Again, the kingdom of Heaven can be compared to a treasure that a man found stashed in a field. He stashed it again, then joyfully went and sold everything he had and bought that field.” (Matt.13:44, Delitzsch Hebrew Gospels)
In part one of this series, we saw that there is more than meets the eye to the parables of Jesus, when we consider them from a Jewish mindset.
We discovered a ruling in the Mishnah which states that an oath by itself is not sufficient in most cases to establish ownership. How did this idea apply to our passage? In the case of the hypothetical man in Christ’s parable, he left the treasure where it lie until he had legally purchased the field in which he found it. The implication we drew from this on a personal level in regards to the kingdom of God, is that merely “seeing” (read: confessing) does not constitute legal ownership of the treasure (or kingdom).
This line of reasoning opens a theological “can of worms”, as it were, since the aspect of legal precedent (an element of the parable which the Master’s audience would have understood) introduces the concept that there is apparently more to attaining our place in the World to Come than merely receiving a free gift. As the sages of the Talmud would say; “This is a difficulty!” How do we resolve it? Well, the first step we must take is backwards. We must step back from a reductionist understanding of the kingdom of God and of redemption, and think beyond the scope of personal salvation.
For one thing, being “saved” is not entirely the same idea as establishing a place in the kingdom of God. The latter is a reward we must strive to attain, at least according to our Lord.
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matt. 6:19-21)
To which end we added our own paraphrase to relate it to the parable:
“Of what use is it to find a treasure in a field if you can’t make it your own? Can that man access a single ounce of that treasure?”
There are four elements within our parable: A man, a treasure, a field, and a purchase. The man discovers treasure in a field, and does not take it, but rather hides it again until he is able to purchase the legal rights of ownership to the field in which he found it. The word in Hebrew for ownership is “ba’alut“. It is God who established laws of ownership in the Bible. So, the concept of private property is a biblical concept, while the Oral Law gives many rulings and interpretations of it.
A sense of ownership is part of our DNA. We see it evidenced in a small child who defiantly clutches a toy from the grip of a sibling and screams, “Mine!” But we also understand that this natural impulse must be directed and brought to maturity, and the child must be trained in righteousness. There is certainly an aspect of maturity to be found in the parable of the Master, as well as an instruction in how to possess the “free gift” which has been given. We have found a treasure; now how to establish ba’alut? The answer is to obey God’s statutes. This brings forth the value of the treasure, and makes it our own to use and profit from.
The Bal Shem Tov, a rich source of Jewish mystical understanding, is quoted as saying “that which is meant to be yours will be found by you, since you bring the spark of God to it and cause it to be elevated and refined.” This is interesting, and relates closely to Paul’s writings:
“…also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will…(The Divine Presence) given as a pledge of our inheritance.” (Eph.1:11,14)
Paul also resonates with the Bal Shem Tov in regards to elevation and refinement later in the same epistle:
“…you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” (Eph.2:8-10) (emphasis mine)
We learned that the man must purchase the field legally to establish ownership, so he cannot be accused of theft should another make a claim to the field. We also learned that the one who can and would make such a claim is the evil one. We see this earlier in Matthew 13, where Yeshua tells us plainly that the “field” is the world. Further, Paul states that satan is the lord of the “field” (2 Cor.4:4). So, now our understanding of this parable is expanding significantly. When we place the idea of personal salvation aside, we find we are discussing the kingdom of God. This is important if we are to understand the teachings of the Master. His parables about the kingdom are about the kingdom!
Let’s continue developing this on this new line. A man finds a treasure in a field. The field is the world. The treasure is the kingdom of God. Though Paul states that satan is the god of this world we see that “the earth is the LORD’s“(Ps.24:1). Which is true? Well, both. God created and owns all of creation, but through Adam and Eve’s sin and banishment from the garden, man has surrendered stewardship (meaning control) to satan. This is why when the man discovers the hidden treasure, he must purchase the field to attain the treasure. Therefore, the treasure is the kingdom to come. In this light, the purchasing of the field is a metaphor for bringing the world (the field) under subjection of the kingdom of God. Now it is sounding like the Great Commission of Matthew 28.
“All authority has given to me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples…teaching them to observe all that I commanded you…“(Matt.28:18-20)
We have three elements of property rights at work here, all of which are spoken of in the Talmud: A free gift, an inheritance, and a purchase and sale.
Hebrew for a purchase is “miqnah“. It is a feminine word. A free gift, or inheritance, is “nachalah“. Again this is a feminine noun. (This is significant but will be discussed in the next installment). In either case, the Talmud tells us that the transaction is not complete until possession has been transferred. So even when something has been gifted to you, you must still establish possession in order to use the item. This is because, though you may by right own something, if you don’t possess it, you are not in control of it.
Only an heir can establish ownership without a process of acquisition. So, for instance, a son would automatically become the default owner of something which a father had left for him in his inheritance, without any effort on the part of the heir to acquire it. Unless, of course, the item in question was in the control of another, in which case steps would need to be taken to establish control and possession. This may involve deferred acquisition, once the passage of time or conditions are met.
We see an excellent example of this principle of deferred acquisition in the story of Abraham purchasing the cave of Machpelah in Genesis 23. God had already gifted the land of Canaan to Abraham by promise, but other people were in possession of it, thereby meaning they were in control of it. So, Abraham purchased the cave (at a high cost!), even though he had already inherited it by faith, in order to eliminate the possibility that the inhabitants of the land could contest it by claiming it did not belong to him. Abraham purchased that which had been freely gifted to him, in order to secure it for the future. In this same way, the Lord portrays the man who finds the treasure going and making a legal purchase of treasure which he simply could have picked up and walked away with.
This is necessary because the “field” (the land) is part of the inheritance of the kingdom so must be claimed by legal means.
So this turns the tables on our understanding. When we merely focus on our own personal salvation, we struggle to reconcile the free gift of God with the need to perform work to secure the gift. While it’s true that works and faith are not separate (as James tells us), and discipleship is a necessary component of our faith walk, we now see a different, and more complete understanding of the parable. The real intent of the parable is to illustrate the kingdom of God. The man in the parable is not us per se, it’s the Messiah himself. The field is not our lives, but the world itself (which we are a part of), which must be redeemed from the corruption of sin. The treasure is not our salvation, but the inheritance of the Lord, which is Israel, the bride of God. It is not our treasure, but the Lord’s! The Messiah, as the suffering servant, the son of Joseph, offers himself as the purchase price to secure what has already been given to him by his Father, to remove all claims the enemy could potentially make against his promised inheritance.
“For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of Him who sent me. This is the will of Him who sent me, that of all that He has given me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who beholds the son and believes on him will have eternal life, and I myself will raise him up on the last day.” (Jn.6:38-40)
In the next installment, we will break down further what the Talmud says on these issues of ownership and possession and see a beautiful final picture of the parable of the buried treasure.