In one of Jesus’ parables, we read,
When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is what was sown along the path. (Matthew 13:19).
In the beginning parts of the parable, Jesus had given the vivid picture of the sower scattering seeds along the ground. The seeds fell on different types of ground, hard, rocky, thorny, and good. Later, the disciples asked Jesus to explain the meaning of the parable. He did, and His explanation of the different types of ground and the destinies of each seed is above.
The “path” mentioned is the path that the farmers and other people would walk in between fields. It was so heavily trod that they became hard packed, almost like cement. In Leviticus 23:22 it’s mentioned as a rule that the farmers were not to harvest to the very edges of the field, so that those who are traveling or poor could glean from the stalks that were alongside the path. You might remember Ruth gleaning Boaz’s field. (Ruth 2:2-3). As Jesus and His disciples walked along the fields, they plucked some grain to eat as they passed. (Matthew 12:1). These paths were very hard and well-traveled.
In Barnes’ Notes it’s explained about the paths. As expected, the vivid picture of the hardened path, the seed, and the birds scooping away the exposed seeds is visually understandable.
He is represented by the fowls that came and picked up the seed by the way-side. The gospel is preached to people hardened in sin. It makes no impression. It lies like seed on the “hard path;” it is easily taken away, and never suffered to take root.
But I’d like to focus on the part of the parable verse that mentions that the evil one comes along and snatches the seed away. I ask myself, how does the evil one do this? In what manner? Thanks to the visual nature of the parable we can readily understand that he does, but how?
Someone asked me recently how does the devil do his work, how does spiritual warfare operate. It’s a good question and it is something that though the parable’s images are understood, it what is meant by ‘digging deeper.’ Ask yourself questions as you read. Listen to others ask questions. Pray and ponder a while. Do a parallel verse search. Look up the important words in the verse in Greek or Hebrew. Consult commentaries.
In the Greek, the word for hearing is in the continuous present tense, setting an immediacy to the situation. As stated here in Vincent’s Word studies in the New Testament, “the action is exhibiting action in progress, and the simultaneousness of Satan’s work with that of the gospel instructor. ‘While any one is hearing, the evil one is coming and snatching away, just as the birds do not wait for the sower to be out of the way, but are at work while he is sowing.'”
I am reminded of fishing boats and shrimp boats pulling up a catch, and the cloud of seagulls and other scavenging birds are plucking the fish from the nets even as they are pulled to the boat’s deck. The ground is so hard the seed of the Word never makes any impression in it, and the birds come snatch it almost immediately.
Here is Gill’s Commentary on the subject of how the devil snatches away the seed. This is aimed at the unsaved, but the point has lessons for the saved, which I’ll explore below.
Then cometh the wicked one, Satan, the devil, Mark 4:15 who is, by way of eminency, so called, being the first creature that became wicked, and the worst that is so; who is entirely and immutably wicked; whose whole work and employment lies in wickedness; and who, was the original cause of the wickedness that is among men, and which he is continually instigating and promoting: … This evil spirit, as soon as ever he observes one hearing the word, especially that has not been used to attend, comes immediately, and, as he is hearing,
catcheth away that which is sown in his heart: not the grace of God, which being once implanted in the heart, can never be taken away by Satan; but the word which was sown, not in his understanding, in a spiritual sense, nor even in his affections, so as to love it, delight, and take pleasure in it; much less in his heart, so as to become the engrafted word able to save, or so as to believe in it, and in Christ revealed by it; but in his memory, and that but very slightly neither; for the heart sometimes means the memory; see Luke 2:51.
Besides, the word only fell “upon”, not “into” his heart, as into the good ground, as the metaphor in the parable shows; and it made no impression, nor was it inwardly received, but as soon as ever dropped, was “catched” away by the enemy; not by frightening him out of it, by persecution, as the stony ground hearer; nor by filling the mind with worldly cares, as the thorny ground hearer; but by various suggestions and temptations, darting in thoughts, presenting objects, and so diverted his mind from the word, and fixed his attention elsewhere; which is done at once, at an unawares, secretly, and without any notice of the person himself; so that the word is entirely lost to him, and he does not so much as remember the least thing he has been hearing:
this is he which receiveth the seed by the way side; such an hearer is comparable to such ground, on whom the word has no more effect, than seed sown upon a common beaten path.
The saved can never have the Gospel seed snatched away from Jesus’ hand. John 10:28 explicitly says so. But even though satan cannot destroy the salvation of the saved by snatching the gospel seed from the ground into which it is sown, he can diminish our effectiveness. We, too, can be tempted as the unsaved Gospel-hearers can be tempted. The word will never be “entirely lost” to us, as Gill said it will be of the hard ground unsaved, but we can be tempted by–
–various suggestions and temptations,
–darting in thoughts,
–and so diverted his mind from the word, and fixed his attention elsewhere
–which is done at once, at an unawares, secretly, and without any notice of the person himself;
Here is John MacArthur on his version of how the devil snatches the seed away from the unsaved, but has application for us in satan’s ever-present attempt to divert us from our effectiveness:
In other words, when someone does not respond to the gospel initially, when they’re hardhearted and stiff necked, Satan just snatches it away. He just blinds them to its true value. How does he do that? Well, there are a lot of ways. One way he does that is send false teachers along to say all of that stuff was lies. Don’t believe that stuff. Another way he snatches the seed is by the fear of man. People don’t respond to it because they’re afraid they might lose their reputation or they might be kicked out of their little group or somebody might think they’re a religious fanatic.
Sometimes Satan uses pride. People are just know-it-alls. They just don’t want to admit that they need some help, that they need some information, that there’s some things they don’t know. Sometimes Satan snatches it away through doubt. Sometimes he snatches it away through prejudice, sometimes through stubbornness. Sometimes through the love of sin the person doesn’t want to give up. Sometimes through procrastination. But one way or another or a combination of ways, when it hits that hard stuff, Satan snatches it away and the person so easily forgets that it ever came.
When we procrastinate, become stubborn, prideful, doubtful, follow false teachers, or fear man, satan is snatching away our effectiveness of His word and our growth.
I told the person asking how spiritual warfare works that it isn’t done by being against people. No, our battle is against the evil one who is prince of the power of the air. Also, it is a battle of the mind. Spiritual transformation happens in the mind, and what we think becomes what we say and then what we do. Don’t let satan steal your effectiveness. If we’re saved then that means the word was sown on good soil. Keep aerating the soil of our heart by turning over His word constantly in our minds. Unearth sin and reject it, confessing and repenting. Let the roots of His truths grow deep into our heart and then we will stand like trees beside the waters, and cannot be moved. (Jeremiah 17:8, Psalm 1:3).
Satan snatches away the seed that falls on the hard ground almost immediately as it it sown.