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Bible Commentaries

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged
Matthew 20

 

 


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.

This parable, recorded only by Matthew, is closely connected with the end of Matthew 19:1-30, being spoken with reference to Peter's question, How it should fare with those who, like himself, had left all for Christ? It is desired to show that while they would be richly rewarded, a certain equity would still be observed toward later converts and workmen in His service.

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. The figure of a Vineyard, to represent the rearing of souls for heaven, the culture required and provided for that purpose, and the care and pains which God takes in that whole matter, is familiar to every reader of the Bible (Psalms 80:8-16; Isaiah 5:1-7; Jeremiah 2:21; Luke 20:9-16; John 15:1-8.) At vintage-time, as Webster and Wilkinson remark, labour was scarce, and masters were obliged to be early in the market to secure it. Perhaps the pressing nature of the work of the Gospel, and the comparative paucity of labourers, may be incidentally suggested, Matthew 9:37-38. The "labourers," as in Matthew 9:38, are first, the official servants of the Church, but after them and along with them all the servants of Christ, where he has laid under the weightiest obligation to work in His service.


Verse 2

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

And when he had agreed with the laborers for a penny , [ deenariou (Greek #1220)] - a usual day's hire (the amount of which will be found in the margin of our Bibles), "he sent them into his vineyard."


Verse 3

And he went out about the third hour, and saw others standing idle in the marketplace,

And he went out about the third hour - about nine o'clock, or after a fourth of the working day had expired: the day of twelve hours was reckoned from six to six.

And saw others standing idle, [ argous (G692), 'unemployed] in the market-place,


Verse 4

And said unto them; Go ye also into the vineyard, and whatsoever is right I will give you. And they went their way.

And said unto them, Go ye also into the vineyard; and whatsoever is right , [ dikaion (Greek #1342)] - 'just,' 'equitable,' in proportion to their time - "I will give you. And they went their way."


Verse 5

Again he went out about the sixth and ninth hour, and did likewise.

Again he went out about the sixth and ninth hour (about noon, and about three o'clock afternoon) and did likewise - hiring and sending into his vineyard fresh labourers each time.


Verse 6

And about the eleventh hour he went out, and found others standing idle, and saith unto them, Why stand ye here all the day idle?

And about the eleventh hour - but one hour before the close of the working day; a most unusual hour both for offering and engaging - "and found others standing idle, and saith, Why stand ye here all the day idle?"


Verse 7

They say unto him, Because no man hath hired us. He saith unto them, Go ye also into the vineyard; and whatsoever is right, that shall ye receive.

They say unto him, Because no man hath hired us. He saith unto them, Go ye also into the vineyard; and whatsoever is right, that shall ye receive. Of course they had not been there, or not been disposed to offer themselves at the proper time; but as they were now willing, and the day was not over, and "yet there was room," they also are engaged, and on similar terms with all the rest.


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.

So when even was come - that is, the reckoning-time between masters and labourers (see Deuteronomy 24:15); pointing to the day of final account --

The lord of the vineyard saith unto his steward - answering to Christ Himself, represented "as a Son over His own house" (Hebrews 3:6; see Matthew 11:27; John 3:35; John 5:27).

Call the labourers, and give them their hire, beginning from the last unto the first. Remarkable direction this-`last hired, first paid.'


Verse 9

And when they came that were hired about the eleventh hour, they received every man a penny.

And when they came that were hired about the eleventh hour, they received every man a penny - a full day's wages.


Verse 10

But when the first came, they supposed that they should have received more; and they likewise received every man a penny.

But when the first came, they supposed that they should have received more. This is that calculating, mercenary spirit which had peeped out-though perhaps very slightly-in Peter's question (Matthew 19:27), and which this parable was designed once for all to put down among the servants of Christ.


Verse 11

And when they had received it, they murmured against the goodman of the house,

And when they had received it, they murmured against the goodman of the house , [ oikodespotou (Greek #3617)] - rather, 'the householder,' the word being the same as in Matthew 20:1.


Verse 12

Saying, These last have wrought but one hour, and thou hast made them equal unto us, which have borne the burden and heat of the day.

Saying, These last have wrought [but] one hour, and thou hast made them equal unto us, which have borne the burden and heat of the day - `the burning heat' [ kausoona (Greek #2742)] - who have worked not only longer but during a more trying period of the day.


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?

But he answered one of them (doubtless the spokesman of the complaining party) and said, Friend, I do thee no wrong: didst not thou agree with me for a penny?


Verse 14

Take that thine is, and go thy way: I will give unto this last, even as unto thee.

Take that thine is, and go thy way: I will give unto this last even as unto thee.


Verse 15

Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own? Is thine eye evil, because I am good? Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own? Is thine eye evil, because I am good? - q.d., 'You appeal to justice, and by that your mouth is shut; because the sum you agreed for is paid to you: Your case being disposed of, with the terms I make with other labourers you have nothing to do; and to grudge the benevolence shown to others, when by your own admission you have been honourably dealt with, is both unworthy envy of your neighbour, and discontent with the goodness that engaged and rewarded you in his service at all.'


Verse 16

So the last shall be first, and the first last: for many be called, but few chosen.

So the last shall be first, and the first last: - q.d., 'Take heed lest by indulging the spirit of these "murmurers" (complainers) at the "penny" given to the last hired, ye miss your own penny, though first in the vineyard; while the consciousness of having come in so late may inspire these last with such a humble frame, and such admiration of the grace that has hired and rewarded them at all, as will put them into the foremost place in the end.'

For many be called, but few chosen. This is another of our Lord's terse and pregnant sayings, more than once uttered in different connections. (See Matthew 19:30; Matthew 22:14.) The "calling" of which the New Testament almost invariably speaks is what divines call effectual calling, carrying with it a supernatural operation on the will to secure its consent. But that cannot be the meaning of it here; the "called" being emphatically distinguished from the "chosen." It can only mean here the 'invited.' And so the sense is, Many receive the invitations of the Gospel whom God has never "chosen to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth" (2 Thessalonians 2:13). But what, it may be asked, has this to do with the subject of our parable? Probably this-to teach us that men who have worked in Christ's service all their days may, by the spirit which they manifest at the last, make it too evident that, as between God and their own souls, they never were chosen workmen at all.

Taking the parable thus, the difficulties which have divided so many commentators seem to melt away, and its general teaching may be expressed in the following.

Remarks:

(1) True Christianity is a life of active service rendered to Christ, whose love, as soon as one has tasted that the Lord is gracious, constrains him to live not unto himself, but unto Him that died for him and rose again.

(2) Though we might well deem it a privilege to work for Christ without fee or reward, yet is our Father pleased to attach rewards-not of merit, of course, but of pure grace, as all rewards to those who once were sinners must be-to faithful working in His vineyard.

(3) Although the Lord may surely "do what He will with His own," and so His rewards must be regarded as all flowing from His own sovereign will, yet there is a certain equity stamped upon them in relation to each other. That true attachment to Christ, and that fidelity in His service which is common to all chosen labourers in His vineyard-this is acknowledged by a reward common to all alike; and only those services in which Christians differ from each other in self-sacrificing devotedness are distinguished by special rewards corresponding with their character. And thus, while aspiring to those special rewards to distinguished Christians which are promised at the close of Matthew 19:1-30, we are never to forget that there are gracious rewards common to all the true servants of Christ.

(4) How unreasonable and ungrateful are those who, not contented with being called into the service of Christ-itself a high privilege-and graciously rewarded for all they do, envy their fellow-servants, and reflect upon their common Master, for seeming to do to others more than is consistent with justice to themselves. Such was the spirit of the older brother in the parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:1-32). Those men who appeal to God's justice will find their mouth closed in the day that He deals with them.

(5) Let those who, conscious of having come in late, are afraid lest neither themselves nor their offers of service should be accepted at all, be encouraged by the assurance which this parable holds forth, that as long as the working-day of life and the present state of the kingdom of grace lasts, so long will the great Householder be found looking out for fresh labourers in His vineyard, and so long will He be ready to receive the offers and engage the services of all that are prepared to yield themselves to Him.

(6) What strange revelations will the day of final reckoning make-discovering some that came latest in, and were least accounted of, among the first in the ranks of heaven; and some that were earliest in, and stood the highest in Christian estimation, among the last and lowest in the ranks of heaven; and some not among them at all who were of greatest note in the Church below! "Nevertheless, the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are His; and, Let everyone that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity" (2 Timothy 2:19).

But that is not all the teaching of this parable; because, as Olshausen finely says, the parables are like many-sided precious stones, cut so as to cast their luster in more than one direction.


Verses 17-28

And Jesus going up to Jerusalem took the twelve disciples apart in the way, and said unto them,

For the exposition, see the notes at Mark 10:32-45.


Verses 29-34

And as they departed from Jericho, a great multitude followed him.

For the exposition, see the notes at Luke 18:35-43.

 


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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Matthew 20:4". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/jfu/matthew-20.html. 1871-8.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, October 21st, 2020
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
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