Matthew 13 Bible Commentary

John Lightfoot’s Bible Commentary

(Read all of Matthew 13)
2. And great multitudes were gathered together unto him, so that he went into a ship, and sat; and the whole multitude stood on the shore.

[So that he sat, and the whole multitude stood.] So was the manner of the nation, that the masters when they read their lectures sat, and the scholars stood: which honorary custom continued to the death of Gamaliel the Elder; and then so far ceased, that the scholars sat when their masters sat. Hence is that passage: "From that time that old Rabban Gamaliel died, the honour of the law perished, and purity and Pharisaism died." Where the Gloss, from Megillah, writes us; "Before his death health was in the world, and they learned the law standing; but when he was dead sickness came down into the world, and they were compelled to learn the law sitting."

3. And he spake many things unto them in parables, saying, Behold, a sower went forth to sow.

[In parables.] I. No figure of Jewish rhetoric was more familiarly used than that of parables: which perhaps, creeping in from thence, among the heathen ended in fables. It is said, in the place of the Talmud just now cited, From the time that R. Meir died, those that spake in parables ceased: not that that figure of rhetoric perished in the nation from that time, but because he surpassed all others in these flowers; as the Gloss there from the tract Sanhedrim speaks; A third part [of his discourses or sermons] was tradition, a third part allegory, and a third part parable. The Jewish books abound everywhere with these figures, the nation inclining by a kind of natural genius to this kind of rhetoric. One might not amiss call their religion Parabolical, folded up within the coverings of ceremonies; and their oratory in their sermons was like to it. But it is a wonder indeed, that they who were so given to and delighted in parables, and so dextrous in unfolding them, should stick in the outward shell of ceremonies, and should not have fetched out the parabolical and spiritual sense of them; neither should he be able to fetch them out.

II. Our Saviour (who always and everywhere spake with the vulgar) useth the same kind of speech, and very often the same preface, as they did in their parables. To what is it likened, &c. But in him, thus speaking, one may both acknowledge the Divine justice, who speaks darkly to them that despise the light; and his Divine wisdom likewise, who so speaks to them that see, and yet see not, that they may see the shell and not see the kernel.

4. And when he sowed, some seeds fell by the way side, and the fowls came and devoured them up:

[Some fell by the way side, &c.] Concerning the husbandry of the Jews, and their manner of sowing, we meet with various passages in the tracts Peah, Demai, Kilaim, Sheviith: we shall only touch upon those things which the words of the text under our hands do readily remind us of.

There were ways and paths as well common as more private along the sown fields; see chapter 12:1. Hence in the tract Peah, where they dispute what those things are which divide a field so that it owes a double corner to the poor; thus it is determined, "These things divide: a river, an aqueduct, a private way, a common way, a common path, and a private path," &c. See the place and the Gloss.

5. Some fell upon stony places, where they had not much earth: and forthwith they sprung up, because they had no deepness of earth:

[Some fell among stony places.] Discourse is had concerning some laws of the Kilaim (or, of the seeds of different kinds), and of the seventh year: where, among other things, we meet with these words; "R. Simeon Ben Lachish saith that he is freed [from those laws] who sows his seed by the sea, upon rocks, shelves, and rocky places." These words are spoken according to the reason and nature of the land of Israel, which was very rocky; and yet those places that were so were not altogether unfit for tillage.

7. And some fell among thorns; and the thorns sprung up, and choked them:

[Others fell among thorns.] Here the distinction comes into my mind of a white field, that is, which is all sown; and of a woody field, that is, in which trees and bushes grow here and there: concerning which see the tract Sheviith. So there is very frequent mention in the Talmudists of beds, in fields and vineyards, which speaks the same thing. And of baldness in a field: that is, when some places are left not sown, and some places lying between are.

8. But other fell into good ground, and brought forth fruit, some an hundredfold, some sixtyfold, some thirtyfold.

[And brought forth fruit, some a hundred, &c.] These words are spoken according to the fruitfulness of the land of Israel; concerning which the Talmudists speak much, and hyperbolically enough: which nevertheless they confess to be turned long since into miserable barrenness; but are dim-sighted as to the true cause of it.

They treat of this matter, and various stories are produced, which you may see: we will only mention these two:--

"R. Jochanan said, The worst fruit which we eat in our youth excelled the best which we now eat in our old age: for in his days the world was changed."

"R. Chaijah Bar Ba said The Arbelite bushel formerly yielded a bushel of flour, a bushel of meal, a bushel of bran, and a bushel of coarse bran, and a bushel of coarser bran yet, and a bushel of the coarsest bran also: but now one bushel scarcely comes from one bushel."

13. Therefore speak I to them in parables: because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand.

[They seeing see not.] Here you may observe this people to have been given up to a reprobate mind, and a spirit of deep sleep, now a great while before the death of Christ. Which being observed, the sense of the apostle will more easily appear, Romans 11:8; where these very words are repeated. If you there state aright the rejection of that people, you will understand more clearly the apostle concerning their call, which is there handled. Pharisaism and the sottishness of traditions had, now a good while ago, thrown them into blindness, stupidity, and hardness of heart; and that for some ages before Christ was born: but when the gospel came, the Lord had his gleanings among them, and there were some that believed, and unto whom the participation of the promises was granted: concerning them the apostle speaks in that chapter: see verse 5. At this present time there is a remnant according to election," &c., which we have observed before at chapter 3:7.

25. But while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went his way.

[Tares.] Zunin, in Talmudic language. Wheat and 'Zunin' are not seeds of different kinds. Where the Gloss is this; "Is a kind of wheat, which is changed in the earth, both as to its form, and to its nature." By the best Lexicographers it is rendered zizania, in Latin.

So that that field, in this parable, was sown by the lord with good wheat; by the enemy, with bad and degenerate wheat; but all of it was sown with wheat, one or the other. These words do not so barely mean good and bad men, as good and bad Christians; both distinguished from other men, namely, from heathens, as wheat is distinguished from other seeds: but they are distinguished also among themselves, as good wheat is distinguished from that which is degenerate. So chapter 25, all those ten women, expecting the bridegroom, are virgins; but are distinguished into wise and foolish.

32. Which indeed is the least of all seeds [mustard]: but when it is grown, it is the greatest among herbs, and becometh a tree, so that the birds of the air come and lodge in the branches thereof.

[Which, indeed, is the least of all seeds, &c.] Hence it is passed into a common proverb, According to the quantity of a grain of mustard: and According to the quantity of a little drop of mustard, very frequently used by the Rabbins, when they would express the smallest thing, or the most diminutive quantity.

[Is the greatest among herbs.] "There was a stalk of mustard in Sichin, from which sprang out three boughs: of which, one was broke off, and covered the tent of a potter, and produced three cabes of mustard. R. Simeon Ben Chalaphta said, A stalk of mustard was in my field, into which I was wont to climb, as men are wont to climb into a fig-tree."

33. Another parable spake he unto them; The kingdom of heaven is like unto leaven, which a woman took, and hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened.

[In three (sata) measures of meal] That is, in an ephah of meal. Exodus 16:36; "Now an omer is the tenth part of an ephah." The Chaldee reads, The tenth part of three sata. The LXX reads, The tenth part of three measures. And Ruth 2:17, "It was as an ephah of barley." Where the Targum reads, As it were three sata of barley.

"A seah contains a double hin, six cabes, twenty-four login, a hundred and forty-four eggs."

52. Then said he unto them, Therefore every scribe which is instructed unto the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is an householder, which bringeth forth out of his treasure things new and old.

[Bringeth forth out of his treasury things new and old.] These words are spoken according to the dialect of the schools, where the question was not seldom started, What wine, what corn, or fruits were to be used in the holy things, and in some rites, new or more old; namely, of the present year, or the years past. But now, a thrifty man, provident of his own affairs, was stored both with the one and the other, prepared for either, which should be required. So it becomes a scribe of the gospel to have all things in readiness, to bring forth according to the condition and nature of the thing, of the place, and of the hearers. "Do ye understand all these things (saith Christ), both the things which I have said, and why I have said them? So a scribe of the gospel ought to bring forth," &c.