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A 1st Century Understanding of the Parable of the Soils (Mark 4)

In our series on Mark, I’ve mentioned before that everything a Rabbi did was intentional with respect to teaching his disciples and guiding them back to the Old Testament text. We saw this in Mark 4:35-5:20 when Jesus was asleep, in a boat, during a storm, that threatened the sailors, while on route to minister to outcasts. Sound like Jonah? Yup, I think that’s what Jesus was doing.

Remember, Jesus’ disciples were called from their profession of fishing, which meant that they had failed to make the cut in the Jewish educational system at the second stage (bet midrash) where the expectation was for these 10-13 year olds was to memorize the Old Testament. Sure, they (and many others in the Jewish community) failed, but, they would have memorized vast portions of the OT in the process of bet midrash before they were dismissed and encouraged to pick up their fishing profession.

So, with that in mind, here’s an alternate 1st century rabbi/disciple view of the parable of the soils in Mark 4 (note, it’s not a parable of the sower, but of the soils!).

Here’s the question I’m posing: how would the disciples, who are more familiar with the OT that we ever will be, have thought about this parable? Could Jesus be guiding them back to the OT text, like he did with the storm and Jonah?

I wonder if when the disciples heard about sowing seeds along the rock-hard path they would think of Hosea 10:12-13,

“Sow for yourselves righteousness; reap steadfast love; break up your fallow ground, for it is the time to seek the LORD, that he may come and rain righteousness upon you.

13 You have plowed iniquity; you have reaped injustice; you have eaten the fruit of lies. Because you have trusted in your own way and in the multitude of your warriors.

The point would be that if your heart is like the rock-hard path, you need to seek the LORD and allow Him to rain righteousness on you! Only He can change you!

I wonder if when the disciples heard about sowing seeds on the ROCKY GROUND and shallow roots they would think of Jeremiah 17:7-8,

7 “Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose trust is the LORD. 8 He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit.”

9 The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?

Seed on rocky ground can’t grow deep roots due to our affection for the rocks in our lives. This is a heart problem – the heard is deceitful is constantly inviting us to love the superficial which prevents deep roots. Only God can renew our hearts and change or affections.

I wonder if when the disciples heard about sowing seeds among the THORNS they would think of Jeremiah 4:3-4

3 For thus says the LORD to the men of Judah and Jerusalem: “Break up your fallow ground, and sow not among thorns. 4 Circumcise yourselves to the LORD; remove the foreskin of your hearts, O men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem; lest my wrath go forth like fire, and burn with none to quench it, because of the evil of your deeds.”

The problem with the seed sown among the thorns is not the thorns, but our hard heart that needs to be broken up. The heart needs to be renewed by God before behavior will every change.

So, perhaps the point Jesus is making regardless of the type of soil that represents you – the path to change lies in allowing the LORD to renew your heart which will change your affections and your actions. Just a thought.

Enjoy Walking with the Savior Today,



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