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Bible Commentaries

The Popular Commentary by Paul E. Kretzmann
Matthew 19

 

 


Verse 1-2

On Marriage and Divorce.

The final departure from Galilee:

v. 1. And it came to pass that when Jesus had finished these sayings, He departed from Galilee, and came into the coasts of Judea, beyond Jordan;

v. 2. and great multitudes followed Him, and He healed them there.

Galilee's day of grace was at its end. Jesus had fulfilled all things that He had intended for the people of the northern country. Even the last lesson, with its impressive sayings, had been given to the disciples only. The time of Christ's great Passion was near. He left Galilee to travel by easy stages into the country of Judea by way of Perea, along the eastern shore of the Jordan, opposite Samaria and Judea, including a large part of the former kingdom of the Edomites. He seems to have been in this country for some time, attending both to His teaching and healing ministry, Mar_10:1. As in Galilee, so here many people were attracted by His fame; great crowds followed Him, and many, no doubt, received the seed of the Gospel truths into their hearts.


Verse 3

The question of the Pharisees:

v. 3. The Pharisees also came unto Him, empting Him and saying unto Him, Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause?

Their persecution did not cease now that Jesus had deliberately turned His back to them and even left Galilee. They are in a class by themselves, distinct from the people that were following Jesus with no evil designs. With bitterness and hatred in their hearts they here again set a trap for the Lord by proposing an apparently innocent question. They wanted to know whether a man could divorce his wife "for every cause," for any cause whatsoever, that is, whether a man might put away his wife at all, Mar_10:2. It was a catch question, either the positive or the negative answer intended to make enemies for Christ. "They purpose to catch Him. If He should answer: No, He would act contrary to Moses; but should He say: Yes, then He would tear marriage asunder, that people would reject each other and run apart, and the country be filled with adultery: they would therefore trip and catch Him. But He tears through all as a Master and Lord. " Or the connection may have been the following: "At this time there were two famous divinity and philosophical schools among the Jews, that of Shammai and that of Hillel. On the question of divorce the school of Shammai maintained that a man could not legally put away his wife, except for whoredom. The school of Hillel taught that a man might put away his wife for a multitude of other causes, and when she did not find grace in his sight, that is, when he saw any other woman that pleased him better."


Verses 4-6

The answer of Jesus:

v. 4. And He answered and said unto them, Have ye not read that He which made them at the beginning made them male and female,

v. 5. and said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and they twain shall be one flesh?

v. 6. Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What, therefore, God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.

The Pharisees, as usual, find the tables turned upon them. Christ is too firmly grounded in the truth of the Old Testament. They had been so sure that there was no way out of the dilemma, that Christ's answer, either way, would be sure to give offense. He appeals, with fine irony, to the knowledge of the books of Moses which they ought to have. He that made at the beginning, the Creator, at the time when Adam and Eve were the only representatives of the human race, made them two sexes, male and female. Their being brought together by God constituted the type of marriage in its fullest meaning, as an indissoluble union. At that time God Himself said, speaking through the mouth of Adam, Gen_2:24; See 1:27, that for this reason, because marriage was so instituted and so intended by God, a man would sever the ties which formerly held him to his mother and father, in his relation of son in the family, and would be joined in union with his wife. The two that were formerly separate and distinct would, by following the instinct of sex, controlled by the ordinance of God, become united in the most intimate, in the strongest relation, that of physical, fleshly unity. Where marriage has been entered into in this manner, in obedience to God's natural and written laws, where there is unity of the two natures, of soul properly as well as body, of sympathy, interest, and purpose, there they can no more, nevermore, be two distinct, but they are and will remain, in the sight of God, one flesh. God has joined them together, yoked them together, as oxen before the plow, but not with a heavy, burdensome yoke, but with that of mutual affection, which will cause them cheerfully to share the inevitable difficulties of their joint estate, the man as shouldering the heaviest burdens, the wife as his faithful helpmate. Man shall not separate, is His plain statement, neither the persons that have thus been joined, thinking it a light matter to break the hallowed ties, nor any other person in the world, relatives, friends, the government. There is before God, strictly speaking, no such thing as granting a divorce. The Church or the government can merely state the fact, established by competent witnesses, that a marriage has been deliberately disrupted by one or both of the contracting parties, either by adultery or by malicious desertion; it cannot grant permission to break the marriage tie. Note: What the Lord here says represents the original, the primitive state of things with reference to marriage. He has never changed His ordinance. Only two persons, one man and one woman, shall be joined in holy wedlock; for if He had wished that the male dismiss one woman and marry another. He would have made more females at the beginning. Marriage is the natural, the logical relation for people to enter into at the proper time. The first two individuals of the male and female sex were not merely a man and a woman, but male and female, in the sense of being destined and intended exclusively for each other. Even now, in the normal human being, the presence of the sex instinct is the creation of God; for the two sexes are not created arbitrarily, or independently of, but for each other, suitable and adapted for each other, and should fulfill their destiny in accordance with God's ordinance, in holy wedlock, the indissoluble union. "As though He would say: Thou, man, shalt not permit thyself to be separated from thy wife, for He that created the man brought thee to the woman; and He that made thee woman gave thee to the man as helpmate, and wants no divorce. Since this is so that what God has joined together no man shall part asunder, that He brings man and wife together, that He makes thee to be a man and thee to be a woman, and by His order man and woman become one body: therefore no man shall break this ordinance of God, whether his name be Moses or anything else; but here it says; Hast thou taken me, then thou must be separated from me only by death. If you are angry with each other and disagree, then be reconciled again, as also St. Paul commands, but divorce shall not be among you."


Verses 7-9

An objection and its answer:

v. 7. They say unto Him, Why did Moses, then, command to give a writing of divorcement, and to put her away?

v. 8. He saith unto them, Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, suffered you to put away your wives; but from the beginning it was not so.

v. 9. And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery; and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery.

The Pharisees' reference is to Deu_24:1-4. But they understood neither the intention nor the words of Moses. The purpose of Moses had been to hinder the practice of wholesale and easy divorces, and to offer to the woman at least some show of justice, by subjecting the process of separation in vogue among the Jews to certain rules and restrictions, in order to place the relationship of holy wedlock on a higher plane. Another point: Moses did not command that divorces should be obtained. He only made proper provision to safeguard the woman in case the husband insisted upon a separation. "The Pharisees seem to have regarded Moses as a patron of the practice of putting away, rather than as one bent on mitigating its evil results. " "That was the law of Moses concerning the letter of divorce, and the Jews made use of this law with a vengeance; took wives and chased them away, took others, and regarded the process of marrying and taking wives no differently than a horse-trade. If a man had taken a wife, and she did not please him, he rejected her; and when he had divorced the first wife, and the second one did not suit him (he was sorry on account of the change), he soon wanted another, or desired his first wife again; thus they multiplied divorces. There Moses had placed a bolt in the way, prohibited the remarrying of the first wife; intended to prevent easy divorces; and on account of this addition in the law many kept their first wives."

Jesus very frankly states the reason why Moses, as the lawgiver for the theocracy of the Old Testament, had included this provision, by inspiration of God. The hardness of their hearts, that condition of heart and mind which refuses to submit to the restraint of purity and holiness, and which will probably seek to vent its spite in acts of cruelty against the wife, made such a rule advisable. And permission was only implied, not commanded. It is true, in general, that it is dangerous to permit the least evil, though prudence may seem to require it, because such permission may soon be construed as command. The Lord knew that this method of dealing with the question would prevent greater evils. "Thus, in civil government, in a city, it may often be necessary to wink at the evil doings of a scoundrel and not punish him, though, properly speaking, he should lose his head. But there may be good cause for it, lest, in punishing him, twenty innocent people would be drawn into it and would suffer damage. Because ye are such bad and desperate scoundrels; and cannot keep what God has commanded; in order, then, that no offense happen, nor that ye slay your wives, nor remove them with poison; therefore Moses has, not commanded, but permitted you to do this. Moses, then, has not given you that law on account of your righteousness, honor, and piety, but has suffered it and winked at it on account of the hardness of your hearts. It was not commanded by him, but Moses thought: This people is a proud and evil people, it might commit one murder after another. If they refuse to keep God's command, let them be divorced, that murder and poison be omitted. Whoever will not keep his wife willingly, let him put her away, lest a worse offense follow. " But the argument from God's institution of holy wedlock and from the original state of holy matrimony are entirely against such a condition of affairs. So far as Jesus is concerned. He repeats the declaration made in the Sermon on the Mount, chapter 5:31-32. He that for any reason puts away, rejects, his wife, except that of marital unfaithfulness, in which case the marriage tie has already been torn asunder, is an adulterer before God; and, in the same way, he that marries a divorcee, one that has left her husband without Scriptural grounds, is guilty of adultery.


Verses 10-12

The dismay of the disciples:

v. 10. His disciples say unto Him, If the case of the man be so with his wife, it is not good to marry.

v. 11. But He said unto them, All men cannot receive this saying, save they to whom it is given.

v. 12. For there are some eunuchs which were so born from their mother's womb; and there are some eunuchs which were made eunuchs of men; and there be eunuchs which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven's sake. He that is able to receive it, let him receive it.

The Jews of Christ's time had a very low view of women, and therefore of marriage. And the disciples were not free from the national ideas and prejudices. They had never had the subject presented to them like this before. If such be the state of affairs so far as the relations between husband and wife are concerned, they say, if the husband must regard his wife so highly, and if both husband and wife must regard the marriage bond as indissoluble, if this recourse to quick and easy divorces is both against the original order of God's institution and against His revealed will, then it is poor policy to get married. But Christ corrects their poor understanding, and shows distinctly that the estate of marriage is the normal state for normal adults, only such individuals being ordinarily exempt from this rule whose physical and spiritual condition renders them unfit for the duties peculiar to the physical side of marriage. Some people are naturally, from their birth, incapable of contracting marriage. Others have been rendered impotent, sterile, through deliberate mutilation by others, as was done in the case of the Oriental eunuchs. Still others purposely force themselves to chastity, to a life outside of marriage, keeping the natural desires in subjection, in order to be able to devote their entire time and life to the service of the kingdom of God. But all three classes are abnormal, even the last, except in cases of religious persecution or for some other extraordinary reason, 1Co_7:26. Herewith Christ neither commands nor recommends celibacy, but sets these people, as a class, in a separate category, and warns that it takes a great deal of spiritual and moral capacity to grasp His saying. The claims of the kingdom of heaven are paramount, but Christ expects no one to feign an asceticism to which he is not fully equal, since that would be setting aside the law for the propagation of the human race by the order of marriage, which Christ has, throughout His declaration, very warmly defended. See 1Co_9:5-6. The last state described by Christ may, under circumstances, be preferable to the married state, but it takes an exceptional spiritual enlightenment to grasp it.


Verse 13

Christ Blessing Little Children.

v. 13. Then were there brought unto Him little children that He should put His hands on them and pray; and the disciples rebuked them.

The ministry of Jesus was by no means limited to adults. He had only very recently used a little child to emphasize a very important truth in the kingdom of God, Mat_18:1-14. And the child, on that occasion, had willingly submitted to His kind advances, Mar_9:36. That He was a friend of the children appears also from Mat_21:15-16, where the little children sing His praises. In this case the mothers brought their little children to Him. Their request was suggested as much by their manner as by any words they may have spoken. They wanted Jesus to lay His hands upon them in token of kindly blessing. His prayer over them would be their fitting consecration to God. There is no question in the minds of the mothers as to the faith living in the hearts of the little ones, even as Christ had expressly stated that they could believe in Him, Mat_18:3-6. All attempts to deny and disprove this must come to naught before the simplicity and directness of the statements. Reason must not rule Scriptures, but at all times, and in all matters, be directed by it. The disciples had not taken the recent lesson to heart very seriously, or else they had managed to forget it very quickly, for they spoke to the mothers of the little ones in a very harsh way for disturbing their Master with trifles and for worrying Him, whose thoughts were engaged, as they supposed, with far too weighty matters to bear such an unwelcome interruption. A similar excuse is made by people for not presenting all their difficulties to the Lord in prayer.


Verse 14-15

Christ's rebuke:

v. 14. But Jesus said, Suffer little children, and forbid them not to come unto Me; for of such is the kingdom of heaven.

v. 15. And He laid His hands on them, and departed thence.

Jesus was openly displeased by the interference of the disciples. Let them alone, He says, do not bother them. To interfere with a child's coming to Jesus is to put an obstruction in one's own path to salvation. And hinder them not in their coming to Me. Every encouragement should be given the children that they may learn to know and love their Savior. For the kingdom of heaven is made up of such as they. The children themselves, with their simple trust and faith in Jesus, and all such as they, all that have the same confiding trust and spirit of faith, they make up the membership of the kingdom of God, they truly belong to His Church. All the blessings of His kingdom are theirs, even long before, yea, just because they have not come to the full use of their reason. A baptized child has just as full and complete a claim upon heaven as the most advanced Christian. This Jesus further stresses by giving outward evidence of His feeling toward the little children. He laid His hands upon them in blessing. He publicly acknowledged them as His own.


Verses 16-19

The Dangers of Riches.

v. 16. And, behold, one came and said unto Him, Good Master, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?

v. 17. And He said unto him, Why callest thou Me good? There is none good but one, that is, God; but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.

v. 18. He saith unto Him, Which? Jesus said, Thou shalt do no murder, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness,

v. 19. Honor thy father and thy mother, and, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.

The evangelist introduces the story in a lively manner: Lo! Christ was on His journey through Perea, and the experience which Matthew had recorded in the first verses of this chapter may have been repeated often. People were always coming with various matters which they wanted to bring to Christ's attention. In this case, one man came, a ruler, Luk_18:18, probably a rich young ruler of some small synagogue, as some versions imply. Here was a frank, sincere, open heart, weary of the endless disputings of the scribes and Pharisees, earnestly seeking the truth. He is even now more than half convinced that he will find it with Jesus. Good Teacher, he calls out, what good shall I do that I may have eternal life? In order to lead him to the knowledge of all truth, Jesus, first of all, takes up the question as he has put it. He wants to test him as to his understanding of his own request: Why callest thou Me good? He does not mean to decline the title as not being applicable to Him, but to God only, nor as a mere appellation of courtesy. The accent and position of the word "Me" rather implies: Do you know that in calling Me good, you are placing Me on a level with God Himself, and rightly so? Far, therefore, from rejecting the honor, Christ rather joyfully takes up the word and emphasizes its full import and significance. He now proceeds with the second test; So far as your wish to enter eternal life is concerned, you, as a ruler of a school, ought to have the information; the way you yourself have taught is that of the fulfillment of the Law. The young man was sincere enough, but he was suffering with the same amount of self-righteousness that every other person does by nature. In such cases it is necessary to refer to the Law of God and preach complete fulfillment of every commandment. If a person then has his eyes opened and freely acknowledges his insufficiency and sinfulness, then there is a chance for the knowledge of the Savior and for the faith in this Redeemer which alone brings to heaven. Two significant facts: If it were not for man's natural depravity and his blindness in spiritual things, he could, indeed, get to heaven by fulfilling the commandments. A complete keeping of the Law earns life everlasting, Luk_10:28. Keeping the commandments is also enjoined upon the Christians as an exercise in sanctification. "The commandments must be kept, or there is no life, but only death. For even faith is nothing, where love, that is, the fulfillment of the commandments, does not follow, 1Co_13:2. For Christ, God's Son, has not come, nor did He die for that reason that we should freely be disobedient to the commandments, but that we might fulfill the commandments through His help and assistance. Therefore as it is said: Works without faith are nothing, so it is also true: Faith without fruit is also vain. For work without faith is idolatry. Faith without work is a lie, and no faith."

In order to open the eyes of the young man, who again frankly asks. What kind? Which do you mean? Those of Moses or those of the elders? Jesus slowly recites the chief commandments of the second table of the Decalogue, placing the summary of the entire table in the last place. He hoped that the mere hearing of the list from the lips of another might cause the man to think, to reflect, to apply the words to himself, to examine his heart properly. But even the last commandment did not so much as stir his conscience.


Verses 20-22

The test:

v. 20. The young man saith unto Him, All these things have I kept from my youth up; what lack I yet?

v. 21. Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell all that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven; and come and follow Me.

v. 22. But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful; for he had great possessions.

Christ's recital of the second table had not so much as stirred a ripple in the self-righteous equanimity of the young man. He was so steeped in his good opinion of himself that it would take a strong wrench to wake him up out of his selfishness. So far as he was concerned, he felt satisfied that he had kept all the commandments from his youth, according to the Pharisaic standard of keeping the letter, but not the spirit. So Christ takes him at his word. If he is really anxious to be perfect before the Law of God, above all, if he wants to present concrete evidence of his fulfillment of the summary of the second table, let him give the proceeds of the sale of all his goods to the poor, thus showing that he loved them as himself. This was Christ's test of the young man. He knew his heart and realized that his chief fault was his love of his goods and his unwillingness to make sacrifices. For it is true at all times: our love of God must go above all things. If it should therefore be necessary, for the sake of the kingdom of God, to sacrifice all earthly possessions and life itself for His sake in order to make our discipleship perfect, there can be but one answer, if we are sincere in our profession of Christianity: unconditional assent. In this case, the young man, like so many thousands since his time, "went away sorrowful," deeply saddened and grieved, Mar_10:22. That one cross, which would not even have included personal affliction, physical suffering, was too much for him. He proved himself unfit to be a follower of Jesus. He loved his goods more than his Lord. The thorns of the love of money infested the rich soil of his heart and stifled the seed of the Word which had gotten a hopeful start; a lovable, otherwise noble nature lost for the sake of a few paltry dollars.


Verses 23-26

The lesson:

v. 23. Then said Jesus unto His disciples, Verily I say unto you, That a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven.

v. 24. And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.

v. 25. When His disciples heard it, they were exceedingly amazed, saying, Who then can be saved?

v. 26. But Jesus beheld them, and said unto them, With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.

The incident of the rich young man had made a deep impression also upon Jesus. As usual, He makes application of the lesson which He drew from the happening for His disciples. Solemnly He declares a profound, severe truth. So far as a rich man is concerned, with difficulty shall he enter into the kingdom of heaven. Wealth in itself is not a hindrance in the divine life, but its possession is attended with the greatest danger on account of the temptation of placing one's trust in corruptible goods, Mar_10:24; 1Ti_6:9. Christ uses an Oriental figure to bring out strongly the truth which He wishes to impress upon His disciples. The picture of a camel passing through a needle's eye was an Oriental proverb illustrating an extremely difficult feat. So is the case of those that place their trust in riches. To enter into the kingdom, it is necessary that a person renounce this world entirely.

The disciples had listened to the remarks of their Master with increasing consternation. This saying was a positive shock to them. Under such conditions the chance for salvation is slim indeed, since there is the love of something in this world in every man's heart. But Jesus gave them a long look of kindly sympathy, of careful observation. His concluding words should sink deeply into their hearts. With men, with mere human beings, this is impossible; they cannot, by their reason and strength, tear their hearts away from the things of this world. But with God all things are possible, though they seem never so impossible to men. All things that are impossible according to the judgment of men, all things that are impossible according to the power of men: the working of salvation, the gaining of redemption, the obtaining of the glories of heaven, all these things have been made possible by God in and through Jesus Christ. And God has the power to convert and renew sinful men, to tear their hearts away from all earthly things and let them be wholly given to Him.


Verse 27

The Reward of the Apostles.

Peter's question:

v. 27. Then answered Peter and said unto Him, Behold, we have forsaken all and followed Thee; what shall we have therefore?

There may have been a trace of arrogance and self-satisfaction in Peter's tone as he addressed this question to Jesus. He had heard the demand which Jesus addressed to the young man, also the promise of a treasure in heaven, if he would comply with the request to sell all his goods. Peter's conclusion therefore is justified: We have done that, we have left behind all things, everything in the line of goods and wealth that we possessed; does the sequel apply to us? The presumption lies in the question: What then will our reward be? Surely we are entitled to a treasure in heaven, if that is all that Thou demandest.


Verse 28

The answer:

v. 28. And Jesus said unto them, Verily I say unto you, That ye which have followed Me, in the regeneration when the Son of Man shall sit in the throne of His glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.

Jesus does not take occasion here to explain once more what discipleship comprises; He merely makes a statement, a prophecy as to the future. In the regeneration, in the new birth of the world on Judgment Day, when the kingdom of heaven will be finally completed, when the kingdom of glory shall begin, when the Son of Man will Himself sit on His throne to judge the world in righteousness, then the apostles shall sit upon twelve thrones and take part in the administration of Christ's justice and power upon all believers in Christ, who are the twelve tribes in fact, the true children of Abraham.


Verse 29-30

The application to all Christians:

v. 29. And every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands for My name's sake shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life.

v. 30. But many that are first shall be last, and the last shall be first.

Most impressively Jesus details the persons and goods which usually claim the affection of people in this world. The recital serves to bring out all the more emphatically the denial of self, which is a demand of Christ. For the sake of Christ and in the confession of His name everything else must cheerfully be given up and sacrificed without a single regret, even if it means the breaking of all earthly ties. All the greater will be His reward of mercy. Manifoldly, in great fullness, shall they receive from Him in return. Not only shall the value of all be restored in richest abundance, but as the climax of all the reward of mercy will include eternal life. All this for those that suffered and denied for the sake of Christ, to bear His shame and to further His kingdom. But the Lord adds a warning for the sake of such as are inclined to be self-satisfied and proud of their own works. The earlier or later calling has no influence upon a person's standing in the Judgment. But he that wants to depend upon his works and intends to urge those on the last day as meriting the bliss of heaven, he has denied the grace and atoning work of His Savior and will find no place in the kingdom of heaven. All poor sinners, however, that want to be saved by grace only, will find their place prepared in the heavenly mansions.

Summary.Christ gives a lesson on marriage and divorce, blesses little children, shows the danger of placing trust in riches, and assures the apostles and all Christians of their reward of grace in heaven.

 


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Bibliography Information
Kretzmann, Paul E. Ph. D., D. D. "Commentary on Matthew 19:4". "Kretzmann's Popular Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/kpc/matthew-19.html. 1921-23.

Lectionary Calendar
Saturday, October 24th, 2020
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
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