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Bible Commentaries

John Dummelow's Commentary on the Bible
Matthew 4

 

 

Other Authors
Verses 1-25


The Temptation

1-11. The temptation (Mark 1:12; Luke 4:1). The narrative, which can only have come from our Lord's own lips, describes an actual historical fact, the great temptation which He underwent at the very beginning of His ministry. He was tempted at other times (Luke 4:13), perhaps at all times (Hebrews 2:18), during His earthly life, but the two great seasons of trial were now, and immediately before the Passion: Luke 22:42; Matthew 26:39. Our Lord records His experience in symbolical language partly because the inward operations of the mind could hardly be represented to men of that age except as visible transactions, but more particularly because the story of Adam's temptation in Genesis 3:1 is also told symbolically. Jesus here appears as the second Adam, victorious in the conflict in which the first Adam failed. He wins the victory as man, not as God, so that here the human race in the person of its Head begins to retrieve its defeat and to bruise the Serpent's head, receiving thereby an assurance of final victory. The temptation of the first Adam took place in a garden, i.e. in a universe as yet unspoilt by sin. The temptation of the second Adam took place in a wilderness, i.e. in a world rendered desolate by Adam's fall, and the ultimate effect of His victory will be to make it a garden again. In this connexion should be taken St. Mark's statement that 'He was with the wild beasts.' The wild beasts did not hurt Jesus, because He regained for man the empire over the beasts which Adam lost: 'The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid... They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain' (Isaiah 11:6).

The details of three temptations are recorded: (a) The first (Matthew 4:3-4) was a temptation to abuse His miraculous powers. If, as seems probable, Jesus first received authority to work miracles at His Baptism, the very freshness and greatness of the gift would suggest to the devil the most appropriate form of attack. Jesus was hungry, he also had an unlimited power of working miracles. Why should He remain hungry, when He had the power of making bread? 'Why,' suggested the devil, 'is it right to feed others, and wrong to feed thyself? If thou be the Son of God, conunand that these stones be made bread.' So the tempter suggested, but Jesus replied, 'Man shall not live by bread alone but by every word' (i.e. conunand) 'that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.' These words, taken from Deuteronomy 8:3, refer to Israel in the wilderness. There they, like Jesus, had no bread, yet they were fed by the word of God's mouth, for God commanded manna to fall from heaven. In effect Jesus said to the tempter, 'It is true that I have no bread, but, since I am here by God's command, He will keep me alive without bread. He has but to utter a word, and I shall be providentially fed, as the Israelites were of old.' If it be asked why it was wrong for Jesus to make bread for His own use, the answer is that in God's working in the world there is in general a strict economy of miraculous power. In the life of Jesus there is not a single example of a miracle worked for His own advantage. In every case His miraculous power was used for the good of others, to remove the ravages of disease and sin, and to advance the kingdom of God, and for these purposes alone was it entrusted to Him. The devil's suggestion was, therefore, a temptation to disobedience, like that of our first parents. Satan would have had our Lord act independently, setting up His will against God's, instead of conforming it to His in filial obedience.

(b) The next temptation (Matthew 4:5-7) was more subtle. The devil took Him in spirit to the lofty platform (not pinnacle) overlooking the courts of the Temple, from which a great multitude could be conveniently addressed. It was from this platform or pulpit that James the Lord's brother delivered the public address which was the immediate occasion of His martyrdom (Euseb. 2. 23). Satan suggested that our Lord should address the assembled multitudes of Israel from this giddy height, and then prove His Messianic claims beyond all question by flying through the air, and descending to the ground unharmed. Stripped of its symbolical form, this was a temptation to take a short and easy road to recognition as the Messiah by giving 'a sign from heaven' which even the most incredulous and unspiritual would be compelled to accept. This short and easy method Jesus decisively rejected. He determined to appeal to the spiritual apprehension of mankind, that they might believe on Him, not because they were astounded by His miracles, and could not resist their evidence, but because they were attracted by the holiness and graciousness of His character, by the loftiness of His teaching, and by the love of God to man which was manifested in all His words and actions. He intended His miracles to be secondary, an aid to the faith of those who on other grounds were inclined to believe, but not portents to extort the adhesion of those who had no sympathy with Himself or His aims.

(c) Then the devil made his last effort (Matthew 4:8-10). He offered Jesus all that he had, 'all the kingdoms of the earth and the glory of them,' if He would but worship him, i.e. acknowledge his usurped authority, and do evil that good might come. The statement of the devil that all the kingdoms of the earth are at his disposal is a difficult one, but it is in harmony with the NT. view that wealth and power are dangerous snares, which are better avoided, and that religious safety lies in poverty and obscurity. It also harmonises with the familiar experience that the devil often tempts men most severely by making them rich and great. Yet the statement is an exaggeration. The devil's power to dispose of the honour and glory of the world is subject to the permission and overruling providence of God, who continually brings good out of evil. Moreover, since the Ascension of our Blessed Lord, the devil's power over the kingdoms of the earth has, at least in Christian lands, been greatly reduced.

1. Of the spirit] i.e. of the Holy Spirit. God Himself ordained that Jesus should be tempted or tried, because only through temptation can human nature attain to perfection. Even the angels had to pass through a similar trial. Into the wilderness] Since Jesus was 'returning' towards Galilee (Lk), the traditional scene of the temptation, Mount Quarantania, near Jericho, is a suitable one. The devil] The word literally means 'slanderer' or 'accuser.' See special note below.

2. Fasted forty days] It was God's will that before beginning His work Jesus should retire from the world and give Himself entirely to fasting and prayer, with meditation upon His future plan of action. We may suppose that He was so absorbed in contemplation of His Messianic work, that He was not conscious of physical need. For parallels see Exodus 34:28; 1 Kings 19:8; Luke 1:80; Galatians 1:17.

3. If tnou be] Probably Satan expressed doubt in order to tempt Jesus to prove Himself the Son of God by a miracle.

4. See prefatory remarks.

5. The holy city] This phrase, peculiar to this Gospel, marks a thoroughly Jewish affection for Jerusalem: see Matthew 27:53, and cp. Matthew 5:35. A (RV 'the') pinnacle] see prefatory remarks.

6. The devil is a good theologian, and can quote Scripture to his purpose. Here he quotes Psalms 91:11-12, omitting one line. The general nature of this temptation is indicated in prefatory remarks. It was, besides, an incitement to tempt God presumptuously by deliberately incurring unnecessary danger.

7. See Deuteronomy 6:16. Deuteronomy was one of Jesus' favourite books.

8. See prefatory remarks.

10. See Deuteronomy 6:13, and Deuteronomy 10:20.

11. Ministered unto him] i.e. perhaps with spiritual refreshment. Cp. Luke 22:43.

Note. (1) St. Matthew and St. Luke for the Temptation have access to some other authority than St. Mark, who is here very brief. The order of St. Matthew seems superior to that of St. Luke. (2) If the Temptation of Jesus was a reality (and we can scarcely doubt that it was), the Tempter must have been met and conquered by Him in the strength of His human nature, assisted by divine grace. As God, He could not be tempted at all.

12-17. Beginning of the Galilean ministry (Mark 1:14-15, Luke 4:14-15, Luke 4:31). It might be thought from the synoptic account that Jesus began His Galilean ministry immediately after His Baptism and Temptation. But from the Fourth Gospel it is clear that this was not so. Jesus was baptised late in 26 a.d. He then remained for a time in the neighbourhood of the Baptist, five of whose followers, Andrew, John, Philip, Peter, and Bartholomew, attached themselves to Him, and followed Him back to Galilee. Then in April 27 a.d. He went up to Jerusalem to keep the Passover (the first passover of the ministry) and cleansed the Temple for the first time. He then baptised in the country districts of Judæa with great success (John 2, 3). The length of this Judæan ministry is disputed. Prof. Sanday thinks that it lasted only 3 or 4 weeks, but most authorities assign to it 8 months: see on John 4:35. The Galilean ministry begins, therefore, either in May, 27 a.d., or more probably in December of the same year: see John 1:19 to John 4:45.

12. Departed into Galilee] i.e. from Judæa, where He was baptising (John 3:23). He took the route through Samaria (John 4:4), staying at Sychar two days to preach to the Samaritans. Jesus had probably intended to make Jerusalem and Judæa the chief scene of His ministry, but changed His policy owing to the hostility of the Pharisees (John 4:1). In many respects Galilee was better suited to His purpose than Judæa. The Galileans were more tolerant, less conservative, and less under the power of the priests and Pharisees than the Judæans. There was a large Gentile population in Galilee, and much of the trade between Egypt and Damascus passed through the country. The people were more industrious, prosperous, and enterprising than the Judæans, who were jealous of them, and affected to despise them.

13. And leaving Nazareth] He went, as was natural, first to Nazareth, but on account of His unfavourable reception there (Luke 4:16), migrated to Capernaum, which is on the NW. coast of the Sea of Galilee. Capernaum is generally identified with the modern Tell Hum. It is in the tribe of Naphtali, but the borders of Zebulun are near. Capernaum was a busy place. Two caravan routes passed through the town. It had a custom-house, and a Roman garrison.

14. The quotation (from Isaiah 9:1) is, in view of Christ's ministry in Galilee, a singularly apt one, even according to modern ideas. Isaiah prophesies that the northern parts of Israel which have suffered most from the incursions of the Syrians and the Assyrians (2 Kings 15:29) will be the first to be restored to prosperity by the Messiah, who will win a great victory in these regions over the enemies of Israel, and establish an eternal kingdom. The quotation is made from memory, and reproduces the original somewhat freely.

15. By the way of the sea] RV 'towards the sea,' i.e. the Sea of Galilee. Beyond Jordan] must be taken to mean 'also the district beyond Jordan.' The other side of the lake was easily reached by boat, and was more than once visited by Jesus (Matthew 8:23; Matthew 14:13). The district S. of this, E. of the Jordan, was called Peræa, and was the scene of the last stages of our Lord's ministry (John 10:40). Galilee of the Gentiles] In Isaiah the expression means 'district of the Gentiles,' and refers not to the whole of Galilee, but to its northern borders, which were largely inhabited by Gentiles.

16. The darkness means in Isaiah the despair caused by the ravages of the Assyrians; in St. Matthew the spiritual darkness which Jesus came to dispel.

17. The kingdom of heaven] see on Matthew 3:2.

18-22. Call of Simon, Andrew, James, and John (Mark 1:16 cp. Luke 5:1). Simon, Andrew, and John had already been disciples for some time, and so probably had James: see John 1:35. The call was therefore not so sudden and unexpected as it appears to be in the synoptic narrative. In Luke 5:1 a very similar call is recorded in connexion with a miraculous draught of fishes, and many suppose the two incidents to be the same. If they are distinct, and this seems the preferable view (see on Luke 5:1), the order of events is as follows. Immediately after His migration to Capernaum Jesus called the four fishermen, who were already disciples, to be apostles. They did not, however, while Jesus remained in Capernaum, entirely leave their trade, but waited for a final summons. This soon came. When about to leave Capernaum for a tour through Galilee, Jesus appeared to them again, and after working a symbolical miracle (Luke 5:1), called them finally to accompany Him. He called them while actually at their work, as He called Matthew (Matthew 9:9), in order to show that no idle or useless person can be a Christian.

19. Fishers of men] 'The fisherman Peter did not lay aside his nets but changed them' (Aug.).

21. According to Lk the four fishermen were partners.

22. St. Mark mentions that there were hired servants in Zebedee's boat, which indicates that the family was not poor. St. John was known to the high priest, and probably had a house in Jerusalem (John 18:16; John 19:27) St. Matthew was rich. It cannot be shown that any of the apostles were specially poor or of a mean social position. 'Unlearned and ignorant men' (Acts 4:13), simply means that they had not been trained in the schools of the rabbis. Manual labour was honourable among the Jews, and even the sons of the wealthy were taught trades.

23-25. Journeys of Jesus through Galilee: preaching and healing the sick. St. Matthew interrupts his narrative of what took place at Capernaum to give a general sketch of the early period of the Galilean ministry. After the sermon on the mount he returns to what happened at Capernaum (Matthew 8:1).

23. All Galilee] A preaching expedition of so comprehensive a character must have lasted several months.

In their synagogues] Synagogues had their origin during the captivity, and rapidly became a general institution after the return. In the time of Christ there was a synagogue not only in every town, but in every village large enough to afford a congregation of ten adult men. The synagogue was primarily a place of worship, but it was also a centre of government, its members forming a local self-governing body. The governing body of a synagogue were called 'elders.' At their head was a 'ruler of the synagogue,' who maintained order during public worship (Luke 13:14), and decided who was to conduct the service (Acts 13:15). The ruler was not a scribe, but ranked immediately after the scribes. Each synagogue had an attendant (Hazzan) (Luke 4:20). He was a scribe, but ranked lowest in the scribal body. He had charge of the building, gave the rolls to the readers, called upon the priests to pronounce the benediction at the proper time, and also on week-days acted as schoolmaster. It was he who carried out the judicial sentences of the elders. Many synagogues had an interpreter (methurgeman), who, after the Scripture had been read in Hebrew, gave the Targum, i.e. translated it into Aramaic, which was the vulgar tongue.

The elders of the synagogue were the rulers of the local community both in civil and religious matters. They had power to excommunicate (Luke 6:22), and to scourge (Matthew 10:17) with forty stripes save one (Deuteronomy 25:3; 2 Corinthians 11:24). Unlike the Temple-worship the worship of the synagogue was under the control of the laity. A priest as such had no privilege but to give the blessing. The four chief parts of synagogue worship were, (1) the reading of the Law, (2) of the prophets, (3) the sermon, (4) the prayers. The prayers and lessons were read and the sermon delivered by members of the congregation selected by the ruler. This will explain how it was that Jesus, and afterwards St. Paul, were able to use the synagogues as centres for diffusing Christian truth: cp. Luke 4:16; Acts 13:15. On week-days the synagogues were used as schools for children.

24. All Syria] i.e. the Roman province of Syria. Possessed with devils] See special note below. Lunatick] (lit. 'moonstruck') RV 'epileptic.' Such sufferers were supposed to be influenced by changes of the moon.

He healed them] Great prominence is given in the Gospels to miracles of healing, and our Lord plainly regarded practical work of this kind as an integral part of His work of salvation. Briefly expressed, the teaching of the miracles of healing is as follows: (1) That the preservation of life and health by all the means in our power is a Christian duty. The Christian will seek 'a sound mind in a sound body' for himself and for others. In practice this leads to the establishment of hospitals, efficient sanitation, and factory legislation calculated to protect life and limb and health. (2) That the soul can often be reached through the body. Christ touched the souls of those whom He healed, and the early Church made as many converts by its works of mercy as by its preaching. Missionary societies are well aware of this, and send out many medical missionaries. (3) That pain, disease, and death are no part of God's will for man. Like sin they came into the world against His will, and they are part of those 'works of the devil,' which the Son of God was manifested to destroy. God permits disease, as He permits moral evil, He even overrules it for good, so that sickness may become a visitation from God full of spiritual blessings; nevertheless, disease is no part of His original plan of creation, it is not natural but against nature, and it can have no part in the perfected kingdom of God.

25. Decapolis] i.e. 'ten towns,' a region beyond Jordan, containing originally ten allied or federated cities, among which were Gadara, Pella, Gerasa, and Damascus. It was part of Peræa, and its inhabitants were mainly Greeks.

Note on Diabolical Possession

In the NT. disease, except when it is a special visitation from God (Hebrews 12:6), is regarded as the work of Satan (Matthew 9:32; Matthew 12:22; Luke 11:14; Luke 13:16; Acts 10:38, etc.). In particular, nervous diseases and insanity are represented as due to diabolical possession. This was the universal belief of the time, and our Lord, in using language which implies it, need not be regarded as teaching dogmatically that there is such a thing as possession. There were strong reasons why He should seek to 'accommodate' His language to the popular theory. (1) The insane persons whom He wished to heal, were firmly convinced that they were possessed by devils. This was the form assumed by the insane delusion, and to argue against it was useless. The only wise course was to assume that the unclean spirit was there, and to command it to come forth. (2) It was our Lord's method not rashly or unnecessarily to interfere with the settled beliefs of His time, or to anticipate the discoveries of modern science. The belief in demonic possession, though probably erroneous, was so near the truth, that for most purposes of practical religion it might be regarded as true. He, therefore, did not think fit to disturb it. Believing, as He did, that most of the evil in the universe, including disease, though permitted by God, is the work of Satan, He tolerated a belief which had the merit of emphasising this fundamental truth, and left it to the advance of knowledge in future ages to correct the extravagances connected with it. See also on Matthew 8:28-34, Mark 1:21-28.

Note on Satan

Although from the earliest times the Hebrews believed in various kinds of evil spirits, it was not till the time of the captivity that the idea of a supreme evil spirit, exercising lordship over all orders of demons, emerged into prominence. In the OT. Satan appears only in the prologue to Job (Matthew 1, 2), where he ranks with the angels or 'sons of God'; in Zechariah 3:1, where he is the adversary of Joshua the high priest; and in 1 Chronicles 21:1, where he tempts David to number Israel. All these passages are subsequent to the captivity. In the NT. Satan is a much more prominent character. His influence is represented as allpervading. He disposes of earthly kingdoms as he wills. He has an organised kingdom of darkness which cannot be overthrown even by the Christ without a fearful struggle, in which the conqueror tastes the bitterness of death. Physical evil is mainly due to him, for he and his ministers are the direct authors of pain, sorrow, disease, and death. The NT. writers indeed recognise that pain and disease are sometimes inflicted by God Himself for disciplinary purposes, but, upon the whole, they ascribe the universal prevalence of physical evil to the malignant activity of Satan. The moral evil of the world is also ascribed in the main to him. He goes about the world like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour, and never ceases from his insidious attempts to detach mankind from their allegiance to their Creator.

That our Lord many times expressed belief in Satan as a personal being, is admitted on all hands. The only question is whether He may not in this matter have accommodated his language to the beliefs of His contemporaries, or perhaps have personified evil in order to express more vividly its pervasive activity. Both suppositions are, on the whole, improbable. The allusions to Satan and his angels as persons are too frequent and emphatic, to make it easy to suppose that our Lord did not believe in their personality; and, moreover, belief in an impersonal, de vil presents greater difficulties to faith than belief in a personal one. That evil should exist at all in a world created and governed by a good and all-powerful Being, is a serious moral and intellectual difficulty. But that difficulty is reduced to a minimum if we suppose that it is due to the activity of a hostile personality. Opposition to God's will on the part of a personal selfdetermining agent, though mysterious, is conceivable. Opposition to it on the part of any impersonal evil influence or physical force is (to most modern minds) inconceivable.

 


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Bibliography Information
Dummelow, John. "Commentary on Matthew 4:4". "John Dummelow's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dcb/matthew-4.html. 1909.

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Saturday, August 17th, 2019
the Week of Proper 14 / Ordinary 19
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