Exercitations upon the Evangelist St. John
Verses: 2, 4, 8, 14, 19, 22, 27, 28, 35, 37, 38, 39, 49, 52
Verses: 1, 3, 5, 6, 9, 12, 13, 20, 25, 26, 33, 37, 43, 44, 48, 57, 58, 59
2. Now the Jews' feast of tabernacles was at hand.
[The Jews' feast of Tabernacles.] Tisri. Let us draw down this month from its beginning to this feast of Tabernacles:
1. "The first day of the month Tisri was the beginning of the year, for stating the years, the intermissions of the seventh year, and the jubilees."
Upon this day was the 'blowing of trumpets,' Leviticus 23:24; and persons were sent out to give notice of the beginning of the year. On this day began the year of the world 3960, in the middle of which year Christ was crucified.
2. The second day; observed also as holy by the Jews that were in Babylon, that they might be sure not to miss the beginning of the year.
3. A fast for the murder of Gedaliah: for so they expound those words, (Zech 8:19) "the fast of the seventh month."
4. This day was the high priest in the apartment to which he then betook himself from his own house, that he might inure himself by exercise to the rites of the day of Atonement approaching, and be ready and fitted for the service of that day. "Seven days before the day of Expiation they sequestered the chief priest from his own house, and shut him up into an apartment, substituting to him another priest, lest accidentally there should some sort of uncleanness befall him."
5-8. All those seven days, after he betook himself from his own house to this chamber until the day of atonement, he sprinkles the blood of the daily sacrifice; offers the incense; snuffs the lamps; and brings the head and legs of the sacrifice to the altar, that he may be the more handy in his office upon the Expiation-day. In those seven days they send him some of the elders of the Beth Din, that they may read before him the office of that day. And at length those elders deliver him to the elders of the priesthood, who instruct him in handling the incense; and lead him into the apartment abtines; where they swear him, that he shall perform the service of that day according to rule, and not according to the Sadducees.
9. Whereas for the whole seven days they permitted him to eat according to his usual custom; the evening of this day approaching, they diet him more sparingly, lest a full stomach should occasion sleep. They spend the whole night waking; and when they find him nodding or inclining to sleepiness, then, either by words or some noise, they rouse and waken him.
10. The day of Expiation, a solemn fast. On this day began the year of jubilee, when it came about, Leviticus 25:9. And indeed this year, which is now under our consideration, was the twenty-eighth jubilee, reckoning from the seventh year of Joshua, wherein the land as subdued and rested from war, Joshua 11:23.
11-13. The multitude now gather together towards the feast of Tabernacles, that they might purify themselves before the feast, and prepare necessaries for it, viz. little tents, citrons, bundles of palms and willows, &c. But if any were defiled by the touch of a dead body, such were obliged to betake themselves to Jerusalem, before the feast of Expiation, that they might undergo seven days' purification before the feast of Tabernacles.
14. They were generally cut or trimmed on the vespers of the feast for the honour of it.
15. The first day of the feast of Tabernacles, a feast-day. Thirteen young bullocks offered, &c. Numbers 29:13, and so on. The preparation of the Chagigah. They lodge that night in Jerusalem.
16. The second day of the feast. Twelve young bullocks offered. The appearance of all the males in the court.
17. The third day. Eleven young bullocks.
18. The fourth day. Ten.
19. The fifth day. Nine.
20. The sixth day. Eight.
21. The seventh day. Seven.
22. The eighth day. One young bullock offered.
Upon all these days there was a pouring out of water upon the altar with wine (a thing not used at any other time); and for the sake of that, great joy, and singing, and dancing; such as was not all the year besides.
"At the close of the first day of the feast, they went down into the Court of the Women, and there prepared a great stage." [That is, benches on which the women stood above, and the men below.] "Golden candlesticks were there" fixed to the walls: "over these were golden cups, to which were four ladders set; by which four of the younger priests went up, having bottles in their hands that contained a hundred and twenty logs, which they emptied into every cup. Of the rags of the garments and girdles of the priests, they made wicks to light those lamps; and there was not a street throughout all Jerusalem that did not shine with that light."
"The religious and devout danced before them, having lighted torches in their hands, and sang songs and doxologies. The Levites with harps, psalteries, cymbals, and other instruments of music without number, stood upon those fifteen steps by which they went down from the Court of the Women, according to the fifteen psalms of degrees, and sang. Two priests also stood in the upper gate, which goes down from the Court of Israel to the Court of the Women, with two trumpets in their hands. When the cock crew [or the president gave his signal], the trumpets sounded: when they came to the tenth step, they sounded again: when they came to the court they sounded: when they came to the pavement they sounded: and so went on sounding the trumpets till they came to the east gate of the court. When they came thither, they turned their faces from the east to west, and said, 'Our fathers in this place, turning their backs upon the Temple, and their faces towards the east, worshipped the sun; but we turn our faces to God,'" &c.
"The Rabbins have a tradition. Some of them while they were dancing said, 'Blessed be our youth, for that they have not made our old men ashamed.' These were the religious, and men of good works. And some said, 'Blessed be our old men, that have made atonement for our youth.' And both one and the other said, 'Blessed be he who hath not sinned; and he who hath, let it be forgiven him.'"
As to the reason of this mirth and pleasantness, we shall see more in our notes on verse 38.
4. For there is no man that doeth any thing in secret, and he himself seeketh to be known openly. If thou do these things, show thyself to the world.
[In secret; openly.] these brethren of Christ, whoever they were, did not as yet believe; because they saw him live so obscure, and did not behave himself with that pomp and outward appearance which they expected in the Messiah. And therefore they persuade him to go into Judea, where he had baptized most disciples, John 3:22, that, upon the lustre of his miracles, he might shine with greater splendour and majesty.
8. Go ye up unto this feast: I go not up yet unto this feast: for my time is not yet full come.
[I go not up yet unto this feast.] That passage in St. Luke, chapter 9:51, "When the time was come that he should be received up, he steadfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem" must have relation to this story; as will be very evident to any one that will study the harmony of the gospel; especially if they observe, that this evangelist tells us of two journeys after this which Christ took to Jerusalem, viz. chapter 13:22, to the feast of the Dedication; and chapter 17:11, to the feast of the Passover. He had absented himself a long time from Judea, upon the account of those snares that had been laid for him; but now, when he had not above six months to live and converse in this world, he determines resolutely to give all due manifestations of himself, both in Judea, and wherever else he should happen to come. And for this cause he sent those seventy disciples before his face, into every city and place where he himself would come. Luke 10:1.
When therefore he tells his unbelieving brethren, I go not up yet, &c., he does not deny that he would go at all, but only that he would not go yet: partly, because he had no need of those previous cleansings which they had, if they had touched any dead body; partly, that he might choose the most fit season for the manifestation of himself.
But if we take notice how Christ was received into Jerusalem five days before the Passover, with those very rites and solemnities that were used at the feast of Tabernacles, viz. "with branches of palms," &c. chapter 12:13, these words may seem to relate to that time; and so the word feast might not denote the individual feast that was now instant, but the kind of feast, or festival-time. As if he had said, "You would have me go up to this feast, that I may be received by my disciples with applause; but I do not go up to that kind of festivity; the time appointed for that affair is not yet come."
14. Now about the midst of the feast Jesus went up into the temple, and taught.
[About the midst of the feast.] On some work-day of the feast. But was he not there on the first or second day of the feast, to perform those things that ought to have been performed, making ready the Chagigahs, and appearing in the court? If he was there the second day, he might be well enough said to be there about the midst of the feast, for that day was not a festival; unless perchance at that time it might have been the sabbath: and for absence the first day, there were certain compensations might be made.
"The compensations that might be made for the first day were these: if any one was obliged to offer on the first day, and did not do it, he compensated by offering upon any other day."
But that which is here said, that "he went up into the Temple and taught, about the midst of the feast," need not suppose he was absent from the beginning of it: nor ought we rashly to think that he would neglect any thing that had been prescribed and appointed in the law. But if may be reasonably enough questioned, whether he nicely observed all those rites and usages of the feast that had been invented by the scribes. That is, whether he had a little tent or tabernacle of his own, or made use of some friend's, which was allowed and lawful to be done. Whether he made fourteen meals in that little booth, as is prescribed. Whether he carried bundles of palms and willows about the altar, as also a citron; whether he made his tent for all those seven days his fixed habitation, and his own house only occasional; and many other things, largely and nicely prescribed in the canons and rules about this feast.
19. Did not Moses give you the law, and yet none of you keepeth the law? Why go ye about to kill me?
[Why go ye about to kill me?] The emphasis or force of this clause lies chiefly in the word me: "Why go you about to kill me? none of you all perform the law as you ought; and yet your great design is to kill me, as a transgressor of it: why me, and not others?"
22. Moses therefore gave unto you circumcision; (not because it is of Moses, but of the fathers); and ye on the sabbath day circumcise a man.
[Ye on the sabbath day circumcise a man.] They do all things that are necessary towards circumcision on the sabbath day. "R. Akibah saith, Any work that may be done on the vespers of the sabbath must not be done on the sabbath; but circumcision, when it cannot be done on the vespers of the sabbath, may be done on the sabbath day."
"Danger of life nulleth the sabbath: circumcision also, and its cure, nulleth the sabbath."
But as to this matter, they distinguish in Bereshith Rabba: "Jacob of Nabor taught us in Tsur: It is lawful to circumcise the son of a stranger on the sabbath day. R. Haggai heard this, and sent to him saying, Come and be disciplined," &c. And a little after; "R. Haggai saith to him, Lie down [to take discipline] and I will teach you. If a heathen come to you, and say, I would be made a Jew, so that he would be circumcised on the sabbath day, or on the day of Expiation, will we, for his sake, profane those days? Do we ever profane those days either of the sabbath, or Expiation, for any other than one born of an Israelitess only?" We meet with the same also in Bemidbar Rabba, and Midras Coheleth.
Let us look a little into the way of Christ's arguing in this place: to me it seems thus: "Moses, therefore, gave you circumcision, that you might rightly understand the nature of the sabbath: for, I. Circumcision was to be observed by the fathers before Moses, punctually on the eight day. II. Now, therefore, when Moses established the laws about the sabbath, he did by no means forbid the work of circumcision on the sabbath, if it happened to be the eighth day. III. For this did Moses give and continue circumcision among you, that you might learn from hence to judge of the nature of the sabbath day. And let us, therefore, argue it: If by Moses' institution and allowance it was lawful, for the advantage of the infant, to circumcise him on the sabbath day, is it not warrantable, by Moses' law, for the advantage of a grown man, to heal him on the sabbath day? If it be lawful to wound an infant by circumcision, surely it is equally, if not much more, lawful to heal a man by a word's speaking."
27. Howbeit we know this man whence he is: but when Christ cometh, no man knoweth whence he is.
[When Christ cometh, no man knoweth whence he is.] How doth this agree with verse 42, and with Matthew 2:5, 6? They doubted not, indeed, but he should give the first manifestation of himself from Bethlehem; but then they supposed he would be hid again; and after some space of time make a new appearance, from what place no one could tell.
Jewish authors tell you, that Christ, before their times, had indeed been born in Bethlehem, but immediately snatched away they knew not whither, and so hid that he could not be found. We related the whole story before in our notes at Matthew 2:1.
Their conceptions in this thing we have explained to us in Midras Schir: "'My beloved is like a roe or a young hart,' Canticles 2:9. A roe appears and is hid, appears and is hid again. So our first redeemer [Moses] appeared and was hid, and at length appeared again. So our latter Redeemer [Messiah] shall be revealed to them, and shall be hid again from them; and how long shall he be hid from them?" &c. A little after; "In the end of forty-five days he shall be revealed again, and cause manna to descend amongst them."
They conceive a twofold manifestation of the Messiah; the first, in Bethlehem; but will straightway disappear and lie hid. At length he will shew himself; but from what place and at what time that will be, no one knew. In his first appearance in Bethlehem, he should do nothing that was memorable; in his second was the hope and expectation of the nation. The Jews therefore who tell our Saviour here, that "when Christ cometh, no man knoweth whence he is," whether they knew him to have been born at Bethlehem or no, yet by his wonderful works they conceive this to have been the second manifestation of himself: and therefore only doubt whether he should be the Messiah or no, because they knew the place [Nazareth] from whence he came; having been taught by tradition, that Messiah should come the second time from a place perfectly unknown to all men.
28. Then cried Jesus in the temple as he taught, saying, Ye both know me, and ye know whence I am: and I am not come of myself, but he that sent me is true, whom ye know not.
[He that sent me is true, whom ye know not.] "The men of Judea may be credited as to the purity of the wine and the oil." Gloss: "Even the people of the land, the very vulgar sort, may be credited for the purity of the wine and the oil, which is dedicated by them to the altar in the time of the vintage or pressing."
Men not known by name or face to the priests, yet if they offered wine or oil, were credited as to the purity and fitness of either, from their place of habitation. There are numberless instances of men, though perfectly unknown, yet that may be credited, either as to tithes, or separating the Trumah, or giving their testimony, &c. To the same sense our Saviour, chapter 5:31, "If I bear witness of myself, my witness is not true"; i.e. in your judicatories it is not of any value with you, where no one is allowed to be a witness for himself. And in this place, "'He that hath sent me,' although you know him not, yet 'is he true, or worthy belief,' however I myself may not be so amongst you."
35. Then said the Jews among themselves, Whither will he go, that we shall not find him? will he go unto the dispersed among the Gentiles, and teach the Gentiles?
[To the dispersed among the Gentiles, &c.] I confess Gentiles, in the apostle's writings, does very frequently denote the Gentiles: to which that of the Rabbins agrees well enough, the wisdom of the Greeks, i.e. the wisdom of the Gentiles. But here I would take Gentiles in its proper signification for the Greeks. It is doubtful, indeed, whether by the dispersed among the Gentiles ought to be understood the dispersed Greeks, or the Jews dispersed amongst the Greeks. There was no nation under heaven so dispersed and diffused throughout the world as both Greeks and Jews were.
In the very heart of all the barbarous nations the Greeks had their cities, and their language spoken amongst the Indians and Persians, &c.
And into what countries the Jews were scattered, the writings, both sacred and profane, do frequently instance. So that if the words are to be taken strictly of the Greeks, they bear this sense with them; "Is he going here and there amongst the Greeks, so widely and remotely dispersed in the world?"
That distinction between the Hebrews and the Hellenists explains the thing. The Jews of the first dispersion, viz. into Babylon, Assyria, and the countries adjacent, are called Hebrews, because they used the Hebrew, or Transeuphratensian language: and how they came to be dispersed into those countries we all know well enough, viz. that they were led away captive by the Babylonians and Persians. But those that were scattered amongst the Greeks used the Greek tongue, and were called Hellenists: and it is not easy to tell upon what account, or by what accident, they came to be dispersed amongst the Greeks, or other nations about. Those that lived in Palestine, they were Hebrews indeed as to their language, but they were not of the dispersion, either to one place or another, because they dwelt in their own proper country. The Babylonish dispersion was esteemed by the Jews the more noble, the more famous, and the more holy of any other. "The land of Babylon is in the same degree of purity with the land of Israel." "The Jewish offspring in Babylon is more valuable than that among the Greeks, even purer than that in Judea itself." Whence for a Palestine Jew to go to the Babylonish dispersion, was to go to a people and country equal, if not superior, to his own: but to go to the dispersion among the Greeks, was to go into unclean regions, where the very dust of the land defiled them: it was to go to an inferior race of Jews, and more impure in their blood; it was to go into nations most heathenized.
37. In the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink.
[In the last day, that great day of the feast.] The evangelist speaks according to a received opinion of that people: for from divine institution it does not appear that the last day of the feast had any greater mark set upon it than the first: nay, it might seem of lower consideration than all the rest. For on the first day were offered thirteen young bullocks upon the altar; on the second, twelve; and so fewer and fewer, till on the seventh day it came to seven; and on this eighth and last day of the feast there was but one only. As also for the whole seven days there were offered each day fourteen lambs, but on this eighth day seven only, Numbers 29. So that if the numbers of the sacrifices add any thing to the dignity of the day, this last day, will seem the most inconsiderable, and not like the great day of the feast.
I. But what the Jews' opinion was about this matter and this day, we may learn from themselves:
"There were seventy bullocks, according to the seventy nations of the world. But for what is the single bullock? It is for the singular nation [the Jewish]. A parable. It is like a great king that said to his servants, 'Make ready a great feast'; but the last day said to his friend, 'Make ready some little matter, that I may refresh myself with thee.'" The Gloss is, "I have no advantage or refreshment in that great feast with them, but in this little one with thee."
"On the eighth day it shall be a holy day; for so saith the Scripture, 'For my love they are my adversaries, but my prayer is for them,' Psalm 109. Thou seest, O God, that Israel, in the feast of tabernacles, offers before thee seventy bullocks for the seventy nations. Israel, therefore, say unto thee, O eternal Lord, behold we offer seventy bullocks for these; it is but reasonable, therefore, that they should love us; but on the contrary, as it is written, 'For our love they are our adversaries.' The holy blessed God, therefore, saith to Israel, 'Offer for yourselves on the eighth day.'" A parable. "This is like a king, who made a feast for seven days, and invited all the men in that province, for those seven days of the feast: but when those seven days were past, he saith to his friend, 'We have done what is needful to be done towards these men; let thee and me return to enjoy together whatever comes to hand, be it but one pound of flesh, or fish, or herbs.' So the holy blessed God saith to Israel, 'The eighth day shall be a feast or holy day,'" &c.
"They offer seventy bullocks for the seventy nations, to make atonement for them, that the rain may fall upon the fields of all the world; for, in the feast of tabernacles, judgment is made as to the waters": i.e. God determines what rains shall be for the year following.
Hence, therefore, this last day of the feast grew into such esteem in that nation above the other days; because, on the other seven days they thought supplications and sacrifices were offered not so much for themselves as for the nations of the world, but the solemnities of the eighth day were wholly in their own behalf. And hence the determination and finishing of the feast when the seven days were over, and the beginning, as it were, of a new one on the eighth day. For,
II. They did not reckon the eighth day as included within the feast, but a festival day separately and by itself.
The eighth day is a feast by itself, according to these letters, by which are meant,
1. The casting of lots. Gloss: "As to the bullocks of the seven days, there were no lots cast to determine what course of priests should offer them, because they took it in order, &c.; but on the eighth day they cast lots."
2. A peculiar benediction by itself.
3. A feast by itself. Gloss: "For on this day they did not sit in their tents." Whence that is not unworthy our observation out of Maimonides; "If any one, either through ignorance or presumption, have not made a booth for himself on the first day of the feast [which is holy], let him do it on the next day; nay, at the very end of the seventh day." Note that, "at the very end of the seventh day"; and yet there was no use of booths on the eighth day.
4. A peculiar sacrifice. Not of six bullocks, which ought to have been, if that day were to have been joined to the rest of the feast, but one only.
5. A song by itself. Otherwise sung than on other days.
6. The benediction of the day by itself; or as others, the royal blessing; according to that 1 Kings 8:66, "On the eighth day Solomon sent the people away: and they blessed the king." But the former most obtains.
To all which may be added what follows in the same place about this day; "A man is bound to sing the Hallel" [viz. Psalms 113-118].
He is bound to rejoice; that is, to offer thank-offerings for the joy of that feast.
And he bound is to honour that last day, the eighth day of the feast, as well as all the rest.
On this day they did not use their booths, nor their branches of palms, nor their pome-citrons: but they had their offering of water upon this day as well as the rest.
38. He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water.
[Out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water.] To this offering of water, perhaps, our Saviour's words may have some respect; for it was only at this feast that it was used, and none other. You have the manner of this service described in the place above quoted, to this purpose:
After what manner is this offering of water? "They filled a golden phial containing three logs out of Siloam. When they came to the water gate" [a gate of the Temple so called, as some would have it, because that water which was fetched from Siloam was brought through it], "they sounded their trumpets and sang. Then a priest goes up by the ascent of the altar, and turns to the left. There were two silver vessels, one with water, the other with wine: he pours some of the water into the wine, and some of the wine into the water, and so performs the service."
"R. Judah saith, They offer one log every of those eight days: and they say to him that offered it, 'Lift up thy hand': for upon a certain time there was one that offered it upon his feet" [Gemar. He was a Sadducee. Gloss: The Sadducees do not approve the offering of water], "and the whole congregation pelted him with their citrons. That day a horn of the altar was broke."
"Whoever hath not seen the rejoicing that was upon the drawing of this water, hath never seen any rejoicing at all."
This offering of water, they say, was a tradition given at mount Sinai: and that the prophet Jonah was inspired by the Holy Ghost upon this offering of water.
If you ask what foundation this usage hath, Rambam will tell us, "There are some kind of remote hints of it in the law. However, those that will not believe the traditional law, will not believe this article about the sacrifice of water."
I. They bring for it the authority of the prophet Isaiah, the house of drawing; for it is written, "With joy shall ye draw water," &c. Isaiah 12:3.
This rejoicing (which we have described before) they called the rejoicing of the law, or for the law: for by waters they often understand the law, Isaiah 55:1, and several other places; and from thence the rejoicing for these waters.
II. But they add moreover, that this drawing and offering of water signifies the pouring out of the Holy Spirit.
"Why do they call it the house of drawing? Because thence they draw the Holy Spirit." Gloss in Succah, ubi supr.: "In the Jerusalem Talmud it is expounded, that they draw there the Holy Spirit, for a divine breathing is upon the man through joy."
Another Gloss: "The flute also sounded for increase of the joy." Drawing of water, therefore, took its rise from the words of Isaiah: they rejoiced over the waters as a symbol and figure of the law; and they looked for the holy Spirit upon this joy of theirs.
III. But still they add further: "Why doth the law command, saying, Offer ye water on the feast of Tabernacles? The holy blessed God saith, Offer ye waters before me on the feast of Tabernacles, that the rains of the year may be blessed to you." For they had an opinion, that God, at that feast, decreed and determined on the rains that should fall the following year. Hence that in the place before mentioned, "In the feast of Tabernacles it is determined concerning the waters."
And now let us reflect upon this passage of our Saviour, "He that believeth in me, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water." They agree with what he had said before to the Samaritan woman, chapter 4:14; and both expressions are upon the occasion of drawing of water.
The Jews acknowledge that the latter Redeemer is to procure water for them, as their former redeemer Moses had done. But as to the true meaning of this, they are very blind and ignorant, and might be better taught by the Messiah here, if they had any mind to learn.
I. Our Saviour calls them to a belief in him from their own boast and glorying in the law: and therefore I rather think those words, as the Scripture hath said, should relate to the foregoing clause, "Whosoever believeth in me, as the Scripture hath spoken about believing, Isaiah 28:16, 'I lay in Sion for a foundation a tried stone: he that believeth,' &c.: Habakkuk 2:4. 'The just shall live by his faith.'" And the Jews themselves confess, that six hundred and thirteen precepts of the law may all be reduced to this, "The just shall live by faith"; and to that of Amos 5:6, "Seek the Lord, and ye shall live."
II. Let these words, then, of our Saviour be set in opposition to this right and usage in the feast of Tabernacles of which we have been speaking: "Have you such wonderful rejoicing at drawing a little water from Siloam? He that believes in me, whole rivers of living waters shall flow out of his own belly. Do you think the waters mentioned in the prophets do signify the law? They do indeed denote the Holy Spirit, which the Messiah will dispense to those that believe in him: and do you expect the Holy Spirit from the law, or from your rejoicing in the law? The Holy Spirit is of faith, and not of the law," Galatians 3:2.
39. (But this spake he of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive: for the Holy Ghost was not yet given; because that Jesus was not yet glorified.)
[For the Holy Ghost was not yet.] These words have relation to that most received opinion of the Jews about the departure of the Holy Spirit after the death of Zechariah and Malachi. To this also must that passage be interpreted, when those of Ephesus say, Acts 19:2, "We have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost": that is, We have indeed heard of the Holy Ghost's departure after the death of our last prophets, but of his return and redonation of him we have not yet heard. O Lord, revive thy work in the midst of the years, in the midst of the years make known, Habakkuk 3:2. He calls the seventy years of captivity the midst of the years: for, on the one hand, it had been seven times seventy years from the birth of Samuel, the first of the prophets, to the captivity, and, on the other hand, it was seven times seventy years from the end of the captivity to the death of Christ. The prayer is, that the gift of prophecy might not be lost, but preserved, whiles the people should live exiled in a heathen country. And according to the twofold virtue of prophecy, the one of working miracles, the other of foretelling things to come, he uses a twofold phrase, revive thy work, and make known. Nor indeed was that gift lost in the captivity, but was very illustrious in Daniel, Ezekiel, &c. It returned with those that came back from the captivity, and was continued for one generation; but then (the whole canon of the Old Testament being perfected and made up) it departed, not returning till the dawn of the gospel, at what time it appeared in inspiring the blessed Virgin, John Baptist and his parents, &c.: and yet "the Holy Ghost was not yet come," that is, not answerably to that large and signal promise of it in Joel 2:28.
49. But this people who knoweth not the law are cursed.
[This people, &c.] The people of the earth, in common phrase, opposed to the disciples of the wise men, whom they call the holy people; but the former they call the accursed.
52. They answered and said unto him, Art thou also of Galilee? Search, and look: for out of Galilee ariseth no prophet.
[Art thou also of Galilee?] It seems to be spoken scoffingly: "Art thou of those Galileans that believe in this Galilean?"
Expositors, almost with one consent, do note that this story of the woman taken in adultery, was not in some ancient copies; and whiles I am considering upon what accident this should be, there are two little stories in Eusebius that come to mind. The one we have in these words, He [Papias] tells us also another history concerning a woman accused of many crimes before our Lord, which history indeed the Gospel according to the Hebrews makes mention of. All that do cite that story do suppose he means this adulteress. The other story he tells us in his Life of Constantine: he brings in Constantine writing thus to him: "I think good to signify to your prudence, that you would take care that fifty volumes of those Scriptures, whose preparation and use you know so necessary for the church, and which beside may be easily read and carried about, may, by very skilful penmen, be written out in fair parchment."
So indeed the Latin interpreter: but may we not by the word volumes of those Scriptures understand the Gospels compacted into one body by way of harmony? The reason of this conjecture is twofold: partly those Eusebian canons formed into such a kind of harmony; partly because, cap. 37, he tells us that, having finished his work, he sent to the emperor threes and fours: which words if they are not to be understood of the evangelists, sometimes three, sometimes four, (the greater number including the less,) embodied together by such a harmony, I confess I cannot tell what to make of them.
But be it so that it must not be understood of such a harmony; and grant we further that the Latin interpreter hits him right, when he supposes Eusebius to have picked out here and there, according to his pleasure and judgment, some parts of the Holy Scriptures to be transcribed; surely he would never have omitted the evangelists, the noblest and the most profitable part of the New Testament.
If therefore he ascribed this story of the adulteress to the trifler Papias, or at least to the Gospel according to the Hebrews only, without doubt he would never insert it in copies transcribed by him. Hence possibly might arise the omission of it in some copies after Eusebius' times. It is in copies before his age, viz. in Ammonius, Tatianus, &c.
1. Jesus went unto the mount of Olives.
[Jesus went unto the mount of Olives.] But whether to the town of Bethany, or to some booth fixed in that mount, is uncertain. For because of the infinite multitude that had swarmed together at those feasts, it is probable many of them had made themselves tents about the city, that they might not be too much straitened within the walls, though they kept within the bounds still of a sabbath day's journey.
"'And thou shalt turn in the morning, and go unto thy tents,' Deuteronomy 16:7. The first night of the feast they were bound to lodge within the city: after that it was lawful for them to abide without the walls; but it must be within the bounds of a sabbath day's journey. Whereas therefore it is said, 'Thou shalt go unto thy tents'; this is the meaning of it. Thou shalt go into thy tents that are without the walls of Jerusalem, but by no means into thine own house."
It is said, chapter 7:53, that "every man went unto his own house"; upon which words let that be a comment that we meet with, After the daily evening sacrifice, the fathers of the Sanhedrim went home.
The eighth day therefore being ended, the history of which we have in chapter 7, the following night was out of the compass of the feast; so that they had done the dancings of which we have spoken before. The evangelist, therefore, does not without cause say that "every man went unto his own house"; for otherwise they must have gone to those dancings, if the next day had not been the sabbath.
3. And the scribes and Pharisees brought unto him a woman taken in adultery; and when they had set her in the midst.
[A woman taken in adultery.] Our Saviour calls the generation an adulterous generation, Matthew 12:39: see also James 4:4, which indeed might be well enough understood in its literal and proper sense.
"From the time that murderers have multiplied amongst us, the beheading of the heifer hath ceased: and since the increase of adultery, the bitter waters have been out of use."
"Since the time that adultery so openly prevailed under the second Temple, the Sanhedrim abrogated that way of trial by the bitter water; grounding it upon what is written, 'I will not visit your daughters when they shall go a whoring, nor your wives when they shall commit adultery.'"
The Gemarists say, That Rabban Jochanan Ben Zacchai was the author of this counsel: he lived at this very time, and was of the Sanhedrim; perhaps present amongst those that set this adulterous woman before Christ. For there is some reason to suppose that the "scribes and Pharisees" here mentioned were no other than the fathers of the Sanhedrim.
5. Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou?
[That such should be stoned.] Such. Who? what, all adulteresses? or all taken in adultery, in the very act? There is a third qualification still: for the condition of the adulteress is to be considered, whether she was a married woman, or betrothed only.
God punisheth adultery by death, Leviticus 20:10. But the masters of traditions say, that "wherever death is simply mentioned in the law," [that is, where the kind of death is not expressly prescribed,] "there it is to be supposed no other than strangling." Only they except; "a daughter of an Israelite, if she commit adultery after she is married, must be strangled; if only betrothed, she must be stoned. A priest's daughter, if she commit adultery when married, must be stoned; if only betrothed, she must be burnt."
Hence we may conjecture what the condition of this adulteress was: either she was an Israelitess not yet married, but betrothed only; or else she was a priest's daughter, married: rather the former, because they say, "Moses in the law hath commanded us that such should be stoned." See Deuteronomy 22:21. But as to the latter, there is no such command given by Moses.
6. This they said, tempting him, that they might have to accuse him. But Jesus stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground, as though he heard them not.
[Jesus stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground.] Feigning as though he heard them not, had of old crept into some books: and it is plain enough that it did creep in. For when Christ had given proof enough that he took cognizance of the matter propounded to him by those words, "He that is without sin among you," &c., yet did he stoop down again, and write upon the earth.
Many have offered their conjectures why he used this unusual gesture at this time; and, with the reader's leave, let me also offer mine.
I. The matter in hand was, judging a woman taken in adultery: and therefore our Saviour in this matter applies himself conformably to the rule made and provided for the trial of an adulteress by the bitter water, Numbers 5.
II. Among the Jews, this obtained in the trial of a wife suspected: "If any man shall unlawfully lie with another woman, the bitter water shall not try his wife: for it is said, If the husband be guiltless from iniquity, then shall the woman bear her iniquity."
"When the woman hath drunk the bitter water, if she be guilty, her looks turn pale, her eyes swell up, &c. So they turn her out of the Court of the Women; and first her belly swells, then her thigh rots, and she dies. The same hour that she dies, the adulterer also, upon whose account she drank the water, dies too, wherever he is, being equally seized with a swelling in his belly, rottenness in his thigh, or his pudenda. But this is done only upon condition that the husband hath been guiltless himself: for if he have lain with any unlawfully himself, then this water will not try his wife.
"If you follow whoring yourselves, the bitter waters will not try your wives."
You may see by these passages how directly our Saviour levels at the equity of this sentence, willing to bring these accusers of the woman to a just trial first. You may imagine you hear him thus speaking to them: "Ye have brought this adulterous woman to be adjudged by me: I will therefore govern myself according to the rule of trying such by the bitter waters. You say and you believe, according to the common opinion of your nation, that the woman upon whom a jealousy is brought, though she be indeed guilty, yet if the husband that accuseth her be faulty that way himself, she cannot be affected by those waters, nor contract any hurt or danger by them. If the divine judgment proceeded in that method, so will I at this time. Are you that accuse this woman wholly guiltless in the like kind of sin? Whosoever is so, 'let him cast the first stone,' &c. But if you yourselves stand chargeable with the same crimes, then your own applauded tradition, the opinion of your nation, the procedure of divine judgment in the trial of such, may determine in this case, and acquit me from all blame, if I condemn not this woman, when her accusers themselves are to be condemned."
III. It was the office of the priest, when he tried a suspected wife, to stoop down and gather the dust off the floor of the sanctuary; which when he had infused into the water, he was to give the woman to drink: he was to write also in a book the curses or adjurations that were to be pronounced upon her, Numbers 5:17, 23. In like manner our Saviour stoops down; and making the floor itself his book, he writes something in the dust, doubtless against these accusers whom he was resolved to try, in analogy to those curses and adjurations written in a book by the priest, against the woman that was to be tried.
IV. The priest after he had written these curses in a book blots them out with the bitter water, Numbers 5:23. For the matter transacted was doubtful. They do not make the suspected woman drink, unless in a doubtful case.
The question is, Whether the woman was guilty or not? If guilty, behold the curses writ against her: if not guilty, then behold they are blotted out. But Christ was assured, that those whom he was trying were not innocent: so he does not write and blot out, but writes and writes again.
V. He imitates the gesture of the priest, if it be true what the Jews report concerning it, and it is not unlikely, viz. that he first pronounced the curses; then made the woman drink; and after she had drunk, pronounced the same curses again. So Christ first stoops down and writes; then makes them as it were drink, in that searching reflection of his, "He that is without sin among you"; and then stoops down again and writes upon the earth.
9. And they which heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last: and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst.
[Being convicted by their own conscience.] Our Saviour had determined to shame these wicked men before the common people: and therefore adds that peculiar force and energy to what he said that they could not stand it out, but with shame and confusion drawing off and retiring, they confess their guilt before the whole crowd. A thing little less than miracle.
12. Then spake Jesus again unto them, saying, I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.
[I am the light of the world.] "R. Biba Sangorius saith, Light is the name of the Messiah. As it is written, Light dwells with him," Daniel 2:22. We have the same passage in Bereshith Rabba; saving that the author of these words there is R. Abba Serongianus.
They were wont to adorn their Rabbins and doctors with swelling and magnificent titles of Lights.
"A tradition. His name is not R. Meir, but Nehorai. Why therefore is he called R. Meir? Because he enlightens the eyes of wise men by the traditions. And yet his name is not Nehorai neither, but R. Nehemiah. Why then is he called R. Nehorai? Because he enlightens the eyes of wise men by the traditions." O blessed luminaries without light! Begone, ye shades of night! for "the Sun of righteousness" hath now displayed himself.
13. The Pharisees therefore said unto him, Thou bearest record of thyself; thy record is not true.
[Thou bearest record of thyself.] This and the following passages uttered in dispute, whether Christ was the light or no, bring to mind what was wont to be transacted amongst them in their witnessing about the appearance of the new moon. We have it in Rosh Hashanah.
I. It was to be attested before the Sanhedrim by two persons that they saw the new moon. So Christ mentions two witnesses attesting him to be the light, viz. the Father and himself, verse 18.
II. They did not allow the testimony about the new moon, unless from persons known to the Sanhedrim: or if they were unknown, there were those sent along with them from the magistracy of that city where they lived, that should attest their veracity. Compare verses 18, 19: "I bear witness of myself, and ye know me not. My Father also bears witness of me; but ye have not known my Father."
III. One witness is not to be believed in his own cause. So the Pharisees, verse 13, "Thou bearest record of thyself; thy record is not true."
IV. The father and the son, or any sort of relatives, are fit and credible witnesses: verse 18; "I am one that bear witness of myself, and the Father that sent me beareth witness of me."
20. These words spake Jesus in the treasury, as he taught in the temple: and no man laid hands on him; for his hour was not yet come.
[In the treasury.] In the treasury, that is, in the Court of the Women; where he had transacted the matter about the woman taken in adultery. It was called the treasury upon the account of thirteen corban chests placed there. Of which we have spoken in another tract.
25. Then said they unto him, Who art thou? And Jesus saith unto them, Even the same that I said unto you from the beginning.
[The same that I said unto you from the beginning.] I. Amongst the several renderings of this place, this seems the most proper; The same that I said unto you from the beginning. So Genesis 43:18: The money returned.....at the first time": and verse 20, We came indeed down at the first time to buy food.
The words thus rendered may refer to that full and open profession which our Saviour made of himself before the Sanhedrim, that he was 'the Son of God,' or 'the Messiah,' chapter 5: "Do you ask me who I am? I am the same that I told you from the beginning, when I was summoned to answer before the Sanhedrim."
II. However, I cannot but a little call to mind the common forms of speech used so much in the Jewish schools, the beginning and the end. Where, by the beginning they meant any thing that was chiefly and primarily to be offered and taken notice of: by the end what was secondary, or of less weight.
The question is, whether it were lawful for the priests to sleep in their holy vestments. The end or the secondary question was, whether it was lawful for them to sleep in them. But the beginning, or the thing chiefly and primarily to be discussed, was, whether it was lawful for them to have them on at all but in divine service. Hence the Gemarists, The tradition is, that they must not sleep in them, if you will explain the end [or secondary question]: but let them put them off and fold them up, and lay them under their heads [when they sleep]: this, 'the beginning' [or chief matter in hand] determines: that is, that it is not lawful for the priest so much as to wear his holy garments but when he is in holy service.
"It is a tradition of the Rabbins. If one, in walking near any city, see lights in it, if the greatest number in that city be Cuthites, let him not bless them; if they be most Israelites, let him bless it. They teach 'the beginning,' when they say, Most Cuthites. They teach 'the end,' when they say, Most Israelites." For the chief and principal scruple was, whether they should pronounce a blessing upon those lights when there might be most Cuthites in the city that lighted them up: the lesser scruple was, whether he should bless them if there were most Israelites in that city.
"There is a dispute upon that precept, Leviticus 17:13, If any one kill a beast or bird upon a holy day, the Shammean school saith, Let him dig with an instrument and cover the blood. The school of Hillel saith, Let him not kill at all, if he have not dust ready by him to cover the blood."
The end, or the secondary question, is about covering the blood if a beast should be killed. The beginning, or the principal question, is about killing a beast or a fowl at all upon a holy day, merely for the labour of scraping up dust, if there be none at hand.
There are numberless instances of this kind: and if our Saviour had any respect to this form or mode of speaking, we may suppose what he said was to this purpose: "You ask who I am? The beginning. That is the chief thing to be inquired into, which I now say, viz. That I am the light of the world, the Messiah, the Son of God, &c. But what works I do, what doctrines I teach, and by what authority, this is an inquiry of the second place, in comparison to that first and chief question, who I am."
26. I have many things to say and to judge of you: but he that sent me is true; and I speak to the world those things which I have heard of him.
[But he that sent me is true.] "I have many things to say and judge of you; but he that sent me hath of old said and judged of you; 'and he is true,' and they are true things which he hath said of you." Of this kind are those passages, Isaiah 11:10, "Make the heart of this people fat," &c.; and 29:10, "The Lord hath poured out upon you the spirit of deep sleep," &c.: and from such kind of predictions it is, that Christ concludes this concerning them, verse 21, "Ye shall die in your sins."
33. They answered him, We be Abraham's seed, and were never in bondage to any man: how sayest thou, Ye shall be made free?
[We be Abraham's seed, &c.] They were wont to glory of being Abraham's seed beyond all measure. Take one instance of a thousand:
"It is storied of R. Jochanan Ben Matthias, that he said to his son, 'Go out and hire us some labourers.' He went out and hired them for their victuals. When he came home to his father, his father said to him, 'My son, though thou shouldst make feasts for them, as gaudy as the feasts of Solomon, thou wouldst not do enough for them, because they are the children of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.'" And yet they confess "the merits of our fathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, ceased from the days of Hosea the prophet, as saith Rabh; or as Samuel, from the days of Hazael."
But how came they to join this, "We be Abraham's seed, and were never in bondage to any man?" Is it impossible that one of Abraham's seed should be in bondage? The sense of these two clauses must be distinguished: "We are of the seed of Abraham, who are very fond and tenacious of our liberty; and as far as concerns ourselves, we never were in bondage to any man." The whole nation was infinitely averse to all servitude, neither was it by any means lawful for an Israelite to sell himself into bondage, unless upon the extremest necessity.
"It is not lawful for an Israelite to sell himself for that end merely, that he might treasure up the money, or might trade with it, or buy vessels, or pay a creditor; but barely if he want food and sustenance. Nor may he sell himself, unless when nothing in the world is left, not so much as his clothes, then let him sell himself. And he whom the Sanhedrim sells, or sells himself, must not be sold openly, nor in the public way, as other slaves are sold, but privately."
37. I know that ye are Abraham's seed; but ye seek to kill me, because my word hath no place in you.
[But ye seek to kill me.] From this whole period it is manifest that the whole tendency of our Saviour's discourse is to shew the Jews that they are the seed of that serpent that was to bruise the heel of the Messiah: else what could that mean, verse 44, "Ye are of your father the devil," but this, viz. "Ye are the seed of the serpent?"
43. Why do ye not understand my speech? even because ye cannot hear my word.
[Because ye cannot hear my word.] You may here distinguish between the manner of speaking, or phrases used in speech and the matter or thing spoken. Isaiah 11:4; "He shall smite the earth with the rod of his mouth." But they could not bear the smart of his rod; they would not therefore understand the phraseology or way of speech he used.
44. Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it.
[A murderer from the beginning.] For so the Hebrew idiom would render he was a murderer from the days of the creation. And so Christ, in saying this, speaks according to the vulgar opinion, as if Adam fell the very first day of his creation.
[He abode not in the truth.] I. He abode not in the truth: i.e. he did not continue true, but found out the way of lying.
II. He did not persist in the will of God which he had revealed concerning man. For the revealed will of God is called truth; especially his will revealed in the gospel. Now when God had pleased to make known his good will towards the first man, partly fixing him in so honourable and happy a station, partly commanding the angels that they should minister to him for his good, Hebrews 1:14; the devil did not abide in this truth, nor persisted in this will and command of God. For he, envying the honour and happiness of man, took this command of God concerning the angels' ministering to him, in so much scorn and contempt, that, swelling with most envenomed malice against Adam, and infinite pride against God, he chose rather to dethrone himself from his own glory and felicity, than he would bear Adam's continuance in so noble a station, or minister any way to the happiness of it. An angel was incapable of sinning either more or less than by pride or malice.
48. Then answered the Jews, and said unto him, Say we not well that thou art a Samaritan, and hast a devil?
[Thou art a Samaritan, and hast a devil.] But what, I pray you, hath a Samaritan to do with the court of your Temple? For this they say to Christ whiles he was yet standing in the Treasury, or in the Court of the Women, verse 20. If you would admit a Samaritan into the court of the Gentiles, where the Gentiles themselves were allowed to come, it were much, and is indeed very questionable; but who is it would bear such a one standing in the Treasury? Which very thing shews how much this was spoken in rancour and mere malice, they themselves not believing, nay, perfectly knowing, that he was no Samaritan at that time when they called him so. And it is observable, that our Saviour made no return upon that senseless reproach of theirs, because he did not think it worth the answering: he only replies upon them, "that he hath not a devil," that is, that he was not mad.
57. Then said the Jews unto him, Thou art not yet fifty years old, and hast thou seen Abraham?
[Thou art not yet fifty years old.] Apply these words to the time of superannuating the Levites, Numbers 4, and we shall find no need of those knots and difficulties wherewith some have puzzled themselves. Thou art not yet fifty years old, that is, Thou art not yet come to the common years of superannuation: and dost thou talk that "thou hast seen Abraham?"
58. Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am.
[Before Abraham was, I am.] They pervert the question. Christ had said, 'Abraham saw my day': on the contrary, they ask him, 'Hast thou seen Abraham?'
This phrase, I am, sometimes is rendered from the single word I. So the Greek interpreters in the Books of Judges and Ruth: for you seldom or never meet with it elsewhere.
Judges 6:18; "I will tarry or sit here." Ibid. chapter 11:27; Wherefore I have not sinned against thee. Ibid. verse 35; For I have opened my mouth. Ibid. verse 37; I and my fellows. Ruth 4:4; I will redeem it.
As to this form of speech, let those that are better skilled in the Greek tongue be the judges.
59. Then took they up stones to cast at him: but Jesus hid himself, and went out of the temple, going through the midst of them, and so passed by.
[Then took they up stones, &c.] Would you also murder another prophet in the very court of the Temple, O ye murderous generation? Remember but Zacharias, and surely that might suffice. But whence could they get stones in the court of the Temple? Let the answer be made from something parallel:
"It is storied of Abba Chalpatha, who, going to Rabban Gamaliel at Tiberias, found him sitting at the table of Jochanan the moneychanger, with the Book of Job in his hand Targumized [that is, rendered into the Chaldee tongue], and reading in it. Saith he to him, 'I remember your grandfather Rabban Gamaliel, how he stood upon Gab in the mountain of the Temple, and they brought unto him the Book of Job Targumized. He calls to the architect, saying, Ram him under the foundation.' R. Jose saith, They whelmed him under a heap of clay. Is there any clay in the mountain of the Temple?" Gloss: "There was mortar which they used in building."
It may be noted, by the by, that they were building in the Temple in the days of the first Gamaliel, who sat president in the Sanhedrim about the latter days of our Saviour; which confirms what I already have noted in chapter 2:20; and further teaches us whence they might have stones in readiness; for they were now building, and they might have pieces of stone enough there.
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