Mercy for Stones

In the revelation of the Ten Commandments (Ex. 20:1-17) we find no direct command for mercy, tenderness, or kindness. While commands regarding these tender, interpersonal qualities are present in the Torah (Lev. 19:18, 34, as examples), they are not revealed as apodictic law.

But the stones.

In Exodus 20:25-26, an unusual command is given regarding altars:

“If you make me an altar of stone, you shall not build it of hewn stones, for if you wield your tool on it you profane it. And you shall not go up by steps to my altar, that your nakedness be not exposed on it.”

Following the revelation of the Ten Words on Sinai, the chapter concludes with the above instruction regarding altars.

1. It is to be constructed of whole, intact stones.

2. It must have a ramp, not steps.

To build an altar was to build an avenue for approaching God. He becomes the direction, or goal of the effort. Yet the Lord is giving a caution: Be careful how you handle the stones and how you approach Me, lest I see your nakedness.


The rabbis found this to be a message on compassion, tenderness and mercy. Mercy for stones. To avoid striking the stones in order to shape them to our desire was seen as a form of mercy – mercy for stones.

Rashi, one of the most important of rabbinic commentators, noted regarding the exposure of nakedness by the priests, that wearing underpants, they could not expose their nakedness. Unless, the exposure was from the step; as taking the step up revealed that mercy had been withheld.


1. If the Lord desires mercy, tenderness, and kindness for stones, which do not feel, how much more does He desire this towards the other created in His image?

2. In our journey to seek the Lord, let us not step over, upon, or disregard the other in a religious effort to reach the Lord.

The natural inclination of the human heart misses the Spirit, and rests on the letter. In doing so, we miss the mercy for stones, and the lesson pointing us to a higher way of relating to the other.

This exhorts us to move away from looking toward the other with a self-benefitting motivation, and to look upon the sons of God with the regenerate heart of a servant in His Kingdom, and keeps our nakedness covered in the presence of God.

Be well. Shalom.

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