The Good News of Mark

Chapter 4

Blaine Robison, M.A.

Published 5 February 2012; Revised 17 October 2016

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Sources: Bibliographic data for works cited may be found here. Unless otherwise indicated Scripture quotations are taken from the NASB Updated Edition (1995). Click here for Abbreviations of Bible Versions. Unless otherwise indicated references to the Talmud are from the Soncino Babylonian Talmud (1948); available online at Halakhah.com. Click here for Talmud Abbreviations. For background information on the book of Mark go to Witnesses of the Good News.

Grammar: Unless otherwise noted the meaning of Greek words is from F.W. Danker, The Concise Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (2009), and the meaning of Hebrew words is from The New Brown, Driver, Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon (1981), abbreviated as "BDB." Parsing information for Greek words is taken from Anthony J. Fisher, Greek New Testament. Explanation of grammatical abbreviations and a pronunciation guide for New Testament Greek may be found here.

Terminology: In order to emphasize the Jewish nature of the apostolic canon and its central figure I use the terms Tanakh (Old Testament), Besekh (New Testament), Yeshua (Jesus), and Messiah (Christ). I use the title "The Good News of Mark" because Mark describes his book as "good news" (1:1). Please see the article Witnesses of the Good News for background information on Mark and his book.

Kingdom Parables

The nature of the Kingdom of God is explained in a series of parables.

Date: Autumn A.D. 28

Parable of the Sower, 4:1-12

Parallel Passage: Matthew 13:1-15; Luke 8:4-10

1 He began to teach again by the sea. And such a very large crowd gathered to Him that He got into a boat in the sea and sat down; and the whole crowd was by the sea on the land.

He began to teach: Grk. didaskō, pres. inf., to teach or instruct, often used in the Besekh of instructing disciples. In the LXX didaskō occurs about 100 times and is used to translate nine different verbs (DNTT 3:760). In contrast with Greek education Jewish teaching since the time of Moses has been more concerned with communicating God's ethical demands than imparting information (DNTT 3:766). again by the sea: Grk. thalassa, which in the LXX translates the Heb. yam, "sea." In the English language "sea" normally refers to a body of salt water and "lake" to a body of fresh water, thus most Bible versions translate thalassa as "lake" here. Thalassa simply refers to a body of water deep enough and wide enough to require a boat to cross it. The mention of "the sea" is to the Sea of Galilee. (See the note on 1:16 for more information on this Sea.)

The shoreline of the Sea of Galilee made for an excellent vantage point for addressing the crowds, since the topography formed a natural amphitheatre. large: Grk. polus, adj., great in magnitude or quantity. The superlative is further quantified by the narrative. crowd: Grk. ochlos refers to an assembled company of people from a particular locality. Ochlos designates those that came to hear Yeshua from a particular locality. In many passages the people are contrasted with the ruling classes (Pharisees, scribes, Sadducees) who despised the ochlos as ignorant masses accursed for not keeping Torah (DNTT 2:800f).

He got into a boat: Grk. ploion in biblical times denoted any vessel that could go out on a body of water. In modern times “ships” are classified as vessels that can traverse oceans, whereas “boats” cannot, and it is this distinction that has probably guided translation of the word in modern Bible versions. No mention is made of the boat's owner, but it could possibly have been owned by Peter who had invited Yeshua aboard on a previous occasion, or even the one owned by the sons of Zebedee who were partners with Peter (Luke 5:2-3). Considering its later use to traverse the sea the boat may well have been a commercial vessel that would accommodate passengers (so Lindsey 5).

in the sea and sat down: Teaching while sitting was customary for rabbis of the time and teaching by the seashore made for a practical venue considering the size of the audience and the freedom to conduct his "service" as he saw fit. the whole crowd was … on the land: The boat also provided a measure of safety, the water serving as a natural barrier.

2 And He was teaching them many things in parables, and was saying to them in His teaching,

He was teaching them many things in parables: pl. of Grk. parabolē, something serving through comparison or analogy to encourage a new perspective. See the note on 3:23. Whatever its length or form a parable teaches truth by making a comparison or example drawn from everyday experiences. A parable may be a proverb, a figure, a riddle, a one-verse example or a multi-verse story, all conveying spiritual truth. Life is full of comparisons and contrasts. Being wise is about knowing what things go together and what things do not. It is about knowing how to order our world so that we follow the good and reject the bad. Scholars generally contend that a story parable has only one main point and interpretation should avoid giving symbolic meaning to every part, even though Yeshua does that very thing with the parable that follows.

Story parables were commonly used in rabbinic teaching of the time and many examples can be found in rabbinic literature, including teaching analogies that feature four types (Young, Parables 260). For example, the Mishnah lists four types of property owners, four kinds of dispositions, four types of students, four types of charity-givers, four types of visitors to the house of learning, and four kinds of disciples (Avot 5:10-15). In this respect Yeshua's teaching was not unique. Yeshua apparently did not use parables in the first year of his ministry, but when he began proclaiming the Kingdom of God parables became a regular feature of his teaching. Thus, every parable says something about the nature of his kingdom.

The Synoptic Narratives do not give an identical report of the parables taught from the boat. Matthew (chapter 13) records four parables: the Parable of the Soils (Sower), Parable of the Tares in the Wheat, Parable of the Mustard Seed and Parable of the Leaven. Luke (chapter 8) records two parables: the Parable of the Soils (Sower) and the Parable of the Lamp. Like Matthew, Mark records four parables as spoken from the boat with two differences: the Parable of the Soils, the Parable of the Lamp, the Parable of the Growing Seed, and the Parable of the Mustard Seed. Matthew includes the Parable of the Lamp in the opening remarks of the Sermon on the Mount. Combining these reports Yeshua must have given six parables from the boat.

Parable of the Sower or Soils?

This parable is one of eleven parables found in all three Synoptic Narratives. The parable is commonly referred to as the Parable of the Sower, but some commentators prefer the title Parable of the Soils. Brad Young titles it the Parable of the Hearers (Parables 251). In the parable of the Wheat and Tares Yeshua defines the sower of the good seed as the Son of Man (Matt 13:37), and that meaning could easily be applied to this parable. The story would be quite familiar to the audience since the economy was highly dependent on the agricultural industry. People could have witnessed this ordinary practice anywhere in the land of Israel. Even religious leaders actively engaged in farming activities (Young, Parables 260).

3 "Listen to this! Behold, the sower went out to sow;

Listen to this! Grk. akouō, pres. imp., has a range of meaning, including to hear (as a sense perception), to learn, to listen, to follow, or to understand. The command is lit. "Hear!" The present tense calls the audience to start and continue the activity. In the LXX akouō consistently stands for Heb. shama, which not only means to apprehend, but also to accept and to act upon what has been apprehended (DNTT 2:173). The injunctions on remembering the commandments are introduced with the formula "Hear [Heb. shema], O Israel" (Deut 6:4). And, when Yeshua was asked about the greatest commandment, he replied with "Hear, O Israel, the LORD our God is one" (Mark 12:29).

The command “to hear” occurs only in the apostolic narratives and in Revelation, always on the lips of Yeshua. In the apostolic narratives the command is always a present imperative (start and keep on doing) whereas in Revelation the command is an aorist imperative (“do it now”). Also, in the apostolic narratives the command is to “ears” (plural) whereas in Revelation the command is to “an ear” (singular).

Behold: Grk. idou, aor. mid. imp. of eidon, the aorist form of the verb oraō ("to see") and functions as a demonstrative particle used to secure attention. Yeshua couples a command for the eyes with the command for the ears to challenge his audience to really comprehend what he is about to say. the sower: Grk. speirō, pres. part., to broadcast seed on the ground, usually by hand, to begin the cultivation process. The participle has the definite article and means lit. "the sowing one." That is, the action represents a principal function of the person. went out: Grk. exerchomai, aor., to go out from one place to another. In other words he left his abode in order to accomplish the task. to sow: Grk. speirō, aor. inf. The infinitive is a verbal noun and the repetition emphasizes the object of the sower's intention.

Left out of the parable is the common knowledge of farming. Major crops of the land of Israel included barley, wheat, grapes, figs, pomegranates, and olives (Deut 8:8). Sowing and ploughing began in about the middle of October at the time of the early rains. This was followed by harrowing and weeding. The later rains were vital for ripening the crops, and the rainy season usually ended around early April. Harvesting began with the barley harvest, around the middle of April. The gathering of the grain harvest, the summer fruits, and the grapes lasted until August and September, although the last olives were finally picked in November.

Unsown land was ploughed three or four times, suggesting biennial fallow, but the Hebrew sabbatical (seventh) year fallow was also important in promoting soil fertility. About 30 lbs of seed was used to a half acre of land. This is about half the quantity of seed normally used today. Sowing took place after the first rains had softened the ground (cf. Deut 11:13-17). There were two methods of sowing seed: by broadcasting the seeds by hand or using a seed-drill. For the first method, which is depicted in this parable, the farmer walked along the furrows at a constant pace pulling handfuls of seed from a bag at his side and throwing them over the soil. The land was then ploughed again to cover it, branches being dragged behind the plough to smooth the ground over the seed (cf. Isa 28:24-5; Job 39:10). It might take weeks of laborious work for the Israelite to sow a small field. (See Elizabeth Fletcher, Farming: Biblical Archaeology.)

4 "as he was sowing, some seed fell beside the road, and the birds came and ate it up.

as he was sowing: Grk. speirō, aor. inf. See the previous verse; lit. "as he went to sow." some seed fell: Grk. piptō, aor., to drop from a relatively high position to a lower, fall, fell. The word "seed" does not occur in the Greek text; so, it is lit. "some fell." A striking fact of this parable is that the sower does what no ordinary farmer would do. He casts seed in areas that would never take root and produce a crop. The seed represents the word of the kingdom (Matt 13:19), so consistent with his mission Yeshua announces the good news to everyone, including to people he knows will oppose him. The good news is for the entire world, the evil as well as the good.

beside the road: Grk. odos means way or course and generally refers to a route for traveling. The noun has broad usage and may refer to a path, a road or a highway. Given that the location is a farmer's field this "road" is either a minor access road alongside of the field or even a path through the field. and the birds: Grk. peteinon is a generic word for bird, whether clean or unclean. The parallel account in Luke identifies the birds as "of the air" (Grk. ouranos, lit. "heaven"), indicating that the birds are of the type capable of flight.

came and ate it up: The described action further limits the type of bird as those that eat seeds. Birds may be identified by their diet. There are 530 species of birds common to Israel. Some prey on other birds, some eat flesh from carcasses, some eat insects, some forage for seeds or fruits and berries, and some are omnivorous, consuming both seeds and small insects.

5 "Other seed fell on the rocky ground where it did not have much soil; and immediately it sprang up because it had no depth of soil.

Other seed fell: lit. "and other fell." on the rocky ground: Grk. petrōdēs, rocky ground with a thin layer of top soil, which is emphasized twice in the following phrase and the closing phrase of the verse. where it did not have much soil: Grk. can mean soil (as in receiving seed), the ground, land as contrasted with the sea, and the earth in contrast to heaven. The LXX uses more than 2,000 times and translates the Heb. word erets with the same range of meaning with the thought of its having been created is always strong (DNTT 1:517).

and immediately it sprang up: Grk. exanatellō, aor., to come into being or existence with suddenness. The quick germination suggests barley, which can sprout in one to three days. Although barley and wheat were both planted in the autumn, barley matured faster and would be harvested first in the early Spring. Barley was the most common grain cereal grown in ancient Israel.

6 "And after the sun had risen, it was scorched; and because it had no root, it withered away.

And after the sun had risen: The verb indicates the position in the sky overhead, most likely mid-day. it was scorched: Grk. kaumatizō, aor. pass., subject to intense heat, to scorch or to burn. because it had no root: Grk. riza, root of a plant so necessary to transport water and nutrients to the plant. it withered away: Grk. xērainō, aor. pass., to cause a dry non-functioning condition.

7 "Other seed fell among the thorns, and the thorns came up and choked it, and it yielded no crop.

Other seed fell: lit. "and other fell." among the thorns: Grk. akantha, from akaina ("spike"), a species of prickly thorn-plant, possibly thistle. and the thorns came up: Grk. anabainō refers to progression in steps. The verb implies that the plant was in the early stages of growth. and choked it: Grk. sumpnigō, aor., to obstruct or constrict by pressure. and it yielded no crop: Grk. karpos, agricultural produce, lit. "and fruit it gave not" (Marshall). The description does not provide a sense of time, but the implication is that the seed germinated, but having fallen into a thorn-plant whatever growth that began was stymied by its imprisonment.

8 "Other seeds fell into the good soil, and as they grew up and increased, they yielded a crop and produced thirty, sixty, and a hundredfold."

Other seeds fell: lit. "and others fell." into the good soil: lit. "into the earth, the good." "Good is Grk. kalos, meeting a high standard or an exceptionally high quality. and as they grew up and increased: Both verbs are present participles indicating steady growth and development into mature plants. they yielded a crop and produced thirty, sixty, and a hundredfold: The Matthew version reverses the order, "some a hundredfold, some sixty, and some thirty" (Matt 13:8). The Luke version only mentions the hundredfold (Luke 8:8). The productivity is calculated as a factor of the seed sown, as it says in the Talmud, "surely a man sows a se'ah in order to harvest many kor!" (Pes. 87b) There are thirty seahs in a kor. If the farmer reaped three kors for one seah of seed sown in the field, he harvested nearly a hundredfold return (Young, Parables 259).

9 And He was saying, "He who has ears to hear, let him hear."

He who has ears: Yeshua's opening clause draws attention to the point of the parable, which is about hearing. In Hebrew writing parts of the human body were often used as allusions to behavior, both positive and negative (cf. Matt 5:29f; Rom 6:13; Heb 12:13). Here the Lord makes a reference to the “ears” in order to make a point. The human ear is a beautifully designed organ to receive sound. The ear, of course, does not pick and choose the sounds it will accept. By turning the physical function of the ear into a metaphor, Yeshua could address the fundamental issue of obedience. The metaphor of having “ears” points to the willingness to learn or to be open to the truth.

to hear: Grk. akouō, pres. inf. See the note on "listen" in verse 3. let him hear: Grk. akouō, pres. imp. Again the present tense verb emphasizes to start and continue the activity. The complete exhortation “he that has ears (or "an ear"), let him hear” (rather than “read”) is a Hebrew idiom that reflects the typical manner of first century learning. Scrolls were found in synagogues, not in personal possession, and knowledge of God’s Word came from hearing the Scriptures read aloud and memorizing them (cf. Rom 2:13). The words “let him hear” is actually a single word in the Greek, a stronger exhortation than it appears on the surface. It is not a permissive directive, but a strong exclamation as if the Lord is yelling to a deaf person, “Hear!!”

Moses used a similar command to Israel in reiterating the Torah before their entry into Canaan, “Hear, O Israel, the statutes and the ordinances which I am speaking today in your hearing, that you may learn them and observe them carefully” (Deut 5:1). Yeshua likewise used the exclamatory imperative “Hear!” on several occasions to introduce important teachings (Matt 13:18; 15:10; 21:33; Mark 4:3; 7:14; Luke 18:6), though the word is usually translated in modern versions with the softer request to “listen.”

Yeshua does not assume that everyone in his audience or among his disciples will understand and appreciate his instruction. Some hearers are tares and some are wheat; some are sheep and some are goats. Yeshua summed up the reality succinctly in His dialog with the Pharisees – “He who is of God hears the words of God” (John 8:47) and “My sheep hear My voice” (John 10:3). Israel in the time of the Messiah was facing a spiritual crisis not unlike Ezekiel’s time – "Son of man, you live in the midst of the rebellious house, who have eyes to see but do not see, ears to hear but do not hear; for they are a rebellious house” (Ezek 12:2). "Let him hear" is an urgent appeal to self-evaluation and action.

10 As soon as He was alone, His followers, along with the twelve, began asking Him about the parables.

The apostles were no more spiritually advanced than the public in determining Yeshua's real motive in telling the parable. But, as good disciples of their rabbi, they asked questions to gain enlightenment. It should be noted that they asked him about "parables" (plural). On the one hand the statement may allude to the parables that follow in the second half of this chapter or parables Yeshua had told previous to this occasion. In reality the parable of the soils (or hearers) contains four parables. They were no doubt familiar with the rabbinic practice of teaching about four types and wanted an explanation of the meaning of the four kinds of soil.

11 And He was saying to them, "To you has been given the mystery of the kingdom of God, but those who are outside get everything in parables,

To you has been given: The significance of Yeshua's choice of apostles and the favor he showed to them by making them into confidants and then personal representatives cannot be understated. The body of Messiah is built on the foundation of these men (Eph 2:20). Their names are inscribed for all eternity on the foundation stones of the New Jerusalem (Rev 21:14). Just as God's choice of Israel, Yeshua did not choose them because they were of greater stature than others (Deut 7:7). These apostles were certainly not from the religious elite but they would be given knowledge of the kingdom that the elite could not begin to appreciate.

mystery: Grk. mustērion, that which awaits divine disclosure or interpretation. In Greek culture mustērion referred to a secret rite or secret teaching. The term occurs 28 times in the Besekh, 21 of which are in the writings of Paul. Yeshua first used the term “mystery” here in explaining why he taught in parables, but the concept of God’s secrecy was originally explained to Moses, “the secret things belong to the Lord” (Deut 29:29). In Scripture a mystery is a reality or plan that God kept concealed from his people but finally revealed to his apostles (cf. Eph 3:5). God had communicated several mysteries to his prophets, but the meaning remained obscure, in effect hidden in plain sight. (Note the plural of “mysteries” in Matt 13:11; 1Cor 4:1; 13:2; 14:2; cf. Dan 2:28f). God’s secret counsels were necessary because man cannot really be trusted (John 2:24f) and Satan engages in unceasing warfare against God’s kingdom and would certainly use any intelligence to hinder God’s workings (John 10:10; cf. Eph 6:12; 1Thess 2:18; 1Pet 5:8).

The term “mystery” in the Besekh is applied in a variety of ways, which include the mystery of the good news (Rom 16:25; Eph 6:19), the mystery of God (1Cor 2:1, 7; Rev 10:7), the mystery of the resurrection (1Cor 15:51), the mystery of the Messiah (Eph 1:9; 3:4; Col 1:26f; 2:2; 4:3), the mystery of the Messiah and His people (Eph 5:32), the mystery of lawlessness (2Thess 2:7), the mystery of the faith (1Tim 3:9) and the mystery of godliness (1Tim 3:16). Three more mysteries were revealed to John on Patmos: the mystery of the seven stars (Rev 1:20), the mystery of the woman Babylon (Rev 17:5) and the mystery of the beast (Rev 17:7).

the Kingdom: Grk. basileia means kingship, royal power, or territory ruled over by a king. The doctrine of the kingdom in the teaching of Yeshua and the apostles relates to the expectation and fulfillment of promises made to Israel. of God: Grk. theos, the God of Israel. See the note on 1:1. In secular Greek writings a number of deities, always represented in anthropomorphic form, were called theos. In spite of its pagan usage translators of the LXX chose theos to render the generic designations of God, El (including combinations such as El Bethel, El Elyon, El Roi, El Olam, and El Shaddai) and Elohim (which occurs over 2300 times), as well as the tetragrammaton YHVH, over 300 times. As with many other Greek words the LXX infused new meaning into theos (DNTT 2:67-70). The hope that God would be King over all the earth, with all idolatry banished, is expressed frequently in the Tanakh, the Apocrypha and other intertestament Jewish literature. For more on the "Kingdom of God" see the note on 1:15.

but: Grk. de is a conjunction that generally indicates either a slight contrast or a transition in presentation of subject matter. It is an extremely flexible word. In this context de could have any of three very different meanings:

(1) “And, moreover, furthermore,” implying that what follows continues the thought already begun.

(2) “But, rather, in contrast, on the contrary,” implying that what follows is different from and contrasts with the preceding thought.

(3) “But, but only if,” implying that what follows is not in contrast with the preceding thought but does limit, condition or modify it in some way.

those who are outside: Grk. exō, an adv. of place indicating a position that is beyond a limit or boundary. It can even denote movement from a position, i.e., out(side). This is a cryptic comment. Luke's version uses a different word (Grk. loipos, "the rest") to refer to the audience of the parables. "The rest" are those that are part of a group in addition to the ones mentioned. In Matthew's version, the instruction on granting the mystery of the kingdom is given in response to the query of the disciples who ask Yeshua why he speaks "to them" (presumptively the crowds) in parables.

The disciples' question, rather than expressing curiosity may be indicating a certain feeling of exclusiveness. This kind of teaching should be reserved for disciples. Why are people who have invested nothing in following Yeshua (Mark 10:28) and who are not disciples the recipients of the parables?

However, given that the character of the story parables imply a background of opposition or unreceptive attitude (Edersheim 402), then those "outside" might refer more specifically to Yeshua's opponents among the scribes, Sadducees and Pharisees. If Yeshua had meant to say that he spoke the parables for the sake of the common people (Grk. laos, Heb. am-ha'aretz), surely he would have said so plainly.

get everything in parables: Most interpreters consider the conjunction with this clause following to be a dramatic contrast that puts the apostles on one side and the common people on the other. Yeshua was intentionally attempting to either hide his identity and mission (as in the so-called Messianic Secret) or he was trying to deceive the common people and save the truth for those properly initiated. Christian interpreters have historically failed to consider the meaning of the parables in their Jewish context.

First of all the apostles didn't understand the deeper meaning of the parable any better than the public. Second, the conjunction should be taken in the sense of "moreover" or "furthermore," emphasizing the continuation of thought, perhaps with a slight contrast. Third, the purpose of a parable, after all, is to reveal, not to conceal. Yeshua began his ministry declaring the advent of the kingdom openly and calling people to repent. Parables were a teaching device to shed light into darkened hearts as an act of prevenient grace. Parables by their nature provoke thought and in a subtle manner a person is drawn into the story to reflect on himself and his relationship with God.

The parables provided general revelation only for the sake of those not his disciples. The call to repent is plain enough. Yeshua is not going to cast his pearls (kingdom teaching) before "swine" (those who refuse to repent). Spiritual things are appraised by the spiritual (1Cor 2:14). Only with the transformation borne of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost did the apostles finally understand the mystery of the kingdom. That being said, parables were not intended exclusively for "outsiders" since Yeshua spoke several parables only for the ears of his apostles.

12 so that WHILE SEEING, THEY MAY SEE AND NOT PERCEIVE, AND WHILE HEARING, THEY MAY HEAR AND NOT UNDERSTAND, OTHERWISE THEY MIGHT RETURN AND BE FORGIVEN."

so that: Grk. hina, conj., "in order that." This conjunction with the following quotation from Isaiah 6:9-10 has led to the impression of some interpreters that Yeshua deliberately set out to obscure the truth from his listeners. Matthew's version of the passage alters the sense by using the conjunction "because" (Grk. hoti). With the conjunction Yeshua would be saying that because the general public was slow to grasp his teaching, he embodied it in parables to make it more immediately intelligible (Bruce 99). The hardness of the saying is thus minimized. The problem is that Luke uses the same construction as Mark, and creates an even harder saying by shortening the quotation to "SEEING THEY MAY NOT SEE, AND HEARING THEY MAY NOT UNDERSTAND" (Luke 8:10).

In order to resolve the dilemma, the words of Isaiah must be considered in context. Isaiah was called to be the voice of God to a rebellious people, not to utter dark sayings and deprive people of the truth. Otherwise, what would be the point in producing the book? As a prophet of God he confronted the sinful culture. Isaiah wanted people to be healed (which is the word used in the Heb. text at the end of verse 10). Generally not considered is the tendency in the Hebrew of the Tanakh to express a consequence as though it were a purpose (Bruce 100). The announcement to Isaiah was a reality check. He was to speak for God, but he needed to realize that the people would not respond as God wished. This instruction would keep Isaiah from judging the success of his ministry on how many souls "were saved." Modern pastors and evangelists sometimes need the same reality check.

Yeshua recognizes the irony and lament in Isaiah's message as suiting his own situation. He challenges his apostles to brace themselves for rejection, such as had already occurred in Jerusalem, Nazareth and even in Capernaum where his influence was perhaps greatest. Hearts were already hardening. Yet, according to the parable of the soils there were good hearts that would hear and understand and as a result experience healing and forgiveness and produce the forecasted harvest.

Explanation of the Parable, 4:13-20

Parallel Passage: Matthew 13:18-25; Luke 8:11-15

13 And He said to them, "Do you not understand this parable? How will you understand all the parables?

Yeshua apparently considered the parable of the soils as foundational to all his parables and maybe the simplest to understand. If this parable can't be understood, how can any of them be interpreted?

14 "The sower sows the word.

The sower: Grk. speirō, pres. part. See the note on verse 3 above. The verb is preceded by the definite article and demonstrative pronoun ho, and with the participle would yield "The One sowing." Among Jews "The One" was a circumlocution for God (cf. Ps 3:3; 37:24; Isa 40:26; 45:7; 49:7; Amos 9:5-6; John 1:33; 6:46; 7:18; 12:45; 15:21; Acts 10:42; Rom 5:17; 2Cor 4:6). So, presumptively the sower is God (the Father) and what is sown is the Son. The unifying theme of Scripture is what Kaiser calls the "Promise-Plan of God" (18). The doctrine of the Messiah began with a single promise spoken to the serpent on behalf of the Woman in the Garden, "I will put animosity between you and the Woman— between your seed and her Seed. He will crush your head, and you will crush his heel. (Gen 3:15).

Thus, Paul proclaimed "From the seed of this man [David], according to promise, God brought to Israel a Savior, Yeshua" (Acts 13:23 mine). Paul goes on in Galatians to declare that the promise given to Abraham in Genesis 15:4-5 points to the Messiah. "Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. It doesn’t say, "and to seeds," as of many, but as of one, "and to your seed," who is the Messiah" (Gal 3:16 TLV). Of course, the sower could also be Yeshua. He often referred to himself indirectly. In an extended (midrashic) sense the sower could be any messenger of God. The statement may imply a fulfillment of the promise for Israel found in Ezekiel 36:9, "For, behold, I am for you, and I will turn to you, and you will be cultivated and sown."

sows: Grk. speirō, pres. the word: Grk. logos, vocalized expression, word, discourse, statement message or speech. In Greek philosophical writings logos took on the meaning of a common universal law or truth and that which gives order in the universe. In the LXX logos stands principally for Heb. dabar, "word, report, command." In Scripture "word" is often combined with "of God" or "of the LORD" to indicate inspired prophetic speech (DNTT 3:1087). Thus, the "word of the sower" is the message of a messenger of God. In the Matthew account of this parable "the word" is the "word of the kingdom" (Matt 13:19) and in Luke's version "the word" is "the word of God" (Luke 8:11; cf. 1Pet 1:23), which amount to substantially the same thing. And, in the book of John Yeshua is the Word (John 1:1).

Christian expositors as Wessel typically see the great emphasis in the parable as being on the act of sowing the seed rather than on the soils into which it is sown. Lane concurs saying, "The Kingdom of God breaks into the world even as seed which is sown on the ground. In the details about the soils there is reflection on the diversity of response to the proclamation of the Word of God, but this is not the primary consideration" (154). This seems a strange conclusion when Yeshua's explanation offers no exposition on the personality of the sower or the nature of the seed, but dwells entirely on the nature of those who hear as symbolized by the soils. The Jewish context offers a simpler approach. Yeshua tells his apostles that there are four types of hearers in terms of their response to the good news of the kingdom.

The four types of soil represent the character of Israel at the time of Yeshua's ministry and may even allude to specific groups within Israel. The parable is clearly a reality check on the apostles' expectation of success. Many Christians labor under the naïve notion that "if each one would win one the whole world would be won." As Yeshua said, "the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. … the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it" (Matt 7:13-14). The lack of success is not the fault of God, but is due to the nature of the people hearing the message. The parable may be summarized by John's observation, "He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God," (John 1:11-12).

15 "These are the ones who are beside the road where the word is sown; and when they hear, immediately Satan comes and takes away the word which has been sown in them.

Hearing group number one is represented by the hard-packed earth alongside the path. The seed can be easily spotted from the air and thus exposed to birds. The action of the birds to swoop down and eat the seed symbolizes the effort of Satan to prevent people from truly believing. The devil is typically thought of as a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour (1Pet 5) and he devours many. Yet here he is likened to birds. The action of the birds is a fait accompli given that the road would not be plowed in any event and the seed could not have sprouted in such soil without plowing.

The hard soil represents really hardened hearts. Too many of Israel's religious elite at the time were afflicted with this condition (cf. Mark 3:5; 10:5). Yeshua could have been warning his listeners not to be like the Sadducees who accepted only the written Torah (and none of the Prophets), and, of course, only their interpretation of it. It was of the Sadducees that Yeshua said, "You are of your father the devil" (John 8:44). Their hearts were exceedingly hard, and, not surprisingly, were instigators of Yeshua's arrest and crucifixion.

16 "In a similar way these are the ones on whom seed was sown on the rocky places, who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy; 17 and they have no firm root in themselves, but are only temporary; then, when affliction or persecution arises because of the word, immediately they fall away.

Hearing group number two is represented by the rocky soil. In Luke's version of the parable the seed that fell on the rock sprouts but withers because of little moisture and no room for root expansion (Luke 8:6). In Mark's version the lack of root makes it vulnerable to the sun; hence it dries up and withers away. Rocky soil represents unreliable hearts. The rocky soil could be like the Zealots who may have initially welcomed Yeshua as the Messiah, as Simon the Zealot did (Mark 3:18). However, they couldn't reconcile Yeshua's kingdom with the reality of continued Roman oppression. Yeshua seemed to be saying that they should tolerate affliction and persecution. What kind of God tolerates evil or expects his people to live under a dictatorship without fighting for justice? When the Zealots realized that Yeshua was not going to lead them in terrorism or open warfare they turned away from him. Actually, almost all the apostles behaved as this group in both the betrayal of Judas and the abandonment by the rest in the Garden of Gethsemane (Mark 14:50).

18 "And others are the ones on whom seed was sown among the thorns; these are the ones who have heard the word, 19 but the worries of the world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful.

Hearing group number three is represented by ground full of thorny plants. The seed that fell among the thorns grows up with the thorns, which choke the surrounding plants. Thorny soil represents covetous hearts. This soil is like the Pharisees, whom Yeshua rebuked for their greed and desire for things other than what is pleasing to God (Matt 23). Their lives were full of thorns. The Pharisees choked the word by making it a heavy burden for people.

20 "And those are the ones on whom seed was sown on the good soil; and they hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirty, sixty, and a hundredfold."

good soil: Hearing group number four is represented by good soil. A corollary to this concept is found in Psalm 97:11, "Light is sown like seed for the righteous and gladness for the upright in heart." The good soil represents receptive hearts. These hearers are the "worthy ones" the apostles were instructed to identify on their special mission (Matt 10:11). In the context of farming "good soil" is not simply a reference to fertility but to preparation. For sown seed to produce the ground had to be plowed. Often the plowing followed the broadcast, but sometimes the land was plowed first (NIBD 27). Good plows had a metal blade attached to a shaped branch (or specially made wooden frame) and were pulled by oxen or donkeys. In a sense parables functioned like plows to prepare the heart for the truth of God.

they hear: Grk. akouō, pres., "they start and keep on hearing." the word: Grk. logos, the message of the kingdom. and accept it: Grk. paradexomai, pres. mid., to receive with a positive attitude, to receive, to welcome. bear fruit: Grk. karpophoreō, pres., to be active in producing the product of a growing process. The verb points to the productivity connected with the time of harvest. The promise of the good soil bearing fruit is similar to the Messianic promise of Isaiah:

"For as the earth brings forth its sprouts, and as a garden causes the things sown in it to spring up, so the Lord GOD will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations." (Isa 61:11)

thirty, sixty, and a hundredfold: The different levels of harvest might suggest the variety in the souls added to the kingdom, but the numbers also inform the apostles that they would be more successful in some places than other places. In any event, beginning with Pentecost there would be a great harvest of thousands of Jewish disciples. Another way to view the results is what the disciples will receive as benefits of the kingdom:

"Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or farms, for My sake and for the gospel's sake, but that he will receive a hundred times as much now in the present age, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and farms, along with persecutions; and in the age to come, eternal life." Mark 10:29-30

Parable of the Lampstand, 4:21-25

Parallel Passage: Matthew 5:15-16; Luke 8:16.

21 And He was saying to them, "A lamp is not brought to be put under a basket, is it, or under a bed? Is it not brought to be put on the lampstand?

A lamp: Grk. luchnos refers to small oil and wick lamps used in first century dwellings. The translation of “candle” and “candlestick” in the KJV is misleading to modern readers, since the molded candle in use today was not invented until the Middle Ages. put under a basket: Grk. modios, a dry measure of about 8.75 liters; a peck-measure or measuring basket. under a bed: Grk. klinē, a structure used for lying down, whether stretcher, bed, couch or pallet. Mark and Luke include this extra point of reference. Putting a burning lamp under either a basket or a bed would be not only inappropriate but unsafe.

put on the lampstand: Grk. luchnia refers to the stand upon which a luchnos, or lamp, was placed or hung. In the LXX luchnia translates menorah, which referred both to the seven-branched golden lampstand used in the tabernacle and temple (Ex 26:35; 2Chron 28:20) and a single-branched lampstand used in homes (2Kgs 4:10). The same Greek word is used in Hebrews 9:2 for the seven-branched menorah of the tabernacle. In regular Greek usage the word for lampstand refers mainly to the common single-branch stand found in ancient homes (Luke 8:16; 11:33).

The point of this parable is that the sowers or messengers of the Word should be faithful lights (cf. Matt 5:14), like Yeshua, and declare the truth. The issue is not whether all darkness will be banished, but that the lamp is used to its potential. To this end the messenger must not create barriers that will hinder his light.

22 "For nothing is hidden, except to be revealed; nor has anything been secret, but that it would come to light.

The time for hiding the truth about God's sovereign plan of redemption is over.

23 "If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear."

See the note on verse 9 above.

24 And He was saying to them, "Take care what you listen to. By your standard of measure it will be measured to you; and more will be given you besides. 25 "For whoever has, to him more shall be given; and whoever does not have, even what he has shall be taken away from him."

In Matthew this saying concerning reciprocal measurement is connected with the introduction of the term "mysteries of the kingdom" and part of the answer given when the disciples ask Yeshua why he taught the crowd in parables (Matt 13:12). This same principle is given in the parable of talents (Matt 25:29).

Parable of the Growing Seed, 4:26-29

26 And He was saying, "The kingdom of God is like a man who casts seed upon the soil;

This parable only occurs in Mark's narrative. the Kingdom of God: See the note on verse 11 above.

27 and he goes to bed at night and gets up by day, and the seed sprouts and grows--how, he himself does not know.

The manner in which plants grow is a mystery.

28 "The soil produces crops by itself; first the blade, then the head, then the mature grain in the head.

KJV has "corn," which may be misleading. Besides the common corn plant grown in Iowa, the English word also refers to the edible seed of any cereal plant.

29 "But when the crop permits, he immediately puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come."

sickle: Grk. drepanon, a sharp implement for harvesting grain or grapes. The noun comes from the verb drepō, which means to pluck, and was used to refer to a sickle or pruning hook. The noun occurs only in this chapter and seven times in Revelation 14 (Robertson). A drepanon was used for reaping grain, for pruning the vine and cutting off clusters at vintage.

Parable of the Mustard Seed, 4:30-33

Parallel Passage: Matthew 13:31-32; Luke 13:18-19.

30 And He said, "How shall we picture the kingdom of God, or by what parable shall we present it?

How shall we picture: Grk. omoioō, aor. subj., to make a comparison. the Kingdom of God: See the note on verse 11 above. or by what parable: See the note on verse 2 above. shall we present it? Grk. tithēmi, aor. act. subj., to arrange for association. Yeshua asks a rhetorical question to set up telling the next parable. The question is such that a teacher would ask and then wait for a response. When the students shrug their shoulders the teacher would respond with the ready made answer.

31 "It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the soil, though it is smaller than all the seeds that are upon the soil,

It is like a mustard: Grk. sinapi, the mustard plant, non-specific. seed: Grk. kokkos, a seed or a grain. which, when sown upon the soil: Grk. . See verse 5 above. In the LXX renders erets, which most often designates either (a) the earth in a cosmological sense, or (b) “the land” in the sense of a specific territorial area, primarily the Land of Israel (TWOT §74). though it is smaller: Grk. mikros means relatively limited in extent, in this context in reference to size. than all the seeds: pl. of Grk. sperma refers to a source of propagation, in this context plant seeds.

that are upon: Grk. epi, prep., lit. means "upon," and with a noun in the genitive case, as here, indicates contact (DM 106). the soil: Grk. . Marshall renders more accurately in this verse as "earth." Modern versions resort to various translations to avoid the literal meaning because modern research discovered that the mustard seed is not the smallest seed on the planet. According to a Google search certain epiphytic orchids of the tropical rain forest produce the world's smallest seeds, up to 35 million per ounce.

However, interpretation should consider that (1) this statement reflects first century knowledge and not current botanical science; (2) Yeshua spoke of seed that is sown for agricultural purposes and not seeds of plants that grow in the wild; (3) Yeshua was not comparing the mustard seed to all other seeds in the world, but to seeds that an Israeli farmer might have sown in his field; (4) the mustard seed of which Yeshua spoke was likely the smallest of those that would produce a tree of height and branches suitable for nesting birds; and (5) Rabbis used the mustard seed in figures of speech for smallness (cf. Matt 17:20; Ber. 31a).

32 yet when it is sown, it grows up and becomes larger than all the garden plants and forms large branches; so that THE BIRDS OF THE AIR can NEST UNDER ITS SHADE."

it grows up and becomes larger: The mustard seed in Israel will typically grow to heights of 3.7 meters, or 12 feet, plenty large enough to hold a bird nest.

The birds of the air can nest under its shade: This clause alludes possibly to Ezekiel 17:23, Ezekiel 31:6 or Daniel 4:12, where the nesting represents the security afforded lesser nations by association with a great political power. Yeshua's parable features the nesting activities of birds in Israel to make a point. According to the web article "Birds of Israel" (tatzpit.com), there are over 200 species of birds that nest in Israel. Of these 175 species nest annually and the others are irregular nesters. There are 57 nesting species which are permanent residents. The rest are summer nesting birds. The nesting season begins in January. Some species migrate to Israel from Eurasia, but most come from Africa. One specie comes from India.

What Yeshua and the apostles knew about the migration of birds into Israel cannot be known with certainty, but Yeshua was a keen observer of nature (cf. Matt 6:26; 8:20; Luke 12:24). Migration could be easily seen. The point would appear to be that other nations would find refuge and security in the commonwealth of Israel, the true Kingdom of God (cf. Isa 42:6; 49:6; 60:3, 5; 66:18; Micah 4:2; Eph 2:11-15).

The Priority of Parables, 4:33-34

33 With many such parables He was speaking the word to them, so far as they were able to hear it; 34 and He did not speak to them without a parable; but He was explaining everything privately to His own disciples.

These two verses may appear confusing, because in verse 33 the pronoun "to them" must of necessity, given the preceding verses, refer to the disciples. In verse 34 the pronoun "to them" seems to refer back to verse 11 where those "outside" are contrasted with the disciples. Given the broad meaning of parable, it is safe to say that parables were a prominent part of Yeshua's teaching, both publicly and in private with his disciples. However, the point here is that the explanations were only given in private to his apostles.

The Miracle at Sea, 4:35-41

Parallel Passage: Matthew 8:18, 23-27; Luke 8:22, 25.

35 On that day, when evening came, He said to them, "Let us go over to the other side."

Parallel accounts of verses 35-41 are at Matthew 8:18, 23-27 and Luke 8:22, 25. The story is full of details that suggest the report of an eyewitness. No doubt Peter's recollection stands behind Mark's narrative. On that day: Grk. hēmera, which normally refers to the daylight hours, but also to the timeframe within which something takes place, which applies here. The phrase is a reminder of one day in the lives of the disciples with their Master when something truly memorable occurred. when evening came: Grk. opsia, a variant form of opsios, the period between daylight and darkness, evening. See the note on 1:32. By itself "evening" is not a definite clock time, since the term generally referred to any time after the noon hour. More exact determination must be made from the context. In this case, Yeshua certainly would not have set out across the lake in the dark and it could take a few hours to cross, depending on the weather. Departure in the middle to late afternoon would be a like time.

Let us go over: Grk. dierchomai, aor. subj., to move within an area or from one area to another. The use of the subjunctive mood in the verb instead of the imperative is rather striking. Since the subjunctive is the mood of mild contingency or probability and looks toward what is conceivable or potential, the verb downplays the importance of the divine appointment awaiting him among the Gerasenes and hints at anticipated difficulty en route. to the other side: this phrase has been a favorite subject of many sermons. It's easy to malign the disciples for not recognizing the significance of these words while in the midst of the storm, but modern disciples have difficulty with unexpected crises, too. The anticipated and actual landing point is not identified. See the note on 5:1. To the disciples the travel might seem to be aimless, but they were learning that Yeshua rarely revealed his itinerary or his purpose for visiting various places.

36 Leaving the crowd, they took Him along with them in the boat, just as He was; and other boats were with Him.

they took Him along with them in the boat: See the note on verse 1 above. In 1986 a fishing boat was unearthed on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee where the water level had dropped due to a drought. The boat measured 27 feet in length and 7.5 feet in width (Lindsey 5). The boat was dated conservatively from 40 BC to 50 AD ("Sea of Galilee Boat," Wikipedia.com). Due to its proximate usage in the area where Yeshua ministered and frequently used boats, the vessel was dubbed by Christians as the "Jesus Boat," although there is no evidence Yeshua ever used the boat.

The boat was built in the known "shell first" fashion, with mortise-and-tenon joinery and constructed mainly of cedar planks and oak frames. Much of the wood was in secondary use, i.e., it had been removed from older, obsolete boats. Additional wood fragments were uncovered nearby, attesting that the boat was found in a place that had served as a shipyard. It was large enough to carry 15 people, including a crew of five. Though apparently used for fishing, it may also have transported passengers and goods ("The Roman Boat," JewishVirtualLibrary.org).

While the so-called "Jesus Boat" cannot be directly linked to Yeshua, it does provide evidence of the sort of boat Yeshua and his disciples would have used to cross the lake. It was not a small dingy, but a strong vessel built for the demands of service on the Sea of Galilee.

just as He was: this clause is misplaced for translation purposes. The opening clause says lit. "And leaving the crowd they take [present tense] him just as he was in the boat" (Marshall). The present tense heightens the sense of realism. In other words, they departed the area without going ashore. other boats: This is a detail that only Mark provides. No mention is made of their origin or ownership, but the same thing happened after the feeding of the five thousand (John 6:23-24). Some of the spectators apparently intended to follow Yeshua. The "other boats" don't arrive with Yeshua at his destination, so either they gave up, were driven back by the storm or even became lost in the storm.

37 And there arose a fierce gale of wind, and the waves were breaking over the boat so much that the boat was already filling up.

there arose a fierce gale: Such storms result from differences in temperatures between the seacoast and the mountains beyond. The Sea of Galilee lies 680 feet below sea level. It is bounded by hills, especially on the east side where they reach 2000 feet high. These heights are a source of cool, dry air. In contrast, directly around the sea, the climate is semi-tropical with warm, moist air. The large difference in height between surrounding land and the sea causes large temperature and pressure changes. This results in strong winds dropping to the sea, funneling through the hills.

The Sea of Galilee is small, and these winds may descend directly to the center of the lake with violent results. When the contrasting air masses meet, a storm can arise quickly and without warning. Small boats caught out on the sea are in immediate danger. The Sea is relatively shallow, just 200 feet at its greatest depth. A shallow lake is “whipped up” by wind more rapidly than deep water, where energy is more readily absorbed. ("Sea of Galilee," ChristianAnswers.net)

waves were breaking over: lit. "into" the boat. The verb describes the boat being buffeted by the waves and there would no doubt be a large amount of water spray flying over the sides. the boat was already filling up: Grk. gemizō, pres. pass. inf., to load something. Early Greek writers used the verb to describe loading a ship with commodities, but later writers use it in a more general sense of fill. The text does not say that the boat was full of water, because in that event the boat would have already sunk and Yeshua would have got up without an invitation. Nevertheless, enough water was being taken on that the men could not bail fast enough. Luke's version of the story says, "they began to be swamped and to be in danger" (Luke 8:23).

38 Jesus Himself was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke Him and said to Him, "Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?"

Jesus: The English transliteration of the Greek Iēsous, which itself is a transliteration of Yeshua, our Lord's Hebrew name given to him by his parents in accordance with angelic direction. Yeshua is the only name by which he was known to contemporaries. See the note on 1:1 for the background of this precious name.

Himself was in the stern: For a commercial boat the place for any distinguished stranger is on the little seat placed at the stern (Wessel). asleep on the cushion: Grk. proskephalaion, something on which to rest one's head, a pillow or cushion. The definite article with the noun may indicate there was only one cushion on board, and Yeshua used it as a pillow for his head. This is the only place in the apostolic narratives where Yeshua is said to have slept; but being human he would have needed sleep like any other man. He must have been very tired to have slept through such a violent storm. The description here is almost like comic relief, a scene that Peter could laugh about afterwards. The stern deck where Yeshua lay must have been higher than the bottom of the boat, because he was not lying in water. However, given the nature of the storm Yeshua would have been soaked to the skin as the rest of the men.

Teacher: Grk. didaskalos, teacher or instructor who regularly engaged in the imparting of knowledge or skills, a vocation of special status among the Israelites. The Greek term occurs 59 times in the Besekh, all but 9 in the apostolic narratives. In the LXX didaskalos only occurs in 2Maccabees 1:10 to denote Aristobulus, the head of the Egyptian Jewish community, who, having dedicated an exposition of the Pentateuch to King Ptolemy Philometor, is called a teacher clearly for this reason. However, the participle form of the verb didaskō, "one teaching," is used to render the participle form of three Hebrew verbs: (1) maskil, part. of sakal (give insight, teach, BDB 968) in Job 22:2; (2) hamlammed, part. of lamad (instruct, teach, BDB 540) in Psalm 94:10; 119:99; 144:1; and (3) moreh, part. of yarah (to throw or shoot and thus "one who throws out," or "points out," "directs," or "instructs," BDB 434) in Proverbs 5:13 and Isaiah 9:15. In contrast with Greek education the Tanakh is more concerned with obedience than imparting information (DNTT 3:766).

The situation is different in the Qumran texts, where moreh occurs more frequently, often with a qualifying phrase like "the righteous one." Two other important Hebrew terms also occur: rab, "teacher of the Law," and rabbî ("my teacher") (DNTT 3:766f). "Rabbi" occurs 17 times in the Besekh, all in the apostolic narratives. In fact the apostle John translates "Rabbi" (Grk. rhabbi) with didaskalos (John 1:38; 20:16) and elsewhere rhabbi is used interchangeably with didaskalos (Matt 23:8; John 3:2). A Jewish Rabbi in the first century had the task of expounding the Torah and giving rulings in matters of the law. He had pupils (Heb. talmidim) who studied his teachings and were duty bound to obey his edicts. Since the disciples and Yeshua conversed in Hebrew, then the actual address would have been Rabbi (cf. John 20:16). When Rabbi is used in the vocative case (direct address) it is always on the lips of a disciple (e.g., John 1:49; 3:2; 4:31; 6:25; 9:2; 11:8). When the general public and adversaries addressed Yeshua as "Teacher" (e.g., Matt 8:19; 12:38; Mark 5:35; 9:17), they most likely said "Moreh."

do You not care that we are perishing? Matthew and Luke do not include this rebuke, which silently underscores the independent authorship of the apostolic narratives. Some Christian scholars who believe Mark to the source for Matthew and Luke assume the omission of the question in the other apostolic narratives to be intentional to avoid embarrassment. Contrary to Wessel, Mark is not being rude. He reports what happened based on the memory of Peter, who may well have been the instigator of the rude question. In the situation the question may have seemed appropriate to the others on board if every man was engaged in trying to save the ship and Yeshua was doing nothing.

39 And He got up and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, "Hush, be still." And the wind died down and it became perfectly calm.

And He got up: Grk. diegeirō, aor. pass. part., to awaken out of sleep. The NASB offers an interpretation. Yeshua could have issued the command from his reclining position, but being erect would emphasize his taking charge of the situation. and rebuked: Grk. epitimaō, aor., to express urgently to elicit compliance, to reprimand, to warn, to reprove or to rebuke. the wind: Grk. anemos, the wind in the sense of the air currents that influence weather.

and said: Grk. legō, aor., to speak, a contrast to the verb "rebuked." to the sea: Grk. thalassa, (corresponding to Heb. yam) used of both a sea, such as the Mediterranean, and inland bodies of water, i.e., lake. The English language "sea" normally refers to a body of salt water and "lake" to a body of fresh water, although local convention can override this rule. Thalassa (as its Hebrew counterpart) simply refers to a body of water deep enough and wide enough to require a boat to cross it.

Hush: Grk. siōpaō, pres. imp., observe silence, be quiet. The command addresses the noise of the storm. The present tense indicates to start and continue the action. be still: Grk. phimoō, perf. pass. imp., may mean either (1) to shut a mouth with a tightening device, to muzzle, or (2) cause to cease making a sound, to silence, muzzle or gag. The perfect tense means to go back to being silent or still as before the storm. Yeshua's command may appear as if he personifies nature or that he subscribes to pantheism. This situation is not the same as creation where God brought the universe into existence by the spoken word (Gen 1:3, 6, 14; Ps 33:6, 9; 148:5). Generally in Scripture God issues commands to personalities. It is very likely that this storm was demonically instigated (cf. Job 1:16-19) and the command is directed at the Satanic forces responsible.

And the wind died down and it became perfectly calm: Creation responded to the Creator. The sudden reversal of the storm recalls the Psalms,

"You respond to us in righteousness with awe-inspiring works —O God of our salvation— hope of all ends of the earth and farthest seas, 7 who establishes mountains by His power, being girded with might, 8 who stills the roaring of the seas, the roaring of their waves, and the tumult of the peoples." (Ps 65:6-8 TLV)

"So they cried out to Adonai in their distress, and He brought them out of their troubles. 29 He stilled the storm to a whisper— the waves were hushed. 30 They were glad when it became calm, and He led them to their desired haven." (Ps 107:28-30 TLV)

Seeing that Yeshua’s miracle reflects this psalm shows how the Besekh sets about establishing Yeshua’s divinity (Stern 931).

40 And He said to them, "Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?"

Why are you afraid? Grk. deilos, to be cowardly, to be fearful or timid. On the surface this seems like an insensitive question. Any fisherman caught out in the middle of the Sea of Galilee in a raging storm would be afraid. Some of the apostles probably didn't know how to swim. However, the question was intended to provoke serious self-reflection because they should have taken confidence from Yeshua's own serenity. Do you still: Grk. oupō, a negative particle indicating than an activity, circumstance or condition is in abeyance or suspension, not yet.

have no faith? Grk. pistis means (1) constancy in awareness of obligation to others, thus faithfulness or fidelity; and (2) belief or confidence evoked by another's reputation for trustworthiness, thus faith, trust or confidence. Stern notes that the Grk. pistis corresponds to Heb. emunah (229). Therefore, biblical faith is composed of two elements. The first element of faith is confidence or trust (Heb 11:6; cf. Heb 4:2). True faith leads one to seek God and then trust Him to respond with His good gifts. The second element of true faith involves commitment, constancy or faithfulness, which includes following God’s direction for life and producing works of righteousness (cf. Eph 2:8-10; Jas 2:17-18). Yeshua implies that he had expected better of them by this point. After all, the friends of the paralytic had enough faith to tear apart a roof to get their friend help (2:5). This is the first of several rebukes of the disciples by Yeshua for their lack of understanding and faith (cf. 7:18; 8:17-18, 21, 32-33; 9:19).

41 They became very much afraid and said to one another, "Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey Him?"

The calming of the storm is an example of a providential miracle in nature. It is not a creation type miracle, because storms naturally occur on the Sea of Galilee and after a time subside. Yeshua merely speeded up the process to such a degree that the apostles recognized that it was contrary to nature. This was a startling experience, because it forced the apostles to reevaluate their understanding of Yeshua's identity. Healing miracles could be explained as a special anointing from God. Miracle healings occurred in the Tanakh, but no one thought Elijah or Elisha was supra-human. No, this miracle put Yeshua in an entirely separate category. In the Tanakh only angels or God himself performed miracles of nature. Who is this rabbi? The apostles were given a glimpse of the truth later declared by Paul,

"For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities--all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together." (Col 1:16-17)

"in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power." (Heb 1:2-3)

Such a miracle could not have occurred by accident or coincidence nor did the apostles imagine it. As Wessel comments, "One's conclusion about the historicity of this and similar stories in the apostolic narratives will inevitably depend on one's Christology." If Yeshua was God in flesh, as the apostles declared, then a miracle of nature is entirely consistent with that claim.

Copyright © 2012-2016 Blaine Robison. All rights reserved.