The newly healed and converted Naaman the Aramean (or Syrian) approached the prophet Elisha with a very practical request:
“May the LORD forgive your servant for this one thing: When my master enters the temple of Rimmon to bow down and he is leaning on my arm and I bow there also — when I bow down in the temple of Rimmon, may the LORD forgive your servant for this.”
And to this the prophet answered simply,
“Go in peace” (2Kgs 5:18,19).
Whether Naaman’s “idol” problem corresponds exactly with anything in the world today or not, it still shows a remarkable degree of latitude given by Elijah, and presumably by God. The same can be said with Cornelius keeping his job as a colonial occupier (a far worse job for a Christadelphian than a modern police captain). Or Hezekiah holding the Passover in the wrong month. Or David eating the shewbread. Or any of the seemingly tricky deals made by Jacob. The fact is that God, basically, isn’t always as fussy as we might be.
We all live in the temple of Rimmon daily (certainly Monday through Friday), making compromises and failing to live up to the letter, let alone the Spirit, of the Word of life. Therefore we have to be so careful not to put burdens on the shoulders of others when we will not, or cannot, lift a finger to help them.
“If anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin [‘skandalizo’: to entrap, or cause to stumble], it would be better for him to have a large millstone [‘mylos onikos’: see note below] hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to sin [‘skandalon’: trap, snare, or cause of stumbling]! Such things must come, but woe to the man through whom they come!” (Matt 18:6,7).
It is possible to become confused here. No one readily stumbles or falls over a millstone; they are so large that they can be easily seen and avoided. People stumble over small stones, or stumble into small traps or snares. But it is the people — perhaps like me — who put the little snares in the paths of other believers when we take it upon ourselves to decide for them the terms by which they must approach Christ. Those of us who add unnecessary ‘tests’ to the burdens of other believers, by which they might fall, may also be tying tremendously heavy “millstones” to our own necks, and preparing ourselves for execution by drowning!
The narrow path to the Kingdom of God is littered with the bodies of those who have stumbled and fallen because of “little things“. And the side of the road is dotted with pits for lost sheep to fall into. We can put faces and names to these people — and some of the faces and names we know today are going to be the casualties of the next 10, 20, or 30 years if the Lord remains away.
Some of the things which cause people to fall by the wayside are indeed little gnats and not huge camels (to mix parables), and yes we could say, ‘It’s their own fault — they allowed little things like gnats, or ____, to cause them to stumble and fall away!’ (You can do this part yourself. Fill in the blank here with any ecclesial ‘requirement’ — whether of conduct, dress, or belief — that is truly an unnecessary burden upon others.)
Difficulties and burdens may be laid upon, or threaten to trip, any and every believer. We all must be on our guard and pray for strength when this happens. But woe especially to the person who imperiously serves up that final straw, or miniscule gnat, that at last breaks the back of the poor over-burdened disciple. Be warned: the one who does that has a huge millstone waiting for his or her neck.
Editor’s Note: What were/are millstones? Large stones for grinding grain into meal or flour, usually made of very hard stone, such as basalt or limestone. In Bible times, such grinding was done both in private households and commercial enterprises.
Private millstones, or hand mills, would be fairly small, consisting of a large flat base stone with a depression in the middle, and a lighter rounded, or perhaps oval or loaf-shaped stone with which to do the grinding. At least some of these smaller stones, called “upper millstones”, were of a size that could be lifted and thrown by a woman, such as the woman in the tower of Thebez, who threw an upper millstone upon the head of the invader Abimelech and cracked his skull (Jdg 9:53; 2Sam 11:21). The smaller upper millstones worked by hand might weigh as little as five pounds, but the larger such upper millstones might weigh as much as 10 or 15 pounds. The base for such a grinding stone, called the “lower millstone”, would need to be flat and weigh two or three times more at least.
Commercial millstones would be many times larger, with the lower millstone again being larger than the upper millstone in the same two-to-one or three-to-one ratio at least. The commercial upper millstones had some sort of indentation for a wooden bar, by which it could be turned by a beast of burden such as an ox, horse, or donkey walking in a circular path around the even larger base. This was called in rabbinical writings the “rehayim sel hamor”, or “donkey mill”, as opposed to the “rehayim sel adam”, or “man mill”. When the blinded Samson was set to work grinding in the Philistine prison (Jdg 16:21), it may have been with a regular small hand mill; prisoners might be forced into such labor during their servitude. However, because of his strength, he was possibly used as a beast of burden, turning a very large commercial millstone. The commercial version of the upper millstone could easily weigh a hundred pounds, and its corresponding lower base up to several hundred pounds.
New Testament passages speak of drowning a man by fastening a “mylos onikos” (literally, “donkey-driven” millstone, from “onos”, donkey) round his neck and throwing him into the depth of the sea (Matt 18:6; Mark 9:42; Luke 17:2 has “lithos mylikos”, literally “mill stone”; cf Rev 18:21). These passages refer to the heavy upper stone from a commercial mill, or perhaps the even heavier lower commercial millstone, weighing from 100 to several hundred pounds.