The Parable of the Seed: Mark 4:26-29
The Parable of the Mustard Seed: Mark 4:30-32
26And He said, “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground, 27 and should sleep by night and rise by day, and the seed should sprout and grow, he himself does not know how. 28 For the earth yields crops by itself: first the blade, then the head, after that the full grain in the head. 29 But when the grain ripens, immediately he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.” 30 Then He said, “To what shall we liken the kingdom of God? Or with what parable shall we picture it? 31 It is like a mustard seed which, when it is sown on the ground, is smaller than all the seeds on earth; 32 but when it is sown, it grows up and becomes greater than all herbs, and shoots out large branches, so that the birds of the air may nest under its shade.”
Both these parables include the Visible Church. The Visible Church is what we see here on earth in terms of Christendom and contains both believers and non-believers. In the Parable of the Seed, you have the grain or the wheat which is produced, representing the believer. We will see that God is very involved in the growth of these seeds.
In the Parable of the Mustard Seed, you have the opposite spectrum of the Visible Church. The mustard seed itself produces weeds, much like the tares and are not associated with any good works. The mustard seed parable describes the man-made church, where the invisible work of God (Mark 4:27-28) is absent.
Supernatural and Invisible Work of God
In the Parable of the Seed (Mark 4: 26-29) the Sower is identified: It says it is a man; it is the believer who is sowing. Though he sows, the growth of the seed is done supernaturally, miraculously and invisibly. The key words here are in vs.27. It says that he himself does not know how it grows. This is because it is God who works this miracle of both salvation and sanctification.
We can co-labor when we make ourselves available, but at the end, the whole process is a miracle. This is great news and very humbling. It is God’s work in how a person comes to believe and how he/she grows in the knowledge of the Lord.
And the process of growth is both long and systematic and what is produced is grain. This same word, grain, is used for wheat in the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares (Matthew 13).
From Wheat to Weed
Let’s now move onto the next parable, the man-made event where God is not present. As opposed to the earlier parable where the work of God is hidden from our sight, here Yeshua used the word picture to describe the Kingdom of God, How shall we picture the kingdom of God, or by what parable shall we present it? Vs.30
The word picture was used as a representation, like a woodcarving. All work done through the mustard seed is very visible, and this is the dominant picture of the Kingdom. This parable describes for us the most prominent side of the visible church, for we learn that a mustard bush is really an invasive and undesirable weed.
The Mustard Seed’s Properties
Many today interpret this parable as the growth of the true church of God, but that is not what the first century Jew or Gentile would have thought. Let’s consider what the Mustard Seed meant to them. This plant’s properties look so much like the tare – it is known to grow very well with very little care, just like a weed.
This is what the Talmud relates: The Hebrew word for mustard is hardal; it is made up of two words; mountain/har & poor/dal. It describes a poor mountain. b. Erub. 5:1, I.18.A
This is a good description for a Mustard Tree because it grows so fast and high. Not only does it provide little, but it is also an invasive plant. This is perhaps why the Talmud forbade the Jews to plant a mustard seed in their garden (BT. Kil. 3:2), advising instead that it must be grown outside the city, in the fields.
The Greek word for mustard is also quite revealing. It is the word sinapi which is thought to be from sinamai meaning to hurt or to sting. The word sinapi also refers to giving a sour look. This is the negative picture one would have had when the word mustard was mentioned.
Even today, the mustard bush, like all weeds, is known to grow well and very fast in most soils and this causes a lot of problems for many farmers who complain that it is the cause of crop reduction. They say that wild mustard seeds also cause serious illness in livestock when they are ingested. It is then very doubtful that this tree would be used for the growth of the good side of the church.
Some have argued, “Even though it is a weed, why would Jesus have used the mustard seed to speak of faith when He said, “If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible to you”. Matthew 17:20
Yeshua used the mustard seed as He used the serpent when He said, “Be wise as a serpent” Matthew 10:16. We know the serpent is a symbol of the devil. Both were being compared to a believer in action and in each case context directs its interpretation.
No Rest where these Birds Rest
But there is even more to the negative side of the Mustard Tree. At the end of the parable, after Yeshua says that this tree will grow to great heights, he then quotes a verse from Daniel 4 and says, “So that the birds of the air can nest under its shade.”
This is an almost word for word quotation from the Greek Bible, the Septuagint on Daniel 4:12. So many would have recognized Yeshua’s quotation since Daniel was a much read prophet of the first century. But what is the relation between Daniel 4 and the Mustard Seed?
By quoting Daniel 4, we are brought to see that the Mustard Tree is directly related to Babel or Babylon and this quote helps us to make a direct link with the Babylon of Revelation 17 which is the false church that is presently taking shape around us.
This was the king’s dream; ‘The tree grew large and became strong and its height reached to the sky, And it was visible to the end of the whole earth. ‘Its foliage was beautiful and its fruit abundant, And in it was food for all. The beasts of the field found shade under it, And the birds of the sky dwelt in its branches, And all living creatures fed themselves from it. The part that Yeshua cited is in vs.11-12, speaking of the birds which are dwelling in its branches.
Rabbinical commentators understood these birds of the air to be unclean ones (b. Hul. 139B–140A). They noticed that it speaks of the birds of heaven, including all kinds of birds.
Then here in Revelation 18:2, relating to the fall of this empire, we read of the birds who dwell in Babylon. “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great! She has become a dwelling place of demons and a prison of every unclean spirit, and a prison of every unclean and hateful bird.” Babylon rises and becomes the center of this earth and then, when Yeshua comes back, it is destroyed, and very fast, and forever. But this is yet future.