Commentary on the Bible, by Adam Clarke, , at sacred-texts.com
Christ preaches to his disciples against hypocrisy; and against timidity in publishing the Gospel, Luk 12:1-5. Excites them to have confidence in Divine providence, Luk 12:6, Luk 12:7. Warns them against denying him, or betraying his cause, Luk 12:8, Luk 12:9. Of the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost, Luk 12:10. Promises direction and support in persecution, Luk 12:11, Luk 12:12. Warns the people against covetousness, Luk 12:13-15. Parable of the rich man who pulled down his granaries to build greater, Luk 12:16-21. Cautions against carking cares and anxieties, Luk 12:22-32. The necessity of living to God, and in reference to eternity, Luk 12:33-40. At the request of Peter, he farther explains the preceding discourse, Luk 12:41-48. The effects that should be produced by the preaching of the Gospel, Luk 12:49-53. The signs of the times, Luk 12:54-57. The necessity of being prepared to appear before the judgment seat of God, Luk 12:58, Luk 12:59.
An innumerable multitude of people - Των μυριαδων του οχλου, myriads of people. A myriad is ten thousand, and myriads must, at the very lowest, mean twenty thousand. But the word is often used to signify a crowd or multitude which cannot be readily numbered. There was doubtless a vast crowd assembled on this occasion, and many of them were deeply instructed by the very important discourse which our Lord delivered.
Leaven of the Pharisees - See Mat 16:1-12.
Which is hypocrisy - These words are supposed by some to be an addition to the text, because it does not appear that it is their hypocrisy which Christ alludes to, but their false doctrines. They had, however, a large proportion of both.
There is nothing covered - See the notes on Mat 5:15; Mat 10:26, Mat 10:27 (note); Mar 4:22 (note).
Kill the body - See on Mat 10:28 (note).
Fear him - Even the friends of God are commanded to fear God, as a being who has authority to send both body and soul into hell. Therefore it is proper even for the most holy persons to maintain a fear of God, as the punisher of all unrighteousness. A man has but one life to lose, and one soul to save; and it is madness to sacrifice the salvation of the soul to the preservation of the life.
Are not five sparrows sold for two farthings? - See this explained on Mat 10:29 (note), from which place we learn that two sparrows were sold for one farthing, and here; that five were sold for two farthings: thus we find a certain proportion - for one farthing you could get but two, while for two farthings you could get five.
Fear not therefore - Want of faith in the providence and goodness of God is the source of all human inquietudes and fears. He has undertaken to save and defend those to the uttermost who trust in him. His wisdom cannot be surprised, his power cannot be forced, his love cannot forget itself. Man distrusts God, and fears that he is forgotten by him, because he judges of God by himself; and he knows that he is apt to forget his Maker, and be unfaithful to him. See on Mat 10:29-31 (note).
Shall confess - See on Mat 10:32, Mat 10:33 (note).
Him that blasphemeth - See the sin against the Holy Ghost explained, Mat 12:32 (note).
Unto magistrates and powers - See Mat 10:17-20.
Take ye no thought - See Mat 6:25; Mat 10:19.
Speak to my brother, that he divide - Among the Jews, the children had the inheritance of their fathers divided among them; the eldest had a double portion, but all the rest had equal parts. It is likely the person complained of in the text was the elder brother; and he wished to keep the whole to himself - a case which is far from being uncommon. The spirit of covetousness cancels all bonds and obligations, makes wrong right, and cares nothing for father or brother.
A judge - Without some judgment given in the case, no division could be made; therefore Jesus added the word judge. Pearce. A minister of Christ ought not to concern himself with secular affairs, any farther than charity and the order of discipline require it. Our Lord could have decided this difference in a moment; but the example of a perfect disengagement from worldly things was more necessary for the ministers of his Church than that of a charity applying itself to temporal concerns. He who preaches salvation to all should never make himself a party man; otherwise he loses the confidence, and consequently the opportunity of doing good to the party against whom he decides. Better to leave all these things to the civil magistrate, unless where a lawsuit may be prevented, and the matter decided to the satisfaction or acquiescence of both parties.
Beware of covetousness - Or rather, Beware of all inordinate desires. I add πασης, all, on the authority of ABDKLM-Q, twenty-three others, both the Syriac, all the Persic, all the Arabic, Coptic, Ethiopic, Armenian, Vulgate, all the Itala, and several of the primitive fathers.
Inordinate desires. Πλεονεξιας, from πλειον, more, and εχειν, to have; the desire to have more and more, let a person possess whatever he may. Such a disposition of mind is never satisfied; for, as soon as one object is gained, the heart goes out after another.
Consisteth not in the abundance - That is, dependeth not on the abundance. It is not superfluities that support man's life, but necessaries. What is necessary, God gives liberally; what is superfluous, he has not promised. Nor can a man's life be preserved by the abundance of his possessions: to prove this he spoke the following parable.
The ground of a certain rich man, etc. - He had generally what is called good luck in his farm, and this was a remarkably plentiful year.
He thought within himself - Began to be puzzled in consequence of the increase of his goods. Riches, though ever so well acquired, produce nothing but vexation and embarrassment.
I will pull down, etc. - The rich are full of designs concerning this life, but in general take no thought about eternity till the time that their goods and their lives are both taken away.
Soul, thou hast much goods - Great possessions are generally accompanied with pride, idleness, and luxury; and these are the greatest enemies to salvation. Moderate poverty, as one justly observes, is a great talent in order to salvation; but it is one which nobody desires.
Take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry - This was exactly the creed of the ancient Atheists and Epicureans. Ede, bibe, lude; post mortem nulla voluptas. What a wretched portion for an immortal spirit! and yet those who know not God have no other, and many of them not even this.
Thou fool! - To imagine that a man's comfort and peace can depend upon temporal things; or to suppose that these can satisfy the wishes of an immortal spirit!
This night - How awful was this saying! He had just made the necessary arrangements for the gratification of his sensual appetites; and, in the very night in which he had finally settled all his plans, his soul was called into the eternal world! What a dreadful awakening of a soul, long asleep in sin! He is now hurried into the presence of his Maker; none of his worldly goods can accompany him, and he has not a particle of heavenly treasure! There is a passage much like this in the book of Ecclesiasticus, 11:18, 19. There is that waxeth rich by his wariness and pinching, and this is the portion of his reward: Whereas he saith, I have found rest, and now will eat continually of my goods; and yet he knoweth not what time shall come upon him; and that he must leave those things to others, and die. We may easily see whence the above is borrowed.
So is he - That is, thus will it be. This is not an individual case; all who make this life their portion, and who are destitute of the peace and salvation of God, shall, sooner or later, be surprised in the same way.
Layeth up treasure for himself - This is the essential characteristic of a covetous man: he desires riches; he gets them; he lays them up, not for the necessary uses to which they might be devoted, but for himself; to please himself, and to gratify his avaricious soul. Such a person is commonly called a miser, i.e. literally, a wretched, miserable man.
Take no thought - Be not anxiously careful. See on Mat 6:25 (note).
To his stature one cubit? - See on Mat 6:27 (note).
Into the oven - See the note on Mat 6:30.
Neither be ye of doubtful mind - Or, in anxious suspense, μη μετεωριζεσθε. Raphelius gives several examples to prove that the meaning of the word is, to have the mind agitated with useless thoughts, and vain imaginations concerning food, raiment, and riches, accompanied with perpetual uncertainty.
The nations of the world seek after - Or, earnestly seek, επιζητει from επι above, over, and ζητεω, I seek; to seek one thing after another, to be continually and eagerly coveting. This is the employment of the nations of this world, utterly regardless of God and eternity! It is the essence of heathenism to live only for this life; and it is the property of Christianity to lead men to live here in reference to another and better world. Reader! how art thou living?
Dr. Lightfoot observes on this place, that κοσμος, the world, and αιων, world or age, have a meaning in the sacred writings which they have not in profane authors. Αιων has relation to the Jewish ages, and κοσμος to the ages that are not Jewish: hence, by συντελεια του αιωνος, Mat 24:3, is meant the end of the Jewish age or world: and προ χρονων αιωνιων, Tit 1:2, means before the Jewish world began; and hence it is that the term world is very often, in the New Testament, to be understood only of the Gentiles.
Fear not, little flock - Or, very little flock, το μικρον ποιμνιον. This is what some term a double diminutive, and, literally translated, is, little little flock. Though this refers solely to the apostles and first believers, of whom it was literally true, yet we may say that the number of genuine believers has been, and is still, small, in comparison of heathens and false Christians.
It is your Father's good pleasure - Ευδοκησεν, It hath pleased, etc., though this tense joined with an infinitive has often the force of the present. Our Lord intimated, God has already given you that kingdom which consists in righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost, and has undertaken to protect and save you to the uttermost; therefore, fear not; the smallness of your number cannot hurt you, for omnipotence itself has undertaken your cause.
Sell that ye have - Dispose of your goods. Be not like the foolish man already mentioned, who laid up the produce of his fields, without permitting the poor to partake of God's bounty: turn the fruits of your fields (which are beyond what you need for your own support) into money, and give it in alms; and the treasure thus laid out, shall be as laid up for yourselves and families in heaven. This purse shall not grow old, and this treasure shill not decay. Ye shall by and by find both the place where you laid up the treasure, and the treasure itself in the place; for he who hath pity on the poor lendeth unto the Lord; and he may rest assured, that whatever, for Christ's sake, he thus lays out, it will be paid him again.
Where your treasure is - Men fix their hearts on their treasures, and often resort to the place where they have deposited them, to see that all is safe and secure. Let God be the treasure of your soul, and let your heart go frequently to the place where his honor dwelleth. There is a curious parallel passage to this in Plautus, quoted by Bishop Pearce on Mat 6:21. Nam ego sum hic; animus domi est, sc. cum argento meo. "I am here; but my heart is at home, i.e. with my money."
Let your loins - Be active, diligent, determined ready; let all hinderances be removed out of the way; and let the candle of the Lord be always found burning brightly in your hand. See on Luk 12:37 (note).
That wait for their lord - See the notes on Mat 25:1 (note), etc.
The wedding - How the Jewish weddings were celebrated, see in the notes on Mat 8:12 (note); Mat 22:11 (note).
He shall gird himself - Alluding to the long garments which were worn in the eastern countries; and which, in travelling and serving, were tucked up in their belts. That those among the Romans who waited on the company at table were girded, and had their clothes tucked up, appears from what Horace says, Sat. b. vi. l. 107: Veluti Succinctus cursitat Hospes, He runs about like a girded waiter. The host himself often performed this office. And ibid. viii. 10: Puer alle cinctus: and that the same custom prevailed among the Jews appears from Joh 13:4, Joh 13:5, and Luk 17:8. From this verse we may gather likewise, that it was the custom of those days, as it was, not long since, among us, for the bridegroom, at the wedding supper, to wait as a servant upon the company. See Bishop Pearce.
If he shall come in the second watch - See the note on Mat 14:25.
Be ye therefore ready also - It is pretty evident that what is related here, from Luk 12:35 to Luk 12:49, was spoken by our Lord at another time. See Mat 24:42 (note), etc., and the notes there.
Faithful and wise steward - See on Mat 24:45 (note); where the several parts of the steward's office are mentioned and explained. Those appear to have been stewards among the Jews, whose business it was to provide all the members of a family, not only with food, but with raiment.
Begin to beat, etc. - See the different parts of this bad minister's conduct pointed out on Mat 24:48, Mat 24:49 (note).
With the unbelievers - Or, rather, the unfaithful; των σπιϚων. Persons who had the light and knowledge of God's word, but made an improper use of the privileges they received. The persons mentioned here differ widely from unbelievers or infidels, viz. those who were in a state of heathenism, because they had not the revelation of the Most High: the latter knew not the will of God, Luk 12:48, and, though they acted against it, did not do it in obstinacy; the former knew that will, and daringly opposed it. They were unfaithful, and therefore heavily punished.
Shall be beaten with many stripes - Criminals among the Jews could not be beaten with more than forty stripes; and as this was the sum of the severity to which a whipping could extend, it may be all that our Lord here means. But, in some cases, a man was adjudged to receive fourscore stripes! How could this be, when the law had decreed only forty? Answer: By doubling the crime. He received forty for each crime; if he were guilty of two offenses, he might receive fourscore. See Lightfoot.
Shall be beaten with few - For petty offenses the Jews in many cases inflicted so few as four, five, and six stripes. See examples in Lightfoot.
From this and the preceding verse we find that it is a crime to be ignorant of God's will; because to every one God has given less or more of the means of instruction. Those who have had much light, or the opportunity of receiving much, and have not improved it to their own salvation, and the good of others, shall have punishment proportioned to the light they have abused. On the other hand, those who have had little light, and few means of improvement, shall have few stripes, shall be punished only for the abuse of the knowledge they possessed. See at the end of the chapter.
I am come to send fire - See this subject largely explained on Mat 10:34 (note), etc. From the connection in which these words stand, both in this place and in Matthew, it appears as if our Lord intended by the word fire, not only the consuming influence of the Roman sword, but also the influence of his own Spirit in the destruction of sin. In both these senses this fire was already kindled: as yet, however, it appeared but as a spark, but was soon to break out into an all-consuming flame.
But I have a baptism - The fire, though already kindled, cannot burn up till after the Jews have put me to death: then the Roman sword shall come, and the Spirit of judgment, burning, and purification shall be poured out.
To give peace - See Mat 10:34.
Five in one house divided - See on Mat 10:35, Mat 10:36 (note).
A cloud rise - See on Mat 16:2, Mat 16:3 (note).
This time? - Can ye not discover from the writings of the prophets, and from the events which now take place, that this is the time of the Messiah, and that I am the very person foretold by them?
And why - judge ye - Even without the express declarations of the prophets, ye might, from what ye see and hear yourselves, discern that God has now visited his people in such a manner as he never did before.
When thou goest with thine adversary - This and the next verse are a part of our Lord's sermon upon the mount. See them explained Mat 5:25, Mat 5:26 (note). St. Luke is very particular in collecting and relating every word and action of our blessed Lord, but seldom gives them in the order of time in which they were spoken or done. See the Preface to this Gospel.
Give diligence - Δος εργασιαν, Give labor, do every thing in thy power to get free before a suit commences.
The officer - Πρακτωρ properly signifies such an officer as was appointed to levy the fines imposed by the law for a violation of any of its precepts. See Kypke.
Till thou hast paid the very last mite - And when can this be, if we understand the text spiritually? Can weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth, pay to Divine justice the debt a sinner has contracted? This is impossible: let him who readeth understand.
The subject of the 47th and 48th verses has been greatly misunderstood, and has been used in a very dangerous manner. Many have thought that their ignorance of Divine things would be a sufficient excuse for their crimes; and, that they might have but few stripes, they voluntarily continued in ignorance. But such persons should know that God will judge them for the knowledge they might have received, but refused to acquire. No criminal is excused because he has been ignorant of the laws of his country, and so transgressed them, when it can be proved that those very laws have been published throughout the land. Much knowledge is a dangerous thing if it be not improved; as this will greatly aggravate the condemnation of its possessor. Nor will it avail a person, in the land of light and information, to be ignorant, as he shall be judged for what he might have known; and, perhaps, in this case, the punishment of this voluntarily ignorant man will be even greater than that of the more enlightened; because his crimes are aggravated by this consideration, that he refused to have the light, that he might neither be obliged to walk in the light, nor account for the possession of it. So we find that the plea of ignorance is a mere refuge of lies, and none can plead it who has the book of God within his reach, and lives in a country blessed with the preaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.