And if any man will sue you at the law, and take away your coat, let him have your cloak also.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)If any man will sue thee at the law.—The Greek is somewhat stronger: If a man will go—i.e., is bent on going—to law with thee. The verse presents another aspect of the same temper of forbearance. Not in regard to acts of violence only, but also in dealing with the petty litigation that disturbs so many men’s peace, it is better to yield than to insist on rights. St. Paul gives the same counsel to the believers at Corinth: “Why do ye not rather suffer yourselves to be defrauded?” (1Corinthians 6:7). Here also, of course, the precept, absolutely binding, as far as self-interest is concerned, may be traversed by higher considerations.
Coat.—The close-fitting tunic worn next the body.
Cloke.—The outer flowing mantle, the more costly garment of the two. (Comp. John 19:23, and the combination of the two words, in Acts 9:39, “coats and garments.”) The meaning of the illustration is obvious. It is wise rather to surrender more than is demanded, than to disturb the calm of our own spirit by wrangling and debate.Exodus 21:24; Leviticus 24:20, and Deuteronomy 19:21. In these places it was given as a rule to regulate the decisions of judges. They were to take eye for eye, and tooth for tooth, and to inflict burning for burning. As a judicial rule it is not unjust. Christ finds no fault with the rule as applied to magistrates, and does not take upon himself to repeal it. But instead of confining it to magistrates, the Jews had extended it to private conduct, and made it the rule by which to take revenge. They considered themselves justified by this rule to inflict the same injury on others that they had received. Our Saviour remonstrates against this. He declares that the law had no reference to private revenge, that it was given only to regulate the magistrate, and that their private conduct was to be governed by different principles.
The general principle which he laid down was, that we are not to resist evil; that is, as it is in the Greek, nor to set ourselves against an evil person who is injuring us. But even this general direction is not to be pressed too strictly. Christ did not intend to teach that we are to see our families murdered, or be murdered ourselves; rather than to make resistance. The law of nature, and all laws, human and divine, justify self-defense when life is in danger. It cannot surely be the intention to teach that a father should sit by coolly and see his family butchered by savages, and not be allowed to defend them. Neither natural nor revealed religion ever did, or ever can, inculcate this doctrine. Our Saviour immediately explains what he means by it. Had he intended to refer it to a case where life is in danger, he would most surely have mentioned it. Such a case was far more worthy of statement than those which he did mention.
A doctrine so unusual, so unlike all that the world had believed. and that the best people had acted on, deserved to be formally stated. Instead of doing this, however, he confines himself to smaller matters, to things of comparatively trivial interest, and says that in these we had better take wrong than to enter into strife and lawsuits. The first case is where we are smitten on the cheek. Rather than contend and fight, we should take it patiently, and turn the other cheek. This does not, however, prevent our remonstrating firmly yet mildly on the injustice of the thing, and insisting that justice should be done us, as is evident from the example of the Saviour himself. See John 18:23. The second evil mentioned is where a man is litigious and determined to take all the advantage the law can give him, following us with vexatious and expensive lawsuits. Our Saviour directs us, rather than to imitate him rather than to contend with a revengeful spirit in courts of justice to take a trifling injury, and yield to him. This is merely a question about property, and not about conscience and life.
Coat - The Jews wore two principal garments, an interior and an exterior. The interior, here called the "coat," or the tunic, was made commonly of linen, and encircled the whole body, extending down to the knees. Sometimes beneath this garment, as in the case of the priests, there was another garment corresponding to pantaloons. The coat, or tunic, was extended to the neck. and had long or short sleeves. Over this was commonly worn an upper garment, here called "cloak," or mantle. It was made commonly nearly square, of different sizes, 5 or 6 cubits long and as many broad, and was wrapped around the body, and was thrown off when labor was performed. If, said Christ, an adversary wished to obtain, at law, one of these garments, rather than contend with him let him have the other also. A reference to various articles of apparel occurs frequently in the New Testament, and it is desirable to have a correct view of the ancient mode of dress. in order to a proper understanding of the Bible. The Asiatic modes of dress are nearly the same from age to age, and hence it is not difficult to illustrate the passages where such a reference occurs. The ordinary dress consisted of the inner garment, the outer garment, the girdle (belt), and the sandals. In regard to the sandals, see the notes at Matthew 3:11.
In the girdle (belt) was the place of the pouch Matthew 10:9, and to it the sword and dirk were commonly attached. Compare 2 Samuel 20:8. In modern times the pistols are also fastened to the belt. It is the usual place for the handkerchief, smoking materials, inkhorn, and, in general, the implements of one's profession. The belt served to confine the loose-flowing robe or outer garment to the body. It held the garment when it was tucked up, as it was usually in walking or in labor. Hence, "to gird up the loins" became a significant figurative expression, denoting readiness for service, activity, labor, and watchfulness; and "to loosen the loins" denoted the giving way to repose and indolence, 2 Kings 4:29; Job 38:3; Isaiah 5:27; Luke 12:35; John 21:7.
Whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile - The word translated "shall compel" is of Persian origin. Post-offices were then unknown. In order that the royal commands might be delivered with safety and despatch in different parts of the empire, Cyrus stationed horsemen at proper intervals on all the great public highways. One of those delivered the message to another, and intelligence was thus rapidly and safely communicated. These heralds were permitted to compel any person, or to press any horse, boat, ship, or other vehicle that they might need for the quick transmission of the king's commandments. It was to this custom that our Saviour refers. Rather, says he, than resist a public authority requiring your attendance and aid for a certain distance, go peaceably twice the distance.
A mile - A Roman mile was 1,000 paces.
let him have thy cloak also—the outer and more costly garment. This overcoat was not allowed to be retained over night as a pledge from the poor because they used it for a bed covering.See Poole on "Matthew 5:41".
take away thy coat, by force and violence,
let him have thy cloak also; do not forbid, or hinder him from taking it; see Luke 6:29. The "coat", is the same with "the upper garment": and what we render a "cloak", answers to "the inward garment"; by which words Sangari expresses the passage in the place before cited: and the sense is, if a wrangling, quarrelsome man, insists upon having thy coat, or upper garment, let him take the next; and rather suffer thyself to be stripped naked than engage in a litigious broil with him. This also is contrary to the above canon of the Jews (i), which says;
"If a man should pull another by his ear, or pluck off his hair, or spit, and his spittle should come to him, or "should take his coat from him", or uncover a woman's head in the street, he shall pay four hundred "zuzim", and all this is according to his dignity; says R. Akiba; even the poor in Israel, they consider them as if they were noblemen, who are fallen from their estates, for they are the children of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.''And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)Matthew 5:40, κριθῆναι = κρίνεσθαι in 1 Corinthians 6:1, to sue at law as in A. V Grotius takes it as meaning extra-judicial strife, while admitting that the word is used in the judicial sense in the Sept, e.g., Job 9:3, Ecclesiastes 6:10. Beza had previously taken the same view.—χιτῶνα, ἱμάτιον. The contention is supposed to be about the under garment or the tunic, and the advice is, rather than go to law, let him have not only it but also, καὶ, the more costly upper robe, mantle, toga. The poor man might have several tunics or shirts for change, but only one upper garment, used for clothing by day, for bed-cover by night, therefore humanely forbidden to be retained over night as a pledge, Exodus 22:26.
 Authorised Version.
 Septuagint.40. coat] Lit. tunic, the under garment. It had sleeves, and reached below the knees, somewhat like a modern shirt. cloke, the upper garment. A large square woollen robe, resembling the modern Arab abba or abayeh. The poorest people wore a tunic only. Among the richer people many wore two tunics besides the upper garment. Wealth is often shown in the East not only by the quality but also by the amount of clothing worn. For the general sense cp. 1 Corinthians 6:7, “There is utterly a fault … suffer yourselves to be defrauded.”Matthew 5:40. Χιτῶνα, the tunic) or inner garment.—ἱμάτιον, the vest) or outer robe. These are inverted in Luke 6:29. (Cf. in the same chapter, Matthew 5:44, with Matthew 7:16, for a similar inversion in the case of the grapes and the figs.) The sense remains the same; sc. Give up both. The ἱμάτιον was more precious than the κιτῶν. See Mark 13:16.—σου, thine) by right.Verse 40. - The parallel passage, Luke 6:29b, gives the taking of the garments in the converse order. And if any man will sue thee; Revised Version, and if any man would go to law with thee. Notice that "will," "would" (τῷ θέλοντι), implies that the trial has not yet even begun. Do this even before it. And take away thy coat, let him have thy cloke also. Coat (χιτών), equivalent to tunic, "shirt-like under-garment" (Meyer). Cloke (ἱμάτιον), equivalent to over-cloak, "mantle-like over-garment, toga, which also served for a covering by night, and might not therefore be retained as a pledge over night (Exodus 22:26)' (Meyer). This is put second, as being the more valuable. In Luke, where there is no mention of the law-court, the thought seems to be merely of the violent removal of the garments, taking them as they came. Let him have (ἄφες αὐτῷ). More positive than Luke's "withhold not" (μὴ κωλύσῃς).
The former, the shirt-like under-garment or tunic; the latter, the mantle, or ampler over-garment, which served as a covering for the night, and therefore was forbidden by the Levitical law to be retained in pledge overnight (Exodus 22:26, Exodus 22:27). To yield up this without resistance therefore implies a higher degree of concession.
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