Commentary on the Bible, by Adam Clarke, , at sacred-texts.com
The parable of the unjust steward, Luk 16:1-8. Christ applies this to his hearers, Luk 16:9-13. The Pharisees take offense, Luk 16:14. Our Lord reproves them, and shows the immutability of the law, Luk 16:15-17. Counsels against divorce, Luk 16:18. The story of the rich man and the beggar, commonly called Dives and Lazarus, Luk 16:19-31.
A steward - Οικονομος, from οικος, a house, or οικια, a family, and νεμω, I administer; one who superintends domestic concerns, and ministers to the support of the family, having the products of the field, business, etc., put into his hands for this very purpose. See on Luk 8:3 (note).
There is a parable very like this in Rab. Dav. Kimchi's comment on Isaiah, Isa 40:21 : "The whole world may be considered as a house builded up: heaven is its roof; the stars its lamps; and the fruits of the earth, the table spread. The owner and builder of this house is the holy blessed God; and man is the steward, into whose hands all the business of the house is committed. If he considers in his heart that the master of the house is always over him, and keeps his eye upon his work; and if, in consequence, he act wisely, he shall find favor in the eyes of the master of the house: but if the master find wickedness in him, he will remove him, מן יפקדתו min pakidato, from his Stewardship. The foolish steward doth not think of this: for as his eyes do not see the master of the house, he saith in his heart, 'I will eat and drink what I find in this house, and will take my pleasure in it; nor shall I be careful whether there be a Lord over this house or not.' When the Lord of the house marks this, he will come and expel him from the house, speedily and with great anger. Therefore it is written, He bringeth the princes to nothing." As is usual, our Lord has greatly improved this parable, and made it in every circumstance more striking and impressive. Both in the Jewish and Christian edition, it has great beauties.
Wasted his goods - Had been profuse and profligate; and had embezzled his master's substance.
Give an account of thy, etc. - Produce thy books of receipts and disbursements, that I may see whether the accusation against thee be true or false. The original may be translated, Give up the business, τον λογον, of the stewardship.
I cannot dig - He could not submit to become a common day-laborer, which was both a severe and base employment: To beg I am ashamed. And as these were the only honest ways left him to procure a morsel of bread, and he would not submit to either, he found he must continue the system of knavery, in order to provide for his idleness and luxury, or else starve. Wo to the man who gets his bread in this way! The curse of the Lord must be on his head, and on his heart; in his basket, and is his store.
They may receive me - That is, the debtors and tenants, who paid their debts and rents, not in money, but in kind; such as wheat, oil, and other produce of their lands.
A hundred measures of oil - Ἑκατον βατους, A hundred baths. The בת bath was the largest measure of capacity among the Hebrews, except the homer, of which it was the tenth part: see Eze 45:11, Eze 45:14. It is equal to the ephah, i.e. to seven gallons and a half of our measure.
Take thy bill - Thy account - το γραμμα. The writing in which the debt was specified, together with the obligation to pay so much, at such and such times. This appears to have been in the hand-writing of the debtor, and probably signed by the steward: and this precluded imposition on each part. To prevent all appearance of forgery in this case, he is desired to write it over again, and to cancel the old engagement. In carrying on a running account with a tradesman, it is common among the Hindoos for the buyer to receive from the hands of the seller a daily account of the things received; and according to this account, written on a slip of paper, and which remains in the hands of the buyer, the person is paid.
A hundred measures of wheat - Ἑκατον κορους, a hundred cors. Κορος, from the Hebrew כר cor, was the largest measure of capacity among the Hebrews, whether for solids or liquids. As the bath was equal to the ephah, so the cor was equal to the homer. It contained about seventy-five gallons and five pints English. For the same reason for which I preserve the names of the ancient coins, I preserve the names of the ancient measures. What idea can a mere English reader have of the word measure in this and the preceding verse, when the original words are not only totally different, but the quantity is as seven to seventy-five? The original terms should be immediately inserted in the text, and the contents inserted in the margin. The present marginal reading is incorrect. I follow Bishop Cumberland's weights and measures. See on Luk 15:8 (note).
In the preceding relation, I have no doubt our Lord alluded to a custom frequent in the Asiatic countries: a custom which still prevails, as the following account, taken from Capt. Hadley's Hindostan Dialogues, sufficiently proves. A person thus addresses the captain: "Your Sirkar's deputy, whilst his master was gone to Calcutta, established a court of justice.
"Having searched for a good many debtors and their creditors, he learned the accounts of their bonds.
"He then made an agreement with them to get the bonds out of the bondsmen's hands for half the debt, if they would give him one fourth.
"Thus, any debtor for a hundred rupees, having given fifty to the creditor, and twenty-five to this knave, got his bond for seventy-five rupees.
"Having seized and flogged 125 bondholders, he has in this manner determined their loans, and he has done this business in your name." Hadley's Gram. Dialogues, p. 79. 5th edit. 1801.
The lord commended - Viz. the master of this unjust steward. He spoke highly of the address and cunning of his iniquitous servant. He had, on his own principles, made a very prudent provision for his support; but his master no more approved of his conduct in this, than he did in his wasting his substance before. From the ambiguous and improper manner in which this is expressed in the common English translation, it has been supposed that our blessed Lord commended the conduct of this wicked man: but the word κυριος, there translated lord, simply means the master of the unjust steward.
The children of this world - Such as mind worldly things only, without regarding God or their souls. A phrase by which the Jews always designate the Gentiles.
Children of light - Such as are illuminated by the Spirit of God, and regard worldly things only as far as they may subserve the great purposes of their salvation, and become the instruments of good to others. But ordinarily the former evidence more carefulness and prudence, in providing for the support and comfort of this life, than the latter do in providing for another world.
The mammon of unrighteousness - Μαμωνα της αδικιας - literally, the mammon, or riches, of injustice. Riches promise Much, and perform Nothing: they excite hope and confidence, and deceive both: in making a man depend on them for happiness, they rob him of the salvation of God and of eternal glory. For these reasons, they are represented as unjust and deceitful. See the note on Mat 6:24, where this is more particularly explained. It is evident that this must be the meaning of the words, because the false or deceitful riches, here, are put in opposition to the true riches, Luk 16:11; i.e. those Divine graces and blessings which promise all good, and give what they promise; never deceiving the expectation of any man. To insinuate that, if a man have acquired riches by unjust means, he is to sanctify them, and provide himself a passport to the kingdom of God, by giving them to the poor, is a most horrid and blasphemous perversion of our Lord's words. Ill gotten gain must be restored to the proper owners: if they are dead, then to their successors.
When ye fail - That is, when ye die. The Septuagint use the word εκλειπειν in this very sense, Jer 42:17, Jer 42:22. See the note on Gen 25:8. So does Josephus, War, chap. iv. 1, 9.
They may receive you - That is, say some, the angels. Others, the poor whom ye have relieved will welcome you into glory. It does not appear that the poor are meant:
1. Because those who have relieved them may die a long time before them; and therefore they could not be in heaven to receive them on their arrival.
2. Many poor persons may be relieved, who will live and die in their sins, and consequently never enter into heaven themselves.
The expression seems to be a mere Hebraism: - they may receive you, for ye shall be received; i.e. God shall admit you, if you make a faithful use of his gifts and graces. He who does not make a faithful use of what he has received from his Maker has no reason to hope for eternal felicity. See Mat 25:33; and, for similar Hebraisms, consult in the original, Luk 6:38; Luk 12:20; Rev 12:6; Rev 16:15.
He that is faithful in that which is least, etc. - He who has the genuine principles of fidelity in him will make a point of conscience of carefully attending to even the smallest things; and it is by habituating himself to act uprightly in little things that he acquires the gracious habit of acting with propriety fidelity, honor, and conscience, in matters of the greatest concern. On the contrary, he who does not act uprightly in small matters will seldom feel himself bound to pay much attention to the dictates of honor and conscience, in cases of high importance. Can we reasonably expect that a man who is continually falling by little things has power to resist temptations to great evils?
That which is another man's - Or rather another's, τῳ αλλοτριω. That is, worldly riches, called another's:
1. Because they belong to God, and he has not designed that they should be any man's portion.
2. Because they are continually changing their possessors, being in the way of commerce, and in providence going from one to another.
This property of worldly goods is often referred to by both sacred and profane writers. See a fine passage in Horace, Sat. l. ii. s. 2. v. 129.
Nam propriae telluris herum natura neque illum,
Nec me, nec quemquam statuit
Nature will no perpetual heir assign,
Nor make the farm his property, or mine.
And the following in one of our own poets: -
"Who steals my purse steals trash; 'tis something, nothing;
'Twas mine, 'tis his, and has been slave to thousands."
That which is your own? - Grace and glory, which God has particularly designed for you; which are the only proper satisfying portion for the soul, and which no man can enjoy in their plenitude, unless he be faithful to the first small motions and influences of the Divine Spirit.
No servant can serve two masters - The heart will be either wholly taken up with God, or wholly engrossed with the world. See on Mat 6:24 (note).
They derided him - Or rather, They treated him with the utmost contempt. So we may translate the original words εξεμυκτηριζον αυτον, which literally signifies, in illum emunxerunt - but must not be translated into English, unless, to come a little near it, we say, they turned up their noses at him; and why! Because they were lovers of money, and he showed them that all such were in danger of perdition. As they were wedded to this life, and not concerned for the other, they considered him one of the most absurd and foolish of men, and worthy only of the most sovereign contempt, because he taught that spiritual and eternal things should be preferred before the riches of the universe. And how many thousands are there of the very same sentiment to the present day!
Ye - justify yourselves - Ye declare yourselves to be just. Ye endeavor to make it appear to men that ye can still feel an insatiable thirst after the present world, and yet secure the blessings of another; that ye can reconcile God and mammon, - and serve two masters with equal zeal and affection; but God knoweth your hearts, - and he knoweth that ye are alive to the world, and dead to God and goodness. Therefore, howsoever ye may be esteemed among men, ye are an abomination before him. See the note on Luk 7:29.
The law and the prophets were until John - The law and the prophets continued to be the sole teachers till John came, who first began to proclaim the glad tidings of the kingdom of God: and now, he who wishes to be made a partaker of the blessings of that kingdom must rush speedily into it; as there will be but a short time before an utter destruction shall fall upon this ungodly race. They who wish to be saved must imitate those who take a city by storm - rush into it, without delay, as the Romans are about to do into Jerusalem. See also on Mat 11:12 (note).
For heaven and earth to pass - See on Mat 5:17, Mat 5:18 (note).
Putteth away (or divorceth) his wife - See on Mat 5:31, Mat 5:32 (note); Mat 19:9, Mat 19:10 (note); Mar 10:12 (note); where the question concerning divorce is considered at large. These verses, from the 13th to the 18th inclusive, appear to be part of our Lord's sermon on the mount; and stand in a much better connection there than they do here; unless we suppose our Lord delivered the same discourse at different times and places, which is very probable.
There was a certain rich man - In the Scholia of some MSS. the name of this person is said to be Ninive. This account of the rich man and Lazarus is either a parable or a real history. If it be a parable, it is what may be: if it be a history, it is that which has been. Either a man may live as is here described, and go to perdition when he dies; or, some have lived in this way, and are now suffering the torments of an eternal fire. The account is equally instructive in whichsoever of these lights it is viewed. Let us carefully observe all the circumstances offered hereto our notice, and we shall see - I. The Crime of this man; and II. His Punishment.
I. The Crime of this man.
1. There was a certain rich man in Jerusalem. Provided this be a real history, there is no doubt our Lord could have mentioned his name; but, as this might have given great offense, he chose to suppress it. His being rich is, in Christ's account, the first part of his sin. To this circumstance our Lord adds nothing: he does not say that he was born to a large estate; or that he acquired one by improper methods; or that he was haughty or insolent in the possession of it. Yet here is the first degree of his reprobation - he got all he could, and kept all to himself.
2. He was clothed with purple and fine linen. Purple was a very precious and costly stuff; but our Lord does not say that in the use of it he exceeded the bounds of his income, nor of his rank in life; nor is it said that he used his superb dress to be an agent to his crimes, by corrupting the hearts of others. Yet our Lord lays this down as a second cause of his perdition.
3. He fared sumptuously every day. Now let it be observed that the law of Moses, under which this man lived, forbade nothing on this point, but excess in eating and drinking; indeed, it seems as if a person was authorized to taste the sweets of an abundance, which that law promised as a reward of fidelity. Besides, this rich man is not accused of having eaten food which was prohibited by the law, or of having neglected the abstinences and fasts prescribed by it. It is true, he is said to have feasted sumptuously every day; but our Lord does not intimate that this was carried to excess, or that it ministered to debauch. He is not accused of licentious discourse, of gaming, of frequenting any thing like our modern plays, balls, masquerades, or other impure and unholy assemblies; of speaking an irreverent word against Divine revelation, or the ordinances of God. In a word, his probity is not attacked, nor is he accused of any of those crimes which pervert the soul or injure civil society. As Christ has described this man, does he appear culpable? What are his crimes? Why,
1. He was rich.
2. He was finely clothed. And
3. He feasted well.
No other evil is spoken of him. In comparison of thousands, he was not only blameless, but he was a virtuous man.
4. But it is intimated by many that "he was an uncharitable, hard-hearted, unfeeling wretch." Yet of this there is not a word spoken by Christ. Let us consider all the circumstances, and we shall see that our blessed Lord has not represented this man as a monster of inhumanity, but merely as an indolent man, who sought and had his portion in this life, and was not at all concerned about another.
Therefore we do not find that when Abraham addressed him on the cause of his reprobation, Luk 16:25, that he reproached him with hard-heartedness, saying, "Lazarus was hungry, and thou gavest him no meat; he was thirsty, and thou gavest him no drink, etc.;" but he said simply, Son, remember that thou didst receive thy good things in thy lifetime, Luk 16:25. "Thou hast sought thy consolation upon the earth, thou hast borne no cross, mortified no desire of the flesh, received not the salvation God had provided for thee; thou didst not belong to the people of God upon earth, and thou canst not dwell with them in glory."
There are few who consider that it is a crime for those called Christians to live without Christ, when their lives are not stained with transgression. If Christianity only required men to live without gross outward sin, paganism could furnish us with many bright examples of this sort. But the religion of Christ requires a conformity, not only in a man's conduct, to the principles of the Gospel; but also a conformity in his heart to the spirit and mind of Christ.
There was a certain beggar named Lazarus - His name is mentioned, because his character was good, and his end glorious; and because it is the purpose of God that the righteous shall be had in everlasting remembrance. Lazarus, לעזר is a contraction of the word אלעזר Eliezar, which signifies the help or assistance of God - a name properly given to a man who was both poor and afflicted, and had no help but that which came from heaven.
And desiring to be fed with the crumbs - And it is likely this desire was complied with, for it is not intimated that he spurned away the poor man from the gate, or that his suit was rejected. And as we find, Luk 16:24, that the rich man desired that Lazarus should be sent with a little water to him, it is a strong intimation that he considered him under some kind of obligation to him; for, had he refused him a few crumbs in his lifetime, it is not reasonable to suppose that he would now have requested such a favor from him; nor does Abraham glance at any such uncharitable conduct on the part of the rich man.
We may now observe,
II. In what the punishment of this man consisted.
1. Lazarus dies and is carried into Abraham's bosom. By the phrase, Abraham's bosom, an allusion is made to the custom at Jewish feasts, when three persons reclining on their left elbows on a couch, the person whose head came near the breast of the other, was said to lie in his bosom. So it is said of the beloved disciple, Joh 13:25. Abraham's bosom was a phrase used among the Jews to signify the paradise of God. See Josephus's account of the Maccabees, chap. xiii.
The rich man also died, and was buried - There is no mention of this latter circumstance in the case of Lazarus; he was buried, no doubt - necessity required this; but he had the burial of a pauper, while the pomp and pride of the other followed him to the tomb. But what a difference in these burials, if we take in the reading of my old MS. Bible, which is supported by several versions: forsothe the riche man is deed: and is buried in helle. And this is also the reading of the Anglo-saxon: and was in hell buried. In some MSS. the point has been wanting after εταφη, he was buried; and the following και, and, removed and set before επαρας he lifted up: so that the passage reads thus: The rich man died also, and was buried in hell; and lifting up his eyes, being in torment, he saw, etc. But let us view the circumstances of this man's punishment.
Scarcely had he entered the place of his punishment, when he lifted up his eyes on high; and what must his surprise be, to see himself separated from God, and to feel himself tormented in that flame! Neither himself, nor friends, ever suspected that the way in which he walked could have led to such a perdition.
1. And seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom, Luk 16:23. He sees Lazarus clothed with glory and immortality - this is the first circumstance in his punishment. What a contrast! What a desire does he feel to resemble him, and what rage and despair because he is not like him? We may safely conclude that the view which damned souls have, in the gulf of perdition, of the happiness of the blessed, and the conviction that they themselves might have eternally enjoyed this felicity, from which, through their own fault, they are eternally excluded, will form no mean part of the punishment of the lost.
2. The presence of a good to which they never had any right, and of which they are now deprived, affects the miserable less than the presence of that to which they had a right, and of which they are now deprived. Even in hell, a damned spirit must abhor the evil by which he is tormented, and desire that good that would free him from his torment. If a lost soul could be reconciled to its torment, and to its situation, then, of course, its punishment must cease to be such. An eternal desire to escape from evil, and an eternal desire to be united with the supreme good, the gratification of which is for ever impossible, must make a second circumstance in the misery of the lost.
3. Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, Luk 16:25. The remembrance of the good things possessed in life, and now to be enjoyed no more for ever, together with the remembrance of grace offered or abused, will form a third circumstance in the perdition of the ungodly. Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime, etc.
4. The torments which a soul endures in the hell of fire will form, through all eternity, a continual present source of indescribable wo. Actual torment in the flames of the bottomless pit forms a fourth circumstance in the punishment of the lost. I am tormented in this flame, Luk 16:24.
5. The known impossibility of ever escaping from this place of torment, or to have any alleviation of one's misery in it, forms a fifth circumstance in the punishment of ungodly men. Besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf, Luk 16:26. The eternal purpose of God, formed on the principles of eternal reason, separates the persons, and the places of abode, of the righteous and the wicked, so that there can be no intercourse: They who wish to pass over hence to you, cannot; neither can they pass over, who would come from you hither. A happy spirit cannot go from heaven to alleviate their miseries; nor can any of them escape from the place of their confinement, to enter among the blessed. There may be a discovery from hell of the paradise of the blessed; but there can be no intercourse nor connection.
6. The iniquitous conduct of relatives and friends, who have been perverted by the bad example of those who are lost, is a source of present punishment to them; and if they come also to the same place of torment, must be, to those who were the instruments of bringing them thither, an eternal source of anguish. Send Lazarus to my father's family, for I have five brothers, that he may earnestly testify (διαμαρτυρηται) to them, that they come not to this place of torment. These brothers had probably been influenced by his example to content themselves with an earthly portion, and to neglect their immortal souls. Those who have been instruments of bringing others into hell shall suffer the deeper perdition on that account.
They have Moses and the prophets - This plainly supposes they were all Jewish believers: they had these writings in their hands, but they did not permit them to influence their lives.
If one went to them from the dead, etc. - Many are desirous to see an inhabitant of the other world, and converse with him, in order to know what passes there. Make way! Here is a damned soul, which Jesus Christ has evoked from the hell of fire! Hear him! Hear him tell of his torments! Hear him utter his regrets! "But we cannot see him." No: God has, in his mercy, spared you for the present this punishment. How could you bear the sight of this damned spirit? Your very nature would fail at the appearance. Jesus keeps him as it were behind the curtain, and holds a conversation with him in your hearing, which you have neither faith nor courage sufficient to hold with him yourselves.
If they hear not Moses, etc. - This answer of Abraham contains two remarkable propositions.
1. That the sacred writings contain such proofs of a Divine origin, that though all the dead were to arise, to convince an unbeliever of the truths therein declared, the conviction could not be greater, nor the proof more evident, of the divinity and truth of these sacred records, than that which themselves afford.
2. That to escape eternal perdition, and get at last into eternal glory, a man is to receive the testimonies of God, and to walk according to their dictates.
And these two things show the sufficiency and perfection of the sacred writings. What influence could the personal appearance of a spirit have on an unbelieving and corrupted heart? None, except to terrify it for the moment, and afterwards to leave it ten thousand reasons for uncertainty and doubt. Christ caused this to be exemplified, in the most literal manner, by raising Lazarus from the dead. And did this convince the unbelieving Jews? No. They were so much the more enraged; and from that moment conspired both the death of Lazarus and of Christ! Faith is satisfied with such proofs as God is pleased to afford! Infidelity never has enow. See a Sermon on this subject, by the author of this work.
To make the parable of the unjust steward still more profitable, let every man consider: -
1. That God is his master, and the author of all the good he enjoys, whether it be spiritual or temporal.
2. That every man is only a steward, not a proprietor of those things.
3. That all must give an account to God, how they have used or abused the blessings with which they have been entrusted.
4. That the goods which God has entrusted to our care are goods of body and soul: goods of nature and grace: of birth and education: His word, Spirit, and ordinances: goods of life, health, genius, strength, dignity, riches; and even poverty itself is often a blessing from the hand of God.
5. That all these may be improved to God's honor, our good, and our neighbor's edification and comfort.
6. That the time is coming in which we shall be called to an account before God, concerning the use we have made of the good things with which he has entrusted us.
7. That we may, even now, be accused before our Maker, of the awful crime of wasting our Lord's substance.
8. That if this crime can be proved against us, we are in immediate danger of being deprived of all the blessings which we have thus abused, and of being separated from God and the glory of his power for ever.
9. That on hearing of the danger to which we are exposed, though we cannot dig to purchase salvation, yet we must beg, incessantly beg, at the throne of grace for mercy to pardon all that is past.
10. That not a moment is to be lost: the arrest of death may have gone out against us; and this very night-hour-minute, our souls may be required of us. Let us therefore learn wisdom from the prudent despatch which a worldly-minded man would use to retrieve his ruinous circumstances; and watch and pray, and use the little spark of the Divine light which yet remains, but which is ready to die, that we may escape the gulf of perdition, and obtain some humble place in the heaven of glory. Our wants are pressing; God calls loudly; and eternity is at hand!