Commentary on the Bible, by Adam Clarke, , at sacred-texts.com
Christ rides triumphantly into Jerusalem, Mar 11:1-11. The barren fig tree cursed, Mar 11:12-14. He cleanses the temple, Mar 11:15-17. The scribes and chief priests are enraged, Mar 11:18. Reflections on the withered fig tree, Mar 11:19-23. Directions concerning prayer and forgiveness, Mar 11:24-26. The chief priests, etc., question him by what authority he did his works, Mar 11:27, Mar 11:28. He answers, and confounds them, Mar 11:29-33.
He sendeth - two of his disciples - This was done but a few days before the passover. See our Lord's entry into Jerusalem illustrated, on Matthew 21:1-17 (note).
Whereon never man sat - No animal was allowed to be employed in sacred uses, even among the heathen, that had previously been used for any domestic or agricultural purpose; and those which had never been yoked were considered as sacred. See several proofs of this in the note on Num 19:2 (note), and add this from Ovid: -
Bos tibi, Phoebus ait, solis occurret in arvis,
Nullum passa jugum curvique immunis aratri
Met. lib. iii. v. 10
The Delphic oracles this answer give: -
Behold among the fields a lonely cow,
Unworn with yokes, unbroken to the plough.
And straightway he will send him hither - From the text, I think it is exceedingly plain, that our Lord did not beg, but borrow, the colt; therefore the latter clause of this verse should be understood as the promise of returning him. Is not the proper translation the following? And if any one say to you, Why do ye this? Say, the Lord hath need of him, and will speedily send him back hither - και ευθεως αυτον αποστελλει ὡδε. Some eminent critics take the same view of the passage.
And they let them go - Having a full assurance that the beast should be safely and speedily restored.
In the name of the Lord - Omitted by BCDLU, some others, and several versions. Griesbach leaves it out.
Hosanna in the highest! - See on Mat 21:9 (note).
When he had looked round about upon all things - He examined every thing - to see if the matters pertaining to the Divine worship were properly conducted; to see that nothing was wanting - nothing superfluous.
And now the eventide was come - The time in which he usually left Jerusalem, to go to Bethany.
For the time of figs was not yet - Rather, For it was not the season of gathering figs yet. This I am fully persuaded is the true sense of this passage, ου γαρ ην καιρος συκων. For a proof that καιρος here signifies the time of gathering the figs, see the Lxx. in Psa 1:3. He bringeth forth his fruit, εν καιρω αυτου, in his season; i.e. in the time in which fruit should be ripe, and fit for gathering. See also Mar 12:2 : - And at the season, τῳ καιρῳ, the time of gathering the fruits of the vineyard. Mat 21:34 : - When the time of the fruit drew near; ὁ καιρος των καρπων, the time in which the fruits were to be gathered, for it was then that the Lord of the vineyard sent his servants to receive the fruits; i.e. so much of them as the holder of the vineyard was to pay to the owner by way of rent; for in those times rent was paid in kind.
To the above may be added, Job 5:26 : - Thou shalt come to thy grave in Full Age, like as a shock of corn cometh in his season; κατα καιρον, in the time in which it should be reaped.
When our Lord saw this fig tree by the way-side, apparently flourishing, he went to it to gather some of the figs: being on the way-side, it was not private, but public property; and any traveler had an equal right to its fruit. As it was not as yet the time for gathering in the fruits, and yet about the time when they were ready to be gathered, our Lord with propriety expected to find some. But as this happened about five days before that passover on which Christ suffered, and the passover that year fell on the beginning of April, it has been asked, "How could our Lord expect to find ripe figs in the end of March?" Answer, Because figs were ripe in Judea as early as the passover. Besides, the fig tree puts forth its fruit first, and afterwards its leaves. Indeed, this tree, in the climate which is proper for it, has fruit on it all the year round, as I have often seen. All the difficulty in the text may be easily removed by considering that the climate of Judea is widely different from that of Great Britain. The summer begins there in March, and the harvest at the passover, as all travelers into those countries testify; therefore, as our Lord met with this tree five days before the passover, it is evident, - 1st. That it was the time of ripe figs: and, 2ndly. That it was not the time of gathering them, because this did not begin till the passover, and the transaction here mentioned took place five days before.
For farther satisfaction on this point, let us suppose: -
I. That this tree was intended to point out the state of the Jewish people.
1. They made a profession of the true religion.
2. They considered themselves the peculiar people of God, and despised and reprobated all others.
3. They were only hypocrites, having nothing of religion but the profession - leaves, and no fruit.
II. That our Lord's conduct towards this tree is to be considered as emblematical of the treatment and final perdition which was to come upon this hypocritical and ungodly nation.
1. It was a proper time for them to have borne fruit: Jesus had been preaching the doctrine of repentance and salvation among them for more than three years; the choicest influences of Heaven had descended upon them; and every thing was done in this vineyard that ought to be done, in order to make it fruitful.
2. The time was now at hand in which God would require fruit, good fruit; and, if it did not produce such, the tree should be hewn down by the Roman axe.
1. The tree is properly the Jewish nation.
2. Christ's curse the sentence of destruction which had now gone out against it; and,
3. Its withering away, the final and total ruin of the Jewish state by the Romans.
His cursing the fig tree was not occasioned by any resentment at being disappointed at not finding fruit on it, but to point out unto his disciples the wrath which was coming upon a people who had now nearly filled up the measure of their iniquity.
A fruitless soul, that has had much cultivation bestowed on it, may expect to be dealt with as God did with this unrighteous nation. See on Mat 21:19 (note), etc.
And they come - Several MSS. and versions have παλιν, again. This was the next day after our Lord's triumphant entry into Jerusalem; for on the evening of that day he went to Bethany, and lodged there, Mar 11:11, and Mat 21:17, and returned the next morning to Jerusalem.
Should carry any vessel - Among the Jews the word כלי keli, vessel, had a vast latitude of meaning; it signified arms, Jer 21:4; Eze 9:1; clothes, Deu 22:5, and instruments of music, Psa 71:22. It is likely that the evangelist uses the Greek word σκευος in the same sense, and by it points out any of the things which were bought and sold in the temple.
And he taught - them - See on Mat 21:12 (note).
He went out of the city - To go to Bethany.
Have faith in God - Εχετε πιϚιν θεου is a mere Hebraism: have the faith of God, i.e. have strong faith, or the strongest faith, for thus the Hebrews expressed the superlative degree; so the mountains of God mean exceeding great mountains - the hail of God, exceeding great hail, etc.
When ye stand praying - This expression may mean no more than, When ye are disposed, or have a mind, to pray, i.e. whenever ye perform that duty. And it is thus used and explained in the Koran, Surat. v. ver. 7. See on Mat 21:20-22 (note). But the Pharisees loved to pray standing, that they might be seen of men.
At the end of this verse, the 7th and 8th verses of Matthew 7. Ask and ye shall receive, etc., are added by M, and sixteen other MSS. The 26th verse is wanting in BLS, seven others, some editions, the Coptic, one Itala, and Theophylact.
See on Mat 21:23-27 (note).
They feared the people - Or rather, We fear, etc. Instead of εφοβουντο, they feared; the Codex Bezae, seven others, later Syriac, Arabic, Coptic, Ethiopic, Armenian, Vulgate, and all the Itala, read φοβουμεν, or φοβουμεθα. The common reading appearing to me quite improper.
We fear the people. Εαν, if, before ειπωμεν, we shall say, is omitted by ABCEFGHLS, and more than fifty others. Bengel leaves it out of the text, and puts a note of interrogation after Εξ ανθρωπων; and then the whole passage reads thus: But shall we say, Of men? They feared the people, etc. This change renders the adoption of φοβουμεν, we fear, unnecessary. Several critics prefer this mode of distinguishing the text. However the critics may be puzzled with the text, the scribes, chief priests, and elders were worse puzzled with our Lord's question. They must convict themselves or tell a most palpable falsehood. - They told the lie, and so escaped for the present.
1. Envy, malice, and double dealing have always a difficult part to act, and are ultimately confounded by their own projects and ruined by their own operations. On the other hand, simplicity and sincerity are not obliged to use a mask, but always walk in a plain way.
2. The case of the barren fig-tree which our Lord cursed has been pitifully misunderstood and misapplied. The whole account of this transaction, as stated above, I believe to be correct; it is so much in our Lord's usual manner that the propriety of it will scarcely be doubted. He was ever acting the part of the philosopher, moralist, and divine, as well as that of the Savior of sinners. In his hand, every providential occurrence and every object of nature, became a means of instruction: the stones of the desert, the lilies of the field, the fowls of heaven, the beasts of the forest, fruitful and unfruitful trees, with every ordinary occurrence, were so many grand texts, from which he preached the most illuminating and impressive sermons, for the instruction and salvation of his audience. This wisdom and condescension cannot be sufficiently admired. But shall the example of the fruitless fig tree be lost on us as well as on the Jews? God forbid! Let us therefore take heed, lest having been so long unfruitful, God should say, Let no fruit appear on thee hereafter for ever! and in consequence of this, we wither and die away! See Clarke on Mar 11:27 (note).