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1. In the mean time, when there were gathered together an innumerable multitude of people, insomuch that they trode one upon another, he began to say unto his disciples first of all, Beware ye of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.
[When there were gathered together an innumerable multitude of people.] There is no one would understand this in the very letter of it; as if the number of the people here present were at least twenty thousand, but a very great number. So Acts 21:20: How many myriads of Jews which believe.
This probably denotes the mighty success of the seventy disciples preaching the gospel, who had so clearly and effectually taught concerning Christ, and told them of the place that he had determined to come to, that the people had flocked together in those vast numbers, ready upon all occasions to meet him, when they heard the Messias was making his approaches to this or that town.
3. Therefore whatsoever ye have spoken in darkness shall be heard in the light; and that which ye have spoken in the ear in closets shall be proclaimed upon the housetops.
[That which ye have spoken in the ear.] I have elsewhere spoken of a doctor whispering in the ear of his interpreter. The reason of this usage is given us in Chagigah, because the law is delivered silently; and the reason of this is, it is delivered silently, because of Satan.
However, these words are not to be understood of any such kind of whispering into the ears of the interpreter, but concerning any matter that may have been spoken in never so much secrecy and design not to have been known again. The doctor whispered into the ear of the interpreter to that end, that his disciples might publish what he had said. But here is meant, whatever any had the greatest purpose to conceal, yet God will reveal it; not much unlike that passage in Ecclesiastes 10:20. Our Saviour intimates the folly as well as the wickedness of dissimulation, because in time the visor shall be taken off, and the most dissembled hypocrisy exposed to naked view.
6. Are not five sparrows sold for two farthings, and not one of them is forgotten before God?
[Are not five sparrows sold for two farthings?] Two sparrows were sold for one farthing, and five for two. We find that doves were sold in the Temple upon the account of women in childbed, and their issues of blood, by whom a pair of turtles and young pigeons were to be offered, if they had not wherewithal to present a more costly sacrifice. So probably the sparrows were likely to be sold upon the account of lepers, in the cleansing of whom they were made use of, Leviticus 14:4. I confess the Greek version in this place hath not two sparrows, but two little birds. And yet if you will believe the far-fetched reason that R. Solomon gives, you will easily imagine that they are sparrows that are pointed at: "The leprosy (saith he) came upon mankind for an evil tongue, that is, for too much garrulity of words: and therefore in the cleansing of it they used sparrows that are always chirping and chattering with their voice."
[And not one of them is forgotten before God.] "R. Simeon Ben Jochai standing at the mouth of his cave [wherein he lay hid for the space of thirteen years], he saw a certain man catching of birds. And when he heard Bath Kol out of heaven, saying, 'Mercy, mercy,' the birds escaped: but when he heard Bath Kol saying, 'The pain of death,' then was the bird taken. He saith, therefore, A bird is not taken without God, much less the life of a man." This passage is also recited in Midras Tillin, but the circumstances vary.
9. But he that denieth me before men shall be denied before the angels of God.
[But he that denieth me, &c.] consider whether in these words and in the following verse, our blessed Saviour do not point at those two unpardonable sins, apostasy, or denying and renouncing of Christ, and blasphemy, or the sin against the Holy Ghost. The first is called "a sin unto death." And so, in truth and in the event, is the latter too. I find them, indeed, confounded by some, who discourse upon the sin against the Holy Ghost, when yet this difference may be observed, viz., that apostasy cannot properly be charged on any but who have already professed Christianity: but blasphemy against the Holy Ghost was uttered by the scribes and Pharisees at that time that they disowned and rejected Christ.
13. And one of the company said unto him, Master, speak to my brother, that he divide the inheritance with me.
[That he divide the inheritance with me.] I. In the titles of brethren this obtained amongst them, that as the eldest was called the firstborn so the younger was called simple, because without the title of firstborn. It seems to be only two brethren here betwixt whom the complaint is made, but which of them is the complainant it is not so easy to determine. You will say the younger most probably, because it is more likely that the firstborn should wrong the younger, than the younger the firstborn. And yet in that court of judicature which they called "the court of Thou draw and I'll draw," the younger might be troublesome to the firstborn as well as the firstborn to the younger. That matter was thus:
"When a father had bequeathed to his firstborn and younger son a servant and an unclean beast," which could not be parted in two, then saith the one to the other, "Do thou draw, or I'll draw"; that is, Do thou redeem thy share, or I will redeem mine. Now here the younger brother may be perverse, and as well hinder the redemption as the firstborn.
II. In the division of inheritances how many vexations and quarrels may arise, both reason and common experience do abundantly teach us. The Rabbins are very large upon this head; and suppose that great controversies may arise either from the testament of the father, or the nature of the inheritance, or the quality of the sons; as if the younger son be a disciple of the wise men, and the elder not; if the younger be made a proselyte, the elder a Gentile, &c. But in the instance now before us, the complaint or controversy is not about dividing but about not dividing; because the firstborn most probably would not gratify the younger in that thing.
The judges in that case was the bench of the Triumviri. These were the judges, in the controversy, and decreed concerning the right or equity of dividing: and either some were appointed by them, or some chosen by those between whom the cause depended, as arbiters in the case, and these were the dividers, those that took care as to the equality of the division. Now we cannot easily suppose what should move this man to appeal to our Saviour as judge in this matter, unless either himself or brother, or both, were of the number of his disciples.
19. And I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry.
[Soul, take thine ease, eat, drink, &c.] "When the church is in distress, let not any man then say, 'I will go into mine house, and will eat and drink, and peace be to thee, O my soul.' For if any one shall so do, it is written of him, 'Behold joy, and gladness, slaying oxen, and killing sheep, eating flesh, and drinking wine: let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we shall die.' But what follows? 'It was revealed in mine ears by the Lord of hosts, Surely this iniquity shall not be purged away from you till you die.'" And what if he should so say and do when the church is not in distress?
20. But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided?
[This night thy soul shall be required of thee.] However this following story hath something in it that may be laughed at, yet hath it something in it that is serious enough: "The Rabbins say, It fell out in the days of R. Simeon Ben Chalaphta, that he went to a certain circumcision, and there feasted. The father of the infant gave them old wine, wine of seven years old, to drink, and said unto them, 'With this wine will I grow old in the joy of my son.' They feasted together till midnight. R. Simeon Ben Chalaphta trusting to his own virtue, went out at midnight to go into the city: in the way he finds the angel of death, and observes him very sad: saith he to him, 'Who art thou?' He saith, 'I am the messenger of the Lord': 'And why then (saith he) art thou so sad?' He saith unto him, 'I am sad for the speeches of those who say, I will do this or that ere long, though they know not how quickly they may be called away by death. That man with whom thou hast been feasting, and that boasted amongst you, With this wine I will grow old in the joy of my son; behold the time draws nigh, that within thirty days he must be snatched away.' He saith unto him, 'Do thou let me know my time.' To whom he answered, 'Over thee, and such as thou art, we have no power; for God, being delighted with good works, prolongeth your lives.'"
24. Consider the ravens: for they neither sow nor reap; which neither have storehouse nor barn; and God feedeth them: how much more are ye better than the fowls?
[Neither storehouse nor barn.] The storehouse is where they laid up their fruits, and the barn where they laid up their grain. It is commonly rendered the floor, but there it is meant the barn-floor. Our Saviour takes an instance from God feeding the ravens, Job 38:41; Psalm 147:9, where it is R. Solomon's remark: "Our Rabbins observe, that the raven is cruel towards its young; but God pitieth them, and provides them flies, that breed out of their own dung." Now the reason they give why the old ones are so unmerciful to their own young is in Chetubboth, where the Gloss thus explains the minds of the Gemarists speaking of the young ones both white and black: "When they grow black the old ones begin to love their young, but while they are all white they loathe them."
In that very place there occurs this passage, not unworthy our transcribing: "There was a certain man brought before Rabh Judah because he refused to provide for his children. Saith he to those that brought him, The dragon brings forth, and lays her young in the town to be nourished up. When he was brought to Rabh Chasda, he saith unto them, 'Compel him to the door of the synagogue, and there let him stand, and say, The raven seeks her young ones, but this man doth not seek [or own] his children.' But doth the raven seek her young ones? Behold it is written, God feedeth the ravens which cry unto him. This hath no difficulty in it. This is said of them while they are white, that 'God feeds them': but that is said of them when they are become black, that 'the raven owneth her young.'" But the Gloss hath it thus: "It seems as if he with his own voice should cry out against himself, and say, 'The raven owneth her young.' But there are those that expound it as if the minister of the synagogue should set him forth and proclaim upon him, The raven acknowledgeth her young, but this man rejects his own children." "Tell it to the church," Matthew 18:17.
30. For all these things do the nations of the world seek after: and your Father knoweth that ye have need of these things.
[The nations of the world, &c.] The nations of the world is a very common form of speech amongst the Jews, by which they express the Gentiles, or all other nations beside themselves...
37. Blessed are those servants, whom the lord when he cometh shall find watching: verily I say unto you, that he shall gird himself, and make them to sit down to meat, and will come forth and serve them.
[He will come forth and serve them.] He that serves at the table goes about while the guests sit. He will come forth seems to denote the same thing here; unless it may refer to some such thing as this, viz. that the master will pass by his dignity, and condescend to minister to his own servants.
38. And if he shall come in the second watch, or come in the third watch, and find them so, blessed are those servants.
[In the second watch, and in the third.] In the very dead watches of all, at least, if there be not a solecism in speech. At the first watch they went to bed; and at the fourth watch, the time of getting up again came on: so that the second and the third watch was the very dead time of sleep.
47. And that servant, which knew his lord's will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes.
[Shall be beaten with many stripes.] There was a stated number of stripes, and that twas forty, beyond which no malefactor, condemned by the judges to that punishment, ought to receive. Whence that passage seems a little strange: "He that kills a heifer, and afterward two of that heifer's calves, let him be beaten with fourscore stripes." How so? fourscore, when they ought not to exceed above forty? They might not exceed that number for one single crime: but if the crime was doubled, they might double the punishment. And it may be a question, whether they did not double their accusations upon St. Paul, when they multiplied their stripes, he himself telling us, that five times he had received forty stripes save one.
But did every one that was adjudged by the court to stripes, did they always receive that number exactly, of thirty-nine? no doubt the number was more or less, according to the nature of the crime. Which seems to be hinted in Pesachin; He that eateth the 'potitha' [some creeping thing of the sea], "let him be beaten with four stripes: He that eateth a pismire, let him be beaten with five: He that eateth a hornet, let him have six." If this be the sense of the words, then here may arise a question, with what kind of scourge they were beaten? If with that scourge of three cords that was used when they gave nine-and-thirty stripes, repeating their strokes by a scourge of three cords thirteen times, how then could they inflict four or five stripes with such a scourge as that was?
But as to the number of stripes which the master might inflict upon his slave, that was not stated, but left to the pleasure of the master, according to the nature of the crime: which seems hinted at in these words of our Saviour, and in the following rule amongst the Jews, some kind of measure still being attended to:
"It is allowed to deal with a Canaanite [that is, a Gentile] slave with severity. But though this is de jure, yet there is a law of mercy, and rule of wisdom, that a man should be gentle, pursuing righteousness, not making the yoke heavy upon his servant, lest he afflict him."
49. I am come to send fire on the earth; and what will I, if it be already kindled?
[And what will I, if it be already kindled?] What will I, seems to be used after the manner of the schools, where What do I say? is the same with I do say this: and so What do I decree or approve? is the same with This I do decree or approve. So What will I? is the same with This I will. Thus, in these words of our Saviour, What will I, if it be already kindled, the meaning is, This I will, that it be already kindled. Now what kind of fire this was which he would have already kindled, he himself explains verse 51, and so on.
1. There were present at that season some that told him of the Galilaeans, whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices.
[Of the Galileans.] If this report concerning the Galileans was brought to our Saviour immediately after the deed was done, then was this tragedy acted by Pilate, a little before the feast of Dedication; for we find Christ going towards that feast, verse 22. But the time of this slaughter is uncertain: for it is a question, whether they that tell him this passage, relate it as news which he had not heard before, or only to draw from him his opinion concerning that affair, &c.
It is hotly disputed amongst some, as to the persons whom Pilate slew. And,
I. Some would have them to have been of the sect of Judas the Gaulonite; and that they were therefore slain, because they denied to give tribute to Caesar. He is called, indeed, "Judas of Galilee"; and there is little doubt, but that he might draw some Galileans into his opinion and practice. But I question then, whether Christ would have made any kind of defence for such, and have placed them in the same level with these, upon whom the tower of Siloam fell; when it so plainly appears, that he taught directly contrary to that perverse sect and opinion. However, if these were of that sect (for I will not contend it), then do these, who tell this to our Saviour, seem to lay a snare for him, not much unlike that question they put to him, "Is it lawful to give tribute to Caesar, or no?"
II. There is one that confounds this story with that of Josephus, which he relates from him thus abbreviated; "In Galilee there were certain Samaritans, who, being seduced by a notorious impostor, moved sedition at mount Gerizim, where this cheat promised them to shew them the sacred vessels which, he falsely told them, had been hid by Moses in that place. Pilate, sending his forces upon them, suppressed them; the greater of them were taken and adjudged to death." I admire how this learned man should deliver these things with so much confidence, as even to chastise Josephus himself for his mistake in his computation of the time for this story, concluding thus; "When, indeed, this slaughter, made upon the Samaritans by Pilate, seems to be that very slaughter of the Galileans mentioned by St. Chapter 13:1."
Whereas, in truth, Josephus mentions not one syllable either of Galilee or sacrifice, or the Galileans, but Samaritans: and it is a somewhat bold thing to substitute rebelling Samaritans in the place of sacrificing Galileans. Nor is it probable that those that tell this matter to our Saviour would put this gloss and colour upon the thing while they related it.
III. The feud and enmity that was between Pilate and Herod might be enough to incense Pilate to make this havock of the subjects of Herod.
[Whose blood Pilate mingled.] "David swore to Abishai, As the Lord liveth, if thou touch the blood of this righteous man [Saul], I will mingle thy blood with his blood." So Pilate mingled the blood of these sacrificers with the blood of those sacrifices they had slain. It is remarkable that in Siphra, "the killing of the sacrifices may be well enough done by strangers, by women, by servants, by the unclean; even those sacrifices that are most holy, provided that the unclean touch not the flesh of them." And a little after; "At the sprinkling of the blood, the work of the priest begins; and the slaying of them may be done by any hand whatever."
Hence was it a very usual thing for those that brought the sacrifice to kill it themselves; and so, probably, these miserable Galileans were slaughtered, while they themselves were slaying their own sacrifices. For it is more likely that they were slain in the Temple while they were offering their sacrifices, than in the way, while they were bringing them thither.
4. Or those eighteen, upon whom the tower in Siloam fell, and slew them, think ye that they were sinners above all men that dwelt in Jerusalem?
[Upon whom the tower in Siloam fell.] The poor of Bethesda was the pool of Siloam; and from thence all that adjacent part of the city is denominated Siloam. And therefore it is left doubtful, whether this tower were built over the pool, that is, over the porches of the pool, or stood something remote from it in those parts that yet bore the name of Siloam. And if the article in does not determine the matter, we must continue still in doubt. Will grammar permit that that article should be prefixed to that part of the city? It is certain, that the very pool is called the pool of Siloam. So that I conceive this tower might be built over the porticoes of the pool, and might overwhelm those eighteen men, while they were busied about purifying themselves (and so this event falls in the more agreeably with that of the Galileans), or as they were expecting to be healed at the troubling of the waters: for it is very uncertain at what time this tower fell.
7. Then said he unto the dresser of his vineyard, Behold, these three years I come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and find none: cut it down; why cumbereth it the ground?
Behold, these three years I come, &c.] There was no tree that was of a kind to bear fruit might lightly and upon every small occasion be cut down, that law providing against it in Deuteronomy 20:19,20; where the Pesikta observes that there is both an affirmative and also a negative command, by which it is the more forbidden that any tree of that kind should be cut down, unless upon a very indispensable occasion. "Rabh saith, 'Cut not down the palm that bears a cab of dates.' They urge, 'And what of the olive, that that should not be cut down?' 'If it bear but the fourth part of a cab.' R. Chaninah said, My son Shibchah had not died, had he not cut down a fig-tree before its time."
[For more info, please see The Barren Fig-Tree by John Bunyan.]
8. And he answering said unto him, Lord, let it alone this year also, till I shall dig about it, and dung it:
[I will dig about it, and dung it.] They dung it and dig it &c. The Gloss is; "They lay dung in their gardens to moisten the earth. They dig about the roots of their trees, they pluck up the suckers, they take off the leaves, they sprinkle ashes, and they smoke under the trees to kill worms."
11. And, behold, there was a woman which had a spirit of infirmity eighteen years, and was bowed together, and could in no wise lift up herself.
[Having a spirit of infirmity.] I. The Jews distinguish between spirits, and devils, and good angels. "All things do subserve to the glory of the King of kings, the holy blessed One, even spirits, also devils also ministering angels."
The difficulty is in what sense they take spirits, as they are distinguished from angels and devils: when it is probable they did not mean human souls. But these things are not the business of this place.
II. Therefore, as to this phrase in St. Luke, a spirit of infirmity, let us begin our inquiry from this passage: "It is written, 'If I put the plague of leprosy in a house of the land of your inheritance.' R. Judah saith, 'This foretells such plagues to come upon them.' R. Simeon saith, 'He excepts those violent plagues that do not render a man unclean.'" Where the Gloss is, If those plagues come by the insufflation of the devil, which do not defile the man. And the Gemara a little after; "Rabba saith, He excepts the plagues of spirits. Rabh Papa saith, 'He excepts the plagues of enchantments.'" Where the Gloss again hath it; "Those plagues which are inflicted by the insufflation of the devil, not by the hands of men."
I. You see, therefore, first, that it was a most received opinion amongst the Jews, that diseases or plagues might be inflicted by the devil. Which is plain also from the evangelists; because our Saviour, in this very place, tells us, that the bowing together of this woman was inflicted upon her by Satan.
II. They conceived further, that some diseases were inflicted that were unclean, and some that were not unclean. The unclean were the leprosy, issues, &c.; not unclean, were such as this woman's infirmity, &c.
III. They distinguish betwixt an evil spirit, and an unclean spirit. Not but they accounted an unclean spirit ill enough, and an evil spirit to be unclean enough; but that they might distinguish the various operations of the devil, as also concerning the various persons possessed and afflicted by him.
1. They acknowledged that evil spirits might inflict diseases. "Whomsoever either the Gentiles, or evil spirit drive," i.e. beyond the bounds of the sabbath. Where the Gloss is; "The evil spirit is the devil that hath entered into him, disturbs his intellectuals, so that he is carried beyond the bounds." But Rambam saith, "They call all kind of melancholy an evil spirit." And elsewhere: an evil spirit, i.e. a disease.
2. The unclean spirit amongst them was chiefly and more peculiarly that devil that haunted places of burial, and such-like, that were most unclean. The unclean spirit, i.e. the devil that haunts burying-places. "Thither the necromancer betook himself" (as the Gemara hath it, which I have also quoted in another place); "and when he had macerated himself with fasting, he lodgeth amongst the tombs, to the end that he might be the more inspired by the unclean spirit." Nor is it much otherwise (as they themselves relate it) with the python or prophesying spirit. "For the Rabbins deliver: the python is he that speaks within the parts." The Gloss is, "He that raiseth a dead person, and sits between the parts of the bones," &c.
Hence that reason of our conjecture concerning that demoniac, Luke 4:33; that he was either a necromancer or pythonist, taken from that unusual way of expressing it which is there observable, not having an unclean spirit, nor having an unclean devil, but having a spirit of an unclean devil.
There were therefore two sorts of men whom they accounted under the possession of an unclean spirit, in their proper sense so called: those especially who sought and were ambitious to be inspired of the devil amongst tombs and unclean places; and those also, who, being involuntarily possessed by the devils, betook themselves amongst tombs and such places of uncleanness. And whether they upon whom the devil inflicted unclean diseases should be ranked in the same degree, I do not determine. There were others who were not acted by such diabolical furies, but afflicted with other kind of diseases, whom they accounted under the operation of an evil spirit of disease or infirmity. Not of uncleanness; but of infirmity. And perhaps the evangelist speaks according to this antithesis, that this woman had neither a spirit of uncleanness, according to what they judged of a spirit of uncleanness; nor a disease of uncleanness; but a spirit of infirmity.
15. The Lord then answered him, and said, Thou hypocrite, doth not each one of you on the sabbath loose his ox or his ass from the stall, and lead him away to watering?
[Doth not each one of you on the sabbath loose his ox?] That disceptation doth attest this, How far a beast going forth. Where it is very much cautioned that the beast be not brought out on the sabbath day carrying any thing upon him that might be a burden not permitted to be borne on that day. They allow that a camel be led out with a halter, a horse with a collar, &c.; that is, when they are led out either to pasture or watering. Nay, the Gloss upon the place adds, "that they may lead out the horse to the water, that he may dip the collar in the water if the water be unclean."
To this may be referred that abstruse and obscure rule concerning the building of mounds about a spring that belongs to a private man, with that art that the beast, being led thither to watering on the sabbath day, shall not go out of the place that is of common right.
It is not only permitted to lead the beast out to watering on the sabbath day, but they might draw water for him, and pour it into troughs, provided only that they do not carry the water, and set it before the beast to drink; but the beast come and drink it of his own accord.
23. Then said one unto him, Lord, are there few that be saved? And he said unto them,
[Are there few that be saved?] This question, Lord, are there few that be saved? when it was a received opinion amongst the Jews, 'that all Israel should have their part in the world to come,' makes it doubtful whether it was propounded captiously, or merely for satisfaction.
This very matter is disputed amongst the Masters. "Therefore hell hath enlarged herself, and opened her mouth beyond the statute [without measure, AV]. Resh Lachish saith, 'This is for him who forsaketh one statute.' (The Gloss is, 'He that leaves one statute unobserved shall be condemned in hell.') But R. Jochanan saith, 'Their Lord will not have it so as thou sayest concerning them.' (The Gloss is, 'He will not have thee judge so concerning Israel.') For the sense is, Although a man have learned but one statute only, he shall escape hell. It is said, 'It shall come to pass that in all the land, saith the Lord, two parts of it shall be cut off and die, and the third part shall be left.' Resh Lachish saith, 'The third part of Shem.' R. Jochanan saith unto him, 'Their Lord will not have it so as thou sayest concerning them, for it is the third part of Noah.' It is said, 'I will take you one of a city and two of a tribe.' Resh Lachish saith, 'These words are to be understood in the very letter.' R. Jochanan saith unto him, 'Their Lord will not have it so as thou sayest concerning them, but one of a city shall expiate for the whole city, and two of a family for the whole family. It is said, 'I will take them for my people'; and it is said, 'I will bring you into the land.' He compares their going out of the land of Egypt with their coming in to their own land: now how was their coming in into the land of Canaan? There were only two persons of threescore myriads that entered it. Rabba saith, So also shall it be in the days of the Messiah.'" A man would hardly have expected such ingenuity from a Jew as we here meet with in Resh Lachish and Rabba.
32. And he said unto them, Go ye, and tell that fox, Behold, I cast out devils, and I do cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I shall be perfected.
[Tell that fox.] I conceive our Saviour may allude here to the common proverb: "The brethren of Joseph fell down before his face and worshipped him, saith R. Benjamin Bar Japheth. Saith R. Eliezer This is what is commonly said amongst men, Worship the fox in his time." The Gloss is, 'In the time of his prosperity.' But go you, and say to that fox, however he may wallow in his present prosperity, that I will never flatter him, or for any fear of him desist from my work; but "behold, I cast out devils," &c.
33. Nevertheless I must walk today, and tomorrow, and the day following: for it cannot be that a prophet perish out of Jerusalem.
[It cannot be that a prophet perish, &c.] "A tribe, nor false prophet, [such a one they accounted the holy Jesus,] nor a high priest, can be judged but by the bench of seventy-one." Rambam upon the place, as also the Gemara; "We know that a false prophet must be judged by the Sanhedrim, from the parity of the thing: for so is judged a rebellious judge."
Now as to the judgment itself, these things are said: "They do not judge him to death in the court of judicature, that is, in his own city, nor in that that is at Jabneh; but they bring him to the great Consistory that is at Jerusalem, and reserve him to one of their feasts; and at their feast they execute him, as it is said, 'All Israel shall hear, and shall fear, and do no more so.'"
35. Behold, your house is left unto you desolate: and verily I say unto you, Ye shall not see me, until the time come when ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.
[Ye shall not see me, until the time come when ye shall say, Blessed is he, &c.] There was a time (I confess) when I apprehended no difficulty at all in these words; but now (which may seem a paradox) my old eyes see better than my younger ones did; and by how much the more I look into this passage, by so much the more obscure it appears to me.
I. What sense must that be taken in, Ye shall not see me? when as after he had said this, (at least as the words are placed in our evangelist), they saw him conversant amongst them for the space of three months and more: particularly and in a singular manner, in that august triumph, when riding upon an ass he had the acclamations of the people in these very words, "Blessed is he that cometh," &c. One might therefore think, that the words have some respect to this very time and action; but that in St. Matthew these words are repeated by our Saviour after this triumph was over.
Christ is now at Jerusalem, at the feast of Dedication; at least that feast was not far off; for we find him going to it, verse 22: so that this exposition of the words looks fair enough; "Ye see me now, but henceforward ye shall see me no more, until ye shall say, 'Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord'"; which very thing was said in that triumph of his. But what shall we say then to that of St. Matthew, that these very words are recited sometime after he had received these acclamations from the people? I would hardly believe with the learned Heinsius, that the words in St. Matthew are not set in their proper place, but the series of the history is transposed: I would rather think our Saviour meant not an ocular seeing him, but spoke it in a spiritual and borrowed sense; viz. in the sense wherein the Jews were wont to use the word seeing, when they spake of "seeing the Messiah, the days of the Messiah, and the consolation of Israel"; that is, of partaking and enjoying the comforts and advantages of the Messiah, and of those days of his. So that our Saviour's meaning may seem to be this; "Ye shall, from henceforward, enjoy no benefit from me the Messiah, till ye shall say, 'Blessed is he that cometh,'" &c.: for it is worthy our inquiry, whether Christ ever after these words of his, did endeavour so to gather the children of Jerusalem together, that the city might not be destroyed, and the whole nation cast off. He did indeed endeavour to gather the remnant according to the election of grace, but did he ever after this labour that the place and nation might be preserved? As to these, it is argument enough that he had given them wholly over in his own mind, in that here, and in St. Matthew, he did in such precise terms denounce the ruin of Jerusalem, immediately before he uttered these words. I had rather, therefore, than admit any immethodicalness in St. Matthew, expound the passage to this sense; "From henceforward, ye shall never see the consolations of Messiah, nor have me any ways propitious amongst you, endeavouring at all the preservation of your city or nation from ruin, till ye shall say, 'Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.'"
II. But then here ariseth as great a difficulty about the word till; that is, whether it concludes that in time they will say and acknowledge it; or whether it excludes and denies that they ever shall. For who knows not how different and even contrary a force there is in this word until? "Occupy till I come": here it concludes that he will come again. "This iniquity shall not be forgiven you till you die": there their forgiveness is excluded for ever. And indeed the expression in this place looks so perfectly two ways, that he that believes the conversion of the Jewish nation as a thing must come to pass, may turn it to his side; he that believes the contrary, to his.
[Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.] Although a more intimate weighing of these words will not very much help in determining the force of this word until in this place, yet will it probably afford us some light into the whole clause.
The words are taken out of Psalm 118:26, and were sung in the Great Hallel. So that I will beg the reader's leave to digress a little in search of this usage, especially as to those words that are now in hand.
I. The Great Hallel was the recitation of Psalms 113-118 upon every feast, in every family or brotherhood. The hymn that our Saviour with his apostles sung at the close of the Passover was the latter part of this Hallel.
II. Every one, indeed, was of right bound to repeat it entirely in his own person. But seeing it was not every one's lot to be so learned or expedite as that came to, there was one to recite it in the stead of all the rest, and they after him made some responsals. This went for a maxim amongst them, if he hear, it is as if he responded. If he hear, though he do not answer, he performs his duty: the meaning is, if any be so unskillful that he can neither recite himself, nor answer after another that doth recite, let him but hear attentively, and he doth as much as is required from him.
III. There was a twofold way of responding according to the difference of persons reciting. If an elder, or master of a family, or one that could fitly represent the whole congregation, should recite or lead in singing; then the rest repeat no other words after him except the first clause of every Psalm; and as to all the remainder, they answered verse by verse Hallelujah. For the action of him that represented them, and led up in singing, availed for those that were represented, especially they having testified their consent by answering Hallelujah. He was a dunce, indeed, that could not answer so far amongst the rest.
IV. But if there wanted such an elder so well skilled in reading or reciting, that it became necessary for a servant or woman, or some more skilful boy, to lead, then let us hear what they did in that case: "If a servant, or woman, or boy should lead in singing, every one in the congregation recites those very words which he had said: if a more ancient person or one of greater note, do sing or read, they answer after him 'Hallelujah.' Now the reason why the words recited by a servant, woman, or boy should be repeated after him verbatim, was this, because such a one was unfit to represent a congregation, and his action could not avail for the rest: so that it behoved every person to recite singly for himself, that he might perform his duty."
V. When they came to the words now in hand, blessed be he that cometh in the name of the Lord, if it be a boy or a servant that is the praecentor, he saith, Blessed be he that cometh; and the rest answer, In the name of the Lord. And this is that for which I have so long ventured upon the reader's patience, that he may observe what is done differently from the rest when this clause is recited. It is cut in two, which is not done in others. And the first words are not repeated after the praecentor, as they are in other clauses. And whether this custom obtained only in families where servants or boys led in singing, we may judge from this following passage:
"They asked R. Chaijam Bar Ba, 'How doth it appear, that he who heareth and doth not answer performs his duty?' 'From this, saith he, That we see the greatest Rabbins standing in the synagogue, and they say, Blessed be he that cometh, and they answer, In the name of the Lord: and they both perform their duty.'" Midras Tillin leaves these last words wholly out. For so that hath it: "The men of Jerusalem say from within, Save us now, O Lord, we beseech thee. The men of Judea say from without, Prosper us now, Lord, we beseech thee. The men of Jerusalem say from within, Blessed be he that cometh: and the men of Judea say from without, We have blessed you out of the house of the Lord."
I will not confidently assert that these men had any ill design when they thus mangled this famous clause; but surely there is at least some ground of suspicion that they hardly refer the words to the right object. R. Solomon assuredly doth not. For, "So it ought to be said (saith he) to those that bring their firstfruits, and go up to the feasts."
1. To come is oftentimes the same with them as to teach; "If any one shall come in his own name, him ye will receive": i.e. If any one shall teach. And so it is frequently in the Jerusalem Talmud, concerning this or the other Rabbins, he came, and when he cometh. Which if it be not to be understood of such a one teaching, I confess I am at a loss what it should mean else.
2. Those doctors did not come and teach in the name of the Lord, but either in their own name, or in the name of some father of the traditions. Hence nothing more familiar with them, than "R. N. in the name of R. N. saith": as every leaf, I may say almost every line of their writings witnesses. If, therefore, by cutting short this clause, they would be appropriating to themselves the blessing of the people, whom they had taught to say, Blessed be he that cometh, letting that slip, or omitting what follows, In the name of the Lord; they do indeed like themselves, cunningly lying at catch, and hunting after fame and vainglory.
Let the reader judge, whether Christ might not look this way in these words. However, I shall not scruple to determine, that they shall never see the Messiah, as to any advantage to themselves, till they have renounced the doctrines of coming in their own name, or in the name of the Fathers of the Traditions, embracing his doctrine, who is come in the name of the Lord.
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