John the Baptist begins to preach, Matthew 3:1. The subject of his preaching, Matthew 3:2, Matthew 3:3. Description of his clothing and food, Matthew 3:4. The success of his ministry, Matthew 3:5, Matthew 3:6. His exhortation to the Pharisees, Matthew 3:7-9. He denounces the judgments of God against the impenitent, Matthew 3:10. The design of his baptism, and that of Christ, Matthew 3:11, Matthew 3:12. He baptizes Christ in Jordan, Matthew 3:13-15; who is attested to be the Messiah by the Holy Spirit, and a voice from heaven, Matthew 3:16, Matthew 3:17.
John the Baptist - John, surnamed The Baptist, because he required those to be baptized who professed to be contrite because of their sins, was the son of a priest named Zacharias, and his wife Elisabeth, and was born about A. M. 3999, and about six months before our blessed Lord. Of his almost miraculous conception and birth, we have a circumstantial account in the Gospel of Luke, chap. 1: to which, and the notes there, the reader is requested to refer. For his fidelity in reproving Herod for his incest with his brother Philip's wife, he was cast into prison, no doubt at the suggestion of Herodias, the profligate woman in question. He was at last beheaded at her instigation, and his head given as a present to Salome, her daughter, who, by her elegant dancing, had highly gratified Herod, the paramour of her incestuous mother. His ministry was short; for he appears to have been put to death in the 27th or 28th year of the Christian era.
Came - preaching - Κηρυσσων, proclaiming, as a herald, a matter of great and solemn importance to men; the subject not his own, nor of himself, but from that God from whom alone he had received his commission. See on the nature and importance of the herald's office, at the end of this chapter. Κηρυσσειν, says Rosenmuller, de iis dicitur, qui in Plateis, in Campis, in Aere aperto, ut a multis audiantur, vocem tollunt, etc. "The verb κηρυσσειν is applied to those who, in the streets, fields, and open air, lift up their voice, that they may be heard by many, and proclaim what has been committed to them by regal or public authority; as the Kerukes among the Greeks, and the Precones among the Romans."
The wilderness of Judea - That is, the country parts, as distinguished from the city; for in this sense the word wilderness, מדבר midbar or מדבריות midbarioth, is used among the rabbins. John's manner of life gives no countenance to the eremite or hermit's life, so strongly recommended and applauded by the Roman Church.
Repent - Μετανοειτε . This was the matter of the preaching. The verb μετανοεω is either compounded of μετα, after, and νοειν to understand, which signifies that, after hearing such preaching, the sinner is led to understand, that the way he has walked in was the way of misery, death, and hell. Or the word may be derived from μετα after, and ανοια, madness, which intimates that the whole life of a sinner is no other than a continued course of madness and folly: and if to live in a constant opposition to all the dictates of true wisdom; to wage war with his own best interests in time and eternity; to provoke and insult the living God; and, by habitual sin, to prepare himself only for a state of misery, be evidences of insanity, every sinner exhibits them plentifully. It was from this notion of the word, that the Latins termed repentance resipiscentia, a growing wise again, from re and sapere; or, according to Tertullian, Resipiscentia, quasi receptio mentis ad se, restoring the mind to itself: Contra Marcion, lib. ii. Repentance, then, implies that a measure of Divine wisdom is communicated to the sinner, and that he thereby becomes wise to salvation. That his mind, purposes, opinions, and inclinations, are changed; and that, in consequence, there is a total change in his conduct. It need scarcely be remarked, that, in this state, a man feels deep anguish of soul, because he has sinned against God, unfitted himself for heaven, and exposed his soul to hell. Hence, a true penitent has that sorrow, whereby he forsakes sin, not only because it has been ruinous to his own soul, but because it has been offensive to God.
The kingdom of heaven is at hand - Referring to the prophecy of Daniel, Daniel 7:13, Daniel 7:14, where the reign of Christ among men is expressly foretold. This phrase, and the kingdom of God, mean the same thing, viz. the dispensation of infinite mercy, and manifestation of eternal truth, by Christ Jesus, producing the true knowledge of God, accompanied with that worship which is pure and holy, worthy of that God who is its institutor and its object. But why is this called a kingdom? Because it has its laws, all the moral precepts of the Gospel: its subjects, all who believe in Christ Jesus: and its king, the Sovereign of heaven and earth. N. B. Jesus Christ never saved a soul which he did not govern; nor is this Christ precious or estimable to any man who does not feel a spirit of subjection to the Divine will.
But why is it called the kingdom of Heaven? Because God designed that his kingdom of grace here should resemble the kingdom of glory above. And hence our Lord teaches us to pray, Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven. The kingdom of heaven is not meat and drink, says St. Paul, Romans 14:17; does not consist in the gratification of sensual passions, or worldly ambition; but is righteousness, peace, and joy, in the Holy Ghost. Now what can there be more than this in glory? Righteousness, without mixture of sin; peace, without strife or contention; joy, in the Holy Ghost, spiritual joy, without mixture of misery! And all this, it is possible, by the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, to enjoy here below. How then does heaven itself differ from this state? Answer. It makes the righteousness eternal, the peace eternal, and the joy eternal. This is the heaven of heavens! The phrase, kingdom of heaven, שמים מלכות malcuth shamayim, is frequently used by the rabbinical writers, and always means, the purity of the Divine worship, and the blessedness which a righteous man feels when employed in it.
It is farther added, This kingdom is at hand. The dispensation of the glorious Gospel was now about to be fully opened, and the Jews were to have the first offers of salvation. This kingdom is also at hand to us; and wherever Christ crucified is preached, there is salvation to be found. Jesus is proclaimed to thee, O man! as infinitely able and willing to save. Believe in his name - cast thy soul upon his atonement, and enter into rest!
The voice of one crying in the wilderness - Or, A voice of a crier in the wilderness. This is quoted from Isaiah 40:3, which clearly proves that John the Baptist was the person of whom the prophet spoke.
The idea is taken from the practice of eastern monarchs, who, whenever they entered upon an expedition, or took a journey through a desert country, sent harbingers before them, to prepare all things for their passage; and pioneers to open the passes, to level the ways, and to remove all impediments. The officers appointed to superintend such preparations were called by the Latins, stratores.
Diodorus's account of the march of Semiramis into Media and Persia, will give us a clear notion of the preparation of the way for a royal expedition.
"In her march to Ecbatane, she came to the Zarcean mountain, which, extending many furlongs, and being full of craggy precipices and deep hollows, could not be passed without making a great compass about. Being therefore desirous of leaving an everlasting memorial of herself, as well as shortening the way, she ordered the precipices to be digged down, and the hollows to be filled up; and, at a great expense, she made a shorter and more expeditious road, which, to this day, is called from her, The road of Semiramis. Afterwards she went into Persia, and all the other countries of Asia, subject to her dominion; and, wherever she went, she ordered the mountains and precipices to be leveled, raised causeways in the plain country, and, at a great expense, made the ways passable." Diod. Sic. lib. ii. and Bp. Lowth.
The Jewish Church was that desert country, to which John was sent, to announce the coming of the Messiah. It was destitute at that time of all religious cultivation, and of the spirit and practice of piety; and John was sent to prepare the way of the Lord, by preaching the doctrine of repentance. The desert is therefore to be considered as affording a proper emblem of the rude state of the Jewish Church, which is the true wilderness meant by the prophet, and in which John was to prepare the way of the promised Messiah. The awful importance of the matter, and the vehemence of the manner of the Baptist's preaching, probably acquired him the character of the crier, Βοων . For the meaning of the word John, see the note on Mark 1:4.
His raiment of camel's hair - A sort of coarse or rough covering, which, it appears, was common to the prophets, Zechariah 13:4. In such a garment we find Elijah clothed, 2 Kings 1:8. And as John had been designed under the name of this prophet, Malachi 4:5, whose spirit and qualifications he was to possess, Luke 1:17, he took the same habit and lived in the same state of self-denial.
His meat was locusts - Ακριδες . Ακρις may either signify the insect called the locust, which still makes a part of the food in the land of Judea; or the top of a plant. Many eminent commentators are of the latter opinion; but the first is the most likely. The Saxon translator has grasshoppers.
Wild honey - Such as he got in the rocks and hollows of trees, and which abounded in Judea: see 1 Samuel 14:26. It is most likely that the dried locusts, which are an article of food in Asiatic countries to the present day, were fried in the honey, or compounded in some manner with it. The Gospel according to the Hebrews, as quoted by Epiphanius, seems to have taken a similar view of the subject, as it adds here to the text, Ου η γευσις ην του μαννα, ως εγκρις εν ελαιω . And its taste was like manna, as a sweet cake baked in oil.
Jordan - Many of the best MSS. and versions, with Mark 1:5, add ποταμω, the river Jordan; but the definitive article, with which the word is generally accompanied, both in the Hebrew and the Greek, is, sufficient; and our article the, which should ever be used in the translation, expresses the force of the other.
Were baptized - In what form baptism was originally administered, has been deemed a subject worthy of serious dispute. Were the people dipped or sprinkled? for it is certain βαπτω and βαπτιζω mean both. They were all dipped, say some. Can any man suppose that it was possible for John to dip all the inhabitants of Jerusalem and Judea, and of all the country round about the Jordan? Were both men and women dipped, for certainly both came to his baptism? This could never have comported either with safety or with decency. Were they dipped in their clothes? This would have endangered their lives, if they had not with them change of raiment: and as such a baptism as John's (however administered) was, in several respects, a new thing in Judea, it is not at all likely that the people would come thus provided. But suppose these were dipped, which I think it would be impossible to prove, does it follow that, in all regions of the world, men and women must be dipped, in order to be evangelically baptized? In the eastern countries, bathings were frequent, because of the heat of the climate, it being there so necessary to cleanliness and health; but could our climate, or a more northerly one, admit of this with safety, for at least three-fourths of the year? We may rest assured that it could not. And may we not presume, that if John had opened his commission in the north of Great Britain, for many months of the year, he would have dipped neither man nor woman, unless he could have procured a tepid bath? Those who are dipped or immersed in water, in the name of the Holy Trinity, I believe to be evangelically baptized - those who are washed or sprinkled with water in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, I believe to be equally so; and the repetition of such a baptism I believe to be profane. Others have a right to believe the contrary, if they see good. After all, it is the thing signified, and not the mode, which is the essential part of the sacrament. See the note on Mark 10:16.
Confessing their sins - Εξομολογουμενοι, earnestly acknowledging that their sins were their own. And thus taking the whole blame upon themselves, and laying nothing to the charge of God or man. This is essential to true repentance; and, till a man take the whole blame on himself, he cannot feel the absolute need he has of casting his soul on the mercy of God, that he may be saved.
Pharisees - A very numerous sect among the Jews, who, in their origin, were, very probably, a pure and holy people. It is likely that they got the name of Pharisees, i.e. Separatists, (from פרש pharash, to separate), from their separating themselves from the pollution of the Jewish national worship; and hence, the word in the Anglo-saxon version is, holy persons who stand apart, or by themselves: but, in process of time, like all religious sects and parties, they degenerated: they lost the spirit of their institution, they ceased to recur to first principles, and had only the form of godliness, when Jesus Christ preached in Judea; for he bore witness, that they did make the outside of the cup and platter clean - they observed the rules of their institution, but the spirit was gone.
Sadducees - A sect who denied the existence of angels and spirits, consequently all Divine influence and inspiration, and also the resurrection of the dead. The Sadducees of that time were the Materialists and Deists of the Jewish nation. When the sect of the Pharisees arose cannot be distinctly ascertained; but it is supposed to have been some time after the Babylonish captivity. The sect of the Sadducees were the followers of one Sadok, a disciple of Antigonus Sochaeus, who flourished about three centuries before Christ. There was a third sect among the Jews, called the Essenes or Essenians, of whom I shall have occasion to speak on Matthew 19:12.
Come to his baptism - The Ethiopic version adds the word privately here, the translator probably having read λαθρα in his copy, which gives a very remarkable turn to the passage. The multitudes, who had no worldly interest to support, no character to maintain by living in their usual way, came publicly, and openly acknowledged that they were Sinners; and stood in need of mercy. The others, who endeavored to secure their worldly interests by making a fair show in the flesh, are supposed to have come privately, that they might not be exposed to reproach; and that they might not lose their reputation for wisdom and sanctity, which their consciences, under the preaching of the Baptist, told them they had no right to. See below.
O generation of vipers - Γεννηματα εχιδνων . A terribly expressive speech. A serpentine brood, from a serpentine stock. As their fathers were, so were they, children of the wicked one. This is God's estimate of a Sinner, whether he wade in wealth, or soar in fame. The Jews were the seed of the serpent, who should bruise the heel of the woman's seed, and whose head should be bruised by him.
Who hath warned you - Or, privately shown you. Τις υπεδιξεν - from υπο, under, and δεικνυμαι, to show. Does not this seem to allude to the reading of the Ethiopic noticed above? They came privately: and John may be supposed to address them thus: "Did any person give you a private warning? No, you received your convictions under the public ministry of the word. The multitudes of the poor and wretched, who have been convinced of sin, have publicly acknowledged their crimes, and sought mercy - God will unmask you - you have deceived the people - you have deceived yourselves - you must appear just what you are; and, if you expect mercy from God, act like the penitent multitude, and bring forth Fruit worthy of repentance. Do not begin to trifle with your convictions, by thinking, that because you are descendants of Abraham, therefore you are entitled to God's favor; God can, out of these stones (pointing probably to those scattered about in the desert, which he appears to have considered as an emblem of the Gentiles) raise up a faithful seed, who, though not natural descendants of your excellent patriarch, yet shall be his worthy children, as being partakers of his faith, and friends of his God." It should be added, that the Greek word also signifies plain or ample information. See on Luke 6:47; (note).
The wrath to come? - The desolation which was about to fall on the Jewish nation for their wickedness, and threatened in the last words of their own Scriptures. See Malachi 4:6. Lest I come and smite the earth הארץ את (et ha -arets, this very land) with a curse. This wrath or curse was coming: they did not prevent it by turning to God, and receiving the Messiah, and therefore the wrath of God came upon them to the uttermost. Let him that readeth understand.
And now also the axe is laid - Or, Even now the axe lieth. As if he had said, There is not a moment to spare - God is about to cut off every impenitent soul - you must therefore either turn to God immediately, or be utterly and finally ruined. It was customary with the prophets to represent the kingdoms, nations, and individuals, whose ruin they predicted, under the notion of forests and trees, doomed to be cut down. See Jeremiah 46:22, Jeremiah 46:23; Ezekiel 31:3, Ezekiel 31:11, Ezekiel 31:12. The Baptist follows the same metaphor: the Jewish nation is the tree, and the Romans the axe, which, by the just judgment of God, was speedily to cut it down. It has been well observed, that there is an allusion here to a woodman, who, having marked a tree for excision, lays his axe at its root, and strips off his outer garment, that he may wield his blows more powerfully, and that his work may be quickly performed. For about sixty years before the coming of Christ, this axe had been lying at the root of the Jewish tree, Judea having been made a province to the Roman empire, from the time that Pompey took the city of Jerusalem, during the contentions of the two brothers Hyrcanus and Aristobulus, which was about sixty-three years before the coming of Christ. See Joseph. Antiq. l. xiv. c. 1-5. But as the country might be still considered as in the hands of the Jews, though subject to the Romans, and God had waited on them now nearly ninety years from the above time, expecting them to bring forth fruit, and none was yet produced; he kept the Romans as an axe, lying at the root of this tree, who were ready to cut it down the moment God gave them the commission.
But he that cometh after me - Or, I coming after me, who is now on his way, and will shortly make his appearance. Jesus Christ began his ministry when he was thirty years of age, Luke 3:23, which was the age appointed by the law, Numbers 4:3. John the Baptist was born about six months before Christ; and, as he began his public ministry when thirty years of age, then this coming after refers to six months after the commencement of John's public preaching, at which time Christ entered upon his.
Whose shoes I am not worthy to bear - This saying is expressive of the most profound humility and reverence. To put on, take off, and carry the shoes of their masters, was, not only among the Jews, but also among the Greeks and Romans, the work of the vilest slaves. This is amply proved by Kypke, from Arrian, Plutarch, and the Babylonian Talmud.
With the Holy Ghost, and with fire - That the influences of the Spirit of God are here designed, needs but little proof. Christ's religion was to be a spiritual religion, and was to have its seat in the heart. Outward precepts, however well they might describe, could not produce inward spirituality. This was the province of the Spirit of God, and of it alone; therefore he is represented here under the similitude of fire, because he was to illuminate and invigorate the soul, penetrate every part, and assimilate the whole to the image of the God of glory. See on John 3:5; (note).
With fire - Και πυρι . This is wanting in E. S. (two MSS. one of the ninth, the other of the tenth century) eight others, and many Evangelistaria, and in some versions and printed editions; but it is found in the parallel place, Luke 3:16, and in the most authentic MSS. and versions. It was probably the different interpretations given of it by the fathers that caused some transcribers to leave it out of their copies.
The baptism of fire has been differently understood among the primitive fathers. Some say, it means the tribulations, crosses, and afflictions, which believers in Christ are called to pass through. Hence the author of the Opus Imperfectum, on Matthew, says, that there are three sorts of baptism,
- that of water;
- That of water, he received from the hands of John.
Hilary says, it means a fire that the righteous must pass through in the day of judgment, to purify them from such defilements as necessarily cleaved to them here, and with which they could not be admitted into glory.
Ambrose says, this baptism shall be administered at the gate of paradise, by John Baptist; and he thinks that this is what is meant by the flaming sword, Genesis 3:24.
Origen and Lactantius conceive it to be a river of fire, at the gate of heaven, something similar to the Phlegethon of the heathens; but they observe, that when the righteous come to pass over, the liquid flames shall divide, and give them a free passage: that Christ shall stand on the brink of it, and receive through the flames all those, and none but those, who have received in this world the baptism of water in his name: and that this baptism is for those who, having received the faith of Christ, have not, in every respect, lived conformably to it; for, though they laid the good foundation, yet they built hay, straw, and stubble upon it, and this work of theirs must be tried, and destroyed by this fire. This, they think, is St. Paul's meaning, 1 Corinthians 3:13-15. If any man build on this foundation (viz. Jesus Christ) gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; every man's work shall be made manifest: and the fire shall try every man's work, of what sort it is. - If any man's work be burnt, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as By Fire. From this fire, understood in this way, the fathers of the following ages, and the schoolmen, formed the famous and lucrative doctrine of Purgatory. Some in the primitive Church thought that fire should be, in some way or other, joined to the water in baptism; and it is supposed that they administered it by causing the person to pass between two fires, or to leap through the flame; or by having a torch, or lighted candle, present. Thus have those called Doctors of the Church trifled. The exposition which I have given, I believe to be the only genuine one.
Whose fan is in his hand - The Romans are here termed God's fan, as, in Matthew 3:10, they were called his axe, and, in Matthew 22:7, they are termed his troops or armies.
The winnowing fan of the Hindoos is square, made of split bamboo; and the corn is winnowed by waving the fan backwards with both hands - "Whose fan is in his hand."
His floor - Does not this mean the land of Judea, which had been long, as it were, the threshing-floor of the Lord? God says, he will now, by the winnowing fan (viz. the Romans) thoroughly cleanse this floor - the wheat, those who believe in the Lord Jesus, he will gather into his garner, either take to heaven from the evil to come, or put in a place of safety, as he did the Christians, by sending them to Pella, in Coelosyria, previously to the destruction of Jerusalem. But he will burn up the chaff - the disobedient and rebellions Jews, who would not come unto Christ, that they might have life.
Unquenchable fire - That cannot be extinguished by man.
John forbad him - Earnestly and pressingly opposed him: this is the proper import of the words διεκωλευεν αυτον . I have observed that δια, in composition, most frequently, if not always, strengthens the signification in classic authors. - Wakefield.
To fulfill all righteousness - That is, Every righteous ordinance: so I think the words πασαν δικαιοσυνην should be translated; and so our common version renders a similar word, Luke 1:6. The following passage, quoted from Justin Martyr, will doubtless appear a strong vindication of this translation. "Christ was circumcised, and observed all the other ordinances of the law of Moses, not with a view to his own justification; but to fulfill the dispensation committed to him by the Lord, the God and Creator of all things." - Wakefield.
How remarkable are the following words of Creeshna (an Incarnation of the Supreme God, according to the Hindoo theology) related in the Bhagvat Geeta, p. 47. Addressing his disciple Arjoon, he says, "I myself, Arjoon, have not, in the three regions of the universe, any thing which is necessary for me to perform; nor any thing to obtain, which is not obtained; and yet I live in the exercise of the moral duties. If I were not vigilantly to attend to those duties, all men would presently follow my example. If I were not to perform the moral actions, this world would fail in their duties: I should be the cause of spurious births, and should drive the people from the right way. As the ignorant perform the duties of life from a hope of reward, so the wise man, out of respect to the opinions and prejudices of mankind, should perform the same without motives of interest. The wise man, by industriously performing all the duties of life, should induce the vulgar to attend to them."
The Septuagint use this word often for the Hebrew משפת mishpat, judgment, appointment. And in Ezekiel 18:19, Ezekiel 18:21, the person who δικαιοσυνην και ελεος πεποιηκε - hath done righteousness and mercy, is he who sacredly attended to the performance of all the religious ordinances mentioned in that chapter, and performed them in the genuine spirit of mercy. Δικαιωματα is used 1 Maccabees 1:13, 49; 2:21, and in Hebrews 10:1, Hebrews 10:10, to denote religious ceremonies. Michaelis supposes that חק כל kol chok, all religious statutes or ordinances, were the words used in the Hebrew original of this Gospel.
But was this an ordinance? Undoubtedly: it was the initiatory ordinance of the Baptist's dispensation. Now, as Christ had submitted to circumcision, which was the initiatory ordinance of the Mosaic dispensation, it was necessary that he should submit to this, which was instituted by no less an authority, and was the introduction to his own dispensation of eternal mercy and truth. But it was necessary on another account: Our Lord represented the high priest, and was to be the high priest over the house of God: - now, as the high priest was initiated into his office by washing and anointing, so must Christ: and hence he was baptized, washed, and anointed by the Holy Ghost. Thus he fulfilled the righteous ordinance of his initiation into the office of high priest, and thus was prepared to make an atonement for the sins of mankind.
Then he suffered him - In the Opus Imperfectum, quoted by Griesbach, there is the following addition, which, at least, may serve to show the opinion of its author: Et Johannes quidem baptizauit ilium in aqua, ille autem Johannem cum Spiritu. "Then John baptized him with water, and he baptized John with the Spirit."
The heavens were opened unto him - That is, to John the Baptist - and he, John, saw the Spirit of God - lighting upon him, i.e. Jesus. There has been some controversy about the manner and form in which the Spirit of God rendered itself visible on this occasion. St. Luke, Luke 3:22, says it was in a bodily shape like to a dove: and this likeness to a dove some refer to a hovering motion, like to that of a dove, and not to the form of the dove itself: but the terms of the text are too precise to admit of this far-fetched interpretation.
This passage affords no mean proof of the doctrine of the Trinity. That three distinct persons are here, represented, there can be no dispute.
- The person of Jesus Christ, baptized by John in Jordan.
In whom I am well pleased - Εν ω ενδακησα in whom I have delighted - though it is supposed that the past tense is here used for the present: but see the note on Matthew 17:5. By this voice, and overshadowing of the Spirit, the mission of the Lord Jesus was publicly and solemnly accredited; God intimating that he had before delighted in him: the law, in all its ordinances, having pointed him out, for they could not be pleasing to God, but as they were fulfilled in, and showed forth, the Son of man, till, he came.
As the office of a herald is frequently alluded to in this chapter, and also in various other parts of the New Testament, I think it best to give a full account of it here, especially as the office of the ministers of the Gospel is represented by it. Such persons can best apply the different correspondences between their own and the herald's office.
At the Olympic and Isthmian games, heralds were persons of the utmost consequence and importance. Their office was: -
- To proclaim from a scaffold, or elevated place, the combat that was to be entered on.
Daniel 3:4, is the only place in our translation, in which the word herald is used: but the word κηρυξ, used by St. Paul, 1 Timothy 2:7; 2 Timothy 1:11, and by St. Peter, 2 Peter 3:5, is found in the Septuagint, Genesis 41:43, as well as in Daniel 3:4, and the verb κηρυσσω is found in different places of that version, and in a great number of places in the New Testament.
It is worthy of remark, that the office of the κηρυξ, kerux, or herald, must have been anciently known, and indeed established, among the Egyptians: for in Genesis 41:43, where an account is given of the promotion of Joseph to the second place in the kingdom, where we say, And they cried before him, saying, Bow the knee; the Septuagint has και εκηρυξεν εμπροσθεν αυτου κηρυξ· And a Herald made proclamation before him. As the Septuagint translated this for Ptolemy Philadelphus, the Egyptian king, and were in Egypt when they translated the law, we may safely infer that the office was not only known, but in use among the Egyptians, being denominated in their language אברק abrek, which our translators, following the Vulgate, have rendered, Bow the knee; but which the Septuagint understood to be the title of an officer, who was the same among the Egyptians as the κηρυξ among the Greeks. This is a probable meaning of the word, which escaped me when I wrote the note on Genesis 41:43.
As every kind of office had some peculiar badge, or ensign, by which it was known among the ancients, so the heralds were known by generally carrying a caduceus. This was a rod with two spread wings at the top, and about which two serpents were entwined. The poets fabled that this rod was given by Apollo, the god of wisdom and music, to Mercury, the god of eloquence, and the messenger of the gods. To it wonderful properties are ascribed - especially that it produces sleep, and that it raises the dead. Who does not at once see, that the caduceus and its properties clearly point out the office, honor, and influence of the herald? As persons of strong voice, and ready speech, and copious eloquence, were always chosen for heralds, they were represented as endued with wisdom and eloquence from above. They lulled men to sleep, i.e. by their persuasive powers of speech, they calmed the turbulent dispositions of an inflamed populace, when proceeding to acts of rebellion and anarchy; or they roused the dormant zeal of the community, who, through long oppression, despairing of succor or relief, seemed careless about their best interests being stupidly resolved to sink under their burdens, and expect release only in death.
As to the caduceus itself, it was ever the emblem of peace among the ancients: the rod was the emblem of power; the two serpents, of wisdom and prudence; and the two wings, of diligence and despatch. The first idea of this wonderful rod seems to have been borrowed from the rod of Moses. See the note on Exodus 4:17.
The word κηρυξ kerux, or herald, here used, is evidently derived from κηρυσσειν, to proclaim, call aloud; and this from γηρυς, the voice; because these persons were never employed in any business, but such only as could not be transacted but by the powers of speech, and the energy of ratiocination.
For the derivation of the word herald, we must look to the northern languages. Its meaning in Junius, Skinner, and Minshieu, are various, but not essentially different; they all seem to point out different parts of the herald's office.
- In the Belgic, heer signifies army. Hence heer -alt, a senior officer, or general, in the army.
- I. Their character was sacred. Homer gives them the epithet of divine, θειοι .
Κηρυκος θειοιο .
Iliad x. 315
"Dolon, son of Eumedes, the divine herald."
- They were also termed inviolable, ασυλοι ; also, great, admirable, etc. In the first book of the Iliad, we have a proof of the respect paid to heralds, and the inviolability of their persons. Agamemnon commands the heralds, Talthybius and Eurybates, his faithful ministers, to go to the tent of Achilles, seize the young Briseis, and bring her to him. They reluctantly obey; but, when they come into the presence of Achilles, knowing the injustice of their master's cause, they are afraid to announce their mission. Achilles, guessing their errand, thus addresses them: -
"Hail, O ye heralds, messengers of God and of men! come forward. I cannot blame you - Agamemnon only is culpable, who has sent you for the beautiful Briseis. But come, O godlike Patroclus, bring forth the damsel, and deliver her to them, that they may lead her away," etc., Iliad i. 334, etc.
- II. Their functions were numerous; they might enter without danger into besieged cities, or even into battles.
III. They convoked the assemblies of the leaders, according to the orders they received from the general or king.
IV. They commanded silence, when kings were to address the assembly, (Iliad xviii. 503. Κηρυκες δ 'αρα λαων ερητυον . See also Iliad ii. 280), and delivered the scepter into their hands, before they began their harangue.
Χερσι σκηπτρον εθηκε, σιωπησαι τ 'εκελευσεν .
Iliad xxiii. 567
VI. They were entrusted with the most important missions; and accompanied princes in the most difficult circumstances. Priam, when he went to Achilles, took no person besides a herald with him. (Iliad xxiv. 674, 689). When Ulysses sent two of his companions to treat with the Lestrygons, he sent a herald at the same time. (Odys. x. 102). Agamemnon, when he wished to soften Achilles, joined Eurybates and Hodius, his heralds, to the deputation of the princes. (Iliad ix. 170).
VII. Heralds were employed to proclaim and publish whatever was to be known by the people. (Odys. xx. 276).
VIII. They declared war and proclaimed peace. (Odys. xviii. 334).
IX. They took part in all sacred ceremonies: they mingled the wine and water in the large bowls for the libations, which were made at the conclusion of treaties. They were the priests of the people in many cases; they led forth the victims, cut them in pieces, and divided them among those engaged in the sacrifices. (Odys. i. 109, etc).
X. In Odyssey lib. xvii., a herald presents a piece of flesh to Telemachus, and pours out his wine.
XI. They sometimes waited on princes at table, and rendered them many other personal services. (Iliad ii. 280; Odys. i. 143, etc., 146, 153; ii. 6, 38). In the Iliad, lib. x. 3, Eurybates carries the clothes to Ulysses. And a herald of Alcinous conducts Demodocus, the singer, into the festive hall. (Odys. viii. 470). Many others of their functions, services, and privileges, the reader may see, by consulting Damm's Homeric Lexicon, under Κρω .
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Clarke, Adam. "Commentary on Matthew 3". "The Adam Clarke Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany