Matthew 23:4
For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men's shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers.
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(4) Heavy burdens.—The thought was involved in our Lord’s call to the “heavy laden,” in the words that spoke of His own “burden” as “light” (Matthew 11:28; Matthew 11:30). Here it finds distinct expression. That it appealed to the witness which men’s hearts were bearing, secretly or openly, we see from St. Peter’s confession in Acts 15:10.

They themselves will not move . . .—The rigorous precepts, the high-flown morality were for others, not themselves. Professing to guide, they neither helped nor sympathised with the troubles of those they taught. (Comp. Romans 2:17-23.)

Matthew 23:4. For they bind heavy burdens — Not only insisting upon the most minute circumstances of the ceremonial law, called a yoke, Acts 15:10; and pressing the observation of them with more strictness and severity than God himself did; but by adding to his word, and imposing their own inventions and traditions under the highest penalties: witness their many additions to the law of the sabbath, by which they made that day a burden, which was designed to be a joy and delight: but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers — They press upon the people a strictness in religion which they themselves will not be bound by, but secretly transgress their own traditions, which they publicly enforce.23:1-12 The scribes and Pharisees explained the law of Moses, and enforced obedience to it. They are charged with hypocrisy in religion. We can only judge according to outward appearance; but God searches the heart. They made phylacteries. These were scrolls of paper or parchment, wherein were written four paragraphs of the law, to be worn on their foreheads and left arms, Ex 13:2-10; 13:11-16; De 6:4-9; 11:13-21. They made these phylacteries broad, that they might be thought more zealous for the law than others. God appointed the Jews to make fringes upon their garments, Nu 15:38, to remind them of their being a peculiar people; but the Pharisees made them larger than common, as if they were thereby more religious than others. Pride was the darling, reigning sin of the Pharisees, the sin that most easily beset them, and which our Lord Jesus takes all occasions to speak against. For him that is taught in the word to give respect to him that teaches, is commendable; but for him that teaches, to demand it, to be puffed up with it, is sinful. How much is all this against the spirit of Christianity! The consistent disciple of Christ is pained by being put into chief places. But who that looks around on the visible church, would think this was the spirit required? It is plain that some measure of this antichristian spirit prevails in every religious society, and in every one of our hearts.They bind heavy burdens ... - This phrase is derived from the custom of loading animals. The load or burden is bound up and then laid on the beast. So the Pharisees appointed weighty burdens, or grievous and heavy precepts, and insisted that the people should obey them, though they lent no assistance. The "heavy burdens" refer not here to the traditions and foolish customs of the Pharisees, for Jesus would not command the people to observe them; but they clearly mean the ceremonies and rights appointed by Moses, which Peter says neither "they nor their fathers were able to bear," Acts 15:10. Those rites were numerous, expensive, requiring much time, much property, and laborious. The Pharisees were rigid in requiring that all the people should pay the taxes, give of their property, comply with every part of the law with the utmost rigor, yet they indulged themselves, and bore as little of the expense and trouble as possible; so that, where they could avoid it, they would not lend the least aid to the people in the toils and expense of their religious rites.

With one of their fingers - In the least degree. They will not render the least aid.

4. For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men's shoulders; but they themselves will not move them—"touch them not" (Lu 11:46).

with one of their fingers—referring not so much to the irksomeness of the legal rites, though they were irksome enough (Ac 15:10), as to the heartless rigor with which they were enforced, and by men of shameless inconsistency.

Our Saviour saith the same of the lawyers, Luke 11:46. The

burdens here mentioned were not their traditions and ritual things, Christ would never have before commanded his disciples to observe and do them, but the things truly commanded by the law of God, especially the ceremonial law, called a yoke, Acts 15:10, which (say the apostles) neither our fathers nor we were able to bear. They are, saith our Saviour, rigid exactors and pressers of the law of God upon others, but will not themselves use the least endeavours (such as the putting to of a finger) themselves to do them.

1. He blames them that their own lives no way answered their doctrine.

2. It may be, he also blames their too rigid pressing the law in all the minute things of it.

There may be a too rigorous pressing of the law. Good teachers will be faithful in delivering the whole counsel of God, yet teaching no more than themselves will endeavour to practise; and being conscious of human infirmity, they will do it with great tenderness and compassion, joining law and gospel both together. For they bind heavy burdens,.... Meaning not the rites and ceremonies of the law of Moses, circumcision, and other rituals, which obliged to the keeping of the whole law, which was a yoke men were not able to bear; but the traditions of the elders, which the Scribes and Pharisees were very tenacious of, and very severely enjoined the observance of, and are called their "heavy" things (o).

"It is a tradition of R. Ishmael, there are in the words of the law, that, which is bound or forbidden, and that which is loose or free; and there are in them light things, and there are in them heavy things; but the words of the Scribes, , "all of them are heavy".''

And a little after,

"the words of the elders, "are heavier" than the words of the prophets.''

Hence frequent mention is made of

"the light things of the school of Shammai, "and of the heavy things of the school of Hillell" (p)''

two famous doctors, heads of two universities, in being in Christ's time: these are also called, , "the blows, or wounds of the Pharisees" (q); not as Bartenora explains them, the wounds they gave themselves, to show their humility; or which they received, by beating their heads against the wall, walking with their eyes shut, that they might not look upon women, under a pretence of great chastity; but, as Maimonides says, these are their additions and heavy things, which they add to the law. Now the binding of these heavy things, means the imposing them on men, obliging them to observe them very strictly, under great penalties, should they omit them. The allusion is, to those frequent sayings in use among them, such a thing is "bound", and such a thing is loosed; such a "Rabbi binds", and such an one looses; that is, forbids, or allows of such and such things; See Gill on Matthew 16:19.

and grievous to be borne. This clause is left out in the Syriac, Arabic, Persic, and Ethiopic versions; but is in all the Greek copies, and serves to illustrate and aggravate the burdensome rites and institutions of these people: and

lay them on men's shoulders, but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers: the sense is, not that they were so rigid and hardhearted, that they would not move a finger to remove these burdens from the shoulders of men, or ease them in the least degree, or dispense with their performance of them in the least measure, upon any consideration, though this also was true in many respects; but that they were so slothful and indolent themselves, that though they strictly enjoined the observance of their numerous and unwritten traditions on the people, yet in many cases, where they could without public notice, they neglected them themselves, or at least, made them lighter and easier to them, as in their fastings, &c. In the Misna (r), mention is made of "a crafty wicked man", along with a woman Pharisee, and the blows of the Pharisees before spoken of; and in the Gemara (s), is explained by R. Hona, of one,

"that makes things "light" for himself, and makes them "heavy" for others.''

Such crafty wicked men were Scribes and Pharisees; though R. Meir pretended that he made things "light" to others and "heavy" to himself (t).

(o) T. Hieros. Peracot, fol. 3. 2. (p) T. Hieros. Sota, fol. 19. 2. Yom Tob. fol. 60. 2. & Berncot, fol. 3. 2. (q) Misn. Sota, c. 3. sect. 4. (r) Ubi supra. (Misn. Sota, c. 3. sect. 4.) (s) T. Bab. Sota, fol. 21. 2.((t) T. Hieros. Beracot, fol. 3. 1.

{2} For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men's shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers.

(2) For the most part hypocrites most severely exact those things which they themselves chiefly neglect.

Matthew 23:4. Comp. Luke 11:46.

In δεσμεύουσι δέ (see critical notes), the δέ introduces an instance of their λέγουσι καὶ οὐ ποιοῦσι of a peculiarly oppressive character.

The binding (tying up into a bundle portions from the various elements, comp. Jdt 8:3) of heavy burdens is an expression intended to represent the connecting together of a number of requirements and precepts, so that, from their accumulation, they become difficult to fulfil.

τῷ δὲ δακτύλῳ αὐτῶν, κ.τ.λ.] but are themselves indisposed to move them even with their finger, in the direction, that is, of their fulfilment. The emphasis rests on τῷ δακτύλῳ; they will not move the burdens with their finger, far less would they bear them upon their shoulders.Matthew 23:4 illustrates the previous statement.—δεσμεύουσι, tc., they bind together, like sheaves, heavy backloads of rules. Think, e.g., of the innumerable rules for Sabbath observance similar to that prohibiting rubbing ears of corn as work—threshing.—δυσβάστακτα may be a spurious reading imported from Luke 11:46, but it states a fact, and was doubtless used by Jesus on some occasion. It shows by the way that He had no thought of unqualified approval of the teaching of the scribes.—ἐπὶ τ. ὤμους, on the shoulders, that they may feel the full weight, demanding punctual compliance.—αὐτοὶ δὲ τ. δακτύλῳ, etc., they are not willing to move or touch them with a finger; proverbial (Elsner) for “will not take the smallest trouble to keep their own rules”. A strong statement pointing to the subtle ways of evading strict rules invented by the scribes. “The picture is of the merciless camel or ass driver who makes up burdens not only heavy, but unwieldy and so difficult to carry, and then placing them on the animal’s shoulders, stands by indifferent, raising no finger to lighten or even adjust the burden” (Carr, C. G. T.).4. they bind heavy burdens] Impose the grievous enactments of the Law. Cp. “My yoke is easy and my burden is light” (ch. Matthew 11:30).Matthew 23:4. Δεσμεύουσι γὰρ, for they bind) This explains the words, They say and do not.—βαρέα καὶ δυσβάστακτα, heavy and grievous to be borne) epithets suitable to the doctrines of men.[986]—ὬΜΟΥςΔΑΚΤΎΛῼ, shoulders—with the finger) There is an evident contrast intended between these words.—κινῆσαι, to move) much less to bear. Scripture has an incomparable felicity in describing the inner characters of minds, of which the whole of this chapter affords a striking instance; see also Luke 12:16-17.

[986] Which both are not contained in the law, and are contrary to the law.—V. g.Verse 4. - Bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne; δυσβάστακτα: importabilia (Vulgate). The last epithet, which is very uncommon (Luke 11:46), is omitted by some manuscripts and versions, but it is probably genuine here. The burdens are the minute regulations and prescriptions, the vexatious restrictions, the innumerable traditional observances with which these teachers had garbled and defaced the written Law. We have noticed some of these glosses in the matter of the sabbath and ceremonial purification; and these are only specimens of a system which extended to every relation of life, and to all details of religious practice, binding one rule to another, enforcing useless and absurd minutiae, till the burden became insupportable. Alford considers that not human traditions and observances are signified by the "burdens," but the severity of the Law, the weighty duties inculcated therein, which they enforce on others, but do not observe. It may, however, well be doubted whether Christ would ever have termed the legitimate rites and ceremonies of the Law unbearable burdens, though their rigorous enforcement by men who regarded only the letter, while they had lost the spirit, would naturally deserve censure. (If the epithet is not genuine, of course this remark does not apply.) What Christ denounced was not the Law itself, however severe and grievous to human nature, or even immemorial tradition, but the false inferences and deductions therefrom, leading to injunctions insupportable and impracticable. Will not move them with one of their fingers; with their finger. This does not imply (and it would not be true) that the rabbis themselves were all hypocrites, and broke or evaded the Law with impunity. We know that they scrupulously attended to all outward observances. What is meant is that they take no trouble to lighten (κινῆσαι, "to move away"), to make these burdens easier by explanation or relaxation, or to proportion them to the strength of the disciple. They impose them with all their crushing weight and severity upon others, and uncompromisingly demand obedience to these unscriptural regulations, putting "a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear" (Acts 15:10; Galatians 5:1). Contrast with this the Christian's service: "My yoke is easy," says Christ, "and my burden is light" (ch. 11:33).
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