After delivering the Ten Commandments to Moses, the Lord provided a rather surprising instruction regarding formal worship:
If thou wilt make me an altar of stone, thou shalt not build it of hewn stone: for if thou lift up thy tool upon it, thou hast polluted it.Exodus 20:25
Hewn stones are stones that have been cut or shaped. Here’s how the verse appears in the New Living Translation of the Bible:
If you use stones to build my altar, use only natural, uncut stones. Do not shape the stones with a tool, for that would make the altar unfit for holy use.Exodus 20:25 on biblehub.com
A similar instruction is given in Deuteronomy 27:5-6.
Why would God command them to make the altar out of rough stones rather than carefully carved ones, especially when hewn stones were perfectly appropriate for other uses? He told Moses, for example, to “hew tables of stone,” on which He would inscribe the commandments (Exodus 34:1, 4, Deuteronomy 10:1-3). And Solomon later built a temple of hewn stone, as instructed by his father, David. (See 1 Chronicles 22:1-5, 1 Kings 5:17-18, 1 Kings 6:36.)
As I’ve pondered this question today, I’ve had the following thought: Like the unhewn stones, we come to God in our current state, with all of our imperfections intact. The commandment is not, “Perfect yourselves, and then come unto Christ.” Rather it is, “Come unto Christ, and be perfected in him” (Moroni 10:32).
Moroni was painfully aware of his own imperfections (Mormon 8:12, Mormon 9:31), but the Lord promised to “make weak things become strong” because he was humble (Ether 12:27, 37).
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland taught that God’s invitation is, “Come as you are, [but] don’t plan to stay as you are” (“Songs Sung and Unsung,” General Conference, April 2017).
Today, I will approach God as an “unhewn stone,” with all of my imperfections and weaknesses. I will trust that He will hew and polish me if I am willing to be honest and humble before Him.
I like this, I was wondering the same thing after reading and had a similar thought.
Thanks for the comment! I’m glad to hear that we were thinking along the same lines. Have a great day!
Thanks Paul. Another lesson I was thinking about when I pondered this topic was the amount of effort it possibly took to find and gather unhewn stones to make the altar. In some ways it could be easier to “manufacture” stones for an altar than to find them. It got me thinking about how God requires engagement and work from us as we seek to obey Him. He is not passive and He expects our faith to be active. As we actively strive to hear and follow Him, He will be empowered to knock off our rough edges, shape and mold us
Thank you for sharing your experience with this passage. I agree that building the altar requires some work, and that in the end it is God who will shape and polish us.