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It is to be regretted that almost all reference books dealing with the parables, concentrate upon those spoken by our Lord, and neglect what the rest of the Bible - apart from the four gospels - holds for us in figurative language. One has searched in vain for a study volume expounding Old Testament Parables, of which there are many. G. H. Lang in The Parabolic Teaching of Scripture devotes five pages to the subject. The fullest treatment of Old Testament parables that I know of is that by A London Minister, on Miracles and Parables of the Old Testament, first published in 1890 and now re-issued by the Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, U.S.A. Certainly some of the Bible Dictionaries carry a synopsis of the parabolic teaching of the Old Testament, where the uniform word Mashal is used with a wide range of meaning. Although, as we have already hinted, there are only five passages which are thought to represent the nearest approach to "Parable," in the technical sense, commencing with Nathan's parable, yet, as the following studies will prove, the Old Testament is rich in its use of parabolic illustrations.
Perhaps the most exhaustive and illuminating treatment of Old Testament symbolism is that by Ada Habershon in her most instructive volume on The Study of the Parables, a brief condensation of which we have endeavored to give. The One who spake "many things in parables" is the same One who inspired "holy men of old" to write the Old Testament, and we can therefore expect to trace the same mind running through them all. Many of the parables, types and visions of the Old Testament illustrate and throw light on those in the New Testament, proving the marvelous unity of Scripture. Those to whom our Lord addressed His parables had some perception of typical teaching underlying the Levitical ritual and discerned a spiritual significance in the ceremonies commanded.
The manna of Deuteronomy 8 would occur to the Jews, when Jesus spoke of Himself as "The Manna" in John 6, and of the fact that man could not live by bread alone in Matthew 4.
The building on a rock would send the thoughts of Christ's hearers back to The Song of Moses where God is spoken of as the Rock (Deuteronomy 32:1).
The Parable of the Wicked Husbandmen would recall the Parable of the Vineyard, in almost identical language in Isaiah 5. Compare also Isaiah 27; 2, 3 with John 15.
The feasts of Leviticus 23 should be carefully studied with the parables of Matthew 13. There are many analogies between the yearly festivals and the group parables.
The Law of Clean and Unclean Animals (Leviticus 11; Deuteronomy 14) took on deeper significance when Peter saw that sheet let down from heaven.
The figure of a house to be pulled down finds an echo in the New Testament (Jeremiah 33:7; Ezekiel 36:36 with Acts 15:15-17; Romans 11:1,2).
The instruction regarding lost sheep forms a beautiful supplement to the Parable of the Saviour (Deuteronomy 22:1-3 with Luke 15).
Many incidents in the life of Joseph are illustrative of our Lord's life and reign.
The story of Naboth's vineyard reminds us of the vineyard in the Parable of the Wicked Husbandmen portrayed by Jesus.
The Parable of the Unjust Judge is akin to the experience of the woman of Shunem (11 Kings 8) who cried unto the king for her house and her land.
The purchase of a field (Jeremiah 32) suggests the Parable of the Hidden Treasure (Matthew 13).
The parabolic clothing of Joshua (Zechariah 3) can be placed alongside the Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15).
Zechariah's vision of the ephah corresponds in many ways to the Parable of the Leaven.
As for the symbolism of the Psalms, Psalm 78:2 can be linked with Matthew 13:34, 35; Psalm 1 with Matthew 24:45-51, and Psalm 2 is that of the Wicked Husbandmen. Psalm 23 is precious when placed alongside of John 10. Psalm 45, describing the bride and her beautiful apparel, has a counterpart in the Marriage of the Lamb (Revelation 19). Psalm 19, where the bridegroom comes out of his chamber and rejoices as a strong man to run a race, suggests the Incarnation and the Return of our Lord.
The most beautiful of all parables is that of the little City in Ecclesiastes 9:13-17, a picture of the world, attacked by Satan but delivered by the Lord Jesus. It is interesting to note in the books of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes many verses which contain the same symbolical language as the parables of our Lord. Compare Proverbs 12:7; 14:11; 24:3 with Matthew 7 and I Corinthians 3. The closing verses in Proverbs 4 remind us of several of the Lord's parables, especially that in which He taught the disciples that defilement arises, not from what goes into the mouth as food, but from what comes out of the heart and mouth in speech. Amongst the words of Solomon are references to sowing and reaping. Compare Proverbs 11:24 with II Corinthians 9:6; Proverbs 11:18 and 22:8 with Galatians 6:7; Proverbs 11:4, 28 with the Parable of the Rich Man in Luke 16; Proverbs 12:12 with John 15; Proverbs 28:19 with the Prodigal Son; Proverbs 13:7 describes Him who sold all that He had that He might purchase the field and the pearl.
Apart from actual and borderline Parables, there are hundreds of phrases, verses, and words of a parabolic nature. One could profitably dwell upon the many titles of God in the Old Testament, like "A Little Sanctuary," "Fortress," "Mother" etc., indicating the spiritual significance of such figures of speech. It is to be hoped that the following instances will stimulate further study in this most absorbing aspect of Bible truth.
PARABLES IN THE HISTORICAL BOOKS
The Parable of Mount Moriah (Genesis 22; Hebrews 11:17-19)
The Holy Spirit is our authority for calling the incident of Abraham's offering up of Isaac, a parable. The inspired writer to The Hebrews says that after Abraham's act of obedience - "He received him in a figure" (11:19). The word used for "figure" here is the same one used of "parable" in the gospels. The R.V. renders it, "Received him in a parable." The placing of Isaac upon the altar was a parabolic representation of death - the parable being in action instead of words -and his deliverance was therefore a parabolic representation of resurrection. The figurative accomplishment of the deed passes to the historical narrative -"he was in the act of offering." This phrase, and the fact that Abraham believed God was able to raise up Isaac from the dead, reveal the greatness of the sacrifice Abraham was called to make. It is interesting to note that Isaac is the only one in Scripture, apart from Christ, to be spoken of as "only begotten son" (Genesis 22:2; Hebrew 11:17).
Faith gave Abraham power to act upon the divine command even when Isaac must be slain. Up to Abraham's time no one had ever been raised from the dead, but the father of faith, believing the promise of God, had the confidence that his son, once slain, could be raised again. Thus when Isaac was on the altar, in the very shadow of death, Abraham received him back to life again, by God's grace. When Abraham said to his servants, "We will come again to you" (Genesis 22:5), he spoke the language of faith. The patriarch never doubted the almightiness of God.
What an impressive parable the whole narrative is of the offering up of God's only begotten Son, who was freely "delivered up for us all" (Romans 8:32) and who was received from the dead by His Father (I Timothy 3:16)! One point of difference, however, in this acted parable is the fact that although Isaac was offered up by Abraham, he was yet spared. The ram, caught in the thicket became Isaac's substitute and was slain in his stead. But Christ was smitten of God and afflicted. God gave His only begotten Son to die for our sin. We should have died, but Christ, as the sacrificed Ram, was sacrificed as our Substitute. He died for the sin of a lost world.
Another message for our hearts is that of readiness to do the will of God. Paul would have us know that the great quality of true service is the willing mind, "If there be first a willing mind, it is accepted according to that a man hath, and not according to that he hath not" (II Corinthians 8:12). Abraham went a long way and suffered much heart-anguish to do the will of God. Once he received the divine command, Abraham manifested a deliberate readiness to fulfil it. Too many of us go so far in obedience and then stop short like Mark whom Paul refused to take on his missionary journey (Acts 15:38). Abraham stands out magnificently as one who went as far as God would let him go.
The Parable of the Tabernacle (Hebrews 9:1-10; Exodus 25-31)
Here again, the Holy Spirit is our authority for affirming that the Tabernacle which Moses reared in the wilderness was a parable of a more glorious heritage. "The Holy Spirit this signifying ... the first tabernacle ... was a figure (Greek, parable) for the time then present" (Hebrews 9:8, 9).
The parabolic pictures or objects associated with all the services and furniture of the Tabernacle are a most fruitful line of study. In a most remarkable way the Sacrifices, offerings, feasts and construction of the Tabernacle, illustrate the Person and Work of the Redeemer, as well as the privileges and blessings of the redeemed. The wonderful ninth chapter of Hebrews is the Holy Spirit's exposition of the Tabernacle, which presents a grand picture of the complete work of Christ for the believer and also of the whole life of the believer in Christ.
Excerpted from All the Parables of the Bible by Herbert Lockyer Copyright © 1988 by Zondervan. Excerpted by permission.
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