Jesus spoke in parables (Mk 4:33-4:34)

“Jesus spoke the word

To them

With many such parables.

Thus,

They were able

To hear it.

He did not speak

To them

Except in parables.

But he explained

Everything in private

To his disciples.”

 

Καὶ τοιαύταις παραβολαῖς πολλαῖς ἐλάλει αὐτοῖς τὸν λόγον, καθὼς ἠδύναντο ἀκούειν·

χωρὶς δὲ παραβολῆς οὐκ ἐλάλει αὐτοῖς, κατ’ ἰδίαν δὲ τοῖς ἰδίοις μαθηταῖς ἐπέλυεν πάντα.

 

This explanation of the importance of parables is similar to Matthew, chapter 13:34.  Jesus, via Mark, presented the word (ἐλάλει αὐτοῖς τὸν λόγον), using many parables (Καὶ τοιαύταις παραβολαῖς πολλαῖς) so that they were able to hear them (καθὼς ἠδύναντο ἀκούειν).  In fact, he told hem nothing that was not a parable (χωρὶς δὲ παραβολῆς οὐκ ἐλάλει αὐτοῖς).  He only spoke in parables.  However, he explained everything in private for his disciples (κατ’ ἰδίαν δὲ τοῖς ἰδίοις μαθηταῖς ἐπέλυεν πάντα).  Both Mark and Matthew underlined the role of parables in their gospel stories.  Matthew, chapter 13:35, uniquely cited a prophecy from Psalm 78:2, that Mark had not mentioned.  Jesus was going to open his mouth in parables about the old-fashioned sayings, like the wisdom writers.  The parables were a way of conveying wisdom, with only the initiated, his disciples, able to understand them.

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The prophecy about parables (Mt 13:35-13:35)

“This was to fulfill

What had been spoken

By the prophet.

‘I will open my mouth

To speak in parables.

I will proclaim

What has been hidden

From the foundation

Of the world.’”

 

ὅπως πληρωθῇ τὸ ῥηθὲν διὰ τοῦ προφήτου λέγοντος Ἀνοίξω ἐν παραβολαῖς τὸ στόμα μου, ἐρεύξομαι κεκρυμμένα ἀπὸ καταβολῆς.

 

Matthew uniquely cited this prophecy from the Psalms, Psalm 78:2, where the psalmist Asaph explained the teachings from long ago.  Jesus was going to open his mouth in parables about the old-fashioned sayings, like the wisdom writers.  These sayings had been passed on from his ancestors, showing the great deeds of Yahweh that he had done for Israel.  Jesus, via Matthew, justified or fulfilled (ὅπως πληρωθῇ) what the prophet Asaph in the psalms had said (τὸ ῥηθὲν διὰ τοῦ προφήτου λέγοντος) about the use of parables.  He would open his mouth in parables (Ἀνοίξω ἐν παραβολαῖς τὸ στόμα μου) to proclaim the hidden mysteries from the foundations of the earth (ἐρεύξομαι κεκρυμμένα ἀπὸ καταβολῆς).  The parables were a way of conveying wisdom, with only the initiated able to understand them.

Judah over Joseph (Ps 78:67-78:72)

“He rejected the tent of Joseph.

He did not choose the tribe of Ephraim.

But he chose the tribe of Judah.

He loves Mount Zion.

He built his sanctuary

Like the high heavens,

Like the earth,

Which he has founded forever.

He chose his servant David.

He took him from the sheepfolds.

He brought him from tending the nursing ewes.

He made him the shepherd of his people Jacob.

He made him his inheritance of Israel.

With upright heart,

He tended them.

He guided them with skilful hand.”

This psalm ends with God choosing the sons of Judah over the sons of Joseph. He did not choose the tribe of Ephraim, but the tribe of Judah. He loved Mount Zion. Thus he built his sanctuary there just like the high heavens and the earth that he had founded. He chose his servant David when he was nursing the young sheep. He made him the shepherd of his people, Jacob not Israel. His inheritance was Israel. He tended and guided them with an upright heart and a skilful hand.

The defeat of Israel (Ps 78:60-78:66)

“He abandoned his dwelling at Shiloh,

The tent where he dwelt among mortals.

He delivered his power to captivity.

He delivered his glory to the hand of the foe.

He gave his people to the sword.

He vented his wrath on his heritage.

Fire devoured their young men.

Their girls had no marriage song.

Their priests fell by the sword.

Their widows made no lamentation.

Then Yahweh awoke as from sleep,

Like a warrior shouting because of wine.

He put his adversaries to rout.

He put them to everlasting shame.”

This is a reference to 1 Samuel, chapter 4, about the Ark of the Covenant at Shiloh. This was when the Philistines defeated the Israelites. Things were looking bad for Israel. God was angry at them. People died by the sword. Fire destroyed their young men so that the young girls had no marriage songs. The priests died by the sword, but somehow the widows were not able to mourn. Finally Yahweh woke up as if he were asleep. He then shouted like a warrior full of wine. God then put the adversaries of Yahweh to rout in everlasting shame.

God rejects Israel (Ps 78:56-78:59)

“Yet Isreal tested the Most High God.

They rebelled against him.

They did not observe his decrees.

They turned away.

They were faithless,

Like their ancestors.

They twisted like a treacherous bow.

They provoked him to anger,

With their high places.

They moved him to jealousy,

With their idols.

When God heard,

He was full of wrath.

He utterly rejected Israel.”

When the Israelites got to the holy land, they tested God. They rebelled against him. They did not keep his commandments. They were faithless like their ancestors in the desert. They provoked God to anger when they established the high places dedicated to idols in the countryside. When God heard this he was angry. He then utterly rejected Israel.

God leads them to the holy land (Ps 78:52-78:55)

“Then he led out his people like sheep.

He guided them in the wilderness like a flock.

He led them to safety.

They were not afraid.

However the sea overwhelmed their enemies.

He brought them to his holy hill.

He brought them to the mountain

That his right hand had won.

He drove out nations before them.

He apportioned them for a possession.

He settled the tribes of Israel in their tents.”

God led his people like sheep. Thus the image of the good shepherd goes back to the Exodus itself. He guided his flock of sheep through the wilderness as he led them to safety. Thus they were not afraid. After all he had led them through the waters that never touched them. He brought them to his holy hill or mountain, Mount Sinai. He drove out nations before them as they entered the holy land. The apportionment of this holy land among the Israelite tribes can be found in Joshua, chapters 14-19.

The power of God in Egypt (Ps 78:42-78:51)

“They did not keep in mind his power.

They did not remember

The day when he redeemed them from their foe.

He displayed his signs in Egypt.

He displayed his miracles in the fields of Zoan.

He turned their rivers to blood.

They could not drink of their streams.

He sent swarms of flies among them.

The flies devoured them.

He sent frogs among them,

The frogs destroyed them.

He gave their crops to the caterpillar.

He gave the fruit of their labor to the locust.

He destroyed their vines with hail.

He destroyed their sycamores with frost.

He gave over their cattle to the hail.

He gave their flocks to thunderbolts.

He let loose on them his fierce anger.

He let loose on them his wrath.

He let loose on them his indignation.

He let loose on them his distress.

He let loose a company of destroying angels.

He made a path for his anger.

He did not spare them from death.

He gave their lives over to the plague.

He struck all the first-born in Egypt.

He stuck the first issue of their strength

In the tents of Ham.”

Here the psalmist recalls the powerful acts recorded in Exodus, chapters 7-12, about the great plagues in Egypt. He wanted to recall the great events that God did in Egypt for them against their foes. He lists the various signs or miracles that took place in the Egyptian fields of Zoan or Ramses in order to save them and bring them out of Egypt. First he turned all their streams to blood. Then he let loose swarms of flies, frogs, caterpillars, and locusts that destroyed their crops. Then he let loose with hail and thunder that destroyed their cattle and herds. He then let loose the destroying angels that brought death. They struck down all the first born people and animals that were living in Ham, another word for Egypt based on Genesis. Clearly the plagues of Egypt were part of Israelite folklore built into the Israelite psyche.