Matthew 5:41
And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain.
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(41) Whosoever shall compel thee.—The Greek word implies the special compulsion of forced service as courier or messenger under Government, and was imported from the Persian postal system, organised on the plan of employing men thus impressed to convey Government dispatches from stage to stage (Herod. viii. 98). The use of the illustration here would seem to imply the adoption of the same system by the Roman Government under the empire. Roman soldiers and their horses were billeted on Jewish householders. Others were impressed for service of longer or shorter duration.

A mile.—The influence of Rome is shown by the use of the Latin word (slightly altered) for the mille passuum, the thousand paces which made up a Roman mile—about 142 yards short of an English statute mile. It is interesting to note a like illustration of the temper that yields to compulsion of this kind, rather than struggle or resist, in the teaching of the Stoic Epictetus—“Should there be a forced service, and a soldier should lay hold on thee, let him work his will; do not resist or murmur” (Diss. iv., i. 79).

5:38-42 The plain instruction is, Suffer any injury that can be borne, for the sake of peace, committing your concerns to the Lord's keeping. And the sum of all is, that Christians must avoid disputing and striving. If any say, Flesh and blood cannot pass by such an affront, let them remember, that flesh and blood shall not inherit the kingdom of God; and those who act upon right principles will have most peace and comfort.An eye for an eye ... - This command is found in 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.

Twain - Two.

41. And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain—an allusion, probably, to the practice of the Romans and some Eastern nations, who, when government despatches had to be forwarded, obliged the people not only to furnish horses and carriages, but to give personal attendance, often at great inconvenience, when required. But the thing here demanded is a readiness to submit to unreasonable demands of whatever kind, rather than raise quarrels, with all the evils resulting from them. What follows is a beautiful extension of this precept.Ver. 39-41. The apostle Paul giveth the best exposition upon this text, Romans 7:17-19,21, Recompense to no man evil for evil. If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men. Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord. —Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good. The general scope of our Saviour is that which they must observe, who would understand the sense of these words; they must not think that the particular things mentioned are their duty, but,

1. That it is the will of their Lord that they should not take any private revenge, but leave the avenging of their injuries unto God, and to the public magistrate, who is God’s viceregent, before whom, notwithstanding any thing here said, they may seek a just satisfaction.

2. That in lighter cases we should rather remit the wrong done to us for peace’ sake than stand upon a rigour of justice; rather overcome evil with good, than suffer ourselves to be overcome by the evil of others; rather suffer a blow on the other cheek, than with our own hands revenge the blow which is given thus on our cheek; rather lose our cloak also, than contend for our coat, taken away in judgment from us, though we be in that judgment oppressed. No injury can deserve a private revenge. Light injuries are not of that nature that we should contend for a public revenge of them.

And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile,.... The word rendered "compel", is generally said to be of Persic original; the "Angari", among the Persians, were the king's messengers, or those who rode post, and were maintained at the king's expenses; and had power to take horses, and other carriages, and even men, into their service, by force, when they had occasion for them: hence the word is used to force, or compel persons to do this or the other thing; the word is often to be met with in the Jewish writings, and is in them expounded to be (k), the taking of anything for the service of the king. David de Pomis renders it by "a yoke" (l); meaning, any servile work, which such, who were pressed into the king's service, were obliged unto. And (m) is used to compel persons to go along with others, to do any service; in which sense it is here used: and Christ advises, rather than to contend and quarrel with such a person, that obliges to go with him a mile, to

go with him twain: his meaning is, not to dispute such a matter, though it may be somewhat laborious and disagreeable, but comply, for the sake of peace. The Jews (n), in their blasphemous book of the birth of Christ, own that he gave advice in such words as these, when they introduce Peter thus speaking of him.

"He, that is, Jesus, hath warned and commanded you to do no more evil to a Jew; but if a Jew should say to a Nazarene, go with me one mile, he shall go with him two miles; and if a Jew shall smite him on the left cheek, he shall turn to him also the right.''

Can a Jew find fault with this advice?

(k) Vid. Maimon. & Bartenora in Misn. Bava Metzia, c. 6. sect. 3.((l) Tzemach David, fol. 8. 4. (m) Vid. Buxtorf. Lex. Rabb. p. 131, 132. (n) Toldos Jesu, p 22.

And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain.
Matthew 5:41. Ἀγγαρεύειν, passed over from the Persian (see Gesenius, Thes. I. p. 23) into Greek, Latin (angariare, Vulgate, Augustine, Ephesians 5), and into the Rabbinical dialect (אַנְגַרְיָא, Buxtorf, Lex. Rabb. p. 131; Lightfoot on the passage), to force into transport service. The Persian arrangements respecting post messages, instituted by Cyrus, justified the couriers (ἄγγαροι) in making requisitions from station to station of men, or cattle, or carriages for the carrying on of their journey, Herodotus, viii. 98; Xenoph. Cyrop. viii. 6. 17; Josephus, Antt. xii. 2. 3. See Dougtius, Anal. II. p. 9 f. Here it refers to continuing a forced journey, comp. Matthew 27:32.

μίλιον] One thousand steps, or eight stadia, one-fourth of a German mile. A late word found in Strabo.


The spirit of the ethics of Jesus, His own example (John 18:22 f.) and that of the apostles (Acts 23:3; Acts 16:35; Acts 26:25; Acts 25:9 f.), require us to recognise, in these manifestly typical representations, Matthew 5:39-41, not precepts to be literally followed, but precepts which are certainly to be determined according to their idea. This idea, which is that of love, yielding and putting to shame in the spirit of self-denial, and overcoming evil with good, is concretely represented in those examples, but has, in the relations of external life and its individual cases, the measure and the limitation of its moral practice. Comp. on Matthew 5:38. Luther appropriately lays emphasis here upon the distinction between what the Christian has to do as a Christian, and what as a worldly person (in so far as he is in a position or an office, and so on). The Lord leaves to the state its own jurisdiction, Matthew 22:21.

Matthew 5:41. ἀλλαρεύσει: compel thee to go one mile in A. V[32] and R. V[33] Hatch (Essays in Biblical Greek, p. 37) thinks it means compel thee to carry his baggage, a very probable rendering in view of the history of the word as he gives it. A Persian word, originally, introduced into the Greek, Latin, and Rabbinic languages, it denoted first to requisition men, beasts, or conveyances for the courier system described in Herod. viii. 98, Xen. Cyr. viii. 6, 17; next in post-classical use under the successors of the Persians in the East, and under the Roman Empire, it was applied to the forced transport of military baggage by the inhabitants of a country through which troops were passing. Hatch remarks: “The extent to which this system prevailed is seen in the elaborate provisions of the later Roman law: angariae came to be one of those modes of taxing property which, under the vicious system of the empire, ruined both individuals and communities”. An instance in N. T. of the use of the word in this later sense occurs in Matthew 27:32, Mark 15:21, in reference to Simon compelled to carry Christ’s cross. We may conceive the compulsion in the present case to proceed from a military man.—μίλιον, a Roman mile, about 1600 yards, a late word.—δύο, in point of time, the additional mile = two, there and back, with proportional fatigue, a decided climax of hardship. But it is not merely a question of time, as Achelis thinks. The sense of oppression is involved, subjection to arbitrary military power. Christ’s counsel is: do not submit to the inevitable in a slavish, sullen spirit, harbouring thoughts of revolt. Do the service cheerfully, and more than you are asked. The counsel is far-reaching, covering the case of the Jewish people subject to the Roman yoke, and of slaves serving hard masters. The three cases of non-resistance are not meant to foster an abject spirit. They point out the higher way to victory. He that magnanimously bears overcomes.

[32] Authorised Version.

[33] Revised Version.

41. compel thee to go a mile] The Greek text has a Persian word here signifying “to press into service as a courier” for the royal post, then, generally, “to force to be a guide,” “to requisition,” men or cattle. This was one of the exactions which the Jews suffered under the Romans. Alford quotes Joseph. Ant. xiii. 2, 3, where Demetrius promises not to press into service the beasts of burden belonging to the Jews. For an instance of this forced service see ch. Matthew 27:32.

Matthew 5:41. Ἀγγαρεύσει) A word of Persian origin.[225] They who travelled on the public business could press a person into service. See Vriemoet on this passage.[226]

[225] Ἄγγαρος, a Persian word for a royal courier, who had authority to press horses, etc. into his service in execution of his mission. The word אַנְגַרְיָא (angaria) (whence avania and avanie in Ital. and Fr.) is used in the Talmud for any forced work. Connected with this is the Hebrew אִגֶּרֶת (iggereth), a letter.”—Wordsworth in loc.—(I. B.)

[226] Emo-Lucius Vriemoet, born at Embden, in Friesland in 1699, became Professor of Oriental languages and Hebrew antiquities at Francker, and published many learned works on these subjects. He died in 1764.—(I. B.)

Verse 41. - Matthew only. Shall compel thee to go; Revised Version margin, "Gr. impress" (ἀγγαρεύσει). From the Persian. Hatch ('Essays,' p. 37) shows that while the classical usage strictly refers to the Persian system or' mounted couriers (described in Herod., 8:98; Xen., 'Cyr.,' 8:6. 17), the post-classical usage refers to the later development of a system, not of postal service, but of the forced transport of military baggage. It thus indicates, not merely forced attendance, but forced carrying. Hence it is used in Matthew 27:32 and Mark 15:21 of Simon the Cyrenian, "who was pressed by the Roman soldiers who were escorting our Lord not merely to accompany them but also to carry a load." Thus here also the thought is doubtless that of being compelled to carry baggage. There may also be a reference, as Hatch suggests, to the oppressive conduct of the Roman soldiers (cf. Luke 3:14). (For the spirit of our Lord's saying, vide also 'Aboth,' 3:18 (Taylor), where the probable translation is, "Rabbi Ishmael said, Be pliant of disposition and yielding to impressment.") A mile; Revised Version, one mile; but see Matthew 8:19, note. A Roman mile of a thousand paces. Matthew 5:41Shall compel thee to go (ἀγγαρεύσει)

This word throws the whole injunction into a picture which is entirely lost to the English reader. A man is travelling, and about to pass a post-station, where horses and messengers are kept in order to forward royal missives as quickly as possible. An official rushes out, seizes him, and forces him to go back and carry a letter to the next station, perhaps to the great detriment of his business. The word is of Persian origin, and denotes the impressment into service, which officials were empowered to make of any available persons or beasts on the great lines of road where the royal mails were carried by relays of riders.

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