Matthew 18:12
How think you? if a man have an hundred sheep, and one of them be gone astray, does he not leave the ninety and nine, and goes into the mountains, and seeks that which is gone astray?
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(12) If a man have an hundred sheep.—The parable is repeated more fully in Luke 15:4-6, and will best find its full explanation there. The fact that it reappears there is significant as to the prominence, in our Lord’s thoughts and teaching, of the whole cycle of imagery on which it rests. Here the opening words, “How think ye?” sharpen its personal application to the disciples, as an appeal to their own experience. Even in this shorter form the parable involves the claim on our Lord’s part to be the true Shepherd, and suggests the thought that the “ninety and nine” are (1) strictly, the unfallen creatures of God’s spiritual universe; and (2) relatively, those among men who are comparatively free from gross offences.

Matthew 18:12-14. How think ye — What do you think would be the conduct of a faithful shepherd? If a man have a hundred sheep, and but one of them wander from the rest, and go astray, doth he not leave the ninety and nine in their pasture or fold, and goeth into the mountains, with the most solicitous care and labour, and seeketh that which is gone astray — With persevering diligence? And if he find it — After long and painful seeking; he rejoiceth more over that sheep. — Which was in such danger of being finally lost; than over the ninety and nine which remained in safety. Thus does our Lord display the unspeakable love of our heavenly Father to the souls of men, and the immense care which he takes, of them. He therefore adds, It is not the will of your Father, &c., that one of these little ones should perish — He loves them certainly infinitely better than the shepherd loves his sheep, and therefore will not fail to watch over them in order to their preservation: and will judge all those that would deter, or drive away from his duty, the meanest believer. Observe, reader, the gradation: the angels, the Son, the Father!18:7-14 Considering the cunning and malice of Satan, and the weakness and depravity of men's hearts, it is not possible but that there should be offences. God permits them for wise and holy ends, that those who are sincere, and those who are not, may be made known. Being told before, that there will be seducers, tempters, persecutors, and bad examples, let us stand on our guard. We must, as far as lawfully we may, part with what we cannot keep without being entangled by it in sin. The outward occasions of sin must be avoided. If we live after the flesh, we must die. If we, through the Spirit, mortify the deeds of the body, we shall live. Christ came into the world to save souls, and he will reckon severely with those who hinder the progress of others who are setting their faces heavenward. And shall any of us refuse attention to those whom the Son of God came to seek and to save? A father takes care of all his children, but is particularly tender of the little ones.To show still further the reason why we should not despise Christians, he introduced a parable showing the joy felt when a thing lost is found. A shepherd rejoices over the recovery of one of his flock that had wandered more than over all that remained; so God rejoices that man is restored: so he seeks his salvation, and wills that not one thus found should perish. If God thus loves and preserves the redeemed, then surely man should not despise them. See this passage further explained in Luke 15:4-10. 12, 13. How think ye? If a man have an hundred sheep, and one of them be gone astray, &c.—This is another of those pregnant sayings which our Lord uttered more than once. See on the delightful parable of the lost sheep in Lu 15:4-7. Only the object there is to show what the good Shepherd will do, when even one of His sheep is lost, to find it; here the object is to show, when found, how reluctant He is to lose it. Accordingly, it is added, See Poole on "Matthew 18:14". How think ye,.... Or, as the Arabic, "what do you think?" what is your opinion of this matter? what is your sense of it? how does it appear to you? It is a Talmudic way of speaking, the same with "what do you think?" what is your judgment? So the Rabbins, after they have discussed a point among themselves, ask (k), , "what is our opinion?" or what do we think upon the whole? Christ here appeals to his disciples, makes them judges themselves in this matter, and illustrates it by a familiar instance of a man's seeking and finding his lost sheep, and rejoicing at it.

If a man have an hundred sheep; who is the proprietor of them; not the hireling, who has them under his care, and whose the sheep are not; but the owner of them, to whom they belong, and who must be thought to be most concerned for anyone of them that should go astray: a hundred sheep seem to be the number of a flock; at least flocks of sheep used to be divided into hundreds. In a Maronite's will, a field is thus bequeathed (l);

"the north part of it to such an one, and with it , "a hundred sheep", and a hundred vessels; and the south part of it to such an one, and with it , "a hundred sheep", and a hundred vessels; and he died, and the wise men confirmed his words, or his will.''

Such a supposition, or putting such a case as this, is very proper and pertinent.

And one of them be gone astray; which sheep are very prone to; see Psalm 119:176;

doth he not leave the ninety and nine, which are not gone astray, in the place where they are; it is usual so to do:

and goeth into the mountains; alluding to the mountains of Israel, where were pastures for sheep, Ezekiel 34:13 and whither sheep are apt to wander, and go from mountain to mountain, Jeremiah 50:6, and therefore these were proper places to go after them, and seek for them in: but the Vulgate Latin version joins the words "in" or "on the mountains", to the preceding clause, and reads,

doth he not leave the ninety and nine in the mountains; and so read all the Oriental versions, Syriac, Arabic, Ethiopic, and Persic; and in the same manner Theophylact;

and seeketh that which is gone astray? This is usual with men: no man that has a flock of sheep, and though but one strays from it, but takes this method. This parable now may be considered, either as an illustration of the Son of man's coming into this world, to seek, and to save his lost sheep, mentioned in the preceding verse; even the lost sheep of the house of Israel, the little ones that believed in him, who were despised by the Jews. And then by the "ninety and nine", we are not to understand the angels; who never went astray, never sinned, but kept their first estate, whom Christ left in the highest heavens, on the holy mountains of eternity, when he became incarnate, and came down on earth to redeem mankind: for these never go by the name of sheep; nor are they of the same nature and kind with the one that strays, and is sought out; nor is their number, with respect to men, as ninety nine to one; at least it cannot be ascertained; nor were they left by Christ, when he came on earth; for a multitude descended at his birth, and sung glory to God. Nor are the saints in heaven intended, whose state is safe; since it cannot be said of them, as in the following verse, that they went not astray; for they went astray like lost sheep, as others, and were looked up, sought out, and saved by Christ as others; but rather, by them, are meant the body of the Jewish nation, the far greater part of them, the Scribes and Pharisees, who rejected the Messiah, and despised those that believed in him: these were in sheep's clothing, of the flock of the house of Israel, of the Jewish fold; and with respect to the remnant among them, according to the election of grace, were as ninety nine to one: these were left by Christ, and taken no notice of by him, in comparison of the little ones, the lost sheep of the house of Israel he came to save: these he left on the mountains, on the barren pastures of Mount Sinai, feeding on their own works and services; or rather, he went into the mountains, or came leaping and skipping over them, Sol 2:8, encountering with, and surmounting all difficulties that lay in the way of the salvation of his people; such as appearing in the likeness of sinful flesh, bearing, and carrying the griefs and sorrows of his people, obeying the law, satisfying justice, bearing their sins, and undergoing an accursed death, in order to obtain the salvation of his chosen ones, designed by the one sheep "that was gone astray"; who strayed from God, from his law, the rule of their walk, out of his way, into the ways of sin, which are of their own choosing and approving: or, the intention of this parable is, to set forth the great regard God has to persons ever so mean, that believe in Christ, whom he would not have stumbled and offended, and takes special care of them, that they shall not perish; even as the proprietor of a flock of sheep is more concerned for one straying one, than for the other ninety nine that remain.

(k) T. Bab. Sanhedrim, fol. 88. 2.((l) T. Bab. Bava Bathra, fol. 156. 2.

How think ye? if a man have an hundred sheep, and one of them be gone astray, doth he not leave the ninety and nine, and goeth into the mountains, and seeketh that which is gone astray?
Matthew 18:12-14. Parable of straying sheep (Luke 15:4-7); may seem less appropriate here than in Lk., but has even here a good setting, amounting to a climax = God cares not only for the lowly and little but even for the low—the morally erring. In both places the parable teaches the precious characteristically Christian doctrine of the worth of the individual at the worst to God.12. This parable is followed in Luke by the parable of the Lost Drachma and that of the Prodigal Son which illustrate and amplify the same thought.

doth he not leave the ninety and nine] St Luke adds “in the wilderness.”Matthew 18:12. Τί ὑμῖν δοκεῖ, κ.τ.λ., what think ye? etc.) A gracious instance of Communicatio.[814]—ἑκατὸν, an hundred) Otherwise the loss of one out of so great a number would be easier.[815]—ἕν, one) The roundness of the number would be broken, and the exact hundred diminished, by the loss even of one.—ἀφεὶς, leaving) It is the business of shepherds to give their first care to wandering sheep, as distinguished from those which are in the right way.—ἐπὶ τὰ ὄρη, into the mountains) even with great toil, into solitary places. The discourse appears to have been delivered on the shore of the lake of Gennesareth.[816]

[814] “A figure in rhetoric, whereby the orator consults the audience what they would do in such a case.”—Ainsworth. It is used in this sense by Cicero. See also explanation of technical terms in Appendix.—(I. B.)

[815] i.e. If it were not a round number.—(I. B.)

[816] Which was surrounded by mountains—(I. B.)Verse 12. - The parable that follows teaches the same lesson as the preceding verse. It is found in Luke 15:1-7, with some variations, delivered to a different audience and under different circumstances, as Jesus often repeated his instructions and teaching according to the occasion. How think ye? What say ye to the following case? Thus the Lord engages the disciples' attention. An hundred sheep. A round number, representing a considerable flock. If but one of these stray, the good Shepherd regards only the danger and possible destruction of this wanderer, and puts aside every other care in order to secure its safety. The ninety and nine. These must be left for a time, if he is to conduct the search in person. It may he that some idea of probation is here intended, as when Jesus let the disciples embark on the lake while he himself remained on the shore. Many of the Fathers interpret the ninety-nine as representing the sinless angels, the lost sheep as man, to seek and save whom Christ left heaven, i.e. became incarnate. This, indeed, may be a legitimate application of the parable, but is inexact as an exposition of the passage, which regards the whole flock as figuring the human race. The sheep that remained safe and true to their Master are the righteous; the errant are the sinners, which, however few, are the special care of the merciful Lord. Into the mountains (ἐπὶ τὰ ὔρη). There is much doubt whether these words are to be joined with goeth (πορευθεὶς), as in both our versions, or with leave (ἀφεὶς), as in the Vulgate, Nonne relinquit nonaginta novem in montibus? In the former case we have a picture of the toil of the shepherd traversing the mountains in search of the lost. But this does not seem to be the particular point contemplated, nor is any special emphasis assigned to this part of the transaction. In the parable as recounted by St. Luke (Luke 15:4), we read, "Doth he not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go?" So here it is best to render, Doth he not leave the ninety and nine upon the mountains? The shepherd is not regardless of the safety and comfort of the flock during his temporary absence; he leaves them where they are sure to find pasture, as they roam over (ἐπὶ with accusative) the hill tops, which, catching clouds and dew, are never without fresh grass. So Psalm 147:8, "Who covereth the heaven with clouds, who prepareth rain for the earth, who maketh grass to grow upon the mountains." Seeketh. The lost sheep would not return of itself. Such erring souls Jesus seeks by the inspiration of his Spirit, by allowing distress and sorrow, by awakening conscience and memory, by ways manifold which may lead the sinner to "come to himself." Leave upon the mountains

The text here is disputed. Both A. V. and Rev. follow a text which reads: "Doth he not, leaving the ninety and nine, go into the mountains?" Rather join leave with on the mountains, and read, "Will he not leave the ninety and nine upon (ἐκπὶ, scattered over) the mountains, and go," etc. This also corresponds with ἀφήσει, leaving, letting out, or letting loose.

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