Millstones

There’s an interesting line Jesus speaks in yesterday’s (18th Sunday after Pentecost) gospel reading from Mark 9 that I didn’t preach about:

42 “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea.” (Mark 9:42 ESV)

We’ve all heard it, and even probably seen some neat riffs off that line (a Wizard of Id cartoon comes to mind). The Greem term, μύλος ὀνικὸς here is literally “heavy millstone” or “millstone turned by a donkey.”

This is of no account, accept that I was telling someone last night of the women in the Old Testament who also fight in the cause of Israel. There’s Jael, the wife of Heber, who pounds a tent-peg into the forehead of the sleeping Canaanite General Sisera, who comes to her seeking shelter after the defeat of his army. (Judges 4, just in case you’re interested.)

And there’s the unnamed woman who, later in Judges, drops a millstone upon the head of Abimelech (literally, “My father is king”), the son of Gideon, and the usurper who proclaims himself king of all Israel long before Israel actually asks for one. In Judges 9:53,

53 καὶ ἔρριψεν γυνὴ μία κλάσμα μύλου ἐπὶ τὴν κεφαλὴν Αβιμελεχ καὶ συνέθλασεν τὸ κρανίον αὐτοῦ. (LXX)

53 And a certain woman threw an upper millstone on Abimelech’s head and crushed his skull. (ESV)

That millstone μύλος didn’t kill Abimelech. He ordered his armor-bearer to run him through with a sword so no one could say “A woman killed him.” But she did, and she did it with a millstone, and I just found that interesting. A the same word, or a related word (I’m stretching my Greek here), is used in Revelation 18 to describe what will happen to Babylon:

21 Then a mighty angel took up a stone like a great millstone [μύλινον μέγαν] and threw it into the sea, saying,
“So will Babylon the great city be thrown down with violence,
and will be found no more; (ESV)

This even involves tossing into the sea (εἰς τὴν θάλασσαν), the same phrase Jesus uses to describe the fate of those who cause “one of these little ones who believe in me” to sin.

A great weight, a crushing weight, one normally used to grind wheat to make flour, to give life and sustenance, also used to weigh someone down, make them so heavy, they sink to the abyss. And are no more. Gone.

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