- THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT. (A mountain plateau not far from Capernaum.) A. INTRODUCTORY STATEMENTS. Matthew 5:1 Matthew 5:2 ; Luke 6:17-20
- And when he had sat down, his disciples came unto him. In sitting Jesus followed the custom of Jewish teachers. The instruction of Jesuswas at no time embellished with oratorical action. He relied upon thetruth contained in his words, not upon the manner in which he utteredit.
5:2 and he opened his mouth and taught them, saying,
- And he opened his mouth, and taught them. Jesus spoke with the full-toned voice of power--with open mouth.
5:3 Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven1.
- THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT. (A mountain plateau not far from Capernaum.) B. BEATITUDES: PROMISES TO MESSIAH'S SUBJECTS. Matthew 5:3-12 ; Luke 6:20-26
- Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. The poor in spirit are those who feel a deep sense of spiritualdestitution and comprehended their nothingness before God. The kingdomof heaven is theirs, because they seek it, and therefore find and abidein it. To this virtue is opposed the pride of the Pharisee, whichcaused him to thank God that he was not as other men, and to despiseand reject the kingdom of heaven. There must be emptiness before therecan be fullness, and so poverty of spirit precedes riches and grace inthe kingdom of God.
The sayings in this subdivision are called beatitudes from the word"beati" (meaning "blessed"), with which they begin in the Vulgate, orLatin Bible. According to Matthew, these beatitudes are nine in numberand seven in character, for the last two, which concern persecution, donot relate to traits of character, but to certain externalcircumstances which lead to blessings. Luke gives us beatitudes notrecorded in Matthew. Most of the beatitudes are paradoxical, being thevery reverse of the world's view, but Christians who have put them tothe test have learned to realize their unquestionable truth.
5:4 Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted1.
- Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted. See Isaiah 42:2 Isaiah 42:3 ; Luke 2:25 ; Romans 8:18 ; John 16:20 John 16:21 . The blessing is not uponall that mourn ( 2 Corinthians 7:10 ); but upon those who mourn in referenceto sin. They shall be comforted by the discovery and appropriation ofGod's pardon. But all mourning is traced directly or indirectly tosin. We may take it, therefore, that in its widest sense the beatitudecovers all those who are led by mourning to a discerning of sin, andwho so deplore its effects and consequences in the world as to yearnfor and seek the deliverance which is in Christ. Those to whom Christspoke the beatitude bore a double sorrow. Not only did their own sinsafflict their consciences, but the hatred and opposition of othersinners added many additional sighs and tears. Joy springs from suchsorrow so naturally that it is likened to harvest gathered from theseed ( Psalms 126:6 ). But sorrows, even apart from a sense of sin,often prove blessings to us by drawing us near unto God.
5:5 Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth1.
- Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth. His hearers were full of hopes that, as Messiah, he would glut their martialspirit, and lead them to world-wide conquest. But the earth was not tobe subjugated to him by force. Those who were meek and forbearingshould receive what the arrogant and selfish grasp after and cannotget. Beecher says,
"Man the animal has hitherto possessed the globe. Man the divine is yet to take it. The struggle is going on. But in every cycle more and more does the world feel the superior authority of truth, purity, justice, kindness, love, and faith. They shall yet possess the earth".
The meek shall inherit it in two ways: (1) They shall enjoy it morefully while in it. (2) They shall finally, as part of the triumphantchurch, possess and enjoy it. Doubtless there is also a reference tocomplete possession to be fulfilled in the new earth ( Daniel 7:27 Revelation 3:21 ; Revelation 5:10 ).
5:6 Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.
- Blessed are they who hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled. Our Lord here declares that those who feel a mostintense desire for righteousness shall obtain it. Under no otherreligion had such a promise ever been given. Under Christianity thepromise is clear and definite. Compare Romans 8:3 Romans 8:4 ; Hebrews 7:11 Hebrews 7:19 Hebrews 7:25 .The promise is realized in part by the attainment of a higher degree ofrighteous living, and in part by the perfect forgiveness of our sins.But the joy of this individual righteousness, blessed as it is, shallbe surpassed by that of the universal righteousness of the new creation( 2 Peter 3:13 ).
5:7 Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy1.
- Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy. As meekness is rather a passive virtue, so mercy is an active one. The meek bear,and the merciful forbear, and for so doing they shall obtain mercy bothfrom God and man. This beatitude, like the rest, has a subordinate,temporal application; for God rules the world in spite of sin. Thisbeatitude has primary reference to the forgiveness of offenses. Theforgiving are forgiven ( Matthew 6:14 Matthew 6:15 ).
5:8 Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God1.
- Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God. The pure in heart are those who are free from evil desires and purposes. Theyhave that similarity of life to the divine life which excludes alluncleanness, and which enables them to comprehend, after a sympatheticfashion, the motives are actions of God. Such see God by faith now,that is, by the spiritual vision of a regenerate heart ( Ephesians 1:17 Ephesians 1:18 ),and shall see him face to face hereafter ( 1 Corinthians 13:12 ; 1 John 3:2 1 John 3:3 ).The Jews to whom Christ spoke, having their hearts defiled with carnalhopes and self-righteous pride, failed to see God, as he was thenrevealing himself in the person of his Son, thus forming a sadcontrast to the gracious promise of the beatitude. Beecher writes:
"They only can understand God who have in themselves some moral resemblance to him; and they will enter most largely into the knowledge of him who are most in sympathy with the divine life".
5:9 Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called sons of God1.
- Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called sons of God. The term "peacemakers" includes all who make peace between men, whetheras individuals or as communities. It includes even those who worthilyendeavor to make peace, though they fail of success. They shall becalled God's children, because he is the God of peace ( Romans 15:33 ; Romans 16:20 2 Corinthians 13:11 ); whose supreme purpose is to secure peace ( Luke 2:14 );and who gave his Son to be born into this world as the Prince of Peace( Isaiah 9:6 ). Here again Jesus varies from human ideas. In worldlykingdoms the makers of war stand highest, but in his kingdompeacemakers outrank them, for the King himself is a great Peacemaker( Colossians 1:20 ; Ephesians 2:14 ).
5:10 Blessed are they that have been persecuted for righteousness' sake1: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
- Blessed are they that have been persecuted for righteousness' sake, etc. Those who suffer because of their loyalty to the kingdom of heavenare blessed by being bound more closely to that kingdom for which theysuffer.
5:11 Blessed are ye when [men] shall reproach you1, and persecute you, and say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.
- Blessed are ye when [men] shall reproach you, etc. The Master here presents the various forms of suffering which would come upon thedisciples by reason of their loyalty to him. We shall find several likestatements as we proceed with the gospel story. They would first beconscious of the coldness of their brethren before the secret hatebecame outspoken and active. Later they should find themselvesexcommunicated from the synagogue ( John 16:2 ). This act in turn wouldbe followed by bitter reproaches and blasphemy of the sacred name by whichthey were called--the name Christian ( James 2:7 ; 1 Peter 4:4 ). Farrar says,
""Malefic" or "execrable superstition" was the favorite description of Christianity among Pagans (Tacitus, Ann. 15:44; Suetonius, Nero, 16), and Christians were charged with incendiarism, cannibalism, and every infamy."
All this would finally culminate in bloody-handed persecution, andprocure the death of Christ's followers by forms of law; all manner offalse and evil accusations would be brought against them.
5:12 Rejoice, and be exceeding glad1: for great is your reward in heaven2: for so persecuted they the prophets that were before you3.
- Rejoice, and be exceeding glad. In commanding rejoicing under such circumstances Jesus seemed to make a heavy demand upon his disciples,but it is a demand which very many have responded to Acts 5:41 ; Acts 16:25 .
- For great is your reward in heaven. Anticipations of the glorious future are a great tonic.
- For so persecuted they the prophets that were before you. For instances of persecution of the prophets, see 1 Kings 19:10 ; 2 Chronicles 16:10 1 Kings 22:27 ; 2 Chronicles 24:20 2 Chronicles 24:21 ; Jeremiah 26:23 ; Jeremiah 37:15 ; Jeremiah 38:4-6 Jeremiah 38:28 ; Hebrews 11:36-38 .
5:13 Ye are the salt of the earth1: but if the salt have lost its savor, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out and trodden under foot of men.
- THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT. (A mountain plateau not far from Capernaum.) C. INFLUENCE AND DUTIES OF MESSIAH'S SUBJECTS. Matthew 5:13-16
- Ye are the salt of the earth, etc. Salt has been used from time immemorial as an agent in the preservation of meats. The multitudeswhich heard Jesus were familiar with its use in curing fish. G.A. Smithnotes,
"The pickled fish of Galilee were known throughout the Roman world."
It is worthy of note that the salt of Palestine gathered from themarshes is not pure. Because of the foreign substances in it, it losesits savor and becomes insipid and useless when exposed to the sun andair, or when permitted for any considerable time to come in contactwith the ground; but pure salt does not lose its savor. The verseteaches that God's people keep the world from putrefaction andcorruption. There was not salt enough in the antediluvian world to saveit from the flood, in Sodom to save it from fire, nor in Canaan topreserve its people from destruction. It also teaches--as doesexperience--that a disciple may lose those qualities which make himsalt. See notes at Mark 9:50 ; Luke 14:34 .
5:14 Ye are the light of the world1. A city set on a hill cannot be hid.
- Ye are the light of the world. As light dispels darkness and enables a man to see his way, so the Christian, by his teaching and example,removes ignorance and prejudice, and discloses the way of life.
- A city set on an hill cannot be hid. The church, reflecting the light of Christ, is of necessity a conspicuous body, so that neitherits blemishes nor its beauty can be concealed. For air and forprotection cities were frequently built upon hills. Jerusalem andSamaria were both hill cities.
5:15 Neither do [men] light a lamp1, and put it under the bushel, but on the stand; and it shineth unto all that are in the house.
- Neither do [men] light a lamp. Lamps were then crude affairs without chimneys, in which, for the most part, olive oil was burned. Candleswere not then known. The word "candle", where used in the AuthorizedVersion is a mistranslation.
- And put it under a bushel. A common measure, found in every Jewish house, and containing about a peck, or eight quarts dry measure.
5:16 Even so let your light shine before men1; that they may see your good works2, and glorify your Father who is in heaven3.
- Even so let your light shine before men. The light of the Christian is to shine not ostentatiously, but naturally and unavoidably.
- That they may see your good works. It is to shine not only in his teaching or profession, but in such works and actions as unprejudicedmen must acknowledge to be real excellencies.
- And glorify your Father who is in heaven. Moreover, it must so shine that it shall not win praise for itself, but for him who kindled it.Men do not praise the street lamps which protect them from robbery andassault, but they praise the municipal administration which furnishesthe lamps.
5:17 Think not that I came to destroy the law1 or the prophets2: I came not to destroy, but to fulfil3.
- THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT. (A mountain plateau not far from Capernaum.) D. RELATION OF MESSIANIC TEACHING TO OLD TESTAMENT AND TRADITIONAL TEACHING. Matthew 5:17-48 ; Luke 6:27-30 Luke 6:32-36
- Think not that I came to destroy the law. This verse constitutes a preface to the section of the sermon which follows it. It is intendedto prevent a misconstruction of what he was about to day. "Destroy" ishere used in antithesis, not with perpetuate, but with fulfill. Todestroy the law would be more than to abrogate it, for it was both asystem of statutes designed for the ends of government, and a system oftypes foreshadowing the kingdom of Christ. To destroy it, therefore,would be both to abrogate its statutes and prevent the fulfillment ofits types. The former, Jesus eventually did; the latter, he did not.
- Or the prophets. As regards the prophets, the only way to destroy them would be to prevent the fulfillment of the predictions containedin them.
- I came not to destroy, but to fulfil. Instead of coming to destroy either the law or the prophets, Jesus came to fulfill all the types ofthe former, and (eventually) all the unfulfilled predictions of thelatter. He fulfills them partly in his own person, and partly by hisadministration of the affairs of his kingdom. The latter part of theprocess is still going on, and will be until the end of the world.
5:18 For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass away, one jot1 or one tittle2 shall in no wise pass away from the law, till all things be accomplished3.
- Jot. The jot or yod (\^y\^) answering to our letter "i" was the smallest of the Hebrew letters.
- Tittle. The tittle was a little stroke of the pen, by which alone some of the Hebrew letters were distinguished from others like them. Toput it in English, we distinguish the letter "c" from the letter "e" bythe tittle inside of the latter.
- Shall in no wise pass away from the law, till all things be accomplished. This passage not only teaches that the law was toremain in full force until fulfilled, but it shows the precise accuracywith which the law was given by God.
5:19 Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments1, and shall teach men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven2: but whosoever shall do and teach them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven3.
- Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments. Disobedience is a habit, and it is not easily laid aside. Hence he thatis unfaithful in that which is little will also be unfaithful in thatwhich is great. So also those who were disobedient and reckless underthe Jewish dispensation would be inclined to act in like manner in thenew, or Christian, dispensation: hence the warning.
- And shall teach men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven. Not only shall God call such least, but men also shalleventually do likewise. Those who by a false system of interpretation,or an undue regard for the traditions of men, enervate or annul theobligations of Christ's laws and ordinances, and teach others to do thesame, shall be held in low esteem or contempt by the church or kingdomof God as fast as it comes to a knowledge of the truth.
- But whosoever shall do and teach them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. Greatness in the kingdom of heaven is measuredby conscientiousness in reference to its least commandments. SmallChristians obey the great commandments, but only the large are carefulabout the least.
5:20 For I say unto you, that except your righteousness shall exceed [the righteousness] of the scribes and Pharisees1, ye shall in no wise enter into the kingdom of heaven2.
- Except your righteousness shall exceed [the righteousness] of the scribes and Pharisees. The scribes and Pharisees were models ofrighteousness in their own sight and in that of the people, Jesus herelaid down a very high ideal.
- Ye shall in no wise enter into the kingdom of heaven. Though one may now enter the kingdom of heaven having of himself far lessrighteousness than that of the Pharisees, yet he must attainrighteousness superior to theirs, or he cannot abide in the kingdom.
A large portion of the sermon from this point on is a development ofthe righteousness of the kingdom of heaven in contrast with olddispensation righteousness and Pharisaic interpretation of it. The lawsof Moses regulated civil conduct, and being state laws, they could onlyhave regard to overt acts. But the laws of the kingdom of Christ aregiven to the individual, and regulate his inner spiritual condition,and the very initial motives of conduct; in it the spirit-feelings areall acts ( 1 John 3:15 ).
5:21 Ye have heard that it was said to them of old time1, Thou shalt not kill2; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment3:
- Ye have heard that it was said to them of old time. The common people, for the most part, knew the law only by its public reading, andhence the exposition of the scribes which accompanied the readingsshared in their estimation the very authority of Scripture itself.
- Thou shalt not kill. See Exodus 20:13 ; Deuteronomy 5:17 .
- Shall be in danger of the judgment. Shall be liable to.
5:22 but I say unto you, that every one who is angry with his brother shall be in danger of the judgment; and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca1, shall be in danger of the council; and whosoever shall say, Thou fool2, shall be in danger of the hell of fire.
- Raca. An expression of contempt frequently used in rabbinical writings, but of uncertain derivation, so that it may mean "empty head"or "spit out"; that is, heretic.
- Thou fool. Bloomfield says,
""Thou impious wretch"; folly and impiety being equivalent with the Hebrews."
- Shall be in danger of the hell fire. We have here three degrees of criminality or offense as to the sin of anger: (1) Silent rage; (2)Railing speech; (3) Bitter reproach ( Psalms 14:1 ). With these areassociated respectively three different degrees of punishment. (1) Thelaw of Moses provided for the appointment of judges, ( Deuteronomy 16:18 ),and Josephus informs us that in each city there were seven judgesappointed (Ant. 4:8,14). This tribunal was known as the judgment, andby it the case of the manslayer was determined. Compare Numbers 35:15 Numbers 35:24 Numbers 35:25 decision to the Sanhedrin, or they might themselves confine the man inof the cities of refuge, or order him to be stoned to death. (2) Thesecond punishment would be the result of a trial before the Sanhedrinor council. This chief court of the Jews sat at Jerusalem( Deuteronomy 17:8-13 ), and common men stood in great awe of it. (3) Thethird punishment passes beyond the pale of human jurisdiction. It isthe final punishment--being cast into hell. The Scripture word of"hell" is derived from the name of a place in the neighborhood ofJerusalem, called the valley of Hinnom. It was a deep, narrow valley,lying southeast of Jerusalem. The Greek word "Gehenna" (which wetranslate "hell") is first found applied to it in the Septuaginttranslation of Joshua 18:16 . For the history of the valley, see thefollowing passages of Scripture: Joshua 15:8 ; Joshua 18:16 ; 2 Kings 23:1-14 ; 2 Chronicles 28:3 2 Chronicles 33:6 ; 2 Chronicles 34:4 2 Chronicles 34:5 ; Nehemiah 11:30 ; Jeremiah 7:31 Jeremiah 7:32 ; Jeremiah 19:1-6 ; Jeremiah 32:35 . The only firecertainly known to have been kindled there was the fire in whichchildren were sacrificed to the god Moloch. This worship was entirelydestroyed by King Josiah, who polluted the entire valley so as to makeit an unfit place even for heathen worship. Some commentators endeavorto make this third punishment a temporal one, and assert that fireswere kept burning in the valley of Hinnom, and that as an extremepunishment the bodies of criminals were cast into those fires. Butthere is not the slightest authentic evidence that any fire was keptburning there; nor is there any evidence at all that casting a criminalinto the fire was ever employed by the Jews as a punishment. It was thefire of idolatrous worship in the offering of human sacrifice which hadgiven the valley its bad name. This caused it to be associated in themind of the Jews with sin and suffering, and led to the application ofits name, in the Greek form of it, to the place of final and eternalpunishment. When the conception of such a place as hell was formed, itwas necessary to give it a name, and there was no word in the Jewishlanguage more appropriate for the purpose than the name of this hideousvalley. It is often used in the New Testament, and always denotes theplace of final punishment ( Matthew 5:22 Matthew 5:29 Matthew 5:30 ; Matthew 10:28 ; Matthew 18:9 ; Matthew 23:15 Matthew 23:33 Mark 9:43 Mark 9:45 Mark 9:47 ; Luke 12:5 ; James 3:6 ). We should note that while sin hasstages, God takes note of it from its very first germination in theheart, and that a man's soul is imperiled long before his feelings beartheir fruitage of violence and murder.
5:23 If therefore1 thou art offering thy gift at the altar2, and there rememberest that thy brother hath aught against thee,
- If therefore. Having forbidden anger, Jesus now proceeds to lay down the course for reconciliation.
- Thou art offering thy gift at the altar. That which was popularly esteemed the highest act of worship.
5:24 leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way, first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift1.
- First be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift. Reconciliation takes precedence of all other duties, even ofofferings made to God. A very important teaching in these days, whenmen, by corrupt practices, by extortionate combinations, and bygrinding the face of the poor, accumulate millions of dollars and thenattempt to placate God by bestowing a little of their pocket changeupon colleges and missionary societies. God hears and heeds the voiceof the unreconciled brethren, and the gift is bestowed upon the altarin vain. The offering of unclean hands is an abomination. The lessonteaches us to be reconciled with all who bear grudges against us, andsays nothing as to whether their reasons are sufficient orinsufficient, just or unjust. Stier writes,
"It is enough to say, I have naught against "him", and so justify myself."
5:25 Agree with thine adversary1 quickly, while thou art with him in the way2; lest haply the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer3, and thou be cast into prison4.
- Thine adversary. Opponent in a lawsuit.
- While thou art with him in the way. On the road to the judge.
- The officer. One answering somewhat to our sheriff.
- And thou be cast into prison. Bengel says,
"In this brief allegory one is supposed to have an adversary at law who has just cause against him, and who will certainly gain a verdict when the case comes to court. The plaintiff himself used to apprehend the defendant"
The defendant is, therefore, advised to agree with this adversary whilethe two are alone on the way to the judge, and thus prevent a trial.Jesus still has in mind the preceding case of one who has given offenseto his brother. Every such one is going to the final judgment, and willthere be condemned unless he now becomes reconciled to his brother.
5:26 Verily I say unto thee, thou shalt by no means come out thence, till thou have paid the last farthing21.
- Thou shalt by no means come out thence, till thou have paid the last farthing. This is the text on which the Roman Catholic Church has builtits doctrine of purgatory, and one of those on which the Universalistsbuild theirs of final restoration. But neither "prison" nor "till"necessarily point to ultimate deliverance. Compare 2 Peter 2:4 ; Jude 1:6 .The allusion here is of course to imprisonment for debt. In such a casethe debtor was held until the debt was paid, either by himself or somefriend. If it were not paid at all, he remained in prison until hedied. In the case which this is made to represent, the offender wouldhave let pass all opportunity to make reparation and no friend can makeit for him; therefore, the last farthing will never be paid, and hemust remain a prisoner forever. So far, therefore, from being a pictureof hope, it is one which sets forth the inexorable rigor of divinejustice against the hardened and impenitent sinner. It is intended toteach that men cannot pay their debts to God, and therefore they hadbetter obtain his forgiveness through faith during these days of grace.It exposes the vain hope of those who think that God will only lightlyexact his debts. God knows only complete forgiveness or completeexaction. This is an action founded upon the perfection of his nature.
- Farthing. The Greek word translated "farthing" is derived from the Latin "quadrans", which equals the fourth part of a Roman "As", asmall copper or bronze coin which had become common in Palestine. Thefarthing was worth about one-fifth part of a cent.
5:27 Ye have heard that it was said, Thou shalt not commit adultery1:
5:28 but I say unto you, that every one that looketh on a woman to lust after her1 hath committed adultery with her already in his heart2.
- That every one that looketh on a woman to lust after her, etc. Here, as in reference to murder ( Matthew 5:21 Matthew 5:22 ), Jesus legislates against thethought which lies back of the act. He cuts off sin at its lowest root.The essence of all vice is intention.
- Hath committed adultery with her already in his heart Those who indulge in unchaste imaginations, desires, and intentions are guiltybefore God ( 2 Peter 2:14 ).
5:29 And if thy right eye1 causeth thee to stumble, pluck it out, and cast it from thee2: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not thy whole body be cast into hell.
- And if thy right eye. The organ of reception.
- Causeth thee to stumble, pluck it out, and cast it from thee, etc. These words indicate decision and determination, and suggest the conductof a surgeon who, to protect the rest of the body, unflinchingly seversthe gangrened members.
5:30 And if thy right hand1 causeth thee to stumble, cut it off, and cast it from thee2: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not thy whole body go into hell.
- And if thy right hand. The instrument of outward action.
- Causeth thee to stumble, cut it off, and cast it from thee, etc. Jesus here emphasizes the earnestness with which men should seek asinless life. To this the whole Scripture constrains us by the terrorsof hell, and encourages us by the joys of heaven. The right eye andhand and foot were regarded as the most precious ( Zechariah 11:17 ; Exodus 29:20 ),but it is better to lose the dearest thing in life than to lose one'sself. To be deprived of all earthly advantage than to be cast intohell. Of course the Savior does not mean that we should apply thisprecept literally, since bodily mutilation will not cure sin whichresides in the will and not in the organ of sense or action. A literalexaction of the demands of this precept would turn the church into ahospital. We should blind ourselves by taking care not to look withevil eyes; we should maim ourselves by absolutely refusing to go toforbidden resorts, etc. "Mortify" ( Colossians 3:5 ) is a similar expression.
5:31 It was said also1, Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement:
5:32 but I say unto you, that every one that putteth away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, maketh her an adulteress1: and whosoever shall marry her when she is put away committeth adultery2.
- That every one that putteth away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, maketh her an adulteress. The mere fact of divorce didnot make her an adulteress, but it brought her into a state of disgracefrom which she invariably sought to free herself by contracting anothermarriage, and this other marriage to which her humiliating situationdrove her made her an adulteress.
- Whosoever shall marry her when she is put away committeth adultery. The law of divorce will be found at Deuteronomy 24:1-4 . Jesus explains thatthis law was given by Moses on account of the hardness of the people'sheart; that is, to prevent greater evils ( Matthew 19:8 ). The law permittedthe husband to put away the wife when he found "some unseemly thing inher" ( Genesis 24:1 ). But Jesus here limits the right of divorce to casesof unchastity, and if there be a divorce on any other ground, neitherthe man nor the woman can marry again without committing adultery( Matthew 19:9 ). Such is Jesus' modification of the Old Testament law,and in no part of the New Testament is there any relaxation as to thelaw here set forth. It is implied that divorce for unchastity breaksthe marriage bond, and it is therefore held almost universally, both bycommentators and moralists, that the innocent party to such a divorcecan marry again. Of course the guilty part could not, for no one isallowed by law to reaps the benefits of his own wrong. For furtherlight on the subject, see Romans 7:1-3 ; 1 Corinthians 7:10-16 1 Corinthians 7:39 . It is much tobe regretted that in many Protestant countries the civil authoritieshave practically set aside this law of Christ by allowing divorce andremarriage for a variety of causes. No man who respects the authorityof Christ can take advantage of such legislation.
5:33 Again, ye have heard that it was said to them of old time, Thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths1:
- Thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths. See Leviticus 19:12 ; Numbers 30:2 ; Deuteronomy 23:21 . It will be seen fromthe quotation given by Jesus at that the law permitted oaths made untothe Lord. It was not the intention of Jesus to repeal this law. But theJews, looking upon this law, construed it as giving them exemption fromthe binding effect of all other oaths.
5:34 but I say unto you, swear not at all1; neither by the heaven, for it is the throne of God;
- Matthew 5:34-36
- But I say unto you, Swear not at all. According to the Jews' construction, no oath was binding in which the sacred name of God didnot directly occur. They therefore coined many other oaths to suittheir purposes, which would add weight to their statements or promises,which however, would not leave them guilty of being forsworn if theyspoke untruthfully.
- Neither by heaven, for it is the throne of God. But Jesus showed that all oaths were ultimately referable to God, and that those whomade them would be forsworn if they did not keep them. To prevent thisevil practice of loose swearing, Jesus lays down the prohibition,"Swear not at all"; but the universality of this prohibition isdistributed by the specifications of these four forms of oaths, and is,therefore, most strictly interpreted as including only such oaths.
5:35 nor by the earth, for it is the footstool of his feet; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King1.
- The city of the great King. See Psalms 48:2 .
5:36 Neither shalt thou swear by thy head1, for thou canst not make one hair white or black.
- Neither shalt thou swear by thy head. Looking at the details of the paragraph, we find that oaths by heaven and by the earth, byJerusalem and by the head, are utterly meaningless save as they havereference to God. Quarles says,
"Swearing is a sin whereunto neither profit incites, nor pleasure allures, nor necessity compels, nor inclination of nature persuades."
5:37 But let your speech be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay1: and whatsoever is more than these is of the evil [one].
- Let your speech be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay. Jesus did not intend to abolish now, in advance of the general abrogation of the law, thosestatutes of Moses which allowed, and in some instances required, theadministration of an oath. See Exodus 22:11 ; Numbers 5:19 . What we style thejudicial oaths of the law of Moses then were not included in theprohibition. This conclusion is also reached when we interpret theprohibition in the light of authoritative examples; for we find thatGod swore by himself ( Genesis 22:16 Genesis 22:17 ; Hebrews 6:13 ; Hebrews 7:21 ). Jesus answeredunder oath before the Sanhedrin ( Matthew 26:63 ), and Paul also made oathto the Corinthian church ( 2 Corinthians 1:23 ). See also Romans 1:9 ; Galatians 1:20 Philippians 1:8 ; 1 Corinthians 15:31 ; Revelation 10:5 Revelation 10:6 . We conclude, then, that judicial oaths,and oaths taken in the name of God on occasions of solemn religiousimportance, are not included in the prohibition. But as these are theonly exceptions found in Scriptures, we conclude that all other oathsare forbidden.
5:38 Ye have heard that it was said1, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth2:
- Ye have heard that it was said. See Exodus 21:24 ; Leviticus 24:20 ; Deuteronomy 19:21 .
- An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth. The "lex talonis", or law of like for like, was the best possible rule in a rude state ofsociety, its object being not to sacrifice the second eye, but to saveboth, by causing a man when in a passion to realize that every injurywhich he inflicted upon his adversary he would in the end inflict uponhimself. From this rule the scribes drew the false inference thatrevenge was proper, and that a man was entitled to exercise it. Thus alaw intended to prevent revenge was so perverted that it was used as awarrant for it.
5:39 but I say unto you, resist not him that is evil1: but whosoever smiteth thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also2.
- But I say unto you, resist not him that is evil. This command which enjoins non-resistance, like most of the other precepts of this sermon,does not demand of absolute, unqualified pacivity at all times andunder all circumstances. In fact, we may say generally of the wholesermon on the mount that it is not a code for slaves, but an assertionof principles which are to be interpreted and applied by the childrenof freedom. We are to submit to evil for principle's sake and toaccomplish spiritual victories, and not in an abject, servile spirit asblind followers of a harsh and exacting law. On the contrary, takingthe principle, we judge when and how to apply it as best we can.Absolute non-resistance may so far encourage crime as to become a sin.As in the case of the precept about swearing just above, Jesusdistributes the universal prohibition by the specification of certainexamples, which in this case are three in number.
- But whosoever smiteth thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. This first example is taken from the realm of physical violence.The example given, a slap in the face, has been regarded as a grossinsult in all ages, but it is not an assault which imperils life. Wefind this precept illustrated by the conduct of the Master himself. Hedid not literally turn the other cheek to be smitten, but breathedforth a mild and gentle reproof where he might have avenged himself bythe sudden death of his adversary ( John 18:22 John 18:23 ). The example ofPaul also is given, but it is not so perfect as that of the Master( Acts 23:2-5 ). Self-preservation is a law of God giving rightswhich, under most circumstances, a Christian can claim. He may resistthe robber, the assassin and all men of that ilk, and may protect hisperson and his possessions against the assaults of the violent andlawless ( Acts 16:35-39 ). But when the honor of Christ and thesalvation of man demands it, he should observe this commandment evenunto the very letter.
5:40 And if any man would go to law with thee1, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also.
- And if any man would go to law with thee. The second case is one of judicial injustice, and teaches that the most annoying exactions areto endured without revenge.
- And take away thy coat let him have thy cloak also. The coat was the inner garment, and the cloak was the outer or more costly one. Thecreditor was not allowed to retain it over night, even when it wasgiven to him as a pledge from the poor, because it was used for abed-covering ( Exodus 22:26 Exodus 22:27 ). The idea therefore is, according toMansel,
"Be ready to give up even that which by law cannot be taken."
This case, as the one just above, is also an instance of pettypersecution, and shows that the command does not forbid a righteousappeal to the law in cases where large and important interests areinvolved.
5:41 And whosoever shall compel thee to go one mile1, go with him two2.
- And whosoever shall compel thee to go one mile. The Roman mile; it was 142 yards short of the English mile.
- Go with him two. This third instance is a case of governmental oppression. It supposes a man to be impressed by government official togo a mile. The custom alluded to is said to have originated with Cyrus,king of Persia, and it empowered a government courier to impress bothmen and horses to help him forward. For an example of governmentalimpress, see Luke 23:26 . The exercise of this power by the Romanswas exceedingly distasteful to Jews, and this circumstance gave aspecial pertinency to the Savior's mention of it. (See Herodotus 8:98;Xenophon, Cyropaedia, 8:6,7; Josephus Ant. 12:2,3). The command, "Gowith him two", requires a cheerful compliance with the demands of atyrannical government--a doubling of the hardship or duty requiredrather than a resistance to the demand. But here again the oppressionis not an insupportable one. A man might go two miles and yet not losehis whole day's labor. The Savior chooses these lesser evils becausethey bring out more distinctly the motives of conduct. If we resist thesmaller evils of life, we thereby manifest a spirit of pride-seekingrevenge; but when the larger evils come upon us, they waken othermotives. A man may strive for self-protection when life is threatenedwithout any spirit of revenge. He may appeal to the law to protect hisproperty without any bitterness toward the one who seeks to wrest itfrom him, and he may set himself against the oppression of hisgovernment from the loftiest motives of patriotism. If revenge slumbersin our breast, little injuries will waken it as quickly as big ones.
5:42 Give to him that asketh thee1, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away2.
- Give to him that asketh thee. Jesus here turns from the negative to the positive side of life. Our conduct, instead of being selfishand revengeful, should be generous and liberal. A benevolentdisposition casts out revenge as light does darkness.
- And from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away. No lending was provided for by the law of Moses except for benevolentpurposes, for no interest was allowed, and all debts were canceledevery seventh year. The giving and lending referred to, then, arelimited to cases of real want, and the amount given or loaned is to beregulated accordingly. Giving or lending to the encouragement of viceor indolence cannot, of course, be here included. Good actions aremarred if they bear evil fruit.
5:43 Ye have heard that it was said1, Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy:
- Ye have heard that it was said. See Leviticus 19:18 .
- Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. The law commanding love will be found at Leviticus 19:18 , while the sentiment"hate thy enemy" is not found in the law as a precept. But the Jewswere forbidden by law to make peace with the Canaanites ( Exodus 34:11-16 Deuteronomy 7:2 ; Deuteronomy 23:6 ), and the bloody wars which were waged by God's owncommand inevitably taught them to hate them. This was the feeling oftheir most pious men ( 1 Chronicles 20:3 ; 2 Kings 13:19 ), and it found utteranceeven in their devotional hymns; e.g., Psalms 137:8 Psalms 137:9 ; Psalms 139:21 Psalms 139:22 . It isa true representation of the law, therefore, in its practical working,that it taught hatred of one's enemies. This is one of the defects ofthe Jewish dispensation, which, like the privilege of divorce at will,was to endure but for a time.
5:44 but I say unto you, love your enemies, and pray for them that persecute you1;
- Love your enemies, and pray for them that persecute you. To love an enemy has appeared to many persons impossible, because they understandthe word "love" as here expressing the same feeling in all respectswhich are entertained toward a friend or a near kinsman. But love hasmany shades and degrees. The exact phase of it which is here enjoinedis best understood in the light of examples. The parable of the goodSamaritan is given by Jesus for the express purpose of exemplifying it( Luke 10:35-37 ); his own example of praying on the cross for thosewho crucified him serves the same purpose, as does also the prayer ofStephen made in imitation of it ( Luke 23:34 ; Acts 7:60 ). The feelingwhich enables us to deal with an enemy after the manner of theSamaritan, or Jesus, or Stephen, is the love for our enemies which ishere enjoined. It is by no means an impossible feeling. Prayer, too,can always express it, for as Hooker says,
"Prayer is that which we always have in our power to bestow, and they never in theirs to refuse."
5:45 that ye may be sons of your Father who is in heaven1: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and the good2, and sendeth rain on the just and the unjust.
- Matthew 5:45 Matthew 5:46
- That ye may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. Jesus here gives two reasons why we should obey this precept: (1) That we may belike God; (2) That we may be unlike publicans and sinners. Of courseright action toward our enemies does not make us sons of God, but itproves us such by showing our resemblance to him. We are made childrenof God by regeneration ( John 1:12 ).
- For he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and the good, etc. God, in his daily conduct toward the children of this earth, does not carryhis discrimination to any great length. Needful blessings are bestowedlavishly upon all.
5:46 For if ye love them that love you, what reward have ye1? do not even the publicans2 the same?
- For if ye love them that love you, what reward have ye? Jesus teaches that our religion is worth little if it begets in us no higherlove than that which is shown by natural, worldly men. Matthew Henrywrites,
"Christianity is more than humanity."
- The publicans. The Roman publican proper was a wealthy man of the knightly order, who purchased from the state the privilege ofcollecting their taxes, but the publicans mentioned in the Scripturewere their servants--the men who actually collected the taxes, and theofficial name for them was "portitores". These latter were sometimesfreedmen or slaves, and sometimes natives of the province in which thetax was collected. The fact that the Jews were a conquered people,paying tax to a foreign power, made the tax itself odious, and hencethe men through whom it was extorted from them were equally odious.These men were regarded in the double aspect of oppressors andtraitors. The odium thus attached to the office prevented men who hadany regard for the good opinion of their countrymen from accepting it,and left it in the hands of those who had no self-respect and noreputation. See Luke 3:12.
5:47 And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more [than others?] do not even the Gentiles the same?
- And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more [than others]? The Jews despised the Gentiles, so that they did not usually salutethem. This was especially true of the Pharisees. The morality,therefore, of this sect proved to be, in this respect, no better thanthat of the heathen. Salutation has always been an important feature inEastern social life. The salutation, with all its accompaniments,recognized the one saluted as a friend.
5:48 Ye therefore shall be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect1.
- Ye therefore shall be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. Luke emphasizes the particular characteristic of God's perfection whichJesus has been discussing, namely, mercy ( Luke 6:36 ); but Matthewrecords the broader assertion which bids us resemble God's perfectionsin all their fullness and universality. God is our model. Everythingshort of that is short of what we ought to be. God cannot be satisfiedwith that which is imperfect. This requirement keeps us in mind of ourinfirmities, and keeps us at work. Like Paul, we must be ever striving( Philippians 3:12 ). Our standard is not the perfection of great and heroicmen, but of the infinite Creator himself.