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and it was the plan of the eagle that this lowly vine should “turn its branches toward him, and its roots under him” (ver. 6). The “seed of the land” (ver, 5) was the royal seed of the kingdom of Judah (ver. 13), Zedekiah, whom Nebuchadnezzar made king in Jerusalem after the capture of Jehoiachin (2 Kings xxiv, 17).
The other great eagle was the king of Egypt, less mighty and glorious than the other. Toward this second eagle the vine turned her roots and sent forth her branches (ver. 7). The impotent but rebellious Zedekiah “sent his messengers to Egypt” for horses and people to help him against Nebuchadnezzar (ver. 15). But it was all in vain. He who broke his covenant and despised his oath (ver. 18) could not prosper; it required no great arm or many people to uproot and destroy such a feeble vine. The eagle of Egypt was powerless to help, and the Chaldæan forces, like a destructive east wind (ver. 10), utterly withered it away. All this is brought out forcibly in the solemn words of the “oracle of the Lord Jehovah,” verses 16–21.
Thus far the imagery has been a mixture of fable and symbol, but with verse 22 the prophet enters a higher plane of prophecy. The eagles drop out of view entirely, and Jehovah himself takes from the leafy crown of the high cedar a tender shoot (comp. Isa. xi, 1; liii, 2) and plants it upon the lofty mountain of Israel, where it becomes a glorious cedar to shelter and shade “every bird of every wing.” This is a noble prophecy of the Messiah, springing from the stock of Judah, and developing from the holy “mountain of the house of Jehovah” (Micah iv, 1, 2) a kingdom of marvellous growth and of gracious protection to all who may seek its shelter. We should note especially how the Messianic prophecy here leaves the realm of fable and takes on the style of allegory and parable. Comp. Matt. xiii, 31, 32.
1 Schröder observes that the mixed figure here used by Ezekiel goes far beyond mere popular illustration, and must not “be explained away from the æsthetic standpoint, as merely another rhetorical garb for the thought. As in the parable the emblematic form preponderates over the thought, so also here. What the prophet is to say to Israel is said by the whole of that mighty array of figurative expression, for which the animal and vegetable worlds furnish the figures. But the eagle does what eagles otherwise never do; and what is planted as a willow grows as a vine; and the vine is represented as falling in love with the other eagle. The contradictory character of such a representation, and the fact that in the difficulties to be solved (ver. 9, sq.) the comparison comes to a stand, and the closing Messianic portion in which the whole culminates, convert the parable into a riddle. A trace of irony and the moral tendency, such as belong to the fable, are not wanting.” Commentary on Ezekiel (in Lange's Biblework), in loco.
INTERPRETATION OF PARABLES.
Among the figurative forms of scriptural speech the parable has a
notable pre-eminence. We find a number of examples Pre-eminence of parabolic in the Old Testament, and the esteem in which this teaching.
mode of teaching was held by the ancient Jews is apparent from the following words of the son of Sirach: He who gives his soul and exercises his mind in the law of the
Parables are especially worthy of our study, inasmuch as they were the chosen methods by which our Lord set forth many revelations of his heavenly kingdom. They were also employed by the great rabbis who were contemporary with Jesus, and they frequently appear in the Talmud and other Jewish books. Among all the oriental peoples they appear to have been a favourite form of conveying moral instruction, and find a place in the literature of most nations.
The word parable is derived from the Greek verb trapaßáriw, to The parable de
throw or place by the side of, and carries the ea of
placing one thing by the side of another for the purpose of comparison. The word has been somewhat vaguely used, as we have seen above, to represent the Hebrew buip, and to designate proverbs, types, and symbols (as in Luke iv, 23; Heb. ix, 9; xi, 19). But, strictly speaking, the parable belongs to a style of figurative speech which constitutes a class of its own.
It is essentially a comparison, or simile, and yet all similes are not parables. The simile may appropriate a comparison from any kind or class of objects, whether real or imaginary. The parable is limited in its range, and confined to that which is real. Its imagery always embodies a narrative which is true to the facts and experiences of human life. It makes no use, like the fable, of talking birds and 1 Ecclesiasticus xxxix, 1-3.
* See above on p. 177.
beasts, or of trees in council. Like the riddle and enigma, it may serve to conceal a truth from those who have not spiritual penetration to perceive it under its figurative form; but its narrative style, and the formal comparison always announced or assumed, differentiate it clearly from all classes of knotty sayings which are designed mainly to puzzle and confuse. The parable, when once understood, unfolds and illustrates the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven. The enigma may embody profound truths, and make much use of metaphor, but it never, like the parable, forms a narrative, or assumes to make a formal comparison. The parable and the allegory come nearer together, so that, indeed, parables have been defined as “historical allegories;” but they differ from each other in substantially the same way as simile differs from metaphor. The parable is essentially a formal comparison, and requires its interpreter to go beyond its own narrative to bring in its meaning; the allegory is an extended metaphor, and contains its interpretation within itself. The parable, therefore, stands apart by itself as a mode and style of figurative speech. It moves in an element of sober earnestness, never transgressing in its imagery the limits of probability, or of what might be actual fact. It may tacitly take up within itself essential elements of enigma, type, symbol, and allegory, but it differs from them all, and in its own chosen sphere of real, every-day life, is peculiarly adapted to body forth special teachings of Him who is "the Verax, no less than the Verus, and the Veritas." ;
The general design of parables, as of all other kinds of figurative language, is to embellish and set forth ideas and moral General use of truths in attractive and impressive forms. Many a
parables. moral lesson, if spoken in naked, literal style, is soon forgotten; but, clothed in parabolic dress, it arouses attention, and fastens itself in the memory. Many rebukes and pungent warnings may be couched
1 Davidson's Hermeneutics, p. 311.
* Trench on the Miracles, p. 127. This eminent divine, whose work on the parables is one of the best of its kind, traces to considerable extent the differences between the parable, the fable, the myth, the proverb, and the allegory, and sums up as follows: "The parable differs from the fable, moving as it does in a spiritual world, and never transgressing the actual order of things natural; from the mythus, there being in the latter an unconscious blending of the deeper meaning with the outward symbol, the two remaining separate and separable in the parable; from the proverb, inasmuch as it is longer carried out, and not merely accidentally and occasionally, but necessarily figurative; from the allegory, comparing as it does one thing with another, at the same time preserving them apart as an inner and an outer, not transferring, as does the allegory, the proprieties, and qualities, and relations of one to the other.”—Notes on the Parables, pp. 15, 16. New York, 1857.
in a parable, and thereby give less offence, and yet work better effects than open plainness of speech could do. Nathan's parable (in 2 Sam. xii, 1-4) prepared the heart of David to receive with profit the keen reproof he was about to administer. Some of our Lord's most pointed parables against the Jews-parables which they perceived were directed against themselves-embodied reproof, rebuke, and warning, and yet by their form and drapery, they served to shield him from open violence (Matt. xxi, 45; Mark xii, 12; Luke xx, 19). It is easy, also, to see that a parable may enshrine a profound truth or mystery which the hearers may not at first apprehend, but which, because of its striking or memorable form, abides more firmly in the mind, and so abiding, yields at length its deep and precious meaning.'
The special reason and purpose of the parables of Jesus are stated Special reason in Matt. xiii, 10–17. Up to that point in his ministry and purpose of Jesus appears not to have spoken in parables. Jesus. words of grace (Cóyla rñs zápitos) which proceeded from his mouth” (Luke iv, 22) in the synagogue, by the seashore, and on the mount, were direct, simple, and plain. He used simile and metaphor in the sermon on the mount, and elsewhere. In the synagogue at Nazareth he quoted a familiar proverb and called it a parable (Luke iv, 23). His words had power and authority, unlike those of the scribes, and the people were astonished at his teaching. But there came a time when he notably changed his style. His simple precepts were often met with derision and
among the multitudes there were always some who were anxious to pervert his sayings. When multitudes gathered by the sea of Galilee to hear him, " and he spoke to them many things in parables” (Matt. xiii, 3), his disciples quickly observed the change and asked him, “Why in parables dost thou speak to them?” Our Lord's answer is remarkable for its blended use of metaphor, proverb, and enigma, 80 combined and connected with a prophecy of Isaiah (vi, 9, 10), that it becomes in itself one of the profoundest of his discourses.
Because to you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of the heavens, but to them it is not given. For whosoever has, to him shall be given and he shall superabound; but whosoever has not, even what he has
1 Trench writes of our Lord's parables : “His words laid up in the memory were to many that heard them like the money of another country, unavailable, it might be, for present use, of which they knew not the value, but which yet was ready in their hand when they reached that land and were naturalized in it. When the Spirit came and brought all things to their remembrance, then he filled all the outlines of truth which they before possessed with its substance, quickened all its forms with the power and spirit of life.”—Notes on the Parables, p. 28.
PURPOSES OF PARABLES.
shall be taken away from him. Therefore I speak to them in parables; because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor understand. And with them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah, which says, By hearing ye shall hear and in no wise understand; and seeing ye shall see and in no wise perceive; for thick became the heart of this people, and they heard heavily with their ears, and their eyes they closed, lest haply they should perceive with their eyes, and with their ears hear, and with the heart understand, and should turn again, and I should heal them. Matt. xiii, 11-15.
The great thought in this answer seems to be that the Lord had a twofold purpose in the use of parables, namely, both to reveal and to conceal great truths. There was, first, reveal and conthat inner circle of followers who received his word with joy, and who, like those who shared in the secret counsels of other kingdoms, were gifted to know the mysteries of the Messianic reign, long hidden, but now about to be made known (comp. Rom. xi, 25; xvi, 25; Col. i, 26). These should realize the truth of the proverb, “Whosoever has to him shall be given,” etc. This proverb expresses in an enigmatical way a most weighty and wonderful law of experience in the things of God. He who is gifted with a desire to know God, and to appropriate rightly the provisions of his grace, shall increase in wisdom and knowledge more and more by the manifold revelations of divine truth. But the man of opposite character, who has heart, soul, and mind wherewith to love God, but is unwilling to use his powers in earnest search for the truth, shall lose even what he seems to have.' His powers will become weak and worthless by inactivity, and like the slothful servant in the parable of the talents,' he will lose that which should have been his glory.
The iva in the parallel passages of Mark iv, 12 and Luke viii, 10 shows that our Lord teaches in these words the final end and purpose of his parables, not merely their results. The quotation from Isaiah evinces the same thing.
2 “The kingdom of heaven,” says Stier, “is itself a mystery for the natural earthly understanding, and, like earthly kingdoms, it has its state secrets, which cannot and ought not to be cast before every one. When, on a frank and friendly approach being made, no feeling of loyalty shows itself, but rather a threatening of rebellion, then it is wise and reasonable to draw a veil, which, however, is willingly removed whenever any faithful one wishes to join himself more nearly to the king."—Words of the Lord Jesus, in loco.
3 So Luke (viii, 18) expresses the thought: Kaì ô dokei čxelv. On which Stier remarks: “For every &xwv (one having) who does not keep (katéxel) is only a dokūV Ěxelv (one seeming to have) in a manifold sense. It is an imaginary having, the nothingness of which is to be made manifest by a so-called taking, which yet properly takes nothing from him. It is a having which has become lost through his unfaithfulness (2 John 8)."
* Of whom the same proverb is used again, and more fully illustrated, Matt. xxv, 28, 29. Comp. also John xv, 2.