Exercitations upon the Gospel of St. Matthew
Verses: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 9, 10, 11, 14, 17, 23, 25, 27, 34
Verses: 3, 12, 14, 21, 22, 29
1. And when he had called unto him his twelve disciples, he gave them power against unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal all manner of sickness and all manner of disease.
[And when he had called to him the twelve disciples.] Concerning the number of twelve, corresponding to the tribes of Israel, see Luke 22:30, Revelation 21:12,14. These were called the twelve apostles, שלוחי or שליחי in Talmudic language, under which title Moses and Aaron are marked by the Chaldee paraphrast, Jeremiah 2:1: a word that does not barely speak a messenger, but such a messenger as represents the person of him that sends him. For The(1) 1. Bab. Berakoth, fol. 34b. 'apostle' of any one is as he himself from whom he is deputed. See the fortieth verse of this chapter. If you read over the tract of Maimonides here, entitled messengers and companions, perhaps you will not repent your labour.
For these ends were these twelve chosen, as the evangelists relate:
I. That they might be with him, eyewitnesses of his works, and students of his doctrine. For they did not presently betake themselves to preach, from the time they were first admitted disciples, no, nor from the time they were first chosen; but they sat a long while at the feet of their Master, and imbibed from his mouth that doctrine which they were to preach.
II. That they might be his prophets, both to preach and to do miracles. Thence it comes to pass, that the gift of miracles, which of a long time had ceased, is now restored to them.
The 'seven shepherds, and eight principal men,' Micah 5:5, are the disciples of the Messias, according to Kimchi.
[Power of unclean spirits.] That is, 'over, or upon unclean spirits': which therefore are called unclean spirits that by a clearer antithesis they might be opposed to the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of purity.
More particularly the unclean spirit, Zechariah 13:2; and unclean spirits, Revelation 16:13,14, are diabolical spirits in false prophets, deceiving Pythons.
By a more particular name yet, according to the Talmudists concerning this business: "There(2) 2. Bab. Sanhedrin, fol 65b. shall not be with thee a necromancer, Deuteronomy 18:11. He is a necromancer who mortifies himself with hunger, and goes and lodges a-nights among the burying-places for that end, that the unclean spirit may dwell upon him. When R. Akibah read that verse he wept. Does the unclean spirit, saith he, come upon him that fasts for that very end, that the unclean spirit may come upon him? Much more would the Holy Spirit come upon him that fasts for that end, that the Holy Spirit might come upon him. But what shall I do, when our sins have brought that on us which is said, 'Your sins separate between you and your God?'" Where the Gloss thus; "That the unclean spirit dwell upon him: that is, that the demon of the burial-place may love him, and may help him in his enchantments."
When I consider with myself that numberless number of demoniacs which the evangelists mention, the like to which no history affords, and the Old Testament produceth hardly one or two examples, I cannot but suspect these two things especially for the cause of it:
First, That the Jewish people, now arriving to the very top of impiety, now also arrived to the very top of those curses which are recited, Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28.
Secondly, That the nation, beyond measure addicted to magical arts, did even affect devils and invited them to dwell with them.
2. Now the names of the twelve apostles are these; The first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother;
[Simon.] Simon is a name very usual among the Talmudists for Simeon. By which name our apostle is also called, Acts 15:14.
Let these words be taken notice of, "R. Eliezer(3) 3. Jer. Schab. fol. 11. 2. inquired of R. Simon concerning a certain thing; but he answered him not. He inquired of R. Joshua Ben Levi, and he answered. R. Eliezer was enraged that R. Simeon answered him not."
[Peter.] Christ changed the names of three disciples with whom he held more inward familiarity, Simon, James, and John. Simon was called by him Peter, or Petrosus, that is, referring to a rock, because he should contribute not only very much assistance to the church that was to be built on a rock, but the very first assistance, when, the keys being committed to him, he opened the door of faith to Cornelius, and so first let in the gospel among the Gentiles. Of which matter afterward.
[Andrew.] This also was no strange name among the Talmudists. Andrew Bar Chinna.(4) 4. Jer. Megill. cap. 4.
3. Philip, and Bartholomew; Thomas, and Matthew the publican; James the son of Alphaeus, and Lebbaeus, whose surname was Thaddaeus:
[Bartholomew.] Compare the order wherein the disciples are called (John 1) with the order wherein they are for the most part reckoned, and you will find Bartholomew falling in at the same place with Nathanael: so that one may think he was the same with him: called Nathanael by his own name, and Bartholomew by his father's; that is, the son of Talmai: for the Greek interpreters render Talmai, Tolmi, 2 Samuel 13:37. And Tholomaeus occurs in Josephus.(5) 5. Antiq. lib. 20.1.1.
[Of Alpheus.] The name occurs also in the Talmudists: a word that may admit a doubt pronunciation; namely, either to sound Alphai, or Cleophi. Hence that Alpheus, who was the father of four apostles, is also called Cleopas, Luke 24; which sufficiently appears from hence, that she who is called "Mary, the mother of James the Less, and Joses," Mark 15:40, by John is called, "Mary the wife of Cleopas," John 19:25.
[Lebbeus, whose surname was Thaddeus.] Thaddai was a name known also to the Talmudists: R. Jose(6) 6. Massech. Derech Arets, c. 1. the son of Thaddeus. Eliezer(7) 7. Jer. Kilayim, fol. 27. 2. Shab. fol. 5. 2. See Juchasin, fol. 105. 2. Ben Thaddeus. It is a warping of the name Judas, that this apostle might be the better distinguished from Iscariot, He was called Lebbeus, I suppose, from the town Lebba, a sea-coast town of Galilee: of which Pliny(8) 8. Lib. v. cap. 19. speaks; "The promontory Carmel, and in the mountain a town of the same name, heretofore called Ecbatana: near by Getta Lebba," &c.
4. Simon the Canaanite, and Judas Iscariot, who also betrayed him.
[Simon the Canaanite.] In Luke it is Zealot. See who are called Zealots in Josephus. Of whose sect, if you should say this Simon was before his conversion, perhaps you would do him no more wrong than you would do his brother Matthew, when you should say that he was a publican.
[Iscariot.] It may be inquired whether this name was given him while he was alive, or not till after his death. If while he was alive, one may not improperly derive it from Skortja, which is written also Iskortja:(9) 9. Bab. Nedarim, fol. 55b. where, while the discourse is of a man vowing that he would not use this or that garment, we are taught these things; "He that ties himself by a vow of not using garments, may use sackcloth, veiling cloth, hair cloth, &c. but he may not useפונדא ופסקיא ואסקורטיא וגו״." Of which words the Gloss writes thus; "These are garments, some, of leather, and some of a certain kind of clothing." The Gemara asketh, "What is Iskortja? Bar Bar Channah answered, A Tanner's garment" The Gloss is, "A leathern apron that tanners put on over their clothes." So that Judas Iscariot may perhaps signify as much as Judas with the apron. But now in such aprons they had purses sewn, in which they were wont to carry their money, as you may see in Aruch, in the words אפונדה and תרמיל, which we shall also observe presently. And hence, it may be, Judas had that title of the purse-bearer, as he was called Judas with the apron.
Or what if he used the art of a tanner before he was chose into discipleship? Certainly we read of one Simon a tanner, Acts 9:43; and that this Judas was the son of Simon, John 12:4.
But if he were not branded with this title till after his death, I should suppose it derived from Iscara: which word what it signifies, let the Gemarists speak:נשיקה
"Nine(10) 10. Bab. Berakoth, fol. 8a. hundred and three kinds of death were created in the world, as it is said, and the issues of death, Psalm 68:20. The word issues arithmetically ariseth to that number. Among all those kinds, Iscara is the roughest death,
(11) 11. נְשִׁיקָה Osculatio. Est genus mortis placidissimæ et suavissimæ. See Buxtorf. Lex. T. and R. sub v. col. 1405. is easiest." Where the Gloss is, 'Iscara' in the mother-tongue is estrangulament. By learned men for the most part it is rendered angina, the quinsy. The Gemara sets out the roughness of it by this simile, "The(12) 12. Shabbath, fol. 33a. Iscara is like to branches of thorns in a fleece of wool; which if a man shake violently behind, it is impossible but the wool will be pulled off by them." It is thus defined in the Gloss, 'The Iscara' begins in the bowels, and ends in the throat. See the Gemara there.
When Judas therefore perished by a most miserable strangling, being strangled by the devil (which we observe in its place), no wonder if this infamous death be branded upon his name, to be commonly styled Judas Iscariot, or 'that Judas that perished by strangling.'
[Who also betrayed him.] Let that of Maimonides be observed: "It(13) 13 In חובל ומזיק cap. 1. is forbidden to betray an Israelite into the hands of the heathen, either as to his person, or as to his goods," &c. "And whosoever shall so betray an Israelite shall have no part in the world to come." Peter spake agreeably to the opinion of the nation, when he said concerning Judas, "He went unto his own place," Acts 1:25. And so doth Baal Turim concerning Balaam; "'Balaam went to his place,' Numbers 24:25; that is (saith he), he went down to hell."
5. These twelve Jesus sent forth, and commanded them, saying, Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not:
[Into any city of the Samaritans, enter ye not.] Our Saviour would have the Jews' privileges reserved to them, until they alienated and lost them by their own perverseness and sins. Nor does he grant the preaching of the gospel to the Gentiles or Samaritans, before it was offered to the Jewish nation. The Samaritans vaunted themselves sons of the patriarch Jacob, John 4:12 (which, indeed, was not altogether distant from the truth); they embraced also the law of Moses; and being taught thence, expected the Messias as well as the Jews: nevertheless, Christ acknowledges them for his sheep no more than the heathen themselves.
I. Very many among them were sprung, indeed, of the seed of Jacob, though now become renegades and apostates from the Jewish faith and nation, and hating them more than if they were heathens, and more than they would do heathens. Which also, among other things, may perhaps be observed in their very language. For read the Samaritan version of the Pentateuch; and, if I mistake not, you will observe that the Samaritans, when, by reason of the nearness of the places, and the alliance of the nations, they could not but make use of the language of the Jews, yet used such a variation and change of the dialect, as if they scorned to speak the same words that they did, and make the same language not the same.
II. In like manner they received the Mosaic law, but, for the most part, in so different a writing of the words, that they seem plainly to have propounded this to themselves, that retaining indeed the law of Moses, they would hold it under as much difference from the Mosaic text of the Jews as ever they could, so that they kept something to the sense. "R. Eliezer(14) 14. Jer. Sotah, fol. 21. 3. Bab. Sotah, fol. 33b. Ben R. Simeon said, 'I said to the scribes of the Samaritans, Ye have falsified your law without any manner of profit accruing to you thereby. For ye have written in your law, near the oaken groves of Moreh, which is Sychem,'" &c (the wordשכם is added). Let the Samaritan text at Deuteronomy 11:30 be looked upon.
III. However they pretended to study the religion of Moses, yet, in truth, there was little or no difference between them and idolaters, when they knew not what they worshipped; which our Saviour objects against them, John 4:22: and had not only revolved as apostates from the true religion of Moses, but set themselves against it with the greatest hatred. Hence the Jewish nation held them for heathens, or for a people more execrable than the heathens themselves. A certain Rabbin thus reproaches their idolatry: "R. Ismael(15) 15. Jer. Abodah Zarah, fol. 44. 4. Ben R. Josi went to Neapolis [that is, Sychem]: the Samaritans came to him, to whom he spake thus; 'I see that you adore not this mountain, but the idols which are under it: for it is written, Jacob hid the strange gods under the wood, which is near Sychem.'"
It is disputed(16) 16. Jer. Shekal. fol. 46. 2. whether a Cuthite ought to be reckoned for a heathen, which is asserted by Rabbi, denied by Simeon; but the conclusion, indeed, is sufficiently for the affirmative.
IV. The metropolis of the Samaritans laboured under a second apostasy, being brought to it by the deceit and witchcraft of Simon Magus, after the receiving of the gospel from the mouth of our Saviour himself. Compare Acts 8:9 with John 4:41, 42.
From all these particulars, and with good reason for the thing itself, and to preserve the privileges of the Jews safe, and that they might not otherwise prove an offence to that nation, the Samaritans are made parallel to the heathen, and as distant as they from partaking of the gospel.
9. Provide neither gold, nor silver, nor brass in your purses,
[In your purses, &c.] these things, which are forbidden the disciples by our Saviour, were the ordinary provision of travellers; to which the more religious added also the book of the law.
"Some(17) 17. Yebamoth, cap. 16. hal. ult. Levites travelled to Zoar, the city of palm-trees: and when one of them fell sick by the way, they brought him to an inn. Coming back, they inquired of the hostess concerning their companion. 'He is dead,' said she, 'and I have buried him.'" And a little after, she brought forth to them his staff, and his purse, and the book of the law, which was in his hand. So the Babylonian Misna: but the Jerusalem adds also shoes: and instead of that which in the Misna is his purse, in the Gemara isאפונדתו, which was an inner garment, with pockets to hold money and necessaries.
That also is worthy mention; Let no man enter into the mount of the Temple with his staff, nor with his shoes, nor with his purse, nor with dust on his feet. Which words are thus rendered by the Gemara: "Let(18) 18. Berakoth, cap. 9. hal. 5. no man enter into the mount of the Temple, neither with his staff in his hand, nor with his shoes upon his feet, nor with money bound up in his linen, nor with a purse hanging on his back." Where the Gloss thus: 'Ponditho' is a hollow girdle [or a hollow belt], in which they put up their money. See the Aruch in Aponda, and Ponda.
10. Nor scrip for your journey, neither two coats, neither shoes, nor yet staves: for the workman is worthy of his meat.
[Nor scrip for your journey.] The Syriac version reads,ולא תרמלא No purse. The word תרמיל and תורמיל is very frequent in the Talmudists. "תורמיל
(19) 19. Rambam in Kelim, cap. 16. hal. 4. is a leather pouch, which shepherds hang about their necks, in which they put their victuals." R. Solomon(20) 20. Rambam in Kelim, cap. 16. saith almost the same thing, but that he appropriates it not to shepherds. The Aruch also in effect the same.
A proselyte is brought in thus speaking;(21) 21. Bab. Shabbath, fol. 31a. "If an Israelite approaching to the holy things shall die, how much more a stranger, who comes with his staff and his pouch!"
[Nor two coats.] A single coat bespake a meaner condition; a double, a more plentiful. Hence is that counsel of the Baptist, Luke 3:11, "He that hath two coats, let him impart to him that hath none." It is disputed by the Babylonian Talmudists, how(22) 22. Taanith, fol. 29b. Moed Katan, fol. 18a. far it is lawful to wash garments on the common days of a festival-week; and the conclusion is, "It is lawful for him that hath one coat only, to wash it."
[Neither shoes.] That shoes are here to be understood, and not sandals, appears from Mark 6:9: and that there was a difference between these, sufficiently appears from these very places. The contrary to which I read in Beza, not without wonder: "But then from this place (saith he), as also from Acts 12:8, it appears that the evangelists put no difference between shoes and sandals as Erasmus hath rightly observed."
Let the Jewish schools be heard in this matter:(23) 23. Yebamoth, cap. 12. hal. 1. "The pulling off of the shoe [of the husband's brother, Deuteronomy 25:9] is right: and of the sandal if it hath a heel, is right; but if not, it is not right."
"R. Josi(24) 24.Jer. ibid. fol. 12. 1. saith, I went to Nisibin, and I saw there a certain elder, and I said to him, 'Are you well acquainted with R. Judah Ben Betira?' And he answered, 'I am a money changer in my city; and he came to my table very often.' I said, 'Did you ever see him putting off the shoe? What did he put off, shoe or sandal?' He answered, 'O Rabbi, are there sandals among us?' Whence therefore, say I, did R. Meir say, They do not put off the shoe? Rabbi Ba, Rabh Judah say, in the name of Rabh, If Elias should come, and should say, 'They pull off the shoe of the husband's brother, let them hearken to him': if he should say, 'They pull off the sandal,' let them not hearken to him. And yet, for the most part, the custom is to pull off the sandal: and custom prevails against tradition." See more there, and in the Babylonian tract Jevamoth.(25) 25. Fol. 102a.
Shoes were of more delicate use; sandals were more ordinary, and more for service. A shoe was of softer leather, a sandal of harder,(26) 26. Gloss. in Yebamoth Bab. fol. 101a. &c. There were sandals also, whose sole, or lower part, was of wood, the upper of leather; and these were fastened together by nails.(27) 27. See Bab. Shabbath, fol. 60a in Gloss. There were some sandals also made of rushes, or of the bark of palm-trees,(28) 28. Yoma, fol. 78b. &c. Another difference also between shoes and sandals is illustrated by a notable story in the tract Schabbath, in the place just now cited: "In a certain time of persecution, when some were hidden in a cave, they said among themselves, 'He that will enter, let him enter; for he will look about him before he enters, that the enemies see him not: but let none go out; for perhaps the enemies will be near, whom he sees not when he goes out, and so all will be discovered.' One of them by chance put on his sandals the wrong way: for sandals were open both ways, so that one might put in his foot either before or behind: but he putting on his the wrong way, his footsteps, when he went out, seemed as if he went in, and so their hiding-place was discovered to the enemies," &c.
Money therefore in the girdle, and provision in the scrip, were forbidden the disciples by Christ; first, that they might not be careful for temporal things, but resign themselves wholly to the care of Christ; secondly, they ought to live of the gospel, which he hints in the last clause of this verse, "The workman is worthy of his hire."
That, therefore, which he had said before, "Freely ye have received, freely give," forbade them to preach the gospel for gain: but he forbade not to take food, clothing, and other necessaries for the preaching of the gospel.
Two coats and shoes are forbidden them, that they might not at all affect pride or worldly pomp, or to make themselves fine; but rather, that their habit and guise might bespeak the greatest humility.
11. And into whatsoever city or town ye shall enter, inquire who in it is worthy; and there abide till ye go thence.
[Who in it is worthy.] In the Talmudic language, who deserves.
14. And whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear your words, when ye depart out of that house or city, shake off the dust of your feet.
[Shake off the dust of your feet.] The schools of the scribes taught that the dust of the heathen land defiled by the touch. "The(29) 29. Tosapht. ad Kelim, cap. 1. dust of Syria defiles, as well as the dust of other heathen countries."
"A(30) 30. Bab. Sanhedrin, fol. 12a. tradition-writer saith, 'They bring not herbs into the land of Israel out of a heathen land: but our Rabbins have permitted it.' What difference is there between these? R. Jeremiah saith, The care of their dust is among them." The Gloss is, "They take care, lest, together with the herbs, something of the dust of the heathen land be brought, which defiles in the tent, and defiles the purity of the land of Israel."
"By(31) 31. Bab. Shabbath, fol. 15b. reason of six doubts, they burn the truma: the doubt of a field, in which heretofore might be a sepulchre; the doubt of dust brought from a heathen land," &c. Where the Gloss is this; "Because it may be doubted of all the dust of a heathen land, whether it were not from the sepulchre of the dead."
"Rabbi(32) 32. Gloss. in Sanhedrin, fol. 5b. saw a certain priest standing in a part of the city Aco, which part was without the bounds of the land of Israel: he said to him, 'Is not that heathen land concerning which they have determined that it is as unclean as a burying-place?'"(33) 33. See Pisk. Tosaph. in Sanhedr. cap. 1. artic. 30.
Therefore that rite of shaking the dust off the feet, commanded the disciples, speaks thus much; "Wheresoever a city of Israel shall not receive you, when ye depart, shew, by shaking off the dust from your feet, that ye esteem that city, however a city of Israel, for a heathen, profane, impure city; and, as such, abhor it."
17. But beware of men: for they will deliver you up to the councils, and they will scourge you in their synagogues;
[They shall scourge you in their synagogues.] Beza here, as he does very often when he cannot explain a case, suspects it: for thus he writes; "When I neither find synagogues elsewhere to have their names from houses of judgment, as the Hebrews speak, nor that civil punishments were taken in synagogues, I suspect this place." But without any cause, for,
I. In every synagogue there was a civil triumvirate, that is, three magistrates, who judged of matters in contest arising within that synagogue; which we have noted before.
II. Scourging(34) 34. Sanhedrin, cap. 1. hal. 2. was by that bench of three. So that fivefold scourging of St. Paul (2 Cor 11:24) was in the synagogue; that is, By that bench of three magistrates, such as was in every synagogue.
It is something obscure that is said,Προσεχετε δε απο τωυ αυθρωπωυ, But beware of men. Of whom else should they beware? But perhaps the word αυθρωποι, men, may occur in that sense, as אנשי men in these forms of speech; כנסת הגדלה אנשי and אנשי בית דין ׃ that is, the men of the great assembly, and, the men of the house of judgment &c. But we will not contend about it.
23. But when they persecute you in this city, flee ye into another: for verily I say unto you, Ye shall not have gone over the cities of Israel, till the Son of man be come.
[Ye shall not have gone over the cities of Israel, &c.] "Ye shall not have travelled through the cities of Israel preaching the gospel, before the Son of man is revealed by his resurrection," (Romans 1:4). Lay to this Acts 3:19, 20, "Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, that the times of refreshment may come" (for ye expect refreshment and consolation under the Messias); "and he may send Jesus Christ first preached to you." And verse 26, "To you first God, raising up his Son, sent him to bless you," &c. The epoch of the Messias is dated from the resurrection of Christ.
25. It is enough for the disciple that he be as his master, and the servant as his lord. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebub, how much more shall they call them of his household?
[Beelzebub.] See chapter 12:24.
27. What I tell you in darkness, that speak ye in light: and what ye hear in the ear, that preach ye upon the housetops.
[What ye hear in the ear.] We have observed before, that allusion is here made to the manner of the schools, where the doctor whispered, out of the chair, into the ear of the interpreter, and he with a loud voice repeated to the whole school that which was spoken in the ear.
"They said(35) 35. Bab. Sanhedrin, fol. 7b. to Judah Bar Nachmani, the interpreter of Resh Lachish, Do you stand for his expositor." The Gloss is, "To tell out the exposition to the synagogue, which he shall whisper to you." We cannot here but repeat that which we produced before, The doctor whispered him in the ear in Hebrew. And we cannot but suspect that that custom in the church of Corinth which the apostle reproves, of speaking in the synagogue in an unknown tongue, were some footsteps of this custom.
We read of whispering in the ear done in another sense, namely, to a certain woman with child, which longed for the perfumed flesh; "Therefore(36) 36. Bab. Yoma, fol. 82b. Rabbi said, Go whisper her that it is the day of Expiation. They whispered to her, and she was whispered": that is, she was satisfied and at quiet.
[Preach ye upon the housetops.] Perhaps allusion is made to that custom
when(37) 37. Bab. Shabbath, fol. 35b. the minister of the synagogue on the sabbath-eve sounded with a trumpet six times upon the roof of an exceeding high house, that thence all might have notice of the coming in of the sabbath. The first sound was, that they should cease from their works in the fields; the second, that they should cease from theirs in the city; the third, that they should light the sabbath candle, &c.
34. Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.
[Think not that I am come to send peace, &c.] Although these words may be understood truly of the difference between believers and unbelievers by reason of the gospel, which all interpreters observe; yet they do properly and primarily point out, as it were with the finger, those horrid slaughters and civil wars of the Jews among themselves, such as no other age ever saw, nor story heard.
"R. Eliezer(38) 38. Bab. Sanhedrin, fol. 99a. saith, The days of the Messias are forty years, as it is said, 'Forty years was I provoked by this generation.'" And again; "R. Judah(39) 39. Fol. 97a. saith, In that generation, when the Son of David shall come, the schools shall be harlots; Galilee shall be laid waste; Gablan shall be destroyed; and the inhabitants of the earth [the Gloss is 'the Sanhedrim'] shall wander from city to city, and shall not obtain pity; the wisdom of the scribes shall stink; and they that fear to sin shall be despised; and the faces of that generation shall be like the faces of dogs; and truth shall fail, &c. Run over the history of these forty years, from the death of Christ to the destruction of Jerusalem (as they are vulgarly computed), and you will wonder to observe the nation conspiring to its own destruction, and rejoicing in the slaughters and spoils of one another beyond all example, and even to a miracle. This phrensy certainly was sent upon them from heaven. And first, they are deservedly become mad who trod the wisdom of God, as much as they could, under their feet. And secondly, the blood of the prophets and of Christ, bringing the good tidings of peace, could not be expiated by a less vengeance. Tell me, O Jew, whence is that rage of your nation towards the destruction of one another, and those monsters of madness beyond all examples? Does the nation rave for nothing, unto their own ruin? Acknowledge the Divine vengeance in thy madness, more than that which befell thee from men. He that reckons up the difference, contentions, and broils of the nation, after the dissension betwixt the Pharisees and the Sadducees, will meet with no less between the scholars of Shammai and Hillel, which increased to that degree, that at last it came to slaughter and blood.
"The(40) 40. Jer. in Shabb. fol. 3. 3. scholars of Shammai and Hillel came to the chamber of Chananiah Ben Ezekiah Ben Garon, to visit him: that was a woeful day, like the day wherein the golden calf was made. The scholars of Shammai stood below, and slew some of the scholars of Hillel. The tradition is, That six of them went up, and the rest stood there present with swords and spears."
It passed into a common proverb, that "Elias the Tishbite himself could not decide the controversies between the scholars of Hillel and the scholars of Shammai." They dream they were determined by a voice from heaven; but certainly the quarrels and bitternesses were not at all decided.
"Before(41) 41. Jer. Berakoth, fol. 3. 2. the Bath Kol [in Jabneh] went forth, it was lawful equally to embrace either the decrees of the school of Hillel, or those of the school of Shammai. At last the Bath Kol came forth, and spake thus; 'The words, both of the one party and the other, are the words of the living God; but the certain decision of the matter is according to the decrees of the school of Hillel.' And from thenceforth, whosoever shall transgress the decrees of the school of Hillel is guilty of death."
And thus the controversy was decided; but the hatreds and spites were not so ended. I observe, in the Jerusalem Gemarists,(42) 42. See Terumoth, fol. 43. 3. Succah, 53. 1. Jom. Tobh. fol. 60. 3. &c. the word Shamothi, used for a scholar of Shammai: which I almost suspect, from the affinity of the word Shammatha, which signifies Anathema, to be a word framed by the scholars of Hillel, in hate, ignominy, and reproach of those of Shammai. And when I read more than once of R. Tarphon's being in danger by robbers, because in some things he followed the custom and manner of the school of Shammai; I cannot but suspect snares were daily laid by one another, and hostile treacheries continually watching to do each other mischief.
"R. Tarphon(43) 43. Bab. Berakoth, cap. 1. hal. 3. saith, 'As I was travelling on the way, I went aside to recite the phylacteries, according to the rite of the school of Shammai, and I was in danger of thieves.' They said to him, and deservedly too, 'Because thou hast transgressed the words of the school of Hillel.'" This is wanting in the Jerusalem Misna.
"R. Tarphon(44) 44. Jer. Shebiith, fol. 65. 2. went down to eat figs of his own, according to the school of Shammai. The enemies saw him, and kicked against him: when he saw himself in danger, 'By your life,' saith he, 'carry word unto the house of Tarphon, that graveclothes be made ready for him.'"
Thus, as if they were struck with a phrensy from heaven, the doctors of the nation rage one against another; and from their very schools and chairs flow not so much doctrines, as animosities, jarrings, slaughters, and butcheries. To these may be added those fearful outrages, spoils, murders, devastations of robbers, cut-throats, zealots, and amazing cruelties, beyond all example. And if these things do not savour of the divine wrath and vengeance, what ever did?
3. And said unto him, Art thou he that should come, or do we look for another?
[Art thou he that should come, or do we look for another?] The reason of the message of John to Christ is something obscure:
First, That it was not because he knew not Christ, is without all controversy, when he had been fully instructed from heaven concerning his person, when he was baptized; and when he had again and again most evidently borne witness to him, in those words, "This is the Lamb of God," &c.
Secondly, Nor was that message certainly, that the disciples of John might receive satisfaction about the person of Christ: for, indeed, the disciples were most unworthy of such a master, if they should not believe him without further argument, when he taught them concerning him.
Thirdly, John therefore seems in this matter to respect his own imprisonment, and that his question, "Art thou he which should come," &c. tends to that. He had heard that miracles of all sorts were done by him, that the blind received their sight, the dead were raised, devils were cast out, &c. And why, therefore, among all the rest, is not John set at liberty? This scruple, as it seems, stuck with the good man; 'Why do all receive benefit and comfort from Christ, but only I?' Perhaps he laboured under that dim-sightedness which the disciples of Christ and the whole nation did concerning his earthly kingdom, victories, and triumphs: from which how distant (alas!) was this, that his forerunner and the chief minister should lie in chains! 'If thou art he, concerning whose triumphing the prophets declare so much, why am I so long detained in prison? Art thou he, or is another to be expected, from whom these things are to be looked for?'
First, "That I am he that should come, these things which I do bear witness, 'The blind receive their sight, the lame walk,'" &c.
Secondly, "As to the present case of John, who expects somebody to come to deliver him out of bonds, and to free the people from the yoke of men, Let him (saith he) acquiesce in my divine dispensation, and, 'Blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in me,' however all things are not according to his mind, which he hath expected to fall out, for his present and bodily advantage."
And the words of our Saviour, verse 11, seem to express some secret reproof of this error in John, "He that is less in the kingdom of heaven, is greater than he." The Vulgar version renders well the word less, not least: as if he should say, "When ye went out into the desert to John, ye neither looked for trifles nor earthly pomp, neither 'a reed shaken with the wind,' nor 'a man clothed in soft raiment'; but ye looked in good earnest for a prophet: and in that ye did very well; for he was the greatest of prophets, nay, of men, as to his office; honoured in this above all others, that he is the forerunner of the Messias. howbeit, there are some, which, indeed, in respect of office, are much less than he in the kingdom of heaven, or in the commonwealth of Christ, who yet are greater than he in respect of the knowledge of the state and condition of his kingdom." A comparison certainly is not here made, either in respect of office, or in respect of dignity, or in respect of holiness, or in respect of eternal salvation; for who, I pray, exceeded the Baptist in all these, or in any of them? but in respect of clear and distinct knowledge, in judging of the nature and quality of the kingdom of heaven.
Let the austerity of John's life, and the very frequent fasts which he enjoined his disciples, be well considered, and what our Saviour saith of both, and you will easily believe that John also, according to the universal conceit of the nation, expected temporal redemption by the Messias, not so clearly distinguishing concerning the nature of the kingdom and redemption of Christ. And you will the more easily give credit to this, when you shall have observed how the disciples of Christ themselves, that conversed a long time with him, were dim-sighted, likewise, in this very thing.
12. And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force.
[The kingdom of heaven suffereth violence.] And these words also make for the praise of John. That he was a very eminent prophet, and of no ordinary mission or authority, these things evince; that from his preaching, the kingdom of heaven took its beginning, and it was so crowded into by infinite multitudes, as if they would take and seize upon the kingdom by violence. The divine warmth of the people in betaking themselves thither by such numberless crowds, and with so exceeding a zeal, sufficiently argued the divine worth both of the teacher and of his doctrine.
14. And if ye will receive it, this is Elias, which was for to come.
[If ye will receive it, this is Elias.] If ye will receive it. The words hint some suspicion, that they would not receive his doctrine; which the obstinate expectation of that nation unto this very day, that Elias is personally to come, witnesseth also. Upon what ground some Christians are of the same opinion, let themselves look to it. See the notes on chapter 17:10.
21. Woe unto thee, Chorazin! woe unto thee, Bethsaida! for if the mighty works, which were done in you, had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.
[In Tyre and Sidon.] He compares the cities of the Jews with the cities of the Canaanites, who were of a cursed original; "but yet these cities, of a cursed seed and name, if they had been partakers of the miracles done among you, had not hardened themselves to such a degree of madness and obstinacy as you have done: but had turned from their heathenism and Canaanitism unto the knowledge of the gospel; or, at least, had betook themselves to such a repentance as would have prevented vengeance." So the repentance of the Ninevites, however it were not to salvation, yet it was such as preserved them, and freed their city from the wrath and scourge that hung over them. The most horrid stiffness of the Jews is here intimated, of all impious men the most impious, of all cursed wretches the most cursed.
22. But I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon at the day of judgment, than for you.
[At the day of judgment.] In the day of judgment: and In the day of the great judgment: a form of speech very usual among the Jews.
29. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.
[My yoke.] So The yoke of the law: The yoke of the precept: The yoke of the kingdom of heaven.
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