Stones in the Bible – How the power, the wonder, of gems makes itself felt in the Bible! It meets and mingles with the stern majesty of the truth like a vital, living thing. Those strong men of God surrendered to the enchantment of emerald or ruby as never to that of woman or wine. The love of sparkle and color was a weakness of the flesh for which they were not called by conscience to account.
Some of them did not know exactly what they were talking about as when St. John, in his vision of the Holy Jerusalem, described her light as «like unto a stone most precious, even like a jasper stone, clear as crystal».
Not only was jasper, even in those days, when gems were comparatively rare, far from «a stone most precious», but as it is always opaque, an impure form of quartz, it could hardly, even in a vision, seem clear.
But if you leave mineralogy for poetry, then indeed you are well rewarded. There are few passages in all literature on precious stones more beautiful than some in the Testaments, both Old and New. The high art born of the sincere soul, the single purpose, penetrates these deathless writings in every part.
Stones in the Bible
Daniel sees in his vision «a certain man», who is the Lord, and who fills him with both weakness and strength. Him, in all reverence, as he suddenly appeared, after the prophet’s long fast, he thus describes:
His body also was like a Beryl and his face as the appearance of lightning, and his eyes as lamps of fire, and his arms and his feet like in color to polished brass, and the voice of his words like the voice of a multitude.
Again in «The Song of Solomon», the beryl illumines a passage of similar import and beauty:
His hands are as gold rings set with the beryl; his belly is as bright ivory overlaid with sapphires. This my beloved, and this my friend, O daughters of Jerusalem!
Poor old patient long-suffering Job through all his trials held tight to Wisdom and reckoned her above all earthly things, even above the most precious of stones:
As for the earth, out of it cometh bread; and under it is turned up as it were fire;
The stones of it are the place of sapphires; and it hath dust of gold.
There is a path which no fowl knoweth, and which the vulture’s eye hath not seen:
The lion’s whelps have not trodden it, nor the fierce lion passed by it.
He putteth his hand upon the rock; he overturneth the mountains by the roots.
He cutteth out rivers among the rocks; and his eye seeth every precious thing.
He bindeth the floods from overflowing; and the thing that is hid bringeth he forth to light.
But where shall wisdom be found? and where is the place of understanding?
Man knoweth not the price thereof; neither is it found in the land of the living.
Proverbs continues the exaltation of wisdom, as well as its comparison to precious stones, so ardently as sometimes to fall into repetition:
For wisdom is better than rubies; and all things that may be desired are not to be compared to it.
She is more precious than rubies: and all the things thou canst desire are not to be compared unto her.
There is gold, and a multitude of rubies but the lips of knowledge are a precious jewel.
Again does Proverbs use the most precious of stones to make a vivid comparison, not untinged with doubt and cynicism:
Who can find a virtuous woman? for her price is far above rubies.
Beholding Zion’s pitiful estate, Jeremiah breaks out into his Lamentations, and recalls that once:
Ezekiel’s vision was «the likeness of a throne, as the appearance of a sapphire-stone», which he saw «as the color of amber, as the appearance of fire round about within it».
In Exodus the story runs:
Then went up Moses, and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel;
And they saw the God of Israel: and there was under his feet as it were a paved work of sapphire-stone, and as it were the body of heaven in his clearness.
In Isaiah we come again upon the sapphire-stone used in the sense of a pavement; the additional word «stone» is explained when you know that the sapphire, or sapphirus, of the ancients was our lapis-lazuli altogether appropriate, in its size and azure blue, for the floor of heaven.
Comforting the Gentiles, the prophet says, in the name of the Lord:
O thou afflicted, tossed with tempest, and not comforted, behold, I will lay the stones with fair colors, and lay the foundations with Sapphires.
And I will make thy windows of agates, and thy gates of carbuncles, and all thy borders of pleasant stones.
Ezekiel, inveighing against Tyrus as the city of too great luxury, cries out:
Syria was thy merchant by reason of the multitude of the wares of thy making: they were occupied in thy fairs with emeralds, purple, and embroidered work, and fine linen, and coral, and agate.
Reproving the Prince of Tyrus for his impious pride, he declares:
Thou hast been in Eden the garden of God, every precious stone was thy covering, the sardius, topaz, and the diamond the beryl, the onyx, and the jasper, the sapphire, the emerald, and the carbuncle and gold.
A line in Jeremiah is interesting because it is, with one other, the only mention in the Bible of the diamond, which then must have been very rare, if not wholly unknown, yet is here described, in its use at least, with the greatest accuracy:
The sin of Judah is written with a pen of iron, and with the point of a diamond.
These include all references to precious stones in the Old Testament, except the High Priest’s Breastplate. Aaron, the first High Priest, tells what it shall be in Exodus 28, and describes it completed in Exodus 39:
Four square it shall be, being doubled, a span shall be the length thereof, and a span shall be the breadth thereof.
And thou shalt set in it settings of stones; the first row shall be a sardius, a topaz, and a carbuncle; this shall be the first row.
And the third row a ligure, an agate, and an amethyst.
And the stones shall be with the names of the children of Israel, twelve, according to their names, like the engraving of a signet; every one with his name shall they be according to the twelve tribes.
In the New Testament, except John’s Vision in Revelations, precious stones are used more frequently to point a moral than to adorn a tale. The Old Testament seems more mellow, richer in thought and culture, the New stronger in religious zeal, exortation and practical application. Pearls in their purity greatly appealed to the clean, austere minds of the Apostles:
The kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant-man seeking goodly pearls. Who when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all he had, and bought it.
Again Matthew shows his reverence for these gifts of the sea:
Give not what is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine.
Thus they appeared to Matthew; but Timothy, a minor disciple, evidently stood in fear of them, as savoring too greatly of impious luxury:
I will therefore that men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath or doubting.
In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with broidered hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array.
The following are all the voice of John in Revelations, whether inveighing against the evil of this world or looking towards the
glory of the life to come;
So he carried me away in the spirit into the wilderness: and I saw a woman sit upon a scarlet-colored beast, full of names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns.
And the woman was arrayed in purple, and scarlet color, and decked with gold and precious stones and pearls, having a golden cup in her hands full of abominations.
The Fall of Babylon he clearly forsees, in all its demoralization and sorrow:
And the merchants of the earth shall weep and mourn over her; for no man buyeth their merchandise any more:
The merchandise of gold, and silver, and precious stones, and of pearls.
A direct mention of jacinth, or hyacinth, the lyncurium of Theophrastus, the ligure of the High Priest’s Breastplate, the zircon of to-day is in another chapter of Revelations:
I saw the horses in the vision, and them that sat on them having breastplates of fire, and of jacinth, and brimstone.
John’s vision of the Throne of God runs along the same lines, the most valued of material things seeming all too inadequate to keep pace with the splendor of his dream:
And he that sat was to look upon like a Jasper and sardine stone: and there was a rainbow round about the throne, in sight like unto an emerald.
Concerning the Heavenly Jerusalem, he who was first in Jesus’ affections, to whom lovely things evidently appealed despite his fierce zeal for The Cause, lets his imagination run riot; even if, as with some of the older prophets, the list of wonders at last becomes a bit categorical:
And the building of the wall of it was of jasper: and the city was of pure gold, like unto clear glass.
And the twelve gates were twelve pearls; every several gate was of one pearl: and the street of the city was of pure gold, as it were transparent glass.
One draws a long breath. Luxury can go no farther. This is surely the apotheosis of gems. Strange, how gold and opaque jasper in his ecstatic moods seem like the clearest of crystal to St. John the Divine; he who was to live to a great age, when the sky would be gray and the air chill, and all that burning enthusiasm, clashing with the hostility of unconquerable materialism, the eternal struggle for precedence here and now, must necessarily become a very different thing from the bright weapon of the youth who could not conceive failure whose heart ached to vindicate his Master and save the World.
Before such radiant vision, such sublime faith, the modern is without words; words to express his wonder and his awe. How near, how very near, was each one of these chosen men, whether of the Old or the New Testament, to his God. Will this mental state ever come again?
In the distracted world of to-day, the quick answer may be «No». Yet what once was, can be; and in reaction from barren complexity, from doubt and fear, from greed, falsehood and shame, it does seem at times that the «open» if not the «simple» mind will come again and Truth prevail.
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