Mark 12 Bible Commentary

John Lightfoot’s Bible Commentary

(Read all of Mark 12)
1. And he began to speak unto them by parables. A certain man planted a vineyard, and set an hedge about it, and digged a place for the winefat, and built a tower, and let it out to husbandmen, and went into a far country.

[A certain man planted a vineyard.] The priests and Pharisees knew, saith Matthew, that "these things were spoken of them," Matthew 21:45. Nor is it any wonder; for the Jews boasted that they were the Lord's vineyard: and they readily observed a wrong done to that vineyard by any: but how far were they from taking notice, how unfruitful they were, and unthankful to the Lord of the vineyard!

"The matter may be compared to a king that had a vineyard; and there were three who were enemies to it. What were they? One cut down the branches. The second cut off the bunches. And the third rooted up the vines. That king is the King of kings, the Blessed Lord. The vineyard of the Lord is the house of Israel. The three enemies are Pharaoh, Nebuchadnezzar, and Haman," &c.

[A vineyard.] "If a man plants one row of five vines, the school of Shammai saith, That it is a vineyard. But the school of Hillel saith, It is not a vineyard, until there be two rows of vines there."

[Set a hedge about it.] "What is a hedge? Let it be ten handbreadths high": less than so is not a hedge.

[Digged a place for the winefat.] Let the fat be ten handbreadths deep, and four broad.

[Built a tower.] Let the watchhouse, which is in the vineyard, be ten high, and four broad. Cubits are to be understood. For Rambam saith, watchhouse is a high place where the vine-dresser stands to overlook the vineyard.

[Let it out to husbandmen.] "He that lets out his vineyard to a keeper, either as a husbandman, or as one to keep it gratis, and he enters into covenant with him, to dig it, prune it, dress it, at his own cost; but he neglects it, and doth not so; he is guilty, as if he should with his own hand lay the vineyard waste."

2. And at the season he sent to the husbandmen a servant, that he might receive from the husbandmen of the fruit of the vineyard.

[And at the season he sent to the husbandmen.] That is, in the fourth year after the first planting it: when it now was a vineyard of four years old; at least before that year there was no profit of the fruits. "They paint [or note] a vineyard of four years old by some turf [or clod] of earth, coloured; and that uncircumcised with clay; and sepulchres with chalk."

The Gloss is this: "On a vineyard of four years old they paint some marks out of the turf of the earth, that men may know that it is a vineyard of four years old, and eat not of it, because it is holy, as the Lord saith, Leviticus 19:24; and the owners ought to eat the fruit of it at Jerusalem, as the second tithe. And an uncircumcised vineyard," [that is, which was not yet four years old; see Leviticus 19:23] "they mark with clay, that is, digested in fire. For the prohibition of (a vineyard) uncircumcised, is greater than the prohibition concerning that of four years old: for that of four years old is fit for eating; but that uncircumcised is not admitted to any use. Therefore, they marked not that by the turf, lest the mark might perhaps be defaced, and perish; and men not seeing it might eat of it," &c.

4. And again he sent unto them another servant; and at him they cast stones, and wounded him in the head, and sent him away shamefully handled.

[At him they cast stones, and wounded him in the head.] I...They cast stones at the servant, and deriding him, made up the sum with him: saying, perhaps this, or some such thing to him, "Do you come for fruit and rent? Behold this fruit" (casting a stone at him) "behold another fruit," (casting another stone) and so many times together: and so they sent him away derided, and loaded with disgrace.

II. But be it that the word is to be translated as it is commonly rendered, "they wounded him in the head": then this way of stoning is thus distinguished from that whereby they were slain who were stoned by the Sanhedrim. That was called stone-casting: for it was the cast of a stone, indeed, but of one only, and that a very great one; and that upon the heart of the condemned person, when now he lay along upon his back. But this stoning was of many stones, thrown out of the hand through the air, striking him here and there and everywhere. The head of him that was stoned by the Sanhedrim was unhurt, and without any wound; but here, They cast stones at him, and wounded him in the head.

10. And have ye not read this scripture; The stone which the builders rejected is become the head of the corner:

[The stone which the builders rejected.] The Targum upon Psalm 118, thus the builders rejected the child. And verse 27, "Bind the child to the sacrifice of the solemnity with chains, until ye shall have sacrificed him, and poured out his blood upon the horns of the altar: said Samuel the prophet."

16. And they brought it. And he saith unto them, Whose is this image and superscription? And they said unto him, Caesar's.

[Whose is this image? Caesar's.] I. This was a Caesar's penny, denarius Caesareanus. For zuz, among the Jews, was also a penny, as we shewed elsewhere; but we scarce believe it was of the same form and inscription: "A certain heathen sent to R. Judah the prince a Caesarean penny, and that on a certain festival day of the heathens. Resh Lachish sat before him. R. Judah said, What shall I do? If I receive it, I shall consent (to their festival): if I receive it not, enmity will rise against me. Resh Lachish answered, Take the penny, and while he looks upon you cast it into the well," &c.

II. It was a silver penny, not a gold one. Pence, absolutely put, are to be understood silver pence. Where the Gloss is, "Pence, absolutely put, are silver, until it is explained that they are gold."

But now a gold penny was worth five-and-twenty silver pence. "When turtle-doves and young pigeons were sold at Jerusalem sometime for a gold penny, Rabban Simeon Ben Gamaliel said, By this Temple, I will not rest this night, unless they are sold for a silver penny." Where the Gloss, "A gold penny is worth five-and-twenty silver pence."

III. It was a Roman penny, not a Jerusalem: for this distinction they sometimes use. The Gloss being witness, are Jerusalem zuzees. But more frequently money of Tzur, and money of Jerusalem. Money of Tzur one may well render Tyrian money. But hear the Aruch, where he had been treating of money of Tzur; at length he brings in this passage: "R. Eliezer saith, Wheresoever in the Scripture Tzur is written full, the Scripture speaks of the city Tyre: but where it is written defectively [without Vau] it speaks of Rome." Be it Tyrian or Roman money, this held among the masters: "Wheresoever any thing is said of the silver money of Jerusalem, it is the eighth part of the Tyrian money."

Hence I should resolve that riddle at which the Glosser himself sticks, if I may have leave to conjecture in a Jewish affair, after a doubting Jew. In the tract now cited there is a discourse concerning Jerusalem Cozbian moneys. A riddle truly. Ben Cozbi, indeed, coined moneys when he made an insurrection against the Romans. But whence is this called Jerusalem money, when, in the days of Ben Cozbi, Jerusalem lay buried in its own rubbish? If I may be the resolver, it was so called, because it was of the same weight and value with the Jerusalem money, and not with that of Tyre.

"The Jerusalem money (say they) is the eighth part of the Tyrian." Here again some words of the masters entangle me in a riddle. The Aruch saith, "A penny and zuz are the same." And elsewhere, "They call pence, in the Gemaristic language, Zuzim"; which we observed at chapter 6:37. 'Zuz' was Jerusalem money: how, then, was it the same with a penny, which was Tyrian money, when it was the eighth part only? And these words spoken by Rambam do add a scruple over and above; a penny contains six zuzim. If he had said eight zuzim, it had been without scruple. But what shall we say now?

The former knot you may thus untie: that zuz, among the Jews, is called also a penny; a Jewish penny, indeed, but different from the Roman: as the Scots have their shilling, but much different from our English. But the second knot let him try to untie that is at leisure.

IV. This money was signed with the image of Caesar; but of the Jerusalem money, thus the Jews write, whom you may believe when you please: "What is the Jerusalem money? David and Solomon were stamped on one side; and on the reverse, Jerusalem the holy city." But the Glosser inquires whether it were lawful to stamp the image of David and Solomon upon money, which he scarcely thinks. He concludes therefore that their names were only inscribed, not their effigies.

"Upon Abraham's money were stamped, on one side, an old man and an old woman; on the other, a young man and a young maid. On Joshua's money, on one side, an ox; on the other, a monoceros. On David's money, on one side, a staff and a scrip; on the other, a tower. On Mardochai's money, on one side, sackcloth and ashes; on the other, a crown." Let the truth of this be upon the credit of the authors.

28. And one of the scribes came, and having heard them reasoning together, and perceiving that he had answered them well, asked him, Which is the first commandment of all?

[Which is the first commandment of all?] It is not seldom that this distinction occurs in the Rabbins, between the law, and the precept: by the latter they understand some special or greater rite (themselves being judges); such as circumcision, the repeating of the phylacteries, keeping the sabbath, &c. This question, propounded by the scribe, seems to respect the same: namely, whether those great precepts (as they were esteemed) and other ceremonial precepts of that nature, such as sacrifices, purifications, keeping festivals, were the greatest precepts of the law, or no: and if it were so, which among them was the first?

By his answer he seems to incline to the negative, and to prefer the moral law. Whence Christ saith, "That he was not far from the kingdom of heaven": and while he suits an answer to him from that very passage, which was the first in the reciting of the phylacteries, Hear, O Israel,--he directs the eyes and the minds of those that repeated them to the sense and the marrow of the thing repeated,--and that they rest not in the bare work of repeating them.

41. And Jesus sat over against the treasury, and beheld how the people cast money into the treasury: and many that were rich cast in much.

[The people cast money.] They were casting in small money there. According to his pleasure, any one might cast into the chests how little soever he would; namely, in the chest which was for gold, as little gold as a grain of barley would weigh; and in the chest for frankincense, as much frankincense as weighed a grain of barley. But if he should say, Behold, I vow wood; he shall not offer less than two pieces of a cubit long, and breadth proportionable. Behold, I vow frankincense; he shall not offer less than a pugil of frankincense: that is, not less money than that which will buy so much.

42. And there came a certain poor widow, and she threw in two mites, which make a farthing.

[Two mites, which make a farthing.] Two prutahs are a farthing. "A prutah is the eighth part of an Italian assarius. An assarius is the twenty-fourth part of a silver penny." We rendered before, "The people cast money, brass," by they were casting in small money: one would think it should rather be rendered, They were casting in brass. But consider well this passage: "He that changeth the 'selaa' of the second tenth, the school of Shammai saith, Let him change the whole 'selaa' into brass." You would perhaps render it, into moneys, or into meahs, but it is properly to be rendered into brass, as appears by what follows: "The school of Hillel saith, into a shekel of silver, and a shekel of brass." So also the Glossers; and the Aruch moreover, "He that changeth a selaa, and receives for it brass money, that is, prutahs."

None might, by the canon even now mentioned, enter into the Temple, no, nor indeed into the Court of the Gentiles, with his purse, therefore much less into the Court of the Women; and yet scarce any entered who carried no money with him to be offered to the Corban, whether in his hand, or in his bosom, or elsewhere, we do not define: so did this very poor woman, who for two mites purchased herself an eternal fame, our Saviour himself setting a value upon the thing above all the gifts of them that offered.