What are the stones mentioned in Isaiah 54:11? by Jack Kettler
“O thou afflicted, tossed with tempest, and not comforted, behold, I will lay thy stones with fair colours, and lay thy foundations with sapphires.” (Isaiah 54:11 KJV)
What are the “stones” mentioned in this passage?
Does the symbolism in this passage look forward to Heavenly New Jerusalem?
Nine parallel translations
New International Version
“Afflicted city, lashed by storms and not comforted, I will rebuild you with stones of turquoise, your foundations with lapis lazuli. (Underlining emphasis mine)
English Standard Version
“O afflicted one, storm-tossed and not comforted, behold, I will set your stones in antimony, and lay your foundations with sapphires.
New King James Version
“O you afflicted one, tossed with tempest, and not comforted, Behold, I will lay your stones with colorful gems, and lay your foundations with sapphires.
New American Standard Bible
“Afflicted one, storm-tossed, and not comforted, Behold, I will set your stones in antimony, And I will lay your foundations with sapphires.
“O afflicted one, storm-tossed, and not comforted, Behold, I will set your stones in antimony, and your foundations I will lay in sapphires.
“O afflicted one, storm-tossed, and not comforted, Behold, I will set your stones in antimony, And your foundations I will lay in sapphires.
“O you afflicted [city], storm-tossed, and not comforted, listen carefully, I will set your [precious] stones in mortar, and lay your foundations with sapphires.
Christian Standard Bible
“Poor Jerusalem, storm-tossed, and not comforted, I will set your stones in black mortar, and lay your foundations in lapis lazuli.
American Standard Version
O thou afflicted, tossed with tempest, and not comforted, behold, I will set thy stones in fair colors, and lay thy foundations with sapphires.
In five of the nine parallel passages, the word antimony is use. What is antimony? First, the Strong’s Lexicon will be consulted to gain an understanding of the Hebrew word for stones.
Noun – feminine plural construct | second person feminine singular
Strong’s Hebrew 68: 1) stone (large or small) 1a) common stone (in natural state) 1b) stone, as material 1b1) of tablets 1b2) marble, hewn stones 1c) precious stones, stones of fire 1d) stones containing metal (ore), tool for work or weapon 1e) weight 1f) plummet (stones of destruction) also made of metal 1g) stone like objects, eg hailstones, stony heart, ice 1h) sacred object, as memorial Samuel set up to mark where God helped Israel to defeat the Philistines 1i) (simile) 1i1) sinking in water, motionlessness 1i2) strength, firmness, solidity 1i3) commonness 1j) (metaph) 1j1) petrified with terror 1j2) perverse, hard heart”
From the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia on the word Stones:
1. Hebrew and Greek Words:
(1) Chiefly ‘ebhen, and lithos; but also, occurring rarely, ‘eshekh (Leviticus 21:20); tsur (Job 22:24), usually “rock”; tseror (2 Samuel 17:13); petros (John 1:42); psephos (Revelation 2:17). For cela`, usually “cliff,” “crag,” “rock,” the King James Version, in Psalms 137:9; 141:6, has “stone,” but the Revised Version (British and American) “rock.” For the King James Version “stones,” cheres (Job 41:30), the Revised Version (British and American) has “potsherds.”
2. Literal Usage:
The word is used of great stones (Genesis 29:2); of small stones (1 Samuel 17:40); of stones set up as memorials (1 Samuel 7:12, “Eben-ezer,” “stone of help”); of precious stones (Exodus 35:9, etc.); of hailstones (Joshua 10:11).
3. Figurative Usage:
“I will take the stony heart out of their flesh” (Ezekiel 11:19); of one smitten: “(Nabal’s) heart died within him, and became as a stone” (1 Samuel 25:37); of weight: “A stone is heavy, and the sand weighty” (Proverbs 27:3); of dumbness: “Woe unto him that saith to the wood, Awake; to the dumb stone, Arise!” (Habakkuk 2:19); of Jerusalem: “I will make Jerusalem a burdensome stone for all the peoples” (Zechariah 12:3); of the corner-stone as a figure of high position:
See FLINT; ROCK.
(2) Used also anatomically of the testicles (Leviticus 21:20; Deuteronomy 23:1; Job 40:17, pachadh, the Revised Version (British and American) “thighs”).” Alfred Ely Day (1)
Under point number 3, the figurative usage of stones best applies to the Isaiah 54:11.
Now for an understanding of antimony.
Holman Bible Dictionary for Antimony:
“(uhn’ tih moh nih) A silvery-white, brittle, metalic chemical element of crystalline structure, found only in combination. It is used in alloys with other metals to harden them and increase their resistance to chemical actions. Compounds of antimony are used in medicines, pigments, matches, and fireproofing. In the NRSV and the NAS antimony is used as a translation of the Hebrew terms abne-puk to describe the materials used to build the Temple (1 Chronicles 29:2; see Isaiah 54:11; NIV has turquoise; REB and TEV stones for mosaic work; KJV, glistering stones and stones with fair colors, respectively). It is likely that abne-puk refers to some sort of cement or mortar used in the creation of mosaics, which it is suggested, would make precious stones appear larger and more colorful. In two other passages (2 Kings 9:30; Jeremiah 4:30), puk is consistently translated as eye paint. One of Job’s daughters was named Keren-hapuk—that is, “horn of eye paint” (Job 42:14).” (2)
It can be gleaned from the Isaiah passage that antimony is a special type of black mortar that has a striking appearance. This is because the antinomy or mortar secured the stones in place.
Is there a spiritual or figurative sense of how to understand the significance of the stones?
The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges captures several points of the Isaiah passage well:
“11, 12. The outward splendour of the new Jerusalem described in highly figurative language; comp. Tob 13:16-17; Revelation 21:18-21.
I will lay thy stones with fair colours] lit. in antimony (R.V. marg.). Antimony (pûkh) was used by Oriental females as an eye-powder to blacken the edges of the eyelids and enhance the lustre of the eyes (2 Kings 9:30; Jeremiah 4:30; comp. the name of Job’s third daughter, Keren-hap-pukh, ‘horn of eye-powder,’ Job 42:14. see further Lane, Manners and Customs, &c. ed. 1890, pp. 29 ff.). In the figure the antimony would represent the costly mortar used to set off the brilliancy of the still more costly stones. The ἄνθρακα of the LXX. seems to stand for נפך (instead of פוך), a kind of precious stone; see Exodus 28:18 &c. In 1 Chronicles 29:2, where we read of “stones of pûkh” (R.V. “stones for inlaid work”) prepared for the Temple, the idea must be different; but whether that passage has any connexion with the present image is doubtful.
I will lay thy foundations (lit. “I will be found thee”) with sapphires] Exodus 24:10; Ezekiel 1:26.” (3)
The following entry will look at the spiritual meaning of the stones and what they foreshadowed.
From J. C. Philpot‘s Daily Portions:
“Behold, I will lay your stones with fair colors.” Isaiah 54:11
By these “stones,” which the Lord has promised to “lay with fair colors,” I think we may understand the blessed truths of the gospel which are laid into the soul by the hand of God. The fair colors are deeply ingrained and embedded in the very substance of the stone, not artificially laid on. They are like beautiful marbles, in which every bright hue and vein penetrate into the deepest substance of the material. Such are the truths of God, beautiful throughout, penetrated with grace and glory into their inmost depths.
But these colors are hidden from view until brought out and laid into the soul by the hand of God. However fair or beautiful any word of God be in itself, it only experimentally becomes so as inlaid by his own divine hand into the soul. This brings out the fair colors. How often we read the word of God without seeing the least beauty in it! But let the very same portion come home with sweetness and power to the soul, then beauty, inexpressible beauty, is seen in it immediately; it becomes “a stone of fair colors.” Salvation full and free, the pardoning love of God, the precious blood of the Lamb, justification by Christ’s imputed righteousness, “wine and milk without money and without price,” super-abounding grace, eternal mercy, everlasting life–these are some of the precious stones with fair colors which God the Spirit with his own hand lays into the conscience.”
“I will lay your foundations with sapphires.” Isaiah 54:11
Before we can stand firmly in the things of God we must have a good foundation, something solid for our faith, our hope, our love, our all, to rest upon. This God promises to lay for his afflicted Zion–“I will lay your foundations with sapphires.” “A gift,” we read, “is a precious stone in the eyes of him that has it.” Every testimony, then, that God gives to the soul, every promise brought into the heart, every manifestation of mercy, every visit of love, or application of truth, we may call, in a spiritual sense, a sapphire; for it is indeed a precious stone, radiant with heaven’s own hue. When God thus lays his sapphires in the soul, they afford a solid foundation for faith. And as they are laid by the hand of God himself, they must be firm; as they are sapphires, they must be indestructible.
These sapphires, it is true, may every one of them be buried in the dust of carnality and worldly-mindedness; the filth and sewage, the mud and slush, of our fallen nature may roll over them flood after flood. But are they injured thereby? is their nature changed, their value impaired, their hue tarnished, their luster faded and gone? They may be hidden from view, their setting be obscured, and their faces for a while be dimmed, but one ray from the Sun of righteousness will bring them again to light; one touch of the Polisher’s hand will restore all their beauty. Grace has no more communion with sin than a diamond with an ash-heap.” (4)
The Puritan John Gill’s entry is similar to Philpot’s. Gill predated Philpot by approximately 100 years.
Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible:
“O thou afflicted, tossed with tempests, and not comforted, … Or, “O thou poor” (s) church; for the first Christian churches chiefly consisted of poor persons, not many mighty and noble being called; and which were greatly “afflicted” with false teachers, who broached errors and heresies, and made schisms among them; and “tossed with tempests” like a ship at sea; or “stormed” (t) with the rage and fury of violent persecutors, such as the Roman emperors were; and not “comforted”, having none to administer any external comfort or relief to them; none of the kings or princes of the earth, or any civil magistrate to protect and defend them; what comfort they had was internal and spiritual; what they had from Christ and his Spirit, and by the word and ordinances; or rather this may describe the state of the church under Papal tyranny and persecution, which brings it nearer to the times of peace and prosperity after promised:
behold, I will lay thy stones with fair colours; or, “with paint” (u); such as women used to paint their faces or eyes with, 2 Kings 9:30. The Targum is,
“behold, I will lay with paint the stones of thy pavement;”’
and the words seem plainly to design the stones of a pavement, and perhaps by an hypallage or transposition may be rendered,
I will lay thy pavement with glistering stones; so the word is translated 1 Chronicles 29:2 or, “with stones of paint” (w); which are of the colour of the “stibium”, or paint before mentioned, and which was of a black colour; and Aben Ezra says the word here signifies a precious stone of a black colour; perhaps black marble is meant, a stone fit for pavements; but, be these stones what they will, they design in the spiritual sense the materials of a Gospel church, those “lively stones” which
are built up a spiritual house, and which are beautified with the gifts and graces of the Spirit of God; and may also denote that the lowest and meanest of the Lord’s people, pointed out by stones of the pavement, should be thus adorned:
and lay thy foundations with sapphires; a precious stone of a white colour, according to R. Saadiah Gaon; but, according to Aben Ezra, of a red colour; though the sapphire is usually said to be of a sky colour, shining with specks of gold. The Targum renders it, “with precious stones”; and so the foundation of the wall of the New Jerusalem is said to be garnished with all manner of precious stones, Revelation 21:19, this may respect Christ, the sure foundation God has laid in Zion, the foundation of the apostles and prophets; the one and only foundation of the church of Christ, and all true believers, who is more precious than sapphires, or all the most precious stones; he always has been the foundation of his church in all ages; but the meaning is, that he shall now appear most clearly and manifestly to be the foundation, and to be a firm, rich, and glorious one; see Exodus 24:10.” (5)
Both Philpot and Gill understand that the afflicted people mentioned in the passage are given hope by Isaiah as he projects forward to the church age with its millennial blessing typified by the imagery of the heavenly New Jerusalem. The stones foreshadow the Lord Jesus Christ, who is “The stone which the builders rejected, is become the head of the corner.” (Psalms 118:22).
“Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15)
1. Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor, (“Entry for ‘STONE, STONES’”, International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, 1915).
2. Butler, Trent C. Editor, Entry for ‘Antimony’, Holman Bible Dictionary.
3. Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges, John Skinner, Isaiah, vol. 1, 2 Volume 20 of (Cambridge University Press, 1898), e-Sword version.
4. Philpot’s Daily Portions: Daily Readings for Christians.
5. John Gill, Exposition of the Old and New Testaments, Isaiah, (Grace Works, Multi-Media Labs), p. 865.
Mr. Kettler has previously published articles in the Chalcedon Report and Contra Mundum. He and his wife Marea attend the Westminster, CO, RPCNA Church. Mr. Kettler is the author of books defending the Reformed Faith. Books can be ordered online at www. JackKettler .com