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Bible Commentaries
Luke 13

Lightfoot's Commentary on the GospelsLightfoot's Commentary

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Verse 1

There were present at that season some that told him of the Galilaeans, whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices.

[Of the Galileans.] If this report concerning the Galileans was brought to our Saviour immediately after the deed was done, then was this tragedy acted by Pilate, a little before the feast of Dedication; for we find Christ going towards that feast, Luke 13:22. But the time of this slaughter is uncertain: for it is a question, whether they that tell him this passage, relate it as news which he had not heard before, or only to draw from him his opinion concerning that affair, etc.

It is hotly disputed amongst some, as to the persons whom Pilate slew. And,

I. Some would have them to have been of the sect of Judas the Gaulonite; and that they were therefore slain, because they denied to give tribute to Caesar. He is called, indeed, "Judas of Galilee"; and there is little doubt, but that he might draw some Galileans into his opinion and practice. But I question then, whether Christ would have made any kind of defence for such, and have placed them in the same level with these, upon whom the tower of Siloam fell; when it so plainly appears, that he taught directly contrary to that perverse sect and opinion. However, if these were of that sect (for I will not contend it), then do these, who tell this to our Saviour, seem to lay a snare for him, not much unlike that question they put to him, "Is it lawful to give tribute to Caesar, or no?"

II. There is one that confounds this story with that of Josephus, which he relates from him thus abbreviated; "In Galilee there were certain Samaritans, who, being seduced by a notorious impostor, moved sedition at mount Gerizim, where this cheat promised them to shew them the sacred vessels which, he falsely told them, had been hid by Moses in that place. Pilate, sending his forces upon them, suppressed them; the greater of them were taken and adjudged to death." I admire how this learned man should deliver these things with so much confidence, as even to chastise Josephus himself for his mistake in his computation of the time for this story, concluding thus; "When, indeed, this slaughter, made upon the Samaritans by Pilate, seems to be that very slaughter of the Galileans mentioned by St. Luke, Luke 13:1."

Whereas, in truth, Josephus mentions not one syllable either of Galilee or sacrifice, or the Galileans, but Samaritans; and it is a somewhat bold thing to substitute rebelling Samaritans in the place of sacrificing Galileans. Nor is it probable that those that tell this matter to our Saviour would put this gloss and colour upon the thing while they related it.

III. The feud and enmity that was between Pilate and Herod might be enough to incense Pilate to make this havock of the subjects of Herod.

[Whose blood Pilate mingled.] "David swore to Abishai, As the Lord liveth, if thou touch the blood of this righteous man [Saul], I will mingle thy blood with his blood." So Pilate mingled the blood of these sacrificers with the blood of those sacrifices they had slain. It is remarkable that in Siphra; "the killing of the sacrifices may be well enough done by strangers, by women, by servants, by the unclean; even those sacrifices that are most holy, provided that the unclean touch not the flesh of them." And a little after; "At the sprinkling of the blood, the work of the priest begins; and the slaying of them may be done by any hand whatever."

Hence was it a very usual thing for those that brought the sacrifice to kill it themselves; and so, probably, these miserable Galileans were slaughtered, while they themselves were slaying their own sacrifices. For it is more likely that they were slain in the Temple while they were offering their sacrifices, than in the way, while they were bringing them thither.

Verse 4

Or those eighteen, upon whom the tower in Siloam fell, and slew them, think ye that they were sinners above all men that dwelt in Jerusalem?

[Upon whom the tower in Siloam fell.] The poor of Bethesda was the pool of Siloam; and from thence all that adjacent part of the city is denominated Siloam. And therefore it is left doubtful, whether this tower were built over the pool, that is, over the porches of the pool, or stood something remote from it in those parts that yet bore the name of Siloam. And if the article in does not determine the matter, we must continue still in doubt. Will grammar permit that that article should be prefixed to that part of the city? It is certain, that the very pool is called the pool of Siloam. So that I conceive this tower might be built over the porticoes of the pool, and might overwhelm those eighteen men, while they were busied about purifying themselves (and so this event falls in the more agreeably with that of the Galileans), or as they were expecting to be healed at the troubling of the waters: for it is very uncertain at what time this tower fell.

Verse 7

Then said he unto the dresser of his vineyard, Behold, these three years I come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and find none: cut it down; why cumbereth it the ground?

Behold, these three years I come, etc.] there was no tree that was of a kind to bear fruit might lightly and upon every small occasion be cut down, that law providing against it in Deuteronomy 20:19-20; where the Pesikta observes that there is both an affirmative and also a negative command, by which it is the more forbidden that any tree of that kind should be cut down, unless upon a very indispensable occasion. "Rabh saith, ’Cut not down the palm that bears a cab of dates.’ They urge, ’And what of the olive, that that should not be cut down?’ ’If it bear but the fourth part of a cab.’ R. Chaninah said, My son Shibchah had not died, had he not cut down a fig-tree before its time."

Verse 8

And he answering said unto him, Lord, let it alone this year also, till I shall dig about it, and dung it;

[I will dig about it, and dung it.] They dung it and dig it etc. The Gloss is; "They lay dung in their gardens to moisten the earth. They dig about the roots of their trees, they pluck up the suckers, they take off the leaves, they sprinkle ashes, and they smoke under the trees to kill worms."

Verse 11

And, behold, there was a woman which had a spirit of infirmity eighteen years, and was bowed together, and could in no wise lift up herself.

[Having a spirit of infirmity.] I. The Jews distinguish between spirits, and devils, and good angels. "All things do subserve to the glory of the King of kings, the holy blessed One, even spirits, also devils also ministering angels."

The difficulty is in what sense they take spirits; as they are distinguished from angels and devils; when it is probable they did not mean human souls. But these things are not the business of this place.

II. Therefore, as to this phrase in St. Luke, a spirit of infirmity; let us begin our inquiry from this passage: "It is written, ’If I put the plague of leprosy in a house of the land of your inheritance.’ R. Judah saith, ’This foretells such plagues to come upon them.’ R. Simeon saith, ’He excepts those violent plagues that do not render a man unclean.’ " Where the Gloss is, If those plagues come by the insufflation of the devil, which do not defile the man. And the Gemara a little after; "Rabba saith, He excepts the plagues of spirits. Rabh Papa saith, ’He excepts the plagues of enchantments.’ " Where the Gloss again hath it; "Those plagues which are inflicted by the insufflation of the devil, not by the hands of men."

I. You see, therefore, first, that it was a most received opinion amongst the Jews, that diseases or plagues might be inflicted by the devil. Which is plain also from the evangelists; because our Saviour, in this very place, tells us, that the bowing together of this woman was inflicted upon her by Satan.

II. They conceived further, that some diseases were inflicted that were unclean, and some that were not unclean. The unclean were the leprosy, issues, etc.; not unclean, were such as this woman’s infirmity, etc.

III. They distinguish betwixt an evil spirit; and an unclean spirit. Not but they accounted an unclean spirit ill enough, and an evil spirit to be unclean enough; but that they might distinguish the various operations of the devil, as also concerning the various persons possessed and afflicted by him.

1. They acknowledged that evil spirits might inflict diseases. "Whomsoever either the Gentiles, or evil spirit drive," i.e. beyond the bounds of the sabbath. Where the Gloss is; "The evil spirit is the devil that hath entered into him, disturbs his intellectuals, so that he is carried beyond the bounds." But Rambam saith, "They call all kind of melancholy an evil spirit." And elsewhere: an evil spirit; i.e. a disease.

2. The unclean spirit amongst them was chiefly and more peculiarly that devil that haunted places of burial, and such-like, that were most unclean. The unclean spirit; i.e. the devil that haunts burying-places. "Thither the necromancer betook himself" (as the Gemara hath it, which I have also quoted in another place); "and when he had macerated himself with fasting, he lodgeth amongst the tombs, to the end that he might be the more inspired by the unclean spirit." Nor is it much otherwise (as they themselves relate it) with the python or prophesying spirit. "For the Rabbins deliver: the python is he that speaks within the parts." The Gloss is, "He that raiseth a dead person, and sits between the parts of the bones," etc.

Hence that reason of our conjecture concerning that demoniac, Luke 4:33; that he was either a necromancer or pythonist, taken from that unusual way of expressing it which is there observable, not having an unclean spirit; nor having an unclean devil; but having a spirit of an unclean devil.

There were therefore two sorts of men whom they accounted under the possession of an unclean spirit; in their proper sense so called: those especially who sought and were ambitious to be inspired of the devil amongst tombs and unclean places; and those also, who, being involuntarily possessed by the devils, betook themselves amongst tombs and such places of uncleanness. And whether they upon whom the devil inflicted unclean diseases should be ranked in the same degree, I do not determine. There were others who were not acted by such diabolical furies, but afflicted with other kind of diseases, whom they accounted under the operation of an evil spirit of disease or infirmity. Not of uncleanness; but of infirmity. And perhaps the evangelist speaks according to this antithesis, that this woman had neither a spirit of uncleanness; according to what they judged of a spirit of uncleanness; nor a disease of uncleanness; but a spirit of infirmity.

Verse 15

The Lord then answered him, and said, Thou hypocrite, doth not each one of you on the sabbath loose his ox or his ass from the stall, and lead him away to watering?

[Doth not each one of you on the sabbath loose his ox?] that disceptation doth attest this, How far a beast going forth. Where it is very much cautioned that the beast be not brought out on the sabbath day carrying any thing upon him that might be a burden not permitted to be borne on that day. They allow that a camel be led out with a halter, a horse with a collar; etc.; that is, when they are led out either to pasture or watering. Nay, the Gloss upon the place adds, "that they may lead out the horse to the water, that he may dip the collar in the water if the water be unclean."

To this may be referred that abstruse and obscure rule concerning the building of mounds about a spring that belongs to a private man, with that art that the beast, being led thither to watering on the sabbath day, shall not go out of the place that is of common right.

It is not only permitted to lead the beast out to watering on the sabbath day, but they might draw water for him, and pour it into troughs, provided only that they do not carry the water, and set it before the beast to drink; but the beast come and drink it of his own accord.

Verse 23

Then said one unto him, Lord, are there few that be saved? And he said unto them,

[Are there few that be saved?] This question, Lord, are there few that be saved? when it was a received opinion amongst the Jews, ’that all Israel should have their part in the world to come,’ makes it doubtful whether it was propounded captiously, or merely for satisfaction.

This very matter is disputed amongst the Masters. "Therefore hell hath enlarged herself, and opened her mouth beyond the statute [without measure; AV]. Resh Lachish saith, ’This is for him who forsaketh one statute.’ (The Gloss is, ’He that leaves one statute unobserved shall be condemned in hell.’) But R. Jochanan saith, ’Their Lord will not have it so as thou sayest concerning them.’ (The Gloss is, ’He will not have thee judge so concerning Israel.’) For the sense is, Although a man have learned but one statute only, he shall escape hell. It is said, ’It shall come to pass that in all the land, saith the Lord, two parts of it shall be cut off and die, and the third part shall be left.’ Resh Lachish saith, ’The third part of Shem.’ R. Jochanan saith unto him, ’Their Lord will not have it so as thou sayest concerning them, for it is the third part of Noah.’ It is said, ’I will take you one of a city and two of a tribe.’ Resh Lachish saith, ’These words are to be understood in the very letter.’ R. Jochanan saith unto him, ’Their Lord will not have it so as thou sayest concerning them, but one of a city shall expiate for the whole city, and two of a family for the whole family. It is said, ’I will take them for my people’; and it is said, ’I will bring you into the land.’ He compares their going out of the land of Egypt with their coming in to their own land: now how was their coming in into the land of Canaan? There were only two persons of threescore myriads that entered it. Rabba saith, So also shall it be in the days of the Messiah.’ " A man would hardly have expected such ingenuity from a Jew as we here meet with in Resh Lachish and Rabba.

Verse 32

And he said unto them, Go ye, and tell that fox, Behold, I cast out devils, and I do cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I shall be perfected.

[Tell that fox.] I conceive our Saviour may allude here to the common proverb: "The brethren of Joseph fell down before his face and worshipped him, saith R. Benjamin Bar Japheth. Saith R. Eliezer This is what is commonly said amongst men, Worship the fox in his time." The Gloss is, ’In the time of his prosperity.’ But go you, and say to that fox; however he may wallow in his present prosperity, that I will never flatter him, or for any fear of him desist from my work; but "behold, I cast out devils," etc.

Verse 33

Nevertheless I must walk today, and tomorrow, and the day following: for it cannot be that a prophet perish out of Jerusalem.

[It cannot be that a prophet perish, etc.] "A tribe, nor false prophet, [such a one they accounted the holy Jesus,] nor a high priest, can be judged but by the bench of seventy-one." Rambam upon the place, as also the Gemara; "We know that a false prophet must be judged by the Sanhedrim, from the parity of the thing: for so is judged a rebellious judge."

Now as to the judgment itself, these things are said: "They do not judge him to death in the court of judicature, that is, in his own city, nor in that that is at Jabneh; but they bring him to the great Consistory that is at Jerusalem, and reserve him to one of their feasts; and at their feast they execute him, as it is said, ’All Israel shall hear, and shall fear, and do no more so.’"

Verse 35

Behold, your house is left unto you desolate: and verily I say unto you, Ye shall not see me, until the time come when ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.

[Ye shall not see me, until the time come when ye shall say, Blessed is he, etc.] there was a time (I confess) when I apprehended no difficulty at all in these words; but now (which may seem a paradox) my old eyes see better than my younger ones did; and by how much the more I look into this passage, by so much the more obscure it appears to me.

I. What sense must that be taken in, Ye shall not see me? when as after he had said this, (at least as the words are placed in our evangelist), they saw him conversant amongst them for the space of three months and more: particularly and in a singular manner, in that august triumph, when riding upon an ass he had the acclamations of the people in these very words, "Blessed is he that cometh," etc. One might therefore think, that the words have some respect to this very time and action; but that in St. Matthew these words are repeated by our Saviour after this triumph was over.

Christ is now at Jerusalem, at the feast of Dedication; at least that feast was not far off; for we find him going to it, Luke 13:22; so that this exposition of the words looks fair enough; "Ye see me now, but henceforward ye shall see me no more, until ye shall say, ’Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord’"; which very thing was said in that triumph of his. But what shall we say then to that of St. Matthew, that these very words are recited sometime after he had received these acclamations from the people? I would hardly believe with the learned Heinsius, that the words in St. Matthew are not set in their proper place, but the series of the history is transposed: I would rather think our Saviour meant not an ocular seeing him, but spoke it in a spiritual and borrowed sense; viz. In the sense wherein the Jews were wont to use the word seeing; when they spake of "seeing the Messiah, the days of the Messiah, and the consolation of Israel"; that is, of partaking and enjoying the comforts and advantages of the Messiah, and of those days of his. So that our Saviour’s meaning may seem to be this; "Ye shall, from henceforward, enjoy no benefit from me the Messiah, till ye shall say, ’Blessed is he that cometh,’ " etc.: for it is worthy our inquiry, whether Christ ever after these words of his, did endeavour so to gather the children of Jerusalem together, that the city might not be destroyed, and the whole nation cast off. He did indeed endeavour to gather the remnant according to the election of grace; but did he ever after this labour that the place and nation might be preserved? As to these, it is argument enough that he had given them wholly over in his own mind, in that here, and in St. Matthew, he did in such precise terms denounce the ruin of Jerusalem, immediately before he uttered these words. I had rather, therefore, than admit any immethodicalness in St. Matthew, expound the passage to this sense; "From henceforward, ye shall never see the consolations of Messiah, nor have me any ways propitious amongst you, endeavouring at all the preservation of your city or nation from ruin, till ye shall say, ’Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.’"

II. But then here ariseth as great a difficulty about the word till; that is, whether it concludes that in time they will say and acknowledge it; or whether it excludes and denies that they ever shall. For who knows not how different and even contrary a force there is in this word until? "Occupy till I come": here it concludes that he will come again. "This iniquity shall not be forgiven you till you die": there their forgiveness is excluded for ever. And indeed the expression in this place looks so perfectly two ways, that he that believes the conversion of the Jewish nation as a thing must come to pass, may turn it to his side; he that believes the contrary, to his.

[Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.] Although a more intimate weighing of these words will not very much help in determining the force of this word until in this place, yet will it probably afford us some light into the whole clause.

The words are taken out of Psalms 118:26; and were sung in the Great Hallel. So that I will beg the reader’s leave to digress a little in search of this usage, especially as to those words that are now in hand.

I. The Great Hallel was the recitation of PsaPsalms 118:26 upon every feast, in every family or brotherhood. The hymn that our Saviour with his apostles sung at the close of the Passover was the latter part of this Hallel.

II. Every one, indeed, was of right bound to repeat it entirely in his own person. But seeing it was not every one’s lot to be so learned or expedite as that came to, there was one to recite it in the stead of all the rest, and they after him made some responsals. This went for a maxim amongst them, if he hear, it is as if he responded. If he hear, though he do not answer, he performs his duty; the meaning is, if any be so unskillful that he can neither recite himself, nor answer after another that doth recite, let him but hear attentively, and he doth as much as is required from him.

III. There was a twofold way of responding according to the difference of persons reciting. If an elder, or master of a family, or one that could fitly represent the whole congregation, should recite or lead in singing; then the rest repeat no other words after him except the first clause of every Psalm; and as to all the remainder, they answered verse by verse Hallelujah. For the action of him that represented them, and led up in singing, availed for those that were represented, especially they having testified their consent by answering Hallelujah. He was a dunce, indeed, that could not answer so far amongst the rest.

IV. But if there wanted such an elder so well skilled in reading or reciting, that it became necessary for a servant or woman, or some more skilful boy, to lead, then let us hear what they did in that case: "If a servant, or woman, or boy should lead in singing, every one in the congregation recites those very words which he had said: if a more ancient person or one of greater note; do sing or read, they answer after him ’Hallelujah.’ Now the reason why the words recited by a servant, woman, or boy should be repeated after him verbatim; was this, because such a one was unfit to represent a congregation, and his action could not avail for the rest: so that it behoved every person to recite singly for himself, that he might perform his duty."

V. When they came to the words now in hand, blessed be he that cometh in the name of the Lord; if it be a boy or a servant that is the praecentor, he saith, Blessed be he that cometh; and the rest answer, In the name of the Lord. And this is that for which I have so long ventured upon the reader’s patience, that he may observe what is done differently from the rest when this clause is recited. It is cut in two, which is not done in others. And the first words are not repeated after the praecentor, as they are in other clauses. And whether this custom obtained only in families where servants or boys led in singing, we may judge from this following passage:

"They asked R. Chaijam Bar Ba, ’How doth it appear, that he who heareth and doth not answer performs his duty?’ ’From this, saith he, That we see the greatest Rabbins standing in the synagogue, and they say, Blessed be he that cometh, and they answer, In the name of the Lord; and they both perform their duty.’ " Midras Tillin leaves these last words wholly out. For so that hath it: "The men of Jerusalem say from within, Save us now, O Lord, we beseech thee. The men of Judea say from without, Prosper us now, Lord, we beseech thee. The men of Jerusalem say from within, Blessed be he that cometh; and the men of Judea say from without, We have blessed you out of the house of the Lord."

I will not confidently assert that these men had any ill design when they thus mangled this famous clause; but surely there is at least some ground of suspicion that they hardly refer the words to the right object. R. Solomon assuredly doth not. For, "So it ought to be said (saith he) to those that bring their firstfruits, and go up to the feasts."

1. To come is oftentimes the same with them as to teach; "If any one shall come in his own name, him ye will receive": i.e. If any one shall teach. And so it is frequently in the Jerusalem Talmud, concerning this or the other Rabbins, he came; and when he cometh. Which if it be not to be understood of such a one teaching, I confess I am at a loss what it should mean else.

2. Those doctors did not come and teach in the name of the Lord, but either in their own name, or in the name of some father of the traditions. Hence nothing more familiar with them, than "R. N. in the name of R. N. saith": as every leaf; I may say almost every line of their writings witnesses. If, therefore, by cutting short this clause, they would be appropriating to themselves the blessing of the people, whom they had taught to say, Blessed be he that cometh; letting that slip, or omitting what follows, In the name of the Lord; they do indeed like themselves, cunningly lying at catch, and hunting after fame and vainglory.

Let the reader judge, whether Christ might not look this way in these words. However, I shall not scruple to determine, that they shall never see the Messiah, as to any advantage to themselves, till they have renounced the doctrines of coming in their own name, or in the name of the Fathers of the Traditions, embracing his doctrine, who is come in the name of the Lord.

Bibliographical Information
Lightfoot, John. "Commentary on Luke 13". "John Lightfoot's Commentary on the Gospels". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jlc/luke-13.html. 1675.
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