Why did Jesus explain his parables only to his disciples and not to others who may have had open hearts?

Q. In response to a previous question, you said, “Parables were the perfect vehicle for Jesus’ purposes because they either reveal or conceal the message, depending on the state of a person’s heart. They reveal the truth to those who are open to it, but conceal it from those who aren’t ready for it yet.”

The disciples’ hearts were obviously open to Jesus’ teachings, and Jesus definitely knew that, and he explained the parables to them in private. However, there could also have been people in the crowd who had open hearts, i.e. their state of mind was open, and they were willing to listen. Nevertheless, because they were not Jesus’ disciples, they didn’t have the chance to hear Jesus’ elaboration.

I have been thinking about this for a while now … is it because Jesus “had plans” for those non-disciples to understand the same truth some other time via some other means? Would appreciate if you could help me understand. Thanks.

Let me say two things in response to your question.

First, when we see the expression “the disciples,” we shouldn’t necessarily understand that to mean only the twelve disciples whom Jesus chose to be apostles. That is the meaning in some places in the gospels, but in other places the word “disciples” refers to anyone who was following Jesus closely in order to understand his message and live by it. For example, when Luke introduces what is known as the Sermon on the Plain, he says, “A large crowd of his disciples was there and a great number of people from all over Judea, from Jerusalem, and from the coastal region around Tyre and Sidon, who had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases.” So Luke distinguishes between “his disciples” and the others who came to hear on this occasion, and the disciples were a “large crowd.”

The word “disciples” also means more than just the twelve apostles in the episode you are asking about, in which Jesus tells the Parable of the Sower. Matthew says that after Jesus told this parable, “The disciples came to him and asked, ‘Why do you speak to the people in parables?'” Luke says similarly, “His disciples asked him what this parable meant.” But Mark elaborates a bit more about who these “disciples” were: “When he was alone, the Twelve and the others around him asked him about the parables.” So I think we should understand that in this case, as likely in other cases, anyone with an open heart could remain after the teaching and listen in on the explanation.

The second thing I would say in response to your question is that the people who heard these explanations and elaborations from Jesus did not treat them as something they were supposed to keep to themselves. They shared them with others. That is how the explanations got to be included in the gospels: They became part of the oral tradition that was handed down to later generations from those who saw and heard Jesus, which provided the content of the gospels. And I would say that the “disciples” (probably a large number) who heard these explanations got the impression from Jesus himself that they were supposed to share them with anyone who had an open heart and mind.

So even in Jesus’ own time, the explanations would have fanned out by word of mouth into the crowds for open-hearted people to hear, and down through the years they would have circulated ever more widely. Now that they are part of the Bible, they have gone around the world. So Jesus himself set in motion the process that has made these explanations available to anyone, anywhere who truly wants to understand and obey.

Is God’s “wrath” toward people who reject Jesus consistent with God’s love?

Q. It says in the Gospel of John, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them.” Some argue that this is not consistent with the message of love that God has has toward all his creation.

Actually, it is rejecting Jesus that is not consistent with God’s message of love for his whole creation. Jesus came bringing a message of love and reconciliation between people and between people and God. To reject that message is to go contrary to God’s intentions as announced by his Son Jesus.

How should God respond to people who do that? The term “wrath” certainly does indicate divine displeasure and even anger. We can understand why God would feel that way towards people who do not want love and reconciliation. But “wrath” also refers to God enforcing the consequences of the choices that people make. If people persist in rejecting Jesus and his message, then we can see how God would ultimately give them what they are insisting on and leave them in a place of alienation from God and others. This is not inconsistent with God’s purposes. It is God upholding his purposes by making sure that those who reject them do not interfere with them.

But I think we always need to keep in mind that in such cases, the choice to reject Jesus and remain alienated from God and others is one that people make themselves. The Bible tells us that God is very patient with people because he does not want anyone to perish. Instead, he wants everyone to come to repentance.

So we should not read the statement you’re asking about and think that it means God is just waiting for people to say one thing against Jesus so that he can pour out his wrath on them. God gives people every opportunity, right up to the last moment, to believe in Jesus rather than reject him. (Consider, for example, how God used Saul of Tarsus, a former bitter enemy of Jesus and his followers, to spread the message of Jesus as the apostle Paul.) So I would say that everything in the statement you’re asking about depicts God upholding his loving purposes, not working against them.

Should Christians pray the imprecatory psalms (the prayers for the destruction of enemies)?

Q. Should Christians pray the imprecatory psalms?

Let me say first that I think “praying the psalms” (that is, making the psalms in the Bible our own prayers) is a good practice. However, people who do this are often uncomfortable praying the so-called imprecatory psalms, in which the psalmists ask God to destroy their enemies.

I devote an entire lesson to the imprecatory psalms in my study guide to the Psalms. It is Lesson 10, on pages 59–63. You can read the study guide online or down load it at this link. I hope the lesson will give you a perspective on the imprecatory psalms that will help you decide whether to include them in your devotional practice of “praying the psalms.”

Why did God hate Esau even before he was born?

Q. Why did God hate Esau even before he was born?

In response to your question, please see this post:

When did Esau “break off the yoke” of Jacob?

In that post I note specifically that while in Romans “Paul quotes the statement from Malachi, ‘Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated,’ we need to appreciate that the Hebrew language uses the term ‘hated’ in contexts like this to refer to a son or wife who is not favored, by contrast with one who is favored. The meaning is, ‘I favored Jacob, but I did not favor Esau.'” Malachi’s statement, and Paul’s quotation of it, reflect this usage. So God did not actually “hate” Esau. Rather, he chose Jacob instead to continue the covenant line.

Does God already know who will choose to believe?

Q. God is omniscient, doesn’t that mean he already knows those who will go to heaven eventually and those who wouldn’t? I know we all have freewill. But doesn’t God know already if I’m going to use my freewill or if I’m going to do His will?

In response to your question, please see these posts:

Why does God make people He knows are going to reject Him?

Doesn’t the Bible teach election based on God’s foreknowledge?

Was it a sin for David to have many wives?

Q. My question is in regards to David’s many wives, was that not considered sin? was it something kings shouldn’t do, a recommendation from the Lord, but not going against God’s command? I understand he had plenty of trouble at home because of all the children from different wives. But when he is called a man after God’s own heart, that makes me think his polygamy is not looked at as a sin.

Your question is similar to the one I answer in this post:

How could God call David a “man after his own heart” when he committed adultery and murder?

In that post, I note that God described David in that way specifically in reference to the way David would regard the kingship, by contrast to the way Saul as king had encroached on priestly powers. I say in that post, “David set an example for all subsequent kings by never acting as if he were a divine king or priest-king.” I think the phrase also references the way David always repented when confronted with his own sin. By contrast, when confronted with his disobedience, Saul did not repent but instead insisted that he really had obeyed.

God specifically confronted David, through the prophet Nathan, about his sins against Bathsheba and Uriah, and so, as I also say in that post,”no divine approval of David’s actions can be found in the earlier description of him as a ‘man after God’s own heart.'”

We may say the same thing about David’s polygamy. The law of Moses said specifically about any future king the Israelites might have, “He must not take many wives.” The term “many” is not defined in terms of a specific number, but it seems that David did have “many” wives. Before he became king over all Israel, he was king over the tribe of Judah in Hebron, and he had six wives at that point. The Bible then tells us that “after he left Hebron” to become king of all Israel, “David took more concubines and wives in Jerusalem.”

As you noted, this caused “plenty of trouble at home.” Absalom, the son of the third wife, murdered Amnon, David’s firstborn, the son of his first wife, in revenge for Amnon raping Absalom’s sister Tamar. Absalom later incited a violent rebellion against David and nearly displaced him as king. And even after David chose Solomon to succeed him, another son named Adonijah nearly took over the kingdom instead. Solomon ultimately had Adonijah executed.

This was a culture in which polygamy was accepted, particularly because it was an agricultural society that depended on human labor, and so families simply had to have children. Kings practiced polygamy to be sure that they would have surviving children who could succeed them on the throne. But it must be admitted that royal polygamy went way beyond that need, as kings  married the daughters of other kings to form alliances, and they also had large harems. The law of Moses warned that an Israelite king should not have many wives, “or his heart will be led astray,” and that is exactly what happened to David’s son Solomon. The Bible says that “he had seven hundred wives of royal birth and three hundred concubines, and his wives led him astray.” Specifically, the women he married in order to make alliances with other countries wanted to keep worshiping their own gods, and Solomon built temples for them and even joined them in worshiping those gods. For this God punished him by taking most of the kingdom away from his dynasty.

So there seem to have been many good reasons why the law told kings not to have many wives. David was thus not an exemplary king in that way. And so what I say in the other post also applies to your question: “No divine approval of David’s actions can be found in the earlier description of him as a ‘man after God’s own heart.'”

Why was Moses not allowed to enter the Promised Land?

Q. Why was Moses not allowed to enter the Promised Land? I’m aware of his disobedience, I just feel that it’s too much! Too harsh a punishment.

James, the brother of Jesus, writes in his New Testament epistle, “Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.” Other versions say “judged by a stricter standard” or “judged more severely than others.” These all mean basically the same thing, and what James says about teachers applies to all spiritual leaders. God does judge and, when necessary, punish them more strictly than others. Why? What spiritual leaders do affect their followers, both directly, in terms of the consequences of their decisions and choices, and indirectly, through their example.

Moses was not allowed to enter the Promised Land because when God told him to speak to a rock so that it would send out water for the Israelites to drink in the desert, Moses struck the rock  with his staff instead. Certainly the direct consequences of this action were not bad for the Israelites. They had been in danger of dying of thirst, and this action saved them. But the indirect consequences were very dangerous spiritually.

God had told Moses to gather all the Israelites together in front of the rock, and God had given him these instructions: “Speak to that rock before their eyes and it will pour out its water.” Instead, Moses gathered the Israelites and said to them, speaking for himself and his fellow leader Aaron, “Listen, you rebels, must we bring you water out of this rock?” Then he struck the rock twoice, and water came out.

In response to this, God told Moses, “Because you did not believe in me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them.” Another translation puts that this way: “You did not trust me enough to honor me and show the people that I am holy. You did not show the Israelites that the power to make the water came from me. So you will not lead the people into the land that I have given them.”

So more was involved than the seemingly small distinction between speaking to the rock and striking the rock. For one thing, instead of speaking to the rock as God’s agent of provision and care, Moses spoke to the people, and he did so with hostility and anger. This misrepresented God’s merciful disposition to do good for the people even though they had been grumbling and complaining. Moses also took credit for the action himself: “Must we bring you water out of this rock?” Anyone who is entrusted with the responsibility of acting on God’s behalf must always be very careful to make sure the God gets all of the glory, credit, and praise. If they are not careful, people can be led to glorify other people instead, robbing God of the glory that belongs only to him.

So while it might seem to us that God gave Moses a severe punishment for a small infraction, God was aware of the potential wide-ranging and long-lasting effects of his example, and God needed to stop those effects from spreading.

Your question is similar to the one I answer in the post linked below, and so that post may also be of interest to you.

Why did God reject Saul as king for making one small mistake?

Did God cause or permit Absalom to have sexual relations with David’s concubines?

Q. Your answer to “Was Ahithophel speaking for God?” was very helpful. In relation to this, I wanted to ask how should we interpret 2 Samuel 12:11-12, where we read:

“This is what the Lord says: ‘Out of your own household I am going to bring calamity on you. Before your very eyes I will take your wives and give them to one who is close to you, and he will sleep with your wives in broad daylight. You did it in secret, but I will do this thing in broad daylight before all Israel.’”

Should this be interpreted as God causing this to happen, or should this be interpreted as God permitting to happen? How can we know which way to interpret it? The wording seems to lean towards God causing this to happen. However, if it is interpreted as God causing this to happen, it seems to lead to several problems, such as God causing something immoral to happen, as well as going against Leviticus 18:8 ,where we read “Do not have sexual relations with your father’s wife; that would dishonor your father.”

I am inclined to interpret it as God permitting to happen (not causing this to happen), which would avoid the above problems, but based on the wording in 2 Samuel 12:11-12, it seems harder to justify. How can we justify this interpretation?

I think the passage you are referring to is one in which God tells David what the consequences of his actions are going to be, rather than one in which God describes something that he is going to do actively in response to those actions. Throughout the Old Testament we see people experiencing what are often called “ironic judgments,” in which what they have done to others, or tried to do to others, happens to them.

There is another example of this in the Absalom story. One thing that Absalom did initially to try to win the hearts of the people so that he could eventually take the throne away from his father David was to cultivate a handsome popular image. This included growing his hair long. The Bible says, “In all Israel there was not a man so highly praised for his handsome appearance as Absalom. From the top of his head to the sole of his foot there was no blemish in him. Whenever he cut the hair of his head—he used to cut his hair once a year because it became too heavy for him—he would weigh it, and its weight was two hundred shekels by the royal standard.”

But the long hair that was such a prominent feature of Absalom’s campaign to become king ultimately cost him the kingship. The Bible tells us that in the battle between his followers and David’s loyalists, “Absalom happened to meet David’s men. He was riding his mule, and as the mule went under the thick branches of a large oak, Absalom’s hair got caught in the tree. He was left hanging in midair, while the mule he was riding kept on going.” So Absalom was trapped there, David’s men killed him, and that was the end of his palace coup. The long hair that was meant to take the throne away from his father took it away from him.

The Bible describes this principle of ironic judgment more generally in Proverbs: “Whoever digs a pit will fall into it; if someone rolls a stone, it will roll back on them.” And since God set up the world in this way, so that people often get a “taste of their own medicine” when they plot evil, we could say in one sense that God is responsible for the consequences that people experience. But these “I will” divine pronouncements  of judgment can indicate that a person or nation is going to experience the consequences of their own actions, according to the way that God has set up the world.

For example, God says to the nation of Edom through the prophet Ezekiel, “Because you rejoiced when the inheritance of Israel became desolate, that is how I will treat you. You will be desolate, Mount Seir, you and all of Edom.” And these words did come true; Edom was destroyed and became desolate. But that happened when the Babylonians, an empire that the Edomites had tried to cultivate as an ally against the Israelites, turned against them and destroyed them. So an “I will” pronouncement of judgment actually forecast the ironic consequences of the Edomites trying to play the “power game.”

I think this is the proper way to understand the passage you are asking about. Otherwise, as you say, God would be the direct cause for the victimization of David’s concubines. I do not believe that was the case. I believe that God grieved deeply with those women when they suffered this abuse. Scheming and wicked men were actually responsible for it, as I explained in my previous post. I also do not believe, as you also pointed out, that God would cause or command anything that would violate his own law. Instead, I think it was with a very heavy heart that God announced to David what the consequences of his own wrong actions would be.

And I’m convinced that one of the most painful and heart-wrenching things for David himself about this announcement of consequences was the suffering that his own actions would cause for his innocent loved ones. But this world is such a tightly knit web of relationships that we cannot expect that our actions will not affect other people. Those actions will have the greatest effect on those who are closest to us. We can’t say to God, “I was the one who did this; why did you allow those others to suffer for it?” Our actions will inevitably involve others, especially our closest loved ones. So we should take responsibility for what we do, and be very careful not to do wrong, knowing how that may cause the ones we love most to suffer.

Was Ahithophel speaking for God?

Q. How should we understand the passage where King David’s former counselor Ahithophel advises David’s son Absalom, who has rebelled and seized the throne, to sleep with ten of David’s concubines to make a permanent break with his father so that his followers will fight desperately? The Bible says, “Now in those days the advice Ahithophel gave was like that of one who inquires of God. That was how both David and Absalom regarded all of Ahithophel’s advice.” So was Ahithophel actually speaking for God? If so, how can we justify his advice? Wouldn’t God have wanted to protect these concubines? And wasn’t this advice  explicitly contrary to the Law of Moses, which says, “Do not have sexual relations with your father’s wife; that would dishonor your father.” What is going on here?

First, the statement that kings who consulted Ahithophel treated his advice like advice they would have gotten by inquiring of God does not mean that Ahithophel spoke for God. Rather, this expression means that kings had such confidence in his advice that they accepted it unquestioningly, as they would do if it came from God. The narrator, seemingly expecting that readers would find it hard to believe that Absalom actually did what Ahithophel advised on this occasion, apparently felt a need to add this explanation. That is, the narrator anticipated that readers would have the same questions about it and problems with it that you do, for the good reasons that you do.

So what is going on here? It seems that Ahithophel had a further motive besides giving Absalom what he thought would be the best advice for this situation. If we read more widely in the book of 2 Samuel, we learn that Ahithophel had a son named Eliam, and that a man named Eliam was the father of Bathsheba. Bathsheba was the married woman whom David had sexual relations with and, when he got her pregnant, whose husband he arranged to have killed to cover up his actions. If the two Eliams are the same person, which many interpreters agree is the case, then Ahithophel apparently wanted to get revenge against David for what he did to his granddaughter and her husband. This was his further motive.

In fact, as the story continues, the next thing Ahithophel says to Absalom is, “Let me choose 12,000 men to start out after David tonight. I will catch up with him while he is weary and discouraged. He and his troops will panic, and everyone will run away. Then I will kill only the king, and I will bring all the people back to you.” So it does appear that Ahithophel had been waiting for a chance to take revenge against David, and he saw his opportunity here. His advice was not the counsel of God. It was the manipulative plan of a vengeful man who saw a way to get an inexperienced young would-be king to carry out some of his revenge.

David does bear some of the responsibility for what happened to his concubines, because it was his own actions that led Ahithophel to seek revenge against him. But David had every reason to believe that his concubines would be safe in Jerusalem when he left them there to look after the palace. They would have been protected by law, custom, and decency. And the concubines would indeed have been safe from Absalom if Ahithophel had not given this advice and if Absalom had not followed it unquestioningly. What Absalom did was an outrage. Ahithophel’s whole argument was that Absalom should commit such an outrage so that it would create a permanent break with David. So while David does bear some of the responsibility for the way these concubines were victimized, Ahithophel, in his desire for revenge, is the one who is primarily responsible. He was certainly not speaking for God.

What does allowing polygamy say about the character of God?

Q. I read your post about Ruth and Boaz. There you said that in the Law of Moses it was right for the brother to marry the widow. I get so furious about this because for 40 years it has tripped me up with my relationship with God. No matter what the time, how was it right for a man to be a polygamist? If God is never changing and he created Adam and Eve and said one man and one woman, why would he change? Why would this be a compassionate gesture to the woman? I am a Christian who seeks and seeks and knocks and looks for answers and I pray and pray. Please, please help me to understand this. Even the kinsman-redeemer made me hurt and not want to trust God because if Boaz was married, and helped Ruth, what does that mean to me? If God is my kinsman-redeemer, then how can I trust him? This may sound angry and I do apologize, but I am truly looking for help and want to live in peace and not hurt. This has been a block for all of my life and I do ask God all the time about this and maybe he can help me through you. Thank you for all that you do and God bless you.

Thank you very much for sharing your heartfelt question. Even though it arises from the issue of polygamy, it seems to me that your question is ultimately about the character and trustworthiness of God. So before I say anything else, let me say  that we learn about the character of God primarily from the ideals that God presents, and only secondarily from the arrangements that God makes in history to accommodate human limitations.

I would invite you to read this other post on this blog:

Is it a sin for a man to be married to more than one woman?

In that post I suggest that Jesus would have said the same thing about polygamy that he did about divorce: “It was not so from the beginning.” God’s ideal, as you have noted, is that marriage be between one man and one woman for life. Jesus explained that the Law of Moses permitted divorce, it did not command or endorse it, and the case is the same for polygamy. Under certain circumstances, at the time, it was the best, or perhaps the least bad, arrangement that would help protect and provide for women in a society in which they were vulnerable. But it was not God’s ideal, and so it did not reveal God’s character the way the statement of the ideal at the beginning of Genesis does.

Beyond what I say in that post, I would observe that as we move into the New Testament, Jesus and his followers assert more and more that believers should aspire to live out God’s original ideals. So, for example, Paul says in 1 Timothy that the church as a whole should provide for the needs of widows. No longer is the late husband’s brother or another close relative expected to marry a widow to provide for her. This is the responsibility of all believers, to care for a person in need in their community.

And as Paul also says in 1 Timothy, the spiritual leaders of the church (“overseers” or “elders”) must be “the husband of one wife.” While polygamy was not widely practiced by the Romans, it was known from the cultures that the Romans interacted with, and in Asia Minor (where Timothy was, in the city of Ephesus) there seem to have been actual polygamists, due to the influences of those cultures. Without judging them or condemning them, Paul makes clear that their lives do not illustrate God’s ideal, and so they should not be in spiritual leadership positions.

I, too, hope that nothing I say here will be taken to judging or condemning people in cultures that still practice polygamy. As I make clear in my other post, this is a very involved issue and it will be complicated to sort it out. I also hope that nothing I say will be taken as judging or condemning people in other situations. At the same time, I do believe that God’s ideal is for marriage to be between one man and one woman for life, and that that ideal reveals God’s character.

And so I hope that you will come to know God better and better as the one who said to his people through Hosea:

I will take you to be my wife forever.
I will take you to be my wife in righteousness,
justice, love, and compassion.
I will take you to be my wife in faithfulness,
and you will know the Lord.