Matthew 20:6
And about the eleventh hour he went out, and found others standing idle, and saith unto them, Why stand ye here all the day idle?
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(6) About the eleventh hour.—The working day, which did not commonly extend beyond twelve hours (John 11:9), was all but over, and yet there was still work to be done in the vineyard, all the more urgent because of the lateness of the hour. The labourers who had been first hired were not enough. Is there not an implied suggestion that they were not labouring as zealously as they might have done? They were working on their contract for the day’s wages. Those who were called last of all had the joy of feeling that their day was not lost; and that joy and their faith in the justice of their employer gave a fresh energy to their toil.

Matthew 20:6-7. And about the eleventh hour — About five in the afternoon; he went and found others standing idle — Others are hired into the vineyard in old age, when the day of life is almost wholly spent, and there is but one hour of the twelve remaining. “None are hired at the twelfth hour: when life is done, opportunity is done; but while there is life, there is hope. There is hope for old sinners; for, if in sincerity they turn to God, they shall doubtless be accepted: true repentance is never too late. And, 2d, There is hope of old sinners, that they may be brought to repentance. Nothing is too hard for Almighty grace to do, that can change the Ethiop’s skin and the leopard’s spots. A man may be born again when he is old; and the old man which is corrupt may be put off. Yet let none, upon this presumption, put off their repentance till they are old. These were sent into the vineyard, it is true, at the eleventh hour; but nobody had hired them, or offered to hire them before. The Gentiles came in at the eleventh hour, but it was because the gospel had not been preached to them. Those that have had gospel offers made them at the third and sixth hour, and have resisted and refused them, will not have that to say for themselves, at the eleventh hour, which these had, No man hath hired us: nor can they be sure that any man will hire them at the ninth or eleventh hour. And therefore, not to discourage any, but to awaken all, be it remembered, that now is the accepted time, now is the day of salvation: and, if we will hear his voice, it must be today.” — Henry.

20:1-16 The direct object of this parable seems to be, to show that though the Jews were first called into the vineyard, at length the gospel should be preached to the Gentiles, and they should be admitted to equal privileges and advantages with the Jews. The parable may also be applied more generally, and shows, 1. That God is debtor to no man. 2. That many who begin last, and promise little in religion, sometimes, by the blessing of God, arrive at a great deal of knowledge, grace, and usefulness. 3. That the recompense of reward will be given to the saints, but not according to the time of their conversion. It describes the state of the visible church, and explains the declaration that the last shall be first, and the first last, in its various references. Till we are hired into the service of God, we are standing all the day idle: a sinful state, though a state of drudgery to Satan, may be called a state of idleness. The market-place is the world, and from that we are called by the gospel. Come, come from this market-place. Work for God will not admit of trifling. A man may go idle to hell, but he that will go to heaven, must be diligent. The Roman penny was sevenpence halfpenny in our money, wages then enough for the day's support. This does not prove that the reward of our obedience to God is of works, or of debt; when we have done all, we are unprofitable servants; but it signifies that there is a reward set before us, yet let none, upon this presumption, put off repentance till they are old. Some were sent into the vineyard at the eleventh hour; but nobody had hired them before. The Gentiles came in at the eleventh hour; the gospel had not been before preached to them. Those that have had gospel offers made them at the third or sixth hour, and have refused them, will not have to say at the eleventh hour, as these had, No man has hired us. Therefore, not to discourage any, but to awaken all, be it remembered, that now is the accepted time. The riches of Divine grace are loudly murmured at, among proud Pharisees and nominal Christians. There is great proneness in us to think that we have too little, and others too much of the tokens of God's favour; and that we do too much, and others too little in the work of God. But if God gives grace to others, it is kindness to them, and no injustice to us. Carnal worldlings agree with God for their penny in this world; and choose their portion in this life. Obedient believers agree with God for their penny in the other world, and must remember they have so agreed. Didst not thou agree to take up with heaven as thy portion, thy all; wilt thou seek for happiness in the creature? God punishes none more than they deserve, and recompenses every service done for him; he therefore does no wrong to any, by showing extraordinary grace to some. See here the nature of envy. It is an evil eye, which is displeased at the good of others, and desires their hurt. It is a grief to ourselves, displeasing to God, and hurtful to our neighbours: it is a sin that has neither pleasure, profit, nor honour. Let us forego every proud claim, and seek for salvation as a free gift. Let us never envy or grudge, but rejoice and praise God for his mercy to others as well as to ourselves.The eleventh hour - About five o'clock in the afternoon, or when there was but one working hour of the day left. 6. And about the eleventh hour—but one hour before the close of the working day; a most unusual hour both for offering and engaging

and found others standing idle, and saith, Why stand ye here all the day idle?—Of course they had not been there, or not been disposed to offer themselves at the proper time; but as they were now willing, and the day was not over, and "yet there was room," they also are engaged, and on similar terms with all the rest.

See Poole on "Matthew 20:16".

And about the eleventh hour he went out,.... About five o'clock in the afternoon. The Persic version reads it, "the twelfth hour", which was six o'clock in the afternoon, the last hour of the day. The Jews divided their day into twelve hours, John 11:9 and these twelve hours into four parts; Nehemiah 9:3 each part containing three hours, to which division there is a manifest respect in this parable. These different seasons of the husbandman's going out to hire labourers, may have regard either to the several periods of time, and ages of the world, as before the law, under the law, the times of the Messiah, and the last days; or the various dispensations of the Gospel, first by Christ, and John the Baptist to the Jews, then by the apostles to the same in their first mission, afterwards when their commission was renewed, first to the Jews in Judea, and then to the same among the nations of the world, and last of all to the Gentiles; or to the several stages of human life, and may regard Christ's call of persons in childhood, youth, manhood, and old age; which last may be signified by the eleventh hour, as also the Gentiles, and the remainder of God's elect in the last day:

and found others standing idle; in the same place and position as before: for the state and condition of God's elect, by nature, as it is the same with others, it is the same with them all. The word "idle" is omitted here by the Vulgate Latin, the Arabic, and Ethiopic versions, and in Munster's Hebrew Gospel; but is retained in the Syriac and Persic versions; and stands in the Greek copies:

and saith unto them, why stand ye here all the day idle? for being about the eleventh hour, the day was far spent, it was almost gone, a small portion of it remained, but one hour, as appears from Matthew 20:12.

And about the {b} eleventh hour he went out, and found others standing idle, and saith unto them, Why stand ye here all the day idle?

(b) The last hour: for the day was twelve hours long, and the first hour began at sunrise.

Matthew 20:6. περὶ δὲ τὴν ἑνδεκ.: the δὲ marks this final procedure as noteworthy. We begin to wonder at all this hiring, when we see it going on even at the last hour. Is the master a humorist hiring out of benevolence rather than from regard to the exigencies of the work? Some have thought so (Olshausen, Goebel, Koetsveld), and there seems good ground for the suggestion, though even this unusual procedure may be made to appear probable by conceiving the master as anxious to finish the work on hand that day, in which case even an hour’s work from a sufficient number of willing hands may be of value.—τί ὧδε ἑστήκατε, etc., why stand ye here (ἑστήκ., perfect active, neuter in sense, and used as a present) all the day idle? The question answers itself: no man would stand all the day in the market-place idle unless because he wanted work and could not get it.

6. the eleventh hour] The various hours may be referred in the first instance to the call of a Paul, a Barnabas, or a Timothy, who adopted the Cause later than the Twelve. In a secondary and less immediate sense they seem to indicate the successive periods at which the various nations were admitted to the Church of Christ. Was it unjust that European nations should have equal privileges with the Jews in the Church of Christ, or that Paul should be equal to Peter?

Matthew 20:6. Τὴν ἑνδεκάτην, the eleventh) The article is emphatic, as it does not occur in the case of the ninth, sixth, or even third hour.—ὃλην τὴν ἡμέραν, all the day) They could not offer themselves for hire elsewhere.

Verse 6. - The eleventh hour; the hour before sunset, say about 5 p.m., leaving only one hour for work, when it would be most unusual to engage labourers. Idle. The word is omitted in some manuscripts. There is some reproach in the master's question. Where were they earlier in the day, when he was hiring labourers for his vineyard? Why were they not in the marketplace, like their comrades, looking out for employment? Such questions, like many, others in the parable, are left unanswered. We see from the universal use of the term, "the eleventh hour," to express the close of the day of grace, how widely has prevailed the interpretation of the parable which applies it to the various stages of the life of the individual. (See on this below.) Matthew 20:6
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