Remember hearing people talk about being a stumbling block to another person? I’d heard this term before when I was young. I remember when someone in my childhood congregation “went forward” to confess sin: she had been “a stumbling block to others around her.” I never knew for a long time what that meant.
In a recent adult (seniors/retired age) class I teach, we were studying the curious injunction in Leviticus 19 not to put a stumbling block in front of the blind. Who would do that?
As classes often do, we got diverted on several tangents in an effort to understand stumbling blocks. One said the churches of Christ have been a stumbling block in our treatment of outsiders, because rather than draw them to the Lord we’ve often repelled them with harsh exclusivism. Another disagreed, saying the context of this text ought to lead to appropriate application. The context, he said, is a recounting of the law in terms of relationship and the distinction of Israel from the nations, and the nations had no regard for their neighbors or concern for them. Still further, a third person in the class, an elder, said we ought to remember the mindset of the ancient world, that a person with a defect, blind or maimed or deaf, would be considered not blessed by God and even cursed.
A stumbling block is “any object that may cause someone’s downfall, whether literal (19:14) or figurative . . .” (Harper’s Bible Dictionary). Idolatry is a stumbling block in the hearts of people in Ezekiel (14:3f). In Isaiah the people stumble over God himself (Isaiah 8:14), and Simeon in Luke 2:34 says the child Jesus “is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel.” Paul, in Romans 9:32-33, compares unbelieving Israel to those who stumbled over the “stumbling stone” because they pursued religion of works instead of Christ by faith. Paul calls Christ crucified a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Greeks—in Greek the word is scandalon, an offense. He parallels this with the tendency of believers who find new freedom in Christ to flaunt this and therefore make others stumble (Harper’s Dictionary).
The figure of the stone is used throughout OT and NT, yet in the dramatic turnabout that Scripture is famous for, the stone that makes us stumble is the rock that becomes the cornerstone, our rock of help, the cleft, our firm foundation . . . and, in the words of the popular song that our mission team sang nearly every time we gathered,
I know I can stand secure . . . Jesus, you're my firm foundation . . . I put my hope in your holy Word, I put my hope in your holy Word*
*©1994 Integrity's Hosanna! Music Words and Music by Jamie Harvill and Nancy Gordon)