1. In the mean time, when there were gathered together an innumerable multitude of people, insomuch that they trode one upon another, he began to say unto his disciples first of all, Beware ye of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.
[When there were gathered together an innumerable multitude of people.] There is no one would understand this in the very letter of it; as if the number of the people here present were at least twenty thousand, but a very great number. So Acts 21:20: How many myriads of Jews which believe.
This probably denotes the mighty success of the seventy disciples preaching the gospel, who had so clearly and effectually taught concerning Christ, and told them of the place that he had determined to come to, that the people had flocked together in those vast numbers, ready upon all occasions to meet him, when they heard the Messias was making his approaches to this or that town.
3. Therefore whatsoever ye have spoken in darkness shall be heard in the light; and that which ye have spoken in the ear in closets shall be proclaimed upon the housetops.
[That which ye have spoken in the ear.] I have elsewhere spoken of a doctor whispering in the ear of his interpreter. The reason of this usage is given us in Chagigah, because the law is delivered silently; and the reason of this is, it is delivered silently, because of Satan.
However, these words are not to be understood of any such kind of whispering into the ears of the interpreter, but concerning any matter that may have been spoken in never so much secrecy and design not to have been known again. The doctor whispered into the ear of the interpreter to that end, that his disciples might publish what he had said. But here is meant, whatever any had the greatest purpose to conceal, yet God will reveal it; not much unlike that passage in Ecclesiastes 10:20. Our Saviour intimates the folly as well as the wickedness of dissimulation, because in time the visor shall be taken off, and the most dissembled hypocrisy exposed to naked view.
6. Are not five sparrows sold for two farthings, and not one of them is forgotten before God?
[Are not five sparrows sold for two farthings?] Two sparrows were sold for one farthing, and five for two. We find that doves were sold in the Temple upon the account of women in childbed, and their issues of blood, by whom a pair of turtles and young pigeons were to be offered, if they had not wherewithal to present a more costly sacrifice. So probably the sparrows were likely to be sold upon the account of lepers, in the cleansing of whom they were made use of, Leviticus 14:4. I confess the Greek version in this place hath not two sparrows, but two little birds. And yet if you will believe the far-fetched reason that R. Solomon gives, you will easily imagine that they are sparrows that are pointed at: "The leprosy (saith he) came upon mankind for an evil tongue, that is, for too much garrulity of words: and therefore in the cleansing of it they used sparrows that are always chirping and chattering with their voice."
[And not one of them is forgotten before God.] "R. Simeon Ben Jochai standing at the mouth of his cave [wherein he lay hid for the space of thirteen years], he saw a certain man catching of birds. And when he heard Bath Kol out of heaven, saying, 'Mercy, mercy,' the birds escaped: but when he heard Bath Kol saying, 'The pain of death,' then was the bird taken. He saith, therefore, A bird is not taken without God, much less the life of a man." This passage is also recited in Midras Tillin, but the circumstances vary.
9. But he that denieth me before men shall be denied before the angels of God.
[But he that denieth me, &c.] consider whether in these words and in the following verse, our blessed Saviour do not point at those two unpardonable sins, apostasy, or denying and renouncing of Christ, and blasphemy, or the sin against the Holy Ghost. The first is called "a sin unto death." And so, in truth and in the event, is the latter too. I find them, indeed, confounded by some, who discourse upon the sin against the Holy Ghost, when yet this difference may be observed, viz., that apostasy cannot properly be charged on any but who have already professed Christianity: but blasphemy against the Holy Ghost was uttered by the scribes and Pharisees at that time that they disowned and rejected Christ.
13. And one of the company said unto him, Master, speak to my brother, that he divide the inheritance with me.
[That he divide the inheritance with me.] I. In the titles of brethren this obtained amongst them, that as the eldest was called the firstborn so the younger was called simple, because without the title of firstborn. It seems to be only two brethren here betwixt whom the complaint is made, but which of them is the complainant it is not so easy to determine. You will say the younger most probably, because it is more likely that the firstborn should wrong the younger, than the younger the firstborn. And yet in that court of judicature which they called "the court of Thou draw and I'll draw," the younger might be troublesome to the firstborn as well as the firstborn to the younger. That matter was thus:
"When a father had bequeathed to his firstborn and younger son a servant and an unclean beast," which could not be parted in two, then saith the one to the other, "Do thou draw, or I'll draw"; that is, Do thou redeem thy share, or I will redeem mine. Now here the younger brother may be perverse, and as well hinder the redemption as the firstborn.
II. In the division of inheritances how many vexations and quarrels may arise, both reason and common experience do abundantly teach us. The Rabbins are very large upon this head; and suppose that great controversies may arise either from the testament of the father, or the nature of the inheritance, or the quality of the sons; as if the younger son be a disciple of the wise men, and the elder not; if the younger be made a proselyte, the elder a Gentile, &c. But in the instance now before us, the complaint or controversy is not about dividing but about not dividing; because the firstborn most probably would not gratify the younger in that thing.
The judges in that case was the bench of the Triumviri. These were the judges, in the controversy, and decreed concerning the right or equity of dividing: and either some were appointed by them, or some chosen by those between whom the cause depended, as arbiters in the case, and these were the dividers, those that took care as to the equality of the division. Now we cannot easily suppose what should move this man to appeal to our Saviour as judge in this matter, unless either himself or brother, or both, were of the number of his disciples.
19. And I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry.
[Soul, take thine ease, eat, drink, &c.] "When the church is in distress, let not any man then say, 'I will go into mine house, and will eat and drink, and peace be to thee, O my soul.' For if any one shall so do, it is written of him, 'Behold joy, and gladness, slaying oxen, and killing sheep, eating flesh, and drinking wine: let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we shall die.' But what follows? 'It was revealed in mine ears by the Lord of hosts, Surely this iniquity shall not be purged away from you till you die.'" And what if he should so say and do when the church is not in distress?
20. But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided?
[This night thy soul shall be required of thee.] However this following story hath something in it that may be laughed at, yet hath it something in it that is serious enough: "The Rabbins say, It fell out in the days of R. Simeon Ben Chalaphta, that he went to a certain circumcision, and there feasted. The father of the infant gave them old wine, wine of seven years old, to drink, and said unto them, 'With this wine will I grow old in the joy of my son.' They feasted together till midnight. R. Simeon Ben Chalaphta trusting to his own virtue, went out at midnight to go into the city: in the way he finds the angel of death, and observes him very sad: saith he to him, 'Who art thou?' He saith, 'I am the messenger of the Lord': 'And why then (saith he) art thou so sad?' He saith unto him, 'I am sad for the speeches of those who say, I will do this or that ere long, though they know not how quickly they may be called away by death. That man with whom thou hast been feasting, and that boasted amongst you, With this wine I will grow old in the joy of my son; behold the time draws nigh, that within thirty days he must be snatched away.' He saith unto him, 'Do thou let me know my time.' To whom he answered, 'Over thee, and such as thou art, we have no power; for God, being delighted with good works, prolongeth your lives.'"
24. Consider the ravens: for they neither sow nor reap; which neither have storehouse nor barn; and God feedeth them: how much more are ye better than the fowls?
[Neither storehouse nor barn.] The storehouse is where they laid up their fruits, and the barn where they laid up their grain. It is commonly rendered the floor, but there it is meant the barn-floor. Our Saviour takes an instance from God feeding the ravens, Job 38:41; Psalm 147:9, where it is R. Solomon's remark: "Our Rabbins observe, that the raven is cruel towards its young; but God pitieth them, and provides them flies, that breed out of their own dung." Now the reason they give why the old ones are so unmerciful to their own young is in Chetubboth, where the Gloss thus explains the minds of the Gemarists speaking of the young ones both white and black: "When they grow black the old ones begin to love their young, but while they are all white they loathe them."
In that very place there occurs this passage, not unworthy our transcribing: "There was a certain man brought before Rabh Judah because he refused to provide for his children. Saith he to those that brought him, The dragon brings forth, and lays her young in the town to be nourished up. When he was brought to Rabh Chasda, he saith unto them, 'Compel him to the door of the synagogue, and there let him stand, and say, The raven seeks her young ones, but this man doth not seek [or own] his children.' But doth the raven seek her young ones? Behold it is written, God feedeth the ravens which cry unto him. This hath no difficulty in it. This is said of them while they are white, that 'God feeds them': but that is said of them when they are become black, that 'the raven owneth her young.'" But the Gloss hath it thus: "It seems as if he with his own voice should cry out against himself, and say, 'The raven owneth her young.' But there are those that expound it as if the minister of the synagogue should set him forth and proclaim upon him, The raven acknowledgeth her young, but this man rejects his own children." "Tell it to the church," Matthew 18:17.
30. For all these things do the nations of the world seek after: and your Father knoweth that ye have need of these things.
[The nations of the world, &c.] The nations of the world is a very common form of speech amongst the Jews, by which they express the Gentiles, or all other nations beside themselves...
37. Blessed are those servants, whom the lord when he cometh shall find watching: verily I say unto you, that he shall gird himself, and make them to sit down to meat, and will come forth and serve them.
[He will come forth and serve them.] He that serves at the table goes about while the guests sit. He will come forth seems to denote the same thing here; unless it may refer to some such thing as this, viz. that the master will pass by his dignity, and condescend to minister to his own servants.
38. And if he shall come in the second watch, or come in the third watch, and find them so, blessed are those servants.
[In the second watch, and in the third.] In the very dead watches of all, at least, if there be not a solecism in speech. At the first watch they went to bed; and at the fourth watch, the time of getting up again came on: so that the second and the third watch was the very dead time of sleep.
47. And that servant, which knew his lord's will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes.
[Shall be beaten with many stripes.] There was a stated number of stripes, and that twas forty, beyond which no malefactor, condemned by the judges to that punishment, ought to receive. Whence that passage seems a little strange: "He that kills a heifer, and afterward two of that heifer's calves, let him be beaten with fourscore stripes." How so? fourscore, when they ought not to exceed above forty? They might not exceed that number for one single crime: but if the crime was doubled, they might double the punishment. And it may be a question, whether they did not double their accusations upon St. Paul, when they multiplied their stripes, he himself telling us, that five times he had received forty stripes save one.
But did every one that was adjudged by the court to stripes, did they always receive that number exactly, of thirty-nine? no doubt the number was more or less, according to the nature of the crime. Which seems to be hinted in Pesachin; He that eateth the 'potitha' [some creeping thing of the sea], "let him be beaten with four stripes: He that eateth a pismire, let him be beaten with five: He that eateth a hornet, let him have six." If this be the sense of the words, then here may arise a question, with what kind of scourge they were beaten? If with that scourge of three cords that was used when they gave nine-and-thirty stripes, repeating their strokes by a scourge of three cords thirteen times, how then could they inflict four or five stripes with such a scourge as that was?
But as to the number of stripes which the master might inflict upon his slave, that was not stated, but left to the pleasure of the master, according to the nature of the crime: which seems hinted at in these words of our Saviour, and in the following rule amongst the Jews, some kind of measure still being attended to:
"It is allowed to deal with a Canaanite [that is, a Gentile] slave with severity. But though this is de jure, yet there is a law of mercy, and rule of wisdom, that a man should be gentle, pursuing righteousness, not making the yoke heavy upon his servant, lest he afflict him."
49. I am come to send fire on the earth; and what will I, if it be already kindled?
[And what will I, if it be already kindled?] What will I, seems to be used after the manner of the schools, where What do I say? is the same with I do say this: and so What do I decree or approve? is the same with This I do decree or approve. So What will I? is the same with This I will. Thus, in these words of our Saviour, What will I, if it be already kindled, the meaning is, This I will, that it be already kindled. Now what kind of fire this was which he would have already kindled, he himself explains verse 51, and so on.