The Parable of the Four Soils

To Be Like Yeshua Means – To Understand the Parables of the Kingdom

We have spent a good deal of time in the Gospel of Matthew sitting at the feet of Yeshua to learn directly from Him what it means to be His talmidim.   We have learned that we have to serve and affirm others.  In this post, we will continue to learn about the Christian Torah as we explore To Be like Yeshua Means to Understand the Parables of the Kingdom.

Yeshua captivated His listeners by presenting the truth in terms that they could understand.  In Matthew 13 we find no less than eight different images from the work world.  Clearly, Yeshua knew how to relate to the world in which everyday people lived and worked.  Using parables, Yeshua frequently spoke about the nature of His Kingdom.

Our Lord’s use of parables puzzled the disciples.  He had used some parables in His teaching already, but on the day long ago that we will spend the next several weeks exploring, He gave a series of seven interrelated parables, then added an eighth.  The word parable means “to cast alongside.”  It is a story, or comparison, that is put alongside something else to help make the lesson clear.  But these are not ordinary parables; Yeshua called them “secrets of the Kingdom of Heaven” (Matthew 13:11).  In this series of parables, Yeshua explained the course of the Gospel in the world.  If Israel had received Him as King, the blessings would have flowed out from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth.  But the nation rejected Him, and God had to institute a new program on earth.  During this present age, “the kingdom of heaven” is a mixture of true and false, good and bad, as pictured in these parables.

Why did Yeshua teach in parables? Two reasons were given: because of the sluggishness of the people (Matthew13:10-17); and because it was prophesied in Psalm 78:2 (Matthew 13:34-35).  Yeshua did not teach in parables to confuse or condemn the people.  Rather, He sought to excite their interest and arouse their curiosity.  These parables would give light to those with trusting and searching hearts.  But they would bring darkness to the unconcerned and unrepentant.

We learn at the end of chapter 12 that Yeshua left the synagogue and began to teach outdoors.  He left those opposed to him and reached out to the responsive people.  Yeshua had already made unmistakable claims about his true identity, and there was increasing division between those who accepted and those who rejected.  The religious leaders had already decided that Yeshua was not the Messiah.  The crowds who followed Yeshua, listening to his teaching and observing his miracles, wondered if this could be the “Son of David” (12:23), but their leaders told them he was not.  So “that same day” (13:1), Yeshua began teaching a series of parables about the kingdom of heaven.

“That same day, Yeshua went out of the house and sat down by the lake; but such a large crowd gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there while the crowd stood on the shore.  He told them many things in parables: ‘A farmer went out to sow his seed.  As he sowed, some seed fell alongside the path; and the birds came and ate it up.  Other seed fell on rocky patches where there was not much soil. It sprouted quickly because the soil was shallow; but when the sun had risen, the young plants were scorched; and since their roots were not deep, they dried up.  Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants.  But others fell into rich soil and produced grain, a hundred or sixty or thirty times as much as had been sown.  Those who have ears, let them hear!’” ~ Matthew 13:1-9

“A farmer went out to sow his seed.”  In this parable, the farmer represents Yeshua, the soil represents Israel, and the seed represents the proclamation of the kingdom.  The parable shows the contrast between the results of acceptance and rejection of the gospel message.  This “kingdom parable” gave a familiar picture to Yeshua’ audience – a farmer sowing seed, with the resulting increase dependent on the condition of the soil.  In ancient Israel, farmers sowed seed by hand.  As the farmer walked across the field, he would sow the seeds by scattering (13:4) handfuls of seed onto the ground from a large bag slung across his shoulders.  The plants did not grow in neat rows, as is accomplished by today’s machine planting.  No matter how skillful, no farmer could keep some of his seed from falling by the wayside, from being scattered among rocks and thorns, or from being carried off by the wind.  So the farmer would throw the seed liberally, and enough would fall on good ground to ensure a good harvest.  The yield depended on the condition of the soil where the seed fell.  A farmer in Israel could possibly have all four types of soil Yeshua described on his farm.  Yeshua spoke to the crowds about the kingdom, explaining through this parable that while their religious leaders might reject the Messiah that did not change the truth.  Yeshua himself and the gospel were truth; there was no problem with them as there was no problem with the farmer or his seed.  The only variable was the land where the seed fell.

Some of the seeds fell alongside the path.  The hard and compacted soil of the path made it impossible for the seed to penetrate.  So it sat on top, as tempting morsels for birds that came and ate it up.  In verse 19 we learn that the birds represent Satan.

Some of that seed fell on rocky patchesUnlike the path, rocky ground had some soil to accept the seed, but not much.  The seed sprang up quickly in the shallow soil.  Most of the land in Israel is rocky.  The soil is filled with rocks of all sizes.  Such soil traps the moisture so that plants can grow quickly, but the sun takes the moisture out so rapidly that a young plant withers.  Thus, when the sun had risen, the young plants were scorched and dried up. 

Some of the farmer’s seed fell among thorns.  No farmer would intentionally scatter the seed into an area filled with thorns and briers; this probably refers to the seed falling among seeds or roots of thorns that cultivation had not destroyed.  Thorns rob the sprouts of nutrition, water, light, and space.  Thus, when the thorns grew up, the good seed was choked out and could not grow to maturity and yield a crop.

However, some of the seed landed in plowed and fertile soil.  This seed had the depth of soil, space, and moisture to grow and produce a crop.  This seed multiplied and yielded thirty, sixty, or even up to a hundred times the amount of seed sown.  A farmer would be happy indeed to see his crop multiply even ten times.  Thirty, sixty, or a hundred would be a marvelous (although not unheard of) yield, for it would mean even more seed to plant and harvest in the coming year.

“Those who have ears, let them hear!”  Yeshua’ audience must have wondered at these strange words.  Didn’t they all have ears, and hadn’t they all heard?  But Yeshua wasn’t talking about the act of simply hearing his words.  Human ears hear many sounds, but there is a deeper kind of listening that results in spiritual understanding.  Yeshua was speaking of the response of the mind and heart necessary to gain spiritual understanding.  Some people in the crowd were only curious about Yeshua; a few were looking for evidence to use against Him; others truly wanted to learn and grow.  Yeshua’ words were for the honest seekers.  Those who honestly seek God will have spiritual hearing.

Yeshua pointed out that listening makes fertile soil.  If we bear fruit, it is proof that we have listened.  Are we willing to actually listen to what He is saying to us?  If others bear fruit, it shows that the seed we have planted has taken root in their heart.  Yeshua purposely spoke in parables to weed out the half-hearted and curiosity seekers from the true seekers.  His words, like the farmer’s seed, fell on various types of hearts.  Those who truly heard and understood would become his followers.  Those not ready for Yeshua would not understand his words, would lose interest, and finally would either fade away or become his avowed enemies, as did most of the religious leaders.  When we hear Yeshua’ words, we should apply them to our lives, not to someone else.  If we honestly seek God and develop spiritual hearing, these parables will give us new perspectives.

The Parable of the Sower begins with the preaching of the Word, the planting of the seed in the hearts of people.  When we say, “Let me plant this thought in your mind,” we express the idea of this parable.  The seed is God’s Word; the various soils represent different kinds of hearts; and the varied results show the different responses to the Word of God.

Yeshua explained this parable so there is no doubt of its meaning.  Why compare God’s Word to seed?  Because the Word is “living and powerful” (Hebrews 4:12).  Unlike the words of men, the Word of God has life in it; and that life can be imparted to those who will believe.  The truth of God must take root in the heart, be cultivated, and permitted to bear fruit.  It is shocking to realize that three fourths of the seed did not bear fruit.  Yeshua did not describe an age of great harvest, but one in which the Word would be rejected.  He was not impressed with the “great multitudes” that followed Him, for He knew that most of the people would not receive His Word within and bear fruit.  Fruit is the test of true salvation (Matthew 7:16).

If a plant is to bear fruit, it must be rooted in soil and exposed to sunshine.  In the parable, the sun represents persecution that comes because of the Word.  We learned in Matthew 10 that persecution helps believers grow.  But the sunshine will kill a plant with no roots.  This explains why some Believers do not last:  Their faith was weak, their understanding was meager, and their decision was not sincere.

Did you know it is possible to believe and yet not be saved?   John 2:23-25 says, “Now while Yeshua was in Yerushalayim at the Pesach festival, there were many people who “believed in His name” when they saw the miracles he performed.  But He did not commit Himself to them, for He knew what people are like –  that is, He didn’t need anyone to inform Him about a person, because He knew what was in the person’s heart.”   Unless there is fruit in the life, there is not saving faith in the heart.

In my next post, we will look at how Yeshua explains the Parable of the Sower.

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