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Bible Commentaries
Matthew 19

Lightfoot's Commentary on the GospelsLightfoot's Commentary

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Verse 1

And it came to pass, that when Jesus had finished these sayings, he departed from Galilee, and come into the coasts of Judaea beyond Jordan;

[He came unto the coasts of Judea beyond Jordan.] If it were barely said, the coasts of Judea beyond Jordan; by the coasts of Judea one might understand the bounds of the Jews beyond Jordan. Nor does such a construction want its parallel in Josephus; for "Hyrcanus (saith he) built a fortification, the name of which was Tyre, between Arabia and Judea, beyond Jordan, not far from Essebonitis." But see Mark here, Mark 10:1, relating the same story with this our evangelist: He came; saith he, into the coasts of Judea; (taking a journey from Galilee,) along the country beyond Jordan.

Verse 3

The Pharisees also came unto him, tempting him, and saying unto him, Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause?

[Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause?] of the causes, ridiculous (shall I call them?) or wicked; for which they put away their wives, we have spoke at Matthew 5:31. We will produce only one example here; "When Rabh went to Darsis (’whither,’ as the Gloss saith, ’he often went’), he made a public proclamation, What woman will have me for a day? Rabh Nachman, when he went to Sacnezib, made a public proclamation, What woman will have me for a day?" The Gloss is, "Is there any woman who will be my wife while I tarry in this place?"

The question here propounded by the Pharisees was disputed in the schools, and they divided into parties concerning it, as we have noted before. For the school of Shammai permitted not divorces, but only in the case of adultery; the school of Hillel, otherwise.

Verse 8

He saith unto them, Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so.

[Because Moses for the hardness of your hearts suffered, etc.] interpreters ordinarily understand this of the unkindness of men towards their wives; and that not illy: but at first sight hardness of heart for the most part in Scripture denotes rather obduration against God than against men. Examples occur everywhere. Nor does this sense want its fitness in this place: not to exclude the other, but to be joined with it here.

I. That God delivered that rebellious people for the hardness of their hearts to spiritual fornication, that is, to idolatry, sufficiently appears out of sacred story, and particularly from these words of the first martyr Stephen, Acts 7:42; God turned, and gave them up to worship the host of heaven; etc. And they seem not less given up to carnal fornication, if you observe the horrid records of their adulteries in the Holy Scripture, and their not less horrid allowances of divorces and polygamies in the books of the Talmudists: so that the particle...carries with it a very proper sense, if you interpret it to; according to its most usual signification; "Moses to the hardness of your hearts added this, that he permitted divorces; something that savours of punishment in itself, however you esteem it for a privilege."

II. But you may interpret it more clearly and aptly of the inhumanity of husbands towards their wives: but this is to be understood also under restriction: for Moses permitted not divorces, because, simply and generally men were severe and unkind towards their wives; for then, why should he restrain divorces to the cause of adultery? But because, from their fierceness and cruelty towards their wives, they might take hold of and seek occasions from that law which punished adultery with death, to prosecute their wives with all manner of severity, to oppress them, to kill them.

Let us search into the divine laws in case of adultery a little more largely.

1. There was a law made upon the suspicion of adultery, that the wife should undergo a trial by the bitter waters, Numbers_5; but it is disputed by the Jewish schools, rightly and upon good ground, whether the husband was bound in this case by duty to prosecute his wife to extremity, or whether it were lawful for him to connive at and pardon her, if he would. And there are some who say he was bound by duty; and there are others who say that it was left to his pleasure.

2. There was a law of death made in case of the discovery of adultery, Deuteronomy 22:21-23; "If a man shall be found lying with a married woman, both shall die," etc. Not that this law was not in force unless they were taken in the very act; but the word shall be found is opposed to suspicion, and means the same as if it were said, "When it shall be found that a man hath lain," etc.

3. A law of divorce also was given in case of adultery discovered, Deuteronomy 24:1; for in that case only, and when it is discovered, it plainly appears from our Saviour’s gloss, and from the concession of some Rabbins also, that divorces took place: for, say they in the place last cited, "Does a man find something foul in his wife? he cannot put her away, because he hath not found foul nakedness in her "; that is, adultery.

But now, how do the law of death and that of divorce consist together? It is answered, They do not so consist together that both retain their force; but the former was partly taken off by the latter, and partly not. The Divine Wisdom knew that inhuman husbands would use that law of death unto all manner of cruelty towards their wives: for how ready was it for a wicked and unkind husband to lay snares even for his innocent wife, if he were weary of her, to oppress her under that law of death! And if she were taken under guilt, how cruelly and insolently would he triumph over her, poor woman, both to the disgrace of wedlock and to the scandal of religion! Therefore the most prudent, and withal merciful lawgiver, made provision that the woman, if she were guilty, might not go without her punishment; and if she were not guilty, might go without danger; and that the wicked husband that was impatient of wedlock might not satiate his cruelty. That which is said by one does not please me, "That there was no place for divorce where matrimony was broke off by capital punishment"; for there was place for divorce for that end, that there might not be place for capital punishment. That law indeed of death held the adulterer in a snare, and exacted capital punishment upon him, and so the law made sufficient provision for terror: but it consulted more gently for the woman, the weaker vessel, lest the cruelty of her husband might unmercifully triumph over her.

Therefore, in the suspicion of adultery, and the thing not discovered, the husband might, if he would, try his wife by the bitter waters; or if he would he might connive at her. In case of the discovery of adultery, the husband might put away his wife, but he scarce might put her to death; because the law of divorce was given for that very end, that provision might be made for the woman against the hardheartedness of her husband.

Let this story serve for a conclusion; "Shemaiah and Abtalion compelled Carchemith, a libertine woman-servant, to drink the bitter waters." The husband of this woman could not put her away by the law of Moses, because she was not found guilty of discovered adultery. He might put her away by the traditional law, which permitted divorces without the case of adultery; he might not, if he had pleased, have brought her to trial by the bitter waters; but it argued the hardness of his heart towards his wife, or burning jealousy, that he brought her. I do not remember that I have anywhere in the Jewish pandect read any example of a wife punished with death for adultery. There is mention of the daughter of a certain priest committing fornication in her father’s house, that was burnt alive; but she was not married.

Verse 13

Then were there brought unto him little children, that he should put his hands on them, and pray: and the disciples rebuked them.

[Then were little children brought unto him.] Not for the healing of some disease; for if this had been the end propounded, why did the disciples keep them back above all others, or chide any for their access? Nor can we believe that they were the children of unbelieving Jews, when it is scarcely probable that they, despising the doctrine and person of Christ, would desire his blessing. Some therefore of those that believe brought their infants to Christ, that he might take particular notice of them, and admit them into his discipleship, and mark them for his by his blessing. Perhaps the disciples thought this an excess of officious religion; or that they would be too troublesome to their Master; and hence they opposed them: but Christ countenanceth the same thing, and favours again that doctrine which he had laid down, Matthew 18:3; namely, that the infants of believers were as much disciples and partakers of the kingdom of heaven as their parents.

Verse 18

He saith unto him, Which? Jesus said, Thou shalt do no murder, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness,

[Thou shalt do no murder, etc.] It is worthy marking, how again and again in the New Testament, when mention is made of the whole law, only the second table is exemplified, as in this place; so also Romans 13:8-9; and James 2:8; James 2:11; etc. Charity towards our neighbour is the top of religion, and a most undoubted sign of love towards God.

Verse 21

Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me.

[Sell that thou hast, and give to the poor.] When Christ calls it perfection to sell all and give to the poor, he speaks according to the idiom of the nation, which thought so: and he tries this rich man, boasting of his exact performance of the law, whether, when he pretended to aspire to eternal life, he would aspire to that perfection which his countrymen so praised. Not that hence he either devoted Christians to voluntary poverty, or that he exhorted this man to rest ultimately in a Pharisaical perfection; but lifting up his mind to the renouncing of worldly things, he provokes him to it by the very doctrine of the Pharisees which he professed.

"For these things the measure is not stated; for the corner of the field" to be left for the poor; "for the firstfruits for the appearance in the Temple" (according to the law, Exodus 23:15; Exodus 23:17; where, what, or how great an oblation is to be brought, is not appointed), "for the shewing mercy, and for the study of the law." The casuists, discussing that point of ’shewing mercy,’ do thus determine concerning it: "A stated measure is not indeed prescribed to the shewing of mercy, as to the affording poor men help with thy body," that is, with thy bodily labour; "but as to money there is a stated measure, namely, the fifth part of thy wealth; nor is any bound to give the poor above the fifth part of his estate, unless he does it out of extraordinary devotion." See Rambam upon the place, and the Jerusalem Gemara: where the example of R. Ishbab is produced, distributing all his goods to the poor.

Verse 24

And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.

[A camel to go through the eye of a needle, etc.] a phrase used in the schools, intimating a thing very unusual and very difficult. There, where the discourse is concerning dreams and their interpretation, these words are added. They do not shew a man a palm tree of gold, nor an elephant going through the eye of a needle. The Gloss is, "A thing which he was not wont to see, nor concerning which he ever thought."

In like manner R. Sheshith answered R. Amram, disputing with him and asserting something that was incongruous, in these words; "Perhaps thou art one of those of Pombeditha, who can make an elephant pass through the eye of a needle": that is, as the Aruch interprets it, "who speak things that are impossible."

Verse 28

And Jesus said unto them, Verily I say unto you, That ye which have followed me, in the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.

[Ye that have followed me, in the regeneration.] That the world is to be renewed at the coming of the Messias, and the preaching of the gospel, the Scriptures assert, and the Jews believe; but in a grosser sense, which we observe at Matthew_24. Our Saviour, therefore, by the word regeneration; calls back the mind of the disciples to a right apprehension of the thing; implying that renovation, concerning which the Scripture speaks, is not of the body or substance of the world; but that it consists in the renewing of the manners, doctrine, and a dispensation conducing thereunto: men are to be renewed, regenerated, -- not the fabric of the world. This very thing he teaches Nicodemus, treating concerning the nature of the kingdom of heaven, John 3:3.

[When the Son of man shall sit upon the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit.] These words are fetched out of Daniel, Daniel 7:9-10; which words I wonder should be translated by the interpreters, Aben Ezra, R. Saadia, and others, as well Jews as Christians, thrones were cast down. R. Solomon the Vulgar, and others, read it righter, thrones were set up; where Lyranus thus, "He saith thrones in the plural number, because not only Christ shall judge, but the apostles, and perfect men, shall assist him in judgment, sitting upon thrones." The same way very many interpreters bend the words under our hands, namely, that the saints shall at the day of judgment sit with Christ, and approve and applaud his judgment. But, 1. besides, that the scene of the last judgment, painted out in the Scripture, does always represent as well the saints as the wicked standing before the tribunal of Christ, Matthew 25:32; 2 Corinthians 5:10; etc.; we have mention here only of "twelve thrones." And, 2, we have mention only of judging the "twelve tribes of Israel." The sense, therefore, of the place may very well be found out by weighing these things following:

I. That those thrones set up in Daniel are not to be understood of the last judgment of Christ, but of his judgment in his entrance upon his evangelical government, when he was made by his Father chief ruler, king, and judge of all things: Psalms 2:6; Matthew 28:18; John 5:27. For observe the scope and series of the prophet, that, after the four monarchies, namely, the Babylonian, the Medo-Persian, the Grecian, and the Syro-Grecian, which monarchies had vexed the world and the church by their tyranny, were destroyed, the kingdom of Christ should rise, etc. Those words, "The kingdom of heaven is at hand," that judiciary scene set up RevelatJohn 5:27; and those thrones Revelation 20:1; etc. do interpret Daniel to this sense.

II. The throne of glory, concerning which the words before us are, is to be understood of the judgment of Christ to be brought upon the treacherous, rebellious, wicked people. We meet with very frequent mention of the coming of Christ in his glory in this sense; which we shall discourse more largely of at Matthew_24.

III. That the sitting of the apostles upon thrones with Christ is not to be understood of their persons; it is sufficiently proved; because Judas was now one of the number: but it is meant of their doctrine; as if he had said, "When I shall bring judgment upon this most unjust nation, then our doctrine, which you have preached in my name, shall judge and condemn them." See Romans 2:16.

Hence it appears that the gospel was preached to all the twelve tribes of Israel before the destruction of Jerusalem.

Bibliographical Information
Lightfoot, John. "Commentary on Matthew 19". "John Lightfoot's Commentary on the Gospels". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jlc/matthew-19.html. 1675.
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