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Friday, December 8th, 2023
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Bible Commentaries
Luke 16

Barnes' Notes on the Whole BibleBarnes' Notes

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Verse 1

His disciples - The word “disciples,” here, is not to be restricted to the twelve apostles or to the seventy. The parable appears to have been addressed to all the professed followers of the Saviour who were present when it was delivered. It is connected with that in the preceding chapter. Jesus had there been discoursing with the scribes and Pharisees, and vindicating his conduct in receiving kindly publicans and sinners. These “publicans and sinners” are here particularly referred to by the word “disciples.” It was with reference to “them” that the whole discourse had arisen. After Jesus had shown the Pharisees, in the preceding chapter, the propriety of his conduct, it was natural that he should turn and address his disciples. Among them there might have been some who were wealthy. The “publicans” were engaged in receiving taxes, in collecting money, and their chief danger arose from that quarter - from covetousness or dishonesty.

Jesus always adapted his instructions to the circumstances of his hearers, and it was proper, therefore, that he should give “these disciples” instructions about their “special” duties and dangers. He related this parable, therefore, to show them “the danger of the love of money;” the guilt it would lead to Luke 16:1; the perplexities and shifts to which it would drive a man when once he had been dishonest Luke 16:3-7; the necessity of using money aright, since it was their chief business Luke 16:9; and the fact that if they would serve God aright they must give up supreme attachment to money Luke 16:13; and that the first duty of religion demanded that they should resolve to serve God, and be honest in the use of the wealth intrusted to them. This parable has given great perplexity, and many ways have been devised to explain it. The above solution is the most simple of any; and if these plain principles are kept in view, it will not be difficult to give a consistent explanation of its particular parts. It should be borne in mind, however, that in this, as well as in other parables, we are not to endeavor to spiritualize every circumstance or allusion. We are to keep in view the great moral truth taught in it, that we cannot serve God and mammon, and that all attempts to do this will involve us in difficulty and sin.

A steward - One who has charge of the affairs of a family or household; whose duty it is to provide for the family, to purchase provisions, etc. This is, of course, an office of trust and confidence. It affords great opportunity for dishonesty and waste, and for embezzling property. The master’s eye cannot always be on the steward, and he may, therefore, squander the property, or hoard it up for his own use. It was an office commonly conferred on a slave as a reward for fidelity, and of course was given to him that, in long service, had shown himself most trustworthy. By the “rich man,” here, is doubtless represented God. By the “steward,” those who are his professed followers, particularly the “publicans” who were with the Saviour, and whose chief danger arose from the temptations to the improper use of the money intrusted to them.

Was accused - Complaint was made.

Had wasted - Had squandered or scattered it; had not been prudent and saving.

Verse 2

Give an account - Give a statement of your expenses and of your conduct while you have been steward. This is not to be referred to the day of judgment. It is a circumstance thrown into the parable to prepare the way for what follows. It is true that all will be called to give an account at the day of judgment, but we are not to derive that doctrine from such passages as this, nor are we to interpret this as teaching that our conscience, or the law, or any beings will “accuse us” in the day of judgment. All that will be indeed true, but it is not the truth that is taught in this passage.

Verse 3

Said within himself - Thought, or considered.

My lord - My master, my employer.

I cannot dig - This may mean either that his employment had been such that he could not engage in agriculture, not having been acquainted with the business, or that he was “unwilling” to stoop to so low an employment as to work daily for his support. “To dig,” here, is the same as to till the earth, to work at daily labor.

To beg - These were the only two ways that presented themselves for a living - either to work for it, or to beg.

I am ashamed - He was too proud for that. Besides, he was in good health and strength, and there was no good reason “why” he should beg - nothing which he could give as a cause for it. It is proper for the sick, the lame, and the feeble to beg; but it is “not” well for the able-bodied to do it, nor is it well to aid them, except by giving them employment, and compelling them to work for a living. He does a beggar who is able to work the most real kindness who sets him to work, and, as a general rule, we should not aid an able-bodied man or woman in any other way. Set them to work, and pay them a fair compensation, and you do them good in two ways, for the habit of labor may be of more value to them than the price you pay them.

Verse 4

I am resolved - He thought of his condition. He looked at the plans which occurred to him. He had been dishonest, and knew that he must lose his place. It would have been better to have “considered before this,” and resolved on a proper course of life, and to be faithful to his trust; and his perplexity here teaches us that dishonesty will sooner or later lead us into difficulty, and that the path of honesty is not only the “right” path, but is the path that is filled with most comfort and peace.

When I am put out ... - When I lose my place, and have no home and means of support.

They may receive me ... - Those who are now under me, and whom I am resolved now to favor. He had been dishonest to his master, and, having “commenced” a course of dishonesty, he did not shrink from pursuing it. Having injured his master, and being now detected, he was willing still farther to injure him, to take revenge on him for removing him from his place, and to secure his own interest still at his expense. He was resolved to lay these persons under such obligations, and to show them so much kindness, that they could not well refuse to return the kindness to him and give him a support. We may learn here,

  1. That one sin leads on to another, and that one act of dishonesty will be followed by many more, if there is opportunity.
  2. Men who commit one sin cannot get along “consistently” without committing many more. One lie will demand many more to make it “appear” like the truth, and one act of cheating will demand many more to avoid detection. The beginning of sin is like the letting out of waters, and no man knows, if he indulges in one sin, where it will end.
  3. Sinners are selfish. They care more about “themselves” than they do either about God or truth. If they seek salvation, it is only for selfish ends, and because they desire a comfortable “abode” in the future world rather than because they have any regard to God or his cause.

Verse 5

Called every one - As he was “steward,” he had the management of all the affairs, and, of course, debts were to be paid to him.

Debtors - Those who “owed” his master, or perhaps “tenants;” those who rented land of his master.

Verse 6

A hundred measures - The measure here mentioned is the “bath” which contained, according to Dr. Arbuthnot’s tables, 7 12 gallons, or, according to the marginal note, about 9 gallons and 3 quarts.

Oil - Oil of olives, or sweet oil. It was much used for lamps, as an article of food Exodus 29:2, and also for anointing, and, of course, as an article of commerce, 1 Kings 5:11. These were persons, doubtless, who had “rented” land of the rich man, and who were to give him a certain proportion of the produce.

Thy bill - The contract, obligation, or “lease.” It was probably written as a “promise” by the debtor and signed by the steward, and thus became binding. Thus he had power to alter it, without supposing that his master would detect it. The bill or contract was in the hands of the steward, and he gave it back to him to write a new one.

Quickly - He supposed that his master would soon remove him, and he was, therefore, in haste to have all things secure beforehand. It is worthy of remark, also, that “all” this was wrong. His master had called for the account: but, instead of rendering it, he engaged in other business, disobeyed his lord still, and, in contempt of his commands, sought his own interest. All sinners would be slow to give in their account to God if they could do it; and it is only because, when God calls them by death, they “cannot but go,” that they do not engage still in their own business and disobey him.

Verse 7

Measures of wheat - The measure here mentioned - the “kor,” or homer - contained, according to the tables of Dr. Arbuthnot, about 32 pecks, or 8 bushels; or, according to the marginal note, about 14 bushels and a “pottle.” A “pottle” is 4 pints. The Hebrew “kor,” כר kor, or “homer,” חמר chomer, was equal to 10 baths or 70 gallons, and the actual amount of the measure, according to this, was not far from 8 gallons. Robinson, Lexicon), however, supposes that the bath was 11 12 gallons, and the kor or homer 14 to 45 bushels. The amount is not material to the proper understanding of the parable.

Fourscore - Eighty.

Verse 8

The lord commended - Praised, or expressed admiration at his wisdom. These are not the words of Jesus, as commending him, but a part of the narrative or parable. His “master” commended him - saw that he was wise and considerate, though he was dishonest.

The unjust steward - It is not said that his master commended him because he was “unjust,” but because he was “wise.” This is the only thing in his conduct of which there is any approbation expressed, and this approbation was expressed by “his master.” This passage cannot be brought, therefore, to prove that Jesus meant to commend his dishonesty. It was a commendation of his “shrewdness or forethought;” but the master could no more “approve” of his conduct as a moral act than he could the first act of cheating him.

The children of this world - Those who are “devoted” to this world; who live for this world only; who are careful only to obtain property, and to provide for their temporal necessities. It does not mean that they are especially wicked and profligate, but only that they are “worldly,” and anxious about earthly things. See Mat 13:22; 2 Timothy 4:10.

Are wiser - More prudent, cunning, and anxious about their particular business. They show more skill, study more plans, contrive more ways to provide for themselves, than the children of light do to promote the interests of religion.

In their generation - Some have thought that this means “in their manner of living, or in managing their affairs.” The word “generation” sometimes denotes the manner of life, Genesis 6:9; Genesis 37:2. Others suppose that it means “toward or among the people of their own age.” They are more prudent and wise than Christians in regard to the people of their own time; they turn their connection with them to good account, and make it subserve their worldly interests, while Christians fail much more to use the world in such a manner as to subserve their spiritual interests.

Children of light - Those who have been enlightened from above - who are Christians. This may be considered as the application of the parable. It does not mean that it is more wise to be a worldly man than to be a child of light, but that those who “are” worldly show much prudence in providing for themselves; seize occasions for making good bargains; are active and industrious; try to turn everything to the best account, and thus exert themselves to the utmost to advance their interests; while Christians often suffer opportunities of doing good to pass unimproved; are less steady, firm, and anxious about eternal things, and thus show less wisdom. Alas! this is too true; and we cannot but reflect here how different the world would be if all Christians were as anxious, and diligent, and prudent in religious matters as others are in worldly things.

Verse 9

I say unto you - I, Jesus, say to you, my disciples.

Make to yourselves friends - Some have understood the word “friends,” here, as referring to the poor; others, to holy angels; and others, to God. Perhaps, however, the word should not be considered as referring to any particular “persons,” but is used in accordance with the preceding parable; for in the application our Saviour uses the “language” appropriated to the conduct of the steward to express the “general” truth that we are to make a proper use of riches. The steward had so managed his pecuniary affairs as to secure future comfort for himself, or so as to find friends that would take care of him “beyond” the time when he was put out of the office. That is, he would not be destitute, or cast off, or without comfort, when he was removed from his office. So, says our Saviour to the publicans and those who had property, so use your property as “to secure” happiness and comfort beyond the time when you shall be removed from the present life. “Have reference,” in the use of your money, to the future.

Do not use it so that it shall not avail you anything hereafter; but so employ it that, as the steward found friends, comfort, and a home by “his” wisdom in the use of it, so “you” may, after you are removed to another world, find friends, comfort, and a home - that is, may be happy in heaven. Jesus, here, does not say that we should do it “in the same way” that the steward did, for that was unjust; but only that we should “secure the result.” This may be done by using our riches as we “should do;” that is, by not suffering them to entangle us in cares and perplexities dangerous to the soul, engrossing the time, and stealing away the affections; by employing them in works of mercy and benevolence, aiding the poor, contributing to the advance of the gospel, bestowing them where they will do good, and in such a manner that God will “approve” the deed, and will bless us for it. Commonly riches are a “hindrance” to piety. To many they are snares; and, instead of positively “benefiting” the possessor, they are an injury, as they engross the time and the affections, and do not contribute at all to the eternal welfare of the soul. Everything may, by a proper use, be made to contribute to our welfare in heaven. Health, wealth, talents, and influence may be so employed; and this is what our Saviour doubtless means here.

Of the mammon - “By means” of the mammon.

Mammon - A Syriac word meaning riches. It is used, also, as an idol the god of riches.

Of unrighteousness - These words are an Hebrew expression for “unrighteous mammon,” the noun being used for an adjective, as is common in the New Testament. The word “unrighteous,” here, stands opposed to “the true riches” in Luke 16:11, and means “deceitful, false, not to be trusted.” It has this meaning often. See 1 Timothy 6:17; Luke 12:33; Matthew 6:19; Matthew 19:21. It does not signify, therefore, that they had acquired the property “unjustly,” but that property was “deceitful” and not to be trusted. The wealth of the steward was deceitful; he could not rely on its continuance; it was liable to be taken away at any moment. So the wealth of the world is deceitful. We cannot “calculate” on its continuance. It may give us support or comfort now, but it may be soon removed, or we taken from “it,” and we should, therefore, so use it as to derive benefit from it hereafter.

When ye fail - When ye “are left,” or when ye “die.” The expression is derived from the parable as referring to the “discharge” of the steward; but it refers to “death,” as if God then “discharged” his people, or took them from their stewardship and called them to account.

They may receive you - This is a form of expression denoting merely “that you may be received.” The plural form is used because it was used in the corresponding place in the parable, Luke 16:4. The direction is, so to use our worldly goods that “we may be received” into heaven when we die. “God” will receive us there, and we are to employ our property so that he will not cast us off for abusing it.

Everlasting habitations - Heaven, the eternal “home” of the righteous, where all our wants will be supplied, and where there can be no more anxiety, and no more removal from enjoyments, 2 Corinthians 5:1.

Verse 10

He that is faithful ... - This is a maxim which will almost universally hold true. A man that shows fidelity in small matters will also in large; and he that will cheat and defraud in little things will also in those involving more trust and responsibility. Fidelity is required in small matters as well as in those of more importance.

Verse 11

Who will commit ... - If you are not faithful in the small matters pertaining to this world, if you do not use aright your property and influence, you cannot expect that God will commit to you the true riches of his grace. Men who are dishonest and worldly, and who do not employ the deceitful mammon as they ought, cannot expect to grow in grace. God does not confer grace upon them, and their being unfaithful in earthly matters is evidence that they “would be” also in much greater affairs, and would likewise “misimprove” the true riches.

True riches - The graces of the gospel; the influences of the Spirit; eternal life, or religion. The riches of this world are false, deceitful, not to be trusted Luke 16:9; the treasures of heaven are “true,” faithful, never-failing, Matthew 6:19-20.

Verse 12

Another man’s - The word “man’s” is not in the original. It is, “If ye have been unfaithful managers for another.” It refers, doubtless, to “God.” The wealth of the world is “his.” It is committed to us as his stewards. It is uncertain and deceitful, and at any moment he can take it away from us. It is still “his;” and if, while intrusted with “this,” we are unfaithful, we cannot expect that he will confer on us the rewards of heaven.

That which is your own - The riches of heaven, which, if once given to us, may be considered as “ours” - that is, it will be permanent and fixed, and will not be taken away “as if” at the pleasure of another. We may “calculate” on it, and look forward with the assurance that it will “continue” to be “ours” forever, and will not be taken away like the riches of this world, “as if” they were not ours. The meaning of the whole parable is, therefore, thus expressed: If we do not use the things of this world as we ought - with honesty, truth, wisdom, and integrity, we cannot have evidence of piety, and shall not be received into heaven. If we are true to that which is least, it is an evidence that we are the children of God, and he will commit to our trust that which is of infinite importance, even the eternal riches and glory of heaven.

Verse 13

See the notes at Matthew 6:24.

Verses 14-15

They derided him - The fact that they were “covetous” is here stated as the reason why they derided him, or, as it is literally, “they turned up the nose at him.” They contemned or despised the doctrine which he had laid down, probably because it showed them that with their love of money they could not be the true friends of God, or that their profession of religion was really false and hollow. They were “attempting” to serve God and mammon, and they, therefore, looked upon his doctrine with contempt and scorn.

Justify yourselves - “Attempt” to appear just; or; you aim to appear righteous in the sight of people, and do not regard the heart.

That which is highly esteemed - That is, mere external works, or actions performed merely to “appear” to be righteous.

Is abomination - Is abominable, or hateful. The word used here is the one that in the Old Testament is commonly given to “idols,” and denotes God’s “abhorrence” of such conduct. These words are to be applied “chiefly” to what Jesus was discoursing about. There are many things esteemed among people which are “not” abomination in the sight of God; as, for example, truth, parental and filial affection, industry, etc. But many things, much sought and admired, “are” hateful in his sight. The love of wealth and show, ambition and pride, frivolous and splendid vices, and all the wickedness that people contrive to “gild” and to make appear like virtue - external acts that “appear” well while the heart is evil - are abominable in the sight of God, and “should be” in the sight of people. Compare Luke 18:11-14; 1 Samuel 16:7.

Verse 16

See the notes at Matthew 11:12-14.

Every man - Many people, or multitudes. This is an expression that is very common, as when we say everybody is engaged in a piece of business, meaning that it occupies general attention.

Verse 17

See the notes at Matthew 5:18.

Verse 18

See the notes at Matthew 5:32. These verses occur in Matthew in a different order, and it is not improbable that they were spoken by our Saviour at different times. The design, here, seems to be to reprove the Pharisees for not observing the law of Moses, notwithstanding their great pretensions to external righteousness, and to show them that they had “really” departed from the law.

Verse 19

There was a certain rich man - Many have supposed that our Lord here refers to a “real history,” and gives an account of some man who had lived in this manner; but of this there is no evidence. The probability is that this narrative is to be considered as a parable, referring not to any particular case which “had” actually happened, but teaching that such cases “might” happen. The “design” of the narrative is to be collected from the previous conversation. He had taught the danger of the love of money Luke 16:1-2; the deceitful and treacherous nature of riches Luke 16:9-11; that what was in high esteem on earth was hateful to God Luke 16:15; that people who did not use their property aright could not be received into heaven Luke 16:11-12; that they ought to listen to Moses and the prophets Luke 16:16-17; and that it was the duty of people to show kindness to the poor. The design of the parable was to impress all these truths more vividly on the mind, and to show the Pharisees that, with all their boasted righteousness and their external correctness of character, they might be lost. Accordingly he speaks of no great fault in the rich man - no external, degrading vice - no open breach of the law; and leaves us to infer that the “mere possession of wealth” may be dangerous to the soul, and that a man surrounded with every temporal blessing may perish forever. It is remarkable that he gave no “name” to this rich man, though the poor man is mentioned by name. If this was a parable, it shows us how unwilling he was to fix suspicion on anyone. If it was not a parable, it shows also that he would not drag out wicked people before the public, but would conceal as much as possible all that had any connection with them. The “good” he would speak well of by name; the evil he would not “injure” by exposing them to public view.

Clothed in purple - A purple robe or garment. This color was expensive as well as splendid, and was chiefly worn by princes, nobles, and those who were very wealthy. Compare Matthew 27:28. See the notes at Isaiah 1:18.

Fine linen - This linen was chiefly produced of the flax that grew on the banks of the Nile, in Egypt, Proverbs 7:16; Ezekiel 27:7. It was especially soft and white, and was, therefore, much sought as an article of luxury, and was so expensive that it could be worn only by princes, by priests, or by those who were very rich, Genesis 41:42; 1 Chronicles 15:27; Exodus 28:5.

Fared sumptuously - Feasted or lived in a splendid manner.

Every day - Not merely occasionally, but constantly. This was a mark of great wealth, and, in the view of the world, evidence of great happiness. It is worthy of remark that Jesus did not charge on him any crime. He did not say that he had acquired this property by dishonesty, or even that he was unkind or uncharitable; but simply that he “was a rich man,” and that his riches did not secure him from death and perdition.

Verses 20-21

Beggar - Poor man. The original word does not mean “beggar,” but simply that he was “poor.” It should have been so translated to keep up the contrast with the “rich man.”

Named Lazarus - The word Lazarus is Hebrew, and means a man destitute of help, a needy, poor man. It is a name given, therefore, to denote his needy condition.

Laid at his gate - At the door of the rich man, in order that he might obtain aid.

Full of sores - Covered with ulcers; afflicted not only with poverty, but with loathsome and offensive ulcers, such as often are the accompaniments of poverty and want. These circumstances are designed to show how different was his condition from that of the rich man. “He” was clothed in purple; the poor man was covered with sores; “he” fared sumptuously; the poor man was dependent even for the crumbs that fell from the rich man’s table.

The dogs came - Such was his miserable condition that even the dogs, as if moved by pity, came and licked his sores in kindness to him. These circumstances of his misery are very touching, and his condition, contrasted with that of the rich man, is very striking. It is not affirmed that the rich man was unkind to him, or drove him away, or refused to aid him. The narrative is designed simply to show that the possession of wealth, and all the blessings of this life, could not exempt from death and misery, and that the lowest condition among mortals may be connected with life and happiness beyond the grave. There was no provision made for the helpless poor in those days, and consequently they were often laid at the gates of the rich, and in places of public resort, for charity. See Acts 3:2. The gospel has been the means of all the public charity now made for the needy, as it has of providing hospitals for those who are sick and afflicted. No pagan nation ever had a hospital or an almshouse for the needy, the aged, the blind, the insane. Many heathen nations, as the Hindoos and the Sandwich Islanders, destroyed their aged people; and “all” left their poor to the miseries of public begging, and their sick to the care of their friends or to private charity.

Verse 22

Was carried by the angels - The Jews held the opinion that the spirits of the righteous were conveyed by angels to heaven at their death. Our Saviour speaks in accordance with this opinion; and as he expressly affirms the fact, it seems as proper that it should be taken literally, as when it is said the rich man died and was buried. Angels are ministering spirits sent forth to minister to those who are heirs of salvation Hebrews 1:14, and there is no more improbability in the supposition that they attend departing spirits to heaven, than that they attend them while on earth.

Abraham’s bosom - This is a phrase taken from the practice of reclining at meals, where the head of one lay on the bosom of another, and the phrase, therefore, denotes intimacy and friendship. See the notes at Matthew 23:6. Also John 13:23; John 21:20. The Jews had no doubt that Abraham was in paradise. To say that Lazarus was in his bosom was, therefore, the same as to say that he was admitted to heaven and made happy there. The Jews, moreover, boasted very much of being the friends of Abraham and of being his descendants, Matthew 3:9. To be his friend was, in their view, the highest honor and happiness. Our Saviour, therefore, showed them that this poor and afflicted man might be raised to the highest happiness, while the rich, who prided themselves on their being descended from Abraham, might be cast away and lost forever.

Was buried - This is not said of the poor man. Burial was thought to be an honor, and funerals were, as they are now, often expensive, splendid, and ostentatious. This is said of the rich man to show that he had “every” earthly honor, and all that the world calls happy and desirable.

Verse 23

In hell - The word here translated hell (“Hades”) means literally a dark, obscure place; the place where departed spirits go, but especially the place where “wicked” spirits go. See the Job 10:21-22 notes; Isaiah 14:9 note. The following circumstances are related of it in this parable:

  1. It is “far off” from the abodes of the righteous. Lazarus was seen “afar off.”
  2. It is a place of torment.
  3. There is a great gulf fixed between that and heaven, Luke 16:26.
  4. The suffering is great. It is represented by “torment” in a flame, Luke 16:24.
  5. There will be no escape from it, Luke 16:26.

The word “hell” here means, therefore, that dark, obscure, and miserable place, far from heaven, where the wicked shall be punished forever.

He lifted up his eyes - A phrase in common use among the Hebrews, meaning “he looked,” Genesis 13:10; Genesis 18:2; Genesis 31:10; Deuteronomy 8:3; Luke 6:20.

Being in torment - The word “torment” means “pain, anguish” Matthew 4:24; particularly the pain inflicted by the ancients in order to induce people to make confession of their crimes. These “torments” or tortures were the keenest that they could inflict, such as the rack, or scourging, or burning; and the use of the word here denotes that the sufferings of the wicked can be represented only by the extremest forms of human suffering.

And seeth Abraham ... - This was an aggravation of his misery. One of the first things that occurred in hell was to look up, and see the poor man that lay at his gate completely happy. What a contrast! Just now he was rolling in wealth, and the poor man was at his gate. He had no expectation of these sufferings: now they have come upon him, and Lazarus is happy and forever fixed in the paradise of God. It is more, perhaps, than we are authorized to infer, that the wicked will “see” those who are in paradise. That they will “know” that they are there is certain; but we are not to suppose that they will be so near together as to be seen, or as to make conversation possible. These circumstances mean that there will be “a separation,” and that the wicked in hell will be conscious that the righteous, though on earth they were poor or despised, will be in heaven. Heaven and hell will be far from each other, and it will be no small part of the misery of the one that it is far and forever removed from the other.

Verse 24

Father Abraham - The Jews considered it a signal honor that Abraham was their “father” - that is, that they were “descendants” from him. Though this man was now in misery, yet he seems not to have abandoned the idea of his relation to the father of the faithful. The Jews supposed that departed spirits might know and converse with each other. See Lightfoot on this place. Our Saviour speaks in conformity with that prevailing opinion; and as it was not easy to convey ideas about the spiritual world without some such representation, he, therefore, speaks in the language which was usual in his time. We are not, however, to suppose that this was “literally” true, but only that it was designed to represent more clearly the sufferings of the rich man in hell.

Have mercy on me - Pity me. The rich man is not represented as calling on “God.” The mercy of God will be at an end when the soul is lost. Nor did he “ask” to be released from that place. Lost spirits “know” that their sufferings will have no end, and that it would be in vain to ask to escape the place of torment. Nor does he ask to be admitted where Lazarus was. He had no “desire” to be in a holy place, and he well knew that there was no restoration to those who once sink down to hell.

Send Lazarus - This shows how low he was reduced, and how the circumstances of people change when they die. Just before, Lazarus was laid at his gate full of sores; now he is happy in heaven. Just before, he had nothing to give, and the rich man could expect to derive no benefit from him; now he asks, as the highest favor, that he might come and render him relief. Soon the poorest man on earth, if he is a friend of God, will have mercies which the rich, if unprepared to die, can never obtain. The rich will no longer despise such people; they would “then” be glad of their friendship, and would beg for the slightest favor at their hands.

Dip the tip ... - This was a small favor to ask, and it shows the greatness of his distress when so small a thing would be considered a great relief.

Cool my tongue - The effect of great “heat” on the body is to produce almost insupportable thirst. Those who travel in burning deserts thus suffer inexpressibly when they are deprived of water. So “pain” of any kind produces thirst, and particularly if connected with fever. The sufferings of the rich man are, therefore, represented as producing burning “thirst,” so much that even a drop of water would be refreshing to his tongue. We can scarce form an idea of more distress and misery than where this is continued from one day to another without relief. We are not to suppose that he had been guilty of any particular wickedness with his “tongue” as the cause of this. It is simply an idea to represent the natural effect of great suffering, and especially suffering in the midst of great heat.

I am tormented - I am in anguish - in insupportable distress.

In this flame - The lost are often represented as suffering “in flames,” because “fire” is an image of the severest pain that we know. It is not certain, however, that the wicked will be doomed to suffer in “material” fire. See the notes at Mark 9:44.

Verse 25

Son - This is a representation designed to correspond with the word “father.” He was a descendant of Abraham a Jew - and Abraham is represented as calling this thing to his remembrance. It would not lessen his sorrows to remember that he was a “son” of Abraham, and that he ought to have lived worthy of that relation to him.

Remember - This is a cutting word in this place. One of the chief torments of hell will be the “remembrance” of what was enjoyed and of what was done in this world. Nor will it be any mitigation of the suffering to spend an “eternity” where there will be nothing else to do, day or night, but to “remember” what “was” done, and what “might have been,” if the life had been right.

Thy good things - That is, property, splendor, honor.

Evil things - Poverty, contempt, and disease.

But now ... - How changed the scene! How different the condition! And how much “better” was the portion of Lazarus, after all, than that of the rich man! It is probable that Lazarus had the most “real” happiness in the land of the living, for riches without the love of God can never confer happiness like the favor of God, even in poverty. But the comforts of the rich man are now gone forever, and the joys of Lazarus have just commenced. “One” is to be comforted, and “the other” to be tormented, to all eternity. How much better, therefore, is poverty, with the friendship of God, than riches, with all that the world can bestow! And how foolish to seek our chief pleasures only in this life!

Verse 26

A great gulf - The word translated “gulf” means chasm, or the broad, yawning space between two elevated objects. In this place it means that there is no way of passing from one to the other.

Fixed - Strengthened - made firm or immovable. It is so established that it will never be movable or passable. It will forever divide heaven and hell.

Which would pass - We are not to press this passage literally, as if those who are in heaven would “desire” to go and visit the wicked in the world of woe. The simple meaning of the statement is, that there can be no communication between the one and the other - there can be no passing from one to the other. It is impossible to conceive that the righteous would desire to leave their abodes in glory to go and dwell in the world of woe; nor can we suppose that they would wish to go for any reason unless it were possible to furnish relief. That will be out of the question. Not even a drop of water will be furnished as a relief to the sufferer.Neither can they pass to us ... - There can be no doubt that the wicked will desire to pass the gulf that divides them from heaven. They would be glad to be in a state of happiness; but all such wishes will be vain. How, in the face of the solemn statement of the Saviour here, can people believe that there will be a “restoration” of all the wicked to heaven? He solemnly assures us that there can be no passage from that world of woe to the abodes of the blessed; yet, in the face of this, many Universalists hold that hell will yet be vacated of its guilty millions, and that all its miserable inhabitants will be received to heaven! Who shall conduct them across this gulf, when Jesus Christ says it cannot be passed? Who shall build a bridge over that yawning chasm which he says is “fixed?” No: if there is anything certain from the Scripture, it is that they who enter hell return no more; they who sink there sink forever.

Verses 27-28

Five brethren - The number “five” is mentioned merely to preserve the appearance of verisimilitude in the story. It is not to be spiritualized, nor are we to suppose that it has any hidden or inscrutable meaning.

May testify unto them - May bear “witness” to them, or may inform them of what is my situation, and the dreadful consequences of the life that I have led. It is remarkable that he did not ask to go himself. He knew that he could not be released, even for so short a time. His condition was fixed. Yet he had no wish that his friends should suffer, and he supposed that if one went from the dead they would hear him.

Verse 29

They have Moses - The writings of Moses. The first five books of the Bible.

The prophets - The remainder of the Old Testament. What the prophets had written.

Hear them - Hear them speak in the Scriptures. Read them, or hear them read in the synagogues, and attend to what they have delivered.

Verse 30

Nay - No. They will not hear Moses and the prophets. They have heard them so long in vain, that there is no prospect now that they will attend to the message; but if one should go to them directly from the eternal world they would hear him. The novelty of the message would attract their attention, and they would listen to what he would say.

Verse 31

Be persuaded - Be convinced of the truth; of the danger and folly of their way; of the certainty of their suffering hereafter, and be induced to turn from sin to holiness, and from Satan unto God.

From this impressive and instructive parable we may learn:

  1. That the souls of people do not die with their bodies.
  2. That the soul is “conscious” after death; that it does not “sleep,” as some have supposed, until the morning of the resurrection.
  3. That the righteous are taken to a place of happiness immediately at death, and the wicked consigned at once to misery.
  4. That wealth does not secure from death.

“How vain are riches to secure

Their haughty owners from the grave!”

The rich, the beautiful, the happy, as well as the poor, go down to the grave. All their pomp and apparel, all their honors, their palaces, and their gold cannot save them. Death can as easily find his way into the splendid mansions of the rich as into the cottages of the poor; and the rich shall turn to the same corruption, and soon, like the poor, be undistinguished from common dust and be unknown.

  1. We should not envy the condition of the rich.

“On slippery rocks I see them stand,

And fiery billows rollI below.

“Now let them boast how tall they rise,

I’ll never envy them again;

There they may stand with haughty eyes,

Till they plunge deep in endless pain.

“Their fancied joys how fast they flee!

Like dreams, as fleeting and as vain;

Their songs of softest harmony.

Are but a prelude to their pain.”

  1. We should strive for a better inheritance than can be possessed in this life.

“Now I esteem their mirth and wine.

Too dear to purchase with my blood:

Lord, ’tis enough that thou art mine -

My life, my portion, and my God.”

  1. The sufferings of the wicked in hell will be indescribably great. Think what is represented by “torment;” by burning flame; by insupportable thirst; by that state where a single “drop” of water would afford relief. Remember that “all this” is but a representation of the pains of the damned, and that this will have no intermission day or night, but will continue from year to year, and age to age, without any end, and you have a faint view of the sufferings of those who are in hell.
  2. There is a place of sufferings beyond the grave a hell. If there is not, then this parable has no meaning. It is impossible to make “anything” of it unless it be designed to teach that.
  3. There will never be any escape from those gloomy regions. There is a gulf fixed - “fixed,” not movable. Nor can any of the damned beat a pathway across this gulf to the world of holiness.
  4. We see the amazing folly of those who suppose there may be an “end” to the sufferings of the wicked, and who, on that supposition, seem willing to go down to hell to suffer a long time, rather than go at once to heaven. If man were to suffer but a thousand years, or even “one” year, why should he be so foolish as to choose that suffering rather than go at once to heaven, and be happy at once when he dies?
  5. God gives us sufficient warning to prepare for death. He has sent his Word, his servants, his Son; he warns us by his Spirit and his providence; by the entreaties of our friends and by the death of sinners; he offers us heaven, and he threatens hell. If all this will not move sinners, what would do it? There is nothing that would.
  6. God will give us nothing farther to warn us. No dead man will come to life to tell us of what he has seen. If he did we would not believe him. Religion appeals to man not by ghosts and frightful apparitions. It appeals to their reason, their conscience, their hopes, their fears. It sets life and death soberly before people, and if they “will not” choose the former, they must die. If you will not hear the Son of God and the warnings of the Scriptures, there is nothing which you will or can hear. You will never be persuaded, and will never escape the place of torment.
Bibliographical Information
Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Luke 16". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bnb/luke-16.html. 1870.
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