Mark 4 Bible Commentary

John Lightfoot’s Bible Commentary

<< Mark 3 | Mark 4 | Mark 5 >>
(Read all of Mark 4)
1. And he began again to teach by the sea side: and there was gathered unto him a great multitude, so that he entered into a ship, and sat in the sea; and the whole multitude was by the sea on the land.

[He began to teach.] That is, he taught; by a phrase very usual to these holy writers, because very usual to the nation: Rabh Canah began to be tedious in his prayer; that is, he was tedious. That scholar began to weep; that is he wept. "The ox began to low"; that is, he lowed. "When the tyrant's letter was brought to the Rabbins, they began to weep"; that is, they wept.

This our evangelist useth also another word, and that numberless times almost: the others also use it, but not so frequently; namely, the word presently; which answereth to the word out of hand, most common among the Talmudists. We meet with it in this our evangelist seven or eight times in the first chapter, and elsewhere very frequently: and that not seldom according to the custom of the idiom, more than out of the necessity of the thing signified.

4. And it came to pass, as he sowed, some fell by the way side, and the fowls of the air came and devoured it up.

[And some fell.] According to what falls. The Gloss there, "According to the measure which one sows." And there the Gemarists speak of seed falling out of the hand: that is, that is cast out of the hand of the sower: and of seed falling from the oxen: that is, "that which is scattered and sown" by the sowing oxen. "For (as the Gloss speaks) sometimes they sow with the hand, and sometimes they put the seed into a cart full of holes, and drive the oxen upon the ploughed earth, and the seed falls through the holes."

5. And some fell on stony ground, where it had not much earth; and immediately it sprang up, because it had no depth of earth:

[Because it had no depth of earth.] For it was rocky, whose turf nevertheless was thick enough, and very fruitful; but this ground which the parable supposeth wanted that thickness. "You have not a more fruitful land among all lands than the land of Egypt; nor a more fruitful country in Egypt than Zoan. And yet Hebron, which was rocky, exceeded it sevenfold." Note that 'it was rocky, and yet so fruitful.'

7. And some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up, and choked it, and it yielded no fruit.

[Among thorns.] The parable supposeth, a field not freed from thorns.

11. And he said unto them, Unto you it is given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God: but unto them that are without, all these things are done in parables:

[Unto them that are without.] Those without, in Jewish speech, were the Gentiles; a phrase taken hence, that they called all lands and countries besides their own without the land. Would you have an exact instance of this distinction? "A tree, half of which grows within the land of Israel, and half without the land, the fruits of it which are to be tithed, and the common fruits are confounded: they are the words of Rabba. But Rabban Simeon Ben Gamaliel saith, 'That part which grows within the place, that is bound to tithing" [that is, within the land of Israel], "is to be tithed: that which grows in the place free from tithing" (that is, without the land) "is free.'" The Gloss is, "For if the roots of the tree are without the land, it is free, although the tree itself extends itself sixteen cubits within the land."

Hence books that are without, are heathen books: extraneous books of Greek wisdom.

This is the common signification of the phrase. And, certainly it foretells dreadful things, when our blessed Saviour stigmatizeth the Jewish nation with that very name that they were wont to call the heathens by.

The word those without, occurs also in the Talmudists, when it signifies the Jews themselves; that is, some of the Jewish nation. Here the Karaites, who rejected traditions, there those without, are opposed to the wise men: "He that puts his phylacteries on his forehead, or in the palm of his hand, behold! he follows the custom of the Karaites. And he that overlays one of them with gold, and puts it upon his garment which is at his hand, behold! he follows the custom of those that are without." Where the Gloss, "those without are men who follow their own will, and not the judgment of the wise men." They are supposed to wear phylacteries, and to be Jews; but when they do according to their pleasure, and despise the rules of the wise men, they are esteemed as those that are without, or heathens. So was the whole Jewish nation according to Christ's censure, which despised the evangelical wisdom.

[All things are done in parables.] I. How much is the Jewish nation deceived concerning the times of the Messias! They think his forerunner Elias will explain all difficulties, resolve scruples, and will render all things plain; so that when the Messias shall come after him, there shall be nothing obscure or dark in the law and in religion. Hence these expressions, and the like to them: "One found a bill of contracts in his keeping, and knew not what it meant, Let it be laid up till Elias shall come." And more in the same tract, concerning things found, when it is not known to whom they are to be restored, "Let them be laid up till Elias come." "That passage, (Eze 14:18,19 where a burnt offering is called a sacrifice for sin) Elias will unfold." Infinite examples of that sort occur.

II. How those words have wracked interpreters, "Is a candle put under a bushel," &c.; and, "There is nothing hidden," &c.: you may see also without a candle. A very easy sense of them is gathered from the context. When Christ speaks in parables, "A light is put under a bushel": but "the light (saith he) is not come for this end," that it should be so hidden; nor, indeed, were it fit so to hide it, but that the divine justice would have it so, that they who will not see the light should not enjoy the light. But "there is nothing hid" which shall not be made manifest by the brightness of the doctrine of the gospel, so there be eyes that do not refuse the light, nor voluntarily become purblind. Therefore, take you heed how you hear, lest ye be like them, and divine justice mete to you by the same measure as is measured to them; namely, that they shall never hear, because they will not hear.