Luke 19 Bible Commentary

John Lightfoot’s Bible Commentary

(Read all of Luke 19)
2. And, behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus, which was the chief among the publicans, and he was rich.

[Zacchaeus.] there is mention of one of the same name, Zacchai, a father of a famous family, Ezra 2:9: and about the time wherein our Zacchaeus lived, there was one Zacchai, the father of Rabban Jochanan; than whom there was hardly a more noted Rabban in the whole catalogue. This man brought up his son Jochanan in merchandise, wherein he had employed himself for forty years, before he gave himself either to letters or religion. From whence there might arise some conjecture, as if that Zacchai was this Zacchaeus here mentioned, but that these two things make against it:

I. Because he was a Rabbin, or preferred to be one of the elders, as the author of Juchasin doth, not without reason, conjecture. Now whereas the very employment of publicans lay under so ill a name universally in that nation, it is hardly credible that that should consist with the degree of Rabbin. To which I may add, that that Zacchai was of a priestly descent: and what a monster would that seem amongst them, a priest and a publican!

II. We may judge from the character of that Zacchai, whether he did not live and die a Jew as to his religion, in every punctilio of it. "R. Zacchai's disciples asked him" (where note, he bears the title of Rabbi), "How dost thou attain to old age? He answered them, 'I did never in my whole life make water within four cubits of the place of prayer: I never miscalled my neighbour: I never let slip the consecration of a day. My mother was a very old woman, who once sold her hair-lace, and bought wine with it, for me to consecrate a day with.' There is a tradition. When she died, she bequeathed to him three hundred hogsheads of wine: and when he died, he bequeathed three thousand hogsheads to his sons." The Gloss is: He that is constant in the consecration of a day, by the merit of that obtains wine.

[Chief among the publicans.] A few things concerning the degree of publicans:

I. The lexicographer tells us, that they called those the greater publicans who redeemed at a certain fixed price the tax and other revenues of the Romans: these were commonly called the Daciarii.

II. "These are persons not capable of giving any public testimony, shepherds, exactors, and publicans." Upon which words R. Gaon hath this passage: "The Rabbins do not exclude the publicans upon the account that they exact more than is appointed to them; for then they would be the same with exactors. But when the king lays a tax upon the Jews, to be required of every one according to the proportion of their estates, these publicans, in whose power it is to value every one's estate, will favour some in the mitigation of their tax, and burden others beyond all measure."

III. There were publicans (to omit those who collected the taxes in every town) who stood at gates and bridges, requiring tribute of all passengers, concerning whom we meet with something in Schabbath. Where there is also mention of the greater and the lesser publican. Concerning whom the Gloss speaks thus; "Sometimes there is a greater publican, to whom it is very grievous to stand at the bridge all the day long: he therefore substitutes an inferior or lesser publican." Let us take this story out of this same tract.

"R. Judah, R. Joseph, R. Simeon, and R. Judah Ben Garis sitting together, R. Judah began and said, 'O how great are the works of this (Roman) nation: they build streets and bridges and bagnios.' R. Jose held his tongue, and said nothing: but R. Simeon Ben Jochai answered and said, 'Whatsoever they have built, they have built it for their own advantage. They have built bridges that they might gain a toll by them.' R. Judah Ben Garis went and told this to the Roman empire, who thus decreed: 'Let R. Judah, who hath magnified the empire, be promoted: Jose that held his tongue [which, I imagine, ought to be rendered] let him be banished to Cyprus; and for Simeon that reproached it, let him be killed.'" Simeon hearing these things, betook himself into a cave; and there lay hid with his son for the space of thirteen years.

Now as to what order or degree amongst the publicans our Zacchaeus held, it is neither easy nor tanti to determine it. The title of chief among the publicans, will hardly bear it, that he was one of those that received toll or custom at bridges; though even amongst those there were some who had the title of the greater publicans. He may rather be esteemed either of the first or the second class of those I have already named. In either of those it was easier for him to raise false accusation against any (which he chargeth himself with) than at the bridge or so.

8. And Zacchaeus stood, and said unto the Lord; Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have taken any thing from any man by false accusation, I restore him fourfold.

[The half of my goods I give to the poor.] I. A distribution amongst the poor of these goods that had been ill got was necessary. In Sanhedrim there is a discourse of restitution, and distribution of dishonest gains, especially what wealth had been got by merchandise of fruits of the seventh year, which are forbidden. And this is the form of restitution: "I, N., the son of N., scraped up such a sum by the fruits of the seventh year; and behold, I bestow it all upon the poor."

II. Alms were to be given to the poor out of wealth honestly acquired: but according to the rules and precepts of the Rabbins, they were not bound to bestow above one fifth part. "As to what help is to be afforded by mammon, there is a stated measure; a fifth part of his mammon. No one is bound to give more than one fifth." And they say, "That it is decreed in Usha, that a man should set apart the fifth part of his estate according to the command."

The fifth part was so stated and decreed, that, 1., so far they ought to go upon the account of a command. 2. No man is bound by the law to go further. But, 3., he may do more, if he please, on his own accord. Which this Zacchaeus did in a large and generous measure. The restitution of fourfold for his sycophancy agreed with the law about theft.

9. And Jesus said unto him, This day is salvation come to this house, forsomuch as he also is a son of Abraham.

[This day is salvation come to this house.] It is said, verse 7, "That they all murmured that Christ was gone to be guest with a man that is a sinner." What then did they think of the house itself that belonged to this sinner? Do we think they would enter in, when they despised any thing that belonged to publicans? Perhaps that expression Zacchaeus stood and said, may seem to hint that he came forth, and stood talking with those that were without doors, and would not enter. However, if we well consider how meanly they accounted of the house of a publican, we may the more easily understand what the meaning of that expression is, This day is salvation come to this house.

[Forasmuch as he also is a son of Abraham.] That is, say most, the son of Abraham by faith; which indeed is most true. But I doubt, however, that this is not directly the sense of these words. For I question whether the Jews knew of any kind of relation to Abraham but that which was according to the flesh, and by way of stock and offspring. The son of Abraham by faith was a notion unknown; and I scarce believe our Saviour would speak to them in an unintelligible dialect...

11. And as they heard these things, he added and spake a parable, because he was nigh to Jerusalem, and because they thought that the kingdom of God should immediately appear.

[And because they thought that the kingdom of God should immediately appear.] The time draweth nigh that the kingdom of heaven shall be revealed. We have observed elsewhere, that it was the nation's universal opinion, that that very time wherein Christ did appear was the time wherein they expected the coming of Messiah, being so taught by the prophecy of Daniel. Which however the more modern Jews would now endeavour to evade, as also other more illustrious predictions that concern our Jesus, yet were those times then more truly and more sincerely interpreted. Hence that conflux of Jews from all nations to Jerusalem, Acts 2:5. And to this doth that in some measure attest which the Talmudists relate concerning the paraphrast of the prophets, that when he went about to paraphrase also the Hagiographa, or holy writings, he was forbidden by Bath Kol, saying, That he must abstain from that; for in those books was the end of the Messiah, viz. Daniel 9:26.

13. And he called his ten servants, and delivered them ten pounds, and said unto them, Occupy till I come.

[And delivered them ten pounds.] This parable of the pounds hath for the general the very same scope with that of the talents, Matthew 25. That nobleman or king that went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom is Christ in his gospel, going forth to call in the Gentiles to his obedience: returning, he cuts off the nation of the Jews that would not have him to reign over them, verse 27: and while they were now in expectation of the immediate revelation of the kingdom of heaven, and were dreaming many vain and senseless things concerning it, our Saviour, by this parable, warns and admonisheth them, that he must not look for any advantage by that kingdom who cannot give a good account of those talents which God had committed to his trust and improvement.

A talent is the value of sixty pounds. A pound is a hundred drachms. A drachm is six oboli. An obolus is six pieces of brass coin. A brass piece of coin is seven mites.

44. And shall lay thee even with the ground, and thy children within thee; and they shall not leave in thee one stone upon another; because thou knewest not the time of thy visitation.

[Because thou knewest not the time of thy visitation.] The Masters dispute the reason of the laying-waste of Jerusalem.

"Abai saith, Jerusalem was not destroyed for any thing but the profanation of the sabbath. R. Abba saith, It was not destroyed for any thing but their neglect in reciting their phylacteries morning and evening. Rabh Menona saith, It was not destroyed for any thing but their not minding the bringing up of their children in the school. Ulla saith, Jerusalem had not been destroyed but for their immodesty one towards another. R. Isaac saith, It had not been destroyed, but that they equalled the inferior with the superior. R. Chainah saith, It had not been destroyed, but that they did not rebuke one another. R. Judah saith, It had not been destroyed, but that they condemned the disciples of the wise men," &c. But Wisdom saith, Jerusalem was destroyed, because she knew not the time of her visitation.

All those great good things that were promised to mankind were promised as what should happen in the last days, i.e. in the last days of Jerusalem. Then was the Messiah to be revealed: then was the Holy Ghost to be poured out: then was the mountain of the Lord to be exalted, and the nations should flow in to it: in a word, then were to be fulfilled all those great things which the prophets had foretold about the coming of the Messiah and the bringing in of the gospel. These were the times of Jerusalem's visitation, if she could have known it. But so far was she from that knowledge, that nothing was more odious, nothing more contemptible, than when indeed all these ineffable benefits were dispensed in the midst of her. Nor indeed were those times described beforehand with more remarkable characters as to what God would do, than they were with black and dreadful indications as to the perverseness and obstinacy of that people. They were the best of times, and the worst generation lived in them. In those last days of that city were 'perilous times,' 2 Timothy 3:1: 'departing from the faith,' 1 Timothy 4:1: 'Scoffers' of religion, 2 Peter 3:3: in a word, 'many antichrists,' 1 John 2:18. So far was Jerusalem and the nation of the Jews from knowing and acknowledging the things that belonged unto their peace.