What do pearls represent in the bible?
In the bible Jesus uses pearls as a metaphor twice, something which is not seen anywhere in the old testament. The bible certainly mentions costly jewels and the value of a person being beyond that of rubies, but is there something specific about pearls which Jesus wanted to convey?
Unlike a lot of other types of jewels and precious metal, pearls are fragile and easily crushed. They’re formed deep within the protective shell of an oyster in response to an irritant inside the shell. To neutralise the irritant, the oyster coats it in layers of delicate minerals and proteins which reflect the light in iridescent hues. Essentially, something delicate, fragile, and precious is formed through adversity. To keep the vulnerable interior safe, a shell is formed around the creature, hiding the beautiful pearl behind a tough and ugly exterior. For the pearl to be revealed, either the mollusk willingly opens up the shell, or someone pries it open with brute force looking to steal, kill and destroy.
“Do not give what is holy to the dogs; nor cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you in pieces.” – Matthew 7:6 (NKJV)
Neither dogs nor pigs (however cute they might be) are creatures who can appreciate the value of something like pearls.
“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking beautiful 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 (NKJV)
In this parable, the merchant sees and understands what that pearl is worth, and is willing to pay a corresponding price to attain it.
The pearl can be understood on a number of different levels. It represents what is holy and set apart by God, as well as the greatest gift which God offers humanity: a reconciled relationship with Him and a place within the kingdom. People either recognise its value, or they trample it because it has no use to them.
Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose, will he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace? – Hebrews 10:29 (NKJV)
God has offered us His love and redemption freely, but that doesn’t mean He hasn’t put a certain value on what He offers to us. God’s love and salvation is selfless, not worthless. There is a really big difference between those two things.
And that is the big mystery about love.
But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us… that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. – Ephesians 2:4 & 2:7-9 (NKJV)
“For I know the thoughts that I think toward you,” says the Lord, “thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon Me and go and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart.” – Jeremiah 29:11-13 (NKJV)
When we seek God with all our hearts, He is faithful, consistent, reliable, and present, but we cannot demand a relationship with Him based on arrogance, exploitation, derision, scorn, or manipulation. Instead, we must seek a relationship with God for His own sake, because we understand the gift that love really is, not just trying to exploit God for selfish gains.
Love cannot be earned or forced, any more than God’s salvation is earned or demanded. If someone offers you their love, or if you offer someone your love, you are inviting that person access to the inner shell of your heart where the most vulnerable, beautiful and precious aspects of yourself are hidden from most people.
In theory, those that you offer genuine love towards (free of snares, strings and hidden agendas) would reciprocate in kind and offer you the same purity of love in return. Problems arise in human relationships because people want to attain and exploit another person’s love and vulnerability without exposing their own inner-shell in the process, but that isn’t how love works. Instead of understanding the value of what they have found and realising that it is fragile and easily broken, they trample that person’s love underfoot and tear them to pieces. One of the greatest gifts that anyone could ever receive and they do not value it.
The greatest gift which anyone can possibly receive is the love and acceptance of God into His family as adopted children, but so many people cannot see its value.
“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” – Matthew 6:19-21 (NKJV)
When it comes to discerning whether or not you are casting pearls before swine by offering someone either a witness to the love of God, or offering them your own love, you need to observe where their heart lies. Are they bent towards the pleasures of life at the cost of meaningful relationships? Are they willing to prioritise the relationship for no other reason than just because they value you, or do they have a laundry list of things they expect you to fulfill for their benefit at the expense of your needs? Is the relationship under threat of ending or rejection as soon as you fail to serve a purpose?
For someone with a distorted view of love, it can be like explaining the value of pearls to swine. They just don’t understand, and not only can they not value it, but they will put you at risk of serious damage if you attempt to form a close relationship. For people who have been through the ringer emotionally in close personal relationships, they often ask how they are supposed to trust people again, when they should be asking WHO should they be trusting? Not everyone is trust-worthy. Not everyone is capable of valuing what you have to offer them.
That doesn’t mean that what you offer has no value, any more than what God offers us is worthless just because some people deem it to be so. Your value as a human being with the capacity to offer love is not based on the perception of short-sighted and shallow people. Your value is inherent purely because you have been made in the image of the creator and you bear his seal of approval.
For You formed my inward parts; You covered me in my mother’s womb. I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Marvelous are Your works, And that my soul knows very well. – Psalm 139:13-14 (NKJV)
Regardless of who you are and how ordinary you might be, your value is not determined by other people. You are a work of God, whether others can see it or not, and your heart is not to be trampled underfoot like a common thing. It belongs primarily to your Maker, and secondarily to yourself, which means that you don’t just give it away cheaply or allow others to mistreat it. Do not cast your pearls before swine.