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THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO MATTHEW - Chapter 21 - Verse 19
Verse 19. And when he saw a fig tree in the way, etc. This tree was standing in the public road. It was therefore common property, and any one might lawfully use its fruit. Mark says, Mr 11:13, "Seeing a fig tree afar off having leaves, he came," etc. That is, not far off from the road; but seeing it at a considerable distance, having leaves appearing healthy and luxuriant, they presumed that there would be fruit on it. Mark says, (Mr 11:13,) "He came, if haply he might find anything thereon." That is, judging from the appearance of the tree, it was probable that there would be fruit on it. We are not to suppose that our Lord was ignorant of the true condition of the tree, but he acted according to the appearance of things; being a man as well as Divine, he acted of course as men do act in such circumstances.
And found nothing thereon, but leaves only. Mark Mr 11:13 gives as a reason for this, that "the time of figs was not yet." That is, the time of gathering the figs was not yet, or had not passed. It was a time when figs were ripe, or fit to eat, or he would not have gone to it, expecting to find them. But the time of gathering them had not passed, and it was to be presumed that they were still on the tree. This took place on the week of the passover, or in the beginning of April. Figs in Palestine are commonly ripe at the passover. The summer in Palestine begins in March, and it is no uncommon thing that figs should be eatable in April. It is said that they sometimes produce fruit the year round.
Mr 11:12,13 says that this took place on the morning of the day on which he purified the temple. Matthew would lead us to suppose that it was on the day following. Matthew records briefly what Mark records more fully. Matthew states the fact that the fig-tree was barren and withered away, without regarding minutely the order, or the circumstances in which the event took place. There is no contradiction. For Matthew does not affirm that this took place on the morning after the temple was cleansed, though he places it in that order. Nor does he say that a day did not elapse after the fig-tree was cursed before the disciples discovered that it was withered; though he does not affirm that it was so. Such circumstantial variations, where there is no positive contradiction, go greatly to confirm the truth of a narrative. They show that the writers were honest men, and did not conspire to deceive the world.
And said unto it, Let no fruit grow on thee, etc. Mark calls this "cursing" the tree, Mr 11:21. The word curse does not imply here anger, or disappointment, or malice. It means only devoting to this destruction, or this withering away. All the curse that was pronounced, was in the words that no fruit should grow on it. The Jews used the word curse, not as always implying wrath, and anger, but to devote to death, or to any kind of destruction, Heb 6:8. It has been commonly thought that he did this to denote the sudden withering away, or destruction of the Jewish people. They, like the fig-tree, promised fair, That was full of leaves, and they full of professions. Yet both were equally barren. And as that was destroyed, so were they soon to be. It is certain that this would be a good illustration of the destruction of the Jewish people; but there is not the least evidence that our Saviour intended it as such; and without such evidence, we have no right to say that that was its meaning.
And presently the fig tree withered away. That is, before another day. See Mark. It is probable that they were passing directly onward, and did not stop then to consider it. Matthew does not affirm that it withered away in their presence, and Mark affirms that they made the discovery on the morning after it was "cursed."
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