A question I would very often ask of the Lord as I studied the Bible is, “Why were the stories of people and events that are recorded in the Bible chosen out of all the stories from the history of mankind?” The Chinese people were in existence at least as early as 3,500 BC. Other peoples also populated the earth during the time period covered in the Bible. Even if you consider only the activities involving the nation Israel, just a small fraction of the events and the activities of the people who shaped that nation’s history are told in the Bible. For example, the Bible tells us that all of the acts of king Solomon are not recorded in the Bible. “Now the rest of the acts of Solomon and whatever he did, and his wisdom, are they not written in the book of the acts of Solomon?” (1 Kings 11:41) These acts were apparently written in a book (a scroll), but were not selected for the Bible. Not only were many of Solomon’s acts excluded, so were the deeds of many other kings. The book of 1 Kings records that only some of the acts of twenty-nine kings are included in the Bible, the remainder of their acts were recorded in other books, but, again, not selected for the Bible. So it appears to be obvious that choices were made as to what was included in the Bible and what was not. Again, my question of the Lord was why were some people and events chosen for inclusion in the Bible while a multitude of others were not? The fact that choices were made suggests that some people and the stories of their deeds were preferred. The selection process also indicates that there was a purpose for each selection as well as the entire combination of stories into a complete volume.
A second question I asked of the Lord was, “How can God, who is without beginning or end, reveal Himself completely in a document that is obviously finite?” I often wondered how I could learn every part, or any aspect of God’s character, nature and ways by reading a book that contains about a million words in English? Surely, I thought, if God is limitless, as He is, only a limitless number of words could ever describe Him. Yet He portrays Himself to us in a book with a beginning and an end, a limited number of words and a series of sometimes unrelated, and often incomplete, stories. It is without a doubt a finite book. Or is it?
Clearly, there is plenty of room for error and confusion if we are trying to understand an infinite, eternal God by reading the million or so words of the English Bible. If a jury heard only one percent of the facts in a case where the prosecution, defense and witnesses presented thousands of facts, how likely would it be that they could or would deliver a just verdict? Under that scenario, most jury deliberations would end with a hung jury, because it would be nearly impossible to determine guilt or innocence with even a slight degree of certainty.
There Is Seeing and Hearing AND Seeing and Hearing
I’m not sure when it came to me, but one day I realized that God had given me the answer to both of the above questions when He showed me the nature of parables, and the role they play in the Bible. Parables are huge. They are the primary structural element of the Bible, and understanding them is essential.
The telling of the parable of the sower and soils is recounted in the books of Matthew, Mark and Luke. Mark’s account of this event tells us that when Jesus finished the parable, and He was alone with His followers and the twelve disciples, they began questioning Him about this and other parables. We’re told that Jesus concluded His response with two questions, “Do you not understand this parable? How will you understand all the parables?” (Mark 4:13) All of which parables? Only the ones He told? Are the parables Jesus told “all the parables,” or are there others? If there are others, as I believe there are, Jesus says it is necessary that you understand all of them. How is that even possible? Most people would not understand the parable of the sower if Jesus hadn’t explained it. And yet, it is expected that all believers understand all of the parables.
We’re going to be taking a really close look at parables in this section, and hopefully you’ll see why they are so important … in fact, you may find out how you can understand all the parables. And here’s another preview, you might just conclude as I have that the Bible is actually a parable that contains multitudes of parables.
You may be wondering what’s so special about parables? Well, one thing is that they have a dual nature. They have an outside and an inside. The outside is physical … it’s the printed words you see and read on the pages of your Bible … or it’s spoken words you hear with your ears, as it was when Jesus told parables to the people and His disciples. That’s physical seeing and hearing. The counterpart to physical seeing and hearing is spiritual seeing and hearing. A parable is known with your physical senses, but understood with your spiritual senses. You see and hear when you read a parable, and then you see and hear again when you understand it. Hence, there is seeing and hearing and seeing and hearing.
The written or spoken words of a parable have a spiritual inner core … a deep, hidden moral lesson. Jesus used spoken parables to describe the kingdom of God. In other words, He used an instrument that was made up of both physical and spiritual characteristics to portray a spiritual place (the kingdom of heaven) that can’t be seen with your physical eyes. So when you understand a parable, you are actually seeing it, not with physical eyes, but with the spiritual eyes of your heart. In this way, you are able to see that which is unseen. In a nutshell, this is the reason Jesus taught with parables. They are the way physically rooted people can see and hear into the spiritual realm.
Notice Jesus’ consistent use of simile (ˈsiməlē) in the following verses from Matthew 13. Similes tell you that one thing is being used to describe or express something else of a different kind. They are used in literature to make a description more emphatic or vivid. In the Bible, they generally portray a common situation to express a moral lesson. Similes usually employ words such as such as like, as, so, than, or various verbs such as resemble.
31 He presented another parable to them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field;
32 and this is smaller than all other seeds, but when it is full-grown, it is larger than the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and nest in its branches.”
33 He spoke another parable to them, “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three pecks of flour until it was all leavened.” (Matthew 13:31-33)
And He continued …
44 “The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in the field, which a man found and hid again; and from joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.”
45 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking fine pearls,
46 and upon finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.”
47 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a dragnet cast into the sea, and gathering fish of every kind;
48 and when it was filled, they drew it up on the beach; and they sat down and gathered the good fish into containers, but the bad they threw away.” (Matthew 13:44-50)
Not only did Jesus use parables extensively, He used them all of the time.
All these things Jesus spoke to the crowds in parables, and He did not speak to them without a parable. (Matthew 13:34)
And that is the way it was intended to be.
This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet: “I will open my mouth in parables; I will utter things hidden since the foundation of the world.” (Matthew 13:35)
Again, in the following verse Jesus expresses His concern that you are able to understand the parables. He asked the disciples:
51 “Have you understood all these things?” They said to Him, “Yes.”
It is obvious to me, and I hope it is to you also, that it was and is very important to Jesus that you understand the parables of the Bible. Therefore, a serious study of parables with a goal to understanding them is a worthwhile and necessary undertaking. So I invite you to come along as we dive into the study of Biblical parables.