Matthew 11:16
But whereunto shall I liken this generation? It is like to children sitting in the markets, and calling to their fellows,
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(16) It is like unto children sitting in the markets.—The comparison is drawn from one of the common amusements of the children of an Eastern city. They form themselves into companies, and get up a dramatic representation of wedding festivities and funeral pomp. They play their pipes, and expect others to dance; they beat their breasts in lamentation, and expect others to weep. They complain if others do not comply with their demands. To such a company our Lord likens the evil generation in which He and the Baptist lived. They were loud in their complaints of the Baptist because he would not share their self-indulgent mirth; they were bitter against Jesus because He would not live according to the rules of their hypocritical austerity. Thus interpreted, the whole passage is coherent. The more common explanation inverts the comparison, and sees in our Lord and the Baptist those who invite to mourning and to mirth respectively, and are repelled by their sullen playmates. This would in itself give an adequate meaning, but it does not fall in with our Lord’s language, which specifically identifies the children who invite the others (this rather than “their fellows,” is the true reading) with the “generation” which He condemns. The verses that follow, giving the language in which the same generation vented its anger and scorn against the two forms of holiness, agree better with the interpretation here adopted.

Matthew 11:16-19. Whereunto shall I liken this generation — That is, the men of this age? They are like those froward children, of whom their fellows complain that they will be pleased no way. Saying, We have piped unto you, &c. — “It was usual in Judea, at feasts, to have music of an airy kind, accompanied with dancing, Luke 15:25; and at funerals, melancholy airs, to which were joined the lamentations of persons hired for that purpose. The children, therefore, in that country, imitating these things in their diversions, while one band of them performed the musical part, if the other, happening to be froward, would not answer them by dancing or lamenting, as the game directed, it naturally gave occasion to this complaint, We have piped, &c, which at length was turned into a proverb.” John came neither eating nor drinking — In a rigorous, austere way, like Elijah. And they say, He hath a devil — He is melancholy from the influence of an evil spirit. So, it is probable, the Pharisees in particular said. The Son of man came eating and drinking — Conversing in a free, familiar way. And they say, Behold a man gluttonous, &c. — Jesus did not practise those mortifications which rendered the Baptist remarkable. He fared like other men, and went into mixed companies, not avoiding the society even of publicans and sinners, but neither would they hear him; for, notwithstanding he maintained the strictest temperance himself, and never encouraged the vices of others, either by dissimulation or example, they attributed that free way of living to a certain laxness of principle, or unholiness of disposition. But wisdom is justified of her children — That is, my wisdom herein is acknowledged by all those who are truly wise, and all such will justify all God’s dispensations toward them in order to their salvation, and will entirely acquiesce therein.11:16-24 Christ reflects on the scribes and Pharisees, who had a proud conceit of themselves. He likens their behaviour to children's play, who being out of temper without reason, quarrel with all the attempts of their fellows to please them, or to get them to join in the plays for which they used to assemble. The cavils of worldly men are often very trifling and show great malice. Something they have to urge against every one, however excellent and holy. Christ, who was undefiled, and separate from sinners, is here represented as in league with them, and polluted by them. The most unspotted innocence will not always be a defence against reproach. Christ knew that the hearts of the Jews were more bitter and hardened against his miracles and doctrines, than those of Tyre and Sidon would have been; therefore their condemnation would be the greater. The Lord exercises his almighty power, yet he punishes none more than they deserve, and never withholds the knowledge of the truth from those who long after it.But whereunto shall I liken ... - Christ proceeds to reprove the inconsistency and fickleness of that age of people. He says they were like children - nothing pleased them. He refers here to the "plays" or "sports" of children. Instrumental music, or piping and dancing, were used in marriages and festivals as a sign of joy. See the notes at Isaiah 5:11-12. Compare Job 21:11; 2 Samuel 6:14; Judges 11:34; Luke 15:25. Children imitate their parents and others, and act over in play what they see done by others. Among their childish sports, therefore, was probably an imitation of a wedding or festal occasion. We have seen also (the notes at Matthew 9:23) that funerals were attended with mournful music, and lamentation, and howling. It is not improbable that children also, in play: imitated a mournful funeral procession. One part are represented as sullen and dissatisfied. They would not enter into the play: nothing pleased them. The others complained of it. We have, said they, taken all pains to please you. We have piped to you, have played lively tunes, and have engaged in cheerful sports, but you would not join with us; and then we have played different games, and imitated the mourning at funerals, and you are equally sullen; "you have not lamented;" you have not joked with us. Nothing pleases you. So, said Christ, is this generation of people. "John" came one way, "neither eating nor drinking," abstaining as a Nazarite, and you were not pleased with him. I, the Son of man, have come in a different manner, "eating and drinking;" not practicing any austerity, but living like other people, and you are equally dissatisfied - nay, you are less pleased. You calumniate him, and abuse me for not doing the very thing which displeased you in John. Nothing pleases you. You are fickle, changeable, inconstant, and abusive.

Markets - Places to sell provisions; places of concourse, where also children flocked together for play.

We have piped - We have played on musical instruments. A "pipe" was a wind instrument of music often used by shepherds.

Neither eating nor drinking - That is, abstaining from some kinds of food and wine, as a Nazarite. It does not mean that he did not eat at all, but that he was remarkable for abstinence.

He hath a devil - He is actuated by a bad spirit. He is irregular, strange, and cannot be a good man.

The Son of man came eating and drinking - That is, living as others do; not practicing austerity; and they accuse him of being fond of excess, and seeking the society of the wicked.

Gluttonous - One given to excessive eating.

Wine-bibber - One who drinks much wine. Jesus undoubtedly lived according to the general customs of the people of his time. He did not affect singularity; he did not separate himself as a Nazarite; he did not practice severe austerities. He ate that which was common and drank that which was common. As wine was a common article of beverage among the people, he drank it. It was the pure juice of the grape, and for anything that can be proved, it was without fermentation. In regard to the kind of wine which was used, see the notes at John 2:10. No one should plead the example, at any rate, in favor of making use of the wines that are commonly used in this country - wines, many of which are manufactured here, and without a particle of the pure juice of the grape, and most of which are mixed with noxious drugs to give them color and flavor.

Wisdom is justified of her children - The children of wisdom are the wise - those who understand. The Saviour means that though that generation of Pharisees and fault-finders did not appreciate the conduct of John and himself, yet the "wise," the candid - those who understood the reasons of their conduct - would approve of and do justice to it.

2. Now when John had heard in the prison—For the account of this imprisonment, see on [1261]Mr 6:17-20.

the works of Christ, he sent, &c.—On the whole passage, see on [1262]Lu 7:18-35.

See Poole on "Matthew 11:17". But whereunto shall I liken this generation? The men of that age, the stubborn and perverse Jews; who were pleased with nothing, with no man's ministry, neither with John's, nor with Christ's, but found fault with whatever they heard, or saw done:

it is like unto children sitting in the markets, and calling to their fellows: that is, the case of such persons may be fitly represented by children in a public market, calling to their companions, to pipe or mourn with them, and who are so morose and sullen as to do neither: for the men of that generation, are not the good natured children, that called to their fellows, and were willing to join in innocent diversions and exercises; but rather John the Baptist, Christ and his disciples, who may be compared to "children", for their harmlessness and simplicity; and are represented as "sitting in markets", places of concourse, where much people met together; which may intend the synagogues and temple, and other public places, which they made use of to publish their doctrines in, to preach to, and exhort the people; and as "calling to their fellows", to their contemporaries, to those of their own nation, by the external ministry of the word.

{3} But whereunto shall I liken this generation? {e} It is like unto children sitting in the markets, and calling unto their fellows,

(3) There are none who are more stout and stubborn enemies of the gospel, than they to whom it ought to be most acceptable.

(e) He blames the perverseness of this age, by a proverb, in that they could be moved neither with rough nor gentle dealing.

Matthew 11:16 ff. After this high testimony respecting the Baptist, we have now a painful charge against the men of his time, whom, in fact, neither John nor Himself is able to satisfy. In expressive, appropriate, and certainly original terms (in answer to Hilgenfeld), He compares the existing generation to children reproaching their playfellows for not being inclined to chime in either with their merry or their lugubrious strains. Usually the Jews are supposed to be represented by those refractory playmates, so that Jesus and John have necessarily to be understood as corresponding to the children who play the cheerful music, and who mourn (Fritzsche, Oppenrieder, Köster in the Stud. u. Krit. 1862, p. 346 f.). But (1) the words expressly intimate that the children with their music and lamentation represented the γενεά, to which John and Jesus stand opposed, so that the latter must therefore correspond to the ἑτέροις who are reproached by the παιδία. (2) If the arrangement of the passage is not to be arbitrarily disturbed, the thrice repeated λέγουσιν must be held to prove that, since those who speak in Matthew 11:18-19 are Jews, it is to these also that the children correspond who are introduced as speaking in Matthew 11:16. (3) If we were to suppose that Jesus and John were represented by those children, then, according to Matthew 11:18-19, it would be necessary to reverse the order of the words in Matthew 11:17, so as to run thus: ἐθρηνήσαμεν ὑμῖνηὐλήσαμεν, etc. Consequently the ordinary explanation of the illustration is wrong. The correct interpretation is this: the παιδία are the Jews; the ἕτεροι are John and Jesus; first came John, who was far too rigid an ascetic to suit the tastes of the free-living Jews (John 5:35); then came Jesus, and He, again, did not come up to their ascetic and hierarchical standard, and was too lax, in their opinion. The former did not dance to their music; the latter did not respond to their lamentation (similarly de Wette with a slight deviation, Ewald, Bleek, Keim).

παιδίοις, κ.τ.λ.] The allusion is to children who in their play (according to Ewald, it was playing at a riddle) imitate the way in which grown-up people give expression to their joy and their sorrow; Rosenmüller, Morgenl. in loco.

The flute was played at weddings and dancings.

ἐκόψασθε] beating upon the breast was the ordinary indication of grief; Ezekiel 20:43; Nahum 2:8; Matthew 24:30; Luke 18:13; Hom. Il. xviii. 31; Plat. Phaed. p. 60 A, al.; Herod. vi. 58; Diod. Sic. i. 44; Köster, Erläut. p. 92 f.

τοῖς ἑπέροις] the other children present, who are not among the number of their playmates.Matthew 11:16-19. Judgment of Jesus on His religious contemporaries (Luke 7:31-35). It is advisable not to assume as a matter of course that these words were spoken at the same time as those going before. The discourse certainly appears continuous, and Luke gives this utterance in the same connection as our evangelist, from which we may infer that it stood so in the common source. But even there the connection may have been topical rather than temporal; placed beside what goes before, because containing a reference to John, and because the contents are of a critical nature.16. But whereunto shall I liken this generation?] The children who complain of their companions are the Jews who are satisfied neither with Jesus nor with John. This generation is out of sympathy with the prophets in whatever guise they come. They blamed John for his too great austerity, Jesus for neglect of Pharisaic exclusiveness and of ceremonial fasting.Matthew 11:16. Τὴν γενεὰν ταύτην, this generation) the evil men of this best[528] time.—ΠΑΙΔΑΡΊΟΙς,[529] children) Jesus compared not only the Jews, but also Himself and John, in different ways, to children, with a condescension, in His own case, most wonderful.—ἀγοραῖς, market-places) A large city has often many market-places. The preaching of John and Jesus was public.

[528] “Hujus optimi temporis”—so called because it was that of our Lord’s Ministry—(I. B.)

[529] The margin of both Editions, as also the Germ. Vers., seem to prefer παιδίοις.—E. B. So BCDZ. The παιδαρίοις of Rec. Text is not supported by the primary authorities.—ED.Verses 16-19. - Yet both John and he himself are rejected, though the results of their efforts were such as to fully justify the apparent difference of their methods. Parallel passage. Luke 7:31-35. Verses 16, 17. - But. In contrast to the obedience asked for in ver. 15, this generation closes its ears. Whereunto shall I liken. A common rabbinic phrase, which is often found in the fuller form recorded in Luke, "Whereunto shall I liken... and to what are they like?" (see Matthew 7:24, note). This generation?. It is like unto children sitting in the markets, and calling unto their fellows, and saying, We have piped unto you, and ye have not danced; we have mourned unto you, and ye have not lamented. There are two ways of understanding the illustration which our Lord here uses.

(1) Many modern commentators (e.g. Meyer; Trench,' Studies,' p. 148) insist on the grammar and on the historical order in which the complaints are made, and believe that the Jews correspond to the pipers and the mourners, while it is John that refuses to rejoice, and our Lord that will not be sad.

(2) But the more usual interpretation is preferable. For

(a) in an illustrative saying one has chiefly to regard its general sense;

(b) in vers. 18, 19 the action of John and of our Lord in "coming" corresponds to the activity of the children;

(c) this interpretation seems much more in accordance with the context. The verses are therefore to be understood as meaning- John mourned in urging repentance, our Lord rejoiced in gospel liberty and preaching, but both alike were only ridiculed by the Jews. Markets; marketplaces (Revised Version); for there is no thought of the children helping their elders in traffic. And calling (which call, Revised Version) unto their fellows. Addressing them, but not necessarily noisily (Luke 6:13; Luke 13:12). Children (παιδίοις)

Diminutive, little children. The Rev. Donald Fraser gives the picture simply and vividly: "He pictured a group of little children playing at make-believe marriages and funerals. First they acted a marriage procession; some of them piping as on instruments of music, while the rest were expected to leap and dance. In a perverse mood, however, these last did not respond, but stood still and looked discontented. So the little pipers changed their game and proposed a funeral. They began to imitate the loud wailing of eastern mourners. But again they were thwarted, for their companions refused to chime in with the mournful cry and to beat their breasts....So the disappointed children complained: 'We piped unto you and ye did not dance; we wailed, and ye did not mourn. Nothing pleases you. If you don't want to dance, why don't yon mourn?...It is plain that yon are in bad humor, and determined not to be pleased'" ("Metaphors in the Gospels"). The issue is between the Jews (this generation) and the children of wisdom, Matthew 11:19.

Market-places (ἀγοραῖς)

From ἀγείρω, to assemble. Wyc., renders cheepynge; compare cheepside, the place for buying selling; for the word cheap had originally no reference to small price, but meant simply barter or price. The primary conception in the Greek word has nothing to do with buying and selling. Ἀγορά is an assembly; then the place of assembly. The idea of a place of trade comes in afterward, and naturally, since trade plants itself where people habitually gather. Hence the Roman Forum was devoted, not only to popular and judicial assemblies, but to commercial purposes, especially of bankers. The idea of trade gradually becomes the dominant one in the word. In Eastern cities the markets are held in bazaars and streets, rather than in squares. In these public places the children would be found playing. Compare Zechariah 8:5.

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