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Old Testament Parables

By Barry Beames
"Then spoke he to them in parables saying ..." -- sound familiar? Parables are a common occurrence in the New Testament. But parables -- lifestyle stories used to communicate divine truth in a dynamic way -- are also prominent in the Old Testament.

Swallowing a bit of my theological pride, I must admit that the idea of an Old Testament parable was new to me when I discovered them early in my ministry. Yet the old covenant is vividly enhanced by the lasting impression these stories preserve for us.

Much like Jesus' parables, the Old Testament word Marshal means "similar to." These stories portray truth by example, indicating that there is something behind the tradition of the story or illustration. As the concept of Old Testament parables developed, it moved beyond a mere comparison of ideas to supply a dynamic connection between the human and the divine.

Whether the form is of an ancient proverb or a prophetic expression, parabolic sayings in the Old Testament provoke personal reflection and reveal divine truth. Because of this flavor, Old Testament parables tend to be characterized by an element of mystery which accomplishes more than a simple illustration.

Parables offer a personal, and thus believable contact with the holy. With spellbinding force we personally become the characters of the text. Parables extend timeless truth in an attractive package. And while the interpretation expects concentrated study, the dynamic of its meaning is formed by the simplicity of the message. In our complex world biblical truth still offers an understandable and sufficient solution to all of life's challenges.

Many Old Testament passages qualify as parabolic sayings. These story-illustrations of real life offer reflective glances that direct our attention to the critical issues of our Christian pilgrimage. Experience these three samples and feast on the glory of the old covenant, in parabolic form.

A Privilege Refused

(Judges 9:7-15)

God offers unique privileges that belong to His people alone, when they are obedient to Him. Jotham relates a sad story of a wrong choice. The parable records that God's people refused a brilliant privilege that had been extended to them. Refusing God's privilege is self destructive but reversible. Discover the horror of losing the privilege, and the brilliance of reversing the decision.

A refused privilege forfeits eruptive possibilities. God had chosen to enlarge the horizon of His people. Three times leadership was sought to fill the position of the throne. And three times the privilege was refused. The significance of their choice is interesting.

The olive tree represents a choice for healing and wholeness. The fig tree speaks of the sweetness of the presence of the Lord. And the vine suggests a network of fellowship, growth, and vitality. Together they represent the endless possibilities of God's power and potential. The design was a cosmic touch by the divine on the mundane.

Jotham's prophetic voice was a welcome sound for some. Others heard him with a bitter reluctance as he hinted for the first time of a remedy for their predicament. "If you want God to hear you," he says, "hear me!" (vs. 7). God has always been in the enlarging business. Yet God's people had become satisfied with a maintenance attitude.

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