Matthew 19:16-22 God Is Good, And We Are Sinners.
From a man he perceived to be simply a good teacher, one asked what good he must do to live forever (v. 16 Cf. Mk. 10:17-30). Jesus’ initial response was to get at the most important issue raised, and that was his understanding of who Jesus was. The address to Jesus as being good, led Jesus to point out that he was in effect confessing his deity, although this was not something that appears to be in this man’s thinking at this point (v. 17a Cf. Mk. 10:18). Jesus then addressed his question directly, and like the record in Mark, this question of how one might live forever focused on those laws that Jesus himself encapsulated in the second great commandment, namely to love one’s neighbour as one’s self (vv. 17b-19), with the exception that Mark adds ‘Do not defraud” (Mk 10:19).*
One might suppose that there is no treatment here of what has come to be called the first table of the law, namely the first four having to do with one’s relationship to God. However, the man’s address, and Jesus’ response show that he failed on all counts in his understanding and keeping of the first four, by his misunderstanding of Jesus as being merely a good teacher. If he had understood the most basic attribute of God as his goodness, he then would have thought differently of his basic understanding of who God is, and with this, who Jesus really was. Nahum made clear that the covenant LORD alone is good (1:7), as the rest of the Hebrew scriptures bear witness (Cf. Pss. 25:8; 100:5; Jer. 33:11; Lam. 3:25).
The thought of the covenant LORD’s goodness is the one attribute which begins the antiphonal liturgy of Psalm 136, where the repeated testimony of the congregation is “His mercy endures forever.” (Cf. II Chr. 5:13; Ez. 3:11).** It is in fact mercy which this man needed. Besides his poor theology, he also did not understand the law or his own sinful condition. The very fact that he asks Jesus which laws he must keep to live forever, showed that he did not understand the scope of the law’s demand. As James put it, “whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all” (2:10 Cf. Lev. 18:5; Gal. 3:10-12). Well, this man stumbled at the first four, and as we will see, like Paul, on the 10th as well (Rom. 7:7).
“Christ instances in the commandments of the second table, as being more known, and better understood by this young man; “thou knowest the commandments”; that is, the following ones he mentions: and besides the argument runs strong from the lesser to the greater, which is implied, that if the commands of the second table, which respect the neighbour, are necessary to be observed, then much more those which concern God himself; and if men fail short in keeping the lesser commands, it can hardly be thought they should be perfect in the observance of greater ones; and so consequently, and which is our Lord’s drift, eternal life is never to be obtained by the works of the law.” (Gill’s Commentary)
Therefore, besides falling short on the first four commandments, the man also appears to have fallen short on the tenth, with its omission being symbolical of this great omission in the man’s life. It is this internal aspect of the law that colours all the others. It is often thought that Jesus brought forward something new in this respect, but he was really simply expounding on this role and effect of the 10th. This commandment is the judgment upon all men which encapsulates the breaking of all the others, for it goes to the core of man’s total depravity (Cf. Ex. 20:17; Dt. 5:21; Rom. 3:20). This is the perfection that all lack (vv. 20-21). Ultimately it is our pride in thinking we can earn eternal life that must be repented of (v. 22).
*“Mark 10:19. The commandments of the second table enumerated are expressed by subjunctives with μὴ, instead of future indicatives with οὐ. While Mt. has the supernumerary, “love thy neighbour,” Mk. has μὴ ἀποστερήαῃς, which probably has in view the humane law in Deuteronomy 24:14-15, against oppressing or withholding wages from a hired servant; a more specific form of the precept: love thy neighbour as thyself, and a most apposite reminder of duty as addressed to a wealthy man, doubtless an extensive employer of labour. It should be rung in the ears of all would-be Christians, in similar social position, in our time: defraud not, underpay not.” (Expositor’s Greek Testament)
“Defraud not] The word thus rendered occurs in 1 Corinthians 6:7-8; 1 Corinthians 7:5; 1 Timothy 6:5; James 5:4. It means deprive none of what is theirs, and has been thought to sum up the four Commandments which precede.” (Cambridge Bible)
**“This psalm is an antiphonal liturgy with the memorable refrain, “His mercy endures forever.” A priest or soloist would chant the first part of a verse, and the congregation would respond with the refrain. Performance of the liturgy must have been powerful and moving, as the priest added example to example of God’s praise.” (NGSB 906)