But whoso shall offend one of these little ones
Not in age, but are little and mean in their own eyes, and contemptible in the esteem of the world; though otherwise men of great grace, gifts, and usefulness; who may be said to be offended, when they are not received; their persons despised, their ministry rejected, and they reproached and persecuted; and everything done to them to discourage, and cause them to stumble and fall, to drop their profession of Christ, to quit his service, and desert his cause: and that such persons are designed, appears by the following descriptive character of them,
which believe in me;
which cannot be said of infants, or little ones in age, and who also are not capable of offence; but must be understood of adult persons, of such who by faith look unto, lay hold on, and receive the Lord Jesus Christ, as their Saviour and Redeemer, and who make a profession of their faith in him; and chiefly of such who preach the doctrine of faith, who having believed, therefore speak; and who are generally the butt of the contempt, reproach, and persecution of men.
It were better for him, that a mill stone be hanged about his neck,
and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.
The word translated "depth", is sometimes used for the Sea itself, ( Isaiah 51:10 ) and signifies the middle, or deeper path, and answers to the Hebrew phrase, "the heart of the sea"; (abr amyd owglyp) , used by the Targum, in ( Psalms 46:3 ) and by Jonathan ben Uzziel, in ( Exodus 15:8 ) . Jerom thinks, that this was a sort of punishment in use among the Jews, that is here referred to; but this does not appear. The four capital punishments inflicted by them were stoning, burning, slaying with the sword, and strangling F26: they had indeed other sorts of punishment, which they borrowed from other nations; and so they might this, either from the Romans, or Greeks, or their neighbours the Syrians. The mill stone, in the original, is called (mulov onikov) , which may be rendered "the ass mill stone", being either the nether mill stone, as some think, which was called "the ass", because, like an ass, it bears the chief of the weight and burden; or else respects such mill stones as were turned about by an ass, in distinction from those that were turned by the hand; for that it was usual with the Jews to make use of asses in grinding, as well as other nations, is certain: hence we read F1 of (ayxyr armx) "the ass of mills", that were employed in grinding in the mills, and of one that turned his mill with wild asses F2: but it is further to be observed, that mention is made
F3 of (dy lv Myxr lv rwmx) , "the ass of an handmill": which the commentators say F4, was a beam on which an handmill was fixed, and was called "the ass." Now, I should rather think that this is meant than the other. It does not seem likely that a nether mill stone, or one that required an ass to turn it, should be tied to a man's neck, in order to drown him, when cast into the sea; for our Lord must be thought to refer to a practice somewhere in use: but rather, that such a beam, or log, of an handmill, so called, were wont to be put about the necks of malefactors, in drowning them. Our Lord's sense is, that it was much better for a man to endure the severest temporal punishment, rather than by offending, and evil treating any of his disciples, expose himself to everlasting destruction. The phrase of having a mill stone about the neck, I find, is sometimes used to denote anything very troublesome and burdensome F5.
``The tradition is, a man that marries a wife, and after that learns the law, R. Jochanan says, (wrawub Myxyr) , "though a mill stone is about his neck", yet he must study in the law: that is, though his worldly circumstances are narrow, and his wife and family are as burdensome as if he had a mill stone about his neck, he must continue his studies.''
F26 Misn. Sanhedrim. c. 7. sect. 1.
F1 T. Bab. Moed Katon, fol. 1. 10. 2. Maimon. Hileh. Yom Tob, c. 8. sect. 15.
F2 T Bab. Avoda Zara, fol. 16. 2.
F3 Mish. Zabim. c. 4. sect. 2.
F4 R. Maimon. R. Sampson. & R. Obadiah Bartenora, in. ib.
F5 T. Bab. Kiddusbin, fol. 29. 2.