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Bible Commentaries
Matthew 20

Lightfoot's Commentary on the GospelsLightfoot's Commentary

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Verse 1

For the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is an householder, which went out early in the morning to hire labourers into his vineyard.

[Who went out early in the morning to hire labourers.] You have such a parable as this, but madly applied, in the Talmud: we will produce it here for the sake of some phrases: "To what was R. Bon Bar Chaija like? To a king who hired many labourers; among which there was one hired, who performed his work extraordinary well. What did the king? He took him aside, and walked with him to and fro. When even was come; those labourers came, that they might receive their hire; and he gave him a complete hire with the rest. And the labourers murmured; saying, ’We have laboured hard all the day; and this man only two hours, yet he hath received as much wages as we’: the king saith to them, ’He hath laboured more in those two hours than you in the whole day.’ So R. Bon plied the law more in eight-and-twenty years than another in a hundred years."

[Early in the morning.] "The time of working is from sunrising to the appearing of the stars, and not from break of day: and this is proved from the chapter the president of the priests saith to them; where they say, ’It is light all in the east, and men go out to hire labourers’: whence it is argued that they do not begin their work before the sun riseth. It is also proved from the tract Pesachin; where it is said that it is prohibited on the day of the Passover to do any servile work after the sun is up; intimating this, that that was the time when labourers should begin their work," etc.

[To hire labourers.] Read here, if you please, the tract Bava Mazia; cap. 7; which begins thus, He that hireth labourers; and Maimonides, a tract entitled Hiring.

Verse 2

And when he had agreed with the labourers for a penny a day, he sent them into his vineyard.

[Agreed for a penny a day.] A penny of silver, which one of gold exceeded twenty-four times; for A penny of gold is worth five-and-twenty of silver. The canons of the Hebrews concerning hiring of labourers distinguish, as reason requires, between being hired by the day; and being hired (only) for some hours; which may be observed also in this parable: for in the morning they are hired for all the day, and for a penny, but afterward for certain hours; and have a part of a penny allotted them, in proportion to the time they wrought.

Verse 8

So when even was come, the lord of the vineyard saith unto his steward, Call the labourers, and give them their hire, beginning from the last unto the first.

[Call the labourers.] For "it is one of the affirmative precepts of the law, that a hired labourer should have his wages paid him when they are due, as it is said, ’You shall pay him his wages in his day’: and if they be detained longer, it is a breach of a negative precept; as it is said, ’The sun shall not go down upon him,’ " etc.

Verse 13

But he answered one of them, and said, Friend, I do thee no wrong: didst not thou agree with me for a penny?

[Didst not thou agree with me for a penny?] in hiring of labourers, the custom of the place most prevailed; hence came that axiom, Observe the custom of the city; speaking of this very thing. There is also an example, "Those of Tiberias that went up to Bethmeon to be hired for labourers, were hired according to the custom of Bethmeon," etc. By the by also we may observe that which is said by the Babylonians in the place cited...as the Gloss renders it, "Notice must be taken whether they come from several places; for at some places they go to work sooner, and at some later."

Hence two things may be cleared in the parable before us: 1. Why they are said to be hired at such different hours; namely, therefore, because they are supposed to have come together from several places. 2. Why there was no certain agreement made with those that were hired at the third, sixth, and ninth hours, as with those that were hired early in the morning; but that he should only say, "Whatsoever is right I will give you": that is, supposing that they would submit to the custom of the place. But, indeed, when their wages were to be paid them, there is, by the favour of the lord of the vineyard, an equality made between those that were hired for some hours, and those that were hired for the whole day; and when these last murmured, they are answered from their own agreement, You agreed with me. Note here the canon; "The master of the family saith to his servant, ’Go, hire me labourers for fourpence’: he goes and hires them for threepence; although their labour deserves fourpence, they shall not receive but three, because they bound themselves by agreement, and their complaint is against the servant."

Verse 22

But Jesus answered and said, Ye know not what ye ask. Are ye able to drink of the cup that I shall drink of, and to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with? They say unto him, We are able.

[The baptism that I am baptized with.] The phrase that goes before this, concerning the cup; is taken from divers places of Scripture, where sad and grievous things are compared to draughts of a bitter cup. You may think that the cup of vengeance; of which there is mention in Babylonian Beracoth; means the same thing, but it is far otherwise: give me leave to quote it, though it be somewhat out of our bounds: "Let them not talk (say they) over their cup of blessing; and let them not bless over their cup of vengeance. What is the cup of vengeance? The second cup, saith R. Nachman Bar Isaac." Rabbena Asher and Piske are more clear: "If he shall drink off two cups, let him not bless over the third." The Gloss, "He that drinks off double cups is punished by devils." But to the matter before us.

So cruel a thing was the baptism of the Jews, being a plunging of the whole body into water, when it was never so much chilled with ice and snow, that, not without cause, partly, by reason of the burying as I may call it under water, and partly by reason of the cold, it used to signify the most cruel kind of death. The Jerusalem Talmudists relate, that "in the days of Joshua Ben Levi, some endeavoured quite to take away the washings [baptisms] of women, because the women of Galilee grew barren by reason of the coldness of the waters"; which we noted before at the sixth verse of the third chapter Matthew 3:6.

Bibliographical Information
Lightfoot, John. "Commentary on Matthew 20". "John Lightfoot's Commentary on the Gospels". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jlc/matthew-20.html. 1675.
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