I reply to L. Ray Smith’s rather fascinating and somewhat impressive interpretation of the story of the rich man and Lazarus. I call it a story, for that is what I believe it is, and not a Biblical parable, least of all one given by the Lord. (Read The Rich Man and Lazarus – A Pagan Parable.)
L. Ray Smith rightly argues that no one can justify a literal or historical interpretation of the story. He rightly declares that such would be entirely ridiculous and skillfully shows how this is so. With faulty reasoning, however, Ray Smith validates the story as a parable, believing that Jesus did indeed tell it. It is not difficult to identify the contradictions in his reasoning.
At one point in his presentation, Ray says: “But in ‘Lazarus and the rich man’ there are more hints and more identifiable symbols and facts given than in any other parable in the Gospels.”
Might this not throw up a red flag, causing one to at least wonder about the story’s authenticity as Scripture canon? As I understand the nature of a parable from the examples of others, there are few, if any, hints or identifiable symbols. Why, then, is this story so different from any other? I say it is because some man decided to be clever, contriving this story to promote an agenda and show himself wise and inspired. But we have much more reason to question it. Let us go on.
L. Ray Smith argues that other parables use names, countering those who declare that this parable alone uses a name and is therefore disqualified as a parable. I disagree with him. No other parables have personal names. There is mention of occupation, ethnic origin, familial and social status, but names are never mentioned, and nobody is personally identified in any of Jesus’ parables. Smith argues that Jesus told His disciples He was the sower; however, Jesus did so in the interpretation and not in the parable itself. This also applies to Ray’s other examples – the Devil, the Father, King David, and Jesus as the physician. So he errs.
As somewhat of an aside, Ray goes on to say that there is no sin attributed to the rich man, but I say that if this story has any value, and if there is any cause for me to doubt whether I am right in declaring that this story is not of Jesus Christ, it is in the fact that the rich man is indeed described as one living in sin. The Law of God clearly states that we are to love our neighbors as ourselves. All laws are condensed into this Second Commandment, along with the First – we are to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. Was the rich man treating Lazarus as himself? Plainly, the answer is, “No.”
Why does Mr. Smith not acknowledge this? I must question if he has ever personally known the true nature of sin and deliverance from its power through Jesus Christ, notwithstanding all his works, some of which seem to be quite sound in knowledge and Bible doctrine accuracy.
Going on, L. Ray Smith identifies the rich man dressed in purple and fine linen (or cambric) as Judah:
“Our Lord would not have told us that the Rich man wore these two specific types of garments except that they have great symbolic value in identifying who this man personifies.
But if ‘Purple’ symbolizes ‘Royalty’ and ‘Fine Linen’ symbolizes ‘Priesthood,’ how can the same man wear both? Only our Lord is both, King and Priest.
Remember, the Levites and the priests were loyal to Judah through their long history.
When they got the opportunity, they went with Ezra and Nehemiah back to Jerusalem–back to Judah. They were part of Judah. They were called Jews. Only one, had both the Scepter and the Priesthood: Judah.”
But he goes on to identify the rich man more generally as all Israel, seeing Israelites from all tribes came to be known as “Jews” (those of Judah). He wavers back and forth, however, next pointing out that Judah had five full-blooded brothers from his father Jacob and mother Leah. Can we have our cake and eat it too? I am not so sure. The nation of Israel did not have five brothers, though it did have Judah’s royalty and Levi’s priesthood.
Smith then makes a distinct connection between Lazarus and Eliezer, Abraham’s faithful Gentile Damascene servant, saying their names are quite similar, one a Greek version of the Hebrew. He suggests that Eliezer, but for Isaac’s birth, would have been the heir to all that Abraham possessed. He surmises that Lazarus represents the Gentiles, assuming the names are one and the same, and that Eliezer was considered a Gentile before God. Then he concludes that Eliezer was very faithful because he did not do away with Isaac in an attempt to retain his possible, if not inevitable, inheritance.
This is fancy footstepping on Ray Smith’s part, but on his own toes. He seems to have entirely forgotten about Ishmael, himself a possible heir, while bringing into question the meaning of “faithful.” (How can one be called faithful because he does not murder one it is his duty to serve?) He also questions Abraham’s and Sarah’s judgment, and above all, God’s faithfulness, Who promised Abraham a son.
The more immediate and tangible rebuttal to his theory, however, is the matter of the name:
Lazarus – Greek #2976 from Strong’s Concordance. Strong says it is probably of Hebrew origin (#499 “God is helper”), meaning “helpless.”
Eliezer – Hebrew #410 and #5828 from Strong’s. A name used for Abraham’s servant and of ten Israelites, meaning “God of help.”
L. Ray Smith seems to conclude that “helpless” and “God of help” are one and the same. Oh, he grants that Lazarus means “without help,” but claims that God ended up helping Lazarus in Abraham’s bosom, so he is Eliezer after all. He further asserts that Lazarus’ name in Hebrew is really Eliezer, the same as Abraham’s servant, so again he sees a justification in linking their identification with being “in Abraham’s bosom.”
Are there not discrepancies in his logic? The definitions are not the same, but he equates them based on his speculations. But let us give Ray the room to say that the two names are identical, even though they are quite the opposite. What are the similarities and differences between Abraham’s servant and Lazarus of the story?
There is no indication that Lazarus was a Gentile, other than Smith’s speculation. If we are permitted to assume anything, we ought to take our chances and assume that both the rich man and Lazarus were Hebrew, since Jesus would have spoken in terms of Israel, or of an incident therein. Recall that Jesus never left the nation of Israel except as a babe, when Joseph fled with Him and His mother to Egypt temporarily to escape Herod’s sword.
(Lazarus is also the name of a well-known Israelite – one whom Jesus knew, spoke of, and even raised from the dead.)
To further contrast Lazarus and Eliezer, consider that Eliezer was well taken care of by his master who was wealthy and generous, and would have blessed his faithful servant. Abraham gave Lot his choice of the land and let him have the best (Genesis 13:7-11); he gave a tenth of his personal gains of warfare to Melchizedek, the king of Salem (Genesis 14:14-20); and he refused the spoils of war belonging to those he liberated, even after having gained them by his own power and expense (Genesis 14:21-24). Abraham was a liberal man, and Eliezer was greatly blessed and privileged to serve him. Furthermore, he had no right to Abraham’s inheritance, not being his son. He was not “righteously, fatefully cheated,” as Ray Smith suggests, simply because Abraham had a son. I believe that Eliezer was well taken care of to the end, and to presume otherwise is to add something unsavory and unproven to God’s testimony of Abraham.
Lazarus, on the other hand, was a destitute beggar. How could he be justly paralleled, whether in name or life conditions and status?
Furthermore, Abraham’s servant, Eliezer, was a Gentile, yet he was not. If a true Jew is one by faith (for it was faith that was accounted to Abraham for righteousness, not fleshly bloodline or circumcision – Romans 2:28-29; Galatians 3:6-7), then it would follow that those who believe are Jews in reality and spirit, though Gentiles in the flesh. On this the Scriptures are clear. Eliezer plainly believed (Genesis 24:12-48). And was he not circumcised with Abraham’s household? The validity of Smith’s parallel between these two men continues to break down.
Did Lazarus believe? There is no evidence that he did, but much to the contrary (see The Rich Man and Lazarus – A Pagan Parable).
Ray writes: “Lazarus, on the other hand, lived an untarnished life of faithfulness, and yet is promised nothing from God–neither material blessings nor spiritual blessings. In life he received ‘evil things.’”
But there is no indication that he lived such a life in the story, and the Scriptures testify against it:
“I have been young, and am old; yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken, or his seed begging bread” (Psalms 37:25 MKJV).
“Our LORD and our God, You are like the sun and also like a shield. You treat us with kindness and with honor, never denying any good thing to those who live right” (Psalms 84:11 CEV).
One last consideration, which is quite damning (though any one of these objections is enough to undermine the credibility of Smith’s interpretation): If Lazarus represents Eliezer, Abraham’s servant, then the rich man, rather than being Judah, would need to represent Eliezer’s master, Abraham, the father of all Israel. Otherwise, the parallel is unbalanced. But this being the case, how can Abraham, now represented by the rich man, be found ministering God’s favor to Lazarus (Eliezer) after death, when he has deserved and been sent into the torments of God-ordained deprivation and punishment?
This "parable" has too many inconsistencies to be believable as of God, and there are too many inconsistencies in Ray Smith’s interpretation of it.
Did the Gentiles ever serve Israel or Judah faithfully? Were they ever “laid at Judah’s gate as crippled beggars full of sores”? On the contrary, God gave the Gentiles dominion over Abraham’s seed many times – in Egypt, Babylon, Persia, Greece, Rome, and in the world since. For the most part, they did not treat Abraham (Israel) well at all. And Abraham did not mistreat Eliezer (whom Smith equates to Lazarus, the Gentiles).
While all this is quite confusing, I have only stated the facts; the confusion begins with the story, which becomes more confusing with Ray Smith’s interpretation. That is because he is trying to explain something not authored by God, but by Babylon (confusion).
It has also come to my attention that Ray Smith is not the originator of this interpretation connecting Lazarus to Abraham’s servant Eliezer and the Gentiles. According to Ernest Martin, who wrote an article with this interpretation in 1984, the idea was first suggested in the 1860’s, if not before.
While there is no problem using someone else’s interpretation, presenting it as a spiritual revelation that confirms the overall rendition of the story is not right. By not attributing it to others, Ray leaves one with the impression that it was his revelation from God, rather than the speculative theories of men.
But I must say something to L. Ray Smith’s credit – he ends the commentary with very true words:
“God has a plan that eventually brings all the Jews and all the Gentiles to salvation. The very heart of the Gospel is the salvation of the Jews and Gentiles, the salvation of the WHOLE WORLD!”
We are thankful for that part of his preaching, which is so contrary to the diabolical orthodox Christian line. Indeed, in almost all orthodox Christian circles, we hear the counterfeit gospel preached. It is antiChrist. Only by God’s mercy do people come to salvation when hearing the truth encased in such error and mixed with blasphemous lies. After all, it is about the heart and not the head, about the faith and not the knowledge, about God’s grace and not men’s works.