In Matthew 13, Yeshua tells s story about a sower who sows seed in different soils. This text is a מָשָׁל (mashal) – “a parable”. Although this is not easy to see in most English translations, Jesus intentionally “mixes his metaphors” in “the Parable of the Seeds” (Matt 13:3-9). As Jesus’ interpretation of the parable makes clear (Matt 13:18-23), the story illustrates individual’s various reactions to God’s Word. But this is where things get complicated! When Jesus tells the parable, he equates the sowing of seed with the Word of God. However, when Jesus interprets the parable, he equates the sowing of seed with people.
Verse 19 introduces us to this double-duty metaphor. Jesus explains that the first example refers to a person who “hears the Word but doesn’t understand it”. Jesus characterizes the word of the kingdom as, “that which has been sown in his (the person’s) heart.” In the final clause of the verse, however, he applies the seed metaphor directly to the individual – “this is one who was sown along the path”.
Why does Jesus employ seed imagery to describe both the “sowing of God’s word” as well as the “sowing of God’s people?” Israel was an agricultural society and the word זֶרַע (zerah) “seed” functioned as an important metaphor within the world of Second Temple Judaism. It was typically used to distinguish between “the elect” and “non-elect” within Israel.
We also see this “seed theology” in I Enoch 84:6 (a non-canonical work probably written between 100-300 BCE) were Enoch prays for God to preserve a righteous remnant: “… sustain the flesh of righteousness and uprightness as a plant of eternal seed …” We also find a “seed parable” in 4 Ezra 8:41: “For just as the farmer sows many seeds upon the ground … and yet not all that have been sown will come up in due season… so all those who have been sown in the world will not be saved”.