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The Parables of the Old Testament

The Parables of the
Old Testament

NOV 10 19^0


Minister, Arch Street Presbyterian Church,
Philadelphia, Pa,

New York Chicago Toronto

Fleming H. Revell Company

London and Edinburgh

Copyright, 1916, by

New York: 158 Fifth Avenue
Chicago: 17 North Wabash Ave.
Toronto: 25 Richmond Street, W.
London: 21 Paternoster Square
Edinburgh: 100 Princes Street

To my friends in the First Presby-
terian Church of Pater son, New Jersey ^
and the Arch Street Presbyterian
Churchy of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania


SOME years ago I commenced a study of the
Parables of the Old Testament with the
purpose of making use of the Parables as
material for sermons. I was not disappointed as
to the suggestions afforded by such a study; in-
deed, it opened up for me a rich vein of moral and
spiritual truth. But I was surprised to find how
little there was in print that would be of help to
me in conducting such a study. Book stalls and
libraries abound in volumes on the Parables of the
New Testament, but nowhere, either in America
or Great Britain, could I come on a single book
which dealt with the Parables of the Old Testa-
ment. Whatever, then, the offenses of this volume,
it cannot be laid against it that it traverses a field
whose fruits already have been harvested and
garnered. As for these Parables, I think I can
feel almost like those mariners of the sixteenth
century who sailed upon seas that never before had
been cleft by the keel of a ship.

I have no desire to draw out fine spun distinc-
tions between the different forms of illustrative
speech. "We used to define them and refine them
in our college days ; but as a matter of fact, the
partitions which divide metaphor from simile, and
allegory from parable, and parable from fable, are
exceedingly thin. The human spirit, when it de-


8 Preface

sires to express an idea, readies out for some way
of illustrating that idea. Eliphaz wished to ex-
press the beauty and usefulness of the old age of a
good man; so he said, "Thou shalt come to thy
grave in a full age, as a shock of corn cometh in
his season." That is a direct comparison of two
spheres, the ideal and the material, the human and
the vegetable, the life of man and the life of the
corn. This sort of illustration we call a simile.
Or, in a more direct way, the formal comparison
may be omitted and the thing to be illustrated
identified for the moment with the object of com-
parison. Jesus wished to say that the Pharisees
were like the sepulchres, white without but rotten
within ; but instead of saying, " Ye are like unto
whited sepulchres" He said, "Woe unto you,
whited sepulchres ! " This we call a metaphor.

The word " parable " comes from two Greek
words which mean to place side by side. In the
parable, then, we lay one kind of actions in one kind
of sphere alongside of another kind of actions in an-
other kind of sphere, and illustrate the one by the
other. Jesus said the Kingdom of Heaven was
like unto a man going into a far country, or a shep-
herd who had a hundred sheep, or a fisherman cast-
ing his nets, or a merchant giving his servants
money for investment, or a sower going forth to
sow. In other words. He laid the spiritual king-
dom side by side with the animal or vegetable or
mineral, or the occupations of men in those king-

Preface 9 '

The difference between the Parables of Jesus
and those of the Old Testament consists in the fact
that nearly all the Parables of Jesus teach a spir-
itual truth that is timeless, and has no particular
relation to or connection with the occasion or con-
dition of utterance. The Parable of the Lost Sheep
tells of the redeeming love of God and speaks to
all ages and all conditions of men. But the Parable
of the Ewe Lamb was spoken by Nathan for the
purpose of arousing David to a sense of his sin
against Uriah the Hittite. This is true of every
Parable commented upon in this volume ; they were
messages for a special occasion. ISTevertheless, they
teem with suggestions of truth that is applicable
for any age, and, in many instances, they may be
made the vehicle of evangelical truth, as well as
general or moral. The Fable of the Thistle and
the Cedar was spoken to rebuke one king fer his
presumption in dealing with another king. The
two kings are long dead, but the Fable still may
be used to point the lesson that pride goeth before
destruction and the haughty spirit before a fall.
The Parable of the Vineyard in Isaiah was spoken
with reference to the imminent overthrow of Judah
and the dispersion of her citizens. But who does
not see in it a noble and beautiful sermon on the
full provision of God's love and the peril involved
in the rejection of Jesus Christ ? And as for the
Atonement, what better passage could one have
from which to explain that great doctrine than the
Parable of the Wise Woman of Tekoah ?

10 Preface

Although this volume is entitled " The Parables
of the Old Testament," there are included in it two
fables, and the only fables in the Bible, that of the
Trees and that of the Thistle and the Cedar. The
fable differs from the parable in that in the fable
the subjects of the mineral or vegetable or animal
kingdom " feign to speak and act with human in-
terest and passion." But the general purpose of
the fable and the parable are the same, to illustrate
moral and spiritual truth by comparison with what
actually transpires, or is imagined to transpire, in
the life of man or in the world of nature.

The minister who chooses to preach from the
Parables of the Old Testament will find that most
of the stories are new and fresh to his auditors, and
he himself will not fail to share in the consequent
interest and alertness which such preaching awakens
in a congregation. The teacher or popular speaker
will find much in these Parables which may be em-
ployed with telling effect to illustrate morals. The
Parables dealt with in this volume represent the
garnered wisdom of prophets, chroniclers, and
seers, some of them known and some of them un-
known, but all worthy of a better acquaintance.
These addresses have been delivered and this book
is now sent forth in the JS'ame of Him who taught
the people in Parables, and without a Parable
spake He not unto them.

C. E. M.

Philadelphia^ Pa.


L The Parable of the Trees . . 13

n. The Parable of the Thistle and

THE Cedar 24

III. The Parable of the Lost Prisoner 33

IV. The Parable of the Ewe Lamb . 43

V. The Parable of the Woman of

Tekoah 54

VI. The Parable of the Vineyard . 64

VII. The Parable of the Faithless

Wives 83

VIII. The Parable of the Two Eagles

AND THE Vine 94

IX. The Parable of the Ploughman . 109


The Parable of the Trees

Judges ix. 7-20

THIS is a rough and tumble world that we
enter when we open our Bibles to the
Book of Judges. Men are a law unto
themselves, and the result is lawlessness and un-
righteousness. Everything is on the heroic scale —
mirth, sorrow, revenge, hate, murder, anger, love
of country. Silhouetted against this dark back-
ground are strange and unforgetable characters
who move across the stage of Israel to the music of
strong passions : Shamgar, Gideon, Samson, Deb-
orah, Jael, Jephthah, Jotham. Jotham speaks and
is gone, but his message remains.

The bright day of Gideon*s work for God and
Israel had set in darkness and in gloom. The hero of
the victory over the hosts of the Midianites had fallen
a victim to the glory of that victory. Out of the
golden earrings, pendants, crescents, chains, wristlets
and anklets taken from the fallen foe, Gideon made
an ephod which was worshipped by Israel as an idol.
"And Gideon made an ephod even in Ophrah."
" Even in Ophrah ! " — as if the sacred chronicler
would tell of his grief and surprise at the last end
of Gideon. Where was Ophrah ? It was beneath
the oak at Ophrah that Gideon was beating out the


14 The Parables of the Old Testament

grain to hide it from the Midianites, his heart burn-
ing with anger against the invaders, when the angel
of the Lord appeared unto him and cried, " The
Lord is with thee, thou mighty man of valour." It
was in Ophrah that God called him. There the
fire came forth to devour the offering on the rocks,
and there Gideon pressed the fleece of wool to-
gether and wrung out the dew% a bowlful of w^ater.
"Even in Ophrah!" You would think that if
Gideon were going to forget God and worship
idols, he would have set up that idol anywhere
save in Ophrah, with the great and holy memories
of his youth. Yet is not this what we often see in
life, idols built in Ophrah ? Take the man who
has long ceased to name the name of God back to
the church of his youth, back to the old family pew,
and let him sit there and call up the days and the
faces that are gone ; let him think of the youth,
the child, that once sat there with a heart that
knew no bitterness, and a life that was free from
the stain of sin ; and let him compare that child, as
pure as the morning dew% with the sated sinner
worshipping the idols of this w^orld. Take the
husband and wife whose hearts have grown cold,
alienated, separated, divorced, back to that morning
of love, when to seek each other's happiness was
life's chief joy, when with hand clasped in hand,
their faces bright with the holy oil of joy and their
souls arrayed in the garments of praise, they re-
peated the vows they once thought naught could
sever : — " I do promise and covenant, before God

The Parable of the Trees 15

and man, to be thy loving and faithful wife, hus-
band, in plenty and in want, in joy and in sorrow,
in sickness and in health, until death us do part."
Take the man who has failed in the race of life, or
if successful, wears honours that are tainted, and
does, as a matter of habit, things that once he would
have scorned to do ; take that man back to the
morning of his consecration, to the day when he
left the doors of the college with the fires of high
resolution and lofty ambition burning in his heart,
and let him contrast his present, disenchanted, dis-
illusioned, easy-principled self with that youth of
long ago, when the fleece was filled with dew and
the God spake on every wind that blew. Oh, these
abandoned, forgotten, sinned against Ophrahs of
the past ! Now the fleece is dry ; no flame goes
up from the altar ; no voice of God makes the
heart beat quick and the eye look up.

That was the fate of Gideon. But he had
enough character left to refuse the proffered crown.
When they said, " Eule thou over us," he answered,
" I will not rule over you ; neither will my son rule
over you. The Lord shall rule you." But when
Gideon was dead and buried in the sepulchre of
Joash, his father, the family quarrels began. A
nation's memory is short, and Gideon's service was
soon forgotten in the service of Baal. Among the
sons of Gideon was Abimelech, a base, contempt-
ible man, illegitimate in birth and lawless in heart.
But if he possessed less virtue than the other sons,
he had more ambition than all. His being the son

l6 The Parables of the Old Testament

of the concubine shut him out from a chance for
the crown, should Israel decide to have a king.
He therefore went among his mother's friends at
Shechem and persuaded them to assist him in the
slaughter of the seventy sons of Gideon on one
stone at Ophrah. Then they went out to crown
him king by the oak that was in Shechem. But
the bloody knife of Abimelech had not quite fin-
ished its work. The youngest son, Jotham, escaped.
That is always the way with evil and evil deeds.
Truth and righteousness are never left without an
heir to their throne. Some youngest son escapes
the sword and comes back to judge. Evil builds
its tower, grim and strong walled ; but it leaves
some chink or crevice through which flies the arrow
of judgment. Truth and justice may seem to be
suppressed and none left to speak on their behalf,
when, from some unexpected quarter, comes the
voice to assure and to judge.

Just as the men of Shechem were crying '' God
save the king ! " Jotham appeared to tell them
what kind of king they had chosen. From his
station on the top of Mount Gerizim he told his
fable of the trees. "The trees went forth on a
time to anoint a king over them ; and they said
unto the olive tree, ' Reign thou over us.' But the
olive tree said unto them, ' Should I leave my fat-
ness, wherewith by me they honour man and God,
and go to wave to and fro over the trees ? ' And
the trees said to the fig tree, * Come thou and reign
over us.' But the fig tree said unto them, * Should

The Parable of the Trees 17

I leave my sweetness and my good fruit, and go to
wave to and fro over the trees ? ' And the trees
said unto the vine, * Come thou and reign over us.'
And the vine said unto them, * Should I leave my
new wine, which cheereth God and man, and go to
wave to and fro over the trees ? ' Then said all
the trees unto the bramble, ' Come thou and reign
over us.' And the bramble said unto the trees, ' If
in truth ye anoint me king over you, then come
and take refuge in my shade ; and if not, let fire
come out of the bramble and devour the cedars of
Lebanon.' "

The astounded Abimelech and his confederates
saw all too plainly the point of the parable. The peo-
ple had rejected the sons of Gideon who might have
ruled them with justice and equity, and had chosen
the basest and the wickedest of the sons, a man
among men as the bramble among the trees. They
must now serve Abimelech with slavish fear, or he
would burn them in his wrath. This proved to be
so. Jotham was not only a satirist, but a prophet.
In three years the men of Shechem got tired of
their bargain, and rebelled against their bramble
king. Abimelech came with his army, took their
city by storm, and slew the people and beat down
the walls and sowed the place with salt. If any
of the men of Shechem were left to tell the tale,
they remembered the word of Jotham, " Fire shall
come out of the bramble and devour the cedar of

The trees by their own vote elected a bramble

i8 The Parables of the Old Testament

over them. Their forest government was what
they made it, nothing more, nothing less. They
elected and crowned a bramble, and the bramble
ruled them like a bramble. Life is what you make
it. You choose your own king and government.
At first you may feel tempted to challenge this
proposition that life is what you make it. You
answer that life is made for you. You came
into the world by no wish or plan of your own ;
you found yourself born into a home where a cer-
tain kind of example and thought and life pre-
vailed ; as soon as you commenced to breathe, you
were formed, moulded, coloured, by that thought ;
on your shoulder was laid the mysterious hand of
heredity, guiding you along paths that your fathers
trod before you ; you can no more throw off your
past than you can blot out your present ; you find
yourself in a given intellectual, or moral, or religious
scale of life by no desire and by no protest of your
own ; you travel your threescore and ten along this
path of life, here and there a rough place where
the stones bruised you ; here and there a dark,
deep place where the floods overwhelmed you, and
here and there a pleasant meadow-land where the
fields were peaceful and bright with flowers, and
here and there high, exalted, spiritual places where
the winds were fresh and the air was clear, and
you thought you could see the land to which you
were travelling. Now, as you grope your way
down the path that leads you into silent, mist-
wrapped valleys, looking back over the long journey

The Parable of the Trees 19

where you met with joys that were so real and so
divine, sorrows that were so real and so penetrating,
gains so indefinable and losses so irreparable, are
you not tempted to say that life was not so much
what you made it as what you found it and were
compelled to take ?

** Ah, love ! could you and I conspire
To grasp this sorry scheme of things entire,
Would we not shatter it to bits,
And mould it nearer to the heart's desire? "

Things that we might have done differently ; things
that we would change in life if we could turn back
the years, and other things that we could never
change — all this comes to mind when we think at
all seriously about our life. But when we get
above the incidents of existence, and come to the
finer issues of the soul, regardless of the station
into which we were born, regardless of the place
which we now hold, it remains true that life is
what we make it.

Clad in all her beauty and mystery, life stands be-
fore us as the Lord stood before Solomon when he
dreamed his dream on the holy hill of Gibeon, and
speaks to us saying, " Ask what I shall give thee."

** I am the Master of my fate ;
I am the Captain of my soul.''

There are all kinds of trees in the forest, and
there are all kinds of desires and emotions and con-
siderations, vices and graces, possible for the hu-

20 The Parables of the Old Testament

man soul. Only in a fable, only in imagination,
can the trees choose a king ; but man is above the
trees of the field ; he can and does choose his king.
You have chosen your king for to-day. When this
Sabbath day with its privileges and duties is past,
some will go to their beds tired in body, but not in
heart, for they have scattered the seeds of light
and love about them ; they have thought of others,
they have toiled for others ; they have spoken the
word in season, instructed many and upholden the
fallen, wiped away tears from the eyes of those
who wept, and as a ship at sea leaves a track of
white foam behind it, they have left behind them a
path that is bright with love and honour. But
others, with the same opportunities, and the same
temptations, will go to their beds weary and ill at
ease, dissatisfied, fretful, unhappy, because they
gave themselves over to the dominion of their own
desires, aims, appetites, worshipping their own dis-
likes, prejudices, enmities. Instead of the fig, the
olive, the vine, they have made the bramble king,
and the bramble has ruled them like a bramble.
Be miserable, wretched, contemptible, if you want
to be, but don't blame it on God, or your lot in life.
You make your own king ! Oh, how often, with a
folly not unlike that of the fabled trees, we are the
deliberate electors and architects of our own un-
happiness and distress !

There was a young English poet, born to station
and wealth and education, and gifted with the
great gift of song. He scorned much that was

The Parable of the Trees 21

high and holy in life, tasted much of life's bitter-
ness, had his share of its flattery and praise, and
went to his grave at thirty-seven. Of life this is
what he had to say :

" Fame, wisdom, love and power were mine,

And health and youth possessed me ;
My goblets blush'd from every vine,

And lovely forms caressed me :
I sunn'd my heart in beauty's eyes.

And felt my soul grow tender ;
All earth can give or mortal prize,

Was mine of regal splendour.

** I strive to number o'er what days

Eemembrance can discover,
Which all that life or earth displays

Would lure me to live over.
There rose no day, there roll'd no hour

Of pleasure unembitter'd ;
And not a trapping deck'd my power

That gall'd not while it glitter' d.^'

Towards the end of the same century another
young poet and writer finished his journey. He,
too, was born to refinement, knowledge, ambition.
His life was gentle and his song was pure. When
he came to die in his island home amid the surges
of the Pacific, after his long battle with the thorn
in the flesh, he said :

" Under the wide and starry sky.
Dig the grave and let me lie.
Glad did I live and gladly die.
And I laid me down with a will.

22 The Parables of the Old Testament

This be the verse you grave for me,
Here he lies where he longed to be,
Home is the sailor — home from the sea,
And the hunter— home from the hill. "

One lived so that when he came to die life was
nothing but a desert of regrets and bitter recollec-
tions. The other lived so that when he came to
die he could say that he had " gladly lived " and
therefore he could gladly die. Life was what they
made it.

When Pilate brought out Jesus before the people,
he cried to them, " Behold your king ! " They
answered, " Away with him, away with him !
Crucify him, crucify him ! " Pilate said, " Shall
I crucify your king ? " They cried, " We have no
king but Caesar ! " That was their choice, and as
their choice so was their doom. Seventy years
after Christ died on Calvary beneath the super-
scription, in Greek, Hebrew, and Latin, " Jesus of
Nazareth, King of the Jews," Titus came with his
army, and after a siege of three years' duration
and of unparalleled suffering and fei'ocity, the walls
of Jerusalem were battered down. A legionary,
standing on the shoulders of one of his fellows, put
a torch to one of the golden windows of the temple.
The Jews rushed in to save their shrine, and died
by the thousands until their blood ran down the
steps of the holy place like a river, l^o king but
Caesar ! On that day Jewish history came to an
end. Ashes, blood, carnage, heaps of slaughtered,
fallen walls, desecrated shrines. **No king but

The Parable of the Trees 23

Caesar ! " And fire came out of the bramble. " O
Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets,
and stonest them that are sent unto thee, how often
would I have gathered thy children together, even
as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings,
and ye would not ! Behold your house is left unto
you desolate."

" And ye would not ! " Over how many cities,
over how many souls must Christ utter that la-
ment? They refuse His olive branch of blood-
bought peace and the shelter of His vine, and take
the bramble of unforgiving, unregenerate, impla-
cable self for king. " If thou hadst known who it
is that saith unto thee, ^ Give me to drink,' thou
wouldst have asked of him," said Jesus to the
woman at the well. If you and I knew the differ-
ence between the reign of Christ in our lives and
the reign of our own bramble selves, knew it, not
only in exhortation, the appeal of the sermon, but
in actual history, we should not long hesitate in
our choice. But no man is granted that kind of
wisdom. Yet in another sense we do know the
difference. If we do not have the knowledge of
experience, we have at least the knowledge of con-
viction. The question is, Will knowledge be turned
into power ? Shall we take Christ for king, com-
mitting all our interests and all our destinies to Him ?
Or, shall we take our own selves for king ? Must
Christ say for you as He said of the city that He
loved, " If thou hadst but known the things that be-
long to thy peace ! But now they are hid from thee ! "


The Parable of the Thistle and the Cedar
2 Kings xiv. 8-14.

AMAZIAH, king of Judah, had gained a
victory over Edom in the Yalley of Salt,
where he slew ten thousand men and took
the town of Selah. This victory over the desert
tribes unduly elated him, and moved him to chal-
lenge the king of Israel to combat. Because he
had slain a few thousands in the Valley of Salt, he
thought he could cross swords with the kingdom
of Israel, then at the height of its godless splendour
and military power. He sent messengers to the
king of Israel, Joash, saying : " Come, let us look
one another in the face." In other words, " Let
us meet in battle and see who is stronger." Joash
scorned the impudent challenge. Half amused,
half angTy at the insult, he answered with the par-
able of The Thistle and the Cedar. " The thistle
that was in Lebanon sent to the cedar that was in
Lebanon, saying, ' Give thy daughter to my son to
wife ' and there passed by a wild beast that was in
Lebanon and trode down the thistle." The cedar
did not deign to notice the arrogant proposal of
the thistle. But a wild beast, a prowling denizen
of the forest, seeking after his prey, passed that


The Parable of the Thistle and the Cedar 25

way and set his great paw upon the impudent
thistle, and the place that once knew it knew it no
more forever. The viewless winds caught up the
seed and fibre of the thistle and carried them
hither and yon. But the tall cedar, not even be-
holding the end of the thistle, reigned on in soli-
tary dignity and might.

This is one of the shortest fables on record, and
one of the most effective. It was a crushing bit of

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