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THE SOWER AND THE TARES.
(STÉTrvižav, ver. 7; comp. Ovviviyel in ver. 22) may suggest important thoughts; and so the incidental words of the second parable, “lest haply while gathering up the tares ye root up the wheat with them.” (verse 29), though not afterward referred to in the explanation, may also furnish lessons worthy of our consideration. So, too, it may serve a useful purpose, in interpretation, to show the fitness and beauty of any particular image or allusion. We would not expect our Lord to call the attention of his hearers to such things, but his well-disciplined disciples should not fail to note the propriety and suggestiveness of comparing the word of God to good seed, and the children of the evil one to tares.' The trodden path, the rocky places, and the thorny ground, have peculiar fitness to represent the several states of heart denoted thereby. Even the incidental remark“ while men slept ” (Matt. xiii, 25) is a suggestive hint that the enemy wrought his malicious work in darkness and secrecy, when no one would be likely to be present and interrupt him; but it would break the unity of the parable to interpret these words, as some have done, of the sleep of sin (Calovius), or the dull slowness of man's spiritual development and human weakness generally (Lange), or the careless negligence of religious teachers (Chrysostom).
It is also to be admitted that some incidental words, not designed to be made prominent in the interpretation, may, nev. suggestive ertheless, deserve attention and comment. Not a little words and allupleasure and much instruction may be derived from the attention and incidental parts of some parables. The hundredfold, sixtyfold, and thirtyfold increase, mentioned in the parable of the sower, and in its interpretation, may be profitably compared with making the five talents increase to ten talents, and the two to four (in Matt. xxv, 16–22), and also with the increase in the parable of the pounds (Luke xix, 16–19). The peculiar expressions, “ he that was sown by the wayside,” “ he that was sown upon the rocky places,” are not, as Alford truly observes, “a confusion of similitudes—no primary and secondary interpretation of otrópos [seed],— but the deep truth both of nature and of grace. The seed sown, springing up in the earth, becomes the plant, and bears the fruit, or fails of bearing it; it is, therefore, the representative, when sown, of the individuals of whom the discourse is.” Especially do we notice that the seed which, in the first parable, is said to be “the word of God” (Luke viii, 11), is defined in the second as “the
1 Greek çiçávia, darnel, which is said to resemble wheat in its earlier stages of growth, but shows its real character more clearly at the harvest time.
Greek Testament, in loco.
children of the kingdom” (Matt. xiii, 38). A different stage of prog: ress is tacitly assumed, and we think of the word of God as having developed in the good heart in which it was cast until it has taken up that heart within itself and made it a new creation.'
From the above examples we may derive the general principles Not speciic which are to be observed in the interpretation of rules, but sound
parables. No specific rules can be formed that will sense and discriminating apply to every case, and show what parts of a parable guide the inter- are designed to be significant, and what parts are mere preter. drapery and form. Sound sense and delicate discrimination are to be cultivated and matured by a protracted study of all the parables, and by careful collation and comparison. Our Lord's examples of interpretation show that most of the details of his parables have a meaning; and yet there are incidental words and allusions which are not to be pressed into significance. We should, therfore, study to avoid, on the one side, the extreme of ingenuity which searches for hidden meanings in every word, and, on the other, the disposition to pass over many details as mere rhetorical figures. In general it may be said that most of the details in a parable have a meaning, and those which have no special significance in the interpretation, serve, nevertheless, to enhance the force and beauty of the rest. Such parts, as Boyle observes, “are like the feathers which wing our arrows, which, though they pierce not like the head, but seem slight things, and of a different matter from the rest, are yet requisite to make the shaft to pierce, and do both convey it to and penetrate the mark.”: We may also add, with Trench, that “it is tolerable evidence that we have found the right interpretation of a parable if it leave none of the main circumstances unexplained. A false interpretation will inevitably betray itself, since it will invariably paralyze and render nugatory some important member of an entire account. If we have the right key in our hand, not merely some of the words, but all, will have their corresponding parts, and, moreover, the key will turn without grating or overmuch forcing; and if we have the right interpretation it will scarcely need to be defended and made plausible with great appliance of learning, to be propped up by remote allusions to rabbinical or profane literature, or by illustrations drawn from the recesses of antiquity.":
The prophet Isaiah, in chap. v, 1-6, sings of his Beloved Friend,
1" Our life,” says Lange, “becomes identified with the spiritual seed, and principles assume, so to speak, a bodily shape in individuals.” Commentary on Matthew, in loco.
9 Quoted by Trench, Notes on the Parables, p. 34. 3 Notes on the Parables, p. 39.
and his Friend's own song touching his vineyard, and in verse 7 declares that
The vineyard of Jehovah of hosts is the house of Israel,
For righteousness, and behold a cry. This short explanation gives the main purpose of the parable. No special meaning is put on the digging, the gathering out of the stones, the tower, and the winevat. Our Lord appropriates the imagery of this passage in his parable of the wicked husbandmen (Matt. xxi, 33–44). But to understand, ble of the Vinein either parable, that the tower represents Jerusalem (Grotius), or the temple (Bengel), that the winevat is the altar (Chrysostom), or the prophetic institution (Irenæus), that the gathering out of the stones denotes the expulsion of the Canaanites from the Holy Land, together with the stone idols (Grotius), is to go upon doubtful ground, and introduce that which will confuse rather than elucidate. These several particulars are rather to be taken together as denoting the complete provision which Jehovah made for the security, culture, and prosperity of his people. “What is there to do more for my vineyard,” he asks, "that I have not done in it ?” He had spared no pains or outlay, and yet, when the time of grape harvest came, his vineyard brought forth wild grapes. What would seem to have been so full of hope and promise yielded only disappointment and chagrin. The grapes he expected were truth and righteousness; those which he found were bloodshed and oppression. He announces, accordingly, his purpose to destroy that vineyard, and make it an utter desolation, a threat fearfully fulfilled in the subsequent history of Israel and the Holy Land.
Such is the substance of the interpretation of Isaiah’s parable, but the language in which it is clothed has many beautiful strokes and delicate allusions which are worthy of attention. Our Lord's parable of the wicked husbandmen, which is based upon its imagery, may be profitably noticed in connexion with it. It is
Such, for instance, is the “very fertile hill” in which this vineyard was planted; literally, in a horn, a son of oil, or fatness ; metaphor for a horn-shaped hill of rich soil, and used in allusion to the land of promise (comp. Deut. viii, 7–9). There is also an ironical play on the Hebrew words for justice and bloodshed, righteousness and cry in the last two lines of verse 7: "He looked for warm, mishpat, and behold navne, mispach, for 77279, tzdhakah, and behold npyy, tzgnakah.” Contrast also the jubilant opening in which the prophet essays to sing his well-beloved's song with the change of person in verse 3 and the sad tone of disappointment which follows.
recorded by Matthew (xxi, 33–44), Mark (xii, 1–12), and Luke (xx, 9–18), and, though spoken in the ears of “the people” (Luke xx, 9), the chief priests, the scribes, and the Pharisees understood that it was directed against them (Matt. xxi, 45; Luke xx, 19).
The context also informs us in Matt. xxi, 43) that the Parable of the Wicked Hus- vineyard represents “the kingdom of God.” In Isaiah's bandmen.
parable the whole house of Israel is at fault, and is threatened with utter destruction. Here the fault is with the husbandmen to whom the vineyard was leased, and whose wickedness appears most flagrant; and here, accordingly, the threat is not to destroy the vineyard, but the husbandmen. The great questions, then, in the interpretation of our Lord's parable, are: (1) What is meant by the vineyard? (2) Who are the husbandmen, servants, and son ? (3) What events are contemplated in the destruction of the husbandmen and the giving of the vineyard to others ? These questions are not hard to answer: (1) The vineyard in Isaiah is the Israelitish people, considered not merely as the Old Testament Church, but also as the chosen nation established in the land of Canaan. Here it is the more spiritual idea of the kingdom of God considered as an inheritance of divine grace and truth to be so apprehended and utilized unto the honour and glory of God as that husbandmen, servants, and Son may be joint heirs and partakers of its benefits. (2) The husbandmen are the divinely commissioned leaders and teachers of the people, whose business and duty it was to guide and instruct those committed to their care in the true knowledge and love of God. They were the chief priests and scribes who heard this parable, and knew that it was spoken against them. The servants, as distinguished from the husbandmen, are to be understood of the prophets, who were sent as special messengers of God, and whose mission was usually to the leaders of the people.' But they had been mocked, despised, and maltreated in many ways (2 Chron. xxxvi, 16); Jeremiah was shut up in prison (Jer. xxxii, 3), and Zechariah was stoned (2 Chron. xxiv, 21; comp. Matt. xxiii, 34-37, and Acts vii, 52). The one son, the beloved, is, of course, the Son of man, who “ came unto his own, and they that were his own received him not” (John i, 11). (3) The destruction of the wicked husbandmen was accomplished in the utter overthrow and miserable ruin of the Jewish leaders in the fall of Jerusalem. Then the avenging of “all the righteous blood” of the prophets came upon that generation (Matt. xxiii, 35, 36), and then, too, the
1 Servants are the extraordinary ministers of God, husbandmen the ordinary. The former are almost always badly received by the latter, who take ill the interruption of their own quiet possession.-Bengel, Gnomon, in loco.
COMPARISON OF PARABLES.
vineyard of the kingdom of God, repaired and restored as the New Testament Church, was transferred to the Gentiles.
There are many minor lessons and suggestive hints in the language of this parable, but they should not, in an expo
points sition, be elevated into such prominence as to confuse not to be made these leading thoughts. Here, as in Isaiah, we should prominent. not seek special meanings in the hedge, winepress, and tower, nor should we make a great matter of what particular fruits the owner had reason to expect, nor attempt to identify each one of the servants sent with some particular prophet or messenger mentioned in Jewish history. Still less should we think of finding special meanings in forms of expression used by one of the evangelists and not by another. Some of these minor points may be rich in suggestions and abundantly worthy of comment, but in view of the overstraining which they have too frequently received at the hands of expositors we need the constant caution that at most they are incidental rather than important.
Two other parables of our Lord illustrate the casting off of the Jews and the calling of the Gentiles. They are the
Comparison of marriage of the King's Son (Matt. xxii, 2-14), and the analogous pargreat supper (Luke xiv, 16–24). The former is recorded ables. only by Matthew, and follows immediately after that of the wicked husbandmen. The latter is recorded only by Luke. Some of the rationalistic critics have argued that these are but different versions of the same discourse, but a careful analysis will show that, while they have marked analogies, they have also numerous points of difference. And it is an aid to the interpretation of such analogous parables to study them together and mark their diverging lines of thought. The parable of the marriage of the King's Son, as compared with that of the wicked husbandmen, exhibits an advance in thought as notable as that observed in the parable of the tares as compared with that of the sower. Trench here observes “how the Lord is revealing himself in ever clearer light as the central person of the kingdom, giving here a far plainer hint than there of the nobility of his descent. There he was indeed the son, the only and beloved one, of the householder; but here his race is royal, and he appears himself at once as the King and the King's Son (Psa. lxxii, 1). This appearance of the householder as the King announces that the sphere in which this parable moves is the New Testament dispensation is the kingdom which was an riage of King's nounced before, but was only actually present with the Husbandmen coming of the King. The last was a parable of the compared. Old Testament history; even Christ himself appears there rather as
Parable of Mar
Son and Wicked