The Stories Jesus Told: The Two Builders, Matthew 7:24–27
June 28, 2016
by Peter Amsterdam
The Stories Jesus Told: The Two Builders, Matthew 7:24–27
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Within the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus told His disciples a parable designed to drive home the importance of doing what He taught. Matthew’s and Luke’s versions of the Sermon on the Mount1 both end with the parable of the two builders, one whose house stands and the other whose house collapses.
Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.
The account of this same parable in the Gospel of Luke has some differences in details:
Everyone who comes to me and hears my words and does them, I will show you what he is like: he is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock. And when a flood arose, the stream broke against that house and could not shake it, because it had been well built. But the one who hears and does not do them is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. When the stream broke against it, immediately it fell, and the ruin of that house was great.
The textual differences are minor, and some commentators explain that Luke, writing for Gentile Christians, slightly adapted the parable in a manner that would make the word picture more relevant to them, while Matthew’s text reflects first-century Palestinian building practices. I’ll reference Matthew’s version primarily, and sometimes comment on Luke’s.
Matthew’s wise builder makes sure that his house is built on a solid base of rock, whereas the man in Luke digs through the topsoil until he reaches the bedrock below, building the foundation of the house on the rock. They both make the same point—that building on a strong foundation makes the house strong. The one who hears Jesus’ words and does them is like this builder.
The second builder avoids the hard work of digging down to bedrock and rather chooses the easier way, building on the surface without a solid foundation. Luke says the second builder constructed his house on the ground without a foundation. Matthew makes the same point by saying the house was built on the sand.
Upon completion, both of these houses would look pretty much the same, and under normal conditions, one couldn’t tell the difference. But what a difference there was! In first-century Palestine, most houses were built in the summer months in order to avoid working outdoors in the rainy season. The summers are hot, and digging a foundation during that time of year was difficult. But the hard work was necessary to build a house that would stand strong.
The difference between the two houses is seen when the rain comes. Israel’s wet season is from mid-October to March, with the majority of the rain falling in January. When there is heavy rain, it can produce runoff from the hills and mountains, which sweeps away anything in its path.
It is such a situation that Jesus refers to when He says, “the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house.” A strong rain with wind and flooding assailed the house built on rock, but it stood firm. The house with no foundation collapsed. Both houses faced the rain, wind, storm, and flood; but only the one with the firm foundation stood unharmed.
Luke focuses on the flooding, and the waters assailing the house and causing it to fall. This word picture may have resonated more with those he was writing for, who lived in areas outside of Israel and would have been more familiar with rivers overflowing and causing flooding. In either case, the house without the foundation fell.
In telling this parable, Jesus challenged the listeners with a choice: to hear and ignore, or to hear and put into practice. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught about discipleship and living in God’s kingdom. Then He put forth the challenge to do the hard work of applying what He had taught. The Jewish people to whom He was speaking were familiar with the concept of hearing and doing what was taught in Torah, but Jesus was specifically speaking about hearing and doing “these words of mine.” His point was that those who hear and do what He has taught are wise and those who don’t are foolish. He made the point that His teachings were on par with the teaching of Scripture. He later said: Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.2
Storm and flood language is used in the Old Testament to describe life’s difficulties3 as well as God’s judgment.4 The collapsing house is ultimately a picture of judgment. At the same time, the parable can be seen as referring to the testing believers encounter in this life.
This parable, which came at the end of the Sermon on the Mount, was spoken to Jesus’ disciples,5 and is likewise directed to all of us who believe in and follow Him. Christians are expected to apply the teachings of Jesus to their lives, and when we don’t, we are like the foolish builder whose faith and endurance fails in time of testing. The touchstone of discipleship, of true belief, is the doing. Hearing God’s Word without obeying it and applying it isn’t sufficient. According to Jesus, the one who does not live by what He taught will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand.
Our faith, our discipleship, is meant to be sound and enduring, growing and maturing. In the same way that digging down to bedrock and building a foundation was hard work in first-century Palestine, listening to Jesus’ teachings and applying them daily takes great effort. It’s hard work to live the teachings of Christ, but it’s necessary if we expect to become strong and mature in our faith and withstand the storms of life. If we make the commitment and put in the effort to hear and do what He teaches, then we will be like the wise builder whose house stood strong.
As Jesus’ brother James wrote, Be doers of the word, and not hearers only.6
The Two Builders, Matthew 7:24–27
24 “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock.
25 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock.
26 And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand.
27 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.”
Unless otherwise indicated, all scriptures are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.