Shalom Mishpocha (Family) in Yeshua,
Parables משלים :Old and New
Our topic this month is fascinating, but somewhat complex: Parables. The use of parables in teaching is unique to rabbinic literature and the New Testament. Jewish literature at the time of Yeshua contains nearly five thousand rabbinic parables. When Yeshua spoke in parables (meshalim, meh-shah-LEEM in Hebrew), He spoke out of the backdrop of His culture, in true rabbinic style. We were surprised to find out that over one third of Yeshua’s teachings in the Gospels (mostly in Matthew and Luke) are parables. John contains at least two Hebrew-style parables—the Good Shepherd and the Vine and Branches. Mark has one, The Seed Growing in Secret.
Teaching in meshalim was a comparative style of teaching, placing one thing by the side of another. Through comparing and contrasting, the listener could gain deeper insight into the meaning of the parable. This Hebrew style of teaching was actually a xkind of storytelling (haggadah), in which an earthly story had a heavenly meaning. Parables often made use of hyperbole (exaggeration of details), which was intended to grab the attention of the listener and give special emphasis to a point being made. For example, if hyperbole was being used in the Parable of the Ten Virgins, “they all slumbered and slept” may actually mean “most of them slumbered and slept” (Matthew 25:5).
The first mention of the word parable (mashal, mah-SHAHL in Hebrew) is found in Psalm 78:2-3, “I will open my mouth in a parable; I will utter dark sayings of old, which we have heard and known, and our fathers have told us.” Indeed, some of the parables were “dark sayings” in the sense of being incomprehensible, especially to the enemies of Yeshua. (See Matthew 21:31-45.) The New Covenant quotes Psalm 78:2 as a Messianic prophecy where it says of Yeshua, “All these things Yeshua spoke to the crowds in parables. And apart from a parable, He wasn’t speaking to them…” (Matt. 13:35).
Parables give vivid word pictures. They are like mini-dramas. They use concrete illustrations from everyday life to reach the heart through the imagination. The primary purpose of meshalim is to teach people about the reality and nature of God and His ways. Through instructive comparison, a mashal defines the unknown by what is known. Each parable is designed to make one point and usually calls for some kind of decision from the listener. Some of the parables of the Bible convey reproofs, which could not be given in any other way. Parables are truly biblical gems.
Parable of the Trees
The Parable of the Trees is the first mashal in the Tanach. Jotham, one of Gideon’s sons (the youngest of the 70 who alone survived after his half-brother Abimelech killed all the others), spoke the following parable to the men of Shechem in Judges 9:8-15: “The trees once went forth to anoint a king over them. And they said to the olive tree, ‘Reign over us!’ But the olive tree said to them, ‘Should I cease giving my oil, with which they honor God and men, and go to sway over trees?’ Then the trees said to the fig tree, ‘You come and reign over us!’ But the fig tree said to them, ‘Should I cease my sweetness and my good fruit, and go to sway over other trees?’ Then the trees said to the vine, ‘You come and reign over us!’ But the vine said to them, ‘Should I cease my new wine, which cheers both God and men, and go to sway over trees?’ Then all the trees said to the bramble, ‘You come reign over us!’ And the bramble said to the trees, ‘If in truth you anoint me as king over you, then come and take shelter in my shade; but if not, let fire come out of the bramble and devour the cedars of Lebanon!’”
The men of Shechem had anointed Abimelech (“father king” in Hebrew) as their king. He had just murdered his brothers and somehow convinced the men of Shechem to submit to his leadership. Gideon had died, and the children of Israel had returned to worshiping Baal. This included Abimelech. The “good” trees—olive, fig, vine—were content to honor the God who gave them fruitfulness and anointing. They were content with the Lord as their King. (Israel had not had an earthly king yet.) The men of Shechem chose the bramble—a worthless plant—a bad choice of king—and would suffer the consequences.
We see in this mashal the seed already germinating within Israel of desiring a king like all the heathen nations around them. But what is the main point or message of this parable? Be careful who you select to lead you.
This mashal has great implications for the USA as we approach elections. Who is the bramble? To whom do we submit ourselves? As believers, we all want God to be Lord over America, to return to the faith of our Founding Fathers, but our nation has moved past that. But God! He still has a plan, and only He knows the hearts of men. Pray, and vote!
Parable of the Poor Man’s Lamb
In this most famous of the Old Testament parables, the prophet Nathan confronts King David: “Then the Lord sent Nathan to David. And he came to him, and said to him: ‘There were two men in one city, one rich and the other poor. The rich man had exceedingly many flocks and herds. But the poor man had nothing, except one little ewe lamb which he had bought and nourished; and it grew up together with him and with his children. It ate of his own food and drank from his own cup and lay in his bosom; and it was like a daughter to him. And a traveler came to the rich man, who refused to take from his own flock and from his own herd to prepare one for the wayfaring man who had come to him; but he took the poor man’s lamb and prepared it for the man who had come to him.’ So David’s anger was greatly aroused against the man, and he said to Nathan, ‘As the Lord lives, the man who has done this shall surely die! And he shall restore fourfold for the lamb, because he did this thing and because he had no pity.’ Then Nathan said to David, ‘You are the man!’” (2 Samuel 12:1-7).
In this mashal, a poor man suffers wrong at the hands of a rich man. Nathan, the prophet, is an advocate for the poor man. He seeks judgment and justice. The rich man was a man of position and power. He had great personal abundance. He could use his power for good or evil—to protect the poor and needy or to oppress them. He should have been satisfied with what he had; there was no justification for his coveting what the poor man had (his one female lamb). Where was his accountability before God? Did his position of power entitle him to take whatever he desired from whomever he wanted? His conduct was unjust, tyrannical, cruel, and lawless. But David was king! He could do whatever he chose to do. But not in the eyes of God.
Let’s consider the main point of this mashal in which the prophet Nathan uses a parable instead of directly confronting David about taking Uriah’s wife, Bathsheba. Is the spiritual lesson that adultery is sin? Is it that abusing power to gratify one’s lust is wrong? The more we read the parable, the more we sensed that this parable about King David has a message that is very relevant for us today: The spirit of entitlement is dangerous and bears bad fruit.
King David felt entitled to take another man’s wife. After all, he was king. We see this today in both politics and religion. Our elected officials feel that they are “entitled” to certain benefits because of their service to the public. Pastors, especially those in mega-churches, who have fallen into sin have usually had a sense of entitlement. They may “deserve” luxurious homes and cars because of the size of their congregations and their huge responsibilities. This is a slippery slope, which the enemy uses to his advantage. Are we “entitled” to anything as believers? We don’t think so. Whatever we have are gifts of a gracious God. We deserve death. Instead, we have been given life. We are indebted, rather than entitled. Romans 12:1 says it well: “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.” Beware of the spirit of entitlement—in yourself and others.
Parable of the Fruitless Vineyard
This mashal is found in Isaiah 5:1-6 and is an example of a parable that is explained immediately following the story. “Now let me sing to my Well-beloved a song of my Beloved regarding His vineyard: My Well-beloved has a vineyard on a very fruitful hill. He dug it up and cleared out its stones, and planted it with the choicest vine. He built a tower in its midst, and also made a winepress in it; so He expected it to bring forth good grapes, but it brought forth wild grapes. ‘And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem and men of Judah, judge, please, between Me and My vineyard. What more could have been done to My vineyard that I have not done in it? Why then, when I expected it to bring forth good grapes, did it bring forth wild grapes? And now, please let Me tell you what I will do to My vineyard: I will take away its hedge, and it shall be burned; and break down its wall, and it shall be trampled down. I will lay it waste; it shall not be pruned or dug, but there shall come up briars and thorns. I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain on it.’”
The prophet explains who the mashal is about, “For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah are His pleasant plant” (Isaiah 5:7). This is not the first time in the Bible that Israel is referred to as God’s vineyard. For example, we read in Psalm 80:14-15, “Return, we beseech You, O God of hosts, look down from heaven and see, and visit this vine and the vineyard which Your right hand has planted, and the branch that You made strong for Yourself.”
The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob chose a nation for Himself—only one nation—Israel. This nation was to be a special treasure (segullah, s’goo-LAH) to God above all other people (Exodus 19:5). Deuteronomy 7:7-8 gives us God’s reason for choosing Israel, “The LORD did not set his love on you nor chose you because you were more in number than any other people, for you were the least of all people; but because the LORD loves you, and because He would keep the oath which He swore to your fathers…”
Israel was the object of God’s love. He tended it with great care. He gave His people words to live by (Torah) and a land of milk and honey. Instead of bringing forth anavim (ah-nah-VEEM), as was expected of a cultivated vine, it brought forth b’ushim (b’oo-SHEEM), wild grapes, from the Hebrew ba’ash, to be bad or smell bad. What was the fruit that God expected from Israel? Righteous judgment, the true fruit of the fear of the Lord. “He looked for justice, but behold, oppression; for righteousness, but behold, a cry for help” (Isaiah 5:7). There is a Hebrew play on words in this verse. The Lord looked for mishpat (meesh-PAHT), that the poor, the fatherless, and the widow would have righteous judgment, but found mispah (mees-PAH), oppression, literally shedding of blood. God looked for righteousness, tzadakah (tze-dah-KAH), but found zeakah (ze-ah-KAH), anarchy, tumult, disorder. In other words, justice was being perverted, and the poor were being oppressed.
The “wild grapes” that God’s precious vine produced were rebellion, pride, malice, discontent, and contempt of God. The Lord spelled it out in verses 12-13, “The harps and the strings, the tambourine and flute, and wine are in their feasts; but they do not regard the work of the LORD, nor consider the operation of His hands. Therefore my people have gone into captivity because they have no knowledge…”
A righteous God promised judgment—that He would remove the hedge of His vineyard. Briars and thorns would come up. Rain would cease.
What is the main point of this mashal? Perhaps it is that when God’s people stray from His righteous ways and the fear of the Lord, they bring judgment on themselves. A commentator from the Cambridge Bible gave the following interpretation: “The underlying thought is that Jehovah’s signal care and goodness ought to have resulted in a national life corresponding to His moral character.” It is certainly a basic Bible truth that God’s people have been chosen to bear good fruit—fruit that is representative of His character.
Message for the USA
When we chose to focus on three parables from the Tanach, we had no idea that there was a single message in them for us. But there is. We are trees about to anoint a king. As a nation, we have rejected God as our King and have submitted ourselves to the bramble. Lord, have mercy on us.
Like King David, our leaders at the highest levels have a spirit of entitlement because of their positions. Professional athletes “command” outrageous salaries. They are “entitled” to them. This spirit has even infiltrated the medical profession, where some young doctors see patients as a bother. Many millennials also exhibit this self-serving attitude of deserving time off, better salaries, etc.
Like Israel, our nation began as “one nation under God.” Our forefathers dedicated this Land to Him. Does the Lord see righteousness when He looks at us? Does He find justice? Consider Proverbs 14:34, “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people.” Our wild grapes include political corruption and correctness, redefining marriage and gender, abortion, and most of all, pride.
What can we do? Is there any hope? There is always hope in God! We all know the verse, we just have to believe it and live it: “If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and forgive their sin and heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:14). Repentance must begin with us.
We, like Ancient Israel, perish for lack of knowledge. We need to embrace the truth, as God defines it, and ask Him to show us the greatest threat to our country. He will. Let this influence how you vote.
Praying for you and for our country,
P. S. Next Month: Parables of Yeshua (very rich)!
P. P. S. Our special offer this month is our 2 Chronicles 7:14 tote bag. Order one today!
Love in Yeshua,