David wrote much about rocks in his psalms, calling on the Lord to be his Rock, his Fortress, his Shelter. David knew what it meant to hold on to the Rock, both in a physical and a spiritual sense.
The image of the Rock is one that is pervasive in scripture, and often quite clearly is shown to be referring to God, or even Christ. The first reference to God as the Rock is found all the way back in Genesis, where Jacob blessed Joseph with the words, “But his bow remained steady, his strong arms stayed limber, because of the hand of the Mighty One of Jacob, because of the Shepherd, the Rock of Israel” (Genesis 49:24).
Later, we see Moses striking the rock, and Paul says that the rock was Christ (1 Corinthians 10:4). Some even believe that the cleft of the rock where Moses was hidden when the glory of God passed before him was also a symbol of how we are hidden with Christ in God. In the Song of Moses, found in Deuteronomy 32, Moses calls God “the Rock.”
So this name is an early revelation from the Lord to teach us something about His nature, and its frequency of use is an indication of its importance. When we sing, “Hold on to the Rock,” we are singing more than just a catchy phrase; we are proclaiming an important truth about God.
When Hannah was crying out to God in her misery, pleading for a son, she said, “There is no one holy like the Lord; there is no one beside you, there is no Rock like our God.” This theme of the “no other Rock” is also a common one. (See 1 Samuel 2:2, Isaiah 44:8, 2 Samuel 22:32, and Deuteronomy 32:30-31.) It matters very much what Rock we hold onto.
This is also true of another form of rock that both this anthem and the scriptures talk about: the Sure Foundation. Jesus teaches the parable of the wise and foolish builders and says that the wise man builds his house (lays his foundation) on the Rock, and Paul tells us that no one can lay any foundation other than the one that is laid, Jesus Christ. Any other foundation is sand, or wood, hay, and stubble – it will collapse or break or burn. But Christ is the solid Rock on which we can stand secure, the only sure foundation.
There is much we can learn from what Isaiah says about this foundation, this Rock (or as he calls it, stone). “So this is what the Sovereign Lord says: ‘See, I lay a stone in Zion, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone for a sure foundation; the one who trusts will never be dismayed’” (Isaiah 28:16). The first thing to notice is that God lays the foundation. We must never begin to believe the work is ours in any way. God has laid the foundation – Jesus – and apart from that, there is no hope, no salvation. (One of the names for God is “Rock of our Salvation.”) Because of this, we don’t have to worry that the job has been done right or if the foundation will crack or leak. Since God has done it, this is a solid Rock, no doubt about it.
Next, we read that the stone is tested. Its quality and strength are assured. Was there anyone as tested as Jesus? And yet He was without one fault in all the testing and temptations He faced!
Isaiah also calls it a precious stone, and there is no one of greater worth than Jesus. There is no one more precious to the Father, truly “the darling of heaven,” as Darlene Zschech put it. It was also precious because, as cornerstone, it was far more than the ceremonial cornerstone we see on buildings today. An ancient cornerstone set the orientation of every other stone in the building. Everything had to line up in accordance to it. This Rock, this cornerstone, is a “sure foundation,” and the one who trusts in it (in Him) will never be dismayed.
But not everyone chooses to Hold on to the Rock. Peter tells us, “As you come to Him, the living stone, rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to Him” (1 Peter 2:4), emphasizing again how beloved and valued Jesus is by God and yet rejected by men. Then Peter goes on to quote the Isaiah passage we looked at above, stressing that the very stone the builders had rejected was the one that has become the cornerstone.
He, Jesus, the Rock, the Cornerstone, is the One we need to hold onto, while others stumble upon Him (1 Peter 2:8, Psalm 118:20). They stumble through disobedience, so it shows us the importance of walking according to the Word if we want to hold onto the Rock. Isaiah also tells us that to have this treasure of a sure foundation and a rich store of salvation and wisdom and knowledge, we need the fear of the Lord (33:6). Walking in reverence and obedience is essential to be able to hold onto the Rock.
This is a joyous song, a fun one to sing, but let’s not forget that it contains vital truth. Our eternal security and our temporal well-being are determined by being established on this Rock – so hold on to the Rock!