Adam Clarke Commentary
The parable of the unjust steward, Luke 16:1-8. Christ applies this to his hearers, Luke 16:9-13. The Pharisees take offense, Luke 16:14. Our Lord reproves them, and shows the immutability of the law, Luke 16:15-17. Counsels against divorce, Luke 16:18. The story of the rich man and the beggar, commonly called Dives and Lazarus, Luke 16:19-31.
A steward - Οικονομος, from οικος, a house, or οικια, a family, and νεμω, I administer; one who superintends domestic concerns, and ministers to the support of the family, having the products of the field, business, etc., put into his hands for this very purpose. See on Luke 8:3; (note).
There is a parable very like this in Rab. Dav. Kimchi's comment on Isaiah, Isaiah 40:21; : "The whole world may be considered as a house builded up: heaven is its roof; the stars its lamps; and the fruits of the earth, the table spread. The owner and builder of this house is the holy blessed God; and man is the steward, into whose hands all the business of the house is committed. If he considers in his heart that the master of the house is always over him, and keeps his eye upon his work; and if, in consequence, he act wisely, he shall find favor in the eyes of the master of the house: but if the master find wickedness in him, he will remove him, יפקדתו מן min pakidato, from his Stewardship. The foolish steward doth not think of this: for as his eyes do not see the master of the house, he saith in his heart, 'I will eat and drink what I find in this house, and will take my pleasure in it; nor shall I be careful whether there be a Lord over this house or not.' When the Lord of the house marks this, he will come and expel him from the house, speedily and with great anger. Therefore it is written, He bringeth the princes to nothing." As is usual, our Lord has greatly improved this parable, and made it in every circumstance more striking and impressive. Both in the Jewish and Christian edition, it has great beauties.
Wasted his goods - Had been profuse and profligate; and had embezzled his master's substance.
Give an account of thy, etc. - Produce thy books of receipts and disbursements, that I may see whether the accusation against thee be true or false. The original may be translated, Give up the business, τον λογον, of the stewardship.
I cannot dig - He could not submit to become a common day-laborer, which was both a severe and base employment: To beg I am ashamed. And as these were the only honest ways left him to procure a morsel of bread, and he would not submit to either, he found he must continue the system of knavery, in order to provide for his idleness and luxury, or else starve. Wo to the man who gets his bread in this way! The curse of the Lord must be on his head, and on his heart; in his basket, and is his store.
They may receive me - That is, the debtors and tenants, who paid their debts and rents, not in money, but in kind; such as wheat, oil, and other produce of their lands.
A hundred measures of oil - Ἑκατον βατους, A hundred baths. The בת bath was the largest measure of capacity among the Hebrews, except the homer, of which it was the tenth part: see Ezekiel 45:11, Ezekiel 45:14. It is equal to the ephah, i.e. to seven gallons and a half of our measure.
Take thy bill - Thy account - το γραμμα . The writing in which the debt was specified, together with the obligation to pay so much, at such and such times. This appears to have been in the hand-writing of the debtor, and probably signed by the steward: and this precluded imposition on each part. To prevent all appearance of forgery in this case, he is desired to write it over again, and to cancel the old engagement. In carrying on a running account with a tradesman, it is common among the Hindoos for the buyer to receive from the hands of the seller a daily account of the things received; and according to this account, written on a slip of paper, and which remains in the hands of the buyer, the person is paid.
A hundred measures of wheat - Ἑκατον κορους, a hundred cors. Κορος, from the Hebrew כר cor, was the largest measure of capacity among the Hebrews, whether for solids or liquids. As the bath was equal to the ephah, so the cor was equal to the homer. It contained about seventy-five gallons and five pints English. For the same reason for which I preserve the names of the ancient coins, I preserve the names of the ancient measures. What idea can a mere English reader have of the word measure in this and the preceding verse, when the original words are not only totally different, but the quantity is as seven to seventy-five? The original terms should be immediately inserted in the text, and the contents inserted in the margin. The present marginal reading is incorrect. I follow Bishop Cumberland's weights and measures. See on Luke 15:8; (note).
In the preceding relation, I have no doubt our Lord alluded to a custom frequent in the Asiatic countries: a custom which still prevails, as the following account, taken from Capt. Hadley's Hindostan Dialogues, sufficiently proves. A person thus addresses the captain: "Your Sirkar's deputy, whilst his master was gone to Calcutta, established a court of justice.
"Having searched for a good many debtors and their creditors, he learned the accounts of their bonds.
"He then made an agreement with them to get the bonds out of the bondsmen's hands for half the debt, if they would give him one fourth.
"Thus, any debtor for a hundred rupees, having given fifty to the creditor, and twenty-five to this knave, got his bond for seventy-five rupees.
"Having seized and flogged 125 bondholders, he has in this manner determined their loans, and he has done this business in your name." Hadley's Gram. Dialogues, p. 79. 5th edit. 1801.
The lord commended - Viz. the master of this unjust steward. He spoke highly of the address and cunning of his iniquitous servant. He had, on his own principles, made a very prudent provision for his support; but his master no more approved of his conduct in this, than he did in his wasting his substance before. From the ambiguous and improper manner in which this is expressed in the common English translation, it has been supposed that our blessed Lord commended the conduct of this wicked man: but the word κυριος, there translated lord, simply means the master of the unjust steward.
The children of this world - Such as mind worldly things only, without regarding God or their souls. A phrase by which the Jews always designate the Gentiles.
Children of light - Such as are illuminated by the Spirit of God, and regard worldly things only as far as they may subserve the great purposes of their salvation, and become the instruments of good to others. But ordinarily the former evidence more carefulness and prudence, in providing for the support and comfort of this life, than the latter do in providing for another world.
The mammon of unrighteousness - Μαμωνα της αδικιας - literally, the mammon, or riches, of injustice. Riches promise Much, and perform Nothing: they excite hope and confidence, and deceive both: in making a man depend on them for happiness, they rob him of the salvation of God and of eternal glory. For these reasons, they are represented as unjust and deceitful. See the note on Matthew 6:24, where this is more particularly explained. It is evident that this must be the meaning of the words, because the false or deceitful riches, here, are put in opposition to the true riches, Luke 16:11; i.e. those Divine graces and blessings which promise all good, and give what they promise; never deceiving the expectation of any man. To insinuate that, if a man have acquired riches by unjust means, he is to sanctify them, and provide himself a passport to the kingdom of God, by giving them to the poor, is a most horrid and blasphemous perversion of our Lord's words. Ill gotten gain must be restored to the proper owners: if they are dead, then to their successors.
When ye fail - That is, when ye die. The Septuagint use the word εκλειπειν in this very sense, Jeremiah 42:17, Jeremiah 42:22. See the note on Genesis 25:8. So does Josephus, War, chap. iv. 1, 9.
They may receive you - That is, say some, the angels. Others, the poor whom ye have relieved will welcome you into glory. It does not appear that the poor are meant:
He that is faithful in that which is least, etc. - He who has the genuine principles of fidelity in him will make a point of conscience of carefully attending to even the smallest things; and it is by habituating himself to act uprightly in little things that he acquires the gracious habit of acting with propriety fidelity, honor, and conscience, in matters of the greatest concern. On the contrary, he who does not act uprightly in small matters will seldom feel himself bound to pay much attention to the dictates of honor and conscience, in cases of high importance. Can we reasonably expect that a man who is continually falling by little things has power to resist temptations to great evils?
That which is another man's - Or rather another's, τῳ αλλοτριω . That is, worldly riches, called another's:
Nam propriae telluris herum natura neque illum,
Nec me, nec quemquam statuit
Nature will no perpetual heir assign,
Nor make the farm his property, or mine.
And the following in one of our own poets: -
"Who steals my purse steals trash; 'tis something, nothing;
'Twas mine, 'tis his, and has been slave to thousands."
That which is your own? - Grace and glory, which God has particularly designed for you; which are the only proper satisfying portion for the soul, and which no man can enjoy in their plenitude, unless he be faithful to the first small motions and influences of the Divine Spirit.
No servant can serve two masters - The heart will be either wholly taken up with God, or wholly engrossed with the world. See on Matthew 6:24; (note).
They derided him - Or rather, They treated him with the utmost contempt. So we may translate the original words εξεμυκτηριζον αυτον, which literally signifies, in illum emunxerunt - but must not be translated into English, unless, to come a little near it, we say, they turned up their noses at him; and why! Because they were lovers of money, and he showed them that all such were in danger of perdition. As they were wedded to this life, and not concerned for the other, they considered him one of the most absurd and foolish of men, and worthy only of the most sovereign contempt, because he taught that spiritual and eternal things should be preferred before the riches of the universe. And how many thousands are there of the very same sentiment to the present day!
Ye - justify yourselves - Ye declare yourselves to be just. Ye endeavor to make it appear to men that ye can still feel an insatiable thirst after the present world, and yet secure the blessings of another; that ye can reconcile God and mammon, - and serve two masters with equal zeal and affection; but God knoweth your hearts, - and he knoweth that ye are alive to the world, and dead to God and goodness. Therefore, howsoever ye may be esteemed among men, ye are an abomination before him. See the note on Luke 7:29.
The law and the prophets were until John - The law and the prophets continued to be the sole teachers till John came, who first began to proclaim the glad tidings of the kingdom of God: and now, he who wishes to be made a partaker of the blessings of that kingdom must rush speedily into it; as there will be but a short time before an utter destruction shall fall upon this ungodly race. They who wish to be saved must imitate those who take a city by storm - rush into it, without delay, as the Romans are about to do into Jerusalem. See also on Matthew 11:12; (note).
Putteth away (or divorceth) his wife - See on Matthew 5:31, Matthew 5:32; (note); Matthew 19:9, Matthew 19:10; (note); Mark 10:12; (note); where the question concerning divorce is considered at large. These verses, from the 13th to the 18th inclusive, appear to be part of our Lord's sermon on the mount; and stand in a much better connection there than they do here; unless we suppose our Lord delivered the same discourse at different times and places, which is very probable.
There was a certain rich man - In the Scholia of some MSS. the name of this person is said to be Ninive. This account of the rich man and Lazarus is either a parable or a real history. If it be a parable, it is what may be: if it be a history, it is that which has been. Either a man may live as is here described, and go to perdition when he dies; or, some have lived in this way, and are now suffering the torments of an eternal fire. The account is equally instructive in whichsoever of these lights it is viewed. Let us carefully observe all the circumstances offered hereto our notice, and we shall see - I. The Crime of this man; and II. His Punishment.
There are few who consider that it is a crime for those called Christians to live without Christ, when their lives are not stained with transgression. If Christianity only required men to live without gross outward sin, paganism could furnish us with many bright examples of this sort. But the religion of Christ requires a conformity, not only in a man's conduct, to the principles of the Gospel; but also a conformity in his heart to the spirit and mind of Christ.
There was a certain beggar named Lazarus - His name is mentioned, because his character was good, and his end glorious; and because it is the purpose of God that the righteous shall be had in everlasting remembrance. Lazarus, לעזר is a contraction of the word אלעזר Eliezar, which signifies the help or assistance of God - a name properly given to a man who was both poor and afflicted, and had no help but that which came from heaven.
And desiring to be fed with the crumbs - And it is likely this desire was complied with, for it is not intimated that he spurned away the poor man from the gate, or that his suit was rejected. And as we find, Luke 16:24, that the rich man desired that Lazarus should be sent with a little water to him, it is a strong intimation that he considered him under some kind of obligation to him; for, had he refused him a few crumbs in his lifetime, it is not reasonable to suppose that he would now have requested such a favor from him; nor does Abraham glance at any such uncharitable conduct on the part of the rich man.
We may now observe,
The rich man also died, and was buried - There is no mention of this latter circumstance in the case of Lazarus; he was buried, no doubt - necessity required this; but he had the burial of a pauper, while the pomp and pride of the other followed him to the tomb. But what a difference in these burials, if we take in the reading of my old MS. Bible, which is supported by several versions: forsothe the riche man is deed: and is buried in helle. And this is also the reading of the Anglo-saxon: and was in hell buried. In some MSS. the point has been wanting after εταφη, he was buried; and the following και, and, removed and set before επαρας he lifted up: so that the passage reads thus: The rich man died also, and was buried in hell; and lifting up his eyes, being in torment, he saw, etc. But let us view the circumstances of this man's punishment.
Scarcely had he entered the place of his punishment, when he lifted up his eyes on high; and what must his surprise be, to see himself separated from God, and to feel himself tormented in that flame! Neither himself, nor friends, ever suspected that the way in which he walked could have led to such a perdition.
They have Moses and the prophets - This plainly supposes they were all Jewish believers: they had these writings in their hands, but they did not permit them to influence their lives.
If one went to them from the dead, etc. - Many are desirous to see an inhabitant of the other world, and converse with him, in order to know what passes there. Make way! Here is a damned soul, which Jesus Christ has evoked from the hell of fire! Hear him! Hear him tell of his torments! Hear him utter his regrets! "But we cannot see him." No: God has, in his mercy, spared you for the present this punishment. How could you bear the sight of this damned spirit? Your very nature would fail at the appearance. Jesus keeps him as it were behind the curtain, and holds a conversation with him in your hearing, which you have neither faith nor courage sufficient to hold with him yourselves.
If they hear not Moses, etc. - This answer of Abraham contains two remarkable propositions.
To make the parable of the unjust steward still more profitable, let every man consider: -
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