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Light from the Epistle 
of St. James 

Cloth 3/6 net 




Author of 
"The Modern Conflict," "The Shepherd Song" 





IN the following pages an attempt is made to 
present a faithful exposition and interpretation 
of what I regard as the Old Testament Parables. 
The first chapter explains how the list of Parables 
has been compiled. At no stage of the study are 
their possibilities of Gospel interpretation or 
evangelical application overlooked. Not enough 
is it for us to know their meaning in their own 
day ; we must ask what message, if any, they 
had for Jesus in whose hands even the dross of 
the Old Testament was, as Harnack says, 
" changed into gold ; its hidden treasures were 
brought forth " ; but most of all, we must learn 
their possible value to ourselves in an age when 
the Old Testament begins to live anew and with 
an ever-increasing appeal. 

Acknowledgment of quotations and references 
has been rendered in the text, but upon a subject 
whose literature is distinguished by its paucity 
I have been a grateful gleaner in many fields 
of whatever seemed apposite and illuminating. 
The translations which preface each parable have 
been construed from a careful reading and com- 
parison of the Septuagint, the Massoretic Hebrew 
Text and various English translations. 



Rev. W. B. Stevenson, D.D., D.Litt., Professor 
of Oriental Languages, Glasgow University, has 
very kindly read the MSS. and to him I am 
sincerely grateful for corrections, friendly 
criticisms and valuable suggestions. 




I. THE WORD ' PARABLE ' . . 9 


II. THE EWE LAMB ... 23 










XI. THE POTTER . . . 113 
XII. MICAIAH a faithful Minister of 

God . . . . .122 



CONCLUSION .... 150 


IN addition to their attraction as a subject of 
absorbing interest the Old Testament Parables 
make a strong historical, moral and spiritual 
appeal as a background for much that we read 
in the New Testament. More detailed study 
than one can possibly reproduce here has given 
the conviction that Jesus was not only familiar 
with the Old Testament Parables and fond of 
recounting some of them, but that in narrating 
His own stories of the Kingdom He used forms 
of expression and symbolism with which His 
hearers were already familiar. " The Rabbis, 
who made such large use of parables, were alive 
to their value as a method of teaching and for 
the purpose of vivid illustration " (C. G. Monte- 
fiore, Rabbinic Literature and Gospel Teachings). 
Jesus raised the parabolic method of teaching 
to a standard previously unattained and gave to 
it a value which the world has ever since 

The Old Testament Parables merit at least a 
small share of this universal approbation because 



they had already provided the scheme, the 
system, the power and genius of parabolic 
teaching. " We have ground to conjecture that 
such forms of composition must have been 
long, diligently and abundantly cultivated " 
(Kautzsch, Literature of the Old Testament). 
Only a new spirit was required to impart a fresh 
interest to the system, and that came with the 
appeal of Jesus for a New Kingdom. Indeed, 
some of our Lord's parables may be recognised 
as familiar Old Testament stories with the new 
idea of the Kingdom of God set in their heart. 
This appears in reading the parables of the 
Wicked Husbandmen and the Mustard Seed, 
which remind us of the parables of the Vineyard 
(Isaiah v. 1-7) and the Great Eagles (Ezek. xvii.). 
Reared in the Old Testament atmosphere which 
inspired Him to use such metaphorical language 
as " The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me " or " The 
stone which the builders rejected the same is 
become the head of the corner," it is no surprise 
to find Jesus adapting the simplest and most 
obvious facts of life to the function of pro- 
claiming the truth of the Kingdom of God. 

Between the parables of the two Testaments 
there is a wide difference. Whereas those of the 
Old are mainly composed of narratives of action, 
fable and imaginative fancy, those of the New 
Testament are rich in common and well-known 
experiences of life. It is true that Jesus uses 



imagination in certain parables, but in all His 
stories there is a ring of reality. They are free 
of the crudity which marks the Old Testament 
stories, and some of them are so intricately woven 
that they required to be interpreted for their 
hearers. The * time ' difference in the two types 
of parable is also important. The New Testa- 
ment Parables were spoken by Jesus Himself as 
their originator, and the period of narration was 
no more than three years. Those of the Old 
Testament were spoken by various people over a 
period of time embracing many generations and 
several civilizations, each with its peculiar 
language, mode of expression, morality and 
religious interpretation. 

The parables of the New Testament are uni- 
versal in their appeal, whilst those of the Old 
Testament, with few exceptions, are local and 
personal ; the truths of the former may be 
universalized, but the latter are mostly related 
to particular events and to directly personal 
duties, national and individual. The Old Testa- 
ment Parables lack the prophetic note and high 
spiritual value of their successors, yet they charm 
us by their truth to life and their unerring 
portrayal of the deeper regions of human 
experience sin, remorse, punishment and 
reformation. In them we read of the moral and 
social life of varied epochs in Israel's history and 
are given a glimpse of the religious conditions 



under different regimes. They are very matter- 
of-fact because they shew us man as he was and 
is rather than as he may be ideally. Their 
humanity is their appeal. 


In his opening chapter of ' Notes on the 
Parables ' Archbishop Trench refers to the 
difficulty of finding a definition of the word 
' parable ' which should " omit none of its 
distinctive marks, and at the same time include 
nothing superfluous and merely accidental." 
What the distinguished scholar writes regarding 
a definition for New Testament Parables applies 
with even more force to the setting forth of an 
adequate and acceptable definition of Old 
Testament Parables. So familiar are we with 
the charming stones told by Jesus Christ and 
with their particular form and application that 
we may bring to the word ' parable ' in the Old 
Testament a misleading conception of its content. 
A simple and concise definition is not possible, 
but an explanation of what the word embraces 
can be provided. 

The Jews had many " apophthegms, parables, 
pregnant witty sayings . . . and even apart 
from the Book of Proverbs it is doubtful whether 
any national literature is so rich in such utter- 
ances as is the Bible " (McCurdy, History, 
Prophecy and the Monuments). Oral and written 



collections of sage and apt sayings, of fables and 
parables were common in Israel just as were 
ballads and proverbs in Britain many years ago. 


As a rule, the English word ' parable ' in the 
Old Testament represents the Hebrew word 
' Mashal ' (^9) though we may discover no 
' parable ' such as that word usually implies in 
the English language. The Hebrew word is 
generally translated in our English versions as 
' parable ' or ' proverb,' but it embraces a wide 
range of illustrative and figurative language. 
Mashal may mean parable (Ezek. xvii. 2), 
proverb (i Sam. x. 12), allegory (Ezek. xxiv. 3), 
taunting-speech (Is. xiv. 4), an argument (Job 
xxvii. I and xxix. i) or an obscure utterance 
such as a poetic oracle (Numbers xxiii. 7, 18, 
and Hab. ii. 6). " Through the Mashal 
a man can understand the words of the 
Law " (C. G. Montefiore, Rabbinic Literature, 
&c.). The purpose of the Mashal being primarily 
its suggestion of comparison or similitude, 
there is little difficulty in understanding how 
the word became associated with ' parable,' 
because in the ordinary acceptance of its meaning 
the word ' parable ' necessitates a comparison 
or similitude. 

A parable is defined by Bishop Lowth as 
" a continued narrative of a fictitious event, 



applied by way of simile to the illustration of 
some important truth." In the Old Testament 
the terms ' parable ' and ' proverb ' are almost 
interchangeable, and it is interesting to observe 
that the Old Testament stories which conform 
most closely to what is regarded as the customary 
standard of what constitutes a parable are not 
introduced by the term Mashal. These are 
the narratives of the Ewe Lamb (2 Sam. xii. 
1-4), the Tekoan Woman (2 Sam. xiv. 4 f.), 
the Lost Prisoner (i Kings, xx. 38-42), the 
Vineyard (Is. v. 1-7) and the Ploughman 
(Is. xxviii. 23-29). They are, nevertheless, 
Mashals, and they suggest that we must seek 
our Old Testament Parables in the content 
rather than in the name of the stories. 


There is not the same difficulty among terms 
in the New Testament, where all the accepted 
parables are contained within the four Gospels, 
being part of the teaching of Jesus Christ. 
They are inseparable from their blessed Narrator, 
and are all related in greater or less degree to 
the Kingdom which He came to establish upon 
earth. Matthew states that " all these things 
spake Jesus in parables unto the multitudes ; 
and without a parable spake He nothing unto 
them : that it might be fulfilled which was 
spoken through the prophet saying, I will open 



my mouth in parables ; I will utter things hidden 
from the foundation of the world." It has been 
pointed out that Matthew's quotation is rather 
free, and that it does not agree with the Hebrew 
or with the Septuagint of Psalm Ixxviii, v. 2 
(Kirkpatrick, The Book of Psalms) ; but the 
fact remains that Jesus " adopted the methods 
of the teachers of the old dispensation, and 
fulfilled them by carrying them to their highest 

Even in the New Testament, however, there is 
need to distinguish between parable and proverb 
and between parable and allegory. Some 
scholars would exclude John's narratives from 
the list of parables on the ground that they are 
allegories ; others would restrict the list of 
parables to about thirty rather than accept 
about sixty, which are recognised by many 
students of the Gospels. The interchange- 
ability of ' parable ' and ( proverb ' is also 
found in the New Testament. Jesus remarked 
that His hearers would say to Him this * parable ' 
" Physician, heal thyself " where the word 
4 parable ' is inapplicable ; whilst He also said, 
" I have spoken unto you in proverbs," where, 
it would seem, the word * parables ' is implied. 
In a wider sense it may be claimed that in so far 
as most of the sentences of the Sermon on the 
Mount are metaphorical or similitudinary, they 
are also parabolical ; but by common consent 



they are excluded from the list of parables 
because they do not provide the elementary 
foundation narratives by means of which a 
comparison is set up and a moral is derived. 
Bishop Lowth's definition of a parable falls 
short when applied to the narratives of Jesus 
Christ, since His Parables do not merely provide 
* some important truth,' but they supply a 
definitely spiritual truth related to the Gospel 

In dealing with the Old Testament Parables 
we must confine our study to such stories as 
were probably regarded at the time of their 
narration as having an implied lesson of spiritual 
or moral truth or of practical and possibly 
personal allusion. We must avoid the tempta- 
tion to read too much into them and to discover 
detailed circumstances to coincide with each 
minute part of the stories. Nor must they be 
so Christianized as to deprive them of their 
historical, local and individual importance, 
although we endeavour to see their message, 
if there be any, for our own period of history. 
For our purpose there must lie behind a Parable 
a particular truth, fact, act or picture which 
is necessary to the moral or spiritual life, or 
to a special expression of some characteristic 
which ought to be exemplified in the life of 



an individual, community or nation. The story 
may be given as fact, fable or fancy, but there 
lies within it, by comparison, another and higher 
meaning. This higher meaning is, in most 
instances, applicable to the listener's life. 


The narratives of fact may or may not deal 
with historical truth, but the circumstances 
depicted are such that they lend the possibility 
of truth to the stories, and by the application of 
that possible truth a contrast is set up which 
leads to the other meaning which constitutes 
a parable. Among such stones are the Ewe Lamb 
(2 Sam. xii. 1-4), the Vineyard (Is. v. 1-7), and 
the Poor Wise Man (Eccles. ix. 14, 15). In form 
the parables of fact are nearest to those of our 


It may be objected that the fable can never 
rise beyond mere human morality, that Jesus 
did not stoop to its use, and that it makes 
inanimate and earthly substances as well as 
beasts and birds appear as though in possession 
of human speech. If the fable succeeds in its 
purpose by bringing home an ethical or spiritual 
truth which would otherwise remain unrecog- 
nised or inadmissible, and if it does this by 
setting the story in the fable over and against 

17 B 


the listener's own life, then such a fable is 
parabolic. In this sense the fables of Jotham 
(Judges ix. 8-15) and Jehoash (2 Kings, xiv. 9) 
are admitted as Old Testament Parables. Arch- 
bishop Trench holds that the fable " has no place 
in the Scripture, and in the nature of things 
could have none, for the purpose of Scripture 
excludes it." He regards the fable as " essentially 
of the earth, and never lifts itself above the 
earth." He draws a very fine distinction between 
' folly ' and ' sin,' and indicates that though 
the fables teach men their folly they do not 
teach them their sin. For the reasons already 
specified the fables are included as parables in 
this book and we might with some advantage urge 
the claim for these fables to be admittedas parables 
because of their narration in a much earlier civili- 
zation than the New Testament Parables. 


Within the category of parables of fancy 
there come visionary and imaginary descriptions 
which are directly capable of a higher inter- 
pretation and which were first recounted for 
the purpose of conveying such a message. 
Stories which are obviously visionary in the 
sense that they are merely illustrations or are 
unrelated to the circumstances of the listener 
or to a general law of human life which requires 
to be brought home, must be discarded. There 



are many stories which prompt us to ask ' what 
these things mean ' but which fall short of our 
standard and definition of an Old Testament 
Parable, e.g. the Good and Bad Figs (Jer. xxiv.), 
the Two Harlots (Ez. xxiii.), the Boiling Pot 
(Ez. xxiv. 3-5), the Vision of Dry Bones 
(Ez. xxxvii.), and the visions in the books of 
Amos and Zechariah. Narratives like those 
of the Linen Waist-Cloth (Jer. xiii. i-u) and 
the Potter (Jer. xviii. i-io) are included among 
parables of fancy. 

The foregoing classification of the narratives 
into parables of fact, fable and fancy gets rid of 
difficulties created and suggested by our English 
varieties of figures of speech, and gives us the 
privilege to concentrate our thoughts upon the 
parables rather than upon the dialectical dis- 
cussion as to what constitutes a parable. We 
shall accept the principle that in the parables 
" we lay one kind of action in one sphere along- 
side another kind of action in another sphere 
and illustrate the one by the other " (McCartney, 
The Parables of the Old Testament}. This will 
fulfil the simple meaning of the word ' Mashal,' 
which meant primarily " the setting of one 
thing beside another " for the purpose of com- 
parison. By means of that comparison there 
will appear the lessons and higher principles 
or spiritual truths which prompted the narration 
of the stories. 




(*) " THE EWE LAMB " 

"THERE were two men in one city one rich 
and the other poor. The rich man had very 
abundant small cattle and large cattle ; but the 
poor man had totally nothing save one little ewe 
lamb which he had bought. He nourished it 
and it grew up together with him and his sons. 
It used to eat of his own morsel of bread and 
drink from his own cup. It lay in his bosom 
and was as a daughter to him. To the rich man 
there came a visitor and he was chary to take 
from his own small cattle or his own large cattle 
to prepare for the wayfarer that was come unto 
him ; but he took the poor man's ewe lamb and 
prepared it for the man that was come unto 
him." 2 Samuel xii. 1-4. 

As an illustration of the narratives of fact the 
simple words of the above story are very suitable. 
They present what might well have had a basis 
in some recent incident, and their reality so 
impressed their original hearer that he accepted 
them as fact. To read the story to-day in its 
direct and terse sentences awakes in every heart 



an intense feeling of anger against the rich man 
and of deepest sympathy towards the poor man. 
Quite apart from its parabolic interpretation the 
story makes its appeal, but when linked to the 
episode of which it is a parable it opens up an 
approach to a part of Scripture history in which 
is found a monstrous depth of iniquity over and 
against which are set the wrath and mercy of 
God. By its means the tragedy of David's 
spiritual and moral life is not only clearly 
portrayed and condemned but its consequences 
are revealed and a moral lesson is taught. 

The closing verse of Chapter xi is the key to 
the incident " But the thing that David had 
done displeased the Lord." From his lowly 
shepherd life God had taken David and steadily 
advanced him in wisdom, honour and power. 
In the field of battle he had been victorious. As 
a king he ruled a united and prosperous people. 
As a man he was surrounded by every luxury and 
opportunity for self-indulgence which any man 
of that time could wish. By the law of suc- 
cession he owned Saul's harem in addition to his 
own wife and concubines, yet it was just in this 
wealth of opportunity to satisfy his passions that 
David revealed his selfishness, a selfishness that 
culminated in a most despicable crime. We may 
wonder why such a story is told in the Bible, 
more so as it relates to a man who was renowned 
for his love of God and his zeal for righteousness. 



We ought, however, to appreciate the truth 
and sincerity of the Bible in being so faithful 
in depicting human sin and weakness where 
even a holy man may be so fallen in iniquity 
that conscience and remorse are almost stifled. 

After his throne was made secure and he had 
almost completed the overthrow of all his foes, 
David was ensnared by success and idleness. 
Not far from his palace he beheld a brave 
soldier's wife whose person his lust immediately 
desired and acquired. Her husband, Uriah the 
Hittite, was with the army, and verses 8-12 of 
Chapter xi suggest that Uriah returned to 
find his wife defiled and his home devastated. 
Aware of his adultery's consequence, David now 
coveted Uriah's wife, and to accomplish this 
purpose he planned Uriah's death. A letter 
was sent to the army commander, Joab, to put 
Uriah where he would be slain in battle a sad 
defection in David's character from the David 
who despised the wickedness and blood-thirsty 
acts of Joab. After the death of Uriah, upon 
whom he had treacherously lavished false hos- 
pitality, David took the widow, Bathsheba, to 
be his wife " but the thing that David had 
done displeased the Lord," and God sent the 
prophet Nathan to speak unto the king. 

The faith, courage, tact and sympathy of the 
man of God are alike commendable. Though 
his errand is unpleasant he does not seek to 



evade it. By choice selection of his words he 
leads the king to pronounce judgment upon a 
man whom he has not suspected to be himself. 
When the crisis is reached, the king condemned, 
and confession of his wrong made in abjectest 
desolation of soul, then Nathan speaks com- 
fortingly of the mercy of God to the sinner 
though the sin must bear its own fruit. In the 
parable itself there is no direct reference to or 
indication of the sin committed by David. 
Impurity and adultery are not suggested and 
there is no trace of murderous intent against 
anyone. Nor is there even the slightest hint 
of any responsibility to God. The facts are 
such that no one can read them unmoved. 
Low as he has sunk, David is aroused, his better 
nature responds and the heart that was once 
so pure, loving and compassionate pulsates with 
such a horror of the deed that he exceeds the 
usual punishment for theft by condemning the 
guilty not only to restore fourfold (some readings 
put it l sevenfold ') which was the customary 
punishment, but to death also. This may be 
due to a certain restlessness which had come 
into his life following upon his evil deeds. Under 
a long spell of uneasiness in conscience the 
temper is easily ruffled and irritation may lead 
to excess and rash judgment or action. 

Nathan's words are carefully selected. It is 
important that we read ' small cattle ' and 



' large cattle ' for ' flocks ' and ' herds ' because 
the significance of the rich man's abundance is 
thus made more evident. He might have taken 
from his own small cattle if he needed only a 
small beast, but if he wished to do special 
honour to his visitor then there were the herds 
of large cattle. David was under no necessity 
to seek a woman outside his own house where 
he had wives in abundance. The lamb's nature 
is described minutely and we cannot overlook 
the possibility that the animal may have been 
bought for the purpose of supplying milk to the 
house as sheep are so used in the East. The 
care lavished upon it and the intimate bond 
between it and the poor man are very delicately 
and vividly described. The poverty of the 
home is suggested in three ways : the lamb 
ate of the poor man's morsel of bread ; it was 
to him as a daughter, and the words indicate 
that there was neither a mother nor a daughter 
in the home. For the last suggestion it is best 
to translate the phrase t with his children ' by 
* with his sons ' which agrees with the Greek and 
Hebrew versions. That the rich man coveted 
and then took by theft the poor man's one 
little ewe lamb exposes the enormity of his 
heinous act. He robbed a home of its centre 
of love, joy and peace ; of its contentment and 
only wealth, for " he had totally nothing save 
one little ewe lamb " a phrase which agrees 



with the interpretation that Uriah and Bathsheba 
had not been long married. 

Regarding this story of a home's desecration 
as true, the king angrily and impulsively de- 
clares the sentence of death only to recoil 
crestfallen, ashamed and self-condemned when 
the prophet declares " Thou art the man." 
The decisive and brave words of the man of 
God strike home to the very heart of the king. 
His sins are now uncovered. He had sought 
to hide them from men and to shut them out 
of his own memory, but here they loom before 
him in their true perspective. The parable 
illumines his darkened vision. He sees his 
own utter want of pity and love, and though 
murder does not appear in the parable he now 
regards his own hands as stained with blood 
and wonders how he can be delivered from blood- 
guiltiness (Ps. li. 14). He had sinned deeply 
and had tried to silence his conscience. " When 
I kept silence my bones waxed old through my 
roaring all the day long " (Ps. xxxii. 3). 

Having pronounced his own judgment he 
must now hear God's. The parable is inter- 
preted and applied. As Nathan tells the sen- 
tence of God upon David and his house, the 
king realises the truth and his soul is aroused 
to confess and acknowledge his sin against God 
" I have sinned against the Lord." " Against 
thee, thee only have I sinned and done this 



evil in thy sight." It is the exclamation of a 
great but broken man, the cry of a heart that 
once loved the Lord, the utter resignation of a 
soul that is dejected and forlorn into the com- 
passion and mercy of God. None can read 
David's confession and not feel a wave of 
sympathy towards him sweep over one's own 
heart. Much as he has sinned and grievous 
as must be the consequences in his own and 
other lives, yet that wail of confession will ever 
remain as a signpost to humanity, especially to 
the proud, the righteous and the rich. The 
sword which he introduced into the home of 
Uriah will wreck the peace and security of his 
own house ; and though God does not condemn 
him to death for his sin, but most mercifully 
forgives the sin, yet the child born of adultery 
will die prophecies which were soon fulfilled. 


It is no mere coincidence that when Jesus 
would condemn selfishness and the want of pity 
He too spoke of a rich man and a poor man 
Dives and Lazarus. To our own generation 
this Old Testament Parable does not lack a 
message. In recent times it has become more 
applicable than formerly to social life because 
two of the grossest iniquities known to-day are 
depicted in the parable the desecration of 
home life through a lowered sense of morality 



and religion, and the reckless want of genuine 
pity towards those who have not the means 
to protect themselves from the lust, aggression 
and covetousness of those who have already an 
exceeding abundance. It was not essential 
that the rich man should take the poor man's 
lamb when he had his own flocks, but he desired 
the other man's lamb and he~ had no pity in 
his heart. 

In order to satisfy their sinful tendencies and 
lust men covet in the life of others that which 
they themselves do not require. Their desires 
are insatiable, affecting as they do practically 
every sphere of activity. This evil tendency is 
apparent in political, business and social life, 
where men are so restless and ambitious that 
they think nothing of coveting honours and 
positions which can be theirs only at a cost to 
others. Most serious, however, is the case 
where a man with sufficient of this world's goods 
cannot be satisfied until he has secured for 
himself that which means ' bread and butter ' 
to poorer brothers. It may be done in the 
name of commercial or economic efficiency, but 
there is a direct challenge to Christianity in the 
desires of wealthy syndicates and combines to 
possess for themselves the means of existence 
of small concerns. When we recall that the 
rich man lived near the poor man, we are 
reminded that the lustful desires of men are 



often such that they affect adversely those who 
are neighbours. David was a false friend to 
Uriah. It was his duty to protect and not to 
destroy the home of his neighbour, to develop 
rather than to wreck its happiness. 


The sin of the parable may have lain in the 
desire to acquire, but it reached its depth of 
enormity when the lamb was taken from the 
poor man. The lamb was stolen. Though 
the average adulterer does not desire his sin 
to be described as theft, yet theft it is quite 
apart from its concomitant evils. Was Jesus 
thinking of this parable when He spoke the 
memorable and difficult sentence, " Whosoever 
looketh on a woman to lust after her hath 
committed adultery with her already in his 
heart " ? Jesus would have a man restrain 
his desire before it urges him to acquire. 

All the circumstances of the parable indicate 
that a man can obtain what he unlawfully 
seeks from another's possessions only by sinning 
against God and by a want of pity and con- 
sideration. The tenth commandment forbids 
us to covet " anything that is thy neighbour's " 
because " when lust hath conceived it bringeth 
forth sin ; and sin, when it is finished, bringeth 
forth death" (Jas. i, 15). 

Whether applied to the greed of rich nations 



or rich commercial houses or rich individuals 
the moral of the parable abides with us and 
it tells us that the nemesis follows. Once they 
have been sown the seeds of evil bear their 
harvest of wrong and cruelty. Associated with 
our parable is the death of Bathsheba's child, 
an incident which provides one of the most 
touching scenes in Scripture and which is now 
reverently immortalized when the words are 
read over a beloved child's body and comfort 
to mourning parents is found in the words of 
David " Can I bring him back again ? I shall 
go to him, but he shall not return to me." 
They are the words of a chastened man : a man 
whom God has really forgiven but who feels 
that others require to pay the penalty of his 
sin. We have known how national covetous- 
ness has resulted in war, death, destruction 
and misery. None of us can be blind to the 
ravages of syndicalism and there are few 
families which have escaped the blight of social 
evils. If we could only see sufficiently far 
into the future years to perceive what sacrifices 
may be required of our children and children's 
children because of our sin, our prayer would be 
from that great psalm of confession which is said 
to have been written by David after his con- 
viction by the parable : 

" Create in me a clean heart, O God : 
And renew a right spirit within me." Ps. li, 10. 



" LET me sing for my beloved my love-song 
concerning his vineyard : 

" My beloved had a vineyard on a fertile hill- 
top ; he tilled it well and cleared it of stones ; 
and he planted it with red-grape vine. He built 
a tower in its midst and he also hewed a wine- 
vat in it. He kept expecting it to yield grapes 
and it brought forth bad grapes. 

" And now, inhabitants of Jerusalem and 
men of Judah, judge ye, I pray, between me 
and my vineyard. What might be done to my 
vineyard that I have not done in it f Why, 
when I looked for it to bear grapes, did it bring 
forth bad grapes ? And now, let me tell you, I 
pray, what I shall do to my . vineyard. Its 
hedge will be reduced and it will be laid open 
to be consumed. Its wall will be breached and 
trampled down ; and I will lay it waste. It 
shall neither be pruned nor hoed but briar and 
thorn will grow up and I will command the 
clouds not to sprinkle rain upon it. For the 
vineyard of the Lord of Sabaoth is the house 
of Israel and the plant of his delight is the men 

33 c 


of Judah : and he looked for judgment, but 
lo ! bloodshed ; and for righteousness, but lo ! 
a cry." Isaiah v. 1-7. 

As a narrative of fact the Parable of the Vine- 
yard occupies a high level. The story rings 
true ; it is well-conceived ; it holds its listeners 
and its interpretation is applied directly and 
minutely. Its rhythm lends support to its 
appeal and its subject is one which was very 
popular in Israel. Whether Isaiah was the 
first to make use of the vineyard as representing 
the people of God in their relationship to God 
as the owner of the vineyard is a question which 
cannot be answered. This story was certainly 
narrated at a very early date by Isaiah, possibly 
about 740 B.C., and it resembles very closely the 
description of the vineyard in Psalm Ixxx 
with this pronounced difference that whereas 
the latter describes a destruction which has 
already fallen upon the vineyard, the former 
is a prophecy of approaching calamity and 
devastation. It is probable that the vineyard 
had long been associated with the thought of 
Israel and Judah as the planting of the Lord, 
and that Isaiah was using a familiar symbol 
which may have been borrowed from older 
literature or oral traditions. 

Regarding the words and interpretation of the 
parable itself most critics are in agreement. 
What differences may appear are easily recon- 



ciled and harmonised. The words of intro- 
duction to the parable remain uncertain in their 
meaning, and in so far as they do not seriously 
affect the parable itself they may safely be left 
as a field for exploration and research by 
scholars. Confusion does certainly arise from 
the Septuagint's use of the first personal pronoun 
throughout the story and its interpretation, as 
also from the doubtful meaning of the Hebrew 
words translated ' a song of my beloved ' in 
the Authorised Version. By a very slight 
change in pointing the Hebrew ^"p* 7 (my beloved) 
may be read "'TPT (my love), but the latter 
word is usually descriptive of sexual relationship 
and for that reason may not be considered 
as applicable in this case where the beloved is 
revealed to be God. Opposed to this objection 
there is the claim that a valid meaning can be 
brought out when we picture the prophet 
coming before his audience as a minstrel who 
has a special love-song to sing, a song to which 
he invites them very specially to give ear. It 
is equally possible to read into the words ' a 
song of my beloved,' the idea that if the owner 
of the vineyard should sing this would be his 

In itself the story is very simple, and it uses 
familiar features in good husbandry. The 
owner proves himself a good prospector of land. 
He selects a location which ought by nature to 



give good returns to diligent labour a fertile 
hill-top, or, as the Hebrew text describes it, 
a horn, the son of oil. Thus it possesses all the 
advantages of a good lay-out which every 
modern husbandman cherishes a rich soil, a 
good exposure to the sun, and ground that has 
already proved its fatness. He works the soil 
well by turning it over thoroughly, seeing that 
it is cleared of stones and well-drained. (For 
this stage of the preparation the Septuagint 
version describes how he puts a fence around it 
and fortifies it). When the ground has been 
made ready he plants in it the choicest of vines 
sorek which were distinguished for their 
red grapes and a wine that was treasured for 
its excellence. As a safeguard against marauders 
a watch-tower is erected so that neither may 
the plants be harmed by prowling animals nor 
may the fruit be stolen by thieves. It is not 
enough to have his winepress but he must see 
that the lower part of the winepress (the wine vat) 
is carefully constructed by being quarried out 
of the slope. Into it he hopes one day to see the 
red wine pour forth from the press above. 
Having done all that a good vineyard-owner 
might do he awaits the fruit of his labours and 
care only to meet with bitterest disappointment. 
His well-tended plants bear bad grapes. D^N^I 
is from a word meaning * evil-smelling ' and the 
term * wild grapes ' scarcely defines it sufficiently. 


1 Bad grapes ' seems best although the Septuagint 
uses ' thorns ' which may give ' wildings ' or 
1 weeds.' 

Whilst his hearers search in their minds for 
some explanation of this catastrophe and shew 
their astonishment by their countenances the 
singer breaks upon their reverie and wonder to 
challenge them to tell how such a calamity had 
followed upon all the industry and precaution 
of the husbandman. Even as Nathan drew from 
David his judgment upon the culprit, so here 
does Isaiah call for an explanation, but ere they 
can answer he breaks forth with the owner's 
decision and at once they observe that his speech 
and tone have changed. No longer is he the 
minstrel singing his love-song to delight them at a 
festive season but he is the man of God who 
proclaims the judgment of God upon the people 
who had so grievously requited all His love and 
mercy towards them. They gradually sense his 
meaning as the tornado of judgment upon the 
unprofitable vineyard is uttered. The dis- 
appointment has not been so much the economical 
loss as the want of gratitude and a failure to 
respond to love and kindness. " What more 
might be done that I have not already done in 
it ? " Therein lies the grief, and because all his 
labour must be abortive of good results he resolves 
upon the destruction of the vineyard. He will 
make an end of it. The shrub fence will be 


broken down ready for fuel and the vineyard 
will become a place of desolation. Whilst this 
judgment is being given it is probable that some 
of the hearers do not understand its meaning for 
themselves. Seeing their dullness and want of 
full comprehension the prophet discards all 
veiling from his words and proclaims that the 
vineyard of God is Israel and that the choice 
vine is Judah. He has finished his song in which 
he has been mysteriously caught up into the 
presence of and identified with the person of God. 
Now he declares solemnly and regretfully what 
the song has signified. 

Upon Israel as a nation God had most tenderly 
and thoughtfully exerted the greatest care and 
manifested every possible provision for their 
good. Canaan was chosen by Him as a land of 
promise from which the enemies were driven out. 
By every good spiritual and moral influence He 
had striven to protect them and prosper them. 
This was particularly the case with Judah, within 
whose borders were Jerusalem and the seat of 
the Davidic line. Being a prophet in Judah 
Isaiah regards his country as the special planting 
or choice vine of the Lord. Yet, just as the 
parable indicates that no amount of expense and 
labour can possibly overcome some inherent 
defect in the soil of the vineyard so now it is 
revealed that God's disappointment lies in the 
failure of His people to shew justice and righteous- 



ness in their lives. Despite all the protection 
and safeguards afforded them, likewise all the 
encouragement and rich blessings extended them, 
there have issued lawlessness and oppression 
where peace and love should have prevailed. 
The delightful play upon words which appears 
in the Hebrew text of the closing sentence is lost 
in our English translation. Even written in an 
English form the assonance and charm are felt : 

" He looked for mispat and lo ! mispah, 
for zedhakah and lo ! zeakah." 

The contrast is brought home realistically and 
there can be no evasion of its thrust. The evils 
which are described in the remaining portion of 
the chapter (Isa. v.) shed light upon the extent 
of sin and unrighteousness among the people. 
All moral restraint had been loosened, religious 
privileges had been abused, despised and 
neglected, and from many souls a cry or shriek 
of despair and suffering was heard. A suggestion 
is therefore made that no remedy can be found 
except to make an end of all since every other 
effort had been futile. 

God's messengers might relate a similar 
parable in modern times. To do so might 
necessitate courage even greater and stronger 
than was Isaiah's. In so far as the influence of 
Christianity has affected nations we have evi- 
dences of the great vineyard of the Lord. It is 
no ordinary coincidence that Jesus speaks in 



parables of the vineyard and that in His narration 
of the parable of the Wicked Husbandmen 
(Mark xii. i-io) His words descriptive of the 
creation and defence of the vineyard itself are, 
in the Greek New Testament, almost strictly 
identical with those of the Greek in the Septua- 
gint version of this Old Testament parable. 
Jesus has no need to interpret the parables of the 
Wicked Husbandmen, the Barren Fig-Tree 
(Luke xiii. 6-9), or the Vine and Its Branches 
(John xv. 1-8). We read that after Jesus 
concluded the parable of the Wicked Husband- 
men saying : " The stone which the builders 
rejected is become the head of the corner " there 
was fierce anger " for they knew that He had 
spoken the parable against them." 


When we consider the Construction of God's 
Vineyard of Yesterday in its effects upon our 
world and our lives, we recall the many hopes 
and dreams of humanity for a day of happiness 
and mutual helpfulness. By various means 
God has surrounded His people with the sunshine 
of Christian graces, gifts and helps which have 
tended and promised to enrich life in all its 
aspects and to bear a rich harvest of good fruit. 

The vineyard is representative in our day of 
Christian civilization throughout the world, 


and we must remember the labour which has 
been expended upon giving that vineyard to 
the nations. What more could God have done 
for the vineyard than He has done ? Jesus gave 
His life and laid the foundation of the Kingdom 
of God. God has richly endowed nations and 
individuals with power to extend that Kingdom, 
and has given them blessings and privileges 
which were expected to bear fruit. Isaiah's 
description of God's goodness to his own nation 
might with profit be applied to the history of 
several nations such as our own. There have 
been occasions when God's hand seemed to be 
guiding the affairs of our people in no uncertain 
way, and we have good reason to believe that we, 
too, have been a chosen people, but we should 
ask ourselves ' chosen for what ? ' 

Under the Christian dispensation a new people 
has arisen representative of all nations who 
have come to acknowledge Jesus Christ as their 
Lord. They are the choice plant from which 
so much is expected. They are of the body of 
Christ who said, " I am the Vine, ye are the 
branches." From the Christian Church and 
from those who are bound to Him either in 
membership of that Church or by reason of their 
Christian heritage through receiving boundless 
mercies and opportunities, God has looked to 
see good fruit in beautiful lives, in noble spirits, 
in loving service and in sympathetic endeavour 



to sweeten and hallow all life around by raising 
the fallen and easing the burden of the oppressed. 
The test of national and personal response to 
God lies in the degree of our production of fruit 
for God. 


Whereas there are many proofs of the careful 
construction and preparation of the vineyard, 
there is also evidence of failure to produce fruit 
commensurate with the labour expended. We 
consider the production, and we behold how 
some of the favoured nations have not borne the 
fruit they ought to have produced. That the 
standards for testing productivity vary accord- 
ing to opportunity and circumstances must be 
admitted : for example, whilst we recognise 
how highly favoured Spain was in the Middle 
Ages and how she pioneered across the seas 
carrying her civilization to other nations, yet 
we cannot view with approbation her decline 
from her high estate. We are convinced that 
she could have produced more and better fruit. 
Similarly, in respect of our own nation we cannot 
be proud of the results of our history when we 
consider how rich have been our opportunities. 
Alike in our international, national, social and 
religious life, we are but a remnant of what 
God expected us to be. " There are the 



foxes, the little foxes, that spoil the vines." 
A national departure from religious standards 
and a wave of irreligion are features common to 
the life of several nations in modern times. 
Nations are losing the virtue and sanctity of 
Christian home life. The ' New Morality ' is a 
serious peril to Christian Morality as it tends to 
extend licence and sin, its fruits being crippled 
lives associated with sorrow and suffering. 
The failure to find harmony among the nations 
which profess to be Christian and to pursue the 
way of peace and brotherhood is in itself a 
rebuke of national pride and selfishness. We 
have reason to be proud of what has been accom- 
plished in God's name, but we have also to 
confess that in many ways we are a disappoint- 
ment to Him because we have not produced 
for His glory the purest, sweetest and noblest 
fruits. Everywhere are the oppressions of a 
merciless and remorseless social organisation ; 
the cry of the poor, the outcast and defeated is 
heard amidst all the noises of modern machinery ; 
and tariff conflicts between nations threaten them 
with evils as grave as those from armaments. 
Within these nations we look in vain for the 
evidence that the Church reflects clearly the 
glory and power of Christ. She is hesitant, 
and her voice is indistinct. We wonder what 
will be the issue of it all, and we turn to consider 
the parable's warning. 




In our parable ' to-morrow ' sees the destruc- 
tion and devastation of the vineyard. It is left 
derelict, and so it must ever be where God is 
forsaken and His love and provision are despised. 
Down the centuries we hear the prophet's cry 
of doom to every such fruitless planting. Great 
nations and empires have passed away, and in 
some instances their glory is but a faded memory. 
Such is the warning which is written large over 
the pages of Israel's history as clearly as over 
the history of Greece and Rome. Neglect of 
opportunity to bear good fruit for mankind, 
departure from the highest standards of virtue, 
and the enthronement of false gods, lead in- 
evitably to desolation and gloom. No nation 
can afford to slight the privileges which God has 
given. The Church dare not be disobedient to 
her heavenly vision ; and the individual Christian 
must never be unmindful of the words, " By their 
fruits ye shall know them." 

Sin's harvest cannot be evaded, but the Gospel 
message proclaims the love of God which seeks 
us, saves us, renews us, and restores to us the 
locust-eaten years. It tells us that apart from 
Jesus we cannot bear fruit "He that abideth in 
Me and I in him, the same bringeth forth much 



" THE Woman of Tekoah came to the king and 
fell on her face to the ground and did obeisance 
and said, * Help, O King.' And the king said 
to her, ' What is the matter ? ' And she said, 
1 1 am a mourning woman, a widow, and my 
husband is dead. I had two sons who strove 
together in the field where there was no one 
between them to separate them ; and the one 
attacked the other and killed him. Behold, now, 
the whole clan has risen up against thine hand- 
maid and said, " Give up him that smote his 
brother and we shall kill him for the life of his 
brother whom he slew and thus shall we also 
destroy the heir." So shall they quench my 
coal which is left that there be preserved to my 
husband neither a name nor a remainder upon 
the face of the earth.' 

" And the king said to the woman, ' Go to 
thine house and I shall command concerning 
thee.' But the Tekoan woman said to the king, 
' O my lord, the king, the iniquity be upon me 
and my father's house, and the king and his 
throne be guiltless.' 1 And the king said, ' Who- 

1 The words probably mean " I and my father's house 
shall suffer, not the king and his throne." 



ever speaks to thee, bring him to me and he shall 
not touch thee any more.' Then she said, ' Let 
the king remember the Lord thy God so that the 
avenger of blood may not further destroy lest 
they extirpate my son.' And he said, ' As the 
Lord liveth there shall not fall one hair of thy 
son to the ground ! ' Then the woman said, 
' Let thine handmaid speak a word, I pray, unto 
my lord, the king ' ; and he said, ' Speak.' And 
the woman said : ' Wherefore hast thou devised 
such a thing against the people of God ? And by 
the king's speaking this word he is as one guilty 
in that the king doth not bring home again his 
banished one. For we must needs die, and are 
as water spilt upon the ground which cannot be 
gathered up again ; and God taketh not life away 
but deviseth devices not to banish from him a 
banished one.' " 2 Sam. xiv. 4-14. 

This amazing story which achieved its purpose 
so dexterously and subtly introduces another 
type of the narratives of fact. It is an acted 
parable and is one of a group which made their 
appeal along somewhat similar lines. In all 
probability its plan was borrowed from one of 
the ancient stories told around camp fires, as it 
does not suggest the freshness and originality of 
Nathan's parable. Though the aim of both 
stories was the same to procure a judgment 
from David which might be turned to good 
purpose against him they approached their 


purpose along widely different channels. Tragedy 
overhangs both. In each of them the king's 
conscience must be awakened. His own guilt 
is brought vividly before him in one instance by 
direct accusation and in the other by the under- 
lying insinuation that the king himself had 
known what it was to be banished through sin. 
Whereas Nathan can directly interpret and apply 
his parable the Tekoahite finds it necessary to 
pursue her dialogue and action in order to give 
the interpretation. 

Taken by itself the above story lacks the 
natural appeal of Nathan's which, taken alone, 
is a story that impresses itself upon the mind. 
This acted parable requires its explanation in 
order to be fully appreciated, and at each stage 
of the unfolding of the meaning we seem to see 
a man standing in the shadows controlling and 
directing the whole stage-management of the 
various scenes. That man is Joab, the brave 
but astute and blood-thirsty leader of David's 
army, the man who knew the secret of the king's 
blackest sin and who would later give David 
cause to lament the day that he had sent that 
fatal letter to him concerning the murder of 
Uriah. Again, though this parable lacks the 
high spiritual tone of Nathan's, it possesses in 
germ what has become a precious theological 
conception of God which is particularly set forth 
in the parable of the Prodigal Son and is fre- 



quently emphasised in the teaching of Jesus, 
e.g. It is not the Father's will that one of His 
children should perish (Matt, xviii. 14). 

The parable's historical setting lies between 
two of the saddest tragedies in Bible history. 
Following upon a most dishonourable act by 
Amnon, David's eldest son, when he ravished 
Tamar, his half-sister, Absalom, the king's 
beloved son, had awaited his opportunity for 
revenge and two years later he murdered Amnon 
under cruel and deceitful circumstances. Thus 
the king was reminded of Nathan's words that 
the sword would not depart from his house. 
The second tragedy was that in which the young 
man Absalom's vanity, disobedience and lust 
for power reached their consummation and 
caused to be wrung from a father's heart that 
had already been broken amid sorrows, dis- 
appointments and remorse these immortal words, 
" Oh my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom ! 
Would God I had died for thee, Absalom, my 
son, my son ! " Absalom was banished from the 
king's court after Amnon's death, but aided by 
Joab he plotted to be recalled. When Joab saw 
that the occasion was opportune he devised the 
fictitious story which was narrated and acted so 
skilfully by the woman of Tekoah. 

There are individual opinions upon the opening 
words of Chapter xiv all dependent upon the 
meaning of the word translated in the Authorised 


Version as ' towards.' It may be derived from 
^N (towards) or hj> (against), but great support is 
given to the view that it should be * against ' by 
the fact that in the only other instance in the 
Old Testament where the word f?s is used with 
that for ' heart ' (Daniel xi. 28) the meaning 
cannot be other than ' against ' or * at enmity 
with.' It was quite natural for the king's heart 
to be against Absalom whilst the father's heart 
yearned for his return. We are not justified in 
reading into the word a forced meaning prompted 
by the king's deep grief when Absalom was slain. 
Rather should we be guided by the facts that a 
strong appeal was necessary to cause the king 
to relent and lift the ban ; also, that even when 
he sanctioned a return from banishment he 
would not permit his son to come into his pres- 
ence. May it not be that Joab hoped for much 
from the restoration of Absalom to favour ? 
Absalom was heir to the throne and we can under- 
stand how Joab was displeased when he observed 
" that the king's heart was against Absalom." 

Not far from Bethlehem was Tekoah, made 
famous in Biblical history as the home of Amos. 
There lived the shrewd and very wise woman 
whom Joab secured to fulfil his plans. We 
cannot but admire her clever acting and her bold, 
courageous reasoning ; she manifests a deep 
penetration and insight into human character, 
is quick in repartee and exceptionally tactful, 



painstaking and persevering to achieve her 
object. Not until her story is completed and a 
sacred pledge of security and fulfilment obtained 
from the king, does she proceed to enlighten him as 
to the purpose of her story. That she succeeds so 
well in obscuring from him so long the deeper mean- 
ing of her words, adds to the value of her narrative. 
A charge may be laid against this parable and 
others of a similar nature that it cannot be 
regarded as a true parable because the woman 
very obviously acted it, and made it up on a 
fiction knowing it to be such. It is true that 
when compared with certain parables it does 
not bear the same stamp of possibility in truth 
as does that of the Ewe Lamb or of the Vineyard, 
but we might set it against such New Testament 
parables as those of the ' Ten Virgins,' or 
* The Judgment ' (' Inasmuch ') or ' The 
Labourers in the Vineyard,' in all of which the 
truth possibility is no greater than in the story 
told by the Woman of Tekoah. The real want 
of truth lies in her action because her own 
character is interwoven with the tale she unfolds. 


The first part of the story deals with the heir 
whose death will mean the extirpation of a 
family and name. This was a calamity to be 
averted if at all possible, and on this point the 
woman pleads well. She professes real and 



deep mourning. The Hebrew text strengthens 
an interpretation which may seem redundant 
in its description, but is very necessary to the 
woman's narrative. She mourns as a mother 
who has just had one of her two sons killed, 
and thus she emphasises the fact that she is a 
mourning woman ; that is, her loss has been 
quite recent. She is also a widow through the 
death of her husband. Though sounding like 
a pleonasm this description is also essential to 
her story because otherwise she could not effect 
so powerful an appeal to preserve the name 
and remainder to the family. 

By the code of laws then prevailing the 
relatives of the family were justified in seeking 
blood-vengeance, a life for a life, upon the son 
who slew his brother. The widow makes no 
complaint against the law, knowing that the 
king must uphold the law. What she endeavours 
to secure is mercy which will somehow operate 
to prevent the clan from rooting out entirely 
her husband's seed. To describe her son as her 
coal and remainder is adroit since it awakens a 
natural pity and sympathy. Let him be slain 
and the embers cannot be rekindled. 


The second part is concerned with the king. 
The tender chords of the king's heart are reached 
by the woman's dejection and plea. When her 



words play upon these chords the king cannot 
withstand an impulse to defend the woman, 
though he knows the danger to himself in so 
setting aside the customs of his people. It has 
been made clear to him that the clan seek blood 
more in order to destroy the heir than to inflict 
legal punishment. Rather than that the king 
should be compromised by his compassionate 
resolution, the woman disarms him of all sus- 
picion and astutely encloses him within her net 
by offering to bear all the responsibility herself. 
The mother-love and spirit of sacrifice are thus 
very forcibly presented to David, and his earlier 
resolve is strengthened into firm determination. 
He will risk punishment upon anyone who may 
speak against her a bold step even for the king 
in face of the recognised laws. Under her strong 
pleading that a sacred promise be given that 
the avenger of blood will not be permitted to 
destroy her son, he swears that her son will be 


The king has spoken. The parable is ended. 
Its meaning is now unfolded, and it concerns 
David not as a king but as a father. Having 
satisfied herself that the king's determination 
is fixed, the suppliant reveals to him by clever 
suggestion and innuendo as also by logical 
reasoning that a king who can thus abrogate 



the law for her son can surely take steps to 
preserve his own heir and son. By his decree 
in her favour he condemns his own action and 
is guilty of wrong in not restoring his banished 
son. Can the father-heart resist her argument 
" we must needs die and are as water spilt on the 
ground, which cannot be gathered up again " ? 
Thus, using what was probably a familiar saying 
she proceeds to compare David's attitude as 
king and father with the love and compassion of 
God who, whilst He does not seek to return a 
soul after He has taken it away, yet lovingly 
plans that a banished child be not kept in exile. 
Amnon is dead. He cannot be brought back. 
Absalom is yet alive and is both son and heir. 
If the king should hesitate to bring him back 
surely the father will have mercy. The reason- 
ing is sound and very personal because it reminds 
the king of God's mercy to him when he stood 
condemned to death for his own sin. 

It may be said that it was only David the 
king who relented, and that David the father 
did not forgive his son because he would not 
allow the returned exile to see him and that by so 
doing he encouraged him in his treachery to the 
throne. Such an interpretation can scarcely 
be accepted. The obverse may be the truer 
explanation. Whilst the father's heart would 
cry, " Come home ; come home ;" the king must 
observe as far as possible the requirements of 
the law. 



There are aspects of this story which find a 
sympathetic chord in every heart, and the most 
important experience depicted is that which 
suggests that there arise occasions when we are 
called upon to decide between contending 
principles such as faced David when law and 
love, king and father were contending within his 
breast. Occasions arise such as that when 
Napoleon was faced by a mother whose son had 
been sentenced to death ; when the great soldier 
said that it was justice which must be observed 
she replied that she asked for mercy and not 
justice. Many parents have known the perplexity 
of David's mind and heart when a child who had 
done an irreparable wrong to the parent sought 
to be restored to the love and fellowship of the 
home. There are cases where husband and wife 
have reached a serious impasse and the conflict 
which has to be waged between right and wrong, 
truth and love, almost rends the soul. Where 
truth will pain love would soothe and where to 
do the right may mean offence to another, to 
do wrong will leave a lasting sense of shame. 
Employers face the crisis when asked to reinstate 
their former servants who have wronged them, 
and employees also face the conflict when 
honesty is asked to prevail over duty and 
obedience to a dishonest master. 

What is the Christian attitude in such cases ? 
In the light of Gospel teaching the three words, 



' heir, king and father,' have a powerful appli- 
cation, in which we may see the message which 
Jesus came to teach and fulfil. Acting under 
His guidance we are brought to make wise 
decisions because just as the Tekoan woman 
won the heart of David by reference to God's 
mercy so are our hearts strengthened to do that 
which is acceptable to God by reference to what 
God has done for us and others. Sin banishes 
us from God. When we sin we become aware 
that we have somehow alienated ourselves from 
Him. We become God's banished heirs. The 
law may exact its full pound of flesh but the 
King can pardon. Where the law decrees death 
the King can give life. What the law could not 
do God has done for His people through the gift 
and sacrifice of Jesus. He has devised means 
for bringing us home because Jesus came to 
seek and to save the lost the banished ones. 
God does more than forgive. He restores us and 
reinstates us. He makes us heirs and joint- 
heirs. He awaits the homecoming of the 
wanderer and His token of love is not the King's 
pardon but the Father's kiss. Therefore 
" Being all fashioned of the selfsame dust, 
Let us be merciful as well as j ust" 

LONGFELLOW, Tales of a Wayside Inn. 

"... earthly power doth then show likest God's 

When mercy seasons justice." 

SHAKESPEARE, Merchant of Venue. 



" THERE was a small city and in it were few men. 
And there came unto it a great king who encircled 
it and built great siege-works against it ; but 
there happened to be in it a poor wise man who 
by his cunning caused the city to be saved ; yet 
not a man 1 remembered that poor man 1 ." 
Eccles. ix. 14-15. 

This simple but attractive parable has not 
received the care and attention which it merits. 
Hidden amidst numerous proverbs the story 
suffers from being regarded only as a passing 
illustration of how wisdom may be despised 
though it be of great consequence in an hour of 
crisis. Attempts have been made to identify 
the story with an actual incident in history, but 
they have all been mere conjectures. For a 
satisfactory grasp of the narrative attention is 
directed to an alternative translation of the 
Hebrew word (?) ' there was found ' and to a 
series of contrasts contained in the narrative. The 
verb Nyip necessitates an ambiguity to give the 

1 In both the Hebrew and Greek texts there are two words 
used for ' man ' and the texts emphasise the word ' that ' in 
' that poor man.' 



meaning ' there was found J because the text reads 
better that the great king besieging the city 
'found ' its deliverer there. Another form is the 
impersonal use of the verb, ' one found in it ; ' 
although such an interpretation makes a distinct 
break upon the sequence of the verbs and con- 
junctions used in the Hebrew text. Since the 
verb possesses strongly the idea of a sudden 
discovery such as might result from the arrival 
of a visitor, or the occasion that one * happened 
to be there ' though not usually resident, we are 
able to set forth a series of contrasts a small city 
and a mighty king ; few men in it and great 
siege-works encompassing it ; there had come a 
poor wise man and also a great ruler of men ; the 
poor man saves from the powerfully wealthy 
man ; whilst someone might have remembered 
a wise man yet no man remembered that poor 
man. In verse 16 it is revealed clearly that 
emphasis should be laid upon the city's neglect 
of the man because of his poverty even though 
his wisdom was accepted as valuable. 

Unnecessary as they are to an adequate 
appreciation of the parable a few sentences may 
be devoted to the historic events which scholars 
have associated with it. Were it possible to 
decide upon one of them definitely the result 
would be very valuable as an aid in fixing the 
probable date of the writing of Ecclesiastes. 
The occasions suggested are : 



(1) The siege of Dor in 218 B.C. by Antiochus III 
(the Great). This siege was said to have 
been raised because the city was ' hard to 
be taken ' and on account of the approach 
of Nicolaus. 

(2) The siege of Dor about 139 B.C. by 
Antiochus VII is described in I Mace. xv. 
II, 13, 25 ; also by Josephus (Antiq. xiii, 
vii and viii). There is no indication that 
the city was taken. But Antiochus was then 
greatly helped by Simon, high priest at 

(3) The siege of Bethsura in 162 B.C. by 
Antiochus V, when the city was taken mainly 
as a result of starvation though after a battle 
was fought (i Mace. vi. 31). 

(4) Abel-Beth-Maacah is the city which was 
delivered from siege by a wise woman who 
reasoned with Joab that it was better for 
the citizens that she should give him the 
head of Sheba whom he pursued than that 
the whole city should perish. Though this 
seems the most favourable analogy it 
suffers from two defects the deliverer was 
a wise woman and the besieger was not 
a king. 

(5) The deliverance of Athens by a stratagem of 
Themistocles when Xerxes attacked that city, 
yet the saviour of Athens was ostracized in 
471 B.C. In this case, however, Themistocles 


had great honour immediately after the 

withdrawal and defeat of the Persians. 

(6) The assault upon Syracuse by the Romans 

in 212 B.C. when Archimedes strove to deliver 

the city without success an event which 

adds value to a translation which says the 

poor wise man ' would save the city ' rather 

than that he saved it. The siege of Syracuse 

lasted nine years, Archimedes was not a 

wealthy man nor was he of high rank. 

Cicero found his tomb forgotten by the 

Syracusans. " Not a man remembered that 

poor man." If the suggested emendation be 

accepted whereby it is not claimed that the 

city was saved but that the poor, wise man 

would save it then the siege of Syracuse may 

have been the occasion referred to. 

Though it may be of service to know the actual 

historical occasion to which the parable refers, the 

story is, nevertheless, precious as a parable if we 

retain only its substance. The story of the Good 

Samaritan loses nothing through our inability 

to identify ' a certain man ' or the ' Samaritan.' 

If it be borne in mind that the emphasis must 

rest upon the poverty of the wise man there need 

be no difficulty in the interpretation. Many wise 

men who were poor have, through use of their 

wisdom, rightly or wrongly, become rich. Not 

so in this parable ; and its significance lies in the 

indication that but for his poverty the wise man 



would have been remembered. There is a 
common remark that public service is seldom 
appreciated as it deserves to be. A man who is 
lauded and idolised to-day has his name and 
honour foully besmirched to-morrow. So long 
as danger threatens and the enemy's ramparts 
are being strengthened the poor man's wisdom is 
recognised, his word obeyed and his position 
exalted. When deliverance is achieved and the 
foe has withdrawn the city relapses into the old 
routine, the poor wise man returns to his humble 
abode and lowly task, there to be forgotten by 
those whom he has served so well. It may not 
be inappropriate to recall the changed fortunes 
of men in high office during the recent Great War. 
Some of them are already experiencing that 
forgetfulness of a people in our own and other 
lands who remember them not. 

Is there not room for a readjustment of the 
valuations of human service ? A rich man 
makes a trifling remark and it is boomed abroad. 
In his humble circle the poor man makes a speech 
of which every sentence is a gem and no more is 
heard of it. We need sound, balanced judgment. 
Every wise man is not a poor man and every rich 
man is not a wise man. Had a rich man's 
wisdom delivered that small city his social 
eminence would have helped to perpetuate the 
memory of his deed. Many of our greatest 
inventors, discoverers, artists and literati were 



poor men and had to undergo ignominy and 
abuse before doors were gratefully opened to 
their wisdom and skill. Appreciation came in 
several instances when it was too late. It is 
necessary to mention only a few like Dr. Wm. 
Harvey, Galileo, Columbus, Turner, Goldsmith, 
Chatterton, Francis Thompson, and Carlyle. 
To-day we know scarcely anything of the mighty 
ones who derided them. 

" Seven wealthy towns contend for Homer dead, 
Through which the living Homer begged his bread." 

Truly the deeds live on though the actors are 
forgotten. This is a view which raises the 
despondent spirit. It is also true that under 
modern conditions there is a better opportunity 
afforded the poor man to give evidence of his 
abilities. This we owe very greatly to the 
teaching of Jesus, which has given to the indi- 
vidual a value and which assures us that no deed 
rendered even unto the least is lost or forgotten. 
Jesus has immortalized deeds by poor people 
such as the anointing of feet, the gifts out of 
poverty by a widow, the mere offer of a cup of 
water and the menial service of washing men's 
feet rendered by One who had not where to lay 
His head. Thanks to the Gospel-Spirit, but 
especially to the influence of Christ's own 
personality and life, the modern world regards 
the wisdom and work of the very poorest man 



with an increasing sense of gratitude. His deeds 
are enshrined in golden memories and grateful 
hearts. Robert Burns sensed this when he 

" For a' that, and a' that, 
Our toils obscure and a' that ; 
The rank is but the guinea stamp, 
The man's the gowd ( gold ) for a' that" 

Even the poor man should not serve merely to be 
remembered for his works, but the deeds of the 
poorest of benefactors merit the gratitude and 
remembrance of all who have benefited thereby. 



" THE prophet went out and waited by the way 
for the king, and he was disguised with a cover 
upon his eyes. As the king passed by he called 
out to the king and said, ' Thy servant went 
out into the midst of the battle, and behold, a 
man turned aside and brought a man to me 
and said, " Guard this man : if by any means 
he be missing then shall thy life be in place of 
his life or thou shalt weigh a talent of silver." 
Now it happened that as thy servant was busy 
here and there, he vanished.' 

" Then the king of Israel said unto him, ' So 
is the judgment. Thyself hast decided.' 

" And he (the prophet) hastened and removed 
the cover from off his eyes, and the king of 
Israel recognised him that he was of the 
prophets. And he said, * Thus saith the Lord : 
Because thou hast let go out of thy hand the 
man of my curse, thy life shall be in place of his 
life and thy people for his people.' " I Kings xx. 

In this, another acted parable seeking judg- 
ment from a king, we are presented with an 


introduction and a narrative which indicate some 
of the crude moral standards of an early civiliza- 
tion. They must not be valued by our modern 
conceptions of social or international relation- 
ships, but be related to their contingent purpose, 
which is that of demanding fullest obedience 
to the command of God and the identification 
of our own will with God's will. Judged by 
twentieth century standards we should con- 
gratulate and honour any victor who embraces 
his fallen enemy as a brother in the spirit in 
which Ahab received Benhadad. But this is 
to miss the point of the story, because the 
historian's aim is to drive home the lesson that 
victory resulted from God's intervention and 
God's support. The victory had been promised 
and its fruit assured conditionally upon the 
ground that Ahab, king of Israel, should not let 
Benhadad, king of Syria, escape from his hands. 
The incidents merit a brief reference. Ahab 
was a great soldier, fearless, indomitable and 
not altogether ruthlessly unkind. Possessor of 
many excellent kingly qualities and abilities 
he might have been a great and potent king. 
What special gifts he had been endowed with 
he prostituted to base ends. His failure to 
honour God and to encourage religion in the 
national life was presageful of disasters and 
wreck. No good, but rather much evil, followed 
upon his marriage to a heathen foreigner under 


whose baneful influence he was brought to 
despise the premonitions given him by God's 
messengers. At least one dastardly crime 
darkened his reign, so that his wife's name 
and his own name have become significant of 
covetousness and cold-blooded murder far 
exceeding the enormity of Macbeth's cruel deed. 
Twice he was given victory over Benhadad of 
Damascus, and on the second occasion the 
Syrian King was actually delivered into his 
hands, but he set him free after getting from 
him some specious promises. This liberation of 
Benhadad cost Ahab his life on a subsequent oc- 
casion, and brought much distress upon his people. 


The parable gathers around the foregoing 
incidents. A nameless prophet whom Josephus 
identifies as Micaiah, the son of Imlah, because 
Ahab appears to have cast him into prison on 
account of a prophecy which threatened him 
waits by the roadside to intercept the king as he 
passes along flushed with victory and exulting 
in his magnanimity. The introduction to this 
scene is somewhat difficult to understand. The 
prophet invites one of his brethren in the school 
of the prophets to wound him, and he declares 
that he asks this in the name of the Lord. 
Because he refuses, the brother prophet is 
condemned to death, not for disappointing his 

65 E 


fellow, but for disobeying God's command. 
Having succeeded in obtaining another man 
who would and who did strike and wound him, 
the prophet covers the wound with a linen cloth 
(not ' ashes ') which serves not only as a bandage, 
but also as a disguise over his eyes. Why all 
this preparation was necessary is not easy to 
explain. Possibly it was to encourage him in 
his purpose, and to reassure him that he was on 
one of God's errands. Thus disguised, he meets 
the king and submits for royal judgment his story. 
He had been engaged in the recent campaign, 
when suddenly there was brought to him a 
prisoner whom he was charged to hold under 
guard on penalty of life or the forfeiture of a 
large sum of silver. 

There is uncertainty about the translation 
of the Hebrew word (sar) which may be part of 
the verb T)D to turn aside, or may be a gloss for 
(sar) "ifr , which means a captain or prince. The 
latter reading is the more attractive because it 
embraces the thought of obedience due to a 
commander's order, but it does not conform with 
the Septuagint translation which indicates that 
' a man carried out unto me a man ' and thus 
supports our translation that * a man turned 
aside.' The Septuagint rendering is somewhat 
more explicit throughout, stating as it does that 
if by any means the prisoner ' shall leap forth ' 
his guard's life will be forfeit, or a talent of silver 



must be weighed in the balance. Then comes 
the fatal denouement a confession that he 
has let the prisoner escape, or, as the Hebrew 
text has it, l he was not.' He had gone while 
the guard's attention was set upon other duties. 
What can the king say ? Ignorant of the applica- 
tion of the story to his own action, he decrees 
the sentence and so condemns himself. It is a 
repetition of the method used to elicit self- 
condemnation from David regarding both Uriah 
and the banishment of Absalom. 


When the prophet's mask is removed and the 
king recognises him as one of the prophets, his 
own words come home to him, ' Thyself hast 
decided.' He knows instinctively what is pur- 
posed, and he can read into the parable its 
application. One may picture him suddenly 
humiliated and crestfallen ; all his laughter and 
joy subdued, and his hopes from the alliance 
with Benhadad absolutely shattered. He hears 
the sentence of God fall from the prophet's lips 
in words which speak of death and destruction. 
He is doomed. What he has sought to evade, 
he must now face his responsibility to God 
for the care and preservation of God's people. 
The mask of deception falls from him, and he is 
aware that his disloyalty and disobedience are 
discovered. Rather than confess his sin as did 


David, he goes to his house sullen and angry. 
He is unrepentant, but he cannot escape from 
the prophet's words. They follow him every- 
where until he allies himself with Jehoshaphat 
of Judah to fight against the Syrians at Ramoth- 
gilead. There he remembers the fatal sentence, 
and he fears to enter upon the battle in his royal 
array. Regal dress is worn by the king of Judah, 
who is unaware that this may make him a target 
for the Syrian sharp-shooters, whereas Ahab 
disguises himself for the fray. All his caution 
avails nothing. He falls and his people suffer a 
fearful slaughter at the hand of that very nation 
to whose king he had shown the mercy for- 
bidden by God " thy life shall be for his life 
and thy people for his people." 

For many years thereafter Israel came under 
the ravaging scourge of the Syrians, a punish- 
ment which could have been avoided had Ahab 
obeyed God. His will had been impaired as a 
consequence of neglect and religious indifference. 
The sufferings of his people had been hidden to a 
vision blinded by sin and selfishness. Self- 
aggrandisement being his ambition, his nation's 
highest interests were sacrificed to his motives, 
and opportunities to develop the national life 
were neglected and spurned. 

From what we know of Ahab's character, we 
are justified in concluding that his motive in 
preserving the life of his foe was other than a 



merciful one. There must have been something 
which he hoped to derive by way of a return 
to his kindness. His action opens up for us 
the question which had to be faced by the 
leaders of our own allied forces in the recent 
Great War. There are in our midst those who 
assert that the greatest mistake in the whole 
campaign was the decision of the victorious 
armies not to proceed right into Berlin. Such 
people attribute much of the world's present 
trouble to a premature peace. Would the 
Allies have been justified in pursuing what 
would have been a policy of mere retaliation 
and vengeance ? Surely the decision reached, 
no matter its consequences, was more in har- 
mony with modern thought and Christian prac- 
tice than would have been a continuation of 
the needless waste of life. 

History indicates that nations have come 
to this considerate attitude towards enemies 
very slowly. We cannot judge the times of 
Ahab by our standards of political wisdom. 
In accordance with the practice of his time, and 
quite apart from any consideration of his duty 
to God, Ahab made a mistake for which it was 
anticipated that he should require to pay 
heavily later in his career. To-day, people 
are thinking more of the preservation than of the 
destruction of life, and a king's duty, as it is 
also a nation's duty, is to protect even an 



enemy's life rather than to destroy it. Nations 
have come to recognise their mutual dependence 
upon each other and that they are all members 
of one great family. By means of conference 
and arbitration, questions of difficulty and 
differences can now be dealt with in a friendly 
manner which gives more satisfaction to all 
parties and permits the development of national 
interests to proceed without the fear of inter- 
ruption which must always exist where arma- 
ments are used to settle disputes. 

For this advance upon the conditions of 
former days, the world is undoubtedly indebted 
to the penetration of Christian truth into the 
conscience of humanity. Though all men may 
not recognise Christ as their Lord, they are 
yet prepared to reverence His teachings and 
the value of His truth when applied to modern 
perplexities. Our Lord's parables of the 
Talents, the Ten Virgins, the Rich Fool and 
the Sheep and Goats point to the importance of 
trusteeship. The parable of the Escaped 
Prisoner is also a story of trusteeship, and it 
may be profitable to us to consider, in the 
light of this interesting Old Testament story, 
our Christian Trusteeship. 


God has reposed in each of us a trust. He 
has put into our charge particular responsi- 



bilities in which we must not fail if we would 
escape vexation later on. We must protect 
and save our honour, our good name, our home 
and its sanctity, our own and our neighbours' 
characters. We are to use every power we can 
to restrain, control and suppress every foe 
which may threaten that which we must guard. 
The principle of ' Laissez-faire ' is dangerous 
in the sphere of moral responsibility. If we do 
not concentrate upon our tasks we shall find 
some day that the enemy whom we have 
neglected will return to injure us. 

Opportunity is given us to carry out a truly 
good work for God and our brethren, but we 
are so much preoccupied with trivial matters 
of our personal affairs that we miss the tide of 
opportunity. Saul suffered for permitting Agag 
to live, and in modern times there are homes and 
lives in ruins, health which is undermined, ideals 
which have vanished, youth lost and souls 
wrecked because a trust reposed in us has been 
neglected or an opportunity has been let slip 
from our power. Prisoners have been put into 
our charge. We have known that we had 
power to prevent evils, temptations and vices 
from continuing to afflict men ; yet owing to 
our neglect and disobedience these foes have 
succeeded in eluding their guards. The lost 
opportunities of life return to mock us and 
often to defeat us. 



" But the tender grace of a day that is dead 
Will never come back to me." 

TENNYSON, Break, Break, Break. 

To many of us who pass along life's highway 
self-satisfied and possibly somewhat elated, 
there cry out the messengers or monitors of God 
whose words turn our joy to sorrow, our sweet- 
ness to gall and our pride to shame. They may 
be nameless prophets, yet we recognise their 
words to be true. They may come to us in the 
silences of life when we are alone with God 
or with the spirits of those whom memory 
recalls ; in the vision of a face, in a cherished 
lock of hair, in the dim ink and browned pages 
of an old letter or in the eyes which penetrate 
to our soul from a picture or photograph. 
There they await us and confound us. 

" If I had known ! 
Ah, love, if I had known." 

Not the good of which we boast and are proud, 
but the wrong we did not right, the evil we did 
not vanquish, the venom we did not eradicate 
these are the sources of our condemnation. 
Their harvest of sorrow follows us. We are 
reminded of the love we could have given, the 
work we meant to do, the good which won our 
approval but not our support, the painful 
thorns we could have extracted and the blessings 
to others which we could have secured. Now 
they are gone ! gone ! ! and for ever ! ! ! 



Ahab returned to his house angry and sullen. 
So do many of us when we are reminded of our 
disobedience and neglect. If we return to God 
however, we shall possess abundant hope and 
joy. He tells us in Jesus of the victories which 
may yet be won when we receive Jesus into 
our hearts and enthrone Him as king of our 
lives. Our attitude towards God when our whole 
life is unmasked may be that of displeasure 
or despair or penitence. Soul-death follows 
upon the first two, but hope, life, joy and salva- 
tion follow upon the last. We cannot bring 
back that which * is not,' but we can rebuild 
and seek to atone in such ways as will provide 
us with peace and happiness and our fellow- 
men with comfort and blessing. 


" I PASSED by a slothful man's field and by a 
garden of the type of man who lacks under- 
standing. Lo ! the whole of it grew thorns, 
nettles covered its surface and its stone walls 
were broken down. Then I beheld and 
pondered in my mind. I saw and was taught a 
lesson : A little sleep ; a little slumber ; a little 
folding of hands to lie down, and thy poverty 
shall come ravaging and thy wants as an armed 
man." Proverbs xxiv. 30-34. 

The book of Proverbs is peculiar in its use of 
the word ' sluggard ' or * slothful man.' Closely 
related to this parable is the lesson of the ant to 
the man of sloth in Proverbs vi. 6-n, where the 
same closing verses appear, thus suggesting that 
in one of the sections these verses were a later 
insertion by a scribe. It is interesting to observe 
that the Septuagint version in both chapters 
varies considerably from the Hebrew. In 
Chapter vi, in addition to the ant the bee is 
given as an example of industry and husbandry ; 
and in Chapter xxiv the language is more 
figurative than parabolical (e.g. " Even as a field 



is a witless man "). Its description is more 
exhaustive and less ambiguous. It tells how 
neglect of a garden renders the soil inoperative 
through exhaustion of its fertility and the closing 
verses suggest more than do those of the Hebrew 
text the process of repose a dozing, a nap, then 
a deep sleep. Instead of poverty and want 
' coming upon ' the sluggard they are revealed 
as f going out running ' before him like a good 
herald. The application is practically the same 
in both texts and the one helps to elucidate the 
other since each leaves upon the reader's mind 
a vivid picture of idleness, neglect, ruin, deso- 
lation and subsequent poverty coming rapidly 
and irresistibly. Though the story may never 
have been recounted, but be merely a soliloquy 
by the writer, it ranks among Old Testament 
Parables by reason of its simple description of 
one of the seven deadly sins. It is more fre- 
quently used in art and literature than the others 
and it has a direct message to every age, nation 
and individual. 

Its scene is in the sphere of agriculture where, 
possibly more consistently than in any other 
occupation, a man must work faithfully, ener- 
getically and laboriously. Agriculture was, 
anciently, the common occupation in the East 
and even in modern times, when mechanical 
implements may lessen the burden of labour, 
there is always need for the farmer and gardener 



to be early afield if he will seek a harvest. In 
countries where the noon-day heat prohibits 
outdoor toil and where the darkness comes on 
suddenly it is imperative that the agriculturist 
should be early at his task. Our narrative 
passes from a consequence to a cause, from weeds 
and sterility to neglect and idleness. It attri- 
butes the sluggard's folly to a lack of under- 
standing as well as to inherent laziness. Whilst 
the passer-by is aware immediately that the 
owner is indolent he concludes that he is also 
of that class of men who are ignorant of what is 
best in their occupation. There are two Hebrew 
words used for man in verse 30, the first for an 
individual and the other for a general type. 
Very obviously the owner is foolish because he 
does not seem to know that his lack of under- 
standing will bring speedily upon him utter want 
and poverty. Perhaps there is a play upon 
words in the use of the Hebrew words for 
' lacking ' (chasar) in verse 30 and * thy wants J 
(machsoreka) in verse 34, each of which is 
derived from the same root ("ion chaser). 

Krummacher has related that among the 
disciples of Hillel was one Saboth whose weakness 
was idleness. Hillel sought to cure him of his 
fault. When he took Saboth to the Valley of 
Hinnom where was a standing pool full of vermin 
and covered with muddy weeds he said, " Here 
let us rest." Because of poisonous vapours the 


disciple would not rest there. " Thou are right, 
my son : this bog is like the soul of a slothful 
man," replied the teacher. A little later he 
shewed Saboth a field well described in our 
parable and pointing to its condition said, " A 
little while ago, thou didst see the soul : now 
behold the life of an idle man." The lesson 
bore fruit in the pupil's life. " To pass such 
fields," said St. Gregory, " is to look into 
the life of a careless liver and to take a view 
of his deeds." An old Arab proverb says that 
" sloth and much sleep remove from God and 
bring on poverty," whilst we have many familiar 
sayings in which the same meaning is inherent, 
such as No sweat, no sweet ; no pains, no gains ; 
early to bed, early to rise. Sloth was the 
youthful defect in Thomson, the author of The 
Castle of Indolence. On one occasion when he 
had overslept and was roused he is reported to 
have said " Troth, man, I see nae motive for 
rising." In his description of indolence he speaks 
of an enchanter who enticed thoughtless way- 
farers and destroyed their strength by a round of 
pleasures which sapped all vigour and lulled men 
into false security and happiness. 

No scene is so distressing as that of a neglected 
garden. Apart from its infertility and want of 
beauty such a garden is a constant menace. Its 
weeds spread seeds all around which injure other 
gardens and cause extra labour to their owners. 



Soon the walls fall down and the place is laid 
waste. Ruin, desolation and poverty are written 
large over the scene and we wonder why any 
owner could ever have failed to preserve the place 
in its fertility, tidiness and utility. Too fre- 
quently we must conclude as did the writer of the 
parable that the cause has been indolence and 
ignorance. The former consists in the love of 
ease, the latter in failure to apprehend with what 
rapidity destruction will come. Alike in the 
cultivation of land and in the cultivation of 
social, moral and spiritual qualities the parable 
bears its message. Indolence and sloth are fatal. 
Bunyan depicts Sloth as having a better head 
than Simple but not making use of it. Whereas 
history points to the work of men and women 
whose diligence and early-rising brought to their 
labours abundant fruits, it also reveals lives 
which might have been most helpful to mankind 
rendered derelict, abortive and bankrupt through 
lack of application. 

Not only in the ranks of business men but also 
among spiritual and moral leaders vision, inspira- 
tion and courage have resulted from faithful and 
diligent cultivation. The soul must be tended 
most carefully and all weeds eradicated. Habits 
require active watchfulness lest they propagate 
evil influences. Thoughts must conform with 
high ideals and actions should be consistently 
good, kind and loving. Power has come to men 


of God most frequently as it did to the 
Wesleys, Archbishop Leighton, Samuel Ruther- 
ford, Murray McCheyne and others by the 
consecrated hours spent with God each morning 
before entering upon other daily duties. The 
garden of family life must also be carefully tended 
if the best results are to be procured. The sons 
of Eli were weeds in their own home but they 
were also a poisonous influence upon the social 
and religious life of Israel. Eli's indolence 
brought shame upon his people. 

The love of ease is very aptly described first 
a little sleep, just that turning-over in one's bed 
for a few minutes ; then a little slumber in which 
drowsiness creeps on and one forgets the flight 
of time ; and finally, when habit has hardened 
into principle one calmly folds hands upon the 
breast and sinks into a sound sleep oblivious of 
the calls of duty, of the world and of humanity. 

" 'Tis the voice of the sluggard, I heard him complain, 
You have waked me too soon, I must slumber again." 


Whether verse 33 is a description of the sluggard's 
laziness or an expression of his own desires does 
not seriously matter, as in either case the issue 
is the same poverty and want. 

The rapidity with which the sequence develops 
is very characteristically depicted. Poverty will 
come in * ravaging.' Some understand the 



Hebrew word for ravaging to mean ' like a high- 
wayman ' because it is derived from the verb 
' to walk ' and is a term which " belongs to a time 
when men who frequented the public roads were 
likely to be robbers." Seeing that the con- 
cluding clause speaks of an armed man who 
probably carries off one's goods the translation 
* poverty will come in ravaging ' appears to be 
both satisfactory and accurate. If men would 
only realise that whilst they are slothful, poverty 
and affliction are already on their way they would 
be up and doing. The one talent man loses 
altogether the talent he has buried and he is 
punished in addition for his neglect and failure 
as a steward. The point of several parables 
taught by Jesus lay in His references to the 
certain reward of folly and indolence. He urges 
us to watch and pray continually and in His own 
life He set the example of diligence, perseverance 
and hardship. Of the Master it is said : " A 
great while before day, he went out, and 
departed into a solitary place, and there prayed." 
" Work while it is day ; the night cometh 
when no man can work." 





" THE trees went out set upon anointing a king 
over themselves and they said to the olive- 
tree : ' Be king over us ' ; but the olive said 
to them : ' Shall I forsake my fatness by which 
gods and men are honoured to go to lord it over 
the trees ? ' Then the trees said to the fig- 
tree : ' Come thou, be king over us ' ; but 
the fig-tree answered them : ' Shall I leave my 
sweetness and my good fruit to go to lord it 
over the trees ? ' So the trees said to the vine : 
* Come thou, be king over us ' ; but the vine 
replied to them : ' Shall I leave my wine which 
cheereth gods and men to go to lord it over 
the trees ? ' All the trees then said to the 
thorn-bush : ' Come thou, be king over us ' ; 
and the thorn-bush said to the trees : * If indeed 
you anoint me to be king over you, come, 
trust in my shadow ; but if not, let fire go forth 
from the thorn and let it burn up the cedars of 
Lebanon.'" Judges ix, 8-15. 

The ' Parable as Fable ' brings us to the second 
of the categories outlined in Chapter I. The 



fable is associated with a very early stage of 
literature and " draws its characters from the 
lower brute creation and even from the in- 
animate world. Thus foxes and wolves, eagles 
and tortoises, trees and flowers, pots and pans 
converse with one another like human beings " 
(A. C. Zenos). There are two fables in the Old 
Testament Jotham's (given here) and Jehoash's 
(in next chapter) in both of which trees are 
made to speak and to teach. Neither of the 
fables can be interpreted without reference to the 
particular historical occasions to which it is 
related, but they become parables for two 
reasons : first, even without the historical 
information they are stories which have obviously 
some lesson, however obscure, to teach ; and 
second, they suggest (at least locally) a moral. 
They embodied such a moral originally and 
were spoken for that purpose. Under modern 
circumstances they cannot be altogether lacking 
in appeal, message and warning, for they com- 
pel us to ask their meaning. 

The fable of the election of a king over the 
trees is common to many countries, languages 
and literatures. Sir James G. Fraser gives 
a very interesting chapter to Jotham's Fable 
in his P 'oik-Lore of the Old Testament, reveal- 
ing how popular this type of story was in an- 
tiquity. In various forms it is found in the 
fables of JEsop, in a poem by Callimachus the 


Alexandrian poet, in Armenian stones and in 
writings by Phaedrus which became very popular 
during the Middle Ages. As described by 
Josephus the fable of Jotham entrances a 
reader, and in that form it should certainly be 
read because of its delightful narrative and 
its naive summing-up where we learn that 
Jotham told his listeners " that what he had 
said was no laughing matter." 


After Gideon's death there was a family feud 
no uncommon experience in olden times 
which was aggravated by the fact that he left 
seventy sons by recognised wives and one son 
by a concubine. So well had Gideon acquitted 
himself as leader and liberator, that he had 
been asked to become king. The desire for a 
monarchy had already possessed the Israelites 
and it grew stronger daily. Though he had 
been highly admired and appraised, yet Gideon 
declined all preferred honours and set before 
the people the true viewpoint : "I will not 
rule over you, neither will my son rule over you : 
the Lord will rule over you." Gideon's seventy 
sons were willing to abide by his decision, but 
the remaining son, Abimelech, had great and 
mischievous ambitions. He planned well and 
trusted much to a reactionary movement 
against the house of Gideon by Baal-worshippers. 



His mother, reputed to be very wealthy, was a 
native of Shechem, and the Shechemites had 
been enraged when Gideon overthrew the altajrs 
erected to Baal. With an open and generous 
purse, and by a strong religious appeal to the 
men of Shechem to avenge themselves, Abime- 
lech proceeded to slay the seventy sons of 
Gideon near the very spot where the altars of 
Baal had been cast down by Gideon. His net 
failed to enclose the youngest son, Jotham, who 
escaped, only to make a dramatic appearance 
on Mount Gerizim, where he shouted out his 
story. Truth and righteousness cannot be 
altogether exterminated. There is always ' some 
youngest son ' who escapes and later perplexes ; 
who keeps alive the spirit of truth and goodness 
and proves that judgment is the Lord's. 

The warriors of Shechem assembled near a 
station or post which is described as ' an oak 
of a garrison ' and there they proclaimed 
Abimelech king. Their celebrations were rudely 
disturbed and seriously clouded when a voice was 
heard ringing out from a projecting ledge on 
Mount Gerizim where Jotham stood, shouting 
so that all could hear. Shechem (now Nablus) 
lay in a valley between two hills Mt. Ebal on 
the north and Mt. Gerizim on the south and 
it is said that at certain times the human voice 
can be heard clearly over the width of the 
valley. There are sound reasons for regarding 



the occasion on which the parable was narrated 
to have been a later assembly of the people, 
so that time had elapsed during which Jotham 
learned of Abimelech's proposals ; but this is 
unnecessary. As a lonely fugitive, Jotham 
garners all the information he can about 
Abimelech's movements, and his sudden appear- 
ance makes the irony and bitter sarcasm of his 
words the more annoying. His best opportunity 
was on that day when they gathered around the 
* oak of the garrison ' the mercat-cross of 

Recent excavations have located the tower 
of Shechem. The modern name for a suburb of 
the city (* Balata ') may be derived from the 
Aramaic ' Ballut ' (oak) and so perpetuate the 
memory of the venerable tree which formed a 
sacred and central feature of an ancient sanc- 
tuary of the plain. Under the oak of Shechem 
Jacob concealed the idols and amulets of his 
household. Under the ( oak of Shechem ' Joshua 
set up the witness-stone and gave his farewell 
messages to the people. It is possible that 
the tower of Shechem may be identified with 
the * oak of the garrison,' which term has also 
been translated ' the massebah-tree ' (i.e. the 
tree under which the massebah or sacred stone 
was set up). Having delivered his scathing 
and threatening prophecy, Jotham fled, but 
the sting of his words remained. 




The parable is simple. In the light of histori- 
cal knowledge it is pungent. Having decided 
to have a king the trees proceed to elect one. 
We experience some difficulty in reconciling 
this decision to appoint a king with the refusals 
to accept office, but that circumstance may be 
passed over because the story emphasises the 
acceptance of kingship and not the decision 
that there should be a king. Among the 
Israelites the desire to have a monarch had 
steadily grown. Gideon and his sons had 
declined the honour when it was proposed to 
them. Every true Israelite would regard God 
as king and would refuse the crown. Abimelech's 
eagerness to rule was a mark of his baseness. 
For this reason Jotham tells how the great, 
useful and valuable trees decline the offer of 
lordship over the trees, because they realise 
that in their own sphere they are of more use to 
gods and men than they could possibly be by 
waving to and fro over other trees. 

Regarding the phrase i gods and men ' we 
observe that trees are not supposed to be in a 
position to speak of * God,' but they do speak of 
gods in the same way as of men. Olive and 
vine were used by the heathen and Israelites 
in worship and in religious ritual. In some 
instances the gods were supposed to receive 



the juice of the vine. As for men, they had many 
services to which they could apply the fruits 
of olive, fig and vine. It would not be advisable 
for the trees to forsake their natural sphere of 
greatest utility. The thorn-bush or bramble has 
not the same high ideals of office and respon- 
sibility. It is a low, creeping and grovelling 
plant which seldom reaches higher than six feet. 
It is prickly, bears small leaves and insignificant 
flowers, and is suitable only for fuel. 

If there is any tree which ought not to be king 
of the trees that tree is the thorn-bush ; yet 
this is the tree which is keen to agree condition- 
ally to become ruler of the trees. It lusts for 
supremacy, not because the others have refused 
the office, but because it desires pre-eminence 
and power. What a subtle proposal lies in the 
condition set forth let the others humble 
themselves by taking shelter under the shadow 
of the thorn-bush. They must then be wholly 
under the control of the thorn-bush and their 
fruitfulness and growth restricted to whatever 
limits their king may permit. This is an un- 
acceptable as well as a preposterous condition. 
Unwillingness to accept it means destruction, 
for fire will issue to burn up all the good trees. 
The thorn-bush may wear a crown, but it is still 
fit only to be fuel. 

p Abimelech expects the faithful followers of 
Gideon's house and the worshippers of Israel's 


God to submit to him a usurping, murderous 
and unscrupulous Canaanite. He may be made 
king but his heart remains treacherous, his 
hands blood-stained, and his reign a period of 
destruction and death. The men of Shechem 
will one day be destroyed by him whom now 
they seek foolishly to honour. Almost in a 
literal sense fire went out from Abimelech to 
destroy the men of Shechem. Later, they 
rebelled against his yoke, and he laid waste their 
city, burning their tower. In the end he perished, 
crushed by a mill-stone aimed at him by a woman. 


The fable has its valuable suggestions to our 
own times. There are always Abimelechs in 
society covetous, crafty and contemptible. 
There are grasping usurpers who are never 
content to fill a humble role, but are eager to 
occupy positions for which they are unqualified. 
Theirs is " vaulting ambition which o'erleaps 
itself." Self-aggrandisement is often the motive 
of public service, and the Abimelechs leave no 
stone unturned until they achieve their selfish 
purposes. They elbow others aside and decry 
the labour of good men. Where honourable 
and well-qualified men decline honours, the 
Abimelechs claim them with avidity. They even 
snatch them though unfit to use them with profit 
to their fellowmen. All civic, ecclesiastical and 



commercial circles suffer from this type of 
strategist. Possibly on account of the hesitation 
of big-hearted, broad-minded and high-souled 
men to accept posts of responsibility, the adven- 
turer gets his opportunity. 

There is urgent demand that wherever men 
are endowed with gifts they should dedicate them 
to God through service to humanity. Our 
people need to be educated to discern the true 
type of public man for leadership. The populace 
is too easily deceived. When Jesus was on trial 
the people at Jerusalem cried out that they knew 
no king but Caesar. Not many years thereafter 
the Roman legions came and burned up 
Jerusalem. The Nemesis is inevitable. The 
supplanter does not escape. The very trickery 
by which young Jacob deceives Isaac is later 
practised by his own sons upon Jacob grown 
old. Unscrupulous dealing in business or religion, 
in friendship or society brings its own retribution. 
If men who are fit to direct the affairs of state, 
city, church or business persist in electing the 
upstart and demagogue to offices of responsibility 
and control, then they must experience that it 
will be on the same condition as laid down by the 
thorn-bush bow down or be ruined. No 
tyranny is so oppressive as that exercised by the 
democrat become autocrat or dictator. Beneath 
his iron heel there is neither liberty nor prosperity. 

We are conscious of the crises which arise 



in our individual inward lives. Selfish, proud, 
covetous, boastful and conceited elements in our 
life are continually seeking the mastery. They 
may be enthroned only at the cost of our peace 
of mind, our purity and honour. Each of us 
has a king to appoint over his soul. The thorn- 
bush and destroyer is self ; the noble and fruit- 
bearing tree is Jesus, the True Vine. 



" THEN Amaziah sent messengers to Jehoash, 
the son of Jehoahaz, son of Jehu, king of Israel, 
saying, ' Come, let us look one another in the 
face.' And Jehoash the king of Israel sent to 
Amaziah, king of Judah, saying : 

" ' The thistle that was in Lebanon sent unto 
the cedar that was in Lebanon saying, " Give 
thy daughter to my son to wife : " and there 
went by a wild beast of the plain which was in 
Lebanon and trampled down the thistle.' ' 
2 Kings, xiv, 8-9. 

There is much similarity in the two fables of 
the Old Testament which are here classified 
among the parables of that book. Apart from 
the power of speech, attributed in each of them 
to vegetable life, there is an element of parallel- 
ism in the types of plant life introduced and in 
the method of effecting an issue to the stories. 
In each case the thistle or bramble which grows 
in the shade of its big brothers, represents the 
spirit of arrogance, swollen pride and provocative 
ambition. Whereas, in Jotham's fable, the 
thorn symbolises fuel which will destroy the 



cedars of Lebanon, in Jehoash's fable a beast 
of the plain is regarded as part of the scheme for 
the destruction of the thistle. There is no 
indication that any knowledge of events is 
ascribed to the wild animal in question or that 
it was aware of the important part it was playing 
in frustrating the over-reaching ambition of the 
thistle. Further, strict parallelism between all 
details of the story and actual events in history 
cannot be insisted upon, since whereas in the 
fable the cedar and the beast cannot be identical 
yet in historical fact Jehoash, king of Israel, 
as symbolised by the cedar, was in reality the one 
who, as symbolised by the wild beast, crushed 
the thistle which symbolised Amaziah of Judah. 
To possess a full array of the circumstances of 
this story, the narratives in 2 Chron. xxv. and 
2 Kings xiv. should be read together. They are 
inter-related and, conjointly, apart from textual 
criticisms, they aid us in understanding the 
salient historical references. From them we 
learn how success crowned the campaigning of 
both Jehoash of Israel and Amaziah of Judah. 
The former reigned at a time when Israel had 
reached a great height of military power and 
national splendour. He had delivered his 
country from bondage to Syria, and although 
religion was at a low ebb because of national 
godlessness, yet he is portrayed as one who would 
have preferred to leave Amaziah undisturbed, 



and Judah in the peaceful position of a vassal 
state to Israel. Amaziah had also cast off a 
yoke by defeating the Edomites. He had 
engaged mercenary troops from among the 
Ephraimites, but on the advice of a prophet he 
dismissed them and was victorious without their 
aid. His success opened the door to idol- 
worship and to irreverence towards God ; and 
the dismissal of the mercenaries led to destructive 
raids both in Judah and in Israel by those bands 
of men who were thus deprived of their antici- 
pated spoils and rewards. Thus with an offended 
God and an aggrieved king of Israel, the outlook 
for Amaziah was not propitious. He himself 
aggravated the position by the tactlessness and 
folly which too often accompany success and 
precede ignominious failure and defeat. He 
rejected the warnings of God's messenger who 
reminded him that the idols which failed to save 
Edom from his (Amaziah' s) own hands could not 
now defend Judah. In response to his threat 
to punish the prophet, he was given the warning 
of God's vengeance upon himself, and what 
resulted later is described thus : " It came of 

Having surveyed the historical relationships 
and purveyed the setting incidental to our story, 
we may now consider a sentence upon the inter- 
pretation of which there is no agreement among 
scholars and which has a very direct bearing, 



not so much upon the meaning of the story as 
upon our appreciation and application of it. 
Amaziah's words : " Let us look one another 
in the face " have been variously interpreted 
as signifying any one of the following : 

(1) A challenge to fight Israel either to avenge 
the raids of the Ephraimites, or to assert 
independence ; or simply a provocative step 
following upon his recent successes. 

(2) A request for a conference to adjust the 
difficulties which had resulted from the raids 
upon Judean and Israelitish towns. 

(3) An approach for consideration of a marriage 
alliance between the two kingdoms. 

If it is permissible to deduce from the fable, 
there seems to be no escape from the third 
suggestion, but its consequences appear to be 
altogether out of proportion as well as out of 
relationship to such a claim or approach. The 
fable reveals a certain detachment of interest 
in its second part which meets this objection. 
The destruction of the thistle is not carried out 
by the cedar but by a third party who has not 
entered into the question of the council. This 
is a simple and natural possibility. A marriage 
alliance would be rendered impossible in con- 
sequence of the beast's intervention ; but such 
a condition would invalidate the development 
whereby the intervention was actually effected 
by the king, who is represented by the cedar. 



There may be a confusion of metaphors, and 
it is always possible that, as ' it is of God,' 
so God can choose Jehoash as His instrument 
to accomplish His purpose. 

May not the explanation of the parable lie 
in the thought that Amaziah sought a conference 
to deal with the raids upon his towns, and that 
as a condition of agreement he insisted upon 
a marriage alliance ? By this means we can 
comprehend the force, irony, disdain and haughti- 
ness of the words used by Jehoash. He stands 
like one of the mighty cedars of Lebanon such 
as that ' Grand Old Man ' of Lebanon, who has 
been described in modern times as keeping his 
lonely vigil outside the enclosure of cedars, 
6,000 feet above the Mediterranean where " he 
not only guards the wood, but also surveys the 
land " and still, " under their shade grow 
barberry, wild rose and bramble giant monarch 
and impudent impostor." To such a tree the 
beast of the plain is harmless, but alike to the 
sapling cedars and all small shrubs he is a 
serious menace. Even to-day, wild goats break 
through the breaches in the enclosure walls 
and trample down the growing bushes. This 
point is made explicit in the fable. Not the 
cedar, but an animal of the field crushes the 
thistle and the cedar continues to reign un- 

Objection may be taken to the moral and 

97 G 


spiritual application of this parable on the 
ground that it was spoken ostensibly for a 
specific occasion and to an interested individual. 
In reply it may be argued that the parable 
of the Good Samaritan was also spoken under 
such circumstances and was even applied by 
Jesus to an individual case " Go and do thou 
likewise " but that the value of the story has 
been universally recognised and appreciated 
and so the story has become part of the universal 
library of the codes of good conduct. In a 
similar sense, we may regard this Old Testament 
Parable because it has for us in our day a message 
as clear and definite as it had for Amaziah in his. 
" Pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty 
spirit before a fall," Prov. xvi. 18. There are 
conditions of life in which success is more 
dangerous than failure. Wherever success 
engenders presumption, vaulting ambition, or 
conceit, the danger signal is present. Success 
may beget arrogance, boasting and indiscretion 
which prompt men to enter the lists with those 
who are their superiors alike in strength, char- 
acter and position. Only a superior could make 
the demand, " Give thy daughter to my son to 
wife " yet, as in the parable, there are those who, 
dazzled by the glare of their own successes, 
claim either for themselves or others such 
positions or rewards as they are quite unsuited 
to hold. They intermeddle to their discom- 


fiture and hurt. Cedars have no need to worry 
about the ambitions of thistles : they may 
grow close together, but their sphere and purpose 
are quite distinct. It is as absurd for the 
thistle to think of an alliance with the cedar 
as for the cedar to form an alliance with the 
thistle. We must resist every temptation to 
imagine ourselves superior to what we are. 
Without any discussion of what is termed 
* class ' distinction or * social difference ' we 
have to recognise that when God created a 
thistle He had no intention of making it into a 
lordly cedar, either in height or in utility. Jesus 
Christ sought to stress the need for each man to 
fill his own niche which no other can fill so well. 
He indicated also that just in proportion as we 
may thus fulfil our allotted duty and bear its 
responsibility, shall we be promoted or given 
increased responsibilities. We must suppress 
and extinguish within ourselves that fire which 

" Preys upon high adventure . . . 
... a fever at the core, 

Fatal to him who bears, to all who ever bore." 


An important point in the parable of the 
Pharisee and the Publican is that the latter knew 
and faithfully observed his position before God, 
whereas the former was blind to the truth of the 
situation. He knew neither humility nor rever- 
ence towards God. A little success or a little 



righteousness may deceive us into thinking 
ourselves stronger or better than we are. To 
flaunt our self-righteousness before God or man 
is sure to incur for us a well-merited punishment. 
In Amaziah's case, his kingdom was taken from 
him and Jerusalem was devastated. 

No matter where men go they find here a cedar, 
and there a thistle : in the crowded city life and 
in the seclusion of rural life ; in the market and 
in the shop ; in the church, the school and the 
home ; and in the many forms of social life 
and human endeavour it is always the same 
here a cedar, and there a thistle men and 
women with various thoughts, tastes, pursuits 
and gifts. Some are intoxicated with success 
whilst others are humbled. The former acquire 
foolish pride and assume superior, unbecoming 
airs ; they scorn advice and kindly warnings ; 
they are thistle characters, incapable of develop- 
ment and growth. They differ from the cedars 
in height, depth and girth. They cannot soar 
so high ; their roots are not so deeply entrenched 
and established, and their influence is not so far- 

Just as Amaziah's heart was not right with 
God, so there are those whose religion is not 
deeply rooted but very near the surface, often 
hypocritical. The crux of this matter lies in 
the hidden depth. The roots are not seen. 
Selfishness and harsh, cruel, intemperate and 



evil desires or motives may not be obvious to 
the public or to the congregation. Yet, " by 
their fruits ye shall know them." The girth 
of a tree depends upon its roots. Travellers 
have reported upon cedars which are 41 feet in 
girth with large, spreading branches. Our girth 
is our measure of influence. History is full of 
lordly* cedars, the great, noble minds and hearts 
who have brought rich blessings to mankind 
and who have laboured steadfastly independent 
of all the envyings, criticisms, and petty 
ambitions of the conceited and puffed-up thistles. 
Especially true is this in the case of Christian 
lives by means of which the branches of Christ's 
Kingdom are stretching out so that all nations 
may rest in their shade. 




" THUS said the Lord unto me ' Go and acquire 
for thyself a linen waist-cloth and put it upon 
thy loins, but thou shalt not cause it to come 
through water '. So I acquired the waist-cloth 
according to the word of the Lord, and I set it 
upon my loins, and the word of the Lord 
came unto me a second time saying ' Take the 
waist-cloth which thou hast acquired, which is 
upon thy loins, and arise, go to Euphrates and 
bury it there in a hole of the rock '. And I 
went and buried it in Euphrates according as 
the Lord commanded me. Then it came to pass 
after many days that the Lord said unto me 
* Arise, go to Euphrates and take thence the 
waist-cloth which I commanded thee to bury 
there '. So I went to Euphrates and I digged 
and took the waist-cloth from the place wherein 
I had buried it, and behold, the waist-cloth 
was marred ; it was not profitable for anything 
at all. 

"And the word of the Lord came unto me 
saying ' Thus saith the Lord ; After this man- 
ner shall I mar the pride of Judah and the great 



pride of Jerusalem. This evil people who 
refuse to hear my words, who walk in the 
stubbornness of their heart and have gone 
after other gods to serve them and worship 
them shall be as this waist-cloth which is not 
profitable for anything at all. For as the 
waist-cloth cleaveth unto the loins of a man, 
so have I caused to cleave unto me the whole 
house of Israel and the whole house of Judah,' 
saith the Lord, l that they might be unto me for 
a people and for a name, and for a praise and 
for a glory ; but they did not give ear.' ' 
Jeremiah xiii, i-n. 

As the first among ' Parables of Fancy,' this 
interesting narrative about the waist-cloth that 
was marred challenges us to prove that it is 
such a parable rather than one of fact. Did 
Jeremiah really go through the action of the 
story, or was it given him in vision, or is it a 
story narrated as though it had been experienced 
for the purpose of teaching the nation a neces- 
sary and very urgent lesson ? The answers to 
such questions require reference to a perplexing 
interpretation. The Hebrew word Perath, trans- 
lated Euphrates in our text, is regarded by many 
modern scholars as a reference to the Wady 
Farah which is only a few miles distant from 
Anathoth, the home of Jeremiah. There are 
found a fountain and stream " which soak into 
the sand and fissured rock of the surrounding 

1 06 


desert." On the other hand, Euphrates is 
about 250 miles distant and is not enclosed by 
rock as the story requires. 

It is not easy to believe that the prophet 
walked such a great distance on two occasions 
in order to learn an obvious lesson and a lesson 
which could have been so easily demonstrated 
nearer home. If Euphrates is the correct 
rendering, then the story is a parable of fancy 
rather than of fact, and if the Wady Farah is 
intended, we have either a parable of fancy 
(given as vision) or a parable of fact in which 
the prophet acted the story under divine guid- 
ance. We are constrained to accept the con- 
clusion of Principal G. A. Smith " That the 
Wady Farah was the scene of the parable is 
possible, though not certain. But the ambiguity 
of these details does not interfere with the 
moral of the whole." Remembering that the 
whole narrative is recorded as being under the 
constraint of God's direction, and that the story 
has reference to the burial of Israel in a place 
where the nation becomes quite unprofitable, 
we retain in our text the word Euphrates as 
symbolising the land of captivity and we incline 
towards regarding the whole story as visionary 
in its inception though narrated as having 
been experienced. 

Another word whose interpretation makes a 
radical difference in the meaning and application 



of the story is that which is given as l waist- 
cloth.' Cheyne holds the view that no word 
is so appropriate and dignified as * waist- 
wrapper ' and he quotes the Arabic proverb 
' He is unto me as a waist-wrapper.' The 
waist-cloth was bound very close to the body 
under other clothing, and it must be distinguished 
from the girdle, which was a waist-belt wrapped 
around and over other garments. The girdle 
was often adorned and ornamented, a circum- 
stance which might justify the description of 
Judah and Israel as a praise and a glory for 
God, but this is to read into the word * waist- 
cloth ' the idea of such ornamentation as neces- 
sitates the meaning waist-belt or girdle. So 
very clear is the command to put it upon the 
loins that there can scarcely be any doubt that 
it is the ' waist-cloth ' which is bound close 
to the skin ; for it was caused ' to cleave unto 
me ' which can scarcely be said of the ordinary 
waist-belt or girdle. 

Emphasis is laid upon the material of which 
the waist-cloth consists. It is linen. All the 
priestly garments were linen and because of 
that linen symbolised holiness. Possibly this 
does not wholly explain why linen is mentioned 
in the parable. Israel was indeed expected 
to be holy unto the Lord, but two of the useful 
qualities of linen are that it wears well and 
can be long preserved. It was used in the 



burial of mummies, and there have been in- 
stances in which new linen has withstood the 
ravages of time over many centuries. When 
washed it is again practically new, but if it is 
left soiled and contaminated in any way with 
damp, it will rot. Jeremiah makes good use of 
the recognised qualities of linen. The waist- 
cloth which he acquires or buys must not be 
put in water after he has worn it. He buries 
it soiled in a hole or chink of rock. May not 
Euphrates mean simply, in the land with which 
the river is identified rather than mean a refer- 
ence to the near presence of water ? He buries 
it where it should be dry and long-preserved, 
but after many days he digs it up only to find 
that it is altogether useless. Is not the 
suggestion here that the uselessness of the linen 
has resulted from its earlier corruption rather 
than from its contact with water or damp ? It 
was buried in an unclean and soiled condition, 
the consequences of which were decay and 

The parable has thus a vivid application 
to the condition of Judah since it indicates 
that the corruption of the nation will not result 
from its exile in a distant land where it will be 
buried, but from the sin which has already 
wrought uncleanness among the people before 
they are removed. Their only chance of life 
and preservation lies in an immediate cleansing. 



Once the national life is defiled, no hiding or 
burial even in a distant land will arrest the 
process of decay and death. The canker will 
work its deadliest havoc unless it is treated in 
the earliest stages when the nation is still 
closely bound to righteousness and purity. Thus 
the Lord is described as emphasising primarily 
that the nation is an evil people, disobedient, 
haughty and stubborn, idolatrous and imperti- 
nent. God had chosen them to be a peculiar 
people unto Himself and had bound them 
closely to Himself by His love and tokens of 
mercy. He sought them as a great praise and 
glory, but sin had already so corrupted their 
life that He foresees the final issue never 
again can the nation be a praise and glory for 
God upon the earth. We are given a glimpse 
of God dealing patiently and lovingly with 
His people, delivering to them through teachers 
and prophets His messages of reconciliation 
and restoration ; pleading with them to repent 
and be converted, but all His appeals fall upon 
deaf ears and cold, stubborn hearts. They 
did not hear it is God's deep grief for His 
people. We feel that the final words are drawn 
most reluctantly from Him, and they are 
echoed in the words of Jesus in His lament over 
Jerusalem " But ye would not." 

A nation which had been separated as a holy 
people through whom God's name was to be 



praised and honoured will now be completely 
unprofitable in consequence of their refusal to 
obey and honour Him. Does the parable fail 
when we observe that it is God who will mar 
the pride of Judah ? No : because the humilia- 
tion is put upon Judah and Jerusalem not by 
God but by their own neglect of God. He 
states the issue. It was their duty to seek the 
cleansing, not His to purify them when their 
hearts were turned away from Him. 

In a sense peculiar to the New Testament 
and its message of grace, God has again caused 
a people to cleave unto Him for the purpose 
" that they might be for a people, and for a name 
and for a praise and for a glory " because in 
Jesus He has taken His Church to be " a chosen 
generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, 
a peculiar people : that ye should shew forth 
the praises of him who hath called you out of 
darkness into his marvellous light." Individual 
members of the Church can cleave unto God 
by faith in Jesus Christ. A Church which 
neglects the call and service of God, which 
boasts in its own strength, which compromises 
with sin and which corrupts the faith once 
delivered through the Lord is a Church like 
Jeremiah's waist-cloth. Amid the godless and 
irreligious where it lies in its corrupt state, it 
will become completely unprofitable to God and 
humanity. The same words apply to every 



professing believer in Jesus Christ whose pro- 
fession means that he is knit to the Lord and 
that God's Holy Name can be honoured and 
glorified in and through him. In modern times 
we seldom hear the confesison that we are 
unprofitable servants. Among the lessons to be 
derived from this parable of the Soiled Waist- 
Cloth may well be a new conception of the 
honour and majesty of God, a fresh sense of our 
responsibility to maintain the glory of God's 
name, and a wish, by pure life and consecrated 
service, to keep ourselves closely bound to Him 
in that love which has manifested a desire never 
to let us go. 



" THE word which came unto Jeremiah from the 
Lord, saying, ' Arise, and go down to the potter's 
house and there shall I cause thee to hear my 

" So I went down to the potter's house, and 
behold, he was executing a work upon the wheels ; 
and the vessel which he was making of clay was 
marred in the hand of the potter : so he (began) 
again and he made it another vessel as it seemed 
good in the eyes of the potter to make. 

" And the word of the Lord came unto me 
saying, ' Am I not able to do to you, house of 
Israel, even as this potter ? ' saith the Lord. 
* Behold, as the clay in the hand of the potter 
so are ye in my hand, house of Israel. Immedi- 
ately I shall speak concerning a nation and 
concerning a kingdom either to root up, or to 
break down, or to destroy, and that nation shall 
return from its evil concerning which I have 
spoken, then shall I repent of the evil which 
I promised to do to it. Again, immediately, 
I shall speak concerning a nation and concerning 
a kingdom to build or to plant, and it do evil 

113 H 


in my sight so that it do not hearken to my voice 
then shall I repent the good with which I have 
said I would do it good.' " Jer. xviii. i-io. 

The relation of the potter to the clay with all 
its inherent possibilities and suggestiveness, is 
one which has been rendered most strikingly in 
such writings as the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam 
and Browning's Rabbi Ben Ezra. It was very 
commonly used by the Hebrews, and in the 
Bible there are several references to the potter 
and the clay. Had Jeremiah merely narrated 
the potter's action, we should have possessed 
another parable of fact, but he states that he was 
directed by the Lord to go down to the potter's 
house and that the lesson would be borne in upon 
his own mind as he looked on and meditated. 
It was not necessary for him actually to go 
down since it is almost certain that he knew 
the potter's practice ; but whether he went down 
to the potter's house in fact or in fancy, leaves 
the story as a parable of fancy given under 
suggestion from the word of the Lord. He 
projects the thoughts which came to him upon 
the relationship existing between God and Israel, 
and indicates very clearly and effectively the 
providence, patience and mercy of God towards 
a people who had placed much strain upon His 
love and compassion. 

It is unnecessary to enter upon critical 
analysis of the parable, discussing whether 



Jeremiah was responsible only for the first 
four or six verses. To exclude the remaining 
verses leaves the story suspended in the air. 
The whole narrative is part of a complete 
section embraced by chapters xviii.-xx. and in 
chapter xix. there is presented a symbolical act 
in which the smashing of a potter's earthen 
bottle proclaims emphatically to the priests and 
ancients of the people that when their nation's 
heart is hardened and God's word is not obeyed, 
destruction must inevitably ensue. Our parable 
is preparatory to that awful day and is delivered 
in the hope that the people will repent and turn 
to God that His will may be wrought through 
them. To assign the parable to any particular 
period in Jeremiah's life is not easy, though it is 
probably to be associated with the early years 
of Jehoiakim. It indicates that the nation was 
passing through a critical period when a new 
vision, high ideal and consecration of national 
life might lead to a glorious revival with recovery 
of honour and prestige. 

The house of the potter was probably situated 
in the valley of Hinnom, south of Jerusalem. 
There is the traditional site of the potter's field 
mentioned in Matt, xxvii. 7, where many 
evidences of the existence of potteries have been 
unearthed, and above them there is what is 
believed to have been the gate of the potsherd. 
The potter did his work upon wheels. These 



were two discs of which the larger and lower 
was usually made of stone (though later of wood). 
With his feet he turned this wheel, and as it was 
connected by a central support to the upper disc 
(which was often made of wood) this upper wheel 
was set in motion. Upon the latter he shaped, 
moulded and dressed the clay, having both 
hands free for his work. In Thomson's Land 
and the Book, p. 521, there is a description of 
the potter as seen at his task, and the writer 
tells that after waiting for a long time the 
incident described in our parable happened at 
last " From some defect in the clay, or because 
he had taken too little, the potter suddenly 
changed his mind, crushed his growing jar 
instantly into a shapeless mass of mud, and 
beginning anew, fashioned it into a totally 
different vessel." 

Jeremiah had doubtless looked upon such a 
scene before, but he had not then received from 
it its message as given by God. On this special 
occasion he is caused to hear God's voice. The 
potter proceeds with his labour altogether 
unconscious of its influence upon an observer's 
mind. By simple everyday facts of common 
experience we may learn God's ways. Michael 
Fairless's Roadmender preaches silently while 
he sits breaking stones near the white gate. 
There are always spectators who, unknown to 
the workman, are being impressed and taught. 


If we visit the potter's workshop in the company 
of Jeremiah, we see how the artist uses and works 
upon the clay with deft hands. He has a plan 
for the clay in his mind, and he seeks to reveal 
it and give it substance in an earthen vessel. 
Alas, for some reason not given to us he finds 
that it is marred. There is a flaw : 

" What strain o' the stuff, what warpings past the aim ! " 

No longer can it fulfil its destined purpose in 
accordance with the craftsman's plan ; but he 
is not finished with it. He does not discard it. 
On the contrary, he conceives for it immediately 
another purpose. This may not mean a vessel 
so beautiful in its workmanship or so delicate 
in its lines as would have been the other, but 
it may be as useful to men. The clay is fashioned 
into another vessel. Looking on admiring, we 
hear suddenly the words which flash through 
Jeremiah's mind as he, too, beholds " Am I 
not able to do to you, house of Israel, even 
as this potter ? Behold, as the clay in the hand 
of the potter so are ye in my hand." Not 
spoken, yet quite audible, are the words which 
we are constrained by God to hear. For that 
very purpose God has caused Jeremiah to go 
down to the potter's house. He is permitted a 
glimpse of God's way in dealing with men and 

When applied to the house of Israel there is 


no difficulty in recognising the parable's meaning, 
challenge and supplication. The nation was 
chosen by God for a very high and important 
function to be a separate people through whose 
might, beauty and holiness their God would be 
reverenced throughout the world. Clay has 
no freedom of will whereby it can resist the 
potter's efforts. It may be refractory and 
difficult to work according as it is good or poor 
clay for the purpose. If it be the proper clay 
for what is planned, then it will in all probability 
be used again for the same purpose, but the 
parable indicates that the potter has met with 
a disappointment. He cannot make what was 
expected ; he will therefore form what is within 
the compass of the class of material in his hand. 
This defect appears only when the clay has 
been put to the test. 

A nation's condition differs from that of clay. 
A nation has a will and can refuse permission 
to God to mould it. It is easier also for 
God to exercise sovereignty over an individual's 
life than over a nation's because the latter 
embraces so many complexities and vagaries of 
mind and will that to get a whole nation's will 
harnessed to God's will, is very difficult. It 
demands infinite patience, and it premises the 
right of God to claim that His will be done. 
The parable deals with both of these features. 
Over against a national departure from obedience 



to God's law and teaching, we hear God asserting 
His authority and sovereignty. His people 
cannot evade or disregard Him. What He must 
do will be done immediately. Should they 
persist in resistance to His purpose, He will 
act speedily. He will repent of the high ideal 
and make of them another vessel. If, however, 
an unsatisfactory nation, such as the house of 
Israel was, repents and turns to God He will 
in this case also immediately set to work to bless 
that people and to annul whatever evil their 
own wickedness had been bringing upon them. 
We may so interpret verse 10 as to read into 
it a meaning suggesting destruction, death and 
a closed door against hope and restoration ; 
nevertheless it must be observed that the 
parable's most powerful meaning lies in its 
supplication to a nation to appreciate the mercy 
and loving-kindness of God as He assures them 
that though He has been frustrated in His first 
design for their life, they may, by His grace, 
be re-made and restored as an honour to Him. 
It is the gospel of a second chance proclaiming 
God's everlasting mercy, patience and love. 
He may be forced to repent of His goodness, 
but He prefers to relent from His judgments. 
Since individual citizens constitute a nation 
the parable speaks also to each man and woman. 
We are so unstable and refractory that we deny 
to God the best we can give Him. Our lives 



break or are marred upon the wheels. By 
adversity, failure or deliberate evil we soil our 
lives. We lose contact with the great forces 
which might mould us aright. Broken hearts, 
soiled souls, marred lives, shattered visions, 
low ideals and fading hopes result from flaws 
which were unseen or unknown. We are subject 
to many influences which rob us of our beauty 
and strength. Of ourselves we may be proud, 
self-centred and stubborn, declining to allow 
God's spirit free course in our lives. We are 
conscious of what He wishes to make us, for in 
Jesus Christ we possess the Divine Pattern. 
We lie in His hand marred, soiled, broken. 
Such is our estimate of ourselves. What is His ? 
He, the Divine Potter, sees new possibilities 
even in the broken, inert clay. There is no 
waste in that workshop. The potter's house 
is a place of hope, revival and restoration. In 
His loving and tender hand the blemishes are 
used to remake us. Out of ruin, despair, wreck 
and calamity of soul and out of maimed lives 
He can produce new souls and strong lives. 
We cannot define or limit the bounds of His 
judgment if we refuse Him the opportunity to 
recreate us. This is a truth revealed in several 
of the parables of Jesus. To those who repent 
of sin and disobedience, yielding their lives to 
God in Jesus, who is the revelation of His love 
and patience, there is the assured promise of a 



new life and fresh discovery of the value of one's 
own soul. Readers of modern writings such 
as Broken Earthenware (H. Begbie), The Ever- 
lasting Mercy (J. Masefield), God in the Slums 
(H. Redwood) and One Thing I Know (A. J. 
Russell) cannot fail to appreciate the moral and 
influence of this Old Testament Parable which 
is perennially fresh and ever new. It throbs 
with the optimism of Browning's Rabbi Ben 
Ezra and the radiant hope of Jesus Christ 
rather than with the gloom and pessimism of 
Omar Khayyam 

" So take and use Thy work : 
Amend what flaws may lurk, 

What strain o' the stuff, what warpings past the aim ! 
My times be in Thy hand ! 
Perfect the cup as planned." 

Ben Ezra. 

' If any man be in Christ he is a new creation.' 
2 Cor. v. 17. 




" I SAW all Israel scattered upon the mountains 
as a flock which had no shepherd ; and the 
Lord said : " These have no master ; let them 
return each to his house in peace." I Kings 
xxii. 17. 

" I saw the Lord seated upon His throne 
and all the heavenly host stood by Him on the 
right hand and on the left. And the Lord 
said : " Who will entice Ahab that he will 
go up and fall in Ramoth-gilead ? " And one 
spoke in this manner and another in that man- 
ner ; then the spirit came forth and stood 
before the Lord and said : " I shall entice 
him." But the Lord said unto him : " In 
what way ? " And he said : "I shall go out 
and become a lying spirit in the mouth of all 
his prophets." And He said : " Thou shalt 
entice and also prevail. Go forth and do 
accordingly." i Kings, xxii. 19-22. 

Divided as it is into two sections, this narrative 
is one of the most alluring and illuminating of 
all the stories regarding God's messengers. The 



first part is the real parable and the second part, 
which is also parabolic, explains the first by 
shewing under what misleading and dangerous 
counsel the conditions described in the first 
part were set up. The charm of the narrative 
so holds readers that the prophetic and visionary 
elements sink into obscurity. A few explana- 
tory words about the history of the period 
enable us to follow the stories with under- 
standing and appreciation. When first spoken 
they would require no specific reference to 
contemporary events because they would be 
self-revealing and explanatory. When originally 
narrated their appeal to men's minds would be 
much richer than it can possibly be at this 
distance from the events referred to. 


The background of the canvas is easily 
portrayed. It reveals more clearly all that 
occurred at the momentous meeting of 
Jehoshaphat of Judah with Ahab of Israel, 
which forms the foreground. Jehoshaphat had 
prospered and established his kingdom. He 
was a pious king and he consolidated the strength 
of Judah alike in defence, in war, in religion, 
in law and in wealth. Though Judah and 
Israel had been previously hostile, they were 
now friendly and at peace. Indeed, the royal 
houses were united by a marriage alliance be- 



tween children of the kings. Ahab, King of 
Israel, had treated his conquered enemy, 
Benhadad of Syria, too leniently, and allowed 
the Syrians to continue comfortably in Ramoth- 
gilead upon a promise that they would restore 
the city. Now he sought to reclaim the city 
and desired the aid of Jehoshaphat in his cam- 
paign. Ignorant of his ally's fears and sus- 
picions, Ahab was not fully prepared for the 
question of Jehoshaphat which asked whether 
the venture was acceptable to God. 


We regard now the scene in the foreground 
the meeting of the kings. Ahab knows 
that he cannot anticipate God's blessing 
upon his latest adventure, and he resorts 
to the device of summoning 400 mercenary 
prophets whose views will coincide with his 
own. They tell him to go up and conquer, 
but their plausibility and servility are all too 
apparent to Jehoshaphat, who suspects mischief 
and asks most slightingly if there is not besides 
a " prophet of the Lord." The 400 were 
doubtless prophets of the Lord, but with their 
first loyalty to the King. Is there not an 
approved prophet of the Lord known for his 
devotion to God ? One can visualise that scene 
where the strong, religious king asks the arro- 
gant, idol-worshipping king for a true messenger 



from the Lord. The question gets under 
Ahab's armour and guise, unveiling a fear in his 
heart. He admits that he has not summoned 
one man whom he knows to be true to God and 
whom he hates just because of his courageous 
stand for God and righteousness. His words 
are an admission of previous wrong-doing when 
conviction came home to him through that 
man of God Micaiah, who was possibly the 
unknown prophet who narrated to Ahab the 
parable of the escaped prisoner. Secretly urged 
to side with the 400 prophets, Micaiah proves 
himself a valiant hero for his Lord ; one of that 
noble line of courageous servants who, like 
Elijah at Carmel, Stephen at Jerusalem, Luther 
at Worms and Knox at Edinburgh, fear not 
majorities or rulers so long as they are them- 
selves true to God he proclaims in parable the 
fatal issue to Ahab's adventure, and Ahab 
recognises instinctively what the parable means 
for himself. That Ahab sensed the danger is 
proved by his disguise for the battle and his 
attempt to contrive Jehoshaphat's death in 
place of his own. 

The short parable has its paradoxical diffi- 
culties. Sheep are not expected to come into 
the pens of their own accord from the outlying 
grazings far scattered upon the hillsides. Again, 
there is small comfort in appending the words 
"^in peace " to a return home from destruction. 



As a probable interpretation, the parable should 
be regarded more as a warning than as a sequel 
to the king's folly. It is symbolical of the 
condition of God's people when they are under 
the leadership of a king who has already ceased 
to perform the duties of God's anointed to his 
nation. Ere it is too late, the army should be 
disbanded and each man go home in peace. 
Opposed to the king's policy, which means the 
complete dismemberment of the nation, Micaiah 
advises peace and preservation. 

In view of the warning thus given, it is truly 
astonishing that Jehoshaphat united with Ahab 
to attack Ramoth-gilead. Much more astound- 
ing is that action when the prophet's words 
are considered. They confirm the suspicions 
of Jehoshaphat regarding the 400 prophets into 
whom the lying spirit had entered. This idea 
of a lying spirit is most repugnant to us, but 
it was common, acceptable and even agreeable 
to the Hebrew mind. To understand this as the 
work of the Lord whereby He allows prophets 
to be deceived in order that His purpose may 
ultimately be achieved does not deprive the 
text of its meaning. But this interpreta- 
tion would react very harshly upon the true 
prophet's declarations and would condemn rather 
than justify his allegiance to God. Apart from 
textual uncertainties, it may be concluded 
that behind the parable " lies a great truth 



to which religious experience of all ages bears 
witness. The man who sells himself to work 
evil, loses his power of discerning between 
good and evil ; the flattering tongue of a number 
of worldly prophets prevails with such a man 
over the utterance of the one spiritually minded 
seer " (Barnes). New Testament writers made 
use of the doctrine of a false spirit entering 
into the Church and into the hearts of Church 
leaders to deceive them and to seek to bring 
about the overthrow of God's citadel upon 
earth by giving a wrong conception of God's 


Micaiah can be dissociated from his parable 
only with the greatest difficulty. His life and 
power are closely linked to the incidents to 
which his words are related ; and he impresses 
us by reason of his courage, steadfastness to 
God's cause, indomitable perseverance in face 
of overwhelming odds and cheerful submission 
to affliction. In him we possess a noble type 
of servant in God's Kingdom. He will not pander 
to any class or section. Gold cannot buy his 
loyalty, nor can flattery divert him from his 
duty. Unafraid of the foe's big battalions and 
their treachery and wiles, he fears only God. 
Invited to side with the majority, he prefers 
to be on God's side. He fears neither king 


nor prophets because it is his joy to serve God 
whom he beheld in vision and whose voice he 
obeyed. His defence lies in the words " I 
saw the Lord." Such visions have been the 
inspiration and security of all faithful servants 
of God. Though alone in witnessing for God, 
they have the vision of the Lord beside them, 
and this makes all the difference. Seeing the 
Lord did more for Moses and Paul in a few 
minutes than did years of religious education 
and care. 

To the Christian Church of modern times the 
parable bears its precious moral. Material and 
worldly forces have become so established 
within the citadel that there are many and 
serious temptations to God's messengers to 
compromise. In the guise of true servants 
there are treacherous deceivers who urge the 
faithful servant to bow to their opinion by 
denying obedience to God's voice. We recall 
that the essence of all the temptations of Jesus 
Christ lay in the offers to Him of power and 
worship if He would but surrender. He warned 
His disciples against the leaven (the spirit of 
false teaching) of the Pharisees. He told them 
not to fear those who would cast them into 
prison or lay hands upon them, but to fear Him 
who had power over their souls. No wrong 
merits so great condemnation as an evil sugges- 
tion which is sugar-coated with a religious 



profession. Such a deceiving spirit passed 
through a crowd one day in Jerusalem, and 
the crowd were enticed and tricked into ex- 
claiming " Crucify him ! " and " We have no 
king but Caesar ! " 

If ever in history God's people needed careful 
shepherding, now is the time. We read that 
" when He saw the multitudes, He was moved 
with compassion on them, because they fainted 
and were scattered abroad, as sheep having no 
shepherd." Matt. ix. 36. As truly as there 
was need for fidelity and enthusiasm in Christ's 
time, so also to-day the compassion and love 
of Christ's ambassadors are needed in the 



" GIVE ear and hear my voice ; hearken and 
hear my word. 

" Does the ploughman plough all the day to 
sow ? Does he lay open and break up his soil ? 
When he has levelled its surface does he not 
scatter black cummin and sprinkle cummin, 
set the wheat in rows, the barley in marked-out 
order and rye in its borders ? And his God 
trains him aright ; He teaches him ; for black 
cummin is not threshed with a sharp stone 
nor is a wagon-wheel turned about upon cummin. 
But black cummin is beaten out with a staff 
and cummin with a rod. Bread corn is beaten 
out because he will not ever be treading it out, 
and though he urge forward the wheel of his 
wagon and his horses, he does not crush it. 

" This also came forth from the Lord of Hosts. 
He makes wisdom distinguished ; He exalts 
understanding." Isaiah xxviii. 23-29. 

In justification of the inclusion of this homely 
agricultural song among the Parables of the 
Old Testament, reference need only be made 
to the Gospel of Mark, iv. 26-33, where Jesus 



is reported to have spoken in parables when He 
used forms of speech not dissimilar to that 
form which appears in the closing verses of 
Isaiah xxviii. Mark does not describe the 
parables as having been delivered in the form of 
narratives of fact, but rather as an appeal to the 
minds of Christ's listeners. ' So is the Kingdom 
of God, as if a man should cast seed into the 
ground . . .' As Jesus applied the routine 
of agricultural labour to express a truth, even 
so in our parable did Isaiah also utilise it to 
show that each class of seed requires its own 
soil, treatment, harvest and threshing, and to 
direct the thought of his audience to God, whose 
wisdom is manifested in all the care and pre- 
vision which inspire the ploughman in his tasks. 
With a thrust which is straight and unerring 
he points the nation to God's unfailing mercy 
and protection of those who trust in Him. 

Commentators are almost unanimous in their 
appreciation of this parable alike for its song, 
its comfort and its lesson. There are divers 
opinions regarding its historical setting and 
textual associations, but in respect of its spiritual 
value and message there is agreement. Orelli 
regards the chapter as a gloomy discourse which 
closes with a sunbeam in the form of " a calmly- 
conceived and instructive parable," while 
Delitzsch says that Isaiah here proves himself 
a master of the mashal by giving a mashal-song, 



which is left for interpretation by his hearers. 
God in its heart is the inspiration, key and 
director of all. The song's theme revolves 
around revelations of God and of His wonderful 
goodness. The ploughman's art is shown to be 
God-inspired, not self-created or self-suggested. 
" His God trains him aright." God's purposes 
are declared to be consistent with rational laws, 
and what is regarded as thus divinely provided 
in the simple functions of husbandry, is set 
forth as applicable in the life of nations and of 
individuals. Where men see chaos, upheaval, 
disaster, disappointment and decay, God works 
consistently towards a definite achievement. 
His methods are not stereotyped but varied, just 
as the agriculturist must study seasons, seeds 
and soils as well as the different modes of treat- 
ment and development to get the best results. 
Harvesting and threshing processes are also 
varied delicate grains will not be threshed with 
a sharp stone and the wagon-wheel will not be 
turned about upon them. In like manner God's 
dealings with the many types of men are shown 
to be exercised in accordance with human 
capacity and divine requirement. In order to 
receive from a nation or an individual that 
response to His love and care which God antici- 
pates He deals with His people in accordance 
with natural and acquired endowments, oppor- 
tunities and character. 



Whatever may have been its historical back- 
ground, the parable appears to have been written 
in defence of God's control and direction of 
national affairs. It is no merely modern com- 
plaint against God that He measures out His 
mercies unequally and unjustly. Some people 
are called upon to endure more suffering and 
loss than others, and there are many seemingly 
inconsistent circumstances. By means of the 
parable Isaiah indicates that in all God's dealings 
there is consistency of aim if not of method, 
and that God's works must be contemplated 
not by their divergent operations but by their 
ultimate purpose. Thus might men be encour- 
aged to put their trust in God. 

For its practical information upon agricultural 
work, the parable has a special value quite 
apart from its parabolical meaning. It sheds 
light upon a domestic and social aspect of 
Hebrew life, which is nowhere else in the Bible 
so well portrayed. The opening clause arrests a 
modern reader by its question, " Does the 
ploughman plough all the day to sow ? " This 
is doubtless a reference to the practice of sowing 
the seeds first and thereafter ploughing so as to 
cover the seeds as a protection against the 
ravages of insects and birds and as a means of 
conserving moisture for the seeds. The plough- 
share did not go deep, and sometimes it became 
necessary to have more than one ploughing to 



secure a safe sowing. It is very doubtful if 
there was any harrowing in the modern sense of 
that word. The soil having been levelled in a 
simple and rather rough manner, the seed was 
sown according to its kind and covered in the 
process of subsequent ploughing. To conclude 
the first clause with the word ' day ' and carry 
forward the words * to sow ' into the next clause 
renders a more intelligible meaning which 
coincides with the Septuagint translation, " Does 
the ploughman plough all the day (i.e. continu- 
ously) ? Does he make ready the sowing before 
the working of the soil ? " Here we learn that 
God's plough must follow the sowing of the 
seeds in human hearts, and that what men may 
think will destroy will be for their protection 
and prosperity. 

Each class of seed requires its own particular 
form of sowing in order that it may bear fruit. 
Some seeds must be broadly scattered whereas 
others need only be slightly sprinkled black 
cummin is scattered and cummin is sprinkled. 
The former seed is supposed to have been a type 
of fennel-flower which was used for seasoning 
purposes by bakers, although some commen- 
tators have regarded it as black poppy seed. 
Cummin is grown for use as a condiment. Other 
seeds such as barley, wheat and rye, which were 
more valuable and were sown in the winter, had 
to be laid in furrows by hand. This explains 



the term ' marked out ' because each seed had 
its own place in the row. Just as a heavier 
and rougher type of oats is frequently sown 
around fields of good grain in this country, so 
rye was set in the borders as a protection from 
birds, rodents and wild animals. The plough- 
man followed the sower and his plough turned 
over the soil upon the seeds. Unless given 
their particular forms of treatment the seeds 
would not germinate properly, and from this fact 
the parable goes on to answer the natural 
questions, " How does the agriculturist know 
all this ? Who has taught him ? " The answer 
is that God has trained him, that the farmer 
depends upon God, and that his faith in God 
encourages him to sow the seeds. 

As with the sowing so it was with the harvest- 
ing and threshing. There cannot be similarity 
and identity of harvest processes, since what 
might suffice for one crop may be injurious to 
another. The harvest-period was usually free 
from rain, and threshing took place in the open 
air. Spread out upon the threshing-floor the 
finer crops were threshed by means of a flail or 
rod or by treading under foot ; the coarser and 
heavier crops required either the threshing- 
sledge or the threshing- wagon. The former 
consisted of wooden planks joined together, 
which had stones or knives set in the under-side, 
and it could be drawn by man or beast, usually 



beast. The latter was the ' wagon-wheel,' and 
to-day it consists of several parallel rollers 
each of which has three or four iron discs so 
arranged that the discs of one roller extend into 
the spaces left by the others. This explains 
the introduction of the words ' wheel of the 
wagon ' and ' his horses,' although some authori- 
ties omit reference to the horses and suggest a 
change of text. But the point of this threshing 
reference is quite clear. Under a process which 
might be expected to destroy it, the bread-corn 
(as distinguished from the spice-corn) is safe 
from injury. From an experience so simple 
and so common in a land of husbandry, there is 
no difficulty in deducing a spiritual lesson. 
Since the husbandman knows this to be an 
instinct-experience given him by God, surely 
the God who has taught him and so planned to 
provide harvest fruits by means which would 
threaten to destroy them, is a God of such 
wisdom and understanding that man may say, 
" Though He slay me yet will I trust in Him." 
Not only is God's wisdom unsearchable but His 
counsel to men is most wonderful and through 
them He exalts understanding. 

In his poem " The Everlasting Mercy " our 
Poet Laureate, Mr. John Masefield, describes a 
lesson derived from the ploughman's task. He 
refers to Jesus as the " ploughman of the 
sinner's soul " and indicates how necessary it 



becomes that the plough's colter should be 
driven deep in certain lives before they can 
provide satisfactory fruit. When Saul Kane 
beheld an old ploughman at his task he 
meditated upon the parable of that task to his 
own soul. If our study of Isaiah's parable 
has spoken a message to our souls regarding 
God's wonderful and merciful works in our 
lives we shall henceforth " welcome each rebuff " 
believing that " all things work together for 
good to them that love God." 



" THE word of the Lord came unto me saying 
' Son of man, put forth a riddle and speak a 
parable unto the house of Israel ; and thus 
shalt thou say Thus saith the Lord Jehovah. 

1 The great eagle of the great wings and long 
pinion full of plumage of variegated hues came 
unto Lebanon and took the boughs of the 
cedar. He plucked off the head of its young 
shoots and carried it unto a land of merchandise. 
He set it in a city of merchants and he took 
from the seed of the land and planted it in a 
field of seed. It took hold by many waters. 
He set it a water-side plant and it sprouted 
and became a creeping vine of low stature, 
its branches turning towards him and its roots 
were under him. And it became a vine and 
brought forth branches and shot forth green 

" * There was also another great eagle of great 
wings and much plumage, and lo, this vine 
bent its roots towards him and set forth its 
branches to him that he might water it (from 
the bed of its planting). This was planted 



in a good field beside many waters in order 
that it should bear shoots and produce fruit 
and become an honourable vine. Say thou, 
Thus saith the Lord Jehovah ; Shall it thrive ? 
Shall he not dig up its roots and cut off its 
fruit so that it shall wither ? All its fresh- 
springing leaves shall wither and that without 
great force or many people to pluck it up from 
its roots. Yea, behold, planted, shall it prosper ? 
Shall it not utterly wither as the east wind 
touches it ? It shall wither upon the bed of 
its sprouting'." Ezekiel xvii. i-io. 

This story appears in one of the most arresting 
chapters of the book of Ezekiel, containing as 
it does many unique Hebrew words which are 
found nowhere else in the Old Testament and 
some words which are peculiar to Ezekiel. 
There is also in the story's sequel a striking 
resemblance to the conclusion of Christ's 
parable of the Mustard Seed wherein He speaks 
of the fowls of the air finding shelter in the 
shadow of the tree's branches. Again, the 
true prophetic note rings throughout the story 
while we are provided with a vividly historical 
parabolical narrative which the prophet's 
simple interpretation elucidates. There are tex- 
tual and metaphorical difficulties, but the 
message is not obscured by them and we are 
left with a parable which was spoken for a 
momentous occasion of national responsibility 



and national decision. It indicates an attempt 
on the part of Ezekiel to save Jerusalem from 
destruction and to preserve the glory of Israel 
as the people of God. It affords a valuable 
glimpse of the true prophet of God as a man 
who is so concerned about the honour of his 
God that he comes as a fearless messenger 
to exhort, rebuke, warn and appeal. Another 
unusual feature of this chapter is its parabolical 
appendix (vs. 22-24) in which God announces 
what will be the ultimate conclusion to the 
story, a conclusion which finds its fullest con- 
summation only in and through the gift of 
Jesus Christ and in the extension of His King- 
dom throughout the world. We cannot trace 
any other historical application for the closing 
sentences of the chapter than that which is 
found in Him who is the Hope of the Ages. 


Most scholars suggest as the probable date 
of the parable a time within a few years before 
the destruction of Jerusalem by Nebuchad- 
nezzar in the year 587 B.C. Whether Ezekiel 
narrated his story in Babylon, where he shared 
captivity with some of his people, or spoke 
it in Jerusalem and Judah is a point which 
must be left undecided. In the former case 
he may have heard of the perfidy and disloyalty 
of King Zedekiah, and he may have had inner 



knowledge of the intentions of Nebuchadnezzar ; 
in the latter he would speak with more immediate 
realisation of the impending doom ; but the 
question of the prophet's domicile does not 
affect the value of the narrative because the 
interpretation of the parable leaves no doubt 
regarding the historical reference, and we are 
not justified in asserting that the parable was 
spoken after the destruction of the Holy City. 
Attempts have been made to give a later date 
to the whole chapter on the ground that it is 
not a homogeneous work and that the closing 
verses, 22-24, must have been a later addition. 
There appears to be no valid reason for thinking - 
that the chapter was the work of more than 
one writer. It is definite that the thoughts 
if not the actual words of the closing verses 
were familiar in the time of Jesus and as words of 
prophecy they could be recorded five centuries, 
as easily as one century, before Christ. 


When Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, 
overran Judah, he removed into captivity in 
Babylon the king, Jehoiachin, and all the chief 
men of Judah including the expert artisans 
and technicians. He set the king's uncle over 
Judah and gave him a new name, Zedekiah 
for Mattaniah. But he was to rule as a vassal 
under covenant to serve the king of Babylon 



faithfully so long as he was in possession of 
that territory. The country was sorely stricken, 
yet there were great hopes for the future, 
dependent upon diligence and fidelity. Indica- 
tions given in the parable are to the effect that 
Zedekiah could and did prosper through his 
attachment to Babylon, although he was re- 
stricted in suzerainty and in scope for 

Instead of being true to the covenant, he 
schemed an alliance with Hophra, the Pharaoh 
of Egypt, who failed in the end to render that 
aid which Zedekiah anticipated, and so the 
latter was left to incur punishment for his 
treachery and brought upon Jerusalem its 
destruction. Ezekiel is constrained to shew 
that this breach of covenant with Nebuchad- 
nezzar was also a sin against God in whose 
name the covenant was drawn up and accepted. 
God is revealed as the guiding power behind 
the national experience. Thus infidelity to 
Babylon's king is faithlessness towards God 
for which Judah must suffer. Breach of a 
covenant's sanctity merits judgment because 
a covenant is sacred not only before men but 
also before God. Had Zedekiah given heed 
to this parable, Jerusalem would probably 
have been saved, although it is obvious that 
the king had already turned his heart towards 
Egypt and begun his insurrection against 



Nebuchadnezzar. The parable assumes the 
natural consequences to such mistrust and 
perfidy, and it proclaims the doom of the city 
whilst it also promises a redemptive work of 
restoration and healing through which God's 
people will become a blessing to all nations. 


The symbolism of the eagle need not be 
regarded either as an influence of Babylonish 
thought upon the prophet or as definitely 
Babylonish in its conception, because Assyria 
had its eagle-headed god, Nisroch, and in the 
Old Testament the eagle was a symbol of God's 
power and watchfulness. He bears His people 
on eagle's wings (Exodus xix. 4). He watcheth 
over His people even as an eagle stirreth up her 
nest, fluttereth over her young, spreadeth 
abroad her wings, taketh them, beareth them 
on her wings (Deut. xxxii. n, 12). As a 
royal bird the eagle was a suitable symbol 
for the King of Kings and for the rulers of great 
dominions. In such a sense the two eagles 
are introduced in the parable. One is great, 
long-winged, rich in plumage and handsomely 
coloured, whereas the other is also great, long- 
winged and rich in plumage, but lacks the 
many colours of the former. One is * the great 
eagle ' and the other is simply ' a great eagle/ 
The great eagle symbolises Nebuchadnezzar 



and the might of Babylon whose dominion held 
sway over many nations with their varied 
languages and customs. Egypt is the second 
eagle. Its power had been reduced and its 
territory seriously diminished after the 
battle of Charchemish in 605 B.C. when 
Nebuchadnezzar inflicted upon Egypt a great 
defeat and extended his own rule through 
Assyria right to the Egyptian boundary at the 
Wady of Arish. In the year 597 B.C., 
Nebuchadnezzar, the great eagle, carried into 
captivity King Jehoiachin of Judah with all 
his best men and the leaders in various spheres 
of life, leaving " the poorest sort of the people 
of the land." The captives are the boughs or 
" the picked parts " of the cedar of Lebanon 
and the King is " the head of its young shoots " 
as described in the parable. Jehoiachin had 
reigned only three months and he was eighteen 
years old, truly the head of Judah's young 


Reference has been made to the Cedars of 
Lebanon in the story of the Thistle and Cedar. 
Here it need merely be stated that the wood- 
work of the royal palace at Jerusalem was of 
cedarwood, and that * Lebanon ' was a term 
used to denote Jerusalem by reason of the 
presence in that city of so much work in cedar- 



wood. One of the greatest of Solomon's palaces 
was known as ' the house of the forest of 
Lebanon.' Because of its height and stately 
appearance the Cedar of Lebanon symbolised 
the royal house and supplied the metaphor 
which identified it with the king as the highest 
in social rank. A special feature of its life and 
growth is that it must have dry soil, and will 
not thrive beside water. There was, therefore, 
very sound reason in the action of the great 
eagle who took of the seed of the land and planted 
it as a ' water-side plant,' not as a cedar. 


Without any attempt to explain the absurdity 
of an eagle having conscious knowledge of 
arboriculture, or of a vine possessing the wit 
to turn towards a particular class of eagle 
although it has been demonstrated scientifically 
that plants have nerves and that bees and birds 
play an important part in the development of 
plants we learn that this ' seed of the land ' 
was set where it had a chance of prosperous 
growth. It would not become a great vine, 
but as a low, creeping vine it might yet bear 
a fullness of fruit, becoming an honourable vine. 
Nebuchadnezzar appointed Zedekiah, a native 
of the land, to rule over Judah within the 
restricted limits that whilst he was a humble 
and feudatory dependent monarch, he might 

145 K 


still enjoy happiness and flourish. At first the 
result was very promising because * the vine 
brought forth branches and shot forth green 
boughs ; " but that success engendered conceit 
in Zedekiah and he began to be restless under 
his covenant with Nebuchadnezzar. He chafed 
and squirmed, then looked for a new superior 
by directing his thoughts towards an alliance 
with Egypt. A relationship with that great 
country was entered upon "lo, this vine bent 
its roots towards him " and emphasis may be 
laid upon that word ' bent,' which signifies a 
yearning attitude. It pined for the other eagle 
like a thirsty plant, when close beside it were 
many waters in the " bed of its plantation." 


This question explains the use of the word 
' riddle ' in verse 2, and the purpose of the parable 
is to answer the question by showing that just as 
Nebuchadnezzar will not tolerate such treachery 
and perfidy, so, too, God will not fail to visit 
His wrath upon the covenant-breaking king. 
Zedekiah had pledged himself to fidelity in God's 
name, and the God whom he had wronged would 
be avenged. The description of that issue is 
very graphic. The vine must be uprooted and 
its fruit stripped off ; a withering east wind 
will devastate its fresh, sprouting leaves, which 
will crumble into dust. Even in that place 



where it was flourishing " upon the bed of its 
sprouting " it must wither. Zedekiah's pros- 
perity was brief. Egypt failed to support him, 
and his base ingratitude and unfaithfulness 
received their merit. He had apparently not 
known what had already been revealed to the 
prophets that Egypt's power was waning, and 
that help from that direction was not possible. 
His sons were slain before his eyes. He himself 
was blinded, bound in brass fetters and borne 
away captive to Babylon. Jeremiah asserts that 
Zedekiah was weak-willed, vacillating and unable 
to withstand his princes. Because of his selfish 
nature he had no serious concern for the nation's 
welfare and he acted falsely and deceitfully 
with those who trusted him. 


Zedekiah's disloyalty affected more than him- 
self. It brought a nation and its proud city 
to the dust. National covenants are often made 
to depend upon the will of one man or a small 
coterie of men. Failure to implement the 
conditions of the covenant may plunge thousands 
into misery. History is replete with instances 
of such broken covenants, and rarely has the 
destroyer of a sacred pledge been known to escape 
the evil consequences of such an act of insincer- 
ity. Nations have wallowed in warfare, social 
conditions have been upheaved, domestic 



relationships have been devastated in con- 
sequence of disloyalty to solemn agreements. 
In very recent years the outbreak of a world- 
wide war costing ten million lives, with the 
additional losses and sorrows which follow in- 
evitably upon war, resulted from breach of a 
sacred covenant. Movements such as the League 
of Nations may accomplish much good for man- 
kind if the sanctity of covenants international, 
personal and social can be brought home to 
everyone. But no league can substitute God 
or usurp His supreme command. Wherever His 
Holy Name is invoked in sealing a covenant He 
becomes the Supreme King and Judge of men's 
acts. He can cause the very wrath of men to 
praise Him, and He can bring to naught the evil 
works of darkness. Inspiration and courage are 
born when men feel that loyalty to God's 
covenant must simply must, because of God's 
own being and nature work out for good to 


In contrast to the failure of the seed which 
Nebuchadnezzar set, Ezekiel was moved to tell 
of the plant which God set. The chapter which 
opens with judgment concludes with mercy, 
tenderness, promise and growing beauty. There 
is a touch of the Eternal Love of God in the 
closing verses which must not be missed. There 



is a reversion to the thought of a cedar and its 
topmost young twigs. From the latter God 
selects a tender shoot which is planted, not by 
water, but upon a prominent hill where it will 
thrive and grow, true to its species as a good 
cedar. Its branches will shelter all sorts of 
birds, and this work of the Lord will be known 
to all the trees. Thus did God promise to the 
house of Judah a Saviour under the spreading 
branches of whose Church all nations of the 
earth will come to rest and all nations will behold 
the amazing works of God. " The kingdom of 
heaven is like to a grain of mustard seed, which 
a man took, and sowed in his field : which indeed 
is the least of all seeds ; but when it is grown, 
it is the greatest among herbs, and becometh a 
tree, so that the birds of the air come and lodge 
in the branches thereof." (Matt. xiii. 31, 32). 



THIS study of the Old Testament Parables could 
not conclude with a better promise and brighter 
hope than are contained in the closing verses of 
Ezekiel xvii. We have reached the stage where 
we anticipate a new revelation which will fulfil 
God's promises. This new revelation will be 
more precious to us on account of what the old 
one has meant to our souls. Doubtless, in the 
course of reading this book we have traced a 
historical process of divine revelation and of 
human development which constrains us to 
await patiently and wistfully the coming of Him 
of whom it was written " Without a parable 
spake He not unto them." 

We have journeyed along a road upon which 
we have met with men not altogether unlike 
ourselves in their desires and practices. We 
have been privileged to behold moral and spiritual 
conflicts in the souls of men. We have discerned 
the wondrous works of God in His dealings with 
individuals and nations, and we have seen the 
gradual unfolding of the unfailing love of God. 

Looking back over the pages of this book we 
may conclude that its parables of fact deal with 
moral issues, and its parables of fancy with the 



spiritual relationship between God and man. 
If our study has deepened our interest in the 
Old Testament, and given us cause for a fuller 
appreciation of the parables spoken by Jesus, 
we shall not have read in vain. 

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