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Bible Commentaries

John Lightfoot's Commentary on the Gospels

John 9

 

 

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Verse 2

2. And his disciples asked him, saying, Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind?

[Who did sin, this man, or his parents?] I. It was a received doctrine in the Jewish schools, that children, according to some wickedness of their parents, were born lame, or crooked, or maimed and defective in some of their parts, &c.; by which they kept parents in awe, lest they should grow remiss and negligent in the performance of some rites which had respect to their being clean, such as washings and purifyings, &c. We have given instances elsewhere.

II. But that the infant should be born lame or blind, or defective in any part, for any sin or fault of his own, seems a riddle indeed.

1. Nor do they solve the matter who fly to that principle of the transmigration of souls, which they would have the Jews tinctured with; at least if we will admit Josephus as a just interpreter and judge of that principle. For thus he:

It is the opinion of the Pharisees that "the souls of all are immortal, and do pass into another body; that is, those of the good only [observe this]; but those of the wicked are punished with eternal torments." So that unless you will say that the soul of some good man passing into the body of this man was the cause of his being born blind (a supposition that every one would cry shame of), you say nothing to the case in hand. If the opinion of the transmigration of souls amongst the Jews prevailed only so far, that they supposed 'the souls of good men only' passed into other bodies, the very subject of the present question is taken away; and all suspicion of any punishment or defect happening to the infant upon the account of transmigration wholly vanisheth, unless you will say it could happen upon a good soul's passing out of the body of a good man.

2. There is a solution attempted by some from the soul's preexistency; which, they would pretend, the Jews had some smatch of, from what they say about those souls which are in Goph, or Guph.

"R. Jose saith, The Son of David will not come till the souls that are in Goph are consummated." The same passage is recited also in Niddah, and Jevamoth, where it is ascribed to R. Asi.

"There is a repository (saith R. Solomon), the name of which is Goph: and from the creation, all the souls that ever were to be born were formed together and there placed."

But there is another Rabbin brought in by another commentator, that supposeth a twofold Goph, and that the souls of the Israelites and of the Gentiles are not in one and the same Goph. Nay further, he conceives that in the days of the Messiah there will be a third Goph, and a new race of souls made.

R. Jose deduceth his opinion from Isaiah 57:16, miserably wresting the words of the prophet to this sense, "My will shall hinder for the souls which I have made." For so Aruch and the commentators explain his mind.

Grant now that what I have quoted might be sufficient confirmation that the Jews did entertain the opinion of the soul's preexistence, yet what concern the preexistence of souls hath with this place, I confess I have not so quick an apprehension as any way to imagine.

III. I would therefore seek to untie this knot some other way.

I. I would have that passage observed which we have in Vajicra Rabba: "And the days draw nigh, in the which thou shalt say, I have no pleasure in them," Ecclesiastes 12:1. "Those are the days of the Messiah, wherein there shall be neither merit nor demerit": that is, if I mistake not, wherein neither the good deserts of the parents shall be imputed to the children for their advantage, nor their deserts for their fault and punishment. They are the words of R. Akibah in locum, and they are his application of that passage in Ecclesiastes, and indeed his own invention: but the opinion itself, that there shall be neither merit nor demerit in the days of the Messiah, is what is commonly received amongst the Jews. If so, then let me a little enlarge this question of our Saviour's disciples, by way of paraphrase, to this purpose: "Master, we know that thou art the Messiah, and that these are the days of the Messiah; we have also learned from our schools, that there is no imputation of merit or demerit from the parents in the days of the Messiah; whence then is it that this man is born blind? that in these days of the Messiah he should bring into the world with him some mark and imputation of fault or blame somewhere? What, was it his parents' fault? This seems against the received opinion. It seems therefore that he bears some tokens of his own fault: is it so, or not?"

2. It was a conceit amongst the Jews, that the infant, when formed and quickened in the womb, might behave itself irregularly, and do something that might not be altogether without fault.

In the treatise last mentioned, a woman is brought in complaining in earnest of her child before the judge, that it kicked her unreasonably in the womb. In Midras Coheleth and Midras Ruth, cap. iii. 13, there is a story told of Elisha Ben Abujah, who departed from the faith, and became a horrible apostate; and, amongst other reasons of his apostasy, this is rendered for one:

"There are which say, that his mother, when she was big with child of him, passing through a temple of the Gentiles, smelt something very strong, and they gave to her of what she smelt, and she did eat; and the child in the womb grew hot, and swelled into blisters, as in the womb of a serpent."

In which story his apostasy is supposed as originally rooted and grounded in him in the womb, upon the fault of his mother eating of what had been offered to idols. It is also equally presumed, that an infant may unreasonably and irregularly kick and punch in the womb of its mother beyond the rate of ordinary infants. The infants in the womb of Rebecca may be for an instance; where the Jews indeed absolve Jacob from fault, though ht took Esau by the heel; but will hardly absolve Esau for rising up against his brother Jacob.

"Antoninus asked R. Judah, 'At what time evil affections began to prevail in the man? Whether in the first forming of the foetus in the womb, or at the time of its coming forth?' The Rabbi saith unto him, 'From the time of its first coming.' 'Then,' saith Antoninus, 'it will kick in the mother's womb and rush out.' The Rabbi saith, 'This I learned of Antoninus; and the scripture seems to back it when it saith, Sin lieth at the door.'"

It appears from this dispute, whether true or feigned, that the ancient opinion of the Jews was, that the infant, from its first quickening, had some stain of sin upon it. And that great doctor, R. Judah the Holy, was originally of that opinion himself, but had lightly changed his mind upon so paltry an argument. Nay, they went a little further, not only that the infant might have some stain of sin in the womb, but that it might, in some measure, actually sin, and do that which might render it criminal. To which purpose this passage of the disciples seems to have some relation; "Did this man sin, that he was born blind?" That is, Did he, when his mother carried him in her womb, do any foul or enormous thing that might deserve this severe stroke upon him, that he should bring this blindness with him into the world?


Verse 6

6. When he had thus spoken, he spat on the ground, and made clay of the spittle, and he anointed the eyes of the blind man with the clay,

[He spat on the ground, &c.] I. How far spittle was accounted wholesome for weak eyes, we may learn from this ridiculous tale:

"R. Meir sat, and was teaching in the evening of the sabbath day. There was a woman stood by hearing him preach; after he had done she went home and found her candle gone out. Her husband saith to her, 'Where hast thou been?' 'I have been,' saith she, 'standing and hearing the voice of a preacher.' Her husband saith to her, 'Thou shalt not enter in till thou hast gone and spat in the face of him that taught.' After three weeks, her neighbouring women persuading and heartening her to it, she goes to the chapel. Now the whole matter was already made known to R. Meir. He saith therefore to them, 'Is there ever a woman among you skilled in muttering charms over eyes?' [for he feigned a grievous ailment in his eyes:] The woman said, 'R., I am skilled': 'However,' saith he, 'do you spit seven times upon my eyes, and I shall be healed'; which she did." Gloss: "Whenever they muttered any charms over the eyes, it was necessary that they should spit upon them."

II. It was prohibited amongst them to besmear the eyes with spittle upon the sabbath day upon any medicinal account, although it was esteemed so very wholesome for them.

"They do not squirt wine into the eyes on the sabbath day, but they may wash the eyebrows with it: but as to fasting spittle" [which was esteemed exceedingly wholesome], "it is not lawful to put it so much as upon the eyelids." "One saith, that wine is prohibited so far that it may not be injected into the middle of the eyes; upon the eyebrows it may. Another saith that spittle is forbidden so much as upon the eyelids."

So that in this action of our Saviour's we may observe,

I. That he does not heal this sick man with a word, as he did others; but chooseth to do a thing which was against their canonical observation of the sabbath; designing thereby to make a trial of the man, whether he was so superstitious, that he would not admit such things to be done upon him on the sabbath day. He made an experiment not much unlike this upon the man at Bethesda, as we have before observed.

II. Whiles he mingles spittle with dust, and of that makes a clay to anoint the eyes of the blind man, he thereby avoideth the suspicion of using any kind of charm, and gives rather a demonstration of his own divine power, when he heals by a method contrary to nature; for clay laid upon the eyes, we might believe, should rather put out the eyes of one that sees, than restore sight to one that had been blind. Yea and further, he gave demonstration of the divine authority he himself had over the sabbath, when he heals upon that day by the use of means which had been peculiarly prohibited to be used in it.

The connexion of this chapter with the former is such, that the stories in both seem to have been acted on one and the same day. [Going through the midst of them, and so passed by. And as he passed by, he saw a man which was blind.] If it be so, (which I will not much contend about,) then do they bring the adulterous woman before Christ, yea, and attempt to stone him too, on the sabbath day. Jesus hid himself; or perhaps the sense is, he was hidden; that is, by the multitude that had a favour for him, and compassed him about, lest his enemies should have wreaked their malice and displeasure against him.


Verse 7

7. And said unto him, Go, wash in the pool of Siloam, (which is by interpretation, Sent). He went his way therefore, and washed, and came seeing.

[ Which is by interpretation, Sent.] We have already shewn that the spring of Siloam discharged itself by a double stream into a twofold pool; the Upper pool, which was called the pool of Siloah; and the Lower, which was called the pool of Shelah; Nehemiah 3:15. Now the pool of Siloah, plainly and properly signifies Sent; but Shelah not so, as we have already noted. Probably the evangelist added this parenthesis on purpose to distinguish which of the pools the blind man was sent to wash in; viz. not in the pool Shelah, which signifies fleeces, but in the pool of Siloah, which signifies Sent.


Verse 8

8. The neighbours therefore, and they which before had seen him that he was blind, said, Is not this he that sat and begged?

[That sat and begged.] This may be opposed to another sort of beggars, viz. those that beg from door to door.

The words used by the beggars were generally these:

Vouchsafe something to me: or rather, according to the letter, Deserve something by me; i.e. Acquire something of merit to yourself by the alms you give me.

O you whoever have a tender heart, do yourself good by me.

Look back and see what I have been; look upon me now, and see what I am.


Verse 13

13. They brought to the Pharisees him that aforetime was blind.

[They brought him to the Pharisees.] The Pharisees, in this evangelist, are generally to be understood the Sanhedrim: nor indeed do we find in St. John any mention of the Sadducees at all. Consult John 1:24, 4:1, 8:3, 11:46, &c.

The Pharisees have such a sway amongst the people, that if they should say any thing against the king or high priest, they would be believed. And a little after,

"The Pharisees have given out many rules to the people from the traditions of the fathers which are not written in the laws of Moses: and for that very reason the Sadducees rejected them, saying, They ought to account nothing as law or obligatory but what is delivered by Moses; and what hath no other authority but tradition only ought not to be observed. And hence have arisen questions and mighty controversies; the Sadducees drawing after them the richer sort only, while the multitude followed and adhered to the Pharisees."

Hence we may apprehend the reason why the whole Sanhedrim is sometimes comprehended under the name of the Pharisees; because the common people and the main body of that nation were wholly at the management of the Pharisees, governed by their decrees and laws. But there was once a Sanhedrim that consisted chiefly of the sect of the Sadducees, and what was done then? R. Eliezer Ben Zadok saith, There was a time when they burnt a priest's daughter for whoredom, compassing her about with bundles of young twigs. But the answer is, There was not a Sanhedrim at that time that was well skilled. Rabh Joseph saith, "that Sanhedrim was made up of Sadducees." It is worth our taking notice of this passage.


Verse 22

22. These words spake his parents, because they feared the Jews: for the Jews had agreed already, that if any man did confess that he was Christ, he should be put out of the synagogue.

[He should be put out of the synagogue.] So chapter 16:2: Granting that this is spoken of excommunication, the question may be, Whether it is to be understood of the ordinary excommunication, that is, from this or that synagogue; or the extraordinary, that is, a cutting off from the whole congregation of Israel.

"Whoever is excommunicated by the president of the Sanhedrim is cut off from the whole congregation of Israel": and if so, then much more if it be by the vote of the whole Sanhedrim. And it seems by that speech, they cast him out, verse 34, that word out, was added for such a signification.

But suppose we, it might be understood of the ordinary excommunication; among all the four-and-twenty reasons of excommunication, which should it be for which this was decreed, viz. that "if any man did confess that Jesus was the Christ, he should be put out of the synagogue?" The elders of the Sanhedrim, perhaps, would answer, what upon other occasions is frequently said and done by them, "It is decreed for the necessity of the time."


Verse 28

28. Then they reviled him, and said, Thou art his disciple; but we are Moses' disciples.

[We are Moses' disciples.] The man, as it should seem, had in gentle and persuasive terms asked them, "Will ye also be his disciples?" as if he heartily wished they would. But they as ruggedly, "Be you so: we are Moses' disciples."

"They delivered two disciples of the wise men into the hands of the chief priest" [that they might instruct him about the rites and usages of the day of expiation]; they were of the disciples of Moses. And who are these disciples of Moses? it follows, the very phrase excludes the Sadducees.

The reader may observe, by the way, these disciples of Moses, with what reverence they treat him.

"Moses was angry about three things, and the tradition was accordingly hid from him: I. About the sabbath, Exodus 16:20: while he was angry he forgot to recite to them the traditions about the sabbath. II. About the vessels of metal, Numbers 31:14: while he was angry, he forgot to recite to them the traditions about the vessels of metal. III. About the mourner, Leviticus 10:16: while he was wrath, the tradition was hid from him, which forbade the mourner to eat of the holy things."

Did Moses think it unlawful for the mourner to have eaten of the holy things, when he spake to Eleazar and Ithamar, while they were in the very act of bewailing the death of their two brethren, "Wherefore have ye not eaten the sin offering in the holy place?" Yes, but in his passion he forgot both the tradition and himself too. Excellent disciples indeed! that can thus chastise your great master at pleasure, as a man very hasty, apt to be angry, and of a slender memory! Let him henceforward learn from you to temperate his passions and quicken his memory. You have a memory indeed that have recovered the tradition which he himself had forgot.


Verse 34

34. They answered and said unto him, Thou wast altogether born in sins, and dost thou teach us? And they cast him out.

[And they cast him out.] I shall note something of this kind of phrase at chapter 16:2. Thus doth this man commence the first confessor in the Christian church, as John the Baptist had been the first martyr in it. He suffered excommunication, and that from the whole congregation of Israel, for the name of Christ. It seems something strange that they did not excommunicate Jesus himself: but they were contriving more bloody things against him.

Amongst all the places in the Old Testament which mention this great Shepherd, there is no one doth so exactly describe him and his pastoral work, as chapter 11 of the prophet Zechariah. We will fetch a few things from thence, that may serve to explain the passage now in hand:

I. He describes this great Shepherd manifesting himself, and applying himself to his great pastoral office, when the nation was now upon the brink of destruction: the prophet had foretold their ruin, and brings in this Shepherd undertaking the care of his sheep, lest they should perish too.

As to the first verse, "Open thy doors, O Lebanon"; take the Jews' own comment upon it, who yet do, by all the skill they can, endeavour to take off the whole prophecy from those proper hinges upon which it turns.

"Forty years before the destruction [of Jerusalem], the gates of the Temple opened themselves of their own accord. Rabban Jochanan Ben Zacchai declaimed upon it, saying, 'O Temple, Temple, why dost thou terrify thyself? I know thy end will be destruction; for so Zechariah, the son of Iddo, hath prophesied concerning thee; Open thy doors, O Lebanon,'" &c.

The rest that follows doth plainly enough speak out desolation and ruin, verses 2, 3: but particularly that is remarkable, verse 6, "I will deliver the men every one into his neighbour's hand": how manifestly doth it agree with those intestine broils and discords, those horrid seditions, stirred up amongst them! "And into the hand of his king"; i.e. of Caesar, concerning whom they may remember they once said, "We have no king but Caesar."

II. He describes the evil shepherds of the people under a triumvirate, verse 8: "Three shepherds also I cut off in one month," &c.; i.e. the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and the Essenes; which interpretation though it cannot but sound very unpleasingly in Jewish years, yet is it what seems abundantly confirmed, both from the context and the history of things. They therefore would turn the edge of the prophecy another way, the Gemarists understanding the three shepherds of Moses, Aaron, and Miriam: Jarchi would have it the house of Ahab, the house of Ahaziah, and his brethren: Kimchi, the sons of Josiah, Jehoahaz, Jehoiakim, and Zedekiah. Aben Ezra saith, "Perhaps they are the high priest Joshua, the person anointed to the wars, and the sagan; or perhaps Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi," &c.

But what can be more clear than that the prophet speaks of those shepherds that had wasted and corrupted the flock, and who, when the true Shepherd of the sheep should reveal himself, would do the like again? and who should these be but the principals and chief heads of sects, and the leaders of the people, the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and the Essenes?

Object. But how can these properly be said to be cut off by the great Shepherd when he should come, whereas it is well enough known that these sects lived even after the death of Christ, nay, after the ruins of Jerusalem; not to say that Pharisaism hath its being amongst the Jews to this very day?

Ans. So indeed it is said, that under the gospel, the nations should not learn war any more, Isaiah 2:4; and that there should not be an infant in age, or one under age, in the new Jerusalem, Isaiah 65:20: whereas we find enough of war in every generation, and that infancy or ignorance in divine things abounds still. But nevertheless God had done his part towards the accomplishment of such prophecies; namely, he had brought in the gospel of peace and the gospel of light, that nothing should be wanting on his side that peace might reign on the earth, and infancy in divine things should be no more. So did this great Shepherd bring in the evangelical doctrine, the oracle of truth and religion, which did so beat down and confound all the vain doctrines and institutions of those sects, that, as to what related to the doctrine of Christ, there was nothing wanting to have cut off those heresies and vanities.

III. This great Shepherd broke that covenant that had been made and confirmed with that people, verse 10: "I took my staff, even Beauty, and cut it asunder, that I might break my covenant which I had made with all the people." With all the people; i.e. with all Israel, the ten and the two tribes too. And in verse 14, the affinity and kin which was betwixt Judah and Israel is dissolved; which it would not be amiss for those to take serious notice of, who as yet expect a universal conversion of the whole nation of the Jews. Let them say by virtue of what covenant; if the covenant of grace, that makes no difference betwixt the Jew and the Greek, nor knows any one after the flesh. If by virtue of the covenant peculiarly made with that people, that was broken and dissolved, when God had gathered his flock out of that people. For,

IV. The great Shepherd, when he came, found that there must be a flock gathered in that nation, as Romans 11:5, A remnant according to the election of grace; and these he took care to call and gather before Jerusalem should be destroyed. Zechariah himself calls it the flock of slaughter; and the poor of the flock, verse 7. Where, by the way, whoever compares the Greek version in this place must needs observe, that so the poor is, by those interpreters, jumbled and confounded into one word. For, instead of and so the poor of the flock knew, they read it, the Canaanites shall know the sheep, &c. So instead of for this, or for you, O poor of the flock, verse 7, they read, unto the land of Canaan...I have some suspicion that these interpreters might have had an eye upon the reduction of the dispersed captivity into the land of Canaan, according to the common expectation of that nation. But this only by the by.

That of the apostle ought to be strictly heeded; Even so then at this present time also there is a remnant according to the election of grace. Which indeed is, as it were, the gnomon to that chapter, and, above all other things, does interpret best the apostle's mind. For he propounds to discourse not concerning the universal call of the Jews, but of their not being universally rejected: which may very easily be collected from the very first verse of this chapter, "Hath God cast away his people?" that is, so cast them away that they are universally rejected. "God forbid!" for I myself am an Israelite, and am not cast away. This argument he pursues, and illustrates from the example of those most corrupted times, the age wherein Elijah lived, when they threw down the altars of God, slew his prophets, and not a few worshipped Baal of the Sidonians, whom Ahab had introduced; and almost the whole nation worshipped that golden calf or cow which Jeroboam had set up. And yet, even in that worst state of affairs, saith God, "I have reserved to myself seven thousand men, who have not bowed the knee to that golden calf," the common and universal error of that nation, much less to Baal of the Sidonians. "Even so" (saith the apostle), "at this present time also there is a remnant"; plainly intimating, that he does not assert or argue for the calling of the whole nation, but of that remnant only; and that he discourses concerning the present calling of that remnant, and not about any future call of the whole nation.

V. That is a vast mystery the apostle is upon, verse 25 of that chapter; "Blindness hath severally happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in." I render severally, or by parts, not without warrant from grammar, and according to the meaning and intention of St. Paul. For the mystery mentioned by him is, that blindness severally, and at several times, happened to the Israelites: first, the ten tribes were blinded through idolatry, and, after many ages, the two tribes, through traditions; and yet both those and these reserved together to that time, wherein the Gentiles, who had been blinded for a longer space, are called, and then both Israelites and Jews and Gentiles, being all called together, do close into one body. It is observable that the apostle, throughout this whole chapter, doth not so much as once make mention of the Jews, but of Israel, that he might include the ten tribes with the two within his discourse.

And, indeed, this great Shepherd had his flock, or his sheep, within the ten tribes, as well as within the two: and to me it is without all controversy that the gospel, in the times of the apostles, was brought and preached as well to the one as the other. Doubtless St. Peter, whilst he was in Babylon, preached to the Israelites dispersed in those countries as well as to the Jews.

VI. Some of the Gemarists do vehemently deny any conversion of the ten tribes under the Messiah: let them beware lest there be not a conversion of their own.

"The ten tribes shall never return, as it is written, 'And he cast them into another land, as it is this day,' Deuteronomy 29:28. 'As this day passeth and shall never return, so they are gone and shall not return again.' They are the words of R. Akibah."

"It is a tradition of the Rabbins, that the ten tribes shall not have a part in the world to come; as it is written, 'The Lord rooted them out of their land in anger and in wrath, and in great indignation, and cast them out into another land. He rooted them out of their own land in this world, and cast them out into another land in the world to come.' They are the words of Rabbi."

But, in truth, when the true Messiah did appear, the ten tribes were more happily called (if I may so speak), that is, with more happy success than the Jews; because amongst those Jews that had embraced the gospel, there happened a sad and foul apostasy, the like to which we read not of concerning the ten tribes that were converted.

 


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Bibliography Information
Lightfoot, John. "Commentary on John 9:4". "John Lightfoot Commentary on the Gospels". http://www.studylight.org/commentaries/jlc/john-9.html. 1675.


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the Week of Proper 15 / Ordinary 20
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