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Parable of the Soils - Study #2: Farming in 1st Century Israel

Updated: Sep 17, 2023

Why Did He Speak to Them in Parables?

By Richard Allen – August 21, 2023

As we begin our second blog study on the Parable of the Soils, it’s important to recognize the context of this parable in the New Testament – especially in the Gospel of Matthew. In Matthew’s Gospel, this parable is part of a larger group of parables that Jesus used to teach His Disciples about the nature of the Kingdom of God. There are seven parables in Matthew 13, each revealing a particular aspect of the Kingdom. Be aware, what Jesus taught did not fit into the preconceptions that His Jewish brethren had about the Kingdom of God. And in many ways, the meaning of these parables may not make sense to the way we fallen men and women think. But “God’s ways are not our ways, and His thoughts are not our thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9).

A quick overview of all seven Parables from Matthew 13 reveals several startling truths about the Kingdom of God: 1.) The Parable of the Soils teaches that the seed, that is the word of the Kingdom, will not sprout, grow or produce fruit from every soil into which it falls. 2.) In the Parable of the Weeds, God plants good wheat seed, that is the Children of the Kingdom, in His field (the world). But Satan plants a counterfeit crop of “Tares” (i.e. false wheat, or Darnel) in the same field. So, as to not uproot the good wheat, God allows both to grow together until the harvest (the end of the age), when the reapers (Angels) will separate the Wheat from the Tares. 3.) The Parable of the Mustard Seed appears to teach a counterintuitive message. The “Little Flock” (Luke 12:32) of Jesus’ followers, starts small but grows into a mighty tree. This rapid growth seems to foretell the success of the Kingdom, but with the presence of the “birds of the air” taking lodging in its branches (birds of the air are symbolic of the “evil one” in an earlier parable v.19), this does not predict a good outcome for the kingdom. 4.) The Parable of the Leaven, like the Parable of the Mustard Seed, reveals “three measures of flour” made from wheat being corrupted by “one measure of leaven.” Most commentators agree this parable foretells the purity of the Gospel message being corrupted by the leaven of falsehood (Galatians 5:9). And both 5.) The Parable of the Treasure Hidden in a Field and 6.) The Parable of the Pearl of Great Value both extol Jesus’ great sacrifice in redeeming and giving all He had, to purchase both the field (the world) and the pearl, to secure His Kingdom! 7.) And the final Parable of the Dragnet, seems to say that there will be both good men (good fish) and bad men (bad fish) captured by the Gospel Call, but not all are going to be a part of the Kingdom of God.

My purpose in reviewing all of these parables is to emphasize Jesus’ Words to those who thought that the Kingdom would not appear immediately (Luke 19:11), and to those who believed that they were automatically included in the Kingdom because of their family lineage or a shallow profession of faith. Even the parable of the Rich Nobleman giving Talents to his three servants as recorded in Luke 19:12-27, makes it clear that the Kingdom Jesus was bringing in was different than some who longed for the Messiah, had imagined. The announcement of the Kingdom caused many to respond, but not all who responded had part in Kingdom Life or Salvation. Likewise, all those who presume to be citizens of the kingdom, but refuse to allow Christ to reign in them, are “fruitless professors.” Here’s what Luke says:

“But his citizens hated him and sent a delegation after him, saying, ‘We do not want this man to reign over us’ ” (Luke 19:14).

“But as for these enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, bring them here and slaughter them before me” (Luke 19:27).

There is a principle in Scripture that clearly teaches: “For many are called, but few are chosen” (Matthew 22:14). This is a message which the Jewish people should have understood from their own history. The seven parables in Matthew 13 hit on several aspects of the true nature of the kingdom. The irony of the Parable of the Soils is that while Jesus speaks to “a great crowd,” the deeper message was specifically for “His Disciples.” I’m not saying that the crowds didn’t hear Him or marvel at His teaching. But I am saying that much of Jesus’ instruction was given to His disciples, to “those to whom it was given to understand.” This is also true of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, where He spoke in the hearing of a “great crowd,” yet was still specifically addressing His Disciples. Here are a few examples from the Gospel of Matthew:

“But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. For truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it. Hear then the parable of the Sower” (Matthew 13:16-18).

“All these things Jesus said to the crowds in parables; indeed, he said nothing to them without a parable. This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet: ‘I will open my mouth in parables; I will utter what has been hidden since the foundation of the world.’ Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples came to him, saying, ‘Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.’ He answered, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world, and the good seed is the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear” (Matthew 13:34-43).

“Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, His disciples came to Him. And He opened his mouth and taught them, saying: ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. ‘Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:1-12).

Just so you don’t think I’m making a mountain out of a molehill, be aware that according to human perceptions, the Gospel call goes out indiscriminately to all. And just like the Parable of the Soils and the Parable of the Dragnet, many respond. But few actually are the “chosen.” And just so you don’t misunderstand me, I’m not saying that God chooses the best of us. Scripture makes it clear that He doesn’t choose those who are smart enough, good enough, penitent enough or sincere enough. Here’s how the Apostle Paul explains our salvation to the Church at Corinth:

“For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 1:26-31).

God’s choice is NOT BASED ON HUMAN MERIT, BUT BY HIS GRACE ALONE! I know that this is a hard message to swallow, but there just isn’t any other reason “why Jesus would speak to the multitudes in parables” except He was making a Sovereign and Gracious Choice,not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9). As we dig into the Parable of the Soils in these next weeks, very little of what I will say will make any sense unless we grasp that God is completely Sovereign in the Salvation of His Children.

In closing, I’d like to reaffirm that Jesus is not alluding to strange methods of farming by the Sower who scatters the seed, far from it. The Sower who went forth to sow, is behaving in the same way Farmers in the 1st Century commonly prepared their fields and planted seeds, hoping for a bountiful harvest. I hope we can see that the proclamation of the Gospel to all who come under the sound of the preacher’s voice, is just like a Sower going forth to sow. To the human eye it appears that the “Sower of the Gospel” casts seed indiscriminately across the various Soils (human hearts). And, this sowing has been going on across the planet since the 1st Century A.D. We may not always be aware of the division of duties, as “one plants, another may water and yet another may harvest” (John 4:37; 1 Corinthians 3:7-9). No matter what human agency is employed, IT IS CHRIST WHO IS SOWING THE GOSPEL SEED! And He does so with complete INTENTIONALITY, “For many are called, yet few are chosen!” (Matthew 22:14).

Let me leave you with a wonderful story of a Gentile woman named Lydia, who was most likely a convert to Judaism. God not only stirred her heart (soil?) to seek Him, but he providentially brought Paul into her life as he sowed the message of the Kingdom:

“And on the Sabbath day we went outside the gate to the riverside, where we supposed there was a place of prayer, and we sat down and spoke to the women who had come together. One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul. And after she was baptized, and her household as well, she urged us, saying, ‘If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.’ And she prevailed upon us” (Acts 16:13-15).

Soli Deo Gloria!

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