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39Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.”

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39-44. Jesus said, Take ye away the stone—spoken to the attendants of Martha and Mary; for it was a work of no little labor [Grotius]. According to the Talmudists, it was forbidden to open a grave after the stone was placed upon it. Besides other dangers, they were apprehensive of legal impurity by contact with the dead. Hence they avoided coming nearer a grave than four cubits [Maimonides in Lampe]. But He who touched the leper, and the bier of the widow of Nain's son, rises here also above these Judaic memorials of evils, every one of which He had come to roll away. Observe here what our Lord did Himself, and what He made others do. As Elijah himself repaired the altar on Carmel, arranged the wood, cut the victim, and placed the pieces on the fuel, but made the by-standers fill the surrounding trench with water, that no suspicion might arise of fire having been secretly applied to the pile (1Ki 18:30-35); so our Lord would let the most skeptical see that, without laying a hand on the stone that covered His friend, He could recall him to life. But what could be done by human hand He orders to be done, reserving only to Himself what transcended the ability of all creatures.

Martha, the sister of … the dead—and as such the proper guardian of the precious remains; the relationship being here mentioned to account for her venturing gently to remonstrate against their exposure, in a state of decomposition, to eyes that had loved him so tenderly in life.

Lord, by this time he stinketh, for he hath been dead four days—(See on Joh 11:17). It is wrong to suppose from this (as Lampe and others do) that, like the by-standers, she had not thought of his restoration to life. But the glimmerings of hope which she cherished from the first (Joh 11:22), and which had been brightened by what Jesus said to her (Joh 11:23-27), had suffered a momentary eclipse on the proposal to expose the now sightless corpse. To such fluctuations all real faith is subject in dark hours. (See, for example, the case of Job).




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