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Verse Matthew 12:1. At that time Jesus went on the Sabbath-day through the corn — "The time is determined by Luke in these words, εν σαββατω δευτεροπρωτω, that is, on the Sabbath from the second-first.
"1. Provision was made by the Divine law that the sheaf of first-fruits should be offered on the second day of the pass-over week, Leviticus 23:10-11. On the morrow after the Sabbath, the priest shall shake (or wave) it. Not on the morrow after the ordinary Sabbath of the week, but the morrow after the first of the pass-over week, which was a Sabbatic day, Exodus 12:16; Leviticus 23:7. Hence the seventy, επαυριον της πρωτης, the morrow of the first day; the Chaldee, the morrow after the holy day. The rabbins, Solomon and Menachen, have it, On the morrow after the first day of the pass-over feast; of which mention had been made in the verses foregoing.
"But now, from the second day of the pass-over solemnity, wherein the sheaf was offered, were numbered seven weeks to pentecost: for the day of the sheaf, and the day of pentecost did mutually respect each other; for on this second day of the pass-over, the offering of the sheaf was supplicatory, and by way of prayer, beseeching a blessing upon the new corn, and leave to eat it, and to pot in the sickle into the standing corn. Now, the offering of the first-fruit loaves on the day of pentecost, (Leviticus 23:15-17,) did respect the giving of thanks for the finishing and housing of the barley-harvest. Therefore, in regard of this relation, these two solemnities were linked together, that both might respect the harvest; that, the harvest beginning; this, the harvest ended: this depended on that, and was numbered seven weeks after it. Therefore, the computation of the time coming between could not but carry with it the memory of that second day of the pass-over week; and hence pentecost is called the feast of weeks, Deuteronomy 16:10. The true calculation of the time between could not otherwise be retained, as to Sabbaths, but by numbering thus: this is σαββατων δευτεροπρωτον, the first Sabbath after the second day of the pass-over. This is δευτεροδευρερον, the second Sabbath after that second day. And so of the rest. In the Jerusalem Talmud, the word שבת פרוטוגמייא shebeth protogamiya, the Sabbath, προτογαμιας, of the first marriage, is a composition not very unlike." Lightfoot.
His disciples were an hungered — Were hungry. The former is a mode of expression totally obsolete. How near does the translation of this verse come to our ancient mother-tongue, the Anglo-Saxon! - [Anglo-Saxon] - The Healer went on rest-day over acres: truly his learning knights hungred, and they began to pluck the ear and eaten. We may well wonder at the extreme poverty of Christ and his disciples. He was himself present with them, and yet permitted them to lack bread! A man, therefore, is not forsaken of God because he is in want. It is more honourable to suffer the want of all temporal things in fellowship with Christ and his followers, than to have all things in abundance in connection with the world.
Verse Matthew 12:2. Thy disciples do that which is not lawful to do — The Jews were so superstitious, concerning the observance of the Sabbath, that in their wars with Antiochus Epiphanes, and the Romans, they thought it a crime even to attempt to defend themselves on the Sabbath: when their enemies observed this, they deterred their operations to that day. It was through this, that Pompey was enabled to take Jerusalem. Dion. Cass. lib. xxxvi.
Those who know not the spirit and design of the divine law are often superstitious to inhumanity, and indulgent to impiety. An intolerant and censorious spirit in religion is one of the greatest curses a man can well fall under.
Verse Matthew 12:3-4. Have ye not read what David did — The original history is in 1 Samuel 21:1-6.
When he was an hungered — Here hearken to Kimchi, producing the opinion of the ancients concerning this story in these words: "Our rabbins of blessed memory say, that he gave him the shew-bread, c. The interpretation also of the clause, Yea, though it were sanctified this day in the vessel, is this: It is a small thing to say, that it is lawful for us to eat THESE LOAVES, taken from before the Lord, when we are hungry for it would be lawful to eat this very loaf which is now set on, which is also sanctified in the vessel, (for the table sanctifieth), it would be lawful to eat even this, when another loaf is not present with you to give us, and we are so hunger-bitten. And a little after, There is nothing which may hinder taking care of life, beside idolatry, adultery, and murder. That is, a man, according to them, should do any thing but these in order to preserve life." See Lightfoot.
He entered into the house of God — Viz. the house of Ahimelech the priest, who dwelt at Nob, with whom the tabernacle then was, in which the Divine presence was manifested.
And did eat the shew-bread — τους αρτους τνς προθεσεως - in Hebrew, לחם פנים lechem panim - bread of the presence, or faces, because this bread was to be set continually, לפני יהוה lipney Yehovah, before the face of Jehovah. See the notes on Exodus 25:23; Exodus 25:30.
"Since part of the frankincense put in the bread was to be burnt on the altar for a memorial, Leviticus 24:7, and since Aaron and his sons were to eat it in the holy place, it is evident that this bread typified Christ, first presented as a sacrifice to, or in the presence of, Jehovah, and then becoming spiritual food to such as, in and through him, are spiritual priests to God. See Revelation 1:6; Revelation 5:10; Revelation 20:6; also 1 Peter 2:5." Parkhurst.
Verse Matthew 12:4. Matthew 12:3; Matthew 12:3.
Verse Matthew 12:5. The priests - profane the Sabbath — Profane, i.e. put it to what might be called a common use, by slaying and offering up sacrifices, and by doing the services of the temple, as on common days, Exodus 29:38; Numbers 28:9.
Verse Matthew 12:6. In this place is one greater than the temple. — Does not our Lord refer here to Malachi 3:1? Compare this with Hebrews 3:3. The Jews esteemed nothing greater than the temple, except that God who was worshipped in it. Christ, by asserting he was greater than the temple, asserts that he was God; and this he does, in still more direct terms, Matthew 12:8, The Son of man is Lord of the Sabbath-is Institutor and Governor of it. Compare this with Genesis 2:3, and see the notes there.
Verse Matthew 12:7. I will have mercy, &c. — See this explained, Matthew 9:13. There are four ways in which positive laws may cease to oblige.
First, by the natural law of necessity.
Secondly, by a particular law, which is superior.
Thirdly, by the law of charity and mercy.
Fourthly, by the dispensation and authority of the Lawgiver.
These cases are all exemplified from Matthew 12:4-8.
Verse Matthew 12:8. The Son of man is Lord even of the Sabbath-day. — The change of the Jewish into the Christian Sabbath, called the Lord's day, Revelation 1:10, shows that Christ is not only the Lord, but also the truth and completion of it. For it seems to have been by an especial providence that this change has been made and acknowledged all over the Christian world.
Verse Matthew 12:10. A man which had his hand withered. — Probably through a partial paralysis. The man's hand was withered; but God's mercy had still preserved to him the use of his feet: He uses them to bring him to the public worship of God, and Jesus meets and heals him there. How true is the proverb - It is never so ill with us, but it might be much worse!
Verse Matthew 12:11. If it fall into a pit on the Sabbath-day, c.] It was a canon among the Jews: "We must take a tender care of the goods of an Israelite." Hence: -
"If a beast fall into a ditch, or into a pool of water, let (the owner) bring him food in that place if he can but, if he cannot, let him bring clothes and litter, and bear up the beast; whence, if he can come up, let him come up, c."
"If a beast or its foal fall into a ditch on a holy day, R. Lazar saith, Let him lift up the former to kill him, and let him kill him but let him give fodder to the other, lest he die in that place. R. Joshua saith, Let him lift up the former with the intention of killing him, although he kill him not; let him lift up the other also, although it be not in his mind to kill him." To these canons our Lord seems here very properly to appeal, in vindication of his intention to heal the distressed man. See Lightfoot.
Self-interest is a very decisive casuist, and removes abundance of scruples in a moment. It is always the first consulted, and the must readily obeyed. It is not sinful to hearken to it, but it must not govern nor determine by itself.
Verse Matthew 12:12. How much then is a man better than a sheep? — Our Lord's argument is what is called argumentum ad hominem; they are taken on their own ground, and confuted on their own maxims and conduct. There are many persons who call themselves Christians, who do more for a beast of burden or pleasure than they do for a man for whom Christ died! Many spend that on coursers, spaniels, and hounds, of which multitudes of the followers of Christ are destitute:-but this also shall come to judgment.
Wherefore, it is lawful to do well, &c.] This was allowed by a multitude of Jewish canons. See Schoettgen.
Verse Matthew 12:13. Stretch forth thine hand. — The bare command of God is a sufficient reason of obedience. This man might have reasoned thus: "Lord, my hand is withered; how then can I stretch it out? Make it whole first, and afterwards I will do as thou commandest." This may appear reasonable, but in his case it would have been foolishness. At the command of the Lord he made the effort, and in making it the cure was effected! Faith disregards apparent impossibilities, where there is a command and promise of God. The effort to believe is, often, that faith by which the soul is healed.
A little before (Matthew 12:6; Matthew 12:8) Jesus Christ had asserted his Godhead, in this verse he proves it. What but the omnipotence of the living God could have, in a moment, restored this withered hand? There could be no collusion here; the man who had a real disease was instantaneously and therefore miraculously cured; and the mercy and power of God were both amply manifested in this business.
It is worthy of remark, that as the man was healed with a word, without even a touch, the Sabbath was unbroken, even according to their most rigid interpretation of the letter of the law.
Verse Matthew 12:14. Held a council against him — Nothing sooner leads to utter blindness, and hardness of heart, than envy. There are many who abandon themselves to pleasure-taking and debauchery on the Sabbath, who condemn a poor man whom necessity obliges to work on what is termed a holiday, or a national fast.
Verse Matthew 12:15. Jesus - withdrew himself from thence — It is the part of prudence and Christian charity not to provoke, if possible, the blind and the hardened; and to take from them the occasion of sin. A man of God is not afraid of persecution; but, as his aim is only to do good, by proclaiming every where the grace of the Lord Jesus, he departs from any place when he finds the obstacles to the accomplishment of his end are, humanly speaking, invincible, and that he can not do good without being the means of much evil. Yield to the stream when you cannot stem it.
Great multitudes followed him, and he healed them all — The rejection of the Gospel in one place has often been the means of sending it to and establishing it in another. Jesus healed all that followed him, i.e. all who had need of healing, and who desired to be healed; for thus the passage must be understood: - and is he not still the same? No soul shall ever implore his healing power in vain; but let it be remembered, that only those who follow Christ, and apply to him, are healed of their spiritual maladies.
Verse Matthew 12:16. Charged them that they should not make him known — See Matthew 8:4. Jesus Christ, as GOD, could have easily concealed himself, but he chooses to do it as man, and to use no other than human means, as these were quite sufficient for the purpose, to teach us not to neglect them in our necessity. Indeed, he always used his power less on his own account, than on that of men.
Verse Matthew 12:18. Behold my servant — This title was given to our blessed Lord in several prophecies. See Isaiah 42:1; Isaiah 53:2. Christ assumes it, Psalms 40:7-9. Compare these with John 17:4, and Philippians 2:7. God required an acceptable and perfect service from man; but man, being sinful, could not perform it. Jesus, taking upon him the nature of man, fully performed the whole will of God, and communicates grace to all his followers, to enable them perfectly to love and worthily to magnify their Maker.
And he shall show judgment to the Gentiles. — That is, He will publish the Gospel to the heathens; for the word κρισιν here answers to the word משפט mishpat of the prophet, and it is used among the Hebrews to signify laws, precepts, and a whole system or body of doctrine. See Psalms 19:9; Psalms 119:30; Psalms 119:39; Isaiah 58:2.
Verse Matthew 12:19. He shall not strive, nor cry — The spirit of Christ is not a spirit of contention, murmuring, clamour, or litigiousness. He who loves these does not belong to him. Christ therefore fulfilled a prophecy by withdrawing from this place, on account of the rage of the Pharisees.
Verse Matthew 12:20. A bruised reed shall he not break — A reed is, in Scripture, the emblem of weakness, Ezekiel 29:6; and a bruised reed must signify that state of weakness that borders on dissolution and death.
And smoking flax shall he not quench — λινον τυφομενον. λινος means the wick of a lamp, and τυφομενον is intended to point out its expiring state, when the oil has been all burnt away from it, and nothing is left but a mere snuff, emitting smoke. Some suppose the Jewish state, as to ecclesiastical matters, is here intended, the prophecy declaring that Christ would not destroy it, but leave it to expire of itself, as it already contained the principles of its own destruction. Others have considered it as implying that great tenderness with which the blessed Jesus should treat the weak and the ignorant, whose good desires must not be stifled, but encouraged. The bruised reed may recover itself, if permitted to vegetate under the genial influences of heaven; and the life and light of the expiring lamp may be supported by the addition of fresh oil. Jesus therefore quenches not faint desires after salvation, even in the worst and most undeserving of men; for even such desires may lead to the fulness of the blessing of the Gospel of peace.
Judgment unto victory. — See Matthew 12:18. By judgment, understand the Gospel, and by victory its complete triumph over Jewish opposition, and Gentile impiety. He will continue by these mild and gentle means to work till the whole world is Christianized, and the universe filled with his glory.
Verse Matthew 12:21. And in his name shall the Gentiles trust. — ελπιουσι, they shall hope. Jesus Christ is the sole hope and trust of mankind; to trust and hope in his name, JESUS, is to expect salvation and all things necessary from him alone, to despise, comparatively, all earthly promises, to esteem, love, and desire heavenly things only, and to bear with patience and tranquillity all the losses and evils of this life, upon the prospect and hope of that felicity which he has purchased for us.
Verse Matthew 12:22. One possessed with a devil, blind and dumb — A person from whom the indwelling demon took away both sight and hearing. Satan makes himself master of the heart, the eyes, and the tongue of the sinner. His heart he fills with the love of sin; his eyes he blinds that he may not see his guilt, and the perdition which awaits him; and his tongue he hinders from prayer and supplication, though he gives it increasing liberty in blasphemies, lies, slanders, &c. None but Jesus can redeem from this threefold captivity.
Verse Matthew 12:23. Is not this the son of David? — Is not this the true Messiah? Do not these miracles sufficiently prove it? See Isaiah 35:5.
Verse Matthew 12:24. Beelzebub — See Matthew 10:25.
Verse Matthew 12:25. Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation — Our Lord's argument was thus:-"The welfare of any kingdom, city, or family, depends on its concord and unanimity; Satan, like every other potentate, must wish to rule his empire in peace and security; how then can he be in league with me, who oppose his authority, and am destroying his kingdom?"
The reasoning of the Pharisees, Matthew 12:24, was not expressed, and Jesus, knowing their thoughts, gave them ample proof or his omniscience. This, with our Lord's masterly confutation of their reasonings, by a conclusion drawn from their own premises, one would have supposed might have humbled and convinced these men; but the most conclusive reasoning, and the most astonishing miracles, were lost upon a people who were obstinately determined to disbelieve every thing good, relative to Christ. How true the saying-He came unto his own, and his own received him not!
Verse Matthew 12:26. If Satan cast out Satan — A good cause will produce a good effect, and an evil cause an evil effect. Were I on Satan's side, I would act for his interest and confirm his influence among you; but I oppose his maxims by my doctrine, and his influence by my power.
Verse Matthew 12:27. By whom do your children cast them out? — Children, or sons of the prophets, means the disciples of the prophets; and children or sons of the Pharisees, disciples of the Pharisees. From Acts 19:13; Acts 19:14, it is evident there were exorcists among the Jews, and, from our Lord's saying here, it is also evident that the disciples of the Pharisees did cast out demons, or, at least, those who educated them wished to have it believed that they had such a power. Our Lord's argument here is extremely conclusive: If the man who casts out demons proves himself thereby to be in league with and influenced by Satan, then your disciples, and you who taught them, are all of you in league with the devil: ye must either give up your assertion, that I cast out demons by Beelzebul, or else admit this conclusion, in its fullest force and latitude, that ye are all children of the devil, and leagued with him against God.
Envy causes persons often to condemn in one, what they approve in another.
Verse Matthew 12:28. But if I cast out devils by the Spirit of God — Perhaps the Spirit of God is here mentioned by way of opposition to the magical incantations of the Jews; for it is well known that by fumigations and magical washings, they professed to cast out devils. See a case mentioned by Schoettgen on this verse.
Then the kingdom of God — For the destruction of the kingdom of Satan plainly implies the setting up of the kingdom of God.
Is come unto you. — Is come unexpectedly upon you. εφθασεν, from φθανω, to appear suddenly - unexpectedly.
They pretended to be in expectation of the kingdom of God, and consequently of the destruction of the kingdom of Satan. But, by being not prepared to receive Christ in these proofs of his Divine mission, they showed that their expectation was but pretended. They were too carnal to mind spiritual things.
Verse 29. Else how can one enter into a strong man's house — Men, through sin, are become the very house and dwelling place of Satan, having of their own accord surrendered themselves to this unjust possessor; for whoever gives up his soul to sin gives it up to the devil. It is Jesus, and Jesus alone, who can deliver from the power of this bondage. When Satan is cast out, Jesus purifies and dwells in the heart.
Verse 30. He that is not with me is against me — In vain do men seek for methods to reconcile God and mammon. There is no medium between loving the Lord and being his enemy - between belonging to Christ or to Satan. If we be on the side of the devil, we must expect to go to the devil's hell; if we be on the side of Christ, we may expect to go to his heaven. When Christ, his truth, and his servants are assaulted, he who does not espouse their cause is not on Christ's side, but incurs the guilt of deserting and betraying him. There are many, (it is to be feared,) in the world who are really against Christ, and scatter abroad, who flatter themselves that they are workers together with him, and of the number of his friends!
Scattereth abroad. — This seems to have been a proverbial form of speech, and may be a metaphor taken from shepherds. He who does not help the true shepherd to gather his flock into the fold is, most likely, one who wishes to scatter them, that he may have the opportunity of stealing and destroying them. I do not find any parallel to this proverbial mode of speech in the Jewish rabbins, if it be one, nor have I met with it among the Greek or Roman writers.
Verse 31. All manner of sin and blasphemy — βλασφημια, injurious or impious speaking. [Anglo-Saxon], mocking and deriding speech, Anglo-Saxon. See Matthew 9:3.
But the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost — Even personal reproaches, revilings, persecutions against Christ, were remissible; but blasphemy, or impious speaking against the Holy Spirit was to have no forgiveness: i.e. when the person obstinately attributed those works to the devil, which he had the fullest evidence could be wrought only by the Spirit of God. That this, and nothing else, is the sin against the Holy Spirit, is evident from the connection in this place, and more particularly from Mark 3:28-30. "All sins shall be forgiven unto the sons of men, and blasphemies wherewith soever they shall blaspheme; but he that shall blaspheme against the Holy Ghost hath never forgiveness, but is in danger of eternal damnation; BECAUSE they said, He hath an unclean spirit."
Here the matter is made clear beyond the smallest doubt - the unpardonable sin, as some term it, is neither less nor more than ascribing the miracles Christ wrought, by the power of God, to the spirit of the devil. Many sincere people have been grievously troubled with apprehensions that they had committed the unpardonable sin; but let it be observed that no man who believes the Divine mission of Jesus Christ, ever can commit this sin: therefore let no man's heart fail because of it, from henceforth and for ever, Amen. See below.
Verse 32. Neither in this world, neither in the world to come. — Though I follow the common translation, yet I am fully satisfied the meaning of the words is, neither in this dispensation, (viz. the Jewish,) nor in that which is to come, viz. the Christian. עולם הבא olam ha-ba, the world to come, is a constant phrase for the times of the Messiah in the Jewish writers. See below. The sin here spoken of by our Lord ranks high in the catalogue of presumptuous sins, for which there was no forgiveness under the Mosaic dispensation. See Numbers 15:30; Numbers 15:31; Numbers 35:31; Leviticus 20:10; 1 Samuel 2:25. When our Lord says that such a sin hath no forgiveness, is he not to be understood as meaning that the crime shall be punished under the Christian dispensation as it was under the Jewish, viz. by the destruction of the body? And is not this the same mentioned 1 John 1:7, called there the sin unto death; i.e. a sin that was to be punished by the death of the body, while mercy might be extended to the soul? The punishment for presumptuous sins, under the Jewish law, to which our Lord evidently alludes, certainly did not extend to the damnation of the soul, though the body was destroyed: therefore I think that, though there was no such forgiveness to be extended to this crime as to absolve the man from the punishment of temporal death, yet, on repentance, mercy might be extended to the soul; and every sin may be repented of under the Gospel dispensation.
Dr. Lightfoot has sufficiently vindicated this passage from all false interpretation. "They that endeavour hence to prove the remission of some sins after death, seem little to understand to what Christ had respect when he spake these words. Weigh well this common and, most known doctrine of the Jewish schools, and judge.
"He that transgresses an affirmative precept, if he presently repent, is not moved until the Lord pardon him; and of such it is said, Be ye converted, O back sliding children! and I will heal your backslidings. He that transgresses a negative precept, and repents, his repentance suspends judgment, and the day of expiation expiates him; as it is said, This day shall all your uncleannesses be expiated to you. He that transgresses to cutting off (by the stroke of God) or to death by the Sanhedrin, and repents, repentance and the day of expiation do suspend judgment, and the strokes that are laid upon him wipe off sin, as it is said, And I will visit their transgression with a rod, and their iniquity with scourges. But he by whom the name of God is profaned (or blasphemed) repentance is of no avail to him to suspend judgment, nor the day of expiation to expiate it, nor scourges (or corrections inflicted) to wipe it off, but all suspend judgment, and death wipes it off. Thus the Babylonian Gemara writes; but the Jerusalem thus: Repentance and the day of expiation expiate as to the third part, and corrections as to the third part, and death wipes it off, as it is said, And your iniquities shall not be expiated to you until ye die: behold, we learn that death wipes off. Note this, which Christ contradicts, concerning blasphemy against the Holy Ghost. It shall not be forgiven, saith he, neither in this world, nor in the world to come; that is, neither before death, nor, as you dream, by death. Jerus. Sanhed. fol. 37. and Bab. Yoma, fol. 86.
"In the world to come. - I. Some phrases were received into common use, by which, in common speech, they opposed the heresy of the Sadducces, who denied immortality, Of that sort were עולם הבא olam ha-ba, Αιων ὁ μελλων, The world to come. גן עדן gan aden, Παραδεισος, paradise: גו הנום gei hinnom, Γεεννα, hell, c.
"At the end of all the prayers in the temple (as we observed before) they said עד עולם ad olam, for ever. But when the heretics (i.e. the Sadducees) brake in, and said there was NO AGE but one, then it was appointed to be said for ever and ever. מן העולם ועד העולם min ha-olam, vead ha-olam. Bab. Beracoth, fol. 54. This distinction of עולם הזה olam hazeh, this world, and of עולם הבא olam ha-ba, the world to come, you may find almost in every page of the rabbins.
"The Lord recompense thee a good reward for this thy good work in this world, and let thy reward be perfected in the world to come. Targum on Ruth.
"It (that is, the history of the creation and of the Bible) therefore begins with the letter ב beth, (in the word ברישית bereshith,) because two worlds were created, this world and a world to come. Baal Turim.
"The world to come hints two things especially, (of which see Rambam, in Sanhed. cap. ii. Chelek.) I. The times of the Messiah: 'Be mindful of the day wherein thou camest out of Egypt, all the days of thy life: the wise men say, by the days of thy life is intimated this world: by all the days of thy life, the days of the Messiah are superinduced.' In this sense the apostle seems to speak, Hebrews 2:5; Hebrews 6:5. II. The state after death: thus Rab. Tancum, The world to come, is when a man has departed out of this world."
Verse 33. Either make the tree good — That is, the effect will be always similar to the cause; a bad tree will produce bad fruit, and a good tree, good fruit.
The works will resemble the heart: nothing good can proceed from an evil spirit; no good fruit can proceed from a corrupt heart. Before the heart of man can produce any good, it must be renewed and influenced by the Spirit of God.
Verse 34. O generation of vipers — These are apparently severe words; but they were extremely proper in reference to that execrable people to whom they were addressed: the whole verse is an inference from what was spoken before.
Out of the abundance (περισσευματος, the overflowings) of the heart — Wicked words and sinful actions may be considered as the overflowings of a heart that is more than full of the spirit of wickedness; and holy words and righteous deeds may be considered as the overflowings of a heart that is filled with the Holy Spirit, and running over with love to God and man.
Verse 35. A good man out of the good treasure of the heart — της καρδιας, of the heart, is omitted by upwards of one hundred MSS., many of them of the greatest antiquity and authority; by all the Syriac, Arabic, and Persic; by the Slavonic, Saxon, Vulgate, and Itala, (except four,) and by several of the primitive fathers. It seems to have been added here by some copyist, merely to explain. The good heart is the good treasury, and the treasure that is in it is the love of God, and of all mankind. The bad heart is the bad treasury, and its treasure is the carnal mind, which is enmity against God, and ill-will to man.
Verse 36. Every idle word — ρημα αργον, a word that does nothing, that neither ministers grace nor instruction to them who hear it. The word αργον corresponds to the Hebrew שוא shave, which signifies not only vain or empty, but also wicked and injurious, such as a false testimony against a neighbour, compare Deuteronomy 5:11; Deuteronomy 5:20. Add to this, that Symmachus translates piggul, polluted, Leviticus 19:7, by the very Greek word in the text. It was to explain this ambiguous meaning of the word, that ten MSS. have changed αργον Into πονηρον, evil. Our Lord must be understood here as condemning all false and injurious words: the scope of the place necessarily requires this meaning.
Verse 37. By thy words thou shalt be justified — That is, the whole tenor of thy conversation will be an evidence for or against thee, in the great day. How many are there who count words for nothing! and yet eternity often depends on them. Lord, put a watch before the door of my lips! is a prayer proper for all men.
Verse 38. We would see a sign from thee. — That is, we wish now to see thee work a miracle. Pride, vain curiosity, and incredulity, have never proof sufficient of the truth: for they will not be satisfied.
Verse 39. An evil and adulterous generation — Or, race of people; for so γενεα should be translated here, and in most other places in the Gospels; for our Lord, in general, uses it to point out the Jewish people. This translation is a key to unlock some very obscure passages in the evangelists.
Seeketh after a sign — Or, seeketh another sign, (επιζητει,) so I think this word should be translated. Our Lord had already given the Jews several signs; and here they desire sign upon sign.
Our Lord terms the Jews an adulterous race. Under the old covenant, the Jewish nation was represented as in a marriage contract with the Lord of hosts; as believers, in the new covenant, are represented as the spouse of Christ. All unfaithfulness and disobedience was considered as a breach of this marriage contract; hence the persons who were thus guilty are denominated adulterers and adulteresses. But, independently of this, there is the utmost proof, from their own writings, that in the time of our Lord they were most literally an adulterous race of people: for, at this very time, R. Jochanan ben Zacchai abrogated the trial by the bitter waters of jealousy, because so many were found to be thus criminal. See on John 8:3.
Verse 40. Three days and three nights — Our Lord rose from the grave on the day but one after his crucifixion: so that, in the computation in this verse, the part of the day on which he was crucified, and the part of that on which he rose again, are severally estimated as an entire day; and this, no doubt, exactly corresponded to the time in which Jonah was in the belly of the fish. Our Lord says, As Jonah was, so shall the Son of man be, c. Evening and morning, or night and day, is the Hebrew phrase for a natural day, which the Greeks termed νυξθημερον, nuchthemeron. The very same quantity of time which is here termed three days and three nights, and which, in reality, was only one whole day, a part of two others, and two whole nights, is termed three days and three nights, in the book of Esther: Go neither eat nor drink THREE DAYS, NIGHT or DAY, and so I will go in unto the king: Esther 4:16. Afterwards it follows, Esther 5:1. On the THIRD DAY, Esther stood in the inner court of the king's house. Many examples might be produced, from both the sacred and profane writers, in vindication of the propriety of the expression in the text. For farther satisfaction, the reader, if he please, may consult Whitby and Wakefield, and take the following from Lightfoot.
"I. The Jewish writers extend that memorable station of the unmoving sun, at Joshua's prayer, to six and thirty hours; for so Kimchi upon that place: 'According to more exact interpretation, the sun and moon stood still for six and thirty hours: for when the fight was on the eve of the Sabbath, Joshua feared lest the Israelites might break the Sabbath; therefore he spread abroad his hands, that the sun might stand still on the sixth day, according to the measure of the day of the Sabbath, and the moon according to the measure of the night of the Sabbath, and of the going out of the Sabbath, which amounts to six and thirty hours.'
"II. If you number the hours that pass from our Saviour's giving up the ghost upon the cross to his resurrection, you shall find almost the same number of hours; and yet that space is called by him three days and three nights, whereas two nights only came between, and one complete day. Nevertheless, while he speaks these words, he is not without the consent both of the Jewish schools and their computation. Weigh well that which is disputed in the tract Scabbath, concerning the separation of a woman for three days; where many things are discussed by the Gemarists, concerning the computation of this space of three days. Among other things these words occur: R. Ismael saith, Sometimes it contains four אונות onoth, sometimes five, sometimes six. But how much is the space of an אונה onah? R. Jochanan saith, Either a day or a night. And so also the Jerusalem Talmud: 'R. Akiba fixed a DAY for an onah, and a NIGHT for an onah.' But the tradition is, that R. Eliazar ben Azariah said, A day and a night make an onah: and a PART of an onah is as the WHOLE. And a little after, R. Ismael computed a part of the onah for the whole." Thus, then, three days and three nights, according to this Jewish method of reckoning, included any part of the first day; the whole of the following night; the next day and its night; and any part of the succeeding or third day.
In the whale's belly — That a fish of the shark kind, and not a whale, is here meant, Bochart has abundantly proved, vol. iii. col. 742, c., edit. Leyd. 1692. It is well known that the throat of a whale is capable of admitting little more than the arm of an ordinary man but many of the shark species can swallow a man whole, and men have been found whole in the stomachs of several. Every natural history abounds with facts of this kind. Besides, the shark is a native of the Mediterranean Sea, in which Jonah was sailing when swallowed by what the Hebrew terms דג גדול dag gadol, a great fish; but every body knows that whales are no produce of the Mediterranean Sea, thought some have been by accident found there, as in most other parts of the maritime world: but, let them be found where they may, there is none of them capable of swallowing a man. Instead of either whale or shark, some have translated דג גדול dag gadol, Jonah 1:17, by a fishing cove, or something of this nature; but this is merely to get rid of the miracle: for, according to some, the whole of Divine revelation is a forgery - or it is a system of metaphor or allegory, that has no miraculous interferences in it. But, independently of all this, the criticism is contemptible. Others say, that the great fish means a vessel so called, into which Jonah went, and into the hold of which he was thrown, where he continued three days and three nights. In short, it must be any thing but a real miracle, the existence of which the wise men, so called, of the present day, cannot admit. Perhaps these very men are not aware that they have scarcely any belief even in the existence of God himself!
Verse 41. The men of Nineveh shell rise in judgment — The voice of God, threatening temporal judgments, caused a whole people to repent, who had neither Moses nor Christ, neither the law nor the prophets; and who perhaps never had but this one preacher among them. What judgment may not we expect, if we continue impenitent, after all that God has bestowed upon us?
A greater than Jonas is here. — πλειον, for τιπλειον, something more. The evidence offered by Jonah sufficed to convince and lead the Ninevites to repentance; but here was more evidence, and a greater person; and yet so obstinate are the Jews that all is ineffectual.
1. Christ, who preached to the Jews, was infinitely greater than Jonah, in his nature, person, and mission.
2. Jonah preached repentance in Nineveh only forty days, and Christ preached among the Jews for several years.
3. Jonah wrought no miracles to authorize his preaching; but Christ wrought miracles every day, in every place where he went, and of every kind. And
4. Notwithstanding all this, the people of Judea did not repent, though the people of Nineveh did.
Verse 42. The queen of the south — In 1 Kings 10:1, this queen is said to be of Saba, which was a city and province of Arabia Felix, to the south, or south-east, of Judea.
Uttermost parts of the earth — περατων της γης - a form of speech which merely signifies, a great distance. See Deuteronomy 28:49.
Verse 43. When the unclean spirit — If there had been no reality in demoniacal possessions, our Lord would have scarcely appealed to a case of this kind here, to point out the real state of the Jewish people, and the desolation which was coming upon them. Had this been only a vulgar error, of the nonsense of which the learned scribes and the wise Pharisees must have been convinced, the case not being one in point, because not true, must have been treated by that very people with contempt for whose conviction it was alone designed.
He walketh through dry places — Δι' ανυδρων τοπων. There seems to be a reference here to the Orphic demonology, in which evil spirits were divided into various classes, according to the different regions of their abode, or places in which they delighted. These classes were five:
1. Δαιμονες ουρανιοι, Celestial demons.
2. Δαιμονες ηεριοι, Aerial.
3. Δαιμονες ενυδριοι, Aquatic.
4. Δαιμονες χθονιοι, Terrestrial.
5. Και δαιμονες υποχθονιοι, And subterranean demons.
See Orph. ad Mus. ap. Schott. The Platonists, the followers of Zoroaster, and the primitive Jews, made nearly the same distinctions.
Seeking rest — Or refreshment. Strange! a fallen corrupt spirit can have no rest but in the polluted human heart: the corruption of the one is suited to the pollution of the other, and thus like cleaves to like.
Verse 44. Into my house — The soul of that person from whom he had been expelled by the power of Christ, and out of which he was to have been kept by continual prayer, faith, and watchfulness.
He findeth it empty — Unoccupied, σχολαζοντα, empty of the former inhabitant, and ready to receive a new one: denoting a soul that has lost the life and power of godliness, and the testimony of the Holy Spirit.
Swept and garnished. — As σχολαζω signifies to be idle, or unemployed, it may refer here to the person, as well as to his state. His affections and desires are no longer busied with the things of God, but gad about, like an idle person, among the vanities of a perishing world. Swept, from love, meekness, and all the fruits of the Spirit; and garnished, or adorned, κεκοσμημενον, decorated, with the vain showy trifles of folly and fashion. This may comprise also smart speeches, cunning repartees, &c., for which many who have lost the life of God are very remarkable.
Verse 45. Seven other spirits more wicked — Seven was a favourite number with the Jews, implying frequently, with them, something perfect, completed, filled up, for such is the proper import of the Hebrew word sheva or shevang: nearly allied in sound to our seven. And perhaps this meaning of it refers to the seventh day, when God rested from his work, having filled up, or completed the whole of his creative design. Seven demons-as many as could occupy his soul, harassing it with pride, anger, self-will, lust, c., and torturing the body with disease.
The last state of that man is worse than the first. — His soul, before influenced by the Spirit of God, dilated and expanded under its heavenly influences, becomes more capable of refinement in iniquity, as its powers are more capacious than formerly. Evil habits are formed and strengthened by relapses and relapses are multiplied, and become more incurable, through new habits.
So shall it be also unto this wicked generation. — And so it was: for they grew worse and worse, as if totally abandoned to diabolic influence; till at last the besom of destruction swept them and their privileges, national and religious, utterly away. What a terrible description of a state of apostasy is contained in these verses! May he who readeth understand!
Verse Matthew 12:46. His mother and his brethren — These are supposed to have been the cousins of our Lord, as the word brother is frequently used among the Hebrews in this sense. But there are others who believe Mary had other children beside our Lord and that these were literally his brothers, who are spoken of here. And, although it be possible that these were the sons of Mary, the wife of Cleopas or Alpheus, his mother's sister, called his relations, Mark 3:31; yet it is as likely that they were the children of Joseph and Mary, and brethren of our Lord, in the strictest sense of the word. See on Matthew 13:55.
Verse Matthew 12:48. Who is my mother? and who are my brethren? — The reason of this seeming disregard of his relatives was this: they came to seize upon him, for they thought he was distracted. See Mark 3:33.
Verse Matthew 12:50. Whosoever shall do the will of my Father, c.] Those are the best acknowledged relatives of Christ who are united to him by spiritual ties, and who are become one with him by the indwelling of his Spirit. We generally suppose that Christ's relatives must have shared much of his affectionate attention and doubtless they did: but here we find that whosoever does the will of God is equally esteemed by Christ, as his brother, sister, or even his virgin mother. What an encouragement for fervent attachment to God!
1. From various facts related in this chapter, we see the nature and design of the revelation of God, and of all the ordinances and precepts contained in it-they are all calculated to do man good: to improve his understanding, to soften and change his nature, that he may love his neighbour as himself. That religion that does not inculcate and produce humanity never came from heaven.
2. We have already seen what the sin against the Holy Ghost is: no soul that fears God can commit it: perhaps it would be impossible for any but Jews to be guilty of it, and they only in the circumstances mentioned in the text; and in such circumstances, it is impossible that any person should now be found.
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Clarke, Adam. "Commentary on Matthew 12". "The Adam Clarke Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/
the Fourth Week after Epiphany