Anyone who has read even small portions of the Bible knows that there are many symbolic items or places mentioned throughout. For instance, the spiritual meaning of stone, or various passages of scripture mention “twelve stones”.
The twelve stones is mentioned both in the Old Testament and New Testament, though more in the Old. This got me wondering, just what is the biblical meaning of the 12 stones?
What is the Biblical Meaning of 12 Stones?
One of the most basic explanations of the twelve stones in the Bible that I found in various research sources is that of marking religious events. In Old Testament times prior to the construction of the Temple, the Israelites would mark certain areas with stones as an altar for sacrifice.
Additionally, sometimes the nation of Israel, or individuals would mark certain places with stones as an altar of remembrance because of what the Lord had brought them through. Or because of what the Lord had promised to them.
Let’s take a look at the scripture references to the twelve stones.
Spiritual Meaning of Stone- Old Testament
In Exodus 28 we find God giving Moses instructions regarding the priestly garments Aaron and his sons, the Levites, were to wear when performing their duties.
In verses 15-20, God tells them there are to be twelve precious stones used to make the breastplate of the garment. And in verse 21, He tells us the significance of these twelve stones:
“The 12 stones are to correspond to the names of Israel’s sons. Each stone must be engraved like a seal, with one of the names of the 12 tribes.”
Every time Aaron or his sons, or any future Levite put on the vestments with the breastplate, they would be reminded of the twelve tribes of Israel.
They would be reminded of God’s promise to make them a great nation. And they would be reminded that they are a special people, set apart specifically by God for His glory.
Stones in the Bible: The 12 Stones in 1 Kings
I’m jumping ahead a bit now in the Old Testament to 1 Kings 18: 17-46. This is one of my favorite stories in the Old Testament and shows another significant event with twelve stones.
Through the prophet Elijah, God really showed up and showed out here!
Elijah had come to King Ahab to rebuke him regarding his turning aside from the Lord and following the Baals. These were foreign gods introduced to him by his foreign wife, Jezebel.
She was a piece of work, but that is a study for another time!
Elijah challenged King Ahab’s Baal priests (all 450 of them) to a contest to see whose God or gods were real.
In verses 31-35 we see Elijah build an altar for sacrifice using twelve stones signifying the twelve tribes of Israel. He has the people pour water on the altar, not once.
Not just twice. He has them do it four times! Four gallons of water poured over the altar four times until it is running over. Drenched. Saturated completely.
And then in verses 36 – 38:
At the time for offering the evening sacrifice, Elijah the prophet approached the altar and said, “Yahweh, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, today let it be known that You are God in Israel and I am Your servant, and that at Your word I have done all these things. Answer me, Lord!
Answer me so that this people will know that You, Yahweh, are God and that You have turned their hearts back.”
Then Yahweh’s fire fell and consumed the burnt offering, the wood, the stones, and the dust, and it licked up the water that was in the trench. When all the people saw it, they fell facedown and said, “Yahweh, He is God! Yahweh, He is God!”
This altar with it’s twelve stones became a blazing symbol of the might and power of the Lord God of Israel. The one true God.
Additionally, the significance of the twelve stones here hearkens back to the stones of remembrance placed at the entrance to the Promised Land when the Israelites crossed the Jordan.
Let’s look at that Biblical story now.
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12 Stones in Deuteronomy
Another scripture referencing twelve stones is found in Deuteronomy 27: 7 -8. Moses and the elders of Israel instruct the people to use uncut stones to build an altar and that they are to “write clearly all the words of the law on the plastered stones”.
In this Biblical account, the significance of the twelve stones is that they serve as a reminder to the people of the law each time they came to present a sacrifice.
This passage is prior to the crossing of the Jordan into the “Promised Land”. Moses was leading the people still at this time.
If you know the scripture, then you also know that Moses did not get to go into the Promised Land though due to his failure to honor God in the wilderness of Zin. Moses would get to see it, but never set foot on it or taste of the fruits of that land.
When he is providing these instructions to the people of Israel, he knows he is not going to be there to partake in this celebration. Yet, because he trusts the Lord God completely, he faithfully provides direction to the Israelites regarding all that is to come.
Moses knew that God does not fail to keep His promises.
I wonder if the people thought of this at all, as the head of each tribe selected and placed their stones. That Moses had foretold the significance of the twelve stones, and they were literally part of it becoming reality.
12 Stones in Joshua
In Joshua 4 we see the Israelites fulfilling what Moses foretold in our prior scripture passage. In Joshua we see another parallel to an earlier Bible story…the crossing of the Red Sea.
Just as in the Exodus from Egypt, God parts the Jordan River so the people can safely cross over. Joshua has the priests carrying the Ark of the Covenant begin to enter the waters.
As the waters recede back, the priests proceed to the middle of the river, and holding the Ark up, they stand there while the whole nation of Israel goes by. As soon as everyone crosses, the priests exit the riverbed and the waters rush back over the area.
In chapter 4 the Lord speaks to Joshua telling him to “Choose 12 men from the people, one man for each tribe, and command them: Take 12 stones from this place in the middle of the Jordan where the priests are standing, carry them with you, and set them down at the place where you spend the night”.
There are multiple symbols of significance of these twelve stones. The obvious being that they represent the tribes of the nation of Israel.
The second and bigger significance is that they are to serve as a reminder to future generations of the miracle the Lord performed here.
Additionally, I believe they signify the continuance of God’s faithfulness to His covenant made with Abraham, passed through Moses and now to Joshua.
Oh, and one other thing. Have you ever tried to stack stones? They do not naturally stack one on top of the other due to their irregular shapes and angles.
These stones being stacked and remaining that way as scripture says “to this day” is a supernatural event. They alone testify to the power and very realness of God.
Lessons Learned from these Stones
Not that we look to symbols for any strength, comfort or assurances, but I want us to think about what we can learn from the significance of the twelve stones. What “stones” could you set up to remind you of the following:
- You are Beloved. God loves you, absolutely and completely. Not because of anything you have done, but simply because you are His child. In Mark 1:11, God proclaims His pleasure over His Son Jesus BEFORE Jesus ever started doing ministry. He hadn’t healed anyone or performed any miracles and yet God loved Him!
- He hears your prayers. They don’t stop at your ceiling friend. God is listening and He will answer.
- He keeps His promises. Every Biblical passage in this post illustrates this truth! The whole Bible does.
- He is your joy. Psalm 16:11. Psalm 20: 4-5. Psalm 30: 4-5. Romans 15:13. James 1:2. I think you get it.
- Because of Him, you are never alone. Joshua 1:9 is my favorite verse for this: “Haven’t I commanded you: be strong and courageous? Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” There are many others as well. He never ever leaves us!
When life is chaotic. When you are not sure of the outcome. When you are afraid. Sad. Angry. Turn to your stones.
Pull out these lessons. Perhaps you print them and keep them in your prayer area. And pray through it.
Remember how God showed up for His people. Ask Him to do the same for you.
Finally, remember He is coming again. One final passage about twelve significant stones is found in Revelation 21: 10-27. In this passage the apostle John in his vision is transported to the New Jerusalem coming down from Heaven.
As part of the foundation there are twelve precious gemstones used in the twelve foundations of this new city. The significance of these twelve stones?
The names of the twelve apostles of Jesus are inscribed upon them.
Jesus has gone to prepare a place for us. We will see these twelve stones one day! How exciting is that?!