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Parables in the Old Testament

We know and love Jesus’ New Testament parables. Here is the parable of the mustard seed.

The Parable of the Mustard Seed
And he said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable shall we use for it? It is like a grain of mustard seed, which, when sown on the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth, yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes larger than all the garden plants and puts out large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade”. (Mark 4:30-34)

The seed is the word of God.

The work of grace is small in its beginnings, but comes to be great and considerable at last (v. 30–32); “Whereunto shall I liken the kingdom of God, as now to be set up by the Messiah? How shall I make you to understand the designed method of it?” Christ speaks as one considering and consulting with himself, how to illustrate it with an apt similitude; With what comparison shall we compare it? Shall we fetch it from the motions of the sun, or the revolutions of the moon? No, the comparison is borrowed from this earth, it is like a grain of mustard-seed; he had compared it before to seed sown, here to that seed, intending thereby to show, Source: Matthew Henry’s commentary on the whole Bible

The illustration is, that the smallest seed takes root and grows to something that is strong and fruitful- even mighty. Who doesn’t look on a strong, tall, might tree and feel awe and marvel at its strength, symmetry, and beauty? The seed does not do this of itself, the Grower grows it.

I stopped on my way to work at dawn to admire this tree in the pasture, cows around it, ground mist rising, pond glittering, sky just pinkening:

dawn in ne ga

The parable/allegory of trees is seen in Old Testament texts as well. Yes, the OT has parables! The use of the words parable and allegory are specifically stated in Ezekiel 17:1-2 (NIV). Then the LORD continues after verse 1 in relating to Ezekiel the parable Ezekiel is to relate to the Israelites. From Ezekiel 17:3-10 the parable of the tree continues, with the trees representing kings. In the latter part of the chapter, the LORD explained the parable to Ezekiel (and us!)

There are still other symbolic comparisons to trees in the Old Testament. In Ezekiel 31 in its entirety reveals Assyria’s fate. Here, the tree is likened to nations. In Ezekiel 17 the tree was likened to kings.

Daniel 4 also has a parable of a tree. This time the LORD did not say it as a parable but gave it in a dream to King Nebuchadnezzar. The king did not understand it. He called for Daniel to interpret the dream, which Daniel graciously did, thanks to wisdom from God. In this case, the tree was Nebuchadnezzar, whose kingdom had grown strong and tall, will be cut down, but the stump is banded, and will grow strong once again.

The righteous shall flourish like a palm tree, He shall grow like a cedar in Lebanon. (Psalm 92:12 NKJV).

I have seen the wicked in great power, And spreading himself like a native green tree. (Psalm 37:35 NKJV).

When we say we would like to “dig deeper”into God’s word, this is one way. We can ponder the symbols and parables and allegories in both the Old Testament and the New Testament. Did you know there were parables in the OT? The Bible is rich in learning for us, lyrical as a written form, full of depth and power.

Most important of all, it is where we find truth and life.


Christian writer and Georgia teacher's aide who loves Jesus, a quiet life, art, beauty, and children.