Barry Newman's Blog

December 24, 2012

The Parable of the Tenants (part VII)

Filed under: Parables of Jesus,The Parable of the Tenants — barrynewman @ 9:58 am

The Old Testament quotes

All three Gospels record, “The stone which the builders rejected has become the head of the corner” – an exact quote from Psalm 118: 22 as it occurs in the LXX.  Matthew and Mark add, “This was from the Lord and it was wonderful in our eyes”, another precise quote from the LXX (or equivalent) Psalm – verse 23, except for one insignificant exception (“estin” rather than “esti”). The Psalm speaks of someone being rescued by the Yahweh from their enemies, with verses 16 to 18 reading, “The right hand of Yahweh has exalted me; the right hand of Yahweh has wrought powerfully.  I shall not die but live, and recount the works of Yahweh.  Yahweh has chastened me sore; but he has not given me up to death.”

One can understand why Peter associated this stone with Jesus – Acts 4: 10, 11 and 1 Peter 2: 7.  Carson suggests that while the Psalm could be referring to David, it is more likely that the reference is to Israel. Bailey recognises several features in verses 19 to 28 of the Psalm – a procession, the cry “Hosanna”, the statement “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, and a reference to branches, that are reflected in the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the Gospel writers portray Jesus as seeing the Psalm having a fulfilment in him.

The accounts of Luke and Matthew, in the case of the latter, after an intervening comment by Jesus, follow their quotes with a loosely constructed reference to Isaiah 8: 14, 15 and perhaps also to Daniel 2: 35.  Matthew: “And he who falls on this stone shall be broken; but on whomever it falls it will crush him”; Luke: “Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken; but on whomever it falls it will crush him.”  The passage in Isaiah refers to Yahweh directing the prophet and those like-minded, to fear him but not to fear what others fear.  As a consequence he, Yahweh, shall be a sanctuary to them and they will not stumble over him – a stumbling stone, whereas many of Israel and Jerusalem shall fall and be crushed. In Daniel the reference is to a dream in which an image, representing a number of kingdoms, is ground to powder by a stone cut “without hands” from a mountain.

Bailey suggests that Jesus was in fact applying a text clearly about God to himself.  That unlike the students of “Hillel, the great rabbi who lived one generation before Jesus … (who) quoted texts about God and applied them to himself …, ( his students not thinking) he was serious … the disciples of Jesus were convinced that Jesus meant it – and that it was true.”[1]

The intervening comment made by Jesus as recorded in Matthew reads, “On account of this I tell you, that the kingdom of God shall be taken away from you and given to a nation producing the fruits thereof.”  The statement, given what follows, seems reflective of Daniel 2: 44 which refers to God setting up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed, a kingdom that beats to pieces and grinds to powder all other kingdoms.

Carson is of the view that “the ‘capstone’ … is most probably the top stone of roof parapets, exterior staircases and city walls … A ‘capstone’ if set too low, could be tripped over by an unwary person, sending him over the parapet; if too light or insecurely fastened, leaning against it could dislodge it and send it crashing onto the head of some passerby.”[2]

To what extent those who heard Jesus speak understood there to be references to Daniel is perhaps problematic.  It is clear however that at least the Jewish hierarchy soon understood that Jesus spoke the parable against them and presumably recognised that Jesus was quoting from Psalm 118 and, even if loosely, from Isaiah 8.

Psalm 118, Isaiah 8 and Daniel 2 together point to those upon whom judgement falls as well as those whom God delivers and exalts.  The parable that Jesus told deals with both these dreadful and glorious realities.

At this Christmas time, we reflect on the birth of Jesus of whom it was said, soon after his birth, “Behold this child is set for the fall and rising of many in Israel” (Luke 2: 34).  What Jesus said just prior to his death had its precursor in the words of Simeon, uttered some 30 years before.


[1] Bailey, op. cit., pp. 424

[2] Carson, op. cit, pp. 453, 454.

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