And 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).
Before meeting God where He is, we must abandon ourselves to his absolute authority and trustworthiness. At times, following our Father’s instructions means we are invited to modify and enhance the resources he provides us to build with, but He always wants us to trust and obey Him with childlike faith. This scripture is not simply about the altar (place of sacrifice and meeting). It is about the friendship God extends to us to walk and fellowship with Him. Respecting His person and position of honor nourishes the relationship. The biggest difference between hewn stone and unhewn stone is how God interprets it. The mechanics of a chisel in a man’s hand putting the finishing touches on remnant stones of a once mighty mountain carved by thousands of seasons of sun, wind, and rain is a small thing compared to obeying the God who made the mountains, seas, and, indeed, all creation, for obedience requires attention to detail (1 Samuel 15:22 KJV).
Doing things God’s way is learned by praying, reading scripture, meditating, observing, and practicing. Trusting God enough to practice the things that matter means we believe He is looking out for our best interests and will keep His promises. Trusting God motivates us to act according to His will and not our own when the two conflict. We don’t want to be like Aaron when he was left in charge and led the Israelites, who were culturally and spiritually saturated with the customs and habits of the foreign Egyptian gods, to sin by exalting idols (Exodus 32-34). God was having none of it a second time, so He instructed the Israelites, through Moses, to get back to basics by either making a simple altar of earth or of uncut stones (Exodus 20:24-25). It is in God’s nature to reveal his grace, mercy, and expectations to His people. Using unhewn stone is an invitation to know God and trust the one who is above all we could ask or think.
God always gets to have the last word on the way things are and “Ought to be,” for He is Creator and Sustainer. He delights in His creation and in sharing its wonders with mankind. Yet all of it is His to make the rules for and do with as He chooses, and it pleases Him to give specific instructions, especially when the stakes are high. Believing He is looking out for our best interests and keeps His promises helps us understand this. Our relationship with God causes us to consider Him and His ways. Not so we can be controlled. He wants the best for us. He wants us to grow into the fullness of our humanity and walk with Him in the cool of the day. God was not trying to prevent the Israelites from exercising their freedom or creativity by demanding an altar be made of unhewn stone. He was offering them a divine fresh start at a relationship with Him that complimented the laws they had just received. God’s instructions always point to Jesus, for nothing can be added or taken away. The Son of Man is not only the Chief Cornerstone (James 5:16) and Foundation Rock (Luke 6:48), Jesus is the perfect Unhewn Stone.
– Richard Harwood from The Guild