and the last, and the only sure foundation, upon which the Jews can build.” (Jacob 4:15–16.)

Not only is Jesus a Rock, but his gospel also is likened to a rock, a sure foundation. To Peter, who had obtained a testimony of Jesus by the revelation of the Holy Ghost, Jesus said, “Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (Matt. 16:18.) The meaning of this statement is given in a revelation to the Prophet Joseph Smith: “Behold, verily, verily, I say unto you, this is my gospel; and remember that they shall have faith in me or they can in nowise be saved; and upon this rock I will build my church; yea, upon this rock ye are built, and if ye continue, the gates of hell shall not prevail against you.” (D&C 33:12–13.) Likewise, “Build upon my rock, which is my gospel; Deny not the spirit of revelation, nor the spirit of prophecy.” (D&C 11:24–25.) “Behold, you have my gospel before you, and my rock, and my salvation.” (D&C 18:17.)

The faithful disciple will build his life upon the foundation rock of the gospel of Jesus Christ, rather than upon the shifting sands of man’s wisdom. Such a disciple is “like a man which built a house, and digged deep, and laid the foundation on a rock; and when the flood arose, the stream beat vehemently upon that house, and could not shake it: for it was founded upon a rock.” (Luke 6:48.)

As the true God is a living God, so true disciples are lively in serving him. Thus Peter has written that unto the faithful, the Lord is “a living stone, disallowed indeed of men, but chosen of God, and precious. Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ, … [and] unto you therefore which believe he is precious.” (1 Pet. 2:4–7.)

The power and strength of a stone is also illustrated in Daniel’s declaration that a stone which the Lord cut out of the mountains would roll forth and break in pieces the gold, silver, brass, iron, and clay of the world. Daniel explained that the stone, being the kingdom which the God of Heaven would set in the earth, would outlast all kingdoms organized by the wisdom and strength of men. (Dan. 2.)