And when he saw a fig tree in the way, he came to it, and found nothing thereon, but leaves only, and said to it, Let no fruit grow on you henceforward for ever. And presently the fig tree withered away.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)In the way.—Better, on the road. Fig-trees were often planted by the road-side under the notion that dust suited them.
He came to it.—St. Mark adds, what St. Matthew indeed implies, that He came, if “haply He might find anything thereon.” The fig-tree in Palestine bears two or three crops a year. Josephus, indeed, says that fruit might be found on the trees in Judæa for ten months out of the twelve. Commonly at the beginning of April the trees that still grow out of the rocks between Bethany and Jerusalem are bare both of leaves and fruit, and so probably it was now with all but the single tree which attracted our Lord’s notice. It was in full foliage, and being so far in advance of its fellows it might not unnaturally have been expected to have had, in the first week of April, the “first ripe fruit” (Hosea 9:10), which usually was gathered in May. So, in Song Song of Solomon 2:13, the appearance of the “green figs” coincides with that of the flowers of spring, and the time of the singing of birds. The illustrations from the branches and leaves of the fig-tree in Luke 21:29-30, suggest that the season was a somewhat forward one. On the special difficulty connected with St. Mark’s statement, “the time of figs was not yet,” see Note on Mark 11:13.
Let no fruit grow on thee henceforward for ever.—From the lips of one of like passions with ourselves, the words might seem the utterance of impatient disappointment. Here they assume the character of a solemn judgment passed not so much on the tree as on that of which it became the representative. The Jews, in their show of the “leaves” of outward devotion, in the absence of the “fruits” of righteousness, were as that barren tree. But a few weeks before (Luke 13:6) He had taken the fig-tree to which “a man came seeking fruit and finding none,” as a parable of the state of Israel. Then the sentence, “Cut it down,” had been delayed, as in the hope of a possible amendment. Now, what He saw flashed upon Him in a moment (if we may so speak) as the parable embodied. The disappointment of the expectations which He had formed in His human craving for food was like the disappointment of the owner of the fig-tree in the parable. The sentence which He now passed on the tree, and its immediate fulfilment, were symbols of the sentence and the doom which were about to fall on the unrepentant and unbelieving people.
Presently.—The word is used in its older sense of “immediately.” As with nearly all such words—“anon,” “by and by,” and the like—man’s tendency to delay has lowered its meaning, and it now suggests the thought.
It was therefore common property and anyone might lawfully use its fruit. Mark says Mark 11:13, "Seeing a fig-tree afar off, having leaves, he came," etc. Not far off "from the road," but at a considerable distance from the place where he was. Having loaves, and appearing healthy and luxuriant, they presumed that there would be fruit on it. Mark says Mark 11:13, "he came, if haply he might find anything thereon." That is, judging from the "appearance" of the tree, it was "probable" that there would be fruit on it. We are not to suppose that our Lord was ignorant of the true condition of the tree, but he acted according to the appearance of things; being a man as well as divine, he acted, of course, as people do act in such circumstances.
And found nothing thereon but leaves only - Mark Mar 11:13 gives as a reason for this that "the time of figs was not yet." That is, the time "of gathering" the figs was not yet, or had not passed. It was a time when figs were ripe or suitable to eat, or he would not have gone to it, expecting to find them; but the time of gathering them had not passed, and it was to be presumed that they were still on the tree. This took place on the week of the Passover, or in the beginning of April. Figs, in Palestine, are commonly ripe at the Passover. The summer in Palestine begins in March, and it is no uncommon thing that figs should be eatable in April. It is said that they sometimes produce fruit the year round.
Mark Mar 11:12-13 says that this took place on the morning of the day on which he purified the temple. Matthew would lead us to suppose that it was on the day following. Matthew records briefly what Mark records more "fully." Matthew states the fact that the fig-tree was barren and withered away, without regarding minutely the order or the circumstances in which the event took place. There is no contradiction, because Matthew does not affirm that this took place on the morning after the temple was cleansed, though he places it in that order; nor does he say that a day did not elapse after the fig-tree was cursed before the disciples discovered that it was withered, though he does not affirm that it was so. Such circumstantial variations, where there is no positive contradiction, go greatly to confirm the truth of a narrative. They show that the writers were honest men, and did not "conspire" to deceive the world.
And said unto it, Let no fruit grow on thee ... - Mark calls this "cursing" the tree Mark 11:21. The word "curse," as used by him, does not imply "anger," or disappointment, or malice. It means only "devoting it to destruction," or causing it to wither away. All the "curse" that was pronounced was in the words "that no fruit should grow on it." The Jews used the word "curse" not as always implying "wrath or anger," but to devote to "death," or to any kind of destruction, Hebrews 6:8. It has been commonly thought that the Saviour performed this miracle to denote the sudden "withering away" or destruction of the Jewish people. They, like the fig-tree, promised fair. That was full of leaves, and they full of professions. Yet both were equally barren; and as that was destroyed, so they were soon to be. It was certain that this would be a good "illustration" of the destruction of the Jewish people, but there is no evidence that Jesus intended it as such, and without such evidence we have no right to say that was its meaning. "And presently the fig-tree withered away." That is, before another day. See Mark. It is probable that they were passing directly onward, and did not stop then to consider it. Matthew does not affirm that it withered "away in their presence," and Mark affirms that they made the discovery on the morning after it was "cursed."
For the exposition, see on Lu 19:45-48; and Mr 11:12-26.See Poole on "Matthew 21:22".
and found nothing thereon but leaves only: Mark says, "he came, if haply he might find anything thereon"; which must be understood of him as man; for as he hungered as man, so he judged and expected as man, from the appearance of this fig tree, that he might find fruit upon it; and which is no contradiction to his deity, and his having the Spirit of God, as the Jew (t) objects; and especially since, as Bishop Kidder (u) observes, such an expectation is attributed to God himself, in Isaiah 5:2 and it may be added, and with regard to that people, of which this fig tree was an emblem, and designed by Christ to be considered as such in what he did to it. The same evangelist further observes, "and when he came to it, he found nothing but leaves, for the time of figs was not yet". The word "yet" is not in the original text; which last clause is a reason, either why he found no fruit, or nothing but leaves upon it, because it was not a time, or season of figs: it was not a good fig year, so Dr. Hammond interprets it; and yet though it was not, since this tree was so very flourishing, fruit might have been expected on it: and also, it furnishes out a reason why Christ took so much pains to go to it, seeing there were very few figs to be had elsewhere, and this bid very fair to supply him with some in this time of scarcity: or else, as a reason why, besides its promising appearance, he expected fruit upon it, because the time of figs, that is, of the gathering of the figs, was not come: in which sense the phrase is used in Matthew 21:34; and is Bishop Kidder's interpretation of the passage: and since therefore the time was not come for the ingathering of the figs, none had been taken off of it, the more might be expected on it. This sense would be very probable, did it appear that figs were usually ripe about this time; but the contrary seems manifest, both from Scripture, which represents the fig tree putting forth its leaves, as a sign the summer is nigh, Matthew 24:32 and from the Talmudists, who say (w), that the beginning of leaves, or putting forth of the leaves of trees, is in the month Nisan, the month in which the passover was kept, and so the then present time of the year; and who, from this time, reckon three times fifty days, or five full months before the figs are ripe (x): so that these words are rather a reason why Christ did not expect to find figs on other trees, which he saw in great abundance as he passed along, because the time of common, ordinary figs being ripe, was not come; and why he particularly expected to find some on this tree, because it being full of leaves, appeared to be of a different kind from other fig trees: and was either of that sort which they call , "Benoth Shuach", as Dr. Lightfoot conjectures which were a kind of white figs that were not ripe till the third year (y). This tree put forth its fruit the first year, which hung on it the second, and were brought to perfection on the third: so that when it was three years old, it had fruit of the first, second, and third year on it: this being such a tree, by its being full of leaves, when others had none, or were just putting out, fruit, of one year, or more might have been expected on it, when it had none at all, and therefore was cursed: or it might be one of that sort which brought forth fruit twice a year; for of such sort of fig trees we read in the Jewish writings (z): and therefore though it was not the time of the common figs being ripe, yet this being one of the seasons, in which this tree bore ripe fruit, and being so very flourishing, might reasonably be expected from it: but there being none,
he said unto it, let no fruit grow on thee henceforward for ever; or, as it is expressed in Mark, "no man eat fruit of thee hereafter for ever": for if none grew on it henceforward, no man could hereafter eat of it. Both expressions design the same thing, the perpetual barrenness of the fig tree:
and presently the fig tree withered away: immediately, upon Christ's saying these words, its sap was dried up, it lost its verdure; its leaves were shrivelled and shrunk up, and dropped off, and the whole was blasted. This tree was an emblem of the Jews: Christ being hungry, and very desirous of the salvation of men, came first to them, from whom, on account of their large profession of religion, and great pretensions to holiness, and the many advantages they enjoyed, humanly speaking, much fruit of righteousness might have been expected; but, alas! he found nothing but mere words, empty boasts, an outward show of religion, an external profession, and a bare performance of trifling ceremonies, and oral traditions; wherefore Christ rejected them, and in a little time after, the kingdom of God, the Gospel, was taken away from them, and their temple, city, and nation, entirely destroyed.
(t) R. Isaac, Chizzuk Emuna, par. 2. c. 30. p. 421. (u) Demonstration of the Messiah, par. 2. p. 38. (w) Jarchi & Bartenora in Misn. Sheviith, c. 4. sect. 10. (x) T. Hieros. Sheviith, fol. 35. 4. (y) Misn. Sheviith, c. 5. sect. 1. & Demai, c. 1. sect. 1. & Maimon. & Bartenora in ib. (z) Misn. Demai, c. 1. sect. 1. & Maimon. in ib. T. Bab. Erubin, fol. 18. 1.And when he saw a fig tree in the way, he came to it, and found nothing thereon, but leaves only, and said unto it, Let no fruit grow on thee henceforward for ever. And presently the fig tree withered away.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)Matthew 21:19. Comp. Mark 11:19 ff. Μίαν] “unam illo loco,” Bengel.
ἐπὶ τῆς ὁδοῦ] The tree, which was by the side of the public road (not on private property), stood above the road, either projecting over it merely, or occupying an eminence close to it, or the road itself may have been in a ravine. It was a favourite practice to plant fig-trees by the roadside, because it was thought that the dust, by absorbing the exuding sap, was conducive to the better growth of the fruit, Plin. N. H. xv. 19.
ἦλθεν ἐπʼ αὐτήν] not: conscendit arborem (Fritzsche), but: He went up to it. From seeing the tree in foliage, Jesus expected, of course (for it was well known that the fig-tree put forth its fruit before coming into leaf), to find fruit upon it as well, namely, the early boccôre, which, as a rule, did not ripen till June, and not the harvest-figs, Kermuse, that had been on the tree all winter, and the existence of which He could not infer from seeing leaves. Comp. Tobler, Denkbl. aus Jerus. p. 101 ff. On the disappointed expectation of Jesus, Bengel observes: “maxima humanitatis et deitatis indicia uno tempore edere solitus est.” It is a perversion of the text to say, with Chrysostom, Euthymius Zigabenus, that He did not expect to find fruit upon the tree, but went up to it merely for the purpose of working the miracle. Moreover, the hunger is alleged to have been only a σχηματίζεσθαι (Euthymius Zigabenus), or an esuries sponte excitata (Cornelius a Lapide). The account of the withering of the tree, contained in Mark 11:12 ff., Mark 11:19 f., is more precise and more original (in answer to Köstlin, Hilgenfeld, Keim). Matthew abridges.Matthew 21:19. συκῆν μίαν: εἶς in late Greek was often used for τις, but the meaning here probably is that Jesus looking around saw a solitary fig tree.—ἐπὶ τῆς ὁδοῦ, by the wayside, not necessarily above (Meyer).—ἦλθεν ἐπʼ αὐτήν, came close to it, not climbed it (Fritzsche).—εἰ μὴ φύλλα: leaves only, no fruit. Jesus expected to find fruit. Perhaps judging from Galilean experience, where by the lake-shore the fig time was ten months long (Joseph., Bell. J., iii. 108. Vide Holtz., H. C.), but vide on Mark 11:13.—οὐ μηκέτι, etc.: according to some writers this was a prediction based on the observation that the tree was diseased, put in the form of a doom. So Bleek, and Furrer who remarks: “Then said He, who knew nature and the human heart, ‘This tree will soon wither’; for a fig tree with full leaf in early spring without fruit is a diseased tree” (Wanderungen. p. 172).—καὶ ἐξ. παραχρῆμα, cf. Mk.’s account.Matthew 21:19. Συκῆν μίαν, a certain fig-tree) the only one in that place.—ἦλθεν, He came) sc. as the road led by it. The fig-tree appears to have stood in a place of public resort. Our Lord’s partaking of refreshment in public is illustrated also by John 4:6-7. [i.e. at Jacob’s Well. See Gnomon in loc.]—ἐπʼ αὐτὴν, near to it)—λέγει, κ.τ.λ., says, etc.) By that very act He meets the difficulty which some might have otherwise experienced from astonishment at the Lord’s being hungry, and coming to a tree without fruit. He was wont to display at the same time the greatest proofs of both His manhood and His Godhead; see John 11:35; John 11:40.—μηκέτι ἐκ σοῦ καρπὸς γένηται εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα, let no fruit grow on thee henceforward for ever) The Old Testament contains many miracles of vengeance: the evangelical history, at its close, this almost alone; cf. Gnomon on ch. Matthew 8:32.—καρπὸς, fruit) And therefore it was not to receive any more sap in vain. Such was the punishment of the Jews; see Luke 13:6. This is an example of what malediction is.—ἐξηράνθη, was dried up) Its outward appearance was changed; its leaves shrivelled, or even fell off.
 εἰ μὴ φύλλα μόνον) It is better to exhibit and produce nothing at all, than merely leaves. Reflect, O man, what kind of a tree thou art.—V. g.
 Viz. That as God He should be hungry at all, or if hungry, that He should not create fruit.—ED.
 Such instances, for example, were:—The humble condition of His nativity, on the one hand; the testimony of the angels, on the other:
His circumcision, and yet His receiving the name Jesus (expressive of God-head and salvation):
His purification, and yet at the same time the Hymns of Simeon and Anna:
His dwelling at despised Nazareth, and yet His thereby fulfilling the prophecy:
His obedience to His parents, and yet the specimen of noble gravity exhibited in a boy twelve years old:
His baptism; and, on the other hand, the protest of John, the very becoming reply of Jesus, the Voice from heaven, the Spirit of GOD descending on Him:
The Hunger and Temptation; and, on the other hand, the ministry of angels:
His informing them of His approaching Passion, followed however by His
Transfiguration on the Mount:
His paying the tribute-money at Capernaum, and yet His declaration as to the Son’s being free, His miracle in the case of the fish and the coin:
His washing the feet, yet declaring Himself Master and Lord:
His being taken prisoner, yet declaring I am He!
His Cross, yet the royal inscription over it:
His death and burial, yet the miracles, accompanied with the testimony of the centurion.—Harm. Gosp., p. 455.Verse 19. - When he saw a (μίαν, a single) fig tree in the way. The tree stood all alone in a conspicuous situation by the roadside, as if courting observation. It was allowable to pluck and eat fruit in an orchard (Deuteronomy 23:24, 25); but this tree, placed where it was, seemed to be common property, belonging to no private owner. The sight of the leaves thereon, as St. Mark tells us, attracted the notice of Christ, who beheld with pleasure the prospect of relieving his long abstinence with the refreshment of cool and juicy fruit. He came to it. Knowing the nature of the tree, and that under some circumstances the fruit ripens before the leaves are fully out, Jesus naturally expected to find on it some figs fit to eat. Further, besides the fruit which comes to maturity in the usual way during the summer, there are often late figs produced in autumn which hang on the tree during winter, and ripen at the reawakening of vegetation in the spring. The vigour of this particular tree was apparently proved by the luxuriance of its foliage, and it might reasonably be expected to retain some of its winter produce. Found nothing thereon, but leaves only. It was all outward show, promise without performance, seeming precocity with no adequate results. There is no question here of Christ's omniscience being at fault. He acted as a man would act; he was not deceived himself nor did he deceive the apostles, though they at first misapprehended his purpose. The whole action was symbolical, and was meant so to appear. In strict propriety of conduct, as a man led by the appearance of the tree might act, he carried out the figure, at the same time showing, by his treatment of this inanimate object, that he had something higher in view, and that he does not mean that which his outward conduct seemed to imply. He is enacting a parable where all the parts are in due keeping, and all have their twofold signification in the world of nature and the world of grace. The hunger is real, the tree is real, the expectation of fruit legitimate, the barrenness disappointing and criminal; the spiritual side, however, is left to be inferred, and, as we shall see, only one of many possible lessons is drawn from the result of the incident. Let no fruit grow on thee (let there be no fruit from thee) henceforward forever. Such is the sentence passed on this ostentations tree. Christ addresses it as if replying to the profession made by its show of leaves. It had the sap of life, it had power to produce luxuriant leaves; therefore it might and ought to have borne fruit. It vaunted itself as being superior to its neighbours, and the boast was utterly empty. Presently (παραχρῆμα) the fig tree withered away. The process was doubtless gradual, commencing at Christ's word, and continuing till the tree died; but St. Matthew completes the account at once, giving in one picture the event, with its surroundings and results. It was a moral necessity that what had incurred Christ's censure should perish; the spiritual controlled the material; the higher overbore the lower. Thus the designed teaching was placed in visible shape before the eyes, and silently uttered its important lesson. It has been remarked (by Neander) that we are not to suppose that the tree thus handled was previously altogether sound and healthy. Its show of leaves at an unusual period without fruit may point to some abnormal development of activity which was consequent upon some radical defect. Had it been in vigorous health, it would not have been a fitting symbol of the Jewish Church; nor would it have corresponded with the idea which Christ designed to bring to the notice of his apostles. There was already some process at work which would have issued in decay, and Christ's curse merely accelerated this natural result. This is considered to be the only instance in which our Lord exerted his miraculous power in destruction; all his other actions were beneficent, saving, gracious. The drowning of the swine at Gadara was only permitted for a wise purpose; it was not commanded or inflicted by him. The whole transaction in our text is mysterious. That the Son of man should show wrath against a senseless tree, as tree, is, of course, not conceivable. Them was an apparent unfitness, if not injustice, in the proceeding, which at once demonstrated that the tree was not the real object of the action - that something more important was in view. Christ does not treat trees as moral agents, responsible for life and action. He uses inanimate objects to convey lessons to men, dealing with them according to his good pleasure, even his supreme will, which is the law by which they are controlled. In themselves they have no fault and incur no punishment, but they are treated in such a way as to profit the nobler creatures of God's hand. There may have been two reasons for Christ's conduct which were not set prominently forward at the time. First, he desired to show his power, his absolute control, over material forces, so that, in what was about to happen to him, his apostles might be sure that he suffered not through weakness or compulsion, but because he willed to have it so. This would prepare his followers for his own and their coming trials. Then there was another great lesson taught by the sign. The fig tree is a symbol of the Jewish Church. The prophets had used both it. and the vine in this connection (comp. Hosea 9:10), and our Lord himself makes an unmistakable allusion in his parable of the fig tree planted in the vineyard, from which the owner for three years sought fruit in vain (Luke 13:6, etc.). Many of his subsequent discourses are, as it were, commentaries upon this incident (see vers. 28-44; Matthew 22:1-14; Matthew 23-25.). Here was a parable enacted. The Saviour had seen this tree, the Jewish Church, afar off, looking down upon it from heaven; it was one, single, standing conspicuous among all nations as that whereon the Lord had lavished most care, that which ought to have shown the effect of this culture in abundant produce of holiness and righteousness. But what was the result? Boasting to be children of Abraham, the special heritage of Jehovah, gifted with highest privileges, the sole possessors of the knowledge of God, the Israelites professed to have what no other people had, and were in reality empty and bare. There was plenty of outward show - rites, ceremonies, scrupulous observances, much speaking - but no real devotion, no righteousness, no heart worship, no good works. Other nations, indeed, were equally fruitless, but they did not profess to be holy; they were sinners, and offered no cloak for their sinfulness. The Jews were no less unrighteous; but they were hypocrites, and boasted of the good which they had not. Other nations were unproductive, for their time had not come; but for Israel the season had arrived; she ought to have been the first to accept the Messiah, to unite the new with the old fruit, to pass from the Law to the gospel, and to learn and practise the lesson of faith. Perfect fruit was not yet to be expected; but Israel's sin was that she vaunted her perfection, counted herself sound and whole, while rotten at the very core, and barren of all good results. Her falsehood, hypocrisy, and arrogant complacency were fearfully punished. The terms of the curse pronounced by the Judge are very emphatic. It denounces perpetual barrenness on the Jewish Church and people. From Judaea was to have gone forth the healing of the nations; from it all peoples of the earth were to be blessed. The complete fulfilment of this promise is no longer in the literal Israel; she is nothing in the world; no one resorts to her for food and refreshment; she has none to offer the wayfarer. For eighteen centuries has that fruitlessness continued; the withered tree still stands, a monument of unbelief and its punishment. The Lord's sentence, "forever," must be understood with some limitation. In his parable of the fig tree, which adumbrates the last days, he intimates that it shall some day bud and blossom, and be clothed once more with leaf and fruit; and St. Paul looks forward to the conversion of Israel, when the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled (Romans 11:23-26).
Lit., one single fig-tree. Rev., in margin.
Presently, in popular speech, has acquired something of a future force. I will do such a thing presently means, I will do it, not immediately, but soon. The rendering here was correct in the older English sense of instantly. So constantly in Shakspeare:
"Prospero. Go, bring the rabble,
O'er whom I gave thee pow'r, here, to this place.
Pros. Ay, with a twink.
Ar. Before you can say 'come,' and 'go,'
And breathe twice; and cry 'so so;'
Each one tripping on his toe
Will be here."
Temptest, iv., 1.
Compare Matthew 21:20. "How did the fig-tree immediately wither away?" Rev.
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