Commentary on the Bible, by Adam Clarke, , at sacred-texts.com
The parable of the importunate widow, Luk 18:1-8. Of the Pharisee and the publican, Luk 18:9-14. Infants brought to Christ, Luk 18:15-17. The ruler who wished to know how he might inherit eternal life, Luk 18:18-23. Our Lord's reflections on his case, Luk 18:24-27. What they shall receive who follow Christ, Luk 18:28-30. He foretells his approaching passion and death, Luk 18:31-34. He restores a blind man to sight at Jericho, Luk 18:35-43.
Men ought always to pray - Therefore the plain meaning and moral of the parable are evident; viz. that as afflictions and desolations were coming on the land, and they should have need of much patience and continual fortitude, and the constant influence and protection of the Almighty, therefore they should be instant in prayer. It states, farther, that men should never cease praying for that the necessity of which God has given them to feel, till they receive a full answer to their prayers. No other meaning need be searched for in this parable: St. Luke, who perfectly knew his Master's meaning, has explained it as above.
A judge, which feared not God, neither regarded man - It is no wonder that our Lord calls this person an unrighteous judge, Luk 18:6. No person is worthy to be put in the sacred office of a judge who does not deeply fear God, and tenderly respect his fellow creatures. Because this person feared not God, he paid no attention to the calls of justice; and because he respected not man, he was unmoved at the complaint of the widow. Even among the heathens this was the character of a man totally abandoned to all evil. So Dion Cassius says of Vitellius, that he neither regarded gods nor men - ουτε των ανθρωπων, ουτε των θεων εφροντιζεν.
Avenge me of mine adversary - The original, εκδικησον με απο του αντιδικου μου, had better be translated, Do me justice against, or vindicate me from, my adversary. If the woman had come to get revenge, as our common translation intimates, I think our blessed Lord would never have permitted her to have the honor of a place in the sacred records. She desired to have justice, and that only; and by her importunity she got that which the unrighteous judge had no inclination to give, but merely for his own ease.
He said within himself - How many actions which appear good have neither the love of God, nor that of our neighbor, but only self-love of the basest kind, for their principle and motive!
She weary me - Ὑπωπιαζῃ με, Stun me. A metaphor taken from boxers, who bruise each other, and by beating each other about the face blacken the eyes. See Co1 9:27.
Hear what the unjust judge saith - Our blessed Lord intimates that we should reason thus with ourselves: "If a person of such an infamous character as this judge was could yield to the pressing and continual solicitations of a poor widow, for whom he felt nothing but contempt, how much more ready must God be, who is infinitely good and merciful, and who loves his creatures in the tenderest manner, to give his utmost salvation to all them who diligently seek it!"
And shall not God avenge his own elect - And will not God the righteous Judge do justice for his chosen? Probably this may refer to the cruel usage which his disciples had met with, and were still receiving, from the disobedient and unbelieving Jews; and which should be finally visited upon them in the destruction of their city, and the calamities which should follow. But we may consider the text as having a more extensive meaning. As God has graciously promised to give salvation to every soul that comes unto him through his Son, and has put his Spirit in their hearts, inducing them to cry unto him incessantly for it; the goodness of his nature and the promise of his grace bind him to hear the prayers they offer unto him, and to grant them all that salvation which he has led them by his promise and Spirit to request.
Which cry day and night unto him, etc. - This is a genuine characteristic of the true elect or disciples of Christ. They feel they have neither light, power, nor goodness, but as they receive them from him; and, as he is the desire of their soul, they incessantly seek that they may be upheld and saved by him.
Though he bear long with them? - Rather, and He is compassionate towards Them, and consequently not at all like to the unrighteous judge. Instead of μακροθυμων, and be long-suffering, as in our translation, I read μακροθυμει, he is compassionate, which reading is supported by ABDLQ, and several others. The reason which our Lord gives for the success of his chosen, is,
1. They cry unto him day and night.
2. He is compassionate towards Them.
In consequence of the first, they might expect justice even from an unrighteous judge; and, in consequence of the second, they are sure of salvation, because they ask it from that God who is towards them a Father of eternal love and compassion. There was little reason to expect justice from the unrighteous judge.
1. Because he was unrighteous; and
2. Because he had no respect for man: no, not even for a poor desolate widow.
But there is all the reason under heaven to expect mercy from God:
1. Because he is righteous, and he has promised it; and
2. Because he is compassionate towards his creatures; being ever prone to give more than the most enlarged heart can request of him.
Every reader must perceive that the common translation is so embarrassed as to be almost unintelligible; while that in this note, from the above authorities, is as plain as possible, and shows this beautiful parable to be one of the most invaluable pieces in the word of God.
He will avenge them speedily - Or, He will do them justice speedily - εν ταχει, instantly, in a trice.
1. Because he has promised it; and
2. Because he is inclined to do it.
When the Son of man cometh - To require the produce of the seed of the kingdom sown among this people.
Shall he find faith on the earth? - Or rather, Shall he find fidelity in this land? Shall he find that the soil has brought forth a harvest proportioned to the culture bestowed on it? No! And therefore he destroyed that land.
Despised - Εξουθενουντας, Disdained, made nothing of others, treated them with sovereign contempt. Our Lord grants that the Pharisees made clean the outside: but, alas! what pride, vain glory, and contempt for others, were lodged within!
A Pharisee - For a description of the Pharisees and their tenets, see on Mat 16:1 (note).
Publican - See an account of these on Mat 5:46 (note). Both these persons went to the temple to pray, i.e. to worship God: they were probably both Jews, and felt themselves led by different motives to attend at the temple, at the hour of prayer: the one to return thanks for the mercies he had received; the other to implore that grace which alone could redeem him from his sins.
Stood and prayed thus with himself - Or, stood by himself and prayed, as some would translate the words. He probably supposed it disgraceful to appear to have any connection with this penitent publican: therefore his conduct seemed to say, "Stand by thyself; I am more holy than thou." He seems not only to have stood by himself, but also to have prayed by himself; neither associating in person nor in petitions with his poor guilty neighbor.
God, I thank thee, etc. - In Mat 5:20, our Lord says, Unless your righteousness abound more than that of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of God: see the note there. Now, the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees is described here by a Pharisee himself. We find it was twofold:
1. It consisted in doing no harm to others.
2. In attending all the ordinances of God, then established in the Jewish economy; and in these things they were not like other men, the bulk of the inhabitants of the land paying little or no attention to them.
That the Pharisees were in their origin a pure and holy people can admit of little doubt; but that they had awfully degenerated before our Lord's time is sufficiently evident. They had lost the spirit of their institution, and retained nothing else than its external regulations. See on Mat 16:1 (note).
1. This Pharisee did no harm to others - I am not rapacious, nor unjust, nor an adulterer. I seize no man's property through false pretences. I take the advantage of no man's ignorance in buying or selling. I avoid every species of uncleanness. In a word, I do to others as I wish them to do to me. How many of those called Christians are not half as good as this Pharisee! And, yet, he was far from the kingdom of God.
2. He observed the ordinances of religion - I fast twice in the week. The Jewish days of fasting, in each week, were the second and fifth; what we call Monday and Thursday. These were instituted in remembrance of Moses' going up to the mount to give the law, which they suppose to have been on the fifth day; and of his descent, after he had received the two tables, which they suppose was on the second day of the week.
I give tithes of all that I possess - Or, of all I acquire, κτωμαι.
Raphelius has well observed, that this verb, in the present tense, signifies to acquire - in the preter, to possess: the Pharisee's meaning seems to be, "As fast as I gain any thing, I give the tenth part of it to the house of God and to the poor." Those who dedicate a certain part of their earnings to the Lord should never let it rest with themselves, lest possession should produce covetousness. This was the Pharisee's righteousness, and the ground on which he builded his hope of final salvation. That the Pharisees had a strong opinion of their own righteousness, the following history will prove: -
"Rabbi Simeon, the son of Jochai, said: The whole world is not worth thirty righteous persons, such as our father Abraham. If there were only thirty righteous persons in the world, I and my son should make two of them; but if there were but twenty, I and my son would be of the number; and if there were but ten, I and my son would be of the number: and if there were but five, I and my son would be of the five; and if there were but two, I and my son would be those two; and if there were but one, myself should be that one." Bereshith Rabba, s. 35, fol. 34. This is a genuine specimen of Pharisaic pride. No wonder that our Lord accused these of pride and vain glory: they were far from humility, and consequently far from righteousness.
The publican, standing afar off - Not because he was a heathen, and dared not approach the holy place; (for it is likely he was a Jew); but because he was a true penitent, and felt himself utterly unworthy to appear before God.
Would not lift up - his eyes - Holding down the head, with the eyes fixed upon the earth, was,
1. A sign of deep distress.
2. Of a consciousness and confession of guilt. And,
3. It was the very posture that the Jewish rabbins required in those who prayed to God.
See Ezr 9:6; and Mishna, in Berachoth, chap. v.; and Kypke's note here. So the Pharisee appears to have forgotten one of his own precepts.
But smote upon his breast - Smiting the breast was a token of excessive grief, commonly practised in all nations. It seems to intimate a desire, in the penitent, to punish that heart through the evil propensities of which the sin deplored had been committed. It is still used among the Roman Catholics in their general confessions.
God be merciful to me - Ἱλασθητι μοι - Be propitious toward me through sacrifice - or, let an atonement be made for me. I am a sinner, and cannot be saved but in this way. The Greek word ἱλασκω, or ἱλασκομαι, often signifies to make expiation for sin; and is used by the Septuagint, Psa 65:4; Psa 78:38; Psa 79:9, for כפר kipper, he made an atonement. So ἱλασμος a propitiation, is used by the same, for חטאה chataah, a sacrifice for sin, Eze 44:27; and ἱλαστηριον, the mercy seat, is, in the above version, the translation of כפרת kapporeth, the lid of the ark of the covenant, on and before which the blood of the expiatory victim was sprinkled, on the great day of atonement. The verb is used in exactly the same sense by the best Greek writers. The following from Herodotus, lib. i. p. 19, edit. Gale, is full in point. Θυσιῃσι μεγαλῃσι τον εν Δελφοισι θεον ἹΛΑΣΚΕΤΟ, Croesus appeased, or made an atonement to, the Delphic god by immense sacrifices. We see then, at once, the reason why our blessed Lord said that the tax-gatherer went down to his house justified rather than the other: - he sought for mercy through an atonement for sin, which was the only way in which God had from the beginning purposed to save sinners. As the Pharisee depended on his doing no harm, and observing the ordinances of religion for his acceptance with God, according to the economy of grace and justice, he must be rejected: for as all had sinned and come short of the glory of God, and no man could make an atonement for his sins, so he who did not take refuge in that which God's mercy had provided must be excluded from the kingdom of heaven. This was no new doctrine: it was the doctrine publicly and solemnly preached by every sacrifice offered under the Jewish law. Without shedding of blood there is no remission, was the loud and constant cry of the whole Mosaic economy. From this we may see what it is to have a righteousness superior to that of the scribes and Pharisees. We must humble ourselves before God, which they did not: we must take refuge in the blood of the cross, which they would not; and be meek and humble of heart, which they were not.
Many suppose that the Pharisees thought they could acquire righteousness of themselves, independently of God, and that they did not depend on him for grace or power: but let us not make them worse than they were - for this is disclaimed by the Pharisee in the text, who attributes all the good he had to God: O God, I thank thee, that I am not as others - it is thou who hast made me to differ. But this was not sufficient: restraining grace must not be put in the place of the great atonement. Guilt he had contracted - and this guilt must be blotted out; and that there was no way of doing this, but through an atonement, the whole Jewish law declared. See the note on Mat 5:20.
Went down to his house justified - His sin blotted out; and himself accepted.
Rather than the other - Η εκεινος: that is, the other was not accepted, because he exalted himself - he made use of the mercies which he acknowledged he owed to God, to make claims on the Divine approbation, and to monopolize the salvation of the Most High! He was abased, because he vainly trusted that he was righteous, and depended on what he had been enabled to do, and looked not for a change of heart, nor for reconciliation to God. It is a strange perversion of the human mind, to attempt to make God our debtor by the very blessings which his mere mercy has conferred upon us! It was a maxim among the Jews, that whoever brought a sacrifice to the temple returned justified. But our Lord shows that this depended on the state of mind - if they were not humbled under a sense of sin, they were not justified, though they had even offered a sacrifice.
They brought unto him also infants - On these verses the reader is requested to consult the notes on Mat 19:13 (note), Mat 19:14 (note), and on Mar 10:16 (note).
When a spiritual guide (a gooroo) visits his disciple, the latter takes his child to him for his blessing, forcing the head of the child down to the gooroo's feet, who gives what is called his blessing in some such words as these, Live long! - Be learned! - Be rich!
A certain ruler - See the case of this person largely explained on Mat 19:16-22 (note), and Mar 10:21, Mar 10:22 (note).
How hardly shall they that have riches, etc. - See the notes on this discourse of our Lord, on Mat 19:21-30 (note), and Mar 10:30 (note).
It as easier for a camel - Instead of καμηλον, a camel, S, and four other MSS., read καμιλον, a cable. See the same reading noticed on the parallel place, Mat 19:24 (note).
We have left all - Our trades, our houses, and families. The reader is desired to consult the notes on Mat 4:20 (note); Mat 19:27 (note), etc.
That hath left house, or parents, etc. - See on Mat 19:28, Mat 19:29 (note), and Mar 10:29, Mar 10:30 (note).
Or brethren - Η αδελφας, Or Sisters, is added by the Cod. Bezae, and some others.
Behold, we go up to Jerusalem - See the notes on this discourse, Mat 20:17-19 (note), and Mar 10:32 (note).
And the third day he shall rise again - See Hos 6:2; and let the reader observe that the passage should be read thus: In the third day he will raise Him up, (יקמנו) and we shall live before him: his resurrection shall be the pledge, token, and cause of ours.
They understood none of these things - Notwithstanding all the information which Christ had given them concerning this awful subject, they could not as yet fully comprehend how the Messiah should suffer; or how their Master, whose power they knew was unlimited, should permit the Jews and Gentiles to torment and slay him as he here intimates they would.
A certain blind man - Bartimeus. See this transaction explained at large, on Mat 20:29-34 (note), and Mar 10:46 (note), etc.
And when he was come near - See the remarkable account of the negro and white man, related on Mar 10:50 (note).
And all the people - gave: praise unto God - They saw the finger of God in what was done; and they gave him that praise which was due to his name. The Pharisees either saw not, or would not acknowledge this. The common people are often better judges of the work of God than the doctors themselves. They are more simple, are not puffed up with the pride of learning, and are less liable to be warped by prejudice or self-interest. Happy are those spiritually blind persons, to whom Christ has given eyes, that they may know him: feet, that they may follow him: a tongue, that they may praise him: and a heart, that they may love him! A true conversion, which no way contradicts itself, but is followed by an edifying life, makes known the majesty and power of God in a more eminent manner than the greatest external miracles. Quesnel.
For a practical use of the principal subjects in this chapter, see the parallel places in Matthew and Mark. How shall I be justified? is a most important question, which the parable of the Pharisee and the publican most distinctly answers. A deep consciousness of sin, humiliation of heart, and taking refuge by faith in the great atonement, is the way, and the only way. Even the worst transgressors, coming thus to God, are accepted. Blessed news for penitent sinners! - for though they cannot boast of a righteousness equal to that of the scribes and Pharisees, yet they find they can, coming as the publican, be justified freely, through the blood of the cross, from all things, from which they could not be justified by the law of Moses. If this be so, how shall they escape who neglect so Great a Salvation!