Matthew 21:33
Hear another parable: There was a certain householder, which planted a vineyard, and hedged it round about, and digged a winepress in it, and built a tower, and let it out to husbandmen, and went into a far country:
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(33) Which planted a vineyard.—The frequent recurrence of this imagery at this period of our Lord’s ministry is significant. (Comp. Matthew 20:1; Matthew 21:28; Luke 13:6.) The parable that now meets us points in the very form of its opening to the great example of the use of that image in Isaiah 5:1. Taking the thought there suggested as the key to the parable, the vineyard is “the house of Israel;” the “fence” finds its counterpart in the institutions which made Israel a separate and peculiar people; the “wine-press” (better, wine-vati.e., the reservoir underneath the press), in the Temple, as that into which the “wine” of devotion, and thanksgiving, and charity was to flow; the “tower” (used in vineyards as a place of observation and defence against the attacks of plunderers; comp. Isaiah 1:8), in Jerusalem and the outward polity connected with it. So, in like manner, the letting out to husbandmen and the going “into a far country” answers historically to the conquest by which the Israelites became possessors of Canaan, and were left, as it were, to themselves to make what use they chose of their opportunities.



Matthew 21:33 - Matthew 21:46

This parable was apparently spoken on the Tuesday of the Passion Week. It was a day of hand-to-hand conflict with the Jewish authorities and of exhausting toil, as the bare enumeration of its incidents shows. It included all that Matthew records between Matthew 21:20 of this chapter and the end of the twenty-fifth chapter-the answer to the deputation from the Sanhedrin; the three parables occasioned by it, namely, those of the two sons, this one, and that of the marriage of the king’s son; the three answers to the traps of the Pharisees and Herodians about the tribute, of the Sadducees about the resurrection, and of the ruler about the chief commandment; Christ’s question to His questioners about the Son and Lord of David; the stern woes hurled at the unmasked hypocrites; to which must be added, from other gospels, the sweet eulogium on the widow’s mite, and the deep saying to the Greeks about the corn of wheat, with, possibly, the incident of the woman taken in adultery; and then, following all these, the solemn prophecies of the end contained in Matthew 24:1 - Matthew 24:51 and Matthew 25:1 - Matthew 25:46, spoken on the way to Bethany, as the evening shadows were falling. What a day! What a fountain of wisdom and love which poured out such streams! The pungent severity of this parable, with its transparent veil of narrative, is only appreciated by keeping clearly in view the circumstances and the listeners. They had struck at Jesus with their question as to His authority, and He parries the blow. Now it is His turn, and the sharp point goes home.

I. The first stage is the preparation of the vineyard, in which three steps are marked.

It is planted and furnished with all appliances needful for making wine, which is its great end. The direct divine origin of the religious ideas and observances of ‘Judaism’ is thus asserted by Christ. The only explanation of them is that God enclosed that bit of the wilderness, and with His own hands set growing there these exotics. Neither the theology nor the ritual is of man’s establishing. We need not seek for special meanings for wall, wine-press, and tower. They simply express the completeness of the equipment of the vineyard, as in Isaiah’s song, which lies at the foundation of the parable, and suggest his question, ‘What could have been done more?’ Thus furnished, the vineyard is next handed over to the husbandmen, who, in Matthew, are exclusively the rulers, while in Luke they are the people. No doubt it was ‘like people, like priest.’ The strange dominion of the Pharisees rested entirely on popular consent, and their temper accurately indexed that of the nation. The Sanhedrin was the chief object at which Christ aimed the parable. But it only gave form and voice to the national spirit, and ‘the people loved to have it so.’ National responsibilities are not to be slipped out of by being shifted on to the broad shoulders of governments or influential men. Who lets them be governments and influential?

‘Guv’ment ain’t to answer for it,

God will send the bill to you.’

Christ here teaches both rulers and ruled the ground and purpose of their privileges. They prided themselves on these as their own, but they were only tenants. They made their ‘boast of the law’; but they forgot that fruit was the end of the divine planting and equipment. Holiness and glad obedience were what God sought, and when He found them, He was refreshed as with ‘grapes in the wilderness.’

Having installed the husbandmen, the owner goes into another country. The cluster of miracles which inaugurate an epoch of revelation are not continued beyond its beginning. Centuries of comparative divine silence followed the planting of the vineyard. Having given us our charge, God, as it were, steps aside to leave us room to work as we will, and so to display what we are made of. He is absent in so far as conspicuous oversight and retribution are concerned. He is present to help, love, and bless. The faithful husbandman has Him always near, a joy and a strength, else no fruit would grow; but the sin and misery of the unfaithful are that they think of Him as far off.

II. Then comes the habitual ill-treatment of the messengers.

These are, of course, the prophets, whose office was not only to foretell, but to plead for obedience and trust, the fruits sought by God. The whole history of the nation is summed up in this dark picture. Generation after generation of princes, priests, and people had done the same thing. There is no more remarkable historical fact than that of the uniform hostility of the Jews to the prophets. That a nation of such a sort as always to hate and generally to murder them should have had them in long succession, throughout its history, is surely inexplicable on any naturalistic hypothesis. Such men were not the natural product of the race, nor of its circumstances, as their fate shows. How did they spring up? No ‘philosophy of Jewish history’ explains the anomaly except the one stated here,-’He sent His servants.’ We are told nowadays that the Jews had a natural genius for religion, just as the Greeks for art and thought, and the Romans for law and order, and that that explains the origin of the prophets. Does it explain their treatment?

The hostility of the husbandmen grows with indulgence. From beating they go on to killing, and stoning is a specially savage form of killing. The opposition which began, as the former parable tells us, with polite hypocrisy and lip obedience, changed, under the stimulus of prophetic appeals, to honest refusal, and from that to violence which did not hesitate to slay. The more God pleads with men, the more self-conscious and bitter becomes their hatred; and the more bitter their hatred, the more does He plead, sending other messengers, more perhaps in number, or possibly of more weight, with larger commission and clearer light. Thus both the antagonistic forces grow, and the worse men become, the louder and more beseeching is the call of God to them. That is always true; and it is also ever true that he who begins with ‘I go, sir, and goes not, is in a fair way to end with stoning the prophets.

Christ treats the whole long series of violent rejections as the acts of the same set of husbandmen. The class or nation was one, as a stream is one, though all its particles are different; and the Pharisees and scribes, who stood with frowning hatred before Him as He spoke, were the living embodiment of the spirit which had animated all the past. In so far as they inherited their taint, and repeated their conduct, the guilt of all the former generations was laid at their door. They declared themselves their predecessors’ heirs; and as they reproduced their actions, they would have to bear the accumulated weight of the consequences.

III. Matthew 21:37 - Matthew 21:39 tell of the mission of the Son and of its fatal issue.

Three points are prominent in them. The first is the unique position which Christ here claims, with unwonted openness and decisiveness, as apart from and far above all the prophets. They constitute one order, but He stands alone, sustaining a closer relation to God. They were faithful ‘as servants,’ but He ‘as a Son,’ or, as Mark has it, ‘the only and beloved Son.’ The listeners understood Him well enough. The assertion, which seemed audacious blasphemy to them, fitted in with all His acts in that last week, which was not only the crisis of His life, but of the nation’s fate. Rulers and people must decide whether they will own or reject their King, and they must do it with their eyes open. Jesus claimed to fill a unique position. Was He right or wrong in His claim? If He was wrong, what becomes of His wisdom, His meekness, His religion? Is a religious teacher, who made the mistake of thinking that He was the Son of God in a sense in which no other man is so, worthy of admiration? If He was right, what becomes of a Christianity which sees in Him only the foremost of the prophets?

The next point marked is the owner’s vain hope, in sending his Son. He thought that He would be welcomed, and He was disappointed. It was His last attempt. Christ knew Himself to be God’s last appeal, as He is to all men, as well as to that generation. He is the last arrow in God’s quiver. When it has shot that bolt, the resources even of divine love are exhausted, and no more can be done for the vineyard than He has done for it. We need not wonder at unfulfilled hopes being here ascribed to God. The startling thought only puts into language the great mystery which besets all His pleadings with men, which are carried on, though they often fail, and which must, therefore, in view of His foreknowledge, be regarded as carried on with the knowledge that they will fail. That is the long-suffering patience of God. The difficulty is common to the words of the parable and to the facts of God’s unwearied pleading with impenitent men. Its surface is a difficulty, its heart is an abyss of all-hoping charity.

The last point is the vain calculation of the husbandmen. Christ puts hidden motives into plain words, and reveals to these rulers what they scarcely knew of their own hearts. Did they, in their secret conclaves, look each other in the face, and confess that He was the Heir? Did He not Himself ground His prayer for their pardon on their ignorance? But their ignorance was not entire, else they had had no sin; neither was their knowledge complete, else they had had no pardon. Beneath many an obstinate denial of Him lies a secret confession, or misgiving, which more truly speaks the man than does the loud negation. And such strange contradictions are men, that the secret conviction is often the very thing which gives bitterness and eagerness to the hostility. So it was with some of those whose hidden suspicions are here set in the light. How was the rulers’ or the people’s wish to ‘seize on His inheritance’ their motive for killing Jesus? Their great sin was their desire to have their national prerogatives, and yet to give no true obedience. The ruling class clung to their privileges and forgot their responsibilities, while the people were proud of their standing as Jews, and careless of God’s service. Neither wished to be reminded of their debt to the Lord of the vineyard, and their hostility to Jesus was mainly because He would call on them for fruits. If they could get this unwelcome and persistent voice silenced, they could go on in the comfortable old fashion of lip-service and real selfishness. It is an account, in vividly parabolic language, not only of their hostility, but of that of many men who are against Him. They wish to possess life and its good, without being for ever pestered with reminders of the terms on which they hold it, and of God’s desire for their love and obedience. They have a secret feeling that Christ has the right to ask for their hearts, and so they often turn from Him angrily, and sometimes hate Him.

With what sad calmness does Jesus tell the fate of the son, so certain that it is already as good as done! It was done in their counsels, and yet He does not cease to plead, if perchance some hearts may be touched and withdraw themselves from the confederacy of murder.

IV. We have next the self-condemnation from unwilling lips.

Our Lord turns to the rulers with startling and dramatic suddenness, which may have thrown them off their guard, so that their answer leaped out before they had time to think whom it hit. His solemn earnestness laid a spell on them, which drew their own condemnation from them, though they had penetrated the thin veil of the parable, and knew full well who the husbandmen were. Nor could they refuse to answer a question about legal punishments for dishonesty, which was put to them, the fountains of law, without incurring a second time the humiliation just inflicted when He had forced them to acknowledge that they, the fountains of knowledge, did not know where John came from. So from all these motives, and perhaps from a mingling of audacity, which would brazen it out and pretend not to see the bearing of the question, they answer. Like Caiaphas in his counsel, and Pilate with his writing on the Cross, and many another, they spoke deeper things than they knew, and confessed beforehand how just the judgments were, which followed the very lines marked out by their own words.

V. Then come the solemn application and naked truth of the parable.

We have no need to dwell on the cycle of prophecies concerning the corner-stone, nor on the original application of the psalm. We must be content with remarking that our Lord, in this last portion of His address, throws away even the thin veil of parable, and speaks the sternest truth in the nakedest words. He puts His own claim in the plainest fashion, as the corner-stone on which the true kingdom of God was to be built. He brands the men who stood before Him as incompetent builders, who did not know the stone needed for their edifice when they saw it. He declares, with triumphant confidence, the futility of opposition to Himself-even though it kill Him. He is sure that God will build on Him, and that His place in the building, which shall rise through the ages, will be, to even careless eyes, the crown of the manifest wonders of God’s hand. Strange words from a Man who knew that in three days He would be crucified! Stranger still that they have come true! He is the foundation of the best part of the best men; the basis of thought, the motive for action, the pattern of life, the ground of hope, for countless individuals; and on Him stands firm the society of His Church, and is hung all the glory of His Father’s house.

Christ confirms the sentence just spoken by the rulers on themselves, but with the inversion of its clauses. All disguise is at an end. The fatal ‘you’ is pronounced. The husbandmen’s calculation had been that killing the heir would make them lords of the vineyard; the grim fact was that they cast themselves out when they cast him out. He is the heir. If we desire the inheritance, we must get it through Him, and not kill or reject, but trust and obey Him. The sentence declares the two truths, that possession of the vineyard depends on honouring the Son, and on bringing forth the fruits. The kingdom has been taken from the churches of Asia Minor, Africa, and Syria, because they bore no fruit. It is not held by us on other conditions. Who can venture to speak of the awful doom set forth in the last words here? It has two stages: one a lesser misery, which is the lot of him who stumbles against the stone, while it lies passive to be built on; one more dreadful, when it has acquired motion and comes down with irresistible impetus. To stumble at Christ, or to refuse His grace, and not to base our lives and hopes on Him is maiming and damage, in many ways, here and now. But suppose the stone endowed with motion, what can stand against it? And suppose that the Christ, who is now offered for the rock on which we may pile our hopes and never be confounded, comes to judge, will He not crush the mightiest opponent as the dust of the summer threshing-floor?

Matthew 21:33. Hear another parable — In which you are very nearly concerned, as your own consciences must quickly tell you. In the preceding parable of the two sons, our Lord convicted the Pharisees, the chief priests, and elders, of absolute disobedience to God, their heavenly Father, notwithstanding all their fair speeches and smooth promises: here he rises upon them, and shows them, as in a glass, the high privileges they enjoyed; and their exceeding great ingratitude, that, if possible, he might awaken their souls, and disarm them of the horrid purpose they had already conceived of murdering him, the true heir of the vineyard whereof they were such unfaithful husbandmen. And indeed they must have proceeded to great lengths in iniquity, and have hardened their hearts above measure, who could go on in their black design of destroying Jesus, after he had thus plainly shown them his knowledge of their design, and laid open their devices, and the dreadful consequences thereof to themselves, to the justice of which they had subscribed with their own lips. There was a certain householder — Or, master of a family, representing God, the proprietor of all; which planted a vineyard — The Jewish Church planted in Canaan, represented also as a vineyard, Isaiah 5:1-4, in a parable on which this of our Lord seems to be founded; see the notes there. There could not be a more natural emblem of the church, or one more familiar and obvious for the prophets and our Lord to use in Judea, than that of a vineyard; as that country abounded with vineyards, and so gave the people constant occasion, by having them always before their eyes, to recollect and apply the spiritual instructions drawn from them. And the comparison was not only obvious, but natural: and the particulars, whereof our Lord and the prophets speak, as they are essential to a vineyard, so do they beautifully correspond to the essential blessings vouchsafed of God to the Jewish Church. 1st, It is necessary that a vineyard should be planted, for vines are not anywhere the natural produce of the soil. Our Lord, therefore, mentions this particular first. 2d, Vines being tender plants, and vineyards subject to the incursions of beasts and enemies, it is necessary they should be enclosed. Therefore it is here observed that this vineyard was hedged round about; namely, by the divine protection, which was as a wall of fire round the Jewish Church and people, whereby he enclosed and defended them from all their enemies. But a hedge is not only for defence, but for the distinction and separation of property; and so God distinguished and separated his church by the fence of circumcision, and the ceremonial law, which were what St. Paul calls the partition wall, which was broken down and taken away in Christ, who yet has appointed a gospel order and discipline to be the hedge round about his church. 3d, A vineyard, being thus planted and fenced, must be provided with a place for the cultivator’s reception and dwelling; and for the gathering in and receiving of the fruit. Accordingly this householder built a tower for the former purpose, and prepared a wine-press for the latter. So God provided for his ancient church a tabernacle first, and then a temple, wherein the cultivators of his vineyard might dwell and watch continually, (for the priests are the Lord’s watchmen,) where also he himself promised to dwell, and give them the tokens of his presence among them, and pleasure in them: and in this temple he set up his holy altar, which, as the wine-press flowed with the blood of the grape, was to flow continually with the blood of the sacrifices, the fruits of their obedience, the testimonies of their faith, and then truly acceptable when offered up in faith of the great Sacrifice, whose blood all the blood shed in sacrifices prefigured, and who was himself trodden in the wine-press of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God. The next clause, And let it out to husbandmen, and went into a far country, signifies no more than that God, having established and provided his vineyard with all things necessary to render it fruitful to his praise, committed the care and cultivation of it to the priests and elders, the ecclesiastical and civil rulers, by whose ministry the people were to be instructed and governed, without expecting such extraordinary marks of God’s constant presence and immediate direction as appeared at his forming them into a church.

21:33-46 This parable plainly sets forth the sin and ruin of the Jewish nation; and what is spoken to convict them, is spoken to caution all that enjoy the privileges of the outward church. As men treat God's people, they would treat Christ himself, if he were with them. How can we, if faithful to his cause, expect a favourable reception from a wicked world, or from ungodly professors of Christianity! And let us ask ourselves, whether we who have the vineyard and all its advantages, render fruits in due season, as a people, as a family, or as separate persons. Our Saviour, in his question, declares that the Lord of the vineyard will come, and when he comes he will surely destroy the wicked. The chief priests and the elders were the builders, and they would not admit his doctrine or laws; they threw him aside as a despised stone. But he who was rejected by the Jews, was embraced by the Gentiles. Christ knows who will bring forth gospel fruits in the use of gospel means. The unbelief of sinners will be their ruin. But God has many ways of restraining the remainders of wrath, as he has of making that which breaks out redound to his praise. May Christ become more and more precious to our souls, as the firm Foundation and Cornerstone of his church. May we be willing to follow him, though despised and hated for his sake.The parable of the vineyard - This is also recorded in Mark 12:1-12; Luke 20:9-19.

Matthew 21:33

Hear another parable - See the notes at Matthew 13:3.

A certain householder - See the notes at Matthew 20:1.

Planted a vineyard - A place for the cultivation of grapes. It is often used to represent the church of God. as a place cultivated and valuable. Judea was favorable to vines, and the figure is frequently used, therefore, in the sacred writers. See Matthew 20:1. It is used here to represent the "Jewish people" - the people chosen of the Lord, cultivated with care, and signally favored; or perhaps more definitely, "the city of Jerusalem."

Hedged it round about - This means he enclosed it, either with a fence of wood or stone, or more probably with "thorns," thick set and growing - a common way of enclosing fields in Judea, as it is in England,

And digged a wine-press in it - Mark says, "digged a place for the wine-fat." This should have been so rendered in Matthew. The original word does not mean the "press" in which the grapes were trodden, but the "vat or large cistern" into which the wine ran. This was commonly made by digging into the side of a hill. The "wine-press" was made of two receptacles. The upper one, in Persia at present, is about 8 feet square and 4 feet high. In this the grapes are thrown and "trodden" by men, and the juice runs into the large receptacle or cistern below. See the notes at Isaiah 63:2-3.

And built a tower - See also the notes at Isaiah 5:2. In Eastern countries at present, these towers are often 80 feet high and 30 feet square. They were for the keepers, who defended the vineyards from thieves and animals, especially from foxes, Sol 1:6; Sol 2:15. Professor Hackett (Illustrations of Scripture, pp. 171, 172) says of such towers:

They caught my attention first as I was approaching Bethlehem from the southeast. They appeared in almost every field within sight from that direction. They were circular in shape, 15 or 20 feet high, and, being built of stones, looked, at a distance, like a little forest of obelisks. I was perplexed for some time to decide what they were; my traveling companions were equally at fault. Suddenly, in a lucky moment, the words crossed my mind, 'A certain man planted a vineyard, and set a hedge about it, and built a tower, and let it out to husbandmen, and went into a far country,' Mark 12:1. This recollection cleared up the mystery. There, before my eyes, stood the towers of which I had so often read and thought; such as stood there when David led forth his flocks to the neighboring pastures; such as furnished to the sacred writers and the Saviour himself so many illustrations for enforcing what they taught.

These towers are said to be sometimes square in form as well as round, and as high as 40 or 50 feet. Those which I examined had a small door near the ground, and a level space on the top, where a man could sit and command a view of the plantation. I afterward saw a great many of these structures near Hebron, where the vine still flourishes in its ancient home; for there, probably, was Eshcol, whence the Hebrew spies returned to Joshua with the clusters of grapes which they had gathered as evidence of the fertility of the land. Some of the towers here are so built as to serve as houses: and during the vintage, it is said that the inhabitants of Hebron take up their abode in them in such numbers as to leave the town almost deserted.

And let it out ... - This was not an uncommon thing. Vineyards were often planted to be let out for profit.

Into a far country - This means, in the original, only that he departed from them. It does not mean that he went out of the "land." Luke adds, "for a long time." That is, as appears, until the time of the fruit; perhaps for a year. This vineyard denotes, doubtless, the Jewish people, or Jerusalem. But these circumstances are not to be particularly explained. They serve to keep up the story. They denote in general that God had taken proper care of his vineyard - that is, of his people; but beyond that we cannot affirm that these circumstances of building the tower, etc., mean any particular thing, for he has not told us that they do, and where he has not explained them we have no right to attempt it.

33. Hear another parable: There was a certain householder, which planted a vineyard—(See on [1336]Lu 13:6).

and hedged it round about, and digged a winepress in it, and built a tower—These details are taken, as is the basis of the parable itself, from that beautiful parable of Isa 5:1-7, in order to fix down the application and sustain it by Old Testament authority.

and let it out to husbandmen—These are just the ordinary spiritual guides of the people, under whose care and culture the fruits of righteousness are expected to spring up.

and went into a far country—"for a long time" (Lu 20:9), leaving the vineyard to the laws of the spiritual husbandry during the whole time of the Jewish economy. On this phraseology, see on [1337]Mr 4:26.

Mark hath this parable, Mark 12:1-9. Luke hath it, Luke 20:9-16. Who is here intended under the notion of a householder, or a man? We are told by the prophet Isaiah, Isaiah 5:1,2, it is the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: the house of Israel and the men of Judah are his vineyard, his pleasant plant, Isaiah 5:7 he hedged this people by his providence. God often compares his church to a vineyard, Deu 32:32 Psalm 80:8 Jeremiah 2:21. The other expressions, of making in it a winepress, or a winefat, signify no more than that God had provided for the Jews all things necessary for use or ornament. His letting of it out to husbandmen, and going into a far country, signifies that, being himself, as to his glorious residence, in heaven, he had entrusted the church of the Jews with a high priest, and other priests and Levites.

Hear another parable,.... Which, though Luke says was spoken to the people, who, were gathered round about him, yet was directed to, and against the chief priests; who continued with him till it was delivered, and the application of it made; when they perceived it was spoken of them. The design of it is, to set forth the many favours and privileges bestowed on the Jewish nation; their unfruitfulness, and the ingratitude of the principal men among them; and their barbarous usage of the servants of the Lord, and particularly of the Son of God himself: the consequence of which would be, the removal of the Gospel from them, and the miserable destruction of them. So that this parable is partly a narrative, of some things past, and partly a prophecy of some things to come:

there was a certain householder: by whom the great God of heaven and earth is meant; who may be so called, either with respect to the whole world, which is an house of his building, and the inhabitants of it are his family, who live, are nourished, and supplied by him; or to the church, the house of the living God, the family in heaven and in earth, called the household of God, and of faith; or to the people of Israel, often called the house of Israel, the family, above all the families of the earth, God took notice of, highly favoured, and dwelt among,

Which planted a vineyard: of the form of a vineyard, the manner of planting it, and the size of it, the Jews say many things in their Misna (f),

"He that plants a row of five vines, the school of Shammai say, "it is a vineyard"; but the school of Hillell say, it is not a vineyard, unless there are two rows--he that plants two vines over against two, and one at the tail or end, , "lo! this is a vineyard"; (it was a little vineyard;) but if two over against two, and one between the two, or two over against two, and one in the midst, it is no vineyard, unless there are two over against two, and one at the tail or end.

Again (g),

"a vineyard that is planted with less than four cubits (between every row), R. Simeon says, is no vineyard; but the wise men say it is a vineyard.

And the decision is according to them. Now by this vineyard is meant, the house of Israel and the men of Judah, the nation of the Jews, as in Isaiah 5:7 from whence our Lord seems to have taken many of the ideas expressed in this parable; who were a people separated from the rest of the world, and set with valuable plants, from whom fruit might reasonably be expected: the planting of them designs the removing them out of Egypt, the driving out the natives before them, and settling them in the land of Canaan, where they were planted with choice vines, such as Joshua, Caleb, &c. and where they soon became a flourishing people, though for their iniquities, often exposed to beasts of prey, the neighbouring nations, that were suffered at times to break in upon them. The Jews often speak (h) of the house of Israel, as the vineyard of the Lord of hosts, and even call their schools and universities vineyards: hence we read (i) of

, the vineyard in Jabneh, where the scholars were placed in rows, as in a vineyard,

And hedged it round about; as it was usual to set a hedge, or make a wall round a vineyard, which according to the Jewish writers, was to be ten hands high, and four broad; for they ask (k),

"rdg hz ya, "what is a hedge?" That which is ten hands, high.

And elsewhere (l),

"An hedge that encompasses a vineyard, which is less than ten hands high, or which is ten hands high, but not four hands broad, it has no circuit (or void place between that and the vines)--an hedge which is ten hands high, and so a ditch which is ten hands deep, and four broad, lo! this is lawful to plant a vineyard on one side of it, and herbs on the other; even a fence of reeds, if there is between the reeds the space of three hands, lo! this divides between the vineyard and the herbs, as an hedge.

By this "hedge" is designed, either the law, not the oral law, or the traditions of the elders, which the Jews (m) call , "an hedge for the law", which was none of God's setting, but their own; but either the ceremonial law, which distinguished them from other people, was a middle wall of partition between them, and the nations of the world, and kept them from coming among them, and joining together; or the moral law, which taught them their duty to God and man, and was the means of keeping them within due bounds; or else the protection of them by the power of God, which was an hedge about them, is here intended; and which was very remarkable at the time of their three feasts of passover, pentecost, and tabernacles; when all their males went up to Jerusalem, and the whole country was, left an easy prey to the nations about them; but God preserved them, and, according to his promise, suffered not their neighbours to have any inclination or desire after their land,

And digged a winepress in it; which is not "the ditch", that went through a, vineyard; for this cannot be said of a winepress, and is Dr. Lightfoot's mistake (n); but "the winefat", in which they squeezed the grapes and made the wine, and this used to be in the vineyard: the rule about it is this,


{8} Hear another parable: There was a certain householder, which planted a vineyard, and hedged it round about, and digged a winepress in it, and built a {r} tower, and let it out to husbandmen, and went into a far country:

(8) Those men are often the cruellest enemies of the Church, to whose faithfulness it is committed: But the vocation of God is neither tied to time, place, nor person.

(r) Made the place strong: for a tower is the strongest place of a wall.

Matthew 21:33 ff. Comp. Mark 12:1 ff, Luke 20:9 ff. Jesus, in Matthew 21:28 ff., having shown His adversaries how base they are, now proceeds to do this yet more circumstantially in another parable (founded, no doubt, upon Isaiah 5:1 ff.), in which, with a lofty and solemn earnestness, He lays bare to them the full measure of their sin against God (even to the killing of His Son), and announces to them the punishment that awaits them.

ὤρυξεν ἐν αὐτῷ ληνόν] dug a wine-vat in it. Comp. Xen. Oec. xix. 2 : ὁπόσον βάθος ὀρύττειν δεῖ τὸ φυτόν. This was a trough dug in the earth for the purpose of receiving the juice of the grape as it flowed down from the press through an aperture covered with a grating. See Winer, Realw. I. p. 653 f.

πύργον] a tower, for watching the vineyard. Such tower-shaped structures were then, and are still, in common use for this purpose (Tobler, Denkbl. p. 113.

ἐξέδοτο] he let it out (Pollux, i. 75; Herod, i. 68; Plat. Parm, p. 127 A; Dem. 268, 9), namely, to be cultivated. Seeing that the proprietor himself collects the produce (Matthew 21:34; Matthew 21:41), we must assume that the vineyard was let for a money rent, and not, as is generally supposed, for a share of the fruit. For nothing is said in this passage about payment in kind to the proprietor, including only part of the produce. Otherwise in Mark 12:2; Luke 20:10; comp. Weiss’ note on Mark.

τοὺς καρποὺς αὐτοῦ] αὐτοῦ is often taken as referring to the vineyard; but without reason, for there is nothing to prevent its being referred to the subject last mentioned. It was his own fruit that the master wished to have brought to him. The fruit of the vineyard, and the whole of it too, belongs to him.

ἐλιθοβόλησαν] they stoned him (Matthew 23:37; John 8:5; Acts 7:58 f., Matthew 14:5; Hebrews 12:20), forms a climax to ἀπέκτ., as being a “species atrox” (Bengel) of this latter.

ἐντραπής.] a reasonable expectation.

εἶπον ἐν ἑαυτοῖς] they said one to another.

καὶ σχῶμεν τὴν κληρον. αὐτοῦ] and let us obtain possession of his inheritance, namely, the vineyard to which he is the heir. In these words they state not the result of the murder (as in Mark), but what step they propose to take next. After the death of the son, who is therefore to be regarded as an only one, they intend to lay claim to the property.

ἐξέβαλον κ. ἀπέκτ.] differently in Mark 12:8, hence also the transposition in D, codd. of It. This passage contains no allusion to the previous excommunication (Grotius), or to the crucifixion of Christ because it took place outside of Jerusalem (comp. Hebrews 13:12 f.; so Chrysostom, Theophylact, Euthymius Zigabenus, Olshausen), but simply describes the scene in which the son on his arrival is thrust out of the vineyard and murdered.

The parable illustrates the hostile treatment experienced time after time by God’s prophets (the δοῦλοι) at the hands of the leaders (the husbandmen) of the Jewish theocracy (the vineyard),—an institution expressly designed for the production of moral fruit,—and also shows how their self-seeking and love of power would lead them to put to death even Jesus, the Son, the last and greatest of the messengers from God. Comp. Acts 7:51 f. Chrysostom, Theophylact, Euthymius Zigabenus, likewise find a meaning in the hedge (the law), the wine-vat (the altar), and the tower (the temple). So also Bengel, who sees in ἀπεδήμησεν an allusion to the “tempus divinae taciturnitatis;” while Origen takes it as referring to the time when God ceased to manifest Himself in a visible shape.

Matthew 21:33-46. Parable of the rebellious vine-dressers (Mark 12:1-12, Luke 20:9-19).

33. planted a vineyard] Cp. the parable in Isaiah 5:1-7, where the description is very similar to this. See also Psalm 80:8-16; Jeremiah 2:21; Ezekiel 15:1-6. The vine was adopted as a national emblem on the Maccabean coins.

hedged it round about] with a stone wall or with a fence of prickly pears. St Luke makes no mention of the separating hedge. Israel was separated throughout her history politically, and even physically, by the natural position of Palestine.

digged a winepress] The winepress was often dug or hewn out of the limestone rock in Palestine. There were two receptacles or vats. The upper one was strictly the press or ληνός (Matthew), the lower one the winefat or ὑπολήνιον (Mark) into which the expressed juice of the grape passed. The two vats are mentioned together only in Joel 3:13, “The press (gath) is full, the fats (yekabim) overflow” (quoted in Bibl. Dict., see art. “Winepress”).

built a tower] Probably a wooden booth raised on a high platform, in which a watcher was stationed to guard the grapes.

Neither the winepress nor the tower seems to have any special significance in the interpretation of the parable.

let it out to husbandmen] This kind of tenancy prevails in many parts of Europe. It is known as the metayer system, the arrangement being that the occupier of the land should pay to the landlord a portion—originally half—of the produce. The system existed in England for about sixty years at the end of the fourteenth century. Before the Revolution of 1790 nearly the whole of the land of France was rented by metayers. At the time of our Lord’s ministry it was customary for the Romans to restore conquered lands on condition of receiving a moiety of the produce. Fawcett’s Manual of Political Economy, p. 223; Rogers’ Political Economy, p. 168.

went into a far country] Translate, left his home. The words “went into a far country” are not in the original text.

33–42. The Wicked Husbandmen

Mark 12:1-11; Luke 20:9-18.

No parable interprets itself more clearly than this. Israel is represented by an image which the prophets had made familiar and unmistakeable—the Vineyard of the Lord. The householder who planted the Vineyard and fenced it round signifies God the Father, Who created the nation for Himself—a peculiar and separate people. The husbandmen are the Jews, and especially the Pharisees, the spiritual leaders of the Jews. The servants are the prophets of God, the Son is the Lord Jesus Christ.

Matthew 21:33. Οἰκοδεσπότης, a householder) who had a large family [sc. of servants, labourers, etc.]—ἀμπελῶνα, a vineyard) i.e. the Jewish Church.—φραγμὸν, a hedge) i.e. the law.[934]—ληνὸν, a winepress) i.e. Jerusalem.—πύργον, a tower) i.e. the temple; see Matthew 21:23.[935]—ἀπεδήμησεν, went into a far country) The time of Divine silence is meant, when men act according to their own will and pleasure [pro arbitrio]: cf. ch. Matthew 25:14, and Mark 13:34.

[934] In the note in the Germ. Vers., Bengel interprets the Hedge, with a slight change of the figure, of the separation of the people of Israel from all the nations of the earth, including at the same time the idea of the divine protection afforded to the former against the latter: the Winepress, the order of the priesthood: the Tower, the Kingdom (Theocracy). We should not, however, on account of this difference between his former and his latter views in this instance, conclude that such details in Parables are mere empty flowers of ornament. The parts of an enigma, however abstruse, are not idle. Comp. what is said below in Gnomon on ch. Matthew 22:11.—E. B.

[935] ἐξέδοτο αὐτὸν, let it out) This is the ground on which rests the power of the Church. The vineyard was let out to husbandmen. They who preside in either political or ecclesiastical offices, can indeed act according to their own pleasure, and, like the holders of the vineyard, consult only their own private interests: they can maltreat the servants of the Lord: they can wantonly wrest aside the laws of the Church according to their caprice: and can in this way, though not now as then kill the Heir Himself, yet thrust Him out fur some time from His own proper place. But—the time of Visitation is coming at last.—V. g.

Verses 33-46. - Parable of the vineyard let out to husbandmen. (Mark 12:1-12; Luke 20:9-19.) Verse 33. - Hear another parable. The domineering and lately imperious party are reduced to the position of pupils; they have to listen to teaching, not to give it; to answer, not to put questions. This parable sets forth, under the guise of history, the Pharisaical party in its official character, and as the representative of the nation. It also denounces the punishment that surely awaited these rejecters of the offered salvation; thus exemplifying the teaching of the withered fig tree (vers. 17-20). As applicable to the Jewish nation generally, it represents the long suffering of God and the various means which, in the course of their history, he had used to urge them to do their duty as his servants; and it ends with a prophecy of the coming events, and the terrible issue of impenitence. We must take the parable as partly retrospective, and partly predictive. There was a certain householder; a man (ἄνθρωπος) that was an householder. Christ in his parables often, as here, introduces God in his dealings with mankind as a man. His house is the house of Israel in particular, and in general the whole human family. A vineyard. God's kingdom upon earth, and particularly the Jewish Church. The figure is common throughout Scripture (see on Matthew 20:1). It was planted when God gave Israel a law, and put them in possession of the promised land. The parable itself is founded on Isaiah 5:1-7, where, however, the vineyard is tended by the Lord himself, not by husbandmen, and it bears wild grapes, not good grapes. By these differences different developments of declension are indicated. In the earlier times it was the nation that apostatized, fell into idolatry and rebellion against God, the theocratical Head of their race and polity. In later days it is the teachers, rabbis, priests, false prophets, who neglect the paths of righteousness, and lead people astray. In the parable these last come into painful prominence as criminally guilty of opposing God's messengers. Hedged it round; put a hedge around it. The fence would be a stone wall - a necessary defence against the incursions of wild animals. This fence has been regarded in two senses - first, as referring to the physical peculiarities of the position of the Holy Land, separated from alien nations by deserts, seas, rivers, and so isolated from evil contagion; second, as intimating the peculiar laws and minute restrictions of the Jewish polity, which differentiated Judaism from all other systems of religion, and tended to preserve purity and incorruption. Probably the "hedge" is meant to adumbrate both senses. Many, however, see in it the protection of angels, or the righteousness of saints, which seem hardly to be sufficiently precise for the context. Digged a winepress. The phrase refers, not to the ordinary wooden troughs or vats which were used for the purpose of expressing and receiving the juice of the grapes, but to such as were cut in the rock, and were common in all parts of the country. Remains of these receptacles meet the traveller everywhere on the hill slopes of Judaea, and notably in the valleys of Carmel. The winepress is taken to signify the prophetic spirit, the temple services, or all things that typified the sacrifice and death of Christ. A tower; for the purpose of watching and guarding the vineyard. This may represent the temple itself, or the civil power. Whatever interpretation may be put upon the various details, which, indeed, should not be unduly pressed, the general notion is that every care was taken of the Lord's inheritance, nothing was wanting for its convenience and security. Let it out to husbandmen. This is a new feature introduced into Isaiah's parable. Instead of paying an annual sum of money to the proprietor, these vine dressers payed in kind, furnishing a stipulated amount of fruit or wine as the hire of the vineyard. We have a lease on the former terms in Song of Solomon 8:11, where the keepers have "to bring a thousand pieces of silver for the fruit." The husbandmen are the children of Israel, who had to do their part in the Church, and show fruits of piety and devotion. Went into a far country; ἀπεδήμησεν: went abroad. In the parabolic sense, God withdrew for a time the sensible tokens of his presence, no longer manifested himself as at Sinai, and in the cloud and pillar of fire. "Innuitur tempus divinae taciturnitatis, ubi homines agunt pro arbitrio" (Bengel). God's long suffering gives time of probation. Matthew 21:33Hedged it round about (φραγμὸν αὐτῷ περιέθηκεν)

Rev., more literally, set a hedge about it; possibly of the thorny wild aloe, common in the East.

Digged a wine-press (ὤρυξεν ληνὸν)

In Isaiah 5:1, Isaiah 5:2, which this parable at once recalls, the Hebrew word rendered by the Septuagint and here digged, is hewed out, i.e., from the solid rock. "Above the road on our left are the outlines of a wine-fat, one of the most complete and best preserved in the country. Here is the upper basin where the grapes were trodden and pressed. A narrow channel cut in the rock conveyed the juice into the lower basin, where it was allowed to settle; from there it was drawn off into a third and smaller basin. There is no mistaking the purpose for which those basins were excavated in the solid rock" (Thomson, "Land and Book").

A tower (πύργον)

For watchmen. Stanley ("Sinai and Palestine") describes the ruins of vineyards in Judea as enclosures of loose stones, with the square gray tower at the corner of each. Allusions to these watching-places, temporary and permanent, are frequent in Scripture. Thus, "a booth in vineyard" (Isaiah 1:8). "The earth moveth to and fro like a hammock" (so Cheyne on Isaiah; A. V., cottage; Rev., hut), a vineyard-watchman's deserted hammock tossed to and fro by the storm (Isaiah 24:20). So Job speaks of a booth which the keeper of a vineyard runneth up (Job 27:18), a hut made of sticks and hung with mats, erected only for the harvest season on the field or vineyard, for the watchman who spreads his rude bed upon its high platform, and mounts guard against the robber and the beast. In Spain, where, especially in the South, the Orient has left its mark, not only upon architecture but also upon agricultural implements and methods, Archbishop Trench says that he has observed similar temporary structures erected for watch men in the vineyards. The tower alluded to in this passage would seem to have been of a more permanent character (see Stanley above), and some have thought that it was intended not only for watching, but as a storehouse for the wine and a lodging for the workmen.

Let it out (ἐξέδετο)

"There were three modes of dealing with land. According to one of these, the laborers employed received a certain portion of the fruits, say a third or a fourth of the produce. The other two modes were, either that the tenant paid a money-rent to the proprietor, or else that he agreed to give the owner a definite amount of the produce, whether the harvest had been good or bad. Such leases were given by the year or for life; sometimes the lease was even hereditary, passing from father to son. There can scarcely be a doubt that it is the latter kind of lease which is referred to in the parable: the lessees being bound to give the owner a certain amount of fruits in their season" (Edersheim, "Life and Times of Jesus"). Compare Matthew 21:34, and Mark 12:2, "that he might receive of the fruits" (ἀπὸ τῶν καρπῶν).

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