Bible Commentary in 8 Volumes
The Gospel According to St.
Notes on Chapter 13
Verse 1. At that season— At what time this happened is not easy to determine; but it appears that it was now a piece of news which was told to Christ and his disciples for the first time.
Whose blood Pilate had mingled— This piece of history is not recorded (as far as I can find) by Josephus: however, he states that the Galileans were the most seditious people in the land: they belonged properly to Herod’s jurisdiction; but, as they kept the great feasts at Jerusalem, they probably, by their tumultuous behavior at some one of them, gave Pilate, who was a mortal enemy to Herod, a pretext to fall upon and slay many of them; and thus, perhaps, sacrifice the people to the resentment he had against the prince. Archelaus is represented by Josephus as sending his soldiers into the temple, and slaying 3000 men while they were employed in offering sacrifices. Josephus, War, b. ii. c. 1, s. 3, and ii. c. 5. Some suppose that this refers to the followers of Judas Gaulonites, (see Acts 5:37,) who would not acknowledge the Roman government, a number of whom Pilate. surrounded and slew, while they were sacrificing in the temple. See Josephus, Antiq. lib. 18: but this is not very certain.
Verse 4. The tower in Siloam— This tower was probably built over one of the porticoes near the pool, which is mentioned John 9:7. See also Nehemiah 3:15.
Debtors, ofeiletai, a Jewish phrase for sinners. Persons professing to be under the law are bound by the law to be obedient to all its precepts; those who obey not are reckoned debtors to the law, or rather to that Divine justice from which the law came. A different word is used when speaking of the Galileans: they are termed amartwloi, as this word is often used to signify heathens; see the notes on Luke 7:37; it is probably used here in nearly a similar sense. “Do ye who live in Jerusalem, and who consider your selves peculiarly attached to the law, and under the strongest obligations to obey it-do ye think that those Galileans were more heathenish than the rest of the Galileans, because they suffered such things? No. It was not on this account that they perished: both these cases exhibit a specimen of the manner in which ye shall all perish, if ye do not speedily repent, and turn to God.”
Verse 5. Ye shall all likewise perish.— /wsautwv, omoiwv, In a like way, in the same manner. This prediction of our Lord was literally fulfilled. When the city was taken by the Romans, multitudes of the priests, etc., who were going on with their sacrifices, were slain, and their blood mingled with the blood of their victims; and multitudes were buried under the ruins of the walls, houses, and temple. See Josephus, War, b. vi. ch. iv., v., vi.; and see the notes on Matthew 24.
It is very wrong to suppose that those who suffer by the sword, or by natural accidents, are the most culpable before God. An adequate punishment for sin cannot be inflicted in this world: what God does here, in this way, is in general: 1st, through mercy, to alarm others; 2, to show his hatred to sin; 3, to preserve in men’s minds a proper sense of his providence and justice; and 4, to give sinners, in one or two particular instances, a general specimen of the punishment that awaits all the perseveringly impenitent.
Verse 6. A certain man— Many meanings are given to this parable, and divines may abound in them; the sense which our Lord designed to convey by it appears to be the following:1. A person, tiv, God Almighty. 2. Had a fig tree, the Jewish Church. 3. Planted in his vineyard-established in the land of Judea. 4. He came seeking fruit-he required that the Jewish people should walk in righteousness, in proportion to the spiritual culture he bestowed on them. 5. The vine-dresser-the Lord Jesus, for God hath committed all judgment to the Son, John 5:22. 6. Cut it down-let the Roman sword be unsheathed against it. 7. Let it alone-Christ is represented as intercessor for sinners, for whose sake the day of their probation is often lengthened; during which time he is constantly employed in doing every thing that has a tendency to promote their salvation. 8. Thou shalt cut it down-a time will come, that those who have not turned at God’s invitations and reproofs shall be cut off, and numbered with the transgressors.
Verse 7. Behold these three years— From this circumstance in the parable, it may be reasonably concluded that Jesus had been, at the time of saying this, exercising his ministry for three years past; and, from what is said in Luke 13:8, of letting it alone this year also, it may be concluded likewise that this parable was spoken about a year before Christ’s crucifixion; and, if both these conclusions are reasonable, we may thence infer that this parable was not spoken at the time which appears to be assigned to it, and that the whole time of Christ’s public ministry was about four years. See Bishop Pearce. But it has already been remarked that St. Luke never studies chronological arrangement. See the Preface to this Gospel.
Why cumbereth it the ground?— Or, in other words, Why should the ground be also useless? The tree itself brings forth no fruit; let it be cut down that a more profitable one may be planted in its place. Cut it down. The Codex Bezae has added here, fere thn axinhn, Bring the axe and cut it down. If this reading be genuine, it is doubtless an allusion to Matthew 3:10: Now the axe lieth at the root of the trees. If the writer has added it on his own authority, he probably referred to the place above mentioned. See the note on the above text.
There is something very like this in the gewponika, or Deuteronomy Revelation Rustica of the ancient Greek writers on agriculture. I refer to cap. 83 of lib. x., p. 773; edit. Niclas, entitled, dendron akarpon karpoforein, How to make a barren tree fruitful. Having girded yourself, and tied up your garments, take a bipen or axe, and with an angry mind approach the tree as if about to cut it down. Then let some person come forward and deprecate the cutting down of the tree, making himself responsible for its future fertility. Then, seem to be appeased, and so spare the tree, and afterwards it will yield fruit in abundance. “Bean straw (manure of that material,) scattered about the roots of the tree, will make it fruitful.” That a similar superstition prevailed among the Asiatics, Michaelis proves from the Cosmographer Ibn Alvardi, who prescribes the following as the mode to render a sterile palm tree fruitful: “The owner, armed with an axe, having an attendant with him, approaches the tree, and says, I must cut this tree down, because it is unfruitful. Let it alone, I beseech thee, says the other, and this year it will bring forth fruit. The owner immediately strikes it thrice with the back of his axe; but the other preventing him says, I beseech thee to spare it, and I will be answerable for its fertility. Then the tree becomes abundantly fruitful.” Does not our Lord refer to such a custom?
Verse 11. A woman which had a spirit of infirmity— Relative to this subject three things may be considered:
I. The woman’s infirmity.
II. Her cure. And
What was the effect of this infirmity? The woman was so bowed together that she could in no case stand straight, or look toward heaven.
II. The woman’s cure.
III. The conduct of the ruler of the synagogue on the occasion.
A preacher will know how to apply this subject to general edification.
Verse 18. — 19. The kingdom-is like a grain of mustard seed— See on Matthew 13:31.
Verse 21. Like leaven— See this explained, Matthew 13:33.
Verse 22. Journeying toward Jerusalem.— Luke represents all that is said, from Luke 9:51, as having been done and spoken while Christ was on his last journey to Jerusalem. See the notes on Luke 9:51, and Luke 12:58, and see the Preface.
Verse 23. Are there few that be saved?— A question either of impertinence or curiosity, the answer to which can profit no man. The grand question is, Can I be saved? Yes. How? Strive earnestly to enter in through the strait gate-agwnizesqe, agonize-exert every power of body and soul-let your salvation be the grand business of your whole life.
Verse 24. Many-will seek— They seek-wish and desire; but they do not strive; therefore, because they will not agonize-will not be in earnest, they shall not get in. See this subject more particularly explained on Matthew 7:13, 14.
Verse 25. And hath shut to the door— See the notes on Matthew 7:22, 23, and 25:10-41.
Verse 28. Abraham, and Isaac, etc.— See on Matthew 8:12, where the figures and allusions made use of here are particularly explained.
Verse 29. They shall come— That is, the Gentiles, in every part of the world, shall receive the Gospel of the grace of God, when the Jews shall have rejected it.
Verse 30. There are last which shall be first— See on Matthew 19:30.
Verse 31. Depart hence, etc.— It is probable that the place from which Christ was desired to depart was Galilee or Perea; for beyond this Herod had no jurisdiction. It can scarcely mean Jerusalem, though it appears from Luke 23:7, that Herod Antipas was there at the time of our Lord’s crucifixion.
Herod will kill thee.— Lactantius says that this Herod was the person who chiefly instigated the Jewish rulers to put our Lord to death: Tum Pontius, et illorum clamoribus, et Herodis tetrarchae instigatione, metuentis ne regno pelleretur, victus est:-fearing lest himself should be expelled from the kingdom, if Christ should be permitted to set up his. See LACT. Inst. Div. lib. iv. c. xviii., and Bishop Pearce on Luke 23:7.
Verse 32. Tell that fox— Herod was a very vicious prince, and lived in public incest with his sister-in-law, Mark 6:17: if our Lord meant him here, it is hard to say why the character of fox, which implies cunning, design, and artifice, to hide evil intentions, should be attributed to him, who never seemed studious to conceal his vices. But we may suppose that Christ, who knew his heart, saw that he covered his desire for the destruction of our Lord, under the pretense of zeal for the law and welfare of the Jewish people. A fox among the Jews appears to have been the emblem of a wicked ruler, who united cunning with cruelty, and was always plotting how he might aggrandize himself by spoiling the people. See a quotation in Schoettgen.
The following observation from the judicious Bishop Pearce deserves attention. “It is not certain,” says he, “that Jesus meant Herod here; he might only have intended to call that man so, from whom the advice of departing came, (whether from the speaker himself, or the person who sent him,) for it is probable, that the advice was given craftily, and with design to frighten Jesus, and, make him go from that place.”
To-day and to-morrow— I am to work miracles for two days more, and on the third day I shall be put to death. But it is probable that this phrase only means, that he had but a short time to live, without specifying its duration.
Perfected.— Or finished, teleioumai. I shall then have accomplished the purpose for which I came into the world, leaving nothing undone which the counsel of God designed me to complete. Hence, in reference to our Lord, the word implies his dying; as the plan of human redemption was not finished, till he bowed his head and gave up the ghost on the cross: see John 19:30, where the same word is used. It is used also in reference to Christ’s death, Hebrews 2:10; 5:9; see also Acts 20:24, and Hebrews 12:23. The word finish, etc., is used in the same sense both by the Greeks and Latins. See KYPKE.
Verse 33. I must walk, etc.— I must continue to work miracles and teach for a short time yet, and then I shall die in Jerusalem: therefore I cannot depart, according to the advice given me, (Luke 13:31,) nor can a hair of my head fall to the ground till my work be all done.
To-day and to-morrow, etc.— Kypke contends that the proper translation of the original is, I must walk to-day and to-morrow IN THE NEIGHBORING COASTS: and that ecomenh is often understood in this way: see Mark 1:38, and his notes there. That Christ was now in the jurisdiction of Herod, as he supposes, is evident from Luke 13:31; that he was on his last journey to Jerusalem, Luke 9:51; that he had just passed through Samaria, Luke 9:52, 56; that as Samaria and Judea were under the Roman procurator, and Perea was subject to Herod Antipas, therefore he concludes that Christ was at this time in Perea; which agrees with Matthew 19:1, and Mark 10:1, and Luke 17:11. He thinks, if the words be not understood in this way, they are contrary to Luke 13:32, which says that on it Christ is to die, while this says he is to live and act.
Perish out of Jerusalem.— A man who professes to be a prophet can be tried on that ground only by the grand Sanhedrin, which always resides at Jerusalem; and as the Jews are about to put me to death, under the pretense of my being a false prophet, therefore my sentence must come from this city, and my death take place in it.
Verse 34. O Jerusalem, Jerusalem— See the note on Matthew 23:37-39, where the metaphor of the hen is illustrated from the Greek Anthology.
Verse 35. Your house— /o oikov, the temple-called here your house, not my house-I acknowledge it no longer; I have abandoned it, and will dwell in it no more for ever. So he said, 2 Chronicles 36:17, when he delivered the temple into the hands of the Chaldeans-the house of YOUR sanctuary. A similar form of speech is found, Exodus 32:7, where the Lord said to Moses, THY people, etc., to intimate that he acknowledged them no longer for his followers. See the notes on Matthew 23:21, 38. But some think that our Lord means, not the temple, but the whole commonwealth of the Jews.
The principal subjects it this chapter may be found considered at large, on the parallel places in Matthew and Mark, to which the reader is referred. As to the account of the woman with the spirit of infirmity, which is not mentioned by any other of the evangelists, see it largely illustrated in the notes on Luke 13:11, etc.