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Ch. 13:1 9. Accidents and Judgments. The Barren Fig-Tree
1 . There were present at that season ] Rather, There arrived at that very season . The curious phrase seems to imply that they had come on purpose to announce this catastrophe. Hence some have supposed that they wished to kindle in the mind of Jesus as a Galilaean (23:5) a spirit of Messianic retribution (Jos. Antt. xvii. 9, § 3). But Christ’s answer rather proves that they were connecting the sad death of these Galilaeans with their imaginary crimes . They were not calling His attention to them as martyrs , but as supposed victims of divine anger. Their report indicates a sort of pleasure in recounting the misfortunes of others ( ἐπιχαιρεκακία ).
of the Galileans ] who regularly attended the Jewish feasts at Jerusalem, John 4:45 .
whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices ] Probably at some Passover outbreak, on which the Roman soldiers had hurried down from Fort Antonia. This incident, which was peculiarly horrible to Jewish imaginations, often occurred during the turbulent administration of Pilate and the Romans; see on 23:1; Acts 21:34 . At one Passover, “during the sacrifices,” 3000 Jews had been massacred “like victims,” and “the Temple courts filled with dead bodies” (Jos. Antt. xvii. 9, § 3); and at another Passover, no less than 20000 (id. xx. 5, § 3; see also B. J. ii. 5, v. 1). Early in his administration Pilate had sent disguised soldiers with daggers among the crowd (id. xviii. 3, § 1; B. J. ii. 9, § 4). The special incidents here alluded to were far too common to be specially recorded by Josephus; but in the fact that the victims in this instance were Galilaeans, we may perhaps see a reason for the “enmity” between Pilate and Herod Antipas (23:12).
2 . were sinners above all the Galileans ] The ‘were’ is literally, ‘became,’ i. e. ‘stamped themselves as,’ ‘proved themselves to be.’ We trace a similar mistaken ‘supposition’ in the question of the disciples about the blind man (John 9:2 ). It was indeed deeply engrained in the Jewish mind, although the Book of Job had been expressly levelled at the uncharitable error of assuming that individual misfortune could only be the consequence of individual crime. Such is sometimes the case (Genesis 42:21 ; Judges 1:7 ), but although all human sorrow has its ultimate cause in human sin, it is wrong to assume in individual cases the connexion of calamity with crime.
suffered such things ] Rather, have suffered these things .
3 . except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish ] The first meaning of the words was doubtless prophetic. As a matter of historic fact, the Jewish nation did not repent, and myriads of them in the siege of Jerusalem perished by a doom closely analogous to that of these unhappy Galilaeans (see Jos. B. J . v. 1, 3, 7, 11, 12, and especially 13; vi. passim, vii. 3). And since all life and all history are governed by the same divine laws, the warning is applicable to men and to nations at all periods.
4 . those eighteen, upon whom the tower in Siloam fell ] It is an ingenious, but of course uncertain conjecture of Ewald, that the death of these workmen was connected with the notion of retribution because they were engaged in building part of the aqueduct to the Pool of Siloam, for the construction of which Pilate had seized some of the sacred Corban-money (Mark 7:11 ; Jos. B. J . ii. 9, § 4).
Siloam ] The pool (John 9:7 ; Isaiah 8:6 ), near the village of Silwân , at the entrance of the Tyropoeon valley, which runs into the valley of Jehoshaphat between Sion and Moriah.
that they were sinners ] Rather, that they themselves were debtors .
5 . ye shall all likewise perish ] The readings of the word ‘likewise’ vary between ‘ homoiōs ’ and ‘ hōsautōs ;’ but no distinct difference of meaning between the two words can be established, unless the latter be rather stronger, ‘ in the very same way .’ Here again the actual incidents of the siege of Jerusalem the deaths of many under the falling ruins of the city (Jos. B. J . vi. 9, vii. 1) are the directest comment on our Lord’s words which yet bear the wider significance of the warning in Romans 2:1-11 .
6 . a fig tree planted in his vineyard ] The corners of vineyards were often utilised in this way, as they still are (Tristram, Nat. Hist. Bib . p. 352). Here the Jewish nation is compared to the fig-tree (Hosea 9:10 ; Jeremiah 24:3 ), as in the acted parable of the Barren Fig-tree (Matthew 21:19 ); more often Israel is compared to the Vine or the Vineyard (Psalms 80:8-11 ; Isaiah 5:2 ).
7 . unto the dresser of his vineyard ] It seems clear that in the truth which the parable shadows forth, Christ corresponds to the vine-dresser, and Jehovah to the owner (Isaiah 5:7 ). Some however prefer to see in the vine-dresser the Holy Spirit as Intercessor.
Behold, these three years ] Many suppose an allusion to the length up to this time of our Lord’s ministry. Others explain it of the periods of the Judges, Kings, and High Priests. It is very doubtful how far these lesser details which are essential to the colouring of the parable are intended to be pressed.
cut it down ] at once as the tense implies (Matthew 3:10 ; John 15:2 ). It was fulfilled in the rejection of Israel (Romans 11:22 ).
why cumbereth it the ground ?] Rather, why doth it also sterilise the ground ? i. e. it is not only useless, but positively mischievous by preventing other growth.
8 . Lord ] Rather, Sir , as far as the parable is concerned.
this year also ] “The Lord … is longsuffering to usward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance,” 2 Peter 3:9 . In “this year also” it is better to see generally the respite of forty years between the crucifixion and the destruction of Jerusalem, than merely the yet remaining period of our Lord’s ministry. God never strikes without warning, because He desires to save.
9 . if it bear fruit, well ] The ‘ well ’ is not in the original, the idiom being a common but striking aposiopesis : i. e. the conclusion of the sentence is left to the speaker’s imagination. The phrase implies, If, as is at least possible, it bears fruit; but if not, as thou supposest, then, &c.
10 17. The Sabbatical Hypocrite and the Suffering Woman
10 . in one of the synagogues ] The mention of synagogue-teaching becomes much rarer at this later stage of Christ’s ministry. It is most probable that from some at least of the synagogues of Galilee he was excluded by the ‘lesser excommunication.’ See John 16:2 .
11 . a spirit of infirmity ] Her curvature is thus directly attributed to Satanic agency. Job 2:6 , Job 2:7 ; Acts 10:38 .
12 . thou art loosed ] Here, as elsewhere, the delicacy and force of the Greek tense implying the immediateness and the permanence of the cure can only be expressed in English by a periphrasis.
14 . ruler of the synagogue ] See 8:41.
with indignation ] The same strong word implying a personal resentment is used in Matthew 20:24 , Matthew 26:8 .
on the sabbath day ] See on 6:2.
in which men ought to work ] Exodus 20:9 .
in them therefore come and be healed ] As though the reception of divine grace were Sabbath-breaking toil! Few remarks of the opponents of our Lord were so transparently illogical and hypocritical as this. It was meanly indirect because it was aimed at Jesus, though the man is too much in awe to address it to Him, and the implied notion that it was a crime to allow oneself to be healed on the Sabbath day springs from an abyss of Pharisaic falsity which could hardly have been conceived. It was the underhand ignorance and insolence, as well as the gross insincerity of the remark, which called forth a reproof exceptionally severe.
15 . Thou hypocrite ] Rather (with the best uncials), Hypocrites ! ( א , A, B), classing the man with the whole sect to which he belonged, and whose shibboleths he used. They were hypocrites (i. e. they were acting a part) because they were disguising secret enmity under a pretence of sabbatical zeal.
on the sabbath loose his ox ] Our Lord varied from time to time the arguments with which He abolished the fanatical formalism of the Pharisees respecting the Sabbath. Sometimes He appealed to His own inherent authority (John 5:17-47 ); sometimes to Scripture precedents (6:3 5); or to common sense and eternal principles (6:9). Here, as in 14:5, He uses an argumentum ad hominem , refuting their traditional rules by the selfish insincerity with which they applied them. They allowed men to unloose and lead to water their cattle on the sabbath, and thus to break their own Sabbatic rules to save themselves the trouble of providing water overnight, or, at the best, to abridge a few hours’ thirst; was then this suffering woman not to be touched , not to be spoken to , to end 18 years of suffering?
16 . ought not ] Our Saviour gives him back his own word “ ought ;” but the man’s ought had been one of ceremonial obligation, and the ought of Jesus was founded on the divine necessity of love.
being a daughter of Abraham ] See 19:9.
whom Satan hath bound ] Compare 2 Corinthians 12:7 .
17 . when he had said these things ] Rather, while He was saying these things .
were ashamed ] See Isaiah 45:16 (LXX.).
18 21. The Mustard Seed and the Leaven
18 . Unto what is the kingdom of God like ?] For this solemn introduction see Isaiah 40:18 .
19 . waxed a great tree ] Omit great with א , B, D, L, &c. The points of comparison are the sudden, secret growth, and the immense development of the kingdom of God. The mustard seed was colloquially spoken of by the Jews as ‘the smallest of all seeds,’ and it grew into a herbaceous plant, as tall as a horse and his rider (Thomson, Land and Book ).
the fowls of the air lodged in the branches of it ] The substantive corresponding to the verb ‘ lodged ’ is found in 9:58 (‘nests,’ rather shelters ). Finches, and other small birds, throng the mustard beds to live on the seed (Tristram, Nat. Hist. Bib . 473).
21 . It is like leaven ] Except in this parable, leaven in Scripture (being connected with corruption and fermentation) is used as the type of sin. See 12:1; Exodus 12:1 , Exodus 12:15-20 ; 1 Corinthians 5:6-8 ; Galatians 5:9 . Here, however, the only point considered is its rapid, and unseen, and effectual working.
in three measures of meal ] The verisimilitude, simplicity, and vividness of the parables arise from the natural and specific details introduced into them. To press these into separate lessons only leads to arbitrary exegesis and false theology. Probably the ‘three measures’ are only mentioned because they are the ordinary amount which a woman would leaven at one time. If any one likes to improve the detail by applying it to (1) body, soul, and spirit (1 Thessalonians 5:23 ); or (2) to Jews, Samaritans, and Galilaeans; or (3) to the three sons of Noah (!), as representing Semites, Aryans, and Allophylians, it should be understood that these are pious applications, and interesting plays of fancy, not comments on our Lord’s words.
till the whole was leavened ] The whole heart of each man (2 Corinthians 10:5 ), and the whole world (24:47).
22 30. The Narrow Door
22 . he went through the cities and villages ] Some see in this the starting-point of a separate journey. The expression is too vague on which to build. It may imply a fresh progress after some brief period of rest.
23 . are there few that be saved ?] The question may naturally have arisen from the last teachings respecting the small beginnings of the Kingdom of God. There is nothing to shew whether it was suggested by speculative curiosity, or by despondent pity. But without directly rebuking such questions, our Lord, as in other instances, strove to place the questioners in a wiser frame of mind (Deuteronomy 29:29 ). The answer is a direct discouragement to all pitiless, and especially to all self-righteous, eschatologies. It is a solemn assertion of the necessity for earnest, personal endeavour. Thus to all idle attempts to define the certainties of the future, our Lord says, Consider the question with reference to yourself , not with reference to others . Look at it in the spirit of the publican, not in the spirit of the Pharisee. The wisdom and necessity of the answer may be seen from 2 Esdras 8, where the question is discussed, and where it is assumed that few only will be saved, “The most High hath made this world for many, but the world to come for few” (8:1). “There are many more of them which perish than of them which shall be saved; like as a wave is greater than a drop” (9:15, 16). “Let the multitude perish then” (id. 22). Part, at least, of the Book of Esdras is probably post-Christian.
that be saved ] Literally, “ who are being saved ,” i. e. who are in the way of salvation. The same word occurs in Acts 2:47 , and is the opposite to apollumenoi , ‘those that are perishing,’ 1 Corinthians 1:18 ; 2 Corinthians 2:15 .
24 . Strive ] The word implies the strong efforts of a contest. 1 Timothy 6:12 .
at the strait gate ] Rather, through the narrow door ; reading thuras ( א , B, D, L) for pules . Matthew 7:13 .
will seek to enter in, and shall not be able ] because they only seek , and do not strive ; they wish for heaven, but will not abandon earth. Sometimes also because they seek too late (Proverbs 1:28 , Proverbs 1:29 ; Isaiah 1:15 ; John 7:34 ; Hebrews 12:17 ), but mainly because they seek to enter through other ways by which there is no entrance, since Christ is the only door (John 10:7 , John 14:6 ).
25 . to stand without, and to knock at the door ] Matthew 25:10 . That the first application of the warning was to Jews who relied on their privileges appears from the fact that the excluded class are not poor sinners, but self-righteous Pharisees who claim entrance as their right.
Lord, Lord, open unto us ] Matthew 7:22 , Matthew 7:23 .
26 . then shall ye begin to say ] All excuse shall be cut short at once, 3:8.
thou hast taught in our streets ] Here again (see 13:28) we see how our Lord discouraged all notions of any privilege derived from fleshly privileges, or even proximity to Himself. Romans 2:17-20 .
27 . I know you not … depart from me, all ye workers of iniquity ] 2 Timothy 2:19 , “The foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are His. And, Let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity.”
28 . weeping and gnashing of teeth ] The signs respectively of anguish and of rage (Acts 7:54 ).
Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob ] Marcion, always anxious to disown the Old Testament, altered this into “all the just.”
29 . they shall come from the east, and from the west ] There is an obvious reference to Isaiah 49:12 , Isaiah 45:6 . Nothing more furiously excited the envy of the Jews than the free admission of the Gentiles to those privileges of the Kingdom of Heaven (Ephesians 3:6 ) which they rejected. Romans 11:1-36 ; Acts 13:44-52 .
shall sit down ] Rather, shall recline at banquet , 11:37, 14:8, &c.; Mark 6:39 .
30 . And behold ] The phrase sometimes implies ‘strange as you may think it.’ It occurs 23 times in St Matthew, 16 in St Luke; but not in St Mark.
there are last which shall be first ] Our Lord used this proverbial expression more than once. Matthew 19:30 . It had, besides its universal truthfulness, a special bearing on His own time. “The publicans and the harlots go into the Kingdom of God before you,” Matthew 21:31 . “The Gentiles , which followed not after righteousness, have attained to righteousness,” Romans 9:30 .
“There above (on earth)
How many hold themselves for mighty kings,
Who here like swine shall wallow in the mire,
Leaving behind them horrible dispraise.”
Dante, Inferno .
31 35. A Message to Herod Antipas
31 . The same day ] Or, In that very hour ( א , A, D, L, &c.).
Get thee out, and depart hence ] These Pharisees were as eager as the Gadarenes to get rid of Jesus; but whether this was their sole motive or whether they further wished to separate Him from the multitudes who as yet protected His life, and to put Him in the power of the Sadducean hierarchy, is not clear. That any solicitude for His safety was purely hypocritical appears in the tone of our Lord’s answer, which is yet far more merciful than that in which the prophet Amos had answered a similar message from an analogous quarter. Amos 7:12-17 .
for Herod will kill thee ] Rather, wills to kill thee . The assertion was probably quite untrue. Herod had not even wished to kill John, but had done so with great reluctance, and had been deeply troubled in conscience ever since. He did indeed wish to see Christ, but it was with the very different desire of “seeing some miracle done by Him” (23:8).
32 . that fox ] Rather, this she-fox , as though Christ saw him actually present, or identified his fox-like nature with that which the Pharisees were now displaying. The fact that the word is feminine may be only due to its being generic . The fox was among the ancients, as well as among the moderns, the type of knavish craftiness and covert attack. This is the only word of unmitigated contempt (as distinguished from rebuke and scorn) recorded among the utterances of Christ, and it was more than justified by the mingled tyranny and timidity, insolence and baseness of Herod Antipas a half-Samaritan, half-Idumaean tetrarch, who, professing Judaism, lived in heathen practices, and governed by the grace of Caesar and the help of alien mercenaries; who had murdered the greatest of the Prophets to gratify a dancing wanton; and who was living at that moment in an adultery doubly-incestuous with a woman of whom he had treacherously robbed his brother while he was his guest.
to day and to morrow ] It is probable that these expressions are general (as in Hosea 6:2 ). They mean ‘I shall stay in Herod’s dominions with perfect security for a brief while longer till my work is done.’ It must be remembered that Peraea was in the tetrarchate of Herod, so that this incident may have occurred during the slow and solemn progress towards Jerusalem.
the third day I shall be perfected ] The word teleioumai has been variously rendered and explained. Bleek makes it mean ‘I shall end’ (my work in Galilee); Godet, ‘ I am being perfected ,’ in the sense of ‘I shall arrive at the destined end of my work;’ Resch, ‘ I complete my work ’ by one crowning miracle (John 11:40-44 ). This solemn meaning best accords with other usages of the word, e. g. in the cry from the Cross tetelestai , ‘It is finished’ (John 19:30 ). See too Hebrews 5:9 , Hebrews 11:40 . Teleiosis became an ecclesiastical term for ‘martyrdom.’
33 . I must walk ] Rather, I must journey ; the same word as in vs. 31, “depart.” It seems to imply, ‘I will not leave Herod’s dominion, but I shall journey on at my own leisure through them.’
it cannot be ] i. e. there is a moral unfitness in the murder of a Prophet anywhere but in Jerusalem. The words are those of terrible irony; and yet, even amid the irony, the voice of the Speaker seemed to break with tears as He uttered the tender appeal of the next verse.
34 . O Jerusalem, Jerusalem ] The words were perhaps spoken again in the Great Denunciation of the Tuesday in Passion Week, Matthew 23:37 .
which killest the prophets ] “It was full of judgment; righteousness lodged in it; but now murderers ” (Isaiah 1:21 ). See 11:47, 20:14; Matthew 23:34 ; Matthew 2:0 Esdr. 1:32, “I sent unto you my servants the prophets whom ye have taken and slain, and torn their bodies in pieces, whose blood I will require of your hands, saith the Lord.”
how often ] This, like other passages in the Synoptists, implies more frequent visits to Jerusalem than they actually record.
as a hen doth gather her brood under her wings ] A metaphor still more tender and appealing than that of the eagle which “stirreth up her nest, fluttereth over her young, spreadeth abroad her wings, taketh them, beareth them on her wings” of Deuteronomy 32:11 , Deuteronomy 32:12 .
ye would not ] In contrast with the “would I” of vs. 34; it indicates “the sad privilege which man possesses of resisting the most serious influences of grace.”
35 . Behold, your house is left unto you desolate ] The authenticity of the word ‘desolate’ is very doubtful, as it is omitted in א , A, B, K, L, &c. The words therefore mean ‘The Shechinah has vanished from you now (Ezekiel 10:19 , Ezekiel 11:23 ). The house is now yours , not God’s; and because yours therefore a cave of brigands.’ If the word ‘desolate’ be genuine, it may allude to Daniel 9:27 and “the desolating wing of abomination,” as well as to other prophecies, Leviticus 26:31 ; Micah 3:12 ; Isaiah 5:5 , Isaiah 5:6 . There is a remarkable parallel in 2 Esdras 1:30 33, “I gathered you together as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings: but now, what shall I do unto you? I will cast you out from my face.… Thus saith the Almighty Lord, your house is desolate, I will cast you out as the wind doth stubble.”
Ye shall not see me ] “Their senses are still blinded. The veil of the Talmud that hangs over their eyes is twice as heavy as the veil of Moses.” Van Oosterzee.
until the time come when ye shall say ] It is a most frivolous interpretation of these words to make them merely refer to the Hosannas of Palm Sunday (19:38) as though they meant, ‘I shall not visit Jerusalem till the day of my humble triumph.’ They clearly refer to the future and final penitence of Israel. The ‘perfecting’ of Jesus would be His death, and then once again He would return as “the Coming One.” Hosea 3:4 , Hosea 3:5 ; Psalms 118:26 . Here, as in so many other stern passages of Scripture, in the Valley of Achor is opened a door of Hope, for the phrase implies ‘till the time comes as come it will’ (Zechariah 12:0 ; Romans 11:0 ).
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the Fourth Week after Epiphany