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In the mean time - While he was discoursing with the scribes and Pharisees, as recorded in the last chapter.
An innumerable multitude - The original word is “myriad’s,” or ten thousands. It is used here to signify that there was a great crowd or collection of people, who were anxious to hear him. Multitudes were attracted to the Saviour’s ministry, and it is worthy of remark that he never had more to hear him than when he was most faithful and severe in his reproofs of sinners. Men’s consciences are on the side of the faithful reprover of their sins; and though they deeply feel the reproof, yet they will still respect and hear him that reproves.
To his disciples first of all - This does not mean that his disciples were, before all others, to avoid hypocrisy, but that this was the “first” or chief thing of which they were to beware. The meaning is this: “He said to his disciples, “Above all things beware,” etc.
The leaven - See the notes at Matthew 16:6.
Which is hypocrisy - See the notes at Matthew 7:5. Hypocrisy is like leaven or yeast, because:
- It may exist without being immediately detected. Leaven mixed in flour is not known until it produces its effects.
- It is insinuating. Leaven will soon pervade the whole mass. So hypocrisy will, if undetected and unremoved, soon pervade all our exercises and feelings.
- It is swelling. It puffs us up, and fills us with pride and vanity. No man is more proud than the hypocrite, and none is more odious to God. When Jesus cautions them to beware of “the leaven of the Pharisees,” he means that they should be cautious about imbibing their spirit and becoming like them. The religion of Jesus is one of sincerity, of humility, of an entire want of disguise. The humblest man is the best Christian, and he who has the least disguise is most like his Master.
Nothing covered - See the notes at Matthew 10:26-32.
Shall be proclaimed upon the housetops - See the notes at Matthew 10:27. The custom of making proclamation from the tops or roofs of houses still prevails in the East. Dr. Thomson (“The Land and the Book,” vol. i. p. 51, 52) says: “At the present day, local governors in country districts cause their commands thus to be published. Their proclamations are generally made in the evening, after the people have returned from their labors in the field. The public crier ascends the highest roof at hand, and lifts up his voice in a long-drawn call upon all faithful subjects to give ear and obey. He then proceeds to announce, in a set form, the will of their master, and demand obedience thereto.”
See the notes at Matthew 12:32.
See the notes at Matthew 10:17-20.
One of the company - One of the multitude. This man had probably had a dispute with his brother, supposing that his brother had refused to do him justice. Conceiving that Jesus had power over the people - that what he said must be performed - he endeavored to secure him on his side of the dispute and gain his point. From the parable which follows, it would appear that he had no “just” claim on the inheritance, but was influenced by covetousness. Besides, if he “had” any just claim, it might have been secured by the laws of the land,
Speak to my brother - Command my brother.
Divide the inheritance - An inheritance is the property which is left by a father to his children. Among the Jews the older brother had two shares, or twice as much as any other child, Deuteronomy 21:17. The remainder was then equally divided among all the children.
Who made me a judge? - It is not my business to settle controversies of this kind. They are to be settled by the magistrate. Jesus came for another purpose - to preach the gospel, and so to bring people to “a willingness to do” right. Civil affairs are to be left to the magistrate. There is no doubt that Jesus “could” have told him what was right in this case, but then it would have been interfering with the proper office of the magistrates; it might have led him into controversy with the Jews; and it was, besides, evidently apart from the proper business of his life. We may remark, also, that the appropriate business of ministers of the gospel is to attend to spiritual concerns. They should have little to do with the temporal matters of the people. If they can “persuade men” who are at variance to be reconciled, it is right; but they have no power to take the place of a magistrate, and to settle contentions in a legal way.
Beware of covetousness - One of these brothers, no doubt, was guilty of this sin; and our Saviour, as was his custom, took occasion to warn his disciples of its danger.
Covetousness - An unlawful desire of the property of another; also a desire of gain or riches beyond what is necessary for our wants. It is a violation of the tenth commandment Exodus 20:17, and is expressly called idolatry Colossians 3:5. Compare, also, Ephesians 5:3, and Hebrews 13:5.
A man’s life - The word “life” is sometimes taken in the sense of happiness or felicity, and some have supposed this to be the meaning here, and that Jesus meant to say that a man’s comfort does not depend on affluence - that is, on more than is necessary for his daily wants; but this meaning does not suit the parable following, which is designed to show that property will not lengthen out a man’s life, and therefore is not too ardently to be sought, and is of little value. The word “life,” therefore, is to be taken “literally.”
Consisteth not - Rather, “dependeth” not on his possessions. His possessions will not prolong it. The passage, then, means: Be not anxious about obtaining wealth, for, however much you may obtain, it will not prolong your life. “That” depends on the will of God, and it requires something besides wealth to make us ready to meet him. This sentiment he proceeds to illustrate by a beautiful parable.
A parable - See the notes at Matthew 13:3.
Plentifully - His land was fertile, and produced even beyond his expectations, and beyond what he had provided for.
He thought within himself - He reasoned or inquired. He was anxious and perplexed. Riches increase thought and perplexity. Indeed, this is almost their only effect - to engross the thoughts and steal the heart away from better things, in order to take care of the useless wealth.
No room - Everything was full.
To bestow - To place, to hoard, to collect.
My fruits - Our word “fruits” is not applied to “grain;” but the Greek word is applied to all the produce of the earth - not only “fruit,” but also grain. This is likewise the old meaning of the English word, especially in the plural number.
I will pull down my barns - The word “barns” here, properly means, “granaries,” or places exclusively designed to put wheat, barley, etc. They were commonly made, by the ancients, “underground,” where grain could be kept a long time more safe from thieves and from vermin. If it be asked why he did not let the old ones remain and build new ones, it may be answered that it would be easier to “enlarge” those already excavated in the earth than to dig new ones.
Much goods - Much property. Enough to last a long while, so that there is no need of anxiety or labor.
Take thine ease - Be free from care about the future. Have no anxiety about coming to want.
Eat, drink, and be merry - This was just the doctrine of the ancient Epicureans and atheists, and it is, alas! too often the doctrine of those who are rich. They think that all that is valuable in life is to eat, and drink, and be cheerful or merry. Hence, their chief anxiety is to obtain the “delicacies of the season “ - the luxuries of the world; to secure the productions of every clime at any expense, and to be distinguished for splendid repasts and a magnificent style of living. What a portion is this for an immortal soul! What folly to think that “all” that a man lives for is to satisfy his sensual appetites; to forget that he has an intellect to be cultivated, a heart to be purified, a soul to be saved!
Thou fool - If there is any supreme folly, it is this. As though riches could prolong life, or avert for a moment the approach of pain and death.
This night ... - What an awful sentence to a man who, as he thought, had got just ready to live and enjoy himself! In a single moment all his hopes were blasted, and his soul summoned to the bar of his long-forgotten God. So, many are surprised as suddenly and as unprepared. They are snatched from their pleasures, and hurried to a world where there is no pleasure, and where all their wealth cannot purchase one moment’s ease from the gnawings of the worm that never dies.
Shall be required of thee - Thou shalt be required to die, to go to God, and to give up your account.
Then whose ... - Whose they may be is of little consequence to the man that lost his soul to gain them; but they are often left to heirs that dissipate them much sooner than the father procured them, and thus they secure “their” ruin as well as his own. See Psalms 39:6; Ecclesiastes 2:18-19.
So is he - This is the portion or the doom.
Layeth up treasure for himself - Acquires riches for his own use - for “himself.” This is the characteristic of the covetous man. It is all for “himself.” His plans terminate there. He lives only for himself, and acts only with regard to his own interest.
Rich toward God - Has no inheritance in the kingdom of God - no riches laid up in heaven. His affections are all fixed on this world, and he has none for God.
From this instructive parable we learn:
1. That wicked people are often signally prospered - their ground brings forth plentifully. God gives them their desire, but sends leanness into their souls.
2. That riches bring with them always an increasing load of cares and anxieties.
3. That they steal away the affections from God - are sly, insinuating, and dangerous to the soul.
4. That the anxiety of a covetous man is not what “good” he may do with his wealth, but where he may hoard it, and keep it secure from doing any good.
5. That riches cannot secure their haughty owners from the grave. Death will come upon them suddenly, unexpectedly, awfully. In the very midst of the brightest anticipations - in a moment - in the twinkling of an eye it may come, and all the wealth that has been accumulated cannot alleviate one pang, or drive away one fear, or prolong life for one moment.
6. That the man who is trusting to his riches in this manner is a fool in the sight of God. Soon, also, he will be a fool in his “own” sight, and will go to hell with the consciousness that his life has been one of eminent folly.
7. That the path of true wisdom is to seek first the kingdom of God, and to be ready to die; and “then” it matters little what is our portion here, or how suddenly or soon we are called away to meet our Judge. If our affections are not fixed on our riches, we shall leave them without regret. If our treasures are laid up in heaven, death will be but “going home,” and happy will be that moment when we are called to our rest.
See this passage explained in the notes at Matthew 6:25-33.
Little flock - Our Saviour often represents himself as a shepherd, and his followers as a flock or as sheep. The figure was beautiful. In Judea it was a common employment to attend flocks. The shepherd was with them, defended them, provided for them, led them to green pastures and beside still waters. In all these things Jesus was and is eminently the Good Shepherd. His flock was small. Few “really” followed him, compared with the multitude who professed to love him. But, though small in number, they were not to fear. God was their Friend. He would provide for them. It was his purpose to give them the kingdom, and they had nothing to fear. See Matthew 6:19-21.
Sell that ye have - Sell your property. Exchange it for that which you can use in distributing charity. This was the condition of their being disciples. Their property they gave up; they forsook it, or they put it into common stock, for the sake of giving alms to the poor, Acts 2:44; Acts 4:32; John 12:6; Acts 5:2.
Bags which wax not old - The word “bags,” here, means “purses,” or the bags attached to their girdles, in which they carried their money. See the notes at Matthew 5:38. By bags which wax not old Jesus means that we should lay up treasure in heaven; that our aim should be to be prepared to enter there, where all our wants will be forever provided for. Purses, here, grow old and useless. Wealth takes to itself wings. Riches are easily scattered, or we must soon leave them; but that wealth which is in heaven abides forever. It never is corrupted; never flies away; never is to be left.
Wax - This word is from an old Saxon word, and in the Bible means to “grow.”
Let your loins ... - This alludes to the ancient manner of dress. They wore a long flowing robe as their outer garment. See the notes at Matthew 5:38-41. When they labored, or walked, or ran, it was necessary to “gird” or tie this up by a “sash” or girdle about the body, that it might not impede their progress. Hence, to gird up the loins means to be “ready,” to be active, to be diligent. Compare 2 Kings 4:29; 2 Kings 9:1; Jeremiah 1:17; Acts 12:8.
Your lights burning - This expresses the same meaning. Be ready at all times to leave the world and enter into rest, when your Lord shall call you. Let every obstacle be out of the way; let every earthly care be removed, and be prepared to follow him into his rest. Servants were expected to be ready for the coming of their lord. If in the night, they were expected to keep their lights trimmed and burning. When their master was away in attendance on a wedding, as they knew not the hour when he would return, they were to be continually ready. So we, as we know not the hour when God shall call us, should be “always” ready to die. Compare the notes at Matthew 25:1-13.
Shall gird himself - Shall take the place of the servant himself. Servants who waited on the table were girded in the manner described above.
Shall make them sit ... - Shall place them at his table and feast them. This evidently means that if we are faithful to Christ, and are ready to meet him when he returns, he will receive us into heaven - will admit us to all its blessings, and make us happy there - as if “he” should serve us and minister to our wants. It will be as if a master, instead of sitting down at the table “himself,” should place his faithful “servants” there, and be himself the servant. This shows the exceeding kindness and condescension of our Lord. For “us,” poor and guilty sinners, he denied himself, took the form of a servant Philippians 2:7, and ministered to our wants. In our nature he has worked out salvation, and he has done it in one of the humblest conditions of the children of men. How should our bosoms burn with gratitude to him, and how should “we” be willing to serve one another! See the notes at John 13:1-17.
See the notes at Matthew 24:42-51.
Second watch - See the notes at Matthew 14:25.
Which knew his lord’s will - Who knew what his master wished him to do. He that knows what God commands and requires.
Many stripes - Shall be severely and justly punished. They who have many privileges, who are often warned, who have the gospel, and do not repent and believe, shall be far more severely punished than others. They who are early taught in Sunday schools, or by pious parents, or in other ways, and who grow up in sin and impenitence, will have much more to answer for than those who have no such privileges.
Few stripes - The Jews never inflicted more than forty stripes for one offence, Deuteronomy 25:3. For smaller offences they inflicted only four, five, six, etc., according to the nature of the crime. In allusion to this, our Lord says that he “that knew not” - that is, he who had comparatively little knowledge - would suffer a punishment proportionally light. He refers, doubtless, to those who have fewer opportunities, smaller gifts, or fewer teachers.
Much is given - They who have much committed to their disposal, as stewards, etc. See the parable of the talents in Matthew 25:14-30.
I am, come ... - The result of my coming will be that there will be divisions and contentions. He does not mean that he came “for” that purpose, or that he “sought” and “desired” it; but that such was the state of the human heart, and such the opposition of people to the truth, that that would be the “effect” of his coming. See the notes at Matthew 10:34.
Fire - Fire, here, is the emblem of discord and contention, and consequently of calamities. Thus it is used in Psalms 66:12; Isaiah 43:2.
And what will I ... - This passage might be better expressed in this manner: “And what would I, but that it were kindled. Since it is “necessary” for the advancement of religion that such divisions should take place; since the gospel cannot be established without conflicts, and strifes, and hatreds, I am even desirous that they should come. Since the greatest blessing which mankind can receive must be attended with such unhappy divisions, I am willing, nay, desirous that they should come.” He did not wish evil in itself; but, as it was the occasion of good, he was desirous, if it “must” take place, that it should take place soon. From this we learn:
- That the promotion of religion may be expected to produce many contests and bitter feelings.
- That the heart of man must be exceedingly wicked, or it would not oppose a work like the Christian religion.
- That though God cannot look on evil with approbation, yet, for the sake of the benefit which may grow out of it, he is willing to permit it, and suffer it to come into the world.
A baptism - See the notes at Matthew 20:22.
Am I straitened - How do I earnestly desire that it were passed! Since these sufferings “must” be endured, how anxious am I that the time should come! Such were the feelings of the Redeemer in view of his approaching dying hour. We may learn from this:
- That it is not improper to “feel deeply” at the prospect of dying. It is a sad, awful, terrible event; and it is impossible that we should look at it aright “without” feeling - scarcely without trembling.
- It is not improper to desire that the time should come, and that the day of our release should draw nigh, Philippians 1:23. To the Christian, death is but the entrance to life; and since the pains of death “must” be endured, and since they lead to heaven, it matters little how soon he passes through these sorrows, and rises to his eternal rest.
See the notes at Matthew 10:34-36.
See the notes at Matthew 16:2-3.
South wind - To the south and southwest of Judea were situated Arabia, Egypt, and Ethiopia, all warm or hot regions, and consequently the air that came from those quarters was greatly heated.
How is it that ye do not discern this time! - You see a cloud rise, and predict a shower; a south wind, and expect heat. These are regular events. So you see my miracles; you hear my preaching; you have the predictions of me in the prophets; why do you not, in like manner, infer that “this is the time” when the Messiah should appear?
See the notes at Matthew 5:25-26.
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Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Luke 12". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Christ the King / Proper 29 / Ordinary 34