WORD STUDY – PURITY לבנ
Isaiah 9:10: “The bricks are fallen down, but we will build with hewn stone, the sycamores are cut down but we will change them into cedars.”
In Isaiah 9, the Northern Kingdom of Israel had just suffered a shocking defeat. They felt they were well fortified, powerful and secure in their might so that no foreign army would invade them. After all they were God’s people, God would protect them. They were, however, a sinful people. They had shut God out of their land and as a warning God lifted his mantel of protection long enough for the Assyrian army under Tiglath-pileser to invade and destroy some key areas of Samaria. The people were absolutely shocked and dismayed. They could not believe that God would allow such a thing to happen. I mean they were the people of God, the chosen people of God. Surely, God would not let them down like this. They were even more shocked than the Democrats were after the last Presidential election. It was almost beyond comprehension. Probably just as shocking to them as it would be to us today if suddenly a foreign invader took over our government. No doubt the people of Israel for the first time started to feel very insecure. How would you feel if you woke up to the reality that you were no longer under God’s protection? That is how the people Israel felt. I know what I would do and I am sure you would do the same, you would really begin to pray. But rather than return to God in repentance, the people of Israel stood up in defiance to Him and declared: “The bricks are fallen but we will rebuild with hewn rocks.” The surface meaning is clear. Bricks were made of clay, not dependable, no able to stand against an attack, so they would rebuild with sturdy solid stone.
However, there was a deeper meaning in this. The word in Hebrew for bricks is lebenah from the root word laban. The word laban in its Semitic root means the color white. White has always been symbolic of purity and cleanliness. In fact just eight chapters earlier in Isaiah God says in 1:18: “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white (laban) as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.” The word scarlet is kasanim from the root word shani. Its Semitic root is for an insect which attaches itself to leaves and twigs of the kermes oak. The kermes oak was historically the important food plant for this insect called a scale insect. It is from this insect that a scarlet dye was extracted by crushing the bodies of these insects. Scarlet in ancient times was associated with death because it was the crushing death of this insect that gave out the dye. Thus, even though your sins lead to death, they shall be made white laban as snow. The word crimson is also rooted in death, it comes from the word tola’ath which in some Semitic languages is a direct reference to a crimson worm. This is a crimson colored worm like a grub that attaches to a twig and builds a harden shell, lays her eggs and the young feed on her body and when the young grow to the point that they can care for themselves the mother dies. Again red is being associated with death.
So what does tearing down the bricks have to do with all this. The bricks or laban were made of a white clay and symbolized the purity of the nation to God. Rather than rebuild with the laban white clay symbolizing their purity they declared they would build with a stronger more dependable hewn stone. Hewn stone in Hebrew is gazith from the root word gazah. It actually means a cut stone or more accurately carved stone. Carved stones ware a way of forming an alliance or a pact. The parties would chisel their agreement in stone or a gasah. Even today we use the expression that a decision or agreement is set in stone.
What the people of Israel were declaring was that they were not going to rebuild with laban, or the white purity of being cleansed of their sins, instead they were going to rebuild with gasah, a stone which is more durable and stronger, but it also would be with carvings declaring their loyalty to a pagan god. The second commandment forbid the making of any image of a deity, hence this would not be a tribute to God but to a pagan in direct violation of the second commandment.
After the election in November there were certain fringe elements of the losing party who felt the democratic system let them down and they literally lost all faith in the democratic system and were actually declaring and plotting the overthrow of the elected President. This is exactly what happened to Israel, they felt God had let them down so rather than repent they overthrew Him for another god that they felt would treat them better.
For many Christians God is a celestial genie who is supposed to grant their every wish and when He doesn’t and their pure lives, their labans, are torn down when it comes time to rebuild rather than repent they declare that God let them down and they build their lives around another god that they feel will meet their needs.
We do not worship God to meet our needs. We worship God to make us complete and whole.