Millstone Into the Sea

Mark provides a series of parables in chronological order matched to the overall story of the Bible. This one is about Egypt.


The argument over who is greatest continues with Jesus calling together the 12 disciples and then calling out a little child. The following is the account.

33And they came to Capernaum; and when they entered the house, he asked them, What were you reasoning among yourselves on the road? 34But they kept silent, for on the road they had argued 1 with 1 about who was the greatest of them. 35And Joshua sat down and called the 12 and said to them, He who wishes to be 1st, let him be the last of men, and the servant of every man. 36And he took 1 little child and made him stand in the middle; then he took him in his arms, and said to them, 37Whoever receives a child like this in my name, he receives me; and he who receives me, does not receive me, but him who has sent me. Mark 9:33-37

The 12 Gathered

To answer their question about who is greatest, Jesus calls together the twelve disciples. This action is the parable’s way of calling attention to the twelve patriarchs, Abraham’s great grand kids. After Abraham, their births are the next main event in the Bible’s original chronology. This happened while Jacob’ was in Laban’s service in the 20 years 9001 AA through 9020 AA.

The sons of Jacob ran into the issue of who was greatest also. They were arguing amongst themselves, jockeying for position. Reuben was the rightful heir to Abraham’s estate, so he would naturally be the greatest. They were stunned when their young brother Joseph began having prophetic dreams. The brothers would not believe what God was saying, and projected their own hearts on Joseph. Everyone in the family, including their father Jacob, was stunned by some of the things Joseph’s dreams implied, though they would come true in time.

Eventually, Joseph, was the greatest in his generation when he was made Prime Ministry of ancient Egypt. (About 9040 AA.) Because of Reuben’s sin, Joseph also inherited Abraham’s right of first born, as well as the ’great nation’ promise given to Abraham in the Abrahamic covenant.

Notice, though, the role of Joseph relative to the rest of the family. Joseph knew he was their servant and did all he could to provide for the needs of the rest of his family. He was both greatest and least.

The ’great nation promise’ passed to Joseph is one of the covenant promises that is key to understanding the lost tribes. The specific ’great nation’ promise passes to Joseph’s sons and eventually to the nations descended from them.

The parable continues and Jesus brings in an important word picture, the ’millstone.’ The following is the text:

38John said to him, Rabbi we saw a man casting out devils in your name, and we forbid him because he did not follow us. 39Joshua said to them, Do not forbid him, for there is no man who performs miracles in my name who will hastily speak evil of me. 40Therefore he who is not against you is for you. 41For whoever gives you even a cup of water to drink, only because you represent the name of this anointed, truly, I say to you, that his reward will not be lost. 42And whoever will cause 1 of these little ones who believe in me to stumble, it were better for him that a donkey's millstone were hung on his neck and that he were thrown into the sea.

43If your hand offends you, cut it off; it is much better for you to go through life maimed, than to have 2 hands and go to Gehenna, 44where the embers do not die and the fire does not go out. (Isaiah 66:24) 45And if your foot offends you, cut it off; it is much better for you to go through life lame, than to have 2 feet, and fall into Gehenna, 46where the embers do not die, and the fire does not go out. (Isaiah 66:24) 47And if your eye offends you, remove it; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of god with 1 eye, than to have 2 eyes and fall into the Gehenna of fire, 48where the embers do not die, and the fire does not go out. (Isaiah 66:24) 49For everything will be salted on the fire, and every sacrifice will be salted with salt. 50How good is salt; but if the salt should lose its savor, with what could it be salted? Let there be salt in you, and be at peace 1 with 1. Mark 9:38-50

Who would not follow?

Of Jacob’s sons, the brother who would not follow the crowd was Joseph. He was following orders from heaven.

Jesus’ editorial is the same. If they are not against you, they are for you. As Paul would say later the kingdom of God is not about perswasive words but of a demonstration of power. Joseph did that as he had and interpreted dreams, as he became Prime Minister. People don’t have to follow you, or any crowd for that matter, in order to be following Jesus.

Causing a little one to stumble, ie: selling Joseph into slavery, is replayed with a millstone tied around the neck and being cast into the seas. This was the punishment given to the brothers for what they did to Joseph.

Seas are symbolic of peoples or nations generally and the best example of peoples generally was ancient Egypt. Jacob’s sons, except for Joseph who went earlier, were cast into Egypt.

The millstone, the mechanism where they were pulled into the sea was the need for grain. The drought cased a famine in Canaan and the only place where millstones were running was Egypt as the Egyptians broke into the grain stores of Joseph. The brothers had to go down to Egypt to get grain, the food supply for their own millstones. This is what caused them to get caught in Egypt.

Each of the body parts in this parable is a reference to one of the brothers. Together they make up a whole body, but each can cause the entire nation of ancient Israel to sin in various ways. Each will be cut off later as the nation of ancient Israel is dismembered. For now they are cut off from the promised land and cast into Egypt.

At the end of the parable Jesus exhorts: Have salt in yourselves and live at peace with one another.

This encouragement ends the book of Genesis when their father has died and they come to Joseph with a lie supposedly from their father. Joseph indeed wants to live at peace with his brothers, even if they don’t believe it, nor understand it.

Phil Stone, Updated 2016-11-06