Luke 12:13
And one of the company said unto him, Master, speak to my brother, that he divide the inheritance with me.
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(13) And one of the company.—Better, one of the multitude. The request implied a recognition of our Lord’s character as a scribe or Rabbi, but it was for the purpose of asking Him to assume that office in its purely secular aspect. As interpreters of the Law, the scribes were appealed to as advocates and arbitrators in questions of property or marriage. The precise nature of the case is not stated here, but the words of the petitioner suggest that he was a younger son, who, on his father’s death, claimed from his elder brother more than the share which, according to the usual practice of a double portion for the first-born (2Kings 2:9), of right belonged to him, and expected apparently a full moiety.




Luke 12:13 - Luke 12:23

What a gulf between the thoughts of Jesus and those of this unmannerly interrupter! Our Lord had been speaking solemnly as to confessing Him before men, the divine help to be given, and the blessed reward to follow, and this hearer had all the while been thinking only of the share in his father’s inheritance, out of which he considered that his brother had cheated him. Such indifference must have struck a chill into Christ’s heart, and how keenly he felt it is traceable in the curt and stern brushing aside of the man’s request. The very form of addressing him puts him at a distance. ‘Man’ is about as frigid as can be. Our Lord knew the discouragement of seeing that His words never came near some of His hearers, and had no power to turn their thoughts even for a minute from low objects. ‘What do I care about being confessed before the angels, or about the Holy Spirit to teach me? What I want is my share of the paternal acres. A rabbi who will help me to these is the rabbi for me.’ John Bunyan’s ‘man with the muck-rake’ had his eyes so glued to the ground and the muck that he did not see the crown hanging above him. How many of us find the sermon time a good opportunity for thinking about investments and business!

Christ’s answer is intentionally abrupt and short. It deals with part only of the man’s error, the rest of which, being an error to which we are all exposed, and which was the root of the part special to him, is dealt with in the parable that follows. Because the man was covetous, he could see in Jesus nothing more than a rabbi who might influence his brother. Our sense of want largely shapes our conception of Christ. Many to-day see in Him mainly a social {and economical} reformer, because our notion of what we and the world need most is something to set social conditions right, and so to secure earthly well-being. They who take Jesus to be first and foremost ‘a judge or a divider’ fail to see His deepest work or their own deepest need. He will be all that they wish Him to be, if they will take Him for something else first. He will ‘bid’ men ‘divide the inheritance’ with their brethren after men have gone to Him for salvation.

But covetousness, or the greedy clutching at more and more of earthly good, has its roots in us all, and unless there is the most assiduous weeding, it will overrun our whole nature. So Jesus puts great emphasis into the command, ‘Take heed, and keep yourselves,’ which implies that without much ‘heed’ and diligent inspection of ourselves {for the original word is ‘see’}, there will be no guarding against the subtle entrance and swift growth of the vice. We may be enslaved by it, and never suspect that we are. Further, the correct reading is ‘from all covetousness,’ for it has many shapes, besides the grossest one of greed for money. The reason for the exhortation is somewhat obscure in construction, but plain in its general meaning, and sufficiently represented by the Authorised and Revised Versions. The Revised Version margin gives the literal translation, ‘Not in a man’s abundance consisteth his life, from the things which he possesseth,’ on which we may note that the second clause is obviously to be completed from the first, and that the difference between the two seems to lie mainly in the difference of prepositions, ‘from’ or ‘out of in the second clause standing instead of ‘in’ in the first, while there may be also a distinction between ‘abundance’ and ‘possessions’ the former being a superfluous amount of the latter. The whole will then mean that life does not consist in possessions, however abundant, nor does it come out of anything that simply belongs to us in outward fashion. Not what we possess, but what we are, is the important matter.

But what does ‘life’ mean? The parable shows that we cannot leave out the notion of physical life. No possessions keep a man alive. Death knocks at palaces and poor men’s hovels. Millionaires and paupers are huddled together in his net. But we must not leave out the higher meaning of life, for it is eminently true that the real life of a man has little relation to what he possesses. Neither nobleness nor peace nor satisfaction, nor anything in which man lives a nobler life than a dog, has much dependence on property of any sort. Wealth often chokes the channels by which true life would flow into us. ‘We live by admiration, hope, and love,’ and these may be ours abundantly, whatever our portion of earth’s riches. Covetousness is folly, because it grasps at worldly good, under the false belief that thereby it will secure the true good of life, but when it has made its pile, it finds that it is no nearer peace of heart, rest, nobleness, or joy than before, and has probably lost much of both in the process of making it. The mad race after wealth, which is the sin of this luxurious, greedy, commercial age, is the consequence of a lie-that life does consist in the abundance of possessions. It consists in knowing ‘Thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom Thou hast sent.’ Is there any saying of Jesus Christ’s more revolutionary, or less believed by His professed followers, than this?

The story of the rich fool is not a parable in the narrower meaning of that word-that is, a description of some event or thing in the natural sphere, transferred by analogy to the spiritual-but an imaginary narrative exemplifying in a concrete instance the characteristics of the class of covetous men. The first point noted is that accumulated wealth breeds anxiety rather than satisfaction. The man is embarrassed by his abundance. The trouble of knowing how to keep it is as great as the labour of acquiring it, and the enjoyment of it is still in the future. Many a rich man is more worried about his securities than he was in making his money. There are so many ‘bags with holes’ that he is at his wits’ end for investments, and the first thing he looks at in his morning’s paper is the share list, the sight of which often spoils his breakfast.

The next point is the selfish and arrogant sense of possession, as betrayed by the repetition of ‘my’-my fruits, my barns, my corn, and my goods. He has no thought of God, nor of his own stewardship. He recognises no claim on his wealth. If he had looked a little beyond himself, he would have seen many places where he could have bestowed his fruits. Were there no poor at his gates? He had better have poured some riches into the laps of these than have built a new barn. Corn laid up would breed weevils; dispersed, it would bring blessings.

Again, this type of covetous men is a fool because he reckons on ‘many years.’ The goods may last, but will he? He can make sure that they will suffice for a long time, but he cannot make sure of the long time. Again, he blunders tragically in his estimate of the power of worldly goods to satisfy. ‘Eat, drink,’ might be said to his body, but to say it to his soul, and to fancy that these pleasures of sense would put it at ease, is the fatal error which gnaws like a worm at the root of every worldly life. The word here rendered ‘take thine ease’ is cognate with Christ’s in His great promise, ‘Ye shall find rest unto your souls.’ Not in abundance of worldly goods, but in union with Him, is that rest to be found which the covetous man vainly promises himself in filled barns and luxurious idleness.

There is a grim contrast between what the rich man said and what God said. The man’s words were empty breath; God’s are powers, and what He says is a deed. The divine decree comes crashing into the abortive human plans like a thunder-clap into a wood full of singing birds, and they are all stricken silent. So little does life consist in possessions that all the abundance cannot keep the breath in a man for one moment. His life is ‘required of him,’ not only in the sense that he has to give it up, but also inasmuch as he has to answer for it. In that requirement the selfishly used wealth will be ‘a swift witness against’ him, and instead of ministering to life or ease, will ‘eat his flesh as fire.’ Molten gold dropping on flesh burns badly. Wealth, trusted in and selfishly clutched, without recognition of God the giver or of others’ claims to share it, will burn still worse.

The ‘parable’ is declared to be of universal application. Examples of it are found wherever there are men who selfishly lay up treasures for their own delectation, and ‘are not rich toward God.’ That expression is best understood in this connection to mean, not rich in spiritual wealth, but in worldly goods used with reference to God, or for His glory and service. So understood, the two phrases, laying up treasure for oneself and being rich towards God, are in full antithesis.

Luke 12:13-15. One said, Master, speak to my brother, &c. — While Jesus was discoursing, as above related, to his disciple, one of the crowd, that was then collected about Jesus, requested that he would speak to his brother, and persuade him to divide their paternal inheritance, and give him his share. But, because judging in civil matters was the province of the magistrates, and foreign to the end of our Lord’s coming, he refused to meddle in their quarrel. It is not said which of these brothers was in the wrong; only, because the disposition which they discovered afforded a fit opportunity for religious advice, our Lord embraced it, and cautioned his hearers in the most solemn manner against covetousness, declaring that neither the length nor the happiness of a man’s life depends upon the greatness of his possessions. He said, Take heed and beware — Greek, ορατε και φυλασσεσθε απο της πλεονεξιας, see to it, and be on your guard, against covetousness. The phrase is lively and full of force. Some old versions and good copies read, from all covetousness, in which extent, doubtless, our Lord intended his caution to be understood, whether he did or did not so particularly express it. “Properly speaking, covetousness is an immoderate love of money. Now of this passion there are two kinds: one which, in the pursuit of its purpose, does not scruple at fraud, falsehood, and oppression, and which is commonly accompanied with want of kindness and charity. This is the most odious and criminal species of covetousness. The other form of the vice consists in a high esteem of riches as the chief good, in seeking one’s happiness from the enjoyments which they procure, and in substituting them in the place of the providence and grace of God. This love of riches is, in Scripture, emphatically termed a trusting in them, and is a sort of covetousness that is abundantly compatible with a regard to justice, being often found in persons no way remarkable for the want of that virtue.” Thus Dr. Macknight; to which we may add, with Dr. Whitby, that the desire of having more than we really need, and that, not to supply the necessities of others, or to promote God’s glory, but that we may keep and treasure it up and enjoy it ourselves, is one species of covetousness; for these words are certainly produced as dissuasive from that sin, which they could not be, were not the desire of having more one species or symptom of it. And from the words following we learn, that to be more solicitous concerning temporal than spiritual things, and to be anxious about them, when we are not yet rich toward God, is another sign of covetousness. This may be concluded from the concern of this person for the dividing of his inheritance, rather than that our Lord should instruct him in the way of life, it being this which gave occasion to Christ’s admonition, to beware of covetousness; and it more clearly follows still from the example of the rich fool, mentioned in the following verses, who was so much concerned to hoard up his goods, but not at all concerned to be rich toward God; that is, to have his treasure with God in the heavens, and to esteem it his chief riches to be an heir of the kingdom of God, Luke 12:32, and to employ his property in a way that would be acceptable to God, and tend to his own future felicity; for this is a plain indication of a heart that values these temporal concernments more than God’s favour, or celestial riches, which, in St. Paul’s judgment, renders the covetous person guilty of idolatry. For a man’s life — That is, the comfort and happiness of it; consisteth not in the abundance that he possesseth — Nor can the continuance of his life, even for the shortest period of time, be secured by that abundance.

12:13-21 Christ's kingdom is spiritual, and not of this world. Christianity does not meddle with politics; it obliges all to do justly, but wordly dominion is not founded in grace. It does not encourage expectations of worldly advantages by religion. The rewards of Christ's disciples are of another nature. Covetousness is a sin we need constantly to be warned against; for happiness and comfort do not depend on the wealth of this world. The things of the world will not satisfy the desires of a soul. Here is a parable, which shows the folly of carnal worldling while they live, and their misery when they die. The character drawn is exactly that of a prudent, worldly man, who has no grateful regard to the providence of God, nor any right thought of the uncertainty of human affairs, the worth of his soul, or the importance of eternity. How many, even among professed Christians, point out similar characters as models for imitation, and proper persons to form connexions with! We mistake if we think that thoughts are hid, and thoughts are free. When he saw a great crop upon his ground, instead of thanking God for it, or rejoicing to be able to do more good, he afflicts himself. What shall I do now? The poorest beggar in the country could not have said a more anxious word. The more men have, the more perplexity they have with it. It was folly for him to think of making no other use of his plenty, than to indulge the flesh and gratify the sensual appetites, without any thought of doing good to others. Carnal worldlings are fools; and the day is coming when God will call them by their own name, and they will call themselves so. The death of such persons is miserable in itself, and terrible to them. Thy soul shall be required. He is loth to part with it; but God shall require it, shall require an account of it, require it as a guilty soul to be punished without delay. It is the folly of most men, to mind and pursue that which is for the body and for time only, more than that for the soul and eternity.One of the company - One of the multitude. This man had probably had a dispute with his brother, supposing that his brother had refused to do him justice. Conceiving that Jesus had power over the people - that what he said must be performed - he endeavored to secure him on his side of the dispute and gain his point. From the parable which follows, it would appear that he had no "just" claim on the inheritance, but was influenced by covetousness. Besides, if he "had" any just claim, it might have been secured by the laws of the land,

Speak to my brother - Command my brother.

Divide the inheritance - An inheritance is the property which is left by a father to his children. Among the Jews the older brother had two shares, or twice as much as any other child, Deuteronomy 21:17. The remainder was then equally divided among all the children.

Lu 12:13-53. Covetousness—Watchfulness—Superiority to Earthly Ties.

13. Master, &c.—that is, "Great Preacher of righteousness, help; there is need of Thee in this rapacious world; here am I the victim of injustice, and that from my own brother, who withholds from me my rightful share of the inheritance that has fallen to us." In this most inopportune intrusion upon the solemnities of our Lord's teaching, there is a mixture of the absurd and the irreverent, the one, however, occasioning the other. The man had not the least idea that his case was not of as urgent a nature, and as worthy the attention of our Lord, as anything else He could deal with.

Ver. 13,14. This passage certainly is not recorded for nothing; if it teacheth us any thing, it is this, That matters of civil justice belong not to those whom Christ sends to preach his gospel: that work is enough for them. Christ here refuseth the office so much as of an arbitrator. A very learned author tells us, that the practice of bringing civil matters before ecclesiastical men, as judges, began in the captivity of Babylon, the Jews by that means avoiding the bringing their differences before pagan judges, which the apostle also persuadeth at large to the primitive Christians, in 1 Corinthians 6:1,2, &c. But that the ministers of the gospel should be employed, or might be employed, in them, doth not appear by the apostle; nay, he speaks the contrary, 1 Corinthians 6:4, Set them to judge who are least esteemed in the church: these surely were not the elders in it. Under the Romans, the Jews had more liberty, having civil courts made up of persons of their own religion, to whom our Saviour turns over this man; being not willing to move out of his calling, as a minister of the gospel. As Christ’s commissioners, it is most certain that no ministers of the gospel can intermeddle in civil judgments; whether those who are such commissioners of Christ may yet as men’s commissioners act, it stands those in hand who are ambitious of such an employment, and can find leisure enough for it, and are called to it, to inquire: I shall not intermeddle in that controversy. To me, the proper work of the gospel is work enough.

And one of the company said unto him,.... Not one of the disciples of Christ, but one of the multitude, or crowd, about him, Luke 12:1

Master, speak to my brother, that he divide the inheritance with me: the firstborn, according to the law, in Deuteronomy 21:17 had a double portion: but the eider brother here, it seems, was for keeping all, and would not divide any part to his younger brother; wherefore he applies to Christ, to interpose his authority, which he imagined would have great weight with his brother, who might be a hearer of Christ, and favourer of him: or however, such was the fame of Christ, and such credit he obtained by his ministry and miracles, that he concluded a word from him, would go a great way with his brother, to engage him to make a right and proper division, as he ought; and especially, if he looked upon him, as the king Messiah the Jews expected, he might take this to be part of his work and office, to settle such civil affairs as these: we often read in the Jewish writings, of brethren dividing their substance, left by their parents; so it is said (f),

, "brethren that divide", (a field,) give two corners (to the poor); if they return and become partners, they give but one.''

Where there were but two brethren, as here, the one was called "the firstborn"; and the other, "simple"; having no title or character: and concerning dividing inheritances, there are the following rules (g):

"the firstborn takes a double portion of his father's goods, as is said, Deuteronomy 21:17 how? a man leaves five children, and one of them is the firstborn: the firstborn takes the third part of the substance, and every one of the four simple ones, takes a sixth part: if he leaves nine children, and one of them is the firstborn, he takes the fifth part, and every one of the eight simple ones, takes a tenth part; and so according to this division, they divided for ever----he that has two sons, a firstborn and a simple one, and they both die in his lifetime, the firstborn leaves a daughter, and the simple one leaves a son; lo, the son of the simple one inherits the third part of the old man's goods, which is his father's part; and the daughter of the firstborn, inherits the two thirds, which is the part of her father.''

And again (h),

"two brethren that "divide", and a brother comes to them from the province of the sea: and so three brethren that "divide", and a creditor comes and takes the part of one of them, though the one takes land, and the other money, the division is void, and they return and divide the rest equally: if any one orders at the time of death, that there should be given to such an one a palm tree, or a field out of his substance, and the brethren "divide", and do not give such an one any thing, lo, the division is void; and how do they do? they give what he ordered the heirs, and after that they return and divide as at the beginning: brethren that divide, value what is upon them; but what is upon their sons and their daughters, which they have in possession, they do not value--he that leaves fatherless children, some that are grown up, and others little ones, and they are willing to divide their father's goods, so that those that are grown up may take their part, the sanhedrim appoint a guardian for the little ones, and he chooses a good part for them: and when they are grown up, they cannot make it void, for lo, by the decree of the sanhedrim, they divided for them; but if the sanhedrim err in computation, and give them less, they may make it void, and make another division when, they are grown up.''

But it would be tedious to transcribe all the rules, relating to such cases.

(f) Misn. Peah, c. 3. sect. 5. (g) Maimon. Hilchot Nechalot, c. 2. sect. 1. 7. (h) Maimon. Hilchot Nechalot, c. 10. sect. 1, 2, 3, 4.

{5} And one of the company said unto him, Master, speak to my brother, that he divide the inheritance with me.

(5) For three reasons Christ would not be a judge to divide an inheritance. First, because he would not support and uphold the fleshly opinion that the Jews had of Messiah: secondly, because he wanted to distinguish the civil government from the ecclesiastical: thirdly, to teach us to beware of those which abuse the show of the gospel, and also the name of ministers, for their own private well-being.

Luke 12:13-21. Peculiar to Luke; from his source containing the account of the journey.

Luke 12:13 f. τὶς] certainly no attendant of Jesus (Lightfoot, Kuinoel, and others), as Luke himself points out by ἐκ τοῦ ὄχλου; besides, such a one would have known Jesus better than is betrayed by this uncongenial request. It was a Jew on whom the endowments and authority of Jesus produced such an impression that he thought he might be able to make use of Him in the matter of his inheritance. Whether he was a younger brother who grudged to the first-born his double share of the inheritance (Ewald), must be left in doubt.

ἐκ τ. ὄχλ.] belongs to εἶπε, as is shown by the order. The mode of address, ἄνθρωπε, has a tone of disapproval, Romans 2:1; Romans 9:20; Plat. Protag. p. 350 D; Soph. Aj. 778, 1132. Observe that Jesus instantly rejects the application that concerns a purely worldly matter; on the other hand, He elsewhere gives a decision on the question of divorce.[155]

[155] This is worthy of consideration also in respect of the question: whether matters of marriage belong to the competency of the spiritual or the temporal tribunal?

Luke 12:13-21. An interlude leading to a change of theme, in Lk. only.

13-21. Egotism rebuked. The Rich Fool.

. Master, speak to my brother] This was the most foolish and unwarrantable interpellation ever made to our Lord. The few words at once reveal to us an egotist incapable of caring for anything but his own selfishness.

that he divide the inheritance with me] Deuteronomy 21:15-17.

Luke 12:13. Τὶς) some one, who had become sensible that Jesus is “the Just One.”—ἀδελφῷ, to my brother) who perhaps had begun to hold Jesus in high estimation. Readily those who admire a spiritual teacher sink down to that point, that they wish to convert him into an umpire for the settlement of domestic and civil matters in dispute.

Verse 13. - And one of the company said unto him, Master, speak to my brother, that he divide the inheritance with me. Apparently there was a pause here in the Lord's teaching. The Master was about to enter on a new subject, and at this juncture one of the crowd, waiting for such a break in the Master's discourse, came forward with a question. It was purely connected with his own selfish interests, He seems to have been a younger brother, discontented with the distribution of the family property, of which, most likely, in accordance with the usual Jewish practice, a double portion had been taken by the elder brother. This was likely enough the point which he submitted to the Lord. Such a reference to a scribe and rabbi of eminence was then not uncommon. Jesus, however, here, as on other occasions (see John 8:3-11), firmly refuses to interfere in secular matters. His work was of another and higher kind. The word he addresses to the questioner has in it a tinge of rebuke. The utter selfish worldliness of the man, who, after hearing the solemn and impressive words just spoken, could intrude such a question, comes strongly into view. Was not this poor unimpressionable Jew, so wrapped up in his own paltry concerns that he had no thought or care for loftier things, perhaps a specimen of most of the material upon whom the Lord had to work? Is he an unknown figure in our day and time? Luke 12:13
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