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Second Great Group of Parables.
(Probably in Peræa.)
Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus.
C Luke XVI. 19–31.
[The parable we are about to study is a direct advance upon the thoughts in the previous section. We may say generally that if the parable of the unjust steward teaches how riches are to be used, this parable sets forth the terrible consequences of a failure to so use them. Each point of the previous discourse is covered in detail, as will be shown by the references in the discussion of the parable.] c 19 Now there was a certain rich man, and he was clothed in purple and fine linen, faring sumptuously every day [For convenience' sake, this rich man has been commonly called Dives, which is simply Latin for rich man, and is therefore not truly a name, for it is not fitting to name him whom the Lord left nameless. Along the coast of Tyre there was found a rare shell-fish (Murex purpurarius) from which a costly purple dye was obtained, each little animal yielding about one drop of it. Woolen garments dyed with it were worn by kings and nobles, and idol images were sometimes arrayed in them. This purple robe formed the outer, and the linen the inner garment. The byssus, or fine linen of Egypt, was produced from flax, which grew on the banks of the Nile. It was dazzlingly white, and worth twice its weight in gold (Gen. xli. 42; Ex. xxvi. 31–33; xxviii. 5; I. Chron. xv. 27; Ezek. xxvii. 7). The mention of these garments and a continual banqueting indicates a life of extreme luxury.] 20 and a certain beggar [literally, one who crouches. It is used thirty-four times in the New Testament, and is everywhere translated “poor” save here and at Gal. iv. 9. In the last stages of life Lazarus had become an object of charity, but there is nothing to indicate that he had been an habitual beggar] named Lazarus [This is the only 512name which occurs in our Lord's parables. It is derived from Eleazar, which means, God a help. The name is symbolic of destitution, and many words indicative of beggary are derived from it] was laid at his gate [in the East the gates of the rich are still the resorts of the poor.] full of sores, 21 And desiring to be fed with the crumbs that fell from the rich man's table; yea, even the dogs come and licked his sores. [The contrast here is sharp. Lazarus is naked and clothed with sores instead of rich apparel, and desires crumbs instead of a banquet. That he limited his desire to crumbs suggests a freedom from both worldly lust and envy. Whether he got the crumbs is not stated. His sufferings may have been as unmitigated on earth as those of the rich man were in Hades (verse 24), and it is certain that even if he received the crumbs they did not count as a gift, being mere refuse, utterly worthless in the sight of the rich man. The very point of the parable is that the rich man gave him nothing. The dogs also suggest a contrast. The rich man is surrounded by loyal brethren and attentive servants, while Lazarus is the companion of dogs, the scavengers of the streets, who treat him with rude compassion as one of their number, soothing his sores with their saliva.] 22 And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and that he was carried away by the angels into Abraham's bosom [it is the office of angels to minister to the heirs of salvation—Matt. xxiv. 31; Mark xiii. 27; Heb. i. 14]: and the rich man also died, and was buried. [In death as well as in life the two men stand in contrast. The rich man passes from view with the pomp and pagentry of a burial (II. Chron. xvi. 13, 14), an earthly honor suited to a worldly life. But Lazarus passes hence with the angels, a spiritual triumph suited to one accepted of God.] 23 And in Hades, he lifted up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth [Rev. xiv. 10] Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. [Hades (Greek), or Sheol (Hebrew), was the name given to the abode of the dead between death and the resurrection. In it the souls of the wicked are in torment, and those of the righteous 513enjoy a paradise (Luke xxiii. 43). The joys of Paradise were conceived of as those of a feast, and the expression “Abraham's bosom” is taken from the custom of reclining on couches at feasts. As a guest leaned upon his left arm, his neighbor on his left might easily lean upon his bosom. Such a position of respect to the master of the house was one of special honor, and indicated great intimacy (John i. 18; xiii. 23). What higher honor or joy could the Jew conceive of than such a condition of intimacy and fellowship with Abraham, the great founder of their race?—Matt. viii. 11.] 24 And he cried [in earnest entreaty] and said, Father Abraham [the claim of kindred is not denied, but it is unavailing— Luke iii. 8], have mercy on me, and send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am in anguish in this flame. [The smallness of the favor asked indicates the greatness of the distress, as it does in verse 21, where crumbs are desired. There is a reciprocity also between the desired crumbs and the prayed-for drop, which contains a covert reference to verses 4 and 5. Had the rich man given more he might now have asked for more. The friendship of Lazarus might have been easily won, and now the rich man needed that friendship, but he had neglected the principle set forth in verse 9, and had abused his stewardship by wasting his substance upon himself. Again, the former condition of each party is sharply reversed. Lazarus feasts at a better banquet, and the rich man begs because of a more dire and insatiable craving. Thus the life despised of men was honored by God, and (verse 15) the man who was exalted among men is found to have been abominable unto God.] 25 But Abraham said, Son [a tender word—Josh. vii. 19], remember [Prov. v. 11–14] that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things: but now here [where a different order pertains from that of the earth] he is comforted and thou art in anguish. [The woes received by Lazarus are not spoken of as his. He neither earned nor deserved them ( Rev. vii. 13–17). His was the stewardship of suffering 514(I. Cor. iv. 9; II. Cor. iv. 7 ), and in its small details he had shown great faithfulness. The rich man had the stewardship of wealth, with its accompanying obligation of generosity. This obligation he had esteemed as too contemptibly small to deserve his notice; but in neglecting it, he had inadvertently been unfaithful in much. See verse 10. This has been the sin of omission on the part of the rich man, and his sin of commission answered as a complement to it, for he had been guilty of that money-loving self-indulgence which was condemned by Jesus and justified by the Pharisees ( verses 14, 15). No other crime is charged against the rich man, yet he is found in torment. But the rich man during his lifetime had been so deceived by his wealth that he had failed to detect his sin. Moreover, as he indicates in verse 28, a like deception was now being practiced upon his brethren. Thus the parable justifies the term “unrighteous” which Jesus had given to mammon at verses 9, 11.] 26 And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, that they that would pass from hence to you may not be able, and that none may cross over from thence to us. [We have here a clear statement of the separation which parts the good from the evil in the future state. But it has been urged that the coloring and phraseology of this parable is derived from rabbinical teaching, that our Lord made use of a current but erroneous Jewish notion to teach a valuable lesson, and that therefore it is not safe to draw any inferences from the narrative relative to the future state. But it should be observed that the parables of Jesus never introduce fictitious conditions, nor do they anywhere violate the order and course of nature. It is hardly possible that he could have made this an exception to his rule, especially since it is in a field where all the wisdom of the world is insufficient to make the slightest correction. Moreover, it is certainly impossible that he could exaggerate the differences between the states of the lost and saved in the hereafter. Nor can the teaching of the parable be set aside on the ground that it represents merely the intermediate and not the final condition of things. If the 515intermediate condition of things is fixed and established, the final condition must, a fortiori, be more so. Moreover, the teaching here differs from that of the old rabbis, for, according to Lightfoot, a wall and not a gulf separated between the just and the unjust, and they were not “afar off” from each other, the distance being but a handbreadth. The passage therefore confirms the doctrine that the righteous are neither homeless nor unconscious during the period between death and the resurrection (Phil. i. 23), and refutes the doctrine of Universalism, for the gulf is, 1, fixed, and, 2, can not be passed or bridged. The gulf of pride and caste between the rich man and Lazarus while on earth was easy to cross.] 27 And he said, I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest send him to my father's house [The double attempt of the rich man to use Lazarus as his servant shows how hard it was for him to adjust himself to his new condition]; 28 for I have five brethren [there is no typical significance in the number]; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment. [Deceived by his wealth, the rich man looked upon his earthly possessions as real and substantial, and, like rich sinners of to-day, had simply disregarded the affairs of the future life. Aroused by the sudden experience of the awful realities of the future state, he desires to make it as real to his brethren as it had now become to him. In endeavoring to carry out his desire he proceeds on the theory that the testimony of the dead in reference to the realities of the future state are more trustworthy and influential than the revelations of God himself, given through his inspired spokesmen. This dishonoring of God and his law was to be expected from one who had made mammon his real master, even though professing (as the context suggests) to serve God. The singleness of his service is shown in that he, though practically discharged by one master—mammon, can not even now speak respectfully of God. Some commentators make much of the so-called repentance of the rich man, manifested in this concern for his brethren; but the Lord did not count kindness shown to kindred as evidence of goodness, 516much less of repentance (Luke vi. 32–35, pp. 248, 249). Besides the natural feeling for his brothers, he knew that their presence in torment would add to his own. His concern for his brethren is not told to indicate repentance. It is mentioned to bring out the point that the revealed will of God of itself and without more makes it inexcusable for a man to lead a selfish life.] 29 But Abraham saith, They have Moses and the prophets [i. e., the entire Old Testament]; let them hear them. [John i. 45; v. 39–46; Luke xxiv. 27. The Scriptures are a sufficient guide to godliness—II. Tim. iii. 16, 17, and a failure to live rightly when possession them is due to lack of will, and not to lack of knowledge.] 30 And he said, Nay, father Abraham: but if one go to them from the dead, they will repent. [With the spirit of a true Pharisee, he sought a sign for his brothers. See page 305. But the guidance of Scripture is better than any sign.] 31 And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, if one rise from the dead. [These words might sound like an overstatement of the obduracy of unbelief were they not amply verified by the literal facts. Jesus had already raised at least two from the dead as witnesses to his divine power, and he was about to raise a third, who, with startling suggestiveness, would bear this very name of Lazarus. But despite all these witnesses the majority of the Jews disbelieved and continued to disbelieve in him; nay, they even went so far as to seek the death of Lazarus that they might be rid of his testimony (John xii. 10). This is also a reference to Jesus' own resurrection. It is true that he did not appear in person to those who disbelieved in him, but they had clear knowledge of his resurrection (Matt. xxviii. 11–15), and it was considered as proved to all men—Acts xvii. 31.] 517
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