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1. After this there was a feast of the Jews; and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.
[After this there was a feast of the Jews.] The other evangelists speak but sparingly of Christ's acts in Judea; this of ours something more copiously. They mention nothing of the Passovers from his baptism to his death, excepting the very last; but St. John points at them all. The first he speaks of chapter 2:13; the third, chapter 6:4; the fourth, chapter 13:1; and the second, in this place. It is true he does not call it by the name of the Passover here, but only a feast in general. However, the words of our Saviour mentioned above, chapter 4:35, do give some kind of light into this matter.
2. Now there is at Jerusalem by the sheep market a pool, which is called in the Hebrew tongue Bethesda, having five porches.
[In the Hebrew tongue.] That is, in the language beyond Euphrates, or the Chaldean.
Aruch: that is, the language of those beyond the flood.
If the Holy Books be written in the Egyptian, or Medes', or Hebrew language. Gloss, In the Hebrew, that is, the language of those beyond Euphrates.
The Hebrew writing is that of those beyond the river.
So that by in the Hebrew tongue they mean the Chaldee language, which, from their return out of Babylon, had been their mother-tongue; and they call it "the language of those beyond Euphrates" (although used also in common with the Syrians on this side Euphrates), that, with respect to the Jews, they might distinguish it from the ancient holy tongue; q.d. "not the tongue they used before they went into captivity, but that which they brought along with them from beyond Euphrates."
The Jews to whom this was the mother-tongue were called Hebrews; and from thence are distinguished from the Hellenists; which every one knows. Whence St. Paul should call himself a Hebrew, 2 Corinthians 11:22, when he was born in Tarsus of Cilicia, might deserve our consideration.
[Having five porches.] It mightily obtains amongst some, that in Bethesda the sacrifices were washed before they offered them: but here I am a little at a stand. For,
I. It is very difficult proving that the sacrifices were washed at all either here or in any place else, before they were offered. The Holy Scriptures are wholly silent as to any such thing; nor, as far as I have yet found, do the traditional writings speak of it. It is confessed, the entrails were washed after the beast had been slain; and for this service there was set apart in the very Temple the washing-room. But for their bodies, their skins, or backs, whether they were washed before they were slain, is justly questionable.
II. Amongst all the blemishes and defects whereby the beast was rendered unfit for sacrifice, we do not read that this was ever reckoned, "that they had not been washed." Do we believe that Abraham washed the ram caught in thicket, Genesis 22, before he sacrificed it? It is said, indeed, "that he took it and wiped it. But this was after he had taken off the skin. He took it, and taking off the skin, he said, 'Behold this, O Lord, as if the skin of thy servant Isaac was taken off before thee.' He wiped it [Gloss, he wiped it with a sponge], and said, 'Behold this, as if Isaac was wiped.' He burnt it, and said," &c.
And let that be well considered in Siphra, fol. 18. 1, where a dispute is had upon those words, Leviticus 6:27; "If the blood of the sacrifice for sin be sprinkled upon a garment, &c. When the discourse is of a garment, I would understand it of nothing but a garment. Whence is to be added, the skin when it is pulled off. The text saith, 'Upon whatsoever the blood shall be sprinkled, ye shall wash.' Perhaps, therefore, one may add the skin before it is pulled off. The text saith, a garment: as a garment that is capable of uncleanness, so whatsoever is capable of uncleanness. Except the skin before it be pulled off. They are the words of R. Judah." Mark, the skin as yet cleaving to the beast's back, and not flayed off, is not capable of uncleanness.
I. I would therefore judge rather, that men, and not beasts, were washed in the pool of Bethesda. I mean the unclean, that by washing they might be purified. For whoever considers the numbers of the unclean that did every day stand in need of being washed, and whoever would a little turn over the Talmudic treatises about purifications, and the gatherings of waters for those purposes, might easily persuade himself that both Bethesda, and all the other pools in Jerusalem, did serve rather for the washing of men, and not of beasts.
I would further judge, that the Syriac interpreter, when he renders that passage, "There was at Jerusalem a certain place of baptistery," that he intended rather the washing unclean person than beasts.
II. "There was not any like to Benaiah, the son of Jehoiada, under the second Temple. He one day struck his foot against a dead tortoise, and went down to Siloam, where, breaking all the little particles of hail, he washed himself......This was on the shortest day in winter, the tenth of the month Tebeth."
I do not concern myself for the truth of this story; but must take notice what he hints that telleth it; viz. that in such a case men were wont to wash themselves in Siloam, not the fountain, but the pool.
"Simeon Sicuensis dug wells, cisterns, and caves in Jerusalem. Rabban Jochanan Ben Zacchai saith to him, 'If a woman should come to thee, and ask thee about her menstrua, thou sayest to her, Dip thyself in this well, for the waters thereof will purify.'"
III. Those five porches, therefore, seem to be the several entrances by which the unclean went down into the waters to be washed; and in which, before washing, they might lay up their clothes, and after it put them on again, being there always protected from the rain. And perhaps they had their different entrances and descents according to the different sorts of uncleanness, that all those that were one and the same way defiled should have one and the same entrance and descent into the pool. That this was the first design and use of these porches I do not at all doubt, though afterward there was another use for them brought in. And as to the washing of the unclean in this pool, let me also superadd this one remark: That when they allowed (and that of necessity, because of the multitudes of unclean persons) the lesser gatherings of waters, viz. forty seahs of water in a place fitted on purpose both for breadth and depth, if there was no greater plenty of water, then we must not suppose that they would by any means neglect the ponds and pools.
4. For an angel went down at a certain season into the pool, and troubled the water: whosoever then first after the troubling of the water stepped in was made whole of whatsoever disease he had.
[An angel went down at a certain season.] It is hardly imaginable that these impotent people lay day and night throughout the whole year at this pool. It seems rather that the troubling of the waters and healing the sick was usual only at the solemn feasts, probably only the feast of the Passover. And so it may not be amiss to interpret the certain season with this restriction, "It was a feast of the Jews, and an angel went down at that certain season into the pool," &c.
[And troubled the water.] We have this story, or rather this tale, concerning a certain fountain troubled by an evil angel: "It is a story in our city concerning Abba Joses (saith R. Berechiah in the name of R. Simeon), that when he sat at the fountain and required something, there appeared to him the spirit that resided there, and said, 'You know well enough how many years I have dwelt in this place, and how yourselves and your wives have come and returned without any damage done to you. But now you must know, that an evil spirit endeavours to supply my room, who would prove very mischievous amongst you.' He saith to him, 'What must we do then?' He answered him and said, 'Go and tell the townspeople, that whoever hath a hammer and an iron pin or bolt, let him come hither tomorrow morning, and have his eyes intent upon the waters; and when you see the waters troubled, then let them knock with the iron, and say, "The victory is ours": and so let them not go back, till they see thick drops of blood upon the face of the waters.'" The Gloss is: "By this sign it will appear that the spirit was conquered and killed." And the rest of the legend tells us that they did as was commanded, and did not depart till they saw the thick drops of blood upon the waters. Let them enjoy themselves in their doughty victory.
When the time was not afar off wherein "there should be a fountain opened for sin and for uncleanness," Zechariah 13:1, viz. the fountain of the blood of Christ; Divine Providence would have it, that a thing of that inconceivable excellency and benefit should not want some notable prognostic and forerunner. And therefore, amongst all the fountains and pools that were in Jerusalem for washing the unclean, he chose the most noble and celebrated pool of Bethesda, or Siloam, that in that might appear some prefiguration of his blood that should heal the world. Those waters, therefore, that had been only cleansing before, were made healing now; that, by their purifying and healing quality, they might prefigure and proclaim that that true and living Fountain was not far off, who should both purge and heal mankind in the highest degree.
How many years before our Saviour's suffering this miraculous virtue of the pool discovered itself, the holy story doth not tell us: and as for the traditional books, I do not find that they once mention the thing, although I have turned over not a few of their writings (if possible) to have met with it. From what epocha, therefore, to date the beginning of it, would seem rashness in us to undertake the determining. Whether from the first structure of the sheepgate by Eliashib, as some persons of great note judge, or whether from the extinction of the Asmonean family, or the rebuilding of the Temple by Herod, or from the nativity of our Saviour, or from any other time, let the reader make his own choice. What if we should date it from that great earthquake of which Josephus hath this passage: "About that time, about the battle of Actium betwixt Caesar and Antony, the seventh year of the reign of king Herod, there was a mighty earthquake in Judea, that made an infinite slaughter of beasts in that country; and near ten thousand people slain by the fall of houses?" Perhaps in that ruin the tower of Siloam fell, of which Luke 13:4; and what if then the angel made his descent first into the pool? as Matthew 28:2, "There was a great earthquake, for the angel of the Lord descended," &c. But in this matter I had rather learn than dogmatize.
It might be further inquired, at what time it was first known that the healing quality followed the troubling of the waters; but this is as dark and obscure as the former: especially when the spirit of prophecy, appearance of angels, and working of miracles, had been things so long unwonted in that nation.
The masters attribute such a kind of a healing virtue to the fountain of Miriam, as they call it, in the sea of Tiberias.
"The story is of a certain ulcerous man, who went down to the sea of Tiberias that he might dip himself: and it happened to be the time when the well of Miriam flowed, so that he swam there and was healed."
They have a fiction about a certain well that opened itself to the Israelites in the wilderness for the merits of Miriam, which at her departure disappeared. They suppose, also, as it should seem, that a certain well or gulf in some part of the sea of Gennesaret had obtained this medicinal virtue for her sake. It is a wonder they had not got the story of this pool by the end too, and attributed its virtue to the merits of Solomon, because this once was Solomon's pool.
There was a time when God shewed wonders upon the fountains and rivers about Jerusalem in a very different manner, that is, in great severity and judgment, as now in mercy and compassion.
These are the words of Josephus, exhorting the people to surrender themselves: "Those springs flow abundantly to Titus, which, as to us, had dried away long before. For you know how, before his coming, Siloam and all the springs about the city failed so much, that water was bought by the bottle: but now they bubble up afresh for your enemies, and that in such abundance, that they have sufficient, not only for themselves, but for their cattle and gardens. Which very miracle this nation hath formerly experienced, when this city was taken by the king of Babylon."
If there was such a miracle upon the waters upon the approach of the enemy and destroyer, it is less wonder that there should be some miraculous appearance there, though in a different manner, at the approach of him who was to be our Saviour.
How long the virtue of this pool lasted for healing the impotent, whether to the destruction of Jerusalem, or whether it ceased before, or from this very time, it would be to as little business to inquire, as after the original and first appearance of it, being both so very uncertain and unintelligible.
6. When Jesus saw him lie, and knew that he had been now a long time in that case, he saith unto him, Wilt thou be made whole?
[Wilt thou be made whole?] It is no question but he desired to be healed, because for that very end he had lain there so long. But this question of our Saviour hath respect to the sabbath; q.d. "Wouldst thou be healed on the sabbath day?" For that they were infinitely superstitious in this matter, there are several instances in the evangelists, not to mention their own traditions, Mark 3:2; Luke 13:14, 14:3.
8. Jesus saith unto him, Rise, take up thy bed, and walk.
[Take up thy bed, and walk.] He said elsewhere, "Take up thy bed, and go thy way into thine house," Mark 2:11. Whether this be the same with that, it is not so very clear.
I. The common distinction must be observed respecting the sabbath: that is, so that there may be a difference betwixt a private place, or what is any one's peculiar right, and a public place, or what is of more public and common right. Let nothing be carried out on the sabbath out of a private place into a public; and so on the contrary.
"Whoever on the sabbath carries out any thing either from a private place to a public, or from a public place to a private, or brings in, if he do this unadvisedly, he is bound to offer sacrifice for his sin; but if presumptuously, he is punished by cutting off, and being stoned."
II. But it was lawful, within places of private propriety, such as were the porches, entries, and courts, where various families dwelling together might be joined; it was lawful for them to remove and bear from one place to another; but not all things, nor indeed any thing, unless upon very urgent necessity.
"They remove four or five chests of straw or fruits for the sakes of passengers, or want of Beth Midrash; but they remove not their treasure," &c. The Gloss is, "They remove these things if they have need of the place they take up, either for passengers to eat or scholars to learn in; neither are solicitous for their labour on the sabbath," &c.
But why do we speak of these things, when as, by the canons and rules of the scribes, it is forbidden them to carry any thing of the least weight or burden on the sabbath day? So that it would be plainly contrary to those rules to take his bed hither or thither in the porch itself, much more out of the porch into the streets. It is worthy our observing, therefore, that our Saviour did not think it enough merely to heal the impotent man on the sabbath day, which was against their rules; but further commanded him to take up his bed, which was much more against that rule. From whence it is very evident that Christ had determined within himself either to try the faith and obedience of this man; or else, at this time, openly to shake the Jewish sabbath, which, ere long, he knew must be thrown off the hinges it now turned upon; or both.
17. But Jesus answered them, My Father worketh hitherto, and I work.
[My Father worketh hitherto.] Our Saviour being called before the Sanhedrim, 1, asserts the Messiah to be God: and, 2, that he himself is the Messiah. 'The Son of God' and 'the Messiah' are convertible terms, which the Jews deny not; and yet have very wrong conceptions about 'filiation,' or being made a son.
St. Peter confesseth, Matthew 16:16, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God." So also Caiaphas in his interrogatory, Matthew 26:63, "Tell us whether thou be the Christ, the Son of God?" But they hardly agree in the same sense and notion of sonship. Aben Ezra upon Psalm 2:12, Kiss the Son, confesseth that this is properly spoken of the Messiah; but in Midras Tillin there is a vehement dispute against true filiation. The same Aben Ezra likewise confesseth, that in Daniel 3:25, one like the Son of God is to be taken in the same sense with that of Proverbs 31:2, What, my son? and what, the son of my womb? But Saadias and R. Solomon understand it of an angel.
"There is one who hath neither son nor brother; the Holy Blessed; who hath neither brother nor son: he hath no brother, how should he have a son? only that God loved Israel, and so called them his children."
It is not unknown with what obstinacy the Jews deny the Godhead of the Messiah. Whence the apostle, writing to the Hebrews, lays this down as his first foundation of discourse, That the Messiah is truly God, Hebrews 1. Which they, being ignorant of the great mystery of the Trinity, deny; fearing lest, if they should acknowledge Messiah to be God, they should acknowledge more Gods than one. Hence they every day repeated in the recitals of their phylacteries, "Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord." And so, being blind as to the mystery of the Trinity, are the more hardened to deny that.
Our Saviour strenuously asserts here the Godhead of the Son, or Messiah; namely, that he hath the same power with the Father, the same honour due to him as to the Father, that he hath all things in common with the Father. And hence he makes this reply upon them about healing on the sabbath; "My Father worketh on the sabbath day, so do I also."
19. Then answered Jesus and said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you. The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do: for what things soever he doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise.
[The Son can do nothing of himself.] That is, "The Messiah can do nothing of himself." For he is a servant, and sent by his Father; so that he must work, not of his own will and pleasure, but his Father's, Isaiah 42:1, "Behold my servant": Targum, Behold my servant the Messiah. So Kimchi in loc. and St. Paul, Philippians 2:7.
The Jew himself, however he may endeavour to elude the sense of that phrase 'the Son of God,' yet cannot deny the truth of this maxim, 'That the Messiah can do nothing, but according to the will and prescription of his Father that sent him.' Which he also will expound, not of the weakness and impotency, but the perfection and obedience, of the Son that he so doeth.
25. Verily, verily, I say unto you, The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and they that hear shall live.
[The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear, &c.] The Jews, as we have said before, looked for the resurrection of the dead at the coming of Messiah: and that truly, and with great reason, though it was not to be in their sense.
The vision of Ezekiel about the dry bones living, chapter, 37, and those words of Isaiah, "thy dead men shall live," &c., chapter 26:19, suggest to them some such thing, although they grope exceedingly in the dark as to the true interpretation of this matter.
That of R. Eliezer is well enough; The people of the earth [the Gentiles] do not live: which somewhat agrees with that of the apostle, Ephesians 2:1, "Ye were dead in trespasses and sins." Nor does that of Jeremiah Bar Abba sound much differently: "The dry bones [Eze 37] are the sons of men, in whom is not the moisture of the law."
It is true, "many bodies of the saints arose" when Christ himself arose, Matthew 27:52: but as to those places in Scripture which hint the resurrection of the dead at his coming, I would not understand them so much of these, as the raising the Gentiles from their spiritual death of sin, when they lay in ignorance and idolatry, to the light and life of the gospel. Nor need we wholly expound Ezekiel's dry bones recovered to life, of the return of the tribes of Israel from their captivity, (though that may be included in it) but rather, or together with that, the resuscitation of 'the Israel of God' (that is, those Gentiles that were to believe in the Messiah) from their spiritual death.
The words in Revelation 20:5, "This is the first resurrection," do seem to confirm this. Now what, and at what time, is this resurrection? When the great Angel of the covenant, Christ, had bound the old dragon with the chains of the gospel, and shut him up that he should no more seduce the nations by lying wonders, oracles, and divinations, and his false gods, as formerly he had done: that is, when the gospel, being published amongst the heathen nations, had laid open all the devices and delusions of Satan, and had restored them from the death of sin and ignorance to a true state of life indeed. This was 'the first resurrection.'
That our Saviour in this place speaks of this resurrection, I so much the less doubt, because that resurrection he here intends, he plainly distinguishes it from the last and general resurrection of the dead, verses 28, 29; this first resurrection from that last: which he points therefore to, as it were, with his finger, by saying, "The hour is coming, and now is," &c.
27. And hath given him authority to execute judgment also, because he is the Son of man.
[To execute judgment also, because he is the Son of man.] Daniel 7:13: "Behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days...and there was given him dominion, and glory," &c. To this our blessed Saviour seems to have respect in these words, as the thing itself plainly shews. R. Solomon upon the place: "One like the Son of man, this is the King, the Messiah." R. Saadias, this is the Messiah our righteousness. When our Saviour declared before the Sanhedrim, "Ye shall see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds"; they all said, "Art thou Christ, the Son of the blessed God?" by which they imply, that the 'Son of God' and 'Christ' are convertible terms: as also are 'Christ' and the Son of man. And it plainly shews that their eyes were intent upon this place: "Art thou that Son of man spoken of in Daniel, who is the Son of God, the Messiah?" So did Christ in these words look that way.
30. I can of mine own self do nothing: as I hear, I judge: and my judgment is just; because I seek not mine own will, but the will of the Father which hath sent me.
[As I hear, I judge.] He seems to allude to a custom amongst them. The judge of an inferior court, if he doubts in any matter, goes up to Jerusalem and takes the determination of the Sanhedrim; and according to that he judgeth.
35. He was a burning and a shining light: and ye were willing for a season to rejoice in his light.
[A burning and a shining light.] He speaks according to the vulgar dialect of that nation; who were wont to call any person famous for life or knowledge a candle. "Shuah" [the father-in-law of Judah, Genesis 38] "was the candle or light of the place where he lived." The Gloss is, "One of the most famous men in the city enlightening their eyes." Hence the title given to the Rabbins, the candle of the law: the lamp of light.
39. Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me.
[Search the Scriptures.] This seems not to be of the imperative, but indicative mood: "Ye search the Scriptures, for in them ye think ye have eternal life; and they are they which testify of me. And ye will not come to me, that ye might have life."
4. And the passover, a feast of the Jews, was nigh.
[And the Passover was nigh.] "It is a tradition. They inquire and discourse about the rites of the Passover, thirty days before the feast."
From the entrance of these thirty days and so onward, this feast was in the eyes and mouth of this people, but especially in the fifteen days immediately before the Passover. Hence, perhaps, we may take the meaning of these words, the Passover was nigh.
From the entrance or beginning of these thirty days, viz. "From the fifteenth day of the month Adar, they repaired the ways, the streets, the bridges, the pools, and despatched all other public business; they painted the sepulchres, and proceeded about matters of a heterogeneous nature."
"These are all the businesses of the public: they judged all pecuniary faults, those also that were capital, and those for which the offenders were scourged. They redeemed devoted things; they made the suspected wife drink; they burnt the red heifer; they bored the ear of the Hebrew servant; they cleansed the lepers, and removed the covers from the well," that every one might be at liberty to drink.
The Gloss is, "And some that were deputed in that affair went abroad to see if the fields were sown with corn, and the vineyards planted with heterogeneous trees."
9. There is a lad here, which hath five barley loaves, and two small fishes: but what are they among so many?
[Five barley loaves.] Compare 2 Kings 4:42, and see Chetub.: where the masters enhance the number of men fed by Elisha to two thousand two hundred. "Every hundred men had their single loaf set before them." The Gloss is, "Twenty loaves, and the loaf of the first fruits, behold one-and-twenty; the green ear, behold two-and-twenty: these were all singly set, each of them before a hundred men; and so behold there were two thousand and two hundred fed." By the same proportion, in our Saviour's miraculous feeding the people, one single loaf must serve for a thousand.
12. When they were filled, he said unto his disciples, Gather up the fragments that remain, that nothing be lost.
[The fragments that remain.] It was a custom and rule, that when they ate together, they should leave something to those that served: which remnant was called peah. And it is remarked upon R. Joshua, that, upon a journey, having something provided for him by a hospitable widow, he ate all up, and left nothing to her that ministered. Where the Gloss: "Every one leaves a little portion in the dish, and gives it to those that serve; which is called the servitor's part."
Although I would not confound the fragments that remain with the peah, nor would affirm that what was left was in observation of this rule and custom; yet we may observe, that the twelve baskets full of fragments left at this time answered to the number of the twelve apostles that ministered. It is otherwise elsewhere.
24. When the people therefore saw that Jesus was not there, neither his disciples, they also took shipping, and came to Capernaum, seeking for Jesus.
[They also took shipping.] They had gone afoot from Capernaum to the desert of Bethsaida, Mark 6:33, by the bridge of Chammath, near Tiberias. But they sail back in ships, partly that they might follow Jesus with the greater speed; and perhaps that they might reach time enough at the synagogue: for that was the day in which they assembled in their synagogues.
27. Labour not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life, which the Son of man shall give unto you: for him hath God the Father sealed.
[For him hath God the Father sealed.] The Jews speak much of the seal of God; which may not be impertinently remembered at this time. "What is the seal of the holy blessed God? R. Bibai, in the name of R. Reuben, saith, Truth. But what is truth? R. Bon saith, The living God and King eternal. Resh Lachish saith, Aleph is the first letter of the alphabet, Mem the middle, and Tav the last: q.d. I the Lord am the first; I received nothing of any one; and beside me there is no God: for there is not any that intermingles with me; and I am with the last."
There is a story of the great synagogue weeping, praying, and fasting; "At length there was a little scroll fell from the firmament to them, in which was written, Truth. R. Chaninah saith, Hence learn that truth is the seal of God."
We may easily apply all this to Christ, who is "the way, the truth, and the life," John 14:6: he is the express image of his Father, the truth of the Father; whom the Father, by his seal and diploma, hath confirmed and ratified; as the great ruler both of his kingdom and family.
28. Then said they unto him, What shall we do, that we might work the works of God?
[What shall we do, that we might work the works of God?] Observe, first, the rule about workmen or labourers: "It is granted by the permission of the law, that the labourer shall eat of those things wherein he laboureth. If he works in the vintage, let him eat of the grapes; if in gathering the fig trees, let him eat of the figs; if in the harvest, let him eat of the ears of the corn," &c.
Nay further; "It is lawful for the workmen to eat of those things wherein he worketh; a melon, to the value of a penny; and dates, to the value of a penny," &c.
Compare these passages with what our Saviour speaks; "Labour (saith he) for that meat which endureth to everlasting life." Now, what is that work of God which we should do, that might entitle us to eat of that food? Believe in Christ, and ye shall feed on him.
31. Our fathers did eat manna in the desert; as it is written, He gave them bread from heaven to eat.
[Our fathers did eat manna.] I. They seek a sign of him worthy the Messiah; and in general they seem to look towards those dainties which that nation fondly dreamed their Messiah would bring along with him when he should come; but more particularly they expect manna.
"Ye seek me (saith our Saviour), not because ye did see the miracles, but because ye did eat of the loaves and were filled." Were all these so very poor that they had need to live at another man's charge? or should follow Christ merely for bread? It is possible they might expect other kind of dainties, according to the vain musings of that nation. Perhaps he was such a kind of slave to his belly that said, "Blessed is he that shall eat bread in the kingdom of God," Luke 14:15.
"Many affirm that the hope of Israel is, that Messiah shall come and raise the dead; and they shall be gathered together in the garden of Eden, and shall eat and drink, and satiate themselves all the days of the world....and that there are houses built of precious stones, beds of silk, and rivers flowing with wine and spicy oil." "He made manna to descend for them, in which were all manner of tastes; and every Israelite found in it what his palate was chiefly pleased with. If he desired fat in it, he had it. In it the young men tasted bread, the old men honey, and the children oil....So it shall be in the world to come [the days of the Messias]: he shall give Israel peace, and they shall sit down and eat in the garden of Eden; and all nations shall behold their condition; as it is said, Behold, my servants shall eat, but ye shall be hungry, Isaiah 65:13."
Alas, poor wretches! how do you deceive yourselves! for it is to you that this passage of being hungry while others eat does directly point.
Infinite are the dreams of this kind, particularly about Leviathan and Behemoth, that are to be served up in these feasts.
II. Compare with this especially what the Jews propound to themselves about their being fed with manna: "The latter Redeemer" [that is, Messiah; for he had spoken of the former redeemer, Moses, immediately before] "shall be revealed against them, &c. And whither will he lead them? Some say into the wilderness of Judah; others, into the wilderness of Sihon and Og." [Note that our Saviour the day before, when he fed such a multitude so miraculously, was in the desert of Og, viz. in Batanea, or Bashan.] And shall make manna descend for them. Note that. So Midras Coheleth: "The former redeemer caused manna to descend for them; in like manner shall our latter Redeemer cause manna to come down, as it is written, 'There shall be a handful of corn in the earth,' Psalm 72:16."
32. Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Moses gave you not that bread from heaven; but my Father giveth you the true bread from heaven.
[Moses gave you not that bread from heaven.] The Gemarists affirm that manna was given for the merits of Moses. "There were three good shepherds of Israel, Moses, Aaron, and Miriam: and there were three good things given us by their hands, a well, a cloud, and manna: the well, for the merits of Miriam; the pillar of the cloud, for the merits of Aaron; manna, for the merits of Moses."
Contrary, therefore, to this opinion of theirs, it may well be said, Moses did not give you this bread: i.e. it was by no means for any merits of his. But what further he might intend by these words, you may learn from the several expositors.
39. And this is the Father's will which hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day.
[Should raise it up again at the last day.] So also verse 40 and 44, the emphasis lies in the last day.
I. They looked (as hath been already said) for the resurrection of the dead at the coming of the Messiah. Take one instance: "R. Jeremiah said, 'When I die, bury me in my shirt, and with my shoes on, &c.; that when Messiah comes I may be ready dressed to meet him.'"
Apply here the words of our Saviour: "Ye look for the resurrection when Messiah comes; and since ye seek a sign of me, perhaps ye have it in your minds that I should raise some from the dead. Let this suffice, that whoever comes to me and believes in me shall be raised up at the last day."
II. This was the opinion of that nation concerning the generation in the wilderness. "The generation in the wilderness have no part in the world to come, neither shall they stand in judgment."
Now as to this generation in the wilderness, there had been some discourse before, verse 31; viz. of those that had eaten manna in the wilderness. "But that manna did not so feed them unto eternal life (as you yourselves confess) as that they shall live again, and have any part in the world to come. But I, the true bread from heaven, do feed those that eat of me to eternal life; and such as do eat of me, i.e. that believe in me, I will raise them up at the last day, so that they shall have part in the world to come."
45. It is written in the prophets, And they shall be all taught of God. Every man therefore that hath heard, and hath learned of the Father, cometh unto me.
[And they shall be all taught of God.] Isaiah 54:13: "And all thy children shall be taught of the Lord." The 'children of Israel,' 'of Jerusalem,' and 'of Zion,' are very frequently mentioned by the prophets for those Gentiles that were to be converted to the faith: taught before of the devil, by his idols and oracles; but they should become the children of the church, and be taught of God.
The Rabbins do fondly apply these words of the prophet, when by thy children they understand the disciples of the wise men. "The disciples of the wise men multiply peace in the world; as it is written, 'All thy children shall be taught of God, and great shall be the peace of thy children.' Do not read, thy children; but thy builders."
But who were there among mortals that were more taught of men and less of God, being learned in nothing but the traditions of the fathers? He must be taught of the Father that would come to the Son; not of those sorry fathers: he must be taught of God, not those masters of traditions.
51. I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.
[The bread that I will give is my flesh.] He tacitly confutes that foolish conceit of theirs about I know not what dainties the Messiah should treat them with; and slights those trifles, by teaching that all the dainties which Christ had provided were himself. Let them not look for wonderful messes, rich feasts, &c.; he will give them himself to eat; bread beyond all other provisions whatever; food from heaven; and such as bringeth salvation.
As to this whole passage of eating the flesh and drinking the blood of Christ, it will be necessary to premise that of Mark 4:11, 12: "I speak by parables; and all these things are done in parables; that seeing they may see, and not perceive," &c. Verse 34: "Without a parable spake he not unto them: and when they were alone, he expounded all things to his disciples."
And what can we suppose in this place but parable wholly?
I. There was nothing more common in the schools of the Jews than the phrases of 'eating and drinking' in a metaphorical sense. And surely it would sound very harsh, if not to be understood here metaphorically, but literally. What! to drink blood? a thing so severely interdicted the Jews once and again. What! to eat man's flesh? a thing abhorrent to human nature; but above all abhorrent to the Jews, to whom it was not lawful to eat a member of a living beast, nor touch the member of a dead man.
"Every eating and drinking of which we find mention in the book of Ecclesiastes is to be understood of the Law and good works," i.e. by way of parable and metaphor. By the Capernaite's leave, therefore, and the Romanist's too, we will understand the eating and drinking in this place figuratively and parabolically.
II. Bread is very frequently used in the Jewish writers for doctrine. So that when Christ talks of eating his flesh, he might perhaps hint to them that he would feed his followers not only with his doctrines, but with himself too.
The whole stay of bread, Isaiah 3:1. "These are the masters of doctrine; as it is written, 'Come, eat of my bread,' Proverbs 9:5." "Feed him with bread, that is, Make him take pains in the warfare of the Law, as it is written, 'Come, eat of my bread.'"
Moses fed you with doctrine and manna, but I feed you with doctrine and my flesh.
III. There is mention, even amongst the Talmudists themselves, of eating the Messiah. "Rabh saith, Israel shall eat the years of Messiah." [The Gloss is, "The plenty and satiety that shall be in the days of the Messiah shall belong to the Israelites."] "Rabh Joseph saith, 'True, indeed: but who shall eat thereof? Shall Chillek and Billek [two judges in Sodom] eat of it?' We must except against that of R. Hillel, who saith, Messiah is not likely to come to Israel, for they have already devoured him in the days of Hezekiah." Those words of Hillel are repeated, fol. 99. 1.
Behold, here is mention of eating the Messiah, and none quarrel the phraseology. They excepted against Hillel, indeed, that he should say that the Messiah was so eaten in the days of Hezekiah, that he was not like to appear again in Israel; but they made no scruple of the scheme and manner of speech at all. For they plainly enough understood what was meant by eating the Messiah; that is, that in the days of Hezekiah they so much partook of the Messiah, they received him so greedily, embraced him so gladly, and in a manner devoured him, that they must look for him no more in the ages to come. Gloss upon the place: "Messiah will come no more to Israel, for Hezekiah was the Messiah."
IV. But the expression seems very harsh, when he speaks of "eating his flesh" and "drinking his blood." He tells us, therefore, that these things must be taken in a spiritual sense: "Doth this offend you? What and if ye shall see the Son of man ascend up where he was before?" That is, "When you shall have seen me ascending into heaven, you will then find how impossible a thing it is to eat my flesh and drink my blood bodily: for how can you eat the flesh of one that is in heaven? You may know, therefore, that I mean eating me spiritually: 'for the words that I speak to you, they are spirit, and they are life.'"
V. But what sense did they take it in that did understand it? Not in a sacramental sense surely, unless they were then instructed in the death and passion of our Saviour; for the sacrament hath a relation to his death: but it sufficiently appears elsewhere that they knew or expected nothing of that. Much less did they take it in a Jewish sense; for the Jewish conceits were about the mighty advantages that should accrue to them from the Messiah, and those merely earthly and sensual. But to partake of the Messiah truly is to partake of himself, his pure nature, his righteousness, his spirit; and to live and grow and receive nourishment from that participation of him. Things which the Jewish schools heard little of, did not believe, did not think; but things which our blessed Saviour expresseth lively and comprehensively enough, by that of eating his flesh and drinking his blood.
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