Reading 7 – Sabbath, December 9, 2017
The Merchant Rakal and the Pearl of Great Price
By Idel Suarez, Jr., U.S.A.
Whenever I visit China, I stop at the Pearl Market in Beijing to inquire about pearls. It is the principal trading post for freshwater pearls worldwide, and the salespeople there often share their extensive knowledge with me. During my last visit, a salesperson named Lucy showed me her most costly pearl. Only eighteen to twenty millimeters in diameter, it was perfectly round and white. Its worth was estimated to be five thousand dollars.
Most Chinese cultured pearls are taken from fresh water mussels, and come in three basic colors: white, pink, and cream. The most desirable shape is round, however pearls form in a variety of non-spherical shapes that can resemble water droplets, bells, rice, and even tiny sticks.
Ironically, these prized pearls begin their development by first inflicting irritation and pain upon a mollusk. The process starts when an irritant gets beneath the tender tissues of the mussel’s fleshy mantle. For the next fifteen to thirty months, or longer, the mollusk’s system secretes a protective coating of calcium carbonate to cover the foreign object with an iridescent nacre, also called “mother-of-pearl.”1
Many spiritual lessons related to the Christian experience can be drawn from pearls. Like the irritating foreign substances that causes the mollusk to create a pearl, bitter experiences can actually add luster and beauty to our lives. As someone said, “What does not destroy us makes us stronger.” Difficult, agonizing, and even traumatic events in our yesteryears can be the basis for the perfection of a Christian character. In overcoming difficulties, the fruits of the Spirit, such as patience, tolerance, and peace, can be developed. God allows us to have life-changing experiences so that we can mature into living pearls for His kingdom.
According to Lucy, there is one pearl that is most costly, and that is the Tahitian black pearl of the South Pacific. It is the only pearl that is naturally black in color. Its nacre resembles the ebony of Africa. The Tahitian black pearl reminds me of the legendary black wool produced in Laodicea. It symbolizes the evil of our nature that must be given up for Christ’s purity, innocence, and righteousness. Man’s sin cost the blood of Jesus Christ.
Christ desires those who will enter His kingdom to buy from Him white pearls and white garments to enrich their lives and cover their nakedness. We are to do His bidding by obtaining His pearls and garments, both of which symbolize His perfect righteousness.
“The righteousness of Christ, as a pure, white pearl, has no defect, no stain. No work of man can improve the great and precious gift of God. It is without a flaw. In Christ are ‘hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.’ Colossians 2:3. He is ‘made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption.’ 1 Corinthians 1:30.”2
Parable of the merchant
Jesus Christ was a master storyteller. He recounted stories of daily life with all its triumphs, failures, and historical events, as well as some tales that could be viewed as science fiction. All of His stories contained deep meanings and values. As He related His parables, He did not always retell the story in exactly the same way; rather He would alter the details depending on the audience that He was addressing. One such story dealt with an unnamed Jewish pearl merchant. “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls: Who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it.” Matthew 13:45, 46.
A merchant man. In the original Greek text, the word for “merchant” is emporos. According to Dr. W.E. Vine, emporos literally means “a person on a journey,” or “a passenger on shipboard.” Yet, in reviewing sixteen different English versions, emporos was always translated as “merchant” or “dealer.” The Hebrew word for “merchant” is rakal. Both the Greek and Hebrew words denote a dealer, a peddler, a trader of goods, a businessman, and, yes, a merchant explorer.
Hence, we will name this unidentified Jewish pearl dealer Rakal. Rakal was a merchant explorer. From time to time, he would travel by camel caravan to distant lands in search of pearls. Always on the lookout for beautiful pearls, he was not only in the business of buying and selling pearls; he also traded pearls so as to increase his inventory and profits. If he heard that a shop in the Middle East had some new pearls available, he immediately set out to find the place.
In Rakal’s day, some of the nicest, most valuable pearls came from the Persian Gulf and were carried via the silk and spice trade routes to Judea. One day, Rakal was overjoyed to find the biggest, most beautiful, most costly pearl his generation had ever seen!
In telling this parable, Jesus desired His hearers to realize that the believer needs to seek out the truth in the Scriptures as diligently and consistently as a dealer in search of valuable merchandise. Life itself is a journey in which the truth is to be sought and bought, but never sold.
Seeking goodly pearls. Rakal was not on the hunt for just any pearl. He sought out the most exquisite earls, searching for them among those who sold pearls, among those selling estates, among Gentiles and Jews alike.
He traveled anywhere and everywhere pearls could be found, regardless of the distance he had to travel. Ever diligent in his search, he examined each find carefully with a trained eye. He would not accept any pearl that did not meet his high standard.
In this setting, Rakal represents one who is seeking salvation. Reading the Bible from cover to cover is not enough for him. Instead, the holy word must be closely examined carefully every day, comparing one verse with another. As Isaiah states, “But the word of the Lord was unto them precept upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little….” Isaiah 28:13.
“The merchantman in the parable represents a class who were sincerely desiring truth. In different nations there were earnest and thoughtful men who had sought in literature and science and the religions of the heathen world for that which they could receive as the soul’s treasure.”3
The true Christian is a merchant of truth. Like Rakal, who sought goodly pearls, Christians seek the pearls found in the rivers of living water recorded in Scripture. Thus, as a professed Christian, ask yourself: Am I a diligent student of the Scriptures? Do I study my Sabbath School Lesson during the week and not just while the lesson is being taught? Do I have a worn-out Bible due to its frequent use? Can I truly say that I am a modernday Berean–a spiritual seeker of pearls? “And the brethren immediately sent away Paul and Silas by night unto Berea: who coming thither went into the synagogue of the Jews. These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.” Acts 17:10, 11.
As a spiritual merchant, the true believer seeks for genuine religion. He looks at Christianity. He looks into Protestantism and its different branches. He examines Adventism and its fundamental beliefs. For example, the Sabbath truth, vegetarianism, pacifism, the permanency of marriage, the righteousness of Christ, and saving faith are all tested and tried by the real truth seeker. In time, his search will lead him to the Reform Movement and the present truth that it teaches. Like Rakal, the merchant who could discern between fake and genuine pearls, the true Reformer is able to discern between the true and a false reformation, between a prophesied reform and an independent group. He or she does not seek only the fellowship of worship; rather, he pursues a doctrine founded on truth. He looks for a greater revelation of Jesus Christ and His righteousness, which is the goodly pearl.
“Christ Himself is the pearl of great price. In Him is gathered all the glory of the Father, the fullness of the Godhead. He is the brightness of the Father’s glory and the express image of His person.
The glory of the attributes of God is expressed in His character. Every page of the Holy Scriptures shines with His light. The righteousness of Christ, as a pure, white pearl, has no defect, no stain. No work of man can improve the great and precious gift of God. It is without a flaw.”4
As I toured the pearl market and spoke with the sellers, they showed me many pearls containing imperfections. Some were not symmetrical; others, not spherical. Some had stains. Others lacked a bright luster. These were considered of little value. So it is with many religious leaders and founders. They have a message of meager value, not a goodly message, not a sound doctrine, when compared to the pearl of great price–Jesus Christ.
It is impossible for Confucius, Buddha, Mohammed, Joseph Smith, and other religious founders to fulfill the yearning desire for salvation, for that comes only from knowing Jesus Christ experimentally. The true seeker will desire practical godliness, not just a theoretical knowledge of Jesus. Like Rakal, the pearl merchant, he knows that goodly pearls are very valuable and require a great sacrifice to obtain them. These spiritual pearls are not cheap or ordinary. They are not based on salvation by works, but on righteousness by faith that works by love.
As Paul writes, this righteousness by faith, this faith that works by love, is an obedient faith. It is obedient to God’s ten precepts that summarize the truth of God. “God calls for your willing obedience.”5 “For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision; but faith which worketh by love. Ye did run well; who did hinder you that ye should not obey the truth?” Galatians 5:6, 7.
One pearl of great price. When Rakal found this pearl of great price, he knew he had discovered something of tremendous value. This was the grandest pearl he had ever seen. It was the largest pearl his eyes had ever had the pleasure of gazing upon. It was more precious than all the other pearls he owned. It was shinier and more spherical than all the others, and its nacre was smooth in texture. However, it was also the most expensive pearl he had ever come across. If only he could purchase it!
He tried to haggle the price down, but to no avail, because the seller knew that this pearl was like no other. The price was fixed. And the price was more than he expected. Oh, but how much Rakal desired to have this pearl as his own! He was willing to move heaven and earth to procure it, to own it, and to keep it. Now that he had found it, he did not want to part with it. What could he do? He resolved to sell everything he had to gather the necessary funds to purchase the grand pearl for himself.
“In the parable, the pearl is not represented as a gift. The merchantman bought it at the price of all that he had. Many question the meaning of this, since Christ is represented in the Scriptures as a gift. He is a gift, but only to those who give themselves, soul, body, and spirit, to Him without reserve. We are to give ourselves to Christ, to live a life of willing obedience to all His requirements. All that we are, all the talents and capabilities we possess, are the Lord’s, to be consecrated to His service. When we thus give ourselves wholly to Him, Christ, with all the treasures of heaven, gives Himself to us. We obtain the pearl of great price.”6
Dear reader, have you tallied the cost of obtaining Christ–righteousness, sanctification, and salvation? The pearl is not a gift. It is not free. But good things are costly, are they not? To obtain an excellent education, do not time, mental effort, and funds have to be expended? God’s love is unconditional; but there are conditions to receiving the gifts of Christ, faith, and salvation. Those conditions are summed up by the means necessary to purchase the pearl of great price. That pearl is not raffled off to the lucky one; no, it must be bought. With what? “Without money and without price.” Isaiah 55:1.
Can you truthfully say that, for you, Christ is not just a nice pearl, but the greatest pearl of great price? Is He the greatest One you have ever known? Is He your Saviour, King, and Lord? Have you taken the time to examine Him and His righteousness to determine His value in the light of eternity? Do you think obeying His commandments is worth your time, effort, and soul? Do you believe that He is worth the price of all your affections, attentions, and yearnings? Is He costly? Yes. Is He worth it? Definitely yes! Yet only eternity will reveal the true value of having Jesus in your heart, mind, and soul. Only eternity holds that life that measures with the life of God.
The apostle Paul wrote that when everything in the world is compared to Christ, it is as if the comparison is between dung and gold. In our modern context, it is like comparing dirt to platinum, diamonds, and costly pearls. “Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, And be found in Him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith.” Philippians 3:8, 9.
“Our Redeemer is the pearl so precious that in comparison all things else may be accounted as loss.”7
Sold all that he had. Rakal desired that pearl so much that he went home, took an inventory of all of his possessions, and held an estate sale. He parted with all his other pearls. He sold his clothing. He sold his food. He sold his jewelry. He sold his weapons. He sold everything that might bring him a dinar or a shekel. Anything that stood between him and the costly pearl of great price was sold.
Charles Spurgeon, the prince of preachers, illustrated the merchant selling his estate with a yard sale. Although it took him years to accumulate all of his possessions, and it must have given him joy to have those items, yet he sold them quickly and with pleasure. All sales were for cash; nothing was sold on credit. Spurgeon further considered the purchase of the pearl requiring the sale of all items owned as a “great bargain.”
“ ‘Buy my farm,’ he says to one man. ‘Come buy it.’ ‘Let us come to terms. I want money, and I must have money.’ ‘And away went the furniture down in the house, one article after another. ‘They must all go, clear them all out.’ There was a rapid sale…. Everything must go for that pearl.”8
Does this compare to the experience of being born again? When we accept the present truth, does it not require a change of lifestyle? The question comes to you now at the end of the year: What do you need to give up to obtain Christ? Do you need to part with “the garment spotted by the flesh?” Jude 1:23. Or is it the “eating of flesh foods and drinking of wine” at your table that is keeping you from entering the pearly gates? Isaiah 22:13. Or do you need to part from “the strange woman” who is enticing you? Proverbs 2:16. Or is it “to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season” that you delay in selling all? Hebrews 11:25. For God has not called us unto “filthiness of the flesh and spirit,” but unto “perfecting holiness in the fear of God.” 2 Corinthians 7:1.
Spiritually speaking, what are we asked to sell in order to buy the pearl of great price? It is our prejudice. It is our self-righteousness. It is our grudges and roots of bitterness. It is our pride. Simply put, we must sell our sins–give up our transgressions. We are to crucify the flesh and its passions, called in Scripture the “motions of sins” that “bring forth fruit unto death.” Romans 7:5.
“The poorest are as well able as the richest to purchase salvation; for no amount of worldly wealth can secure it. It is obtained by willing obedience, by giving ourselves to Christ as His own purchased possession….
“We cannot earn salvation, but we are to seek for it with as much interest and perseverance as though we would abandon everything in the world for it….“The price we are required to pay is not gold or silver, for this belongs to God…. He asks you to give up your sins.”9
As He told the rich young ruler, Jesus tells us to sell all that we have that impedes our spiritual development and our following Him. Matthew 19:21. We are to sell anything and everything that blocks our spiritual path with Jesus; namely, our sins and self-righteousness. He requires an entire surrender of the will, a death to self, and an abandonment of all worldliness. Even if it seems to be a cross, we are to take it up and follow Him.
“There are some who are seeking, always seeking, for the goodly pearl. But they do not make an entire surrender of their wrong habits. They do not die to self that Christ may live in them. Therefore they do not find the precious pearl. They have not overcome unholy ambition and their love for worldly attractions. They do not lift the cross, and follow Christ in the path of self-denial and self-sacrifice. They never know what it is to have peace and harmony in the soul; for without entire surrender there is no rest, no joy. Almost Christians, yet not fully Christians, they seem near the kingdom of heaven, but they do not enter therein. Almost but not wholly saved means to be not almost but wholly lost.”10
Now you may find that “this is too hard a line,” and you may agree with what some of the seventy disciples exclaimed in Jesus’ day: “This is a hard saying; who can hear it?” John 6:60. If so, then consider what Spurgeon said about this.
“Very well, if you do not want to buy the pearl, you see–that is to say, if you do not want to make your fortune– for that buying of the pearl was the making of the man’s fortune–if you do not think the pearl is worth it, please do not have it. It is not possible to estimate the intrinsic value, the real worth of Christ. We do not ‘cast pearls before swine.’ Matthew 7:6. If you do not want Him, there are others who are willing to ‘take your crown.’ Revelation 3:11.”11
Bought it. Rakal hurried with the money in hand to pay the salesman for the pearl of great price. It was an “immediate purchase.” It was a “joyful” experience. It was the “final purchase.” It was “a purchase he never regretted.” 12 He bought the pearl and never sold it. Proverbs 23:23.
Will you buy Jesus Christ spiritually? Will you pay with all your heart, mind, strength, and soul to have Him as your Saviour?
Christ is looking for black pearls
From a different perspective, and yet along the same line of reasoning, the parable of the merchant of pearls can be interpreted as Jesus being the merchant from heaven who came down to earth to look for black pearls. He is the Merchant, and we are the pearls.
“The parable of the merchantman seeking goodly pearls has a double significance: It applies not only to men as seeking the kingdom of heaven, but to Christ as seeking His lost inheritance. Christ, the heavenly merchantman seeking goodly pearls, saw in lost humanity the pearl of price. In man, defiled and ruined by sin, He saw the possibilities of redemption. Hearts that have been the battleground of the conflict with Satan, and that have been rescued by the power of love, are more precious to the Redeemer than are those who have never fallen. God looked upon humanity, not as vile and worthless; He looked upon it in Christ, saw it as it might become through redeeming love. He collected all the riches of the universe, and laid them down in order to buy the pearl. And Jesus, having found it, resets it in His own diadem. ‘For they shall be as the stones of a crown, lifted up as an ensign upon His land.’ Zechariah 9:16. ‘They shall be Mine, saith the Lord of hosts, in that day when I make up My jewels.’ Malachi 3:17.”13
The Mexican merchant
Let us now connect this parable to another story. It is about a missionary working among the natives in Mexico. He befriends a local pearl merchant near the coast and shares the gospel with him. One day, the pearl merchant says he will walk on his knees to the great cathedral in the capital city. The missionary pleads with him not to go, explaining that God does not require pilgrimages nor grant salvation by works. The pearl merchant does not understand and insists that he must go on this pilgrimage to expiate his sins and reclaim the favor of God. Before leaving, he calls the missionary to his private room, opens a coffer, and places in the hands of the missionary a very large and beautiful pearl. As he does this, the merchant relates the story of how while finding this pearl, his dear son lost his life. Now, as a token of friendship, this merchant wants the missionary to have the pearl as a parting gift.
The missionary seizes the opportunity to refuse the gift and, instead, insists on paying for it, because it is so costly and beautiful. The old merchant vehemently protests, explaining that it is not possible to pay for the pearl, because it is priceless. It cost the life of his son. As he speaks these words, the merchant suddenly understands what the missionary had been trying to explain. Salvation is a priceless gift from God. We cannot purchase it. It can only be received by faith. “For the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Romans 6:23. As understanding dawns in the merchant’s mind, he kneels with the missionary and cries before God with thanksgiving for the gift of Jesus. Humbly, he accepts His salvation by faith.
How many still try to earn heaven with their works, when it really is a gift? Good works are the result of true faith in Jesus. Take hold of the eternal gift of Christ now, and allow Jesus to work in you “both to will and to do of His good pleasure.” Philippians 2:13.
The pearly gates
To conclude, the word “pearl” (singular) appears only twice in the Bible–in the story of the pearl merchant and in the description of the gates of the New Jerusalem. Like the song titled, “Someone Will Enter the Pearly Gates,” the merchant who purchased the pearl of great price symbolizes all who follow his example and will live in the city of the New Jerusalem. In the Revelation, John said that each of the twelve gates of the New Jerusalem is made of a single, beautiful pearl. “And the twelve gates were twelve pearls: every several gate was of one pearl: and the street of the city was pure gold, as it were transparent glass.” Revelation 21:21.
Oh, that we may enter through those pearly gates! Oh, that they may open as we approach them. However, “the everlasting gates of pearl will not open to those who come with the symbols of power, but they will open wide to the trembling touch of the meek and lowly. To be great in the kingdom of God is to be as a little child in simplicity and love.”14
Oh, friend, may you enter the pearly gates with the pearl of great price in your bosom. Also, may you have a blessed new year, and may the coming year bring every one of us closer to righteousness, holiness, and redemption. Amen.
1 Encarta Encyclopedia, s.v. “Pearl” (gems).
2 Ellen G. White, “The Pearl,” Christ’s Object
Lessons (Washington, DC: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1900), p. 115.
3 Ibid., p. 116.
4 Ibid., p. 115.
5 Ibid., p. 117.
6 Ibid., p. 116.
7 Ibid., p. 115.
8 Charles Spurgeon, “A Great Bargain,” Miracles and Parables of Our Lord, vol. 3 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House), p. 7.
9 White, Christ’s Object Lessons, p. 117.
10 White, “The Pearl of Great Price,” Selected Messages, book 1 (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1958), p. 399.
11 Spurgeon, Miracles and Parables of Our Lord, p. Bible references do not appear in the original and are added as Biblical proofs.
12 Ibid., pp. 10, 11.
13 White, Christ’s Object Lessons, p. 118.
14 White, “An All-Powerful Saviour,” II, The Youth’s Instructor, September 28, 1899.