The Sower

“He spoke many things unto them in parables, saying, Behold a sower went forth to sow.” —Matthew 13:3

THE words of this scripture introduce the first of eight parables recorded by Matthew in chapter thirteen, all of which are concerned with the kingdom of heaven. Although Jesus called this the parable of the sower, it has little to do with a sower. Rather, it describes four different kinds of soil which receive seed with four completely varied results.

“Behold, a sower went forth to sow.” (vs. 3) In ancient times, planting was done by throwing out seed which was carried in a pouch, or apron; this was called sowing the seed. Jesus said the seed illustrated “the Word of the kingdom.” (vs. 19) So the parable is about the Word of the kingdom being broadcast throughout the land by some agency. Who did that broadcasting at the time of this parable? We are told that “from that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matt. 4:17) Although Jesus did not say who the sower represented, he clearly expected his disciples to understand that he was the one distributing the Word of the kingdom.

We know the seed is good, and the sower is faithful. But the type of soil determines success or failure of the crop. Here is the parable in its entirety:

“Behold a sower went forth to sow. And when he sowed, some seeds fell by the wayside and the fowls came and devoured them up: some fell upon stony places where they had not much earth: and forthwith they sprung up because they had no deepness of earth: and when the sun was up, they were scorched and because they had no root, they withered away. And some fell among thorns and the thorns sprung up and choked them: But other fell into good ground and brought forth fruit, some an hundredfold, some sixtyfold, and some thirtyfold. Who hath ears to hear, let him hear.”—Matt. 13:3-9

Hard Ground

“When anyone heareth the Word of the kingdom, and understandeth it not, then cometh the wicked one and catcheth away that which was sown in his heart. This is he which received seed by the wayside.” (vs. 19) The ‘wayside’ was hard ground, much like a roadway, so the seed never had a chance to sprout. It just sat there on the surface, ready prey for the birds to devour. Jesus said the Wicked One took away that which was sown in the heart. So, essentially, the wayside represents those with hard hearts.

Sometimes circumstances produce hardening of the heart. This can be illustrated by the soldiers who crucified Jesus. They had a despicable job to do, and they went right to it and did it. The seed can seldom take root in such untouchable hearts. There are other ways to acquire hardened hearts, and one is when we do the hardening ourselves. This was true of the Pharisees, who should have known that Jesus came in fulfillment of prophecy, and that he was the Messiah of promise. But they did not recognize him as such, but tried to stop him from preaching his message of salvation. They had no use for the seed he freely sowed.

Stony Ground

“He that received the seed into stony places, the same is he that heareth the Word, and anon with joy receiveth it; yet hath he not root in himself, but dureth for a while: for when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the Word, by and by he is offended.” (vss. 20,21) This ground is different from the hard soil of the wayside. The seed is received by what seems to be good soil, a heart that is interested in it. But no one can say what will happen to the seed until time passes. Luke 8:6 says it was because the seed lacked moisture that it withered away. Mark says that when the sun was up, it became scorched, and because it had no root, it withered away.—Mark 4:6

The sun, in this case, pictures the heat of the day—a withering influence. Because the seed has no moisture, it cannot sustain the heat of trial that comes upon it. Water is a symbol of truth, but this seed has little truth to sustain it. Those represented by the stony ground are captivated by the emotion of the moment—perhaps by a sermon, a book, or a charismatic personality. They may even be willing to put their “hand to the plow,” but their enthusiasm does not last. “No man having put his hand to the plow and looking back is fit for the kingdom of God.”—Luke 9:62

Those represented as stony soil are shallow, unreceptive, and unretentive. They are fickle supporters of the Master. Perhaps they are not quite as extreme as to cry, “Hosanna,” one day, and, “Crucify him,” another. They are in the category of those who cry, “Hosanna,” one day and disappear the next when the situation gets too arduous, or ‘hot’. The phrase, ‘is offended’, at the end of verse twenty-one, comes from a Greek word meaning ‘to stumble due to persecution’. This stumbling produces a withering effect. This is not what happens to a righteous man: “A just man falleth seven times, and riseth up again.” (Prov. 24:16) But on the stony ground, the sprouted seed withers, falls, and never rises again.

Thorny Ground

“He also that received seed among the thorns is he that heareth the Word; and the care of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the Word and he becometh unfruitful.”(vs. 22) In this case, there is nothing particularly wrong with the soil. The seed sprouts, but so do the weeds. The parable implies that both grow together, but the weeds flourish. Notice the words, “the thorns sprung up and choked them.” If left alone, the weeds always win out. Plant what you like, but if there is no cultivation or removal of the weeds, no crop will come to maturity.

The “deceitfulness of riches” is an apt expression. Consider the rich young ruler who wanted to know what he had to do to obtain eternal life. When Jesus told him to observe the commandments, he responded, “All these [commandments] have I observed from my youth. Then Jesus beholding him loved him, and said unto him, One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou host, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me. And he was sad at that saying, and went away grieved: for he had great possessions. And Jesus looked round about and saith unto his disciples, How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God!”—Mark 10:20-23

There is no question in our minds about the young man’s heart attitude. His soil was good. He undoubtedly was telling the truth when he said he had tried to keep God’s commandments from his youth on. Because Jesus saw he was sincere, he loved him. But the man had great possessions; riches were choking out the Word, making him unfruitful. Although thorns are here equated with riches, they represent anything that keeps us from growing. Even extreme poverty could interfere with the growth of the seed. Such is the sentiment of the writer of Proverbs: “Let me be neither rich nor poor. So give me only as much food as I need. If I have more, I might say that I do not need you. But if I am poor, I might steal and bring disgrace on my God.”—Prov. 30:8,9, Good News Bible

Paul wrote, “Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world.” (II Tim. 4:10) Demas Is an example of soil overgrown with thorns that choke out the seed. This kind of soil represents those who crave the world and will not give it up. At the beginning, both the seed and weeds grow together, almost as if they could co-exist. But time reveals that weeds cannot be allowed to remain if the field is to be productive. “I went by the field of the slothful, and by the vineyard of the man void of understanding; and low it was all grown over with thorns, and nettles had covered the face thereof, and the stone wall was broken down. Then I saw and considered it well: I looked upon it and received instruction. Yet a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to sleep: so shall thy poverty come.”—Prov. 24:30-34

This principle also applies to Christians. Paul wrote: “Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you and thereby many be defiled.” (Heb. 12:15) The Amplified Bible uses the words “root of resentment (rancor, bitterness, or hatred).” As followers of Christ we must diligently remove thorns of bitterness and strife, before they take root and choke the seed.

Good Ground

“He that received seed into the good ground is he that heareth the Word and understandeth it; which also beareth fruit, and bringeth forth, some an hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.” (Matt. 13:23) This is the purpose for which the sower sowed his seed: fruitage. Just as in the parables of the pounds, and the talents, there is no criticism of one who accomplishes less than another. The important point is that each produce an increase. We must not be discouraged because we do not think we are bringing forth as much fruitage as someone else. Our objective must be to bring forth some fruit. Paul commended the Colossians with these words: “We give thanks to God … for the hope which is laid up for you in heaven, whereof ye heard before in the Word of the truth of the Gospel … and bringeth forth fruit, as it doth also in you, since the day ye heard of it and knew the grace of God in truth.”—Col. 1:3,5,6


Nicodemus was a Pharisee who came to Jesus at night to get answers to his questions. Should Jesus sow any seed over this piece of unknown ground? Many of us might have refused to spend time with a Pharisee. Pharisees were hard ground; they would not accept the message. But Nicodemus was different: he really wanted to know more. Although Nicodemus did appear to be different, he could have proved to be stony ground after all, ready to wither at the first sign of disapproval from his friends. If that was what the sower thought, he would never sow seed on that ground! But Nicodemus did not react to Jesus’ message in a negative way. When the Pharisees were angry at those men who would not capture Jesus and bring him to them, Nicodemus spoke up and said, “Does our law judge any man before it hear him, and know what he doeth?”—John 7:51

Nicodemus was a wealthy man. Usually rich individuals are thorny ground, having many worldly interests to crowd out the growing seed. We follow the story along and find that Nicodemus’ responsibilities did not replace his growing interest in the Word of the kingdom. How easy it would have been for us to convince ourselves that Nicodemus’ heart was wrong, and not worthy of receiving the seed. But this would have been an incorrect conclusion. We are told later, at the time of our Lord’s burial, “There came also Nicodemus, which at the first came to Jesus by night, and brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about an hundred pound weight. Then took they the body of Jesus and wound it in linen clothes with the spices, as the manner of the Jews is to bury.” (John 19:39,40) By this loving act Nicodemus showed he was not ashamed of his raith. He was willing to defile himself by coming into contact with a dead body, although even the apostles, who must be considered good ground, were not there!

The Kingdom of Heaven Is Like Unto

The parable of the sower is recorded by Matthew, Luke, and Mark. There are seven more parables in chapter thirteen of Matthew: wheat and tares; mustard seed; leaven in meal; hidden treasure; priceless pearl; drag net; and an instructed scribe. Most are not repeated elsewhere. We are told that all seven illustrate a particular lesson concerning the kingdom of heaven. This is also implied, but not stated, about the parable of the sower.

How can it be said that stony soil, weeds, wheat, leaven and meal, or good fish and bad, illustrate the heavenly kingdom? As recorded in Matthew 4:17, Jesus began to preach saying, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand,” and sowing the seed illustrates the proclamation of that message. The kingdom is not limited to heaven since there are two phases of the kingdom—heavenly and earthly. Now is the time of preparation for those who will be of the heavenly phase. Their experiences and their growth are shown in these eight parables, and are well illustrated as threatened by weeds, leaven, stones, and other elements that can hinder their development during this age.

Lessons for Us

Why did Jesus give this parable? Perhaps it was to answer a question in the minds of his disciples. They may have been discouraged because they had so little to show for their efforts in preaching the Gospel, and announcing the arrival of Messiah. Although there were crowds gathering around Jesus one day, the next the people had vanished. It must have been so easy to say, “What’s the use? So much seed is going to waste. Why bother?” But a sower does not think in those terms. He knows that despite all obstacles, some seed will bring forth fruit.

Three out of the four soils brought forth no fruit to maturity. Even all the good soil did not bring forth fruit to the same degree. But that fact did not trouble the sower. He knew that eventually, at the time of harvest, he would be rewarded for his efforts. We should remember this lesson if any suggest we stop holding public meetings, or doing general witnessing because we have so little results to show for it. Few who heard Jesus’ proclamation of the kingdom received it into good and honest hearts and brought forth fruit, so it should be no surprise if our experience today is the same.

There are other lessons for us in this parable. We can ask, “What kind of soil are we?” Because we are interested in the things of the Spirit, we know we are not the hard-packed soil of the wayside. Are we stony ground? If we are, the sprouted seed will wither away at the first sign of persecution. Hard and stony ground can be rendered suitable for crops by plowing and removing anything that interferes with growth. And even when the soil is properly plowed, weeds continually compete with the seed. Unless we actively remove anything that would seek to replace the Word in our hearts, we could have our growth in Christlikeness choked and destroyed.

At the conclusion of this parable, Jesus said, “Who hath ears to hear, let him hear.” Jesus used this expression on seven occasions when he wanted to emphasize his words. Hearing is important; it is the way we receive the seed. But hearing is not enough; it must be translated into deeds, into fruitage. We cannot expect that hearing the truth, and only hearing it, will profit us. The ground that represents our hearts must be well plowed, well watered, and well weeded. First we hear, then we understand, then we grow and bring forth fruit.

Unfruitfulness is not the fault of the seed or the sower. It is the result of carelessness, inattentiveness, or becoming worldy-minded. May we rededicate ourselves to the growth of the seed within our hearts so we will not appear empty-handed at the time of harvest. “Herein is my Father glorified that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples.”—John 15:8

Dawn Bible Students Association
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