Which indeed is the least of all seeds: but when it is grown, it is the greatest among herbs, and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and lodge in the branches thereof.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)The least of all seeds.—The description is, of course, popular, and need not be pressed with micro scopical exactness.
The greatest among herbs.—More literally, greater than the herbs—i.e., belonging to a higher order of vegetation.Mark 4:30-32. The kingdom of heavens See the notes at Matthew 3:2. It means here either piety in a renewed heart or the church. In either case the commencement is small. In the heart it is at first feeble, easily injured, and much exposed. In the church there were few at first, ignorant, unknown, and unhonored; yet soon it was to spread through the world.
Grain of mustard-seed - The plant here described was very different from that which is known among us. It was several years before it bore fruit and became properly a tree. Mustard, with us, is an annual plant: it is always small, and is properly an herb. The Hebrew writers speak of the mustard-tree as one on which they could "climb," as on a fig-tree. Its size was much owing to the climate. All plants of that nature grow much larger in a warm climate, like that of Palestine, than in colder regions. The seeds of this tree were remarkably small, so that they, with the great size of the plant, were an apt illustration of the progress of the church and of the nature of faith, Matthew 17:20.
"I have seen," says Dr. Thomson,this plant on the rich plain of Akkar as tall as the horse and his rider. It has occurred to me on former visits that the mustard-tree of the parable probably grew at this spot, or possibly at Tabiga, near Capernaum, for the water in both is somewhat similar, and so are the vegetable productions. To furnish an adequate basis for the proverb, it is necessary to suppose that a variety of it was cultivated in the time of our Saviour, which grew to an enormous size, and shot forth large branches, so that the fowls of the air could lodge in the branches of it. It may have been perennial, and have grown to a considerable tree; and there are traditions in the country of such so large that a man could climb into them; and after having seen "red pepper" bushes grow on year after year, into tall shrubs, and the "castor-bean" line the brooks about Damascus like the willows and the poplars, I can readily credit the existence of mustard-trees large enough to meet all the demands of our Lord's parable. - "The Land and the Book," vol. ii. p. 101.
Young converts often suppose they have much religion. It is not so. They are, indeed, in a new world. Their hearts glow with new affections. They have an elevation, an ecstasy of emotion, which they may not have afterward like a blind man suddenly restored to sight. The sensation is new and especially vivid, yet little is seen distinctly. His impressions are indeed more vivid and cheering than those of him who has long seen and to whom objects are familiar. In a little time, too, the young convert will see more distinctly, will judge more intelligently, will love more strongly, though not with so much "new emotion," and will be prepared to make more sacrifices for the cause of Christ.
but when it is grown, it is the greatest among herbs—not absolutely, but in relation to the small size of the seed, and in warm latitudes proverbially great.
and becometh a tree, so that the birds of the air come and lodge in the branches thereof—This is added, no doubt, to express the amplitude of the tree. But as this seed has a hot, fiery vigor, gives out its best virtues when bruised, and is grateful to the taste of birds, which are accordingly attracted to its branches both for shelter and food, is it straining the parable, asks Trench, to suppose that, besides the wonderful growth of His kingdom, our Lord selected this seed to illustrate further the shelter, repose and blessedness it is destined to afford to the nations of the world?
The Leaven (Mt 13:33).See Poole on "Matthew 13:33".
Matthew 17:20. Not but there are seeds lesser than this; but the meaning is, that this is one of the least of all seeds; or was the least of seeds, which were commonly known in Judea; or the very least which grew to the size this sometimes did, and as here related. Now this is designed to express the small beginnings of the Gospel dispensation, of the ministry of the word, of the grace of God in the hearts of his people, and of the small number of them at first. The Gospel, and the ministry of it were like a grain of mustard seed, little, mean, and contemptible; the author of it, Christ, was so to the Jews, in his birth, parentage, education, and outward appearance; the subject of it a crucified Christ, and salvation by him; and the doctrines out of the reach, and contrary to carnal reason; the preachers of it, were persons of very mean and low life, few in number, weak, illiterate, and despicable, and the whole world against them; the circumstances which attended the Gospel were very discouraging; it was charged with novelty, represented as contrary to common sense, and the reason of mankind, and as opening a door to licentiousness; and was followed with violent opposition and persecution, wherever it went. The grace of God, which under the ministry of the word is implanted in the hearts of the Lord's people, is at first very small, like a grain of mustard seed; it is a day of small things; faith in Christ is very weak and low, spiritual strength small, comfort little, experience of the love of God not large, light and knowledge in the doctrines of grace but very obscure and glimmering: the church of God, which sprung up under the ministry of the word, and through the work of grace, upon the hearts of particular persons, was like the small grain of mustard seed; the persons of which it consisted were but few in number in Christ's time, and at his ascension into heaven, and when the Gospel was first preached among the Gentiles; and those persons which laid the foundation, and were at the beginning of the Gospel church state, made a very contemptible figure, by reason of their outward poverty, and mean circumstances in the world; and on account of the severe persecutions which every where attended them; and also through the errors and heresies introduced by evil men, that crept in among them,
But when it is grown, it is the greatest among herbs, and becometh a tree. Luke says, "a great tree", Luke 13:19 for to such a size did the mustard tree grow in the land of Judea, of which take the following instances (x),
"At Shichin there was a mustard stalk, which had three branches, and one of them was cut down, and they covered a potter's booth with it; and found in it , "three kabs of mustard seed" (elsewhere (y) it is said, nine kabs). Says R. Simeon ben Chelphetha, I have one stalk of mustard seed in my field, and I go up to it, .
"as one goes up to the top of a fig tree".
And though the mustard tree grew to this height and size, it was reckoned among herbs, as here by Christ; for they say (z),
"they do not put mustard in a field of fruits, but in a field of herbs.
All which serve to illustrate and confirm the account here given by Christ, and alluded to; and which expresses the very large growth and increase of the Gospel, and the ministry of it; of the grace of God in the heart, and of the church of Christ, and his interest in the world: of the Gospel, and the ministry of it, as to its large spread in the world; which at first was confined to the Jews, but was afterwards published to the Gentiles, and carried through the whole world; and, in ages since, has made a considerable progress, particularly at the Reformation; and will make a much greater one, towards the end of time: and of the grace of God in the heart, which gradually increases to a full assurance of understanding of hope, and of faith, and to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: and of the church of Christ, and his interest in the world; both as to the large numbers it did consist of in the times of the apostles, and since, and will more especially hereafter; for the church will fill the earth, and the kingdoms of the world will become the church, and all nations of the earth will flock unto it; the people of the Jews in general will be converted, and the fulness of the Gentiles will be brought in: as also with respect to the figure it will make through the great personages, the kings and princes of the earth, that will be in it; the great power and authority the saints will then have; the peace and prosperity that will be enjoyed by them; the spirituality, holiness, righteousness, love, and unity, there will be among them; as also the presence of God and of the Lamb, they will be favoured with; all which glory and happiness will be brought about by a plentiful effusion of the Spirit, and by the glorious appearance of Christ,
So that the birds of the air come and lodge in the branches thereof: by "the birds of the air", some think angels are meant, compared to "birds" for their harmlessness and innocence; for their readiness and swiftness to do the will of God; and for their warbling notes and tuneful songs of praise; and who may be called birds "of the air", or heaven, because of their habitation: now these delight to be in the church, to be under the shadow of the Gospel ministry, and to look into the mysteries of it. Though rather, the saints and people of God are intended, who, in Scripture, are sometimes compared to particular birds; as to the eagle, the dove, and sparrow; and to birds in general, because timorous, weak, and defenceless, are exposed to danger, and wonderfully delivered, and are very subject to wander and go astray; and because of their chirpings, and singing songs of praise to their God and Redeemer; and to birds of the air or heaven, because they are heaven born souls, are partakers of the heavenly calling, and are pressing for, and soaring aloft towards the high calling of God in Christ: now the Gospel ministry, and the Gospel church state, are very useful to these; they "come" thereunto willingly, and cheerfully, deliberately, and with dependence on the grace and strength of Christ; humbly, under a sense of their own unworthiness, and yet with joy and thankfulness; heartily, and with their faces thitherwards, and they also "lodge" therein. This is what they desire, and their hearts are set upon; here they determine to be, and it is their happiness to be here; the shadow of Gospel ordinances is very delightful, very refreshing, and very fruitful to them, and under which saints dwell with great safety; and what a coming of these birds will there be hither, and a tabernacling of them herein, at the latter day! which are greatly designed in this part of the parable,
(u) Misn. Kilaim, c. 3. sect. 2.((w) T. Bab. Beracot, fol. 31. 1. Megilla, fol. 23. 2. Nidda, fol. 66. 1.((x) T. Hieros. Peah, fol. 20. 2.((y) T. Bab, Cetubot, fol. 111. 2.((z) Misn. Kilaim, c. 2. sect. 8.Which indeed is the least of all seeds: but when it is grown, it is the greatest among herbs, and becometh a tree, so that the birds of the air come and lodge in the branches thereof.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)Matthew 13:32. Ὅ] refers to κόκκος σινάπ., and owes its gender to the fact of its being attracted by the neuter following; Winer, p. 156 [E. T. 217 ff.].
μικρότερον] not instead of the superlative; see, however, on note Matthew 11:11. But, inasmuch as this is a proverbial expression of a hyperbolical character, little need be made of the fact that seeds of a still more diminutive kind are to be met with; comp. Matthew 17:20, and Lightfoot. “Satis est, in genere verum esse, quod dicit Dominus,” Erasmus.
τῶν λαχάνων] than any other vegetable.
ὅταν δὲ αὐξ. κ.τ.λ.] but when it shall have grown, portrays the extraordinary result that follows the sowing of the tiny little seed. The astonishing nature of such a result is still more forcibly brought out in Luke 13:19 by means of δένδρον μέγα.
κατασκ.] dwell. The interpretation of the word as meaning to build nests (Erasmus) is not general enough; comp. note on Matthew 8:20.Matthew 13:32. ὃ, neuter, by attraction of σπερμάτων, instead of ὃν in agreement with κόκκῳ, masculine.—μικρότερον, not less perhaps than all the seeds in the world. An American correspondent sent me a sample of the seeds of the cotton tree, which he thinks Christ would have made the basis of His parable had He spoken it in America.—μεῖζον τῶν λαχάνων, greater than (all) the herbs. The comparison implies that it too is an herb. There would be no point in the statement that a plant of the nature of a tree grew to be greater than all garden herbs. This excludes the mustard tree, called Salvadora Persica, to which some have thought the parable refers.—δένδρον, not in nature but in size; an excusable exaggeration in a popular discourse. Koetsveld remarks on the greatly increased growth attained by a plant springing from a single seed with plenty of room all round it (De Gelijk., p. 50).—ὥστε here indicates at once tendency and result, large enough to make that possible, and it actually happened. The birds haunted the plant like a tree or shrub. Mark refers only to the possibility (Mark 4:32).—κατασκηνοῦν (cf. κατασκηνώσεις, Matthew 8:20), not nidulari, to make nests (Erasmus), but to “lodge,” as in A. V The mustard plant is after all of humble size, and gives a very modest idea of the growth of the kingdom. But it serves admirably to express the thought of a growth beyond expectation. Who would expect so tiny a seed to produce such a large herb, a monster in the garden?
 Authorised Version.32. the least of all seeds] Not absolutely the least, but least in proportion to the plant that springs from the seed. Moreover the mustard seed was used proverbially of anything excessively minute.
lodge in the branches] i. e. settle for the purpose of rest or shelter or to eat the seeds of which goldfinches and linnets are very fond (Tristram, Nat. Hist. of Bible, p. 473). Lodge, literally dwell in tents. If we think of the leafy huts constructed for the feast of tabernacles the propriety of the word will be seen. The mustard plant does not grow to a very great height, so that St Luke’s expression “waxed a great tree” must not be pressed. Dr Thomson (Land and Book) mentions as an exceptional instance that he found it on the plain of Akkar as tall as a horse and its rider.Matthew 13:32. Ὃ, which) sc. seed: for κόκκος (grain) is masculine.—μικρότερον, the least) i.e. not absolutely, but in the proportion which the seed bears to the plant. It was a well-known kind of seed, used proverbially; see ch. Matthew 17:20.—σπερμάτων, of seeds) The world contains various seeds of wisdom, power, and virtue; the Christian faith has surpassed them all, having been propagated through the whole world. The kingdom of heaven is like a grain; and so is the whole of Christianity, faith, etc. These things may be variously expressed. The faith here intended is that of all those believers, who embrace it before others: the others are those who believe afterwards—nations, kings, etc.—μεῖζον—λαχάνων—δένδρον, greater herbs—tree) two classes of vegetables. Tremellius, on this passage in the Syriac Version, adduces examples of such immense trees.—It became a tree, one may say, in the time of Constantine.—τὰ πετεινὰ, the birds) see Ezekiel 17:23.—κλάδοις, branches) sc. widely spreading.
 EMMANUEL TREMELLIUS was born in the sixteenth century at Ferrara, of Jewish parents. He rendered himself master of the Hebrew language, and secretly embraced Protestantism. He became Professor of Hebrew at Heidelberg, from whence he went to Metz, and thence to Sedan. He made himself known by his Latin Version of the Syriac New Testament. He died in 1580.—(I. B.)
 The kingdom of Christ is being extended now throughout the whole world.—V. g.Verse 32. - Which indeed is the least of (is less than, Revised Version) all seeds; i.e. all those ordinarily sown in Palestine then. Instances of the proverbial use in the Talmuds of the size of a grain of mustard to express something very small, may be seen in Levy, s.v. חרדל. But when it is grown, it is the greatest among herbs; it is greater than the herbs (Revised Version); i.e. than those which are usually called λάχανα. And becometh a tree, so that the birds of the air. There is not necessarily any connotation of evil about these (cf. vers. 4, 19); the thought is simply that those who are naturally outsiders are glad to come under cover of this tree. Compare, for both thought and language, Daniel's description of the empire of Babylon (Daniel 4:12, 21), and Ezekiel's prophecy of the kingdom of Judah (Ezekiel 17:23). Come and lodge in the branches thereof. Lodge (κατασκηνοῖν); Matthew 8:20, note. In Palestine the goldfinches and linnets settle on the mustard in flocks (Tristram, 'Nat. Hist. of Bible,' p. 473, edit. 1889).
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