What does the word millstone mean in the Bible? 

Author: BibleAsk Team


Millstone

In Biblical times, a stone structure was used to grind grain, olives, or seeds. It consisted of two parts: one stationary at the base and the second at the top that moved around to grind. There were different kinds of millstones: large ones that required an ass to turn it. And smaller ones that were turned by human hands. This crushing tool is mentioned in the Bible in several places:

Old Testament

The law of Moses warned against taking someone’s crushing stone to pay debts: “No man shall take the lower or the upper millstone in pledge, for he takes one’s living in pledge” (Deuteronomy 24:6). For by taking from a poor man something essential to the preparation of his food, this would endanger the livelihood of his family.

Also, the Bible resembled the toughness of a Leviathan with that of the lower millstone, which was larger and harder than the upper: “Its chest is hard as rock, hard as a lower millstone” (Job 41:24).

These stones were also used for defense. While the men would use bows and spears, women could roll down heavy stones from the walls on those who threatened them. There is a reference to a woman that killed Gideon’s son Abimelech by throwing an upper part of a millstone from a tower on him. As a result, the stone crushed his skull (Judges 9:53; 2 Samuel 11:21).

Millstones are sometimes used symbolically to represent divine judgment against idolatry and spiritual infidelity. In Jeremiah 25:10, for example, the prophet foretells of the impending destruction and desolation of Jerusalem by the Babylonians as a consequence of the people’s disobedience: “Moreover I will take from them the voice of mirth and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride, the sound of the millstones and the light of the lamp.” Here, the cessation of the sound of millstones is depicted as a symbol of God’s judgment, signifying the disruption of daily life and the loss of economic stability and sustenance due to the city’s devastation.

New Testament

Jesus used the millstone in a passage that alerted His followers against causing children to stumble: “If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them if a large millstone were hung around their neck and they were thrown into the sea” (Mark 9:42). The Lord gave a clear warning against the man who by precept or example, would lead others to sin or discourage them from following His footsteps.

Also, Jesus used the illustration of grinding at the mill to stress the necessity of watching and praying. He said, “Two women will be grinding at the mill: one will be taken and the other left” (Matthew 24:41). In this parable, the Lord taught that His followers should always remain spiritually alert. They are not to await for His coming in idleness. While waiting and watching, they are to work by His grace to purify their own souls by obedience to the truth, and to save others (1 Peter 1:9).

The imagery of a halted millstone can also symbolize economic decline and desolation. In Revelation 18:21, the downfall of Babylon, a symbol of spiritual corruption and worldly power, is described in apocalyptic terms: “Then a mighty angel took up a stone like a great millstone and threw it into the sea, saying, ‘Thus with violence the great city Babylon shall be thrown down, and shall not be found anymore.'” Here, the image of a millstone being cast into the sea signifies the sudden and irrevocable destruction of Babylon’s prosperity and influence, highlighting the transitory nature of worldly wealth and power in the face of divine judgment.

In summary, the millstone serves as a symbol in the Bible, representing themes of judgment, punishment, and moral responsibility. Whether used to depict the consequences of moral wrongdoing, divine judgment against idolatry, or the economic decline of worldly powers, the imagery of the millstone underscores the biblical emphasis on righteousness, justice, and the ultimate sovereignty of God.

In His service,
BibleAsk Team

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