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and then laid on the beast. So the pharisees appoint weighty burdens, or precepts grievous and heavy, and insist that the people should obey them, though they lent no assistance. They were rigid in requiring that all should pay the taxes, give of their property, comply with every part of the law with the utmost rigour, yet indulged themselves, and bore as little of the expense and trouble as possible; so that where they could avoid it, they would not lend the least aid to the people in the toils and expense of their religious rites. 'With one of their fingers.' In the least degree.
5 But all their works they do for to be seen of men : they make broad their phylacteries, and enlarge the borders of their garments,
'Their phylacteries.' These were small slips of parchment or vellum, on which were written certain portions of the Old Testament. They were bound either round the wrists or foreheads. They wore them, as they supposed, in obedience to the requirements of the law-understanding that literally which was evidently intended to be understood figuratively, Ex. xiii. 9. Deut. vi. 8. These phylacteries were commonly about an inch in width, and of various lengths, from a foot to a foot and a half. They were bound with fillets round the arm, or to the forehead, so as to be seen conspicuously. The pharisees enlarged them, or made them wider than other people, either that they might make the letters larger, or write more on them; to show, as they supposed, that they had peculiar reverence for the law. The passages commonly written on them were, Ex. xiii. 1-10, 11-16; Deut. vi. 6-9; xi. 13-21. Enlarge the borders of their garments.' This refers to the loose threads which were attached to the borders of the outer garment as a fringe. This fringe was commanded in order to distinguish them from other nations, and that they might remember to keep the commandments of God, Numbers xv. 38-40. Deut. xxii. 12. They made them broader than other people wore them, to show that they had peculiar respect for the law.
6 And love the uppermost rooms at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues,
'The uppermost rooms at feasts.' It would be more correctly rendered the uppermost places or couches at feasts. To understand this it is necessary to remark that the custom among the Jews was not to eat sitting, as we do, but reclining on couches. The table was made by three tables, placed so as to form a square, with a clear space in the midst, and one end quite open. On the sides of them were placed cushions, capable of containing three or more persons. On these the guests reclined leaning on their left side, with their feet extended from the table, and so lying
that the head of one naturally reclined on the bosom of another, John xiii. 23. Luke xvi. 22, 23. As the feet were extended from the table, it was easy to approach the feet behind, and even unperceived. Thus in Luke vii. 37, 38, while Jesus reclined in this manner, a woman that had been a sinner came at his feet behind him, and washed them with her tears, and wiped them with the hairs of her head. She stood on the floor, on the outside of the couches. So our Saviour washed the feet of his disciples as they reclined on a couch in this manner, John xiii. 4—12. Whenever we read in the New Testament of sitting at meals, it always means reclining in this manner, and never sitting as we do. The chief seat or the uppermost one, was the middle couch at the upper end of the table. This the pharisees loved, as a post of honour or distinction. Chief seats in the synagogues.' The seats usually occupied by the elders of the synagogue, near the pulpit. Note, Matt. iv. 23.
7 And greetings in the markets, and to be called of men, Rabbi, Rabbi.
Greetings in the markets.' Marks of particular respect shown to them in public places. "Greetings.' Salutations. See note, Luke x. 4. To be called Rabbi, Rabbi.' This word literally signifies great. It was a title given to eminent teachers of the law among the Jews; a title of honour and dignity, denoting their authority and ability to teach.
8 But be not ye called Rabbi: for one is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren.
Jesus forbade his disciples to seek such titles of distinction. The reason he gave was that he was himself their Master and Teacher. They were on a level; they were to be equal in authority; they were brethren; and they should neither covet nor receive a title which implied either an elevation of one above another, or which appeared to infringe on the absolute right of the Saviour to be their only Teacher and Master.
9 And call no man your father upon the earth: for Father which is in heaven. one is your
'And call no man your father,' &c. The word 'father' also denotes authority, eminence, superiority, a right to command and a claim to particular respect. In this sense it is used here. In this sense it belongs eminently to God, and it is not right to give it to men. Christian brethren are equal. God only has supreme authority. He only has a right to give laws, to declare doctrines, to bind the conscience, to punish disobedience. Christ taught that the source of all life and truth was God; and men ought not to seek or receive a title which properly belongs to him.
10 Neither be ye called Masters: for one is your Master, even Christ.
'Masters,' leaders. Those who go before others; who claim, therefore, the right to direct and control others. This was also a title conferred on Jewish teachers.
Neither of these commands forbids us to give proper titles of civil office to men, or to render them the honour belonging to their station, Matt. xxii. 21. Rom. xiii. 7. 1 Pet. ii. 17. They forbid the disciples of Jesus to seek or receive mere empty titles implying eminence, and authority to control the opinions and conduct of others, and claiming that others should acknowledge their superiority.
11 But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant. 12 And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted.
See note, Matt. xx. 26. He that shall humble himself,' &c. God will exalt or honour him that is humble, and seeks a lowly place among men. That is true religion, and God will reward it.
13 But wo unto you, scribes and pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in.
'Wo unto you.' You are guilty, and punishment will come upon you. He proceeds to state wherein they were guilty. This most eloquent, most appalling, and terrible of all discourses ever delivered to mortals, was pronounced in the temple, in the presence of multitudes. Never was there more faithful dealing, more terrible reproof, more profound knowledge of the workings of hypocrisy, or more skill in detecting the concealments of sin. This was the last of Christ's public discourses; and it is a most solemn summary of all he ever had said, or had to say, of a wicked and hypocritical generation. Scribes and pharisees." Note, Matt. iii. 7. Hypocrites.' Note, Matt. vi. 2. 'Ye shut up the kingdom of heaven.' Note, Matt. iii. 2. They shut it up by their doctrines. By teaching false doctrines respecting the Messiah, by binding the people to an observance of their traditions, by opposing Jesus, and attempting to convince the people that he was an impostor, they prevented many from becoming his followers. Luke says, xi. 52, they had taken away the key of knowledge; that is, they had taken away the right interpretation of the ancient prophecies respecting the Messiah, and thus had done all they could to prevent the people from receiving Jesus as the Redeemer.
14 Wo unto you, scribes and pharisees, hypocrites! for ye devour widows' houses, and for a pretence make long prayer: therefore ye shall receive the greater dam
'Devour widows' houses.' The word 'houses' is here used to denote property or possessions of any kind. 'Ye devour.' You take away, or get possession of, by improper arts and pretences. They induced widows and poor people to commit the management of their property to them, as guardians and executors, and took advantage of them, and defrauded them. They put on the appearance of great sanctity, and induced many weak women to give them much, under pretence of devoting it to religious purposes. Long prayers.' Their prayers are said to have been often three hours in length. One rule among them, says Lightfoot, was to meditate an hour, then pray an hour, and then meditate another hour-all of which was included in their long prayers, or devotions. 'Damnation.' The word here refers to future punishment. It does not always, however. It means, frequently, no more than condemnation, or the Divine disapprobation of a certain course of conduct; see 1 Cor. xi. 29. Rom. xiv. 23. 'For a pretence.' For appearance or show; in order that they might the better defraud poor people. They would not be condemned for making long prayers, but because they did it with an evil design.
15 Wo unto you, scribes and pharisees, hypocrites! for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves.
'Ye compass sea and land.' Ye take every means-spare no pains to gain proselytes. Proselyte.' One that comes over from a foreign nation, religion, or sect to us. A convert. 'Twofold more the child of hell.' That is, twice as bad. To be a child of hell was a Hebrew phrase, signifying to be deserving of hell, to be awfully wicked. The Jewish writers themselves say that the proselytes were reproaches to Israel,' and 'hindered the coming of the Messiah' by their great wickedness. The pharisees gained them either to swell their numbers, or to make gain by extorting their money under various pretences; and when they had accomplished that, they took no pains to instruct them or to restrain them, and they were consequently left to the full indulgence of their vices.
16 Wo unto you, ye blind guides, which say, Whosoever shall swear by the temple, it is nothing; but whosoever shall swear by the gold of the temple he is
a debtor! 17 Ye fools and blind: for whether is greater, the gold, or the temple that sanctifieth the gold?
'Whosoever shall swear,' &c. See note, Matt. v. 33-37.' The temple.' Note, Matt. xxi. 12. It is nothing.' It amounts to nothing. It is not binding. The gold of the temple.' Either the golden vessels in the temple, the candlestick, &c. or the gold with which the doors and other parts of the temple were covered, or the gold in the treasury. 'He is a debtor.' He is bound to keep his oath. He is guilty if he violates it. To sanctify, is to make holy. The gold had no holiness but what it derived from the temple.
18 And whosoever shall swear by the altar, it is nothing; but whoso sweareth by the gift that is upon it, he is guilty. 19 Ye fools and blind: for whether is greater, the gift, or the altar that sanctifieth the gift? 20 Whoso therefore shall swear by the altar, sweareth by it, and by all things thereon.
The altar of burnt-offerings, in the court of the priests. Note, Matt. xxi. 12. It was made of brass, about thirty feet in length and breadth, and fifteen feet in height, 2 Chron. iv. 1. On this altar were offered all the oblations of the temple in which blood was shed. 'The gift that is upon it.' The gift or offering made to God, so called because it was devoted or given to him. The gift upon this altar was always beasts or birds. The altar, dedicated to God, gave all the value or holiness to the offering, and must therefore be the greatest, or of the most importance.
21 And whoso shall swear by the temple, sweareth by it, and by him that dwelleth therein.
'Him that dwelleth therein.' That is, God. The temple was his house, his dwelling. In the first, or Solomon's temple, he dwelt between the cherubims, in the most holy place. He manifested himself there by a visible symbol, in the form of a cloud resting on the mercy-seat, 1 Kings viii. 10, 13. Psa. lxxx. 1.
22 And he that shall swear by heaven, sweareth by the throne of God, and by him that sitteth thereon.
"The throne of God.' Heaven is his throne, Matt. v. 34. It is so called as being the place where he sits in glory. Jesus says here, that al' who swear at all, whose oath is binding, do in fac swear by God, or the oath is good for nothing. The essential thing in an oath is calling God to witness our sincerity. If a real oath is taken, therefore, God is appealed to. If not, it is foolish and wicked to swear by any thing else.