And now also the ax is laid to the root of the trees: therefore every tree which brings not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)Now.—Rather, already. The present of an act no longer future.
The ax is laid unto the root of the trees.—The symbolism which saw in “trees” the representatives of human characters, of nations, and institutions, had been recognised in Isaiah’s parable of the vine (Isaiah 5:1-7), in Jeremiah’s of the vine and the olive (Jeremiah 2:21; Jeremiah 11:16), and the Baptist’s application of it was but a natural extension. Judgments that were only partial or corrective were as the pruning of the branches (John 15:2). Now the axe was laid to the root, and the alternative was preservation or destruction. For the unfruitful tree there was the doom of fire.Matthew 3:10. And now, also, the axe, &c. — To enforce his exhortation, he informs them that they had no time to delay their repentance, because the patience of God was very near exhausted, and come to an end with respect to them. His judgments were at hand and ready to be inflicted, so that, if they continued unfruitful, notwithstanding the extraordinary means that were now to be tried with them, destruction would speedily overtake them; as if he had said, God now once more offers you his grace in and through his Son, which, if you refuse, he will no longer bear with you. You think of national deliverances, but I am sent to warn you of national judgments; judgments, which even now hang over your heads, and are ready to fall upon you if you still continue barren, or do not bring forth good fruit: for I assure you, the hand of God is lifted up to strike the fatal blow. There is an allusion in the words to a woodman, who, having marked a tree for excision, lays his axe at the root of it, till he puts off his upper garment, and then immediately goes to work to cut it down. Therefore, every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit — Every one that, while he professes to be one of God’s people, contradicts that profession by a wicked life, or by the neglect of vital and practical religion, is cut down, &c. — Instantly, without further delay; and cast into the fire — Of hell: a prediction this, 1st, of that dreadful destruction which, within the short period of forty-four years, came, by the Romans, upon the whole Jewish nation; as if he had said, The Babylonians formerly lopped off your branches, but now the tree shall be cut down; your commonwealth shall be destroyed, and your temple, city, and nation totally ruined: and, 2dly, it is a prediction of that particular destruction which shall soon overtake all that reject the counsel of God against themselves, or, as the apostle expresses it, that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.
the axe is laid unto—"lieth at."
the root of the trees—as it were ready to strike: an expressive figure of impending judgment, only to be averted in the way next described.
therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire—Language so personal and individual as this can scarcely be understood of any national judgment like the approaching destruction of Jerusalem, with the breaking up of the Jewish polity and the extrusion of the chosen people from their peculiar privileges which followed it; though this would serve as the dark shadow, cast before, of a more terrible retribution to come. The "fire," which in another verse is called "unquenchable," can be no other than that future "torment" of the impenitent whose "smoke ascendeth up for ever and ever," and which by the Judge Himself is styled "everlasting punishment" (Mt 25:46). What a strength, too, of just indignation is in that word "cast" or "flung into the fire!"
The third Gospel here adds the following important particulars in Lu 3:10-16.
And the people—the multitudes.
asked him, saying, What shall we do then?—that is, to show the sincerity of our repentance.
He answereth and saith unto them, He that hath two coats, let him impart to him that hath none; and he that hath meat—provisions, victuals.
let him do likewise—This is directed against the reigning avarice and selfishness. (Compare the corresponding precepts of the Sermon on the Mount, Mt 5:40-42).
Then came also the publicans to be baptized, and said unto him, Master—Teacher.
what shall we do?—In what special way is the genuineness of our repentance to be manifested?
And he said unto them, Exact no more than that which is appointed you—This is directed against that extortion which made the publicans a byword. (See on Mt 5:46; Lu 15:1).
And the soldiers—rather, "And soldiers"—the word means "soldiers on active duty."
every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit shall be hewn down, and cast into the fire; judgment now is as nigh unto men, as the tree is to falling, to the root of which the axe is already applied: whether it be to be understood of the judgment common to all unbelievers, all that know not God, and obey not the gospel of Christ, as 2 Thessalonians 1:8,9, or the particular destruction of this nation of the Jews. I shall not determine, though I rather judge the latter probable. The latter part of the text is made use of by our Saviour, Matthew 7:19, in the latter part of his sermon upon the mount. It letteth us know, that it is not improper, nor dissonant to the style of John Baptist, and Christ, and others the most eminent first gospel preachers, to press repentance, faith, and holiness of life, from arguments of terror. Zechariah 11:10 in a short time their civil polity and church state would be both at an end. The Romans, who were already among them and over them, would very quickly come upon them, and cut them off root and branch; and utterly destroy their temple, city, and nation: and this ruin and destruction was levelled not at a single tree, a single person, or family only, as Jesse's, or any others, but at the root
of the trees: of all the trees of the whole body of the people; for the covenant which was made with them all being broke, and which was their hedge and fence, they were all exposed to the wild boar of the forest.
Therefore every tree, every individual person, though one of Abraham's children, and made never such a fair show in the
flesh, which bringeth not forth good fruit; does not perform good works from a right principle, to a right end, such as are meet for repentance; particularly, does not believe in the Messiah now ready to be revealed, which is the main and principal work; and does not continue so doing, and thus believing,
is hewn down and cast into the fire. Temporal ruin and destruction shall come upon him; he shall not escape divine vengeance here, and shall be cast into everlasting burnings hereafter; which is quite contrary to a notion of theirs, that "by the merits of Abraham", the Israelites shall be delivered from the fire of hell (d).And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)Matthew 3:10. Already, however (it is then high time), is the decision near at hand, according to which the unworthy are excluded from Messiah’s kingdom, and are consigned to Gehenna.
In ἤδη is contained the thought that the hearers did not yet expect this state of things; see Baeumlein, Partik. p. 139; the presents ἐκκόπτεται and βάλλεται denote what is to happen at once and certainly, with demonstrative definiteness, not the general idea: is accustomed to be hewn down, against which οὖν is decisive (in answer to Fritzsche), the meaning of which is: “that, as a consequence of this, the axe, etc., every tree will be, and so on.” See upon the present, Dissen, ad Pind. Nem. iv. 39 f., p. 401.Matthew 3:10. ἤδη δὲ ἡ ἀξίνη … κεῖται: judgment is at hand. The axe has been placed (κεῖμαι = perfect passive of τίθημι) at the root of the tree to lay it low as hopelessly barren. This is the doom of every non-productive fruit tree.—ἐκκόπτεται: the present tense, expressive not so much of the usual practice (Fritzsche) as of the near inevitable event.—μὴ ποιοῦν καρπὸν καλὸν, in case it produce not (μὴ conditional) good fruit, not merely fruit of some kind. degenerate, unpalatable.—εἰς πῦρ βάλλεται: useless for any other purpose except to be firewood, as the wood of many fruit trees is.10. which bringeth not forth] Lit. if it bring not forth.
fruit] The Oriental values trees only as productive of fruit, all others are cut down as cumberers of the ground. He lays his axe literally at the root. Land and Book, p. 341.
the fire] Rather, fire, there is no definite article in the original.Matthew 3:10. Ἤδη δὲ, but now) Placed in opposition to μελλόυσης, which is to come, in Matthew 3:7.—καὶ, κ.τ.λ., also, etc) Where grace manifests itself, there also is wrath shown to the ungrateful. It is not only possible that you should be punished, but also punishment is nigh at hand.—τὴν ῥίζαν, the root) The axe was aimed not merely at the branches, but at the root itself.—τῶν δὲνδρων, of the trees) i.e. the Jews (see Luke 13:7-9), in comparison with whom the Gentiles were mere stones.—κεῖται, lies) Although the blow has not yet begun to be struck.—ἑκκόπτεται, is being cut down) The present tense is used, to show that there will be no delay.—πῦρ, fire) See Hebrews 6:8.
 In Matthew 3:7 he spoke of the wrath of God as future, as yet to come; he now speaks of it as already present, or close at hand.—(I. B.)Verse 10. - And now also; Revised Version, and even now. "And" (δὲ), slightly adversative. In contrast to the delay supposed in ver. 9 a, preparations have already been made for your destruction. The axe is laid; Revised Version, is the axe laid; bringing out more emphatically its present position. The American Revisers propose, "the axe lieth at," avoiding the suggestion of an agent; but κεῖμαι often implies one, being used of vessels set ready for use; e.g. John 2:6; John 19:29 (cf. Revelation 4:2). Unto (πρὸς); brought near to (Thayer, s.v., 1:2, a). Therefore. The axe is lying there, therefore every useless tree is sure to be cut down (cf. Winer, 40:2, a). Every tree, etc.; even the noblest (Weiss). However good the tree ought to be, from the character of its original stock (you claim to be Abraham's children, ver. 9), yet, if it does not bear good fruit, it is cut down (Matthew 7:19, note). Into the fire (εἰς πῦρ). Not into a fire prepared with a definite purpose, nor into any one fire pictured as burning (Matthew 17:15; cf. τὸ πῦρ, John 15:6), but into fire generally, which may be in many different places. Worthless trees are only for burning. (For thought, cf. Hebrews 6:8.)
Not, is applied, as "She layeth her hands to the spindle" (Proverbs 31:19), but is lying.
Is hewn down and east
The present tense is graphic, denoting what is to happen at once and certainly.
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