Angareuō and the pony express
04 Mar 2016
Angareuō and the pony express
Do you remember the pony express from America’s wild west days? The pony express riders delivered the mail to the settlers in the west during the 1860’s. Carrying the mail, one rider would ride from his station and deliver it to the next rider at the next station. Then, that rider would take the mail and ride to another station, and so on. Each rider would ride as fast and hard as he could, and each station was established at the place where the rider and his horse couldn’t go any farther. The express riders relayed the mail across the west quickly and reliably. But, this was not the first time this system of riders was established.
The Persians seem to be the first at establishing this type of system. Herodotus says, “Nothing travels as fast as these Persian messengers” or couriers. The Greek word for “courier” is aggaros and means a runner or messenger. The Persians called their express posts or stations, an “aggareion.” But to fully understand the word ” angareuō,” we have to look at some historical background of the New Testament period.
The Jewish people were not new to their land being occupied and ruled by a foreign people. In New Testament times, the Roman empire ruled and governed the Jewish lands. The Romans used this “aggaros” system to communicate in the vast empire. They put a permanent official at each “aggareion” to oversee the transference of letters and changing of horses. Xenophon says, “this is the fastest overland traveling on earth,” and indeed, it was at the time.
The problem for the Jews was a law which said, anyone could be compelled to provide a horse or to act as a guide to keep the “aggaros” system going. Therefore, angareuō came to mean forcibly to impress someone to service, or to compel him to serve whether he liked it or not. The courier or messenger could by law take any man’s horse if his own mount gave out or got weary. No one could deny the courier even the best horse in his stable. Imagine this scenario; a man is travelling, and about to pass a post-station, where horses and messengers are kept in order to forward mail as quickly as possible. An official rushes out, seizes him, and forces him to go back and carry a letter to the next station, perhaps to the great detriment of his business. These officials were empowered to impress into service any available person or beast.
This is what happened to Simon of Cyrene, he was compelled or impressed to carry the cross of Jesus to Calvary. “And as they came out, they found a man of Cyrene, Simon by name: him theycompelled to bear his cross. ” Matthew 27:32 The word, compelled, is the Greek verb “angareuō” (ἀγγαρεύω). This impressment to serve was one of the bitterest and humiliating things to endure. It would happen all the time and was abused by the officials and military. They were requisitioning both things and people not only for public service, but for their own private convenience and profit.
So, we see clearer now what Jesus was saying in the sermon on the mount,[ “And whoevercompels you to go one mile, go with him two.” Matthew 5:41 (NKJV)]
In other words, “if someone exacts from you the most distasteful and humiliating service, if someone compels you to do something that invades your rights and that he has no right to ask, if you are treated like a defenseless victim in an occupied country, don’t resent it. Do what you are asked and do even more, and do it with good will, for such is my way.” I wonder what human rights activists would say to this teaching? Perhaps we should look at the word submission next?
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 William Barclay, New Testament Words (Philadelphia: the Westminster press, 1974)