|Vol. 2, No. 6||Page 2||June 2000|
The Parable of the Hidden Treasure
By Louis Rushmore
IntroductionThe parables of the Hidden Treasure and the Pearl of Great Price are sometimes called the twin parables. Both emphasize the value of the kingdom to individuals and together represent the common Hebrew practice of parallelism. These two parables plus The Parable of the Drag Net and The Parable of the Householder were spoken to the apostles after Jesus sent the multitude away, returned to Capernaum and entered a house (Matthew 13:36).
Especially in The Parable of the Hidden Treasure there are details that often arouse curiosity. Some people propose that a moral or ethical problem exists. For instance, was the treasure-finder in this parable dishonest for hiding the treasure again, not informing the owner of the land and purchasing the field?
The parable does not address the ethics of the treasure-finder. Jesus neither sanctioned nor condemned the motives and activities of the man in this regard. Similarly, God is somewhat compared to an unjust judge in a parable that encourages persistency in prayer (Luke 18:1-8). Not every part of a parable is presented for imitation. One must be careful not to press a parable beyond the lesson it was intended to teach. The emphasis in The Hidden Treasure is on the vigor with which an individual sought the kingdom of heaven. Idle questions such as why the owner of the treasure never retrieved it or why the current owners of the field were willing to sell it or why the treasure-finder was prospecting on another person’s property are not relevant to the spiritual message Jesus conveyed. “The secret things belong unto the Lord our God: but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this law” (Deuteronomy 29:29).
Homes of antiquity in Palestine were often meager shelters that were primarily used for sleeping. They were not suitable places to safely store precious assets (i.e., silver and gold). When unoccupied, these homes were not easily secured against thieves (Matthew 6:19). It was not practical to carry one’s personal wealth every place one went (Luke 10:30). Therefore, valuables were secreted in the earth (Job 3:21; Proverbs 2:4).
A writer on Oriental customs says, that in the East, on account of frequent changes in dynasties, and consequent revolutions, many rich men divide their goods into three parts: one they employ in commerce, or for their support; one they turn into jewels, which might be easily carried; and a third part they bury.1Lacking banks and vaults, to preserve their wealth people often buried it in the ground. However, should one die unexpectedly and if his family was unaware of either the existence of the treasure or where it was deposited, it could not be recovered easily. Among the Jews, one’s wealth was frequently referred to as treasure (Matthew 2:11; 6:19; 12:35; 19:21). In The Parable of the Talents, the one-talent steward buried the talent (of silver or gold) in the ground (Matthew 25:18). Apparently, some Jews searched for buried treasure (Job 3:21; Proverbs 2:4).
Some commentators suggest that the treasure-finder in this parable accidentally stumbled upon another man’s buried treasure. Jesus, though, does not say how the man in the parable happened to discover the treasure. It has already been observed that at least sometimes buried treasures were deliberately sought.
However, an interesting and otherwise valid principle derives from an unintentional discovery of treasure in the parable. It is possible for people to find something for which they were not looking and yet, in which they may have great joy (e.g., a $10 bill that one had not missed but found in a pocket of a laundered pair of pants). In this kingdom parable, the kingdom of heaven is likened to a found treasure. Though perhaps not looking for it, once uncovered, the finder earnestly endeavored to secure it for himself. Nathanael (John 1:43-49) and the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:4-30) are New Testament examples of finding that for which they were not looking.
“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto treasure hid in a field; the which when a man hath found, he hideth, and for joy thereof goeth and selleth all that he hath, and buyeth that field” (Matthew 13:44).In The Parable of the Hidden Treasure, the field represents the world, whereas the treasure, the thrust of the parable, represents the spiritual kingdom of heaven. The physical treasure of the parable highlights through contrast the spiritual treasure.
“Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matthew 6:19-21).Earthly treasure is subject to inflation and fluctuating value, but heavenly treasure remains priceless.
Comparisons between earthly and heavenly treasures include: (1) “It is worth everything and every effort.”2 (2) Much is given but more is received in return. (3) Great sacrifices may be required. (4) Commitment to a personal acquisition is necessary. (5) Nothing already possessed compares in value to the treasure sought. (6) No pursuit is as important as acquiring the treasure. (7) With no regrets but with joy one willingly sells all he has to acquire it.
Regarding the spiritual treasure, in this parable the kingdom of heaven: (1) “The kingdom is worth whatever sacrifices are necessary to obtain it.”3 (2) “A man who is genuinely converted does not grudgingly give up the past. He gives up his past life for something far better.”4 (3) The kingdom is only accessible to souls who are willing to count and pay the cost (Luke 14:25-33). (4) Total surrender of self is compulsory to receive the kingdom treasure. (5) Happily, spiritual treasures are available to even this world’s impoverished.
The priceless nature of the kingdom relates to the investment of God in it. The Godhead allowed God-the-Son to relinquish the glory of heaven, endure humility and temptation in a fleshly body and suffer the humiliation and excruciating pain of a public execution on a cross (Philippians 2:5-8; Hebrews 12:2-3). The blood of God-the-Son, Jesus the Christ, was invested in the kingdom or church (Acts 20:28; Ephesians 5:25). The magnitude of Jesus’ investment in the kingdom of heaven was compounded by the temporary desertion by the apostles (Matthew 26:56) and God-the-Father (Matthew 26:46).
The apostle Paul recognized the worth of the kingdom of heaven. Consequently, he willingly forfeited those things in life in which mankind usually prides itself (Philippians 3:4-8). Paul also resigned himself to great suffering and deprivation to acquaint the world with this kingdom (2 Corinthians 11:23-28).
ConclusionEvery honest soul who acknowledges the value of the kingdom (church) will obey the Gospel, whereby admission to the kingdom is conditionally allotted by God (Acts 2:37-38, 41, 47). Only citizens of the kingdom are beneficiaries of its blessings (Ephesians 1:3). Kingdom treasures enrich their possessors in life, in death and eternally (1 Timothy 4:8; 2 Timothy 4:6-8). Kingdom citizenship is inseparably linked with the forgiveness of sins (2 Timothy 2:10).
“People who place the proper valuation upon the church express a deep and abiding interest in it.”5 With them, life in the kingdom becomes a completely encompassing new way of life (Romans 6:3-4; Acts 22:4; 24:14, 22). These are the ones upon whom the Lord and the church depend for a continued presence and expansion in any community. Without them, the visible existence of the Lord’s church on earth would vanish.
However, the kingdom is valuable even if no one recognizes its worth. Unfortunately, Christians often devalue the church by ignoble conduct, such as: (1) willfully absenting themselves from appointed assemblies (Hebrews 10:25-27); (2) living in sin from which they have been extracted by God (Romans 6:2, 6-13) and from which they repented (Luke 3:5; Acts 2:38; Matthew 3:8).
In conclusion, The Parable of the Hidden Treasure emphasizes the acute value of the kingdom of heaven. The lesson to remember from this parable is “. . . the incomparable worth and the ultimate triumph of the Kingdom of God.”6
1Trench, 46; the earliest
printing in which this reference could appear in this title is 1948.