1. And he spake a parable unto them to this end, that men ought always to pray, and not to faint;
[And not to faint.] The discourse is continued still; and this parable hath its connexion with chapter 17, concerning Christ's coming to avenge himself upon Jerusalem; which if we keep our eye upon, it may help us to an easier understanding of some more obscure passages that occur in the application of this parable. And to this doth the expression not to faint, seem to have relation; viz. that they might not suffer their hopes and courage to languish and droop, upon the prospect of some afflictions they were likely to grapple with, but that they would give themselves to continual prayer.
2. Saying, There was in a city a judge, which feared not God, neither regarded man:
[There was a certain judge, &c.] If the scene of this parabolical history must be supposed to have been amongst the Jews, then there would some questions arise upon it: 1. Whether this judge were any way distinguished from an elder or presbyter: for the doctors are forced to such a distinction from those words in Deuteronomy 21:2, thy elders and thy judges: if a judge, be the same with an elder, which the Babylonian Sotah approve of, then might it be inquired, whether it was lawful for one elder to sit in judgment; which the Sanhedrim deny. But I let these things pass.
The parable propounded is of that rank or order that commonly amongst the Jews is argued from the less to the greater: "If that judge, the wickedest of men, being overcome by the endless importunity of the widow, judged her cause, will not a just, merciful, and good God appear for his own much more, who continually solicit him?"
[Who feared not God, &c.] How widely distant is this wretch from the character of a just judge! "Although in the triumviral court all things are not expected there which are requisite in the Sanhedrim, yet is it necessary, that in every one of that court there should be this sevenfold qualification; prudence, gentleness, piety, hatred of mammon, love of truth, that they be beloved themselves, and of good report."
7. And shall not God avenge his own elect, which cry day and night unto him, though he bear long with them?
[Though he bear long with them.] So 2 Peter 3:9, is longsuffering to us-ward. In both places the discourse is concerning the destruction of Jerusalem, and the times immediately preceding it; in which the Lord exercised infinite patience towards his elect. For in that slippery and unsteady state of theirs, when apostasy prevailed beyond measure, and it was a hard thing to abandon Judaism, people were very difficultly gained over to the faith, and as difficultly retained in it, when they had once embraced it. And yet, after all this longsuffering and patience, shall he find faith on earth?
12. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess.
[I fast twice in the week.] I. There were fasts of the congregation, and fasts of this or that single person. And both principally upon the account of afflictions or straits. "These are the calamities of the congregation for which they fast. Being besieged by enemies, the sword, pestilence, a hurtful beast, locusts, the caterpillar, mildew, blasting, abortions, diseases, scarcity of bread, drought." "As the congregation fasts upon the occasion of general calamities, so does this or that person for his particular afflictions. If any that belong to him be sick, or lost in the wilderness, or kept in prison, he is bound to fast in his behalf," &c.
II. "The fasts appointed by the congregation by reason of general calamities, are not from day to day, because there are few that could hold out in such a fast, but on the second and fifth days of the week." On those days they assembled in their synagogues to public prayers: and to this I would refer that of Acts 13:2, as they ministered before the Lord and fasted; much rather than to the celebration of the mass, which some would be wresting it to.
III. It was very usual for the single person, to devote himself to stated and repeated fasts for religion's sake, even when there was no affliction or calamity of life to urge them to it. And those that did so chose to themselves those very days which the congregation was wont to do; viz. the second and the fifth days of the week. The single person that taketh upon him to fast on the second and fifth days, and the second day throughout the whole year, &c.
Let me add this one thing further about these fasts: "R. Chasda saith, The fast upon which the sun sets is not to be called a fast." And yet they take very good care that they be not starved by fasting, for they are allowed to eat and drink the whole night before the fast. "It is a tradition. Rabbi saith, It is lawful to eat till day-light."
[I give tithes of all that I possess.] This Pharisee in the profession he maketh of himself, imitates the profession which he was to make that offered the firstfruits: "I have brought away the hallowed things out of mine house and given them to the Levite and to the stranger, to the fatherless and to the widow," &c.
But tell me, O thou Pharisee, dost thou thus strictly give tithes of all things out of an honest mind and pure justice, viz., that the priest and Levite and poor may have every one their own? and not rather out of mere fear and dread, because of that rule, "He that eateth of things that are not tithed is worthy of death?"
13. And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner.
[And the publican, standing afar off, &c.] I. That the Israelites, when they went into the Temple to put up their own private prayers, went beyond the outward court, or the Court of the Gentiles, into the Court of the Women; this, amongst other things, makes it evident, viz., that in that court were placed thirteen eleemosynary chests, into which they threw in their voluntary oblations: which was done by the widow with her two mites in that place.
II. It is a question whether any person for his private praying might come as far as the gate of Nicanor, or the Court of Israel; much less into the Court of the Priests, unless the priests only. We read of our Saviour's being in the Court of the Gentiles, viz., in Solomon's Porch, and that he was in the treasury, or the Court of the Women; but you will hardly find him at any time in the Court of Israel. And the negative upon their entrance into that court is confirmed, at least if that rule avail any thing which we meet with in Hieros. Beracoth: "R. Joshua Ben Levi saith, 'He that stands to pray, it is necessary that he first sit down, because it is said, Blessed are they that "sit" in thy house.'" Now it was lawful for no person to sit down in that court but the king only.
III. That therefore this publican stood so much further off while he prayed than the Pharisee, was probably more from his humility than any necessity that lay upon him so to do. For though the heathen and publican go together in those words of our Saviour, "Let him be unto thee as a heathen man and a publican," yet it is a question whether the publicans, if they were Jews, were bounded to the outward court only, as the heathens were.
[He would not lift so much as his eyes unto heaven.] What needed this to have been added, when this was the very rule of praying, "Let him that prayeth cover his head and look downward." "The disciple of the wise men, when he stands praying, let him look downward." But were those of the laity or of the common people to do thus? If not, our question is answered, that this man (otherwise than the vulgar was wont) in deep humility and a conscience of his own vileness, would not lift up his eyes. But if this was the usage of all in common, that whilst they were actually praying they must look downward; yet probably in the time that they were composing themselves to prayer, they might be a little lifting up their eyes towards heaven. "If they pray in the Temple, they turn their faces towards the holy of holies; if elsewhere, then towards Jerusalem." And it would be a strange thing if they were not to have their eyes towards heaven at all: indeed, when they began to pray, then they looked downward.
[For more info, please see A Discourse upon the Pharisee and Publican by John Bunyan (341k).]
15. And they brought unto him also infants, that he would touch them: but when his disciples saw it, they rebuked them.
[But when his disciples saw it, they rebuked them.] "Wicked Israelites' little ones shall not come into the world to come: wicked heathen's little ones all men confess they shall not come into the world to come. From what time is a little child capable of the world to come? R. Chaijah and R. Simeon Bar Rabbi; one of them saith, From the time wherein he is born. The other saith, From the time that he can speak. Rabbona saith, From the time it is begot. Rabh Nachman Bar Isaac saith, From the time he is circumcised: R. Meir saith, From the time that he can answer, Amen."
Whether this question was handled in the schools or no in the times of the apostles, it is very probable they took this bringing of little children to Christ ill, because (if they might be judges) they were not capable of the kingdom of heaven. And indeed our Saviour's answer to them seems to favour this conjecture of ours: "Is it so indeed, that you suppose such as these unfit and incapable? I tell you, that of such is the kingdom of God."
19. And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? none is good, save one, that is, God.
[Why callest thou me good?] I. For the better understanding our Saviour's sense and meaning in these and the following words, I would affirm, (and who can argue it to the contrary?) that this man acknowledged Jesus for the true Messiah.
1. This several others did also, who, as yet, were not his disciples; so those blind men, when they call him 'the Son of David,' Matthew 20:30: not to mention others. And what reason can there be for the negative upon this man? Especially when he appears to be a person of more than ordinary parts and accomplishments, not only from what he tells us of himself, but from that kind and affectionate reception he met with from Christ.
2. This was no vulgar or ordinary question he put here, "What shall I do, that I may inherit eternal life?" For it seems plain that he was not satisfied in the doctrine of their schools, about the merit of good works, and justification by the law: but he thinks there is something more requisite towards the obtaining salvation, because, after he had (as he tells us) performed this law from his youth up, he yet inquireth further, "What shall I do," &c.; in which that he was in earnest, our Saviour's behaviour towards him sufficiently testified; as also that he came to Jesus, as to no ordinary teacher, to be instructed in this affair.
3. It was very unusual to salute the Rabbins of that nation with this title. For however they were wont to adorn (not to say load) either the dead or absent with very splendid epithets, yet if they spoke to them while present, they gave them no other title than either Rabbi, or Mar, or Mari. If you turn over both the Talmuds, I am deceived if you once find either Good Rabbi, or Good Mar.
II. So far, therefore, is our Lord in these words from denying his Godhead, that he rather doth, as it were, draw this person in to own and acknowledge it: "Thou seemest in thy very address to me, and the compellation thou gavest me, to own me for the Messias: and dost thou take me for God too as well as man, when thou callest me good, seeing there is none good but God only?" Certainly he saw something that was not ordinary in this man, when it is said of him that he loved him, Mark 10:21: i.e. he spoke kindly to him, and exhorted him, &c. See 2 Chronicles 18:2; Psalm 78:36: they flattered him with their mouth. Nor is it an ordinary affection this young man seemed to have for the blessed Jesus, in that he departs sorrowful from the counsel that had been given him; and that he had the person that had counselled him in very high esteem, appears in that he could not without infinite grief reject the counsel he gave him.
31. Then he took unto him the twelve, and said unto them, Behold, we go up to Jerusalem, and all things that are written by the prophets concerning the Son of man shall be accomplished.
[He took unto him the twelve.] This falls in with that of John 11:7, "Let us go into Judea." What! say they, into Judea again, where thou wast lately in so much danger? However, he comes out and goes on, his disciples following him wondering, and fearing the effects of it, Mark 10:32. He mentioned only at present his journey into Judea, to see Lazarus: but, as they were going, he foretells his progress to Jerusalem, and what was to be done with him there. It is probable he was at Bethabarah when the message came to him that Lazarus was sick; and from thence, his way lying conveniently over the Scythopolitan bridge, and so through part of Samaria, he chooseth the transjordanine way to the fords of Jericho.