Parables and riddles, words to the wise
When God spoke to Israel through a prophet, it was often in the form of a ?dark saying?, a riddle or a parable (Hos 12:10, Num 12:8). However, those like Moses, who seek to serve God faithfully, come to understand what God is like, then the meaning of these ?dark sayings? becomes plain, as Numbers explains:
(Num 12:6-8a HNV)
12:6 ?He said, ?Hear now my words. If there is a prophet among you, I the LORD will make myself known to him in a vision. I will speak with him in a dream. 12:7 My servant Moses is not so. He is faithful in all my house. 12:8 With him I will speak mouth to mouth, even plainly, and not in riddles; and he shall see the LORD?s form.??
During the early period of the Israeli monarchy, the psalmist Asaph returned to this theme. His lyrics declaring:
(Ps 78:1b-3 WEB)
78:1 ?Hear my teaching, my people.
Turn your ears to the words of my mouth.
78:2 I will open my mouth in a parable. I will utter dark sayings of old,
78:3 Which we have heard and known, and our fathers have told us.?
God spoke clearly to the prophet Ezekiel, but Ezekiel was sometimes instructed to speak publicly in parables (Eze 17:2, 24:3) and when he did, people complained that they could not understand (Eze 20:49).
In the forth century B.C.E. (Box 2004, 293) the Jewish wisdom-teacher ben-Sira explained:
(Sir 39:1-3 KJV)
1But he that giveth his mind to the law of the most High, and is occupied in the meditation thereof, will seek out the wisdom of all the ancient, and be occupied in prophecies. 2 He will keep the sayings of the renowned men: and where subtle parables are, he will be there also. 3He will seek out the secrets of grave sentences, and be conversant in dark parables?
One reason that the wise communicated in proverbs, parables and dark sayings was to prevent their meaning being understood by those who had no business in understanding it. Private discussions were overheard by servants and important messages were often carried by them. Such servants could easily gossip with the servants of others, thereby passing on important secrets. God, being the wisest of the wise, communicated with human leaders in the same way that any other wise leader generally did. Hence, when God wanted even the lowest servant to know that he had issued a warning, he instructed the prophet Habbakuk to ?Write the vision, and make it plain on tablets, that he who runs may read it? (Hab 2:2b WEB).
Matthew describes how Jesus used the parable of the sower (Matt 13:4-9), a parable about receiving God?s word , as an opportunity to explain that he also used these cryptic sayings to create a distinction between those in whom the word of God bore fruit (i.e wisdom) and those in whom it did not (Matt 13:10-11).