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But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced, committeth adultery.
'It hath been said,' &c. That is, by Moses, Deut. xxiv. 1, 2. Our Saviour, in Mark x. 1-12, says that this was permitted on account of the hardness of their hearts; but in the beginning it was not so. God made a single pair, and ordained marriage for life. But Moses found the people so much hardened, so long accustomed to the practice of divorce, and so rebellious, that, as a matter of civil appointment, he thought it best not to attempt any change. Our Saviour brought marriage back to its original institution, and declared, that whosoever put away his wife henceforward should be guilty of adultery. Only one offence, he declared, could justify divorce. This is now the law of God. This was the original institution. This is the only law that is productive of peace and good morals, and the due respect of a wife, and the good of children. No earthly laws can trample down the laws of God, or make that right which he hath solemnly pronounced wrong.
33 Again, ye have heard that it hath been said by them of old time, Thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths:
'Thou shalt not forswear thyself.' Christ here proceeds to correct another false interpretation of the law. The law respecting oaths is found in Lev. xix. 12, and Deut. vi. 13. By those laws men were forbid to perjure themselves or to forswear, that is, swear falsely. 'Perform unto the Lord. Perform literally, really, and religiously, what is promised in an oath. Thine oaths. An oath is a solemn affirmation, or declaration, made with an appeal to God for the truth of what is affirmed, and imprecating his vengeance, and renouncing his favour, if what is affirmed be false. A false oath is called perjury; or, as in this place, forswearing.
The Jewish rabbins had introduced a number of oaths in common conversation, and oaths which they did by no means consider as binding. So long as they kept from swearing by the name Jehovah, and so long as they observed the oaths publicly taken, they seemed to consider all others as allowable, and allowedly broken. This is the abuse which Christ wished to correct. It was the practice of swearing in common conversation, and especially swearing by created things. To swear by these things, was to treat irreverently objects created by God; and could not be without guilt.
Our Saviour here had no reference to oaths taken in a court of
justice. It was merely the foolish and wicked habit of swearing in private conversation; of swearing on every occasion, and by every thing, that he condemned. This he does condemn in a most unqualified manner. He himself, however, did not refuse to take an oath in a court of law, Matt. xxvi. 63, 64. So Paul often called God to witness his sincerity, which is all that is meant by an oath. See Rom. i. 9; ix. 1. Gal. i. 20. Heb. vi. 16.
34 But I say unto you, Swear not at all: neither by heaven; for it is God's throne: 35 Nor by the earth; for it is his footstool: neither by Jerusalem; for it is the city of the great King:
'Swear not at all.' That is, in the manner which he proceeds to specify. Swear not in any of the common and profane ways customary at that time. By heaven; for it is God's throne.' To swear by that was, if it meant any thing, to swear by Him that sitteth thereon, Matt. xxiii. 22. The earth; it is his footstool.' Swearing by that, therefore, is really swearing by God. A footstool is that on which the feet rest when sitting. The term is applied to the earth, to denote how lowly and humble an object it is when compared with God. 'City of the great King.' That is God; called the great King, because he was the King of the Israelites, and Jerusalem was the capital of the nation, and the place where he was peculiarly honoured as king.
36 Neither shalt thou swear by thy head, because thou canst not make one hair white or black.
'Thy head. To swear by the head was the same as to swear by the life; or to say, I will forfeit my life if what I say is not true. God is the author of the life, and to swear by that, therefore, is the same as to swear by him. 'One hair,' &c. You have no control or right over your own life. You cannot even change one single hair. God has all that control; and it is therefore improper and profane to pledge what is God's gift and God's property; and it is the same as swearing by God himself.
37 But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil.
Your communication. Your word; what you say. 'Be, yea.' Yes. It means that we should simply affirm, or declare that a thing is so. 'More than these.' More than these affirmations. Profane oaths come of evil. 'Cometh of evil.' Is evil. Proceeds from some evil disposition or purpose. And from this we may learn: 1. That profane swearing is always the evidence of a depraved heart. 2. That no man is believed any sooner because he swears to a thing. He that will break the third commandment, will not hesitate to break the ninth also. The man
who is always believed, is he whose character is beyond suspicion in all things. A man that is truly a christian, and leads a christian life, does not need oaths and profaneness to make him believed. 3. It is no mark of a gentleman to swear. The basest and meanest of mankind swear with as much skill as the most refined; and he that wishes to degrade himself to the very lowest level of pollution and shame, should learn to be a common swearer. Any man has talents enough to learn to curse God, and his fellow-men, and to pray-for every man who swears, prays-that God would sink him and others into hell. 4. Profaneness has done no man any good. It is disgusting to the refined; abominable to the good; insulting to those with whom we associate; degrading to the mind; unprofitable, needless, and injurious, in society; and awful in the sight of God. 5. God will not hold the profane swearer guiltless. Wantonly to profane his name; to call his vengeance down; to curse him on his throne; to invoke damnation; is perhaps of all offences the most awful. And there is not in the universe more cause of amazement at his forbearance, than that God does not rise in vengeance, and smite the profane swearer at once to hell. Verily God is slow to anger; and his mercy is without bounds!
38 Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth. 39 But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. 40 And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also. 41 And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain.
'An eye for an eye,' &c. This command is found in Ex. xxi. 24; Lev. xxiv. 20; and Deut. xix. 21. In these places it was given as a rule to regulate the decisions of judges. Christ finds no fault with the rule as applied to magistrates, and does not take upon himself to repeal it. But the Jews made it the rule by which to take private revenge. They considered themselves justified by this rule to inflict the same injury on others that they had received. Against this our Saviour remonstrates.
The general principle which he laid down was, that we are not to resist evil; that is, not 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, have justified self-defence, when life is in danger. Our Saviour immediately explains what he means. Had he intended to refer it to a case where life is in danger, he would most surely
have mentioned it. Instead of doing this, however, he confines nimself to smaller matters, to things of comparatively trivial interest, and says, that in these we had better take wrong than enter into strife and lawsuits.
'Coat.' The Jews wore two principal garments. The interior, here called the 'coat,' or the tunic, was made commonly of linen, and encircled the whole body, extending down to the knees. 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, five or six cubits long, and as many broad, wrapped around the body, and thrown off when labour was performed. This was the garment which is said to have been without seam woven throughout, John xix. 23.
"Whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile.' The word translated shall compel,' is of Persian origin. The king's messengers 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 with him peaceably twice the distance. 'A mile.' A Roman mile was a thousand paces.
42 Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee, turn not thou away.
'Give to him that asketh thee.' It is better to give sometimes to an undeserving person, than to turn away one really necessitous. It is good to be in the habit of giving. At the same time, the rule must be interpreted so as to be consistent with our duty to our families, 1 Tim. v. 8, and with other objects of justice and charity. So of a poor and needy friend that wishes to borrow. We are not to turn away, or deny him. This deserves, however, some limitation. It must be done in consistency with other duties.
43 Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy:
The command to love our neighbour was a law of God, Lev. xix. 18. That we must, therefore, hate our enemy, was a false inference drawn from it, by the Jews. They supposed that if we loved the one, we must hate the other. They were total strangers to that great peculiar law of religion which requires us to love both. A neighbour is literally one that lives near to us; then, one that is near to us by acts of kindness and friendship. See also Luke x. 36.
44 But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;
'Love your enemies.' It is impossible to love the conduct of a man that curses and reviles us, and injures our person and property, or that violates all the laws of God; but, though we may hate this conduct, we may still wish well to the person; we may pity his madness and folly; we may speak kindly of him, and to him; we may not return evil for evil; we may seek to do him good here, and to promote his eternal welfare hereafter, Rom. xii. 17-20. This is a peculiar law of christianity, and probably the most difficult of all duties to be performed. Bless them that curse you. The word 'bless' here means to speak well of or to. Not to curse again, or to slander, but to speak of those things which we can commend in an enemy; or if there is nothing that we can commend, to say nothing about him. 'Despitefully use you.' The word thus translated, means, wantonly and unjustly
to accuse, and to injure in any way. 'Persecute.' See v. 10.
45 That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.
'That ye may be the children of your Father.' In doing good to enemies, we resemble God. He makes his sun to rise on the evil and good, and sends rain without distinction, on the just and unjust. So his people should show that they imitate or resemble him, or possess his spirit, by doing good in a similar way.
46 For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same?
'What reward have ye? The word 'reward' is used in the sense of deserving praise, or reward. If you only love those that love you, you are selfish, you are not disinterested; it is not genuine love for the character, but love of the benefit; and you deserve no commendation. The publicans.' The publicans were tax-gatherers. Judea was a province of the Roman empire. The Jews bore this foreign yoke with great impatience, and paid their taxes with great reluctance. Those who were appointed to collect taxes were objects of great detestation. They were often of abandoned characters, oppressive in their exactions, and dissolute in their lives. By the Jews they were associated in character with thieves, and adulterers, and profane and dissolute men.