Matthew 12:1. Jesus went on the sabbath day through the corn — The cornfields near Jerusalem, attended by his disciples and some of the Pharisees, whose curiosity, it is probable, prompted them to mix with the crowd on this occasion, in expectation of seeing more miracles. His disciples began to pluck [and rub in their hands, Luke 6:1] the ears of corn, and to eat — Just what sufficed for present necessity. The word σταχυας, here used, may indifferently signify ears of any kind of grain; but probably barley is here intended, that being first ripe in those parts. Dried corn was a common food among the Jews.
Matthew 12:2-4. The Pharisees said, Thy disciples do what is not lawful — The law of Moses so expressly allowed the plucking ears of corn as one passed through a field, that, malignant as they were, they pretended not to find fault with the action itself, (see Deuteronomy 23:25,) but they were perverse enough to think this to be a kind of reaping and dressing the grain, which was indeed forbidden on the sabbath. But he said — Have ye not read what, in a case of like necessity, David did, and his followers? and his necessity was a sufficient plea for his transgressing the law in a higher instance. How he entered into the house of God — Into the tabernacle: the temple not being yet built. The meaning cannot be, that David himself went into the very tabernacle, for none but priests could go in thither: but it was into the house or chamber of the high-priest that he entered, situated beside the tabernacle, and called the house of God on that account. See note on 1 Samuel 21:3-6. Thus the apartment in which the High-priest Eli and his servant Samuel slept, is called the house of the Lord, 1 Samuel 3:15. And did eat the show-bread — Gr. τους αρτους της προθεσεως, the bread of exhibition, or, the bread set forth. The Hebrew expression,
לחם פנים, is literally, the bread of the face, or, of the presence, so called, because it stood continually before the face, (so to speak,) of Jehovah; that is, before the ark, where God was peculiarly present. It consisted of twelve loaves, representing the twelve tribes of Israel, and was set every sabbath day, by the priest who served that week, on the golden table that was in the holy place of the tabernacle or temple. When the new loaves were brought, the stale ones were taken away, but were to be eaten by the priests only. See notes on Exodus 25:30; Leviticus 24:6-9.
Matthew 12:5-6. Have ye not read in the law, &c. — He does not mean that the words following were to be found in the law, but only that they might read in the law, how the priests were obliged, on the sabbath days, to perform such servile work in the temple as, considered separately from the end of it, would have been a profanation of the sabbath, but really was not so, because it was necessary to the public worship of God, on account of which the sabbath was instituted. If it be asked what servile work the priests performed on the sabbath, the answer is obvious. On that day, as well as on other days, they made up the fires, killed, flayed, and dressed the sacrifices, and performed other pieces of manual labour necessary to the religious service which God had established among them. Nay, besides the continual burnt offering, the priests were obliged, on the sabbaths, to sacrifice two lambs extraordinary, by which their servile work was that day double of what it was on the other days of the week. See Numbers 28:9. But in this place is one greater than the temple — As if he had said, “If you reply that the priests were not culpable in those actions, because they were undertaken for the temple service, I acknowledge it; but at the same time I must observe, that if the temple, with its service, is of such importance as to merit a particular dispensation from the law of the sabbath, I and my disciples, whose business of promoting the salvation of men is a matter of more importance, may, on that account, with more reason take the same liberty in a case of the like necessity. According to this interpretation, the reading μειζον, a greater work, instead of μειζων, a greater person, which is authorized by many manuscripts, will have a peculiar elegance. Then the sense will be, ‘There is here a much more noble work carrying on than the temple service.’” — Macknight.
Matthew 12:7-8. But if ye had known what that meaneth — If ye had known the intent of that scripture, Hosea 6:6, I will have mercy, &c. — That is, I always prefer acts of mercy before matters of positive institution, when in any instance they interfere with each other; and even before all ceremonial institutions whatever; because these being only means of religion, are suspended, of course, if circumstances occur wherein they clash with love, which is the end of it: ye would not have condemned the guiltless — As you have now done, merely for rubbing out a handful of corn to refresh themselves in my service. For the Son of man is Lord even of the sabbath day — The law enjoining the observation of every seventh day as a day of holy rest, as all other laws, is in my power, and may be altered, enforced, or dispensed with, as I see good. My disciples, therefore, are guiltless, were it only on this account, that they act by my authority, and attend on me in my ministry, as the priests attended on God in the temple. This expression, is Lord even of the sabbath, evidently implies, that the sabbath was an institution of great and distinguished importance. It may, perhaps, also refer to that signal act of authority which Christ afterward exerted over it, in changing it from the seventh to the first day of the week. If we suppose here a transposition of the seventh and eighth verses, then the eighth verse is a proof of the sixth.
Matthew 12:10. There was a man which had his hand withered — The nerves and sinews of it being shrunk up, so that it was entirely useless. And they — Namely, the scribes and Pharisees, who had either mixed with the crowd that followed Jesus, or were in the synagogue before he came; asked him, saying, Is it lawful to heal on the sabbath day? — They made this inquiry merely that they might find matter whereon to ground an accusation against him. For they fully expected he would say that it was lawful, in opposition to the doctrine of their learned men, who accounted performing cures on the sabbath a violation of the holy rest of that day. Accordingly Mark says, They watched him whether he would heal, &c. — So gross was their hypocrisy, that they resolved to raise an outcry against him, if on the sabbath he should give a lame man the use of his hand, while they themselves were profaning it by an action which would have polluted any day; were seeking an opportunity to murder one who had never done them any harm, but had been and was incessantly doing them good!
Matthew 12:11-13. And he said — That he might show their unreasonableness, and confute them by their own practice: What man — that shall have —
Or, Who, if he have but one sheep, that on the sabbath day shall fall into a pit, and it be in danger of perishing there, will not lay hold on it, &c. —
The stress of the question does not lie on supposing a man to have only one sheep, but on one only falling into a pit; and yet, for the comparatively small value of that one, his not scrupling to undertake the labour of helping it out on the sabbath day. How much then is a man better than a sheep? As if he had said, If the regard you have for the life of your cattle leads you to do servile work on the sabbath, for the preservation of a single sheep, charity should much rather induce you to labour for the preservation of a fellow-creature, though the good office is to be done on the sabbath day. Wherefore it is lawful to do well — To save a beast, much more a man, or to perform any of the lovely acts of mercy and charity on the sabbath day. Our Lord, having spoken as above, according to St. Mark 3:5, looked round about upon them with anger, with a holy indignation at their wickedness, being grieved for the hardness of their hearts, for their stupidity and impenitence, and for that condemnation and ruin which he knew they were thus bringing on themselves, as well as for the pernicious effect which their conduct would have on others. But at the same time that he testified his displeasure at the Pharisees, he relieved and comforted the infirm man, saying to him, Stretch forth thy hand, and, a divine power accompanying the word, he immediately stretched it out, and, in an instant, it was made sound as the other. The evangelists say no more; but leave their readers to imagine the wonder and astonishment of the numerous spectators, and the joy of the man who had recovered the use of so necessary a member.
Matthew 12:14-15. Then the Pharisees went out, and held a council against him — They were so incensed at the affront which they imagined they had received, in our Lord’s neglecting their censure, and intimating his knowledge of the evil purposes of their hearts, (Luke 6:8,) that they were no longer able to bear the place, and therefore withdrew. Luke says, They were filled with madness, and communed with one another what they might do to Jesus; or, as Matthew and Mark express it, how they might destroy him. Being as little able to find fault with the miracle, as they had been to answer the argument by which Jesus justified his performing it on the sabbath day, they were filled with such diabolical rage, that they acted like downright madmen. They could not but be sensible of the greatness of the miracle, and, perhaps, were convinced of the truth of his mission who had performed it; but their wrath, on account of his having violated their precepts concerning the sabbath, and their other evil passions, pushed them on to such a pitch of extravagance, that they went away and joined counsel with their inveterate enemies, the Herodians, or Sadducees, (Mark 3:6,) in order to have him taken out of the way; for they found it was not in their power otherwise to keep the people from being impressed with his doctrine and miracles. This, it must be observed, is the first time that mention is made of a design on our Saviour’s life. Thus, “while the eyes of distressed multitudes were turned to Christ as their only physician and most valuable friend, the eyes of these Pharisees were continually upon him for evil: and they beheld his miracles, not for their own conviction, but that they might, if possible, turn them into the means of his destruction. So ineffectual are the most obvious and demonstrative arguments, till divine grace conquer men’s natural aversion to the Redeemer’s kingdom, and captivate their hearts to the obedience of the faith! To have reviled and dishonoured Christ, and to have endeavoured to prevent the success of his ministry, would have been a daring crime: but these desperate wretches conspire against his life; and, different as their principles and interests were, form a transient friendship, to be cemented by his blood. Blessed Jesus! well mightest thou say, Many good works have I shown you, and for which of them would you murder me?” — Doddridge. But, when Jesus knew it — Or rather, Jesus, knowing it, withdrew himself from thence, in order that nothing might hinder him from fulfilling his ministry. It appears from Mark 3. that he retired into Galilee, where he preached and wrought miracles as privately as possible, that he might avoid giving offence. His fame, however, was now so great that vast multitudes gathered round him there, among whom were many who, having seen or heard of the miracle on the infirm man at Bethesda, (John 5.,) and on the withered hand in the synagogue, followed him from Jerusalem and Judea. And he healed them all — That is, all that had need of healing. By this it appears, that it was not mere curiosity that drew together this immense multitude. Many, no doubt, were moved by that principle, but others came to him to be healed of their infirmities and diseases, and others again to hear and be instructed by his divine discourses.
Matthew 12:16-21. And charged them that they should not make him known — Partly that he might avoid the envy and rage of his persecutors, and partly because the time was not yet come for him to declare himself openly to be the Messiah. That it might be fulfilled, &c. — Here the evangelist assigns another reason why the Lord Jesus prosecuted his ministry in this humble, meek, quiet, and unostentatious way: it was, that he might fulfil Isaiah’s prophecy, Isaiah 42:1-4, in which it was foretold that he should conduct himself in this manner. It must be observed, that the passage here referred to is not quoted exactly according to the Hebrew original, the evangelist contenting himself with giving us the substance of it in a contracted form: nor is it quoted according to the version of the LXX., who have given but a very indifferent interpretation of it. He shall show judgment — The word κρισις, judgment, here used by Matthew, answers to משּׁפט, in the prophet, a word which, in the Old Testament, is often put for the laws of God in general. And by Christ’s showing judgment to the Gentiles, is evidently meant his declaring the laws of religion, the eternal rules of righteousness, or the will of his heavenly Father, not only to the single nation of the Jews, but also, and especially, to the Gentile nation. He shall not strive, nor cry, &c. — He shall not be contentious, noisy, or ostentatious; but gentle, quiet, and lowly. A bruised reed shall he not break — Such as are convinced of their sinfulness and guilt, and bruised under the weight thereof. Smoking flax shall he not quench — The least good desire, the faintest spark of grace. He alludes to the wick of a lamp when it is first beginning to kindle, and is put out by any little motion. Till he send forth judgment unto victory — Till he make righteousness completely victorious over all its enemies. And in his name, that is, in him, shall the Gentiles trust, for salvation, present and eternal. See notes on Isaiah 42:1; where the original passage is explained at large.
Matthew 12:22-24. Then was brought unto him — Namely, By the person’s friends, one possessed with a devil, blind and dumb — Many, no doubt, supposed these defects to be merely natural: but the Spirit of God saw otherwise, and gives the true account, both of the disorder and the cure. How many other disorders, seemingly natural, may even now be owing to the same cause! And he healed him — He immediately expelled the evil spirit, and in an instant removed the effects of his diabolical influence: And all the people were amazed — At so extraordinary a miracle, by which the noblest sense, and likewise the most useful faculty of the human body, were restored together: and said, Is not this the Son of David? — that is, The Messiah. But when the Pharisees — Who were present, and the scribes, who had come down from Jerusalem, heard it, that is, heard this natural reflection of the people, and observed that they were beginning to infer, from the wonderful miracles which they saw Jesus perform, that he was the expected Messiah; fearing lest such a belief, if it should gain ground, would put an end to their credit with, and authority over, the people, they said, This fellow doth not cast out devils but by Beelzebub, &c. — Thus giving the most malicious and unreasonable turn to the matter which could be imagined.
Matthew 12:25-26. And Jesus knew their thoughts — “It often happens, that through ignorance or weakness men form wrong judgments of things;” a conduct which, though censurable, admits of some excuse: “but when wrong judgments proceed from evil dispositions, then, indeed, do they become highly culpable. Therefore, to show that the judgment which the Pharisees passed at this time upon our Lord’s miracles was of the latter kind, the evangelist observes, that Jesus knew their thoughts: he knew that the wickedness of their hearts, and not the weakness of their understandings, had led them to form the opinion they had uttered, if it was their real opinion; or rather, to affirm it contrary to the conviction of their minds, which was the reason that, at the conclusion of his defence, he reprimanded them in the sharpest manner.” And said, Every kingdom divided against itself &c. — He proceeds to demonstrate the absurdity of their calumny, by an argument drawn from the common affairs of life: —
As if he had said, “If evil spirits assist me in working miracles for the confirmation of my doctrine, they do what they can to promote the spiritual worship and ardent love of the true God, and, as effectually as possible, excite men to the practice of universal justice, benevolence, temperance, and self-government; all these virtues being powerfully recommended by my doctrine. But thus to make the evil spirits fight against themselves, is evidently to make them ruin their own interest; unless it can be thought that the strength and welfare of a society is advanced by jarring discord and destructive civil wars. Your judgment, therefore, of my conduct, is palpably malicious and absurd.” — Macknight. The word Beelzebub signifies the lord or master of flies. This was the great idol of the Ekronites; and from his name we may infer that they considered him as having the command of the various insects wherewith, in those warm climates, they were infested, and which ofttimes gathered into such swarms as proved both a noisome and a deadly plague. The Greeks, likewise, had a god, whose title was μυιαργος, Muscarum venator, The destroyer of flies. But he was in no great reputation among them, their country not being subject to this sort of calamity. The Ekronites being near neighbours to the Jews, the great veneration which they had for this idol made him the object both of the horror and detestation of the devout worshippers of the true God. Accordingly, to express in what detestation they held him, they appropriated his name to the most hateful being in the universe, calling the devil, or the prince of the evil angels. Beelzebub; for the next verse shows, that Beelzebub and Satan are different names of the same person; and consequently that Satan was considered as the prince of those demons who were cast out by Christ, and who are elsewhere represented as his angels. The word in the Greek is Beelzebul, which signifies, the lord of a dunghill, and seems to be a contemptuous change of the former name, by which it was intimated, that the noblest of the heathen deities were more fit to dwell on a dunghill than to be worshipped in a magnificent temple.
Matthew 12:27-28. And if I by Beelzebub, &c. — This is the second argument made use of by Jesus for confuting the calumny of the Pharisees; by whom do your children cast them out? — As if he had said, “For the same reason that you attribute my miracles to the devil, you may attribute all the miracles that ever were wrought in the world to the devil, and particularly the miracles of your own prophets which, nevertheless, you acknowledge to be divine.” To this purpose Dr. Chandler paraphrases the verse, “Ye do not impute the miracles of your prophets to Beelzebub, but on the evidence of these miracles ye receive them as the messengers of God. Nevertheless, ye reject me, who work greater and more numerous miracles than they, and impute them to the power of evil spirits. Is this conduct of a piece? Wherefore these prophets shall be your judges; they shall condemn you.” It seems, however, more probable that, by your children, is meant your disciples, or your countrymen in general, for “that many of the Jews did, at this time, attempt to cast out devils, is plain from Mark 9:38; Luke 9:49; Acts 19:13; Josephus, Antiq., Matthew 8:2. Calvin thinks that God conferred power of this kind on some particular persons among the Jews anciently, that by thus proving his presence among them he might retain the nation in the faith of his covenant; and that the people, having experienced God’s power in those instances, came foolishly to institute for themselves the office of an exorcist. Agreeably to this it may be observed, that our Lord’s argument does not require that the demons were actually expelled by these exorcists. It is sufficient that the Jews thought they were expelled, and did not find fault with those pretended miracles, as they did with Christ’s real ones.” Therefore they shall be your judges — Ask them, if Satan will cast out Satan; let even them be judges in this matter. And they shall convict you of obstinacy and partiality, who impute that in me to Beelzebub, which in them you impute to God. But if I cast out devils by the Spirit of God — As it is evident, and you cannot reasonably deny that I do; then the kingdom of God is come nigh unto you — The time is certainly come which God has appointed for taking the power out of the hands of the devil, in order that he may himself rule, both in the bodies and souls of men. The word εφθασεν, rendered is come, implies, is come unawares; before you expected it. In other words, the Messiah’s kingdom is come, and you ought with joy to enter it.
Matthew 12:29-30. How can one enter, &c. — How could I cast out Satan, and destroy his works, if I did not first overcome him? “The house of the strong man (or, strong one, as του ισχυρου should rather be rendered) into which Christ entered, was the world, fitly called Beelzebub’s house, or palace, because there he is served by luxury, lust, covetousness, pride, anger, and the other evil passions of men. The goods or vessels belonging to the strong one are the wicked, called Satan’s vessels metaphorically, as Paul is called Christ’s chosen vessel, Acts 9:15. Or, by the vessels, or furniture of Beelzebub’s house, we may understand the lusts and passions of men’s hearts, the instruments by which he keeps possession of them.” He that is not with me is against me — He that does not unite and co- operate with me, who am contending against Satan and his kingdom, is against me, as being unwilling that his kingdom should be destroyed. And he that gathereth not with me — That does not set himself, according to his ability, to gather subjects into my kingdom, and promote the cause of truth and grace among men, scattereth abroad — Hinders the work of God upon earth, and either prevents men from entering upon a life of piety and virtue, or obstructs their progress therein. In other words, there are no neuters in this war: every one must be either with Christ or against him; either a loyal subject or a rebel; and there are none upon earth who neither promote nor obstruct his kingdom. For every one does either one or the other daily. Much more criminal and fatal, then, must the character and conduct of those be, who, with deliberate, implacable malice, oppose Christ’s cause, and are resolved, at all adventures, to do their utmost to bring it down, as the Pharisees were now attempting to do by these vile suggestions, whereby they endeavoured to represent Christ, who came to save men, as an accomplice with Satan, who was labouring to destroy them.
Matthew 12:31. All manner of sin and blasphemy — The word rendered blasphemy: denotes injurious expressions, whether against God or man. When God is the object, it is properly rendered blasphemy. It is evident that, in this passage, both are included, as the different kinds are compared together: consequently the general term detraction, or injurious speech, ought to be employed, which is applicable alike to both; whereas the term blasphemy, with us, is not used of any verbal injury that is not aimed directly against God. Shall be forgiven unto men — That is, on condition of true repentance, and faith in the mercy of God through Christ; or, as the words evidently mean, may be forgiven unto men; for we are not to understand our Lord as asserting that every such sin shall actually be pardoned, but that it is, in the divine economy, capable of being pardoned. But the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven unto men — By the blasphemy here spoken of, we are evidently to understand injurious or impious speaking against the Spirit of God, such as the Pharisees were now guilty of; that is, attributing to the devil those miracles which Christ gave full proof that he wrought by the Holy Spirit. That this, and nothing but this, is the sin here intended, is manifest from the connection in which the words stand in this place; and more especially still from the parallel passage, Mark 3:28-30, in which the evangelist, assigning the reason of our Lord’s making this declaration, adds, Because they said, He hath an unclean spirit; that is, “hath Beelzebub, and by the prince of devils casteth out devils.” This, then, and this only, is the sin, or blasphemy, as it should rather be called, (and as the Scriptures always call it,) against the Holy Ghost. It is an offence of the tongue; it is committed not by thinking, but by speaking, by evil-speaking, by belying, slandering, or reviling the Divine Spirit, by which our Lord wrought his miracles, ascribing them to the devil: which in fact was calling the Holy Ghost, or the Spirit of the one living and true God, the devil: a more heinous crime than which is not to be conceived.
Matthew 12:32. Whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of man — In any other respect, it shall be forgiven him — Upon his true repentance: But whosoever speaketh, namely, in this manner, against the Holy Ghost — and most unreasonably ascribes his extraordinary and beneficent operations to the grand enemy of God and man, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come — The original words, ουτε εν τουτω τω αιωνι, ουτε εν τω μελλοντι, may be rendered, neither in this age, or dispensation, (namely, the Jewish,) nor in the age, or dispensation, to come, namely, the Christian. Thus the clause is understood by Macknight, who considers it as importing, that “no expiation was provided for the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, either under the Jewish or Christian dispensations.” But it seems rather to have been a mere proverbial expression among the Jews, for a thing that would never be done. Accordingly, in the parallel passage in Mark, we read, He that shall blaspheme against the Holy Ghost hath never forgiveness, but is in danger of, or rather, is liable to, eternal damnation. It is well known, that the Papists argue from this passage, for the remission of some sins in purgatory, after this life is ended, which are not remitted by God here. But “the Scripture,” says Whitby, “knows only two times for the remission of sins: one here upon earth, Mark 9:6, to the penitent and believing; and the other at the day of judgment, when the great Judge shall pronounce the sentence of absolution to all his faithful servants; Christ, therefore, here signifies, that this blasphemy shall neither obtain forgiveness now, nor at the great day of final accounts: that is, shall never be forgiven. It may be proper to observe here, that as no one call be pardoned for any sins but through Christ, and in consequence of faith in him, as the Son of God and Saviour of the world; and as none can believe in him as such that supposes he wrought his miracles by the aid of the devil; and as his miracles, united with his holy life, were the chief proofs of his divine mission; therefore, those who attributed them to Satan, were of course thereby precluded from believing on him, and of consequence from obtaining pardon.” Mr. Baxter’s paraphrase on the passage is to nearly the same purpose — thus: “All other sin and blasphemy against me, as I appear in my human nature, hath some excuse, and may be cured, and so pardoned: but seeing the great works of the Holy Ghost done by me, and to be done by my disciples, in miracles and sanctification, are the greatest evidences that God will give the world to convince them of the truth of my gospel; he that is convinced of the fact, that all these miracles and this holiness is wrought, and yet will deny it to be God’s attestation, and blasphemously insist that it is the work of the devil; this man rejects the greatest evidences, and shall have no greater, and so his infidelity is incurable, and aggravated with blasphemy and obstinacy, and will never be repented of, nor forgiven.”
Matthew 12:33-35. Either make the tree good, and his fruit good, &c. — That is, you must allow they are both good, or both bad: for if the fruit be good, so is the tree; if the fruit be evil, so is the tree also. “Judge, therefore, by my works, of the power by which I work: if it be not a good work to heal the sick, and blind, and lame, and cast out devils, and preach repentance and forgiveness of sins, to convert and save souls, then God is not the author of them. If they be bad works, they have a bad cause; if they be good works, they have a good author: either say plainly, (you that ascribe them to the devil,) that the works are good and the devil is good; or else that the devil is bad and the works are bad: or, if you confess that the works are good, confess that they are done by the Spirit of God.” —
Baxter. O generation of vipers — Perverse, venomous, deceitful creatures; how can ye, being evil — Being envious and malicious, speak good things — It is surely a force upon nature whenever you do so; and you will easily return to such uncharitable and impious language as we have now been hearing from you; the thoughts of your hearts showing themselves by the words of your mouths. For out of the abundance of the heart — The overflowing pride, envy, and malice thereof, the mouth speaketh — Utters words of the same nature with the corrupt source from whence they flow. A good man, out of the good treasure of the heart — The wisdom and piety, the truth and grace lodged there, bringeth forth good things. — Freely and abundantly, to the edification of all with whom he converses. And an evil man — A man full of corrupt affections and dispositions; a man of an earthly, sensual, and devilish mind, out of the evil treasure — The corrupt principles and inclinations which are within him, bringeth forth evil things — Wicked words and actions, and that naturally and readily: “and even when he labours most artfully to disguise himself and his character, breaks out, like you, in some unguarded moment, into such language as betrays the shame he would conceal.”
Matthew 12:36-37. But I say unto you — You may perhaps think God does not much regard your words, but I assure you, that not only for blasphemous and profane, malicious, false, slanderous, and reviling words, but for every idle word which men shall speak: for all light, vain, trifling expressions; for all useless, unprofitable conversation, and all discourse uttered without seriousness and caution, and which does not conduce to the glory of God and the good of mankind; that men shall speak — At any time, or on any occasion, they shall give an account in the day of judgment — “I cannot think,” says Dr. Doddridge, “that our Lord here uses αργον, idle, merely to signify mischievous. We are certainly accountable for useless as well as wicked discourses, and they will be taken into that last survey which is to determine our character and state: which they whose life is one continued scene of whim, or sneering raillery, would do well seriously to consider. And it was to our Lord’s purpose to observe it here, as it inferred, by the strongest consequence, the danger of such vile and criminal discourses as those of the Pharisees in this case. But discourse tending to exhilarate the spirits is not idle discourse; as the time spent in necessary recreation is not idle time; nor does a wise and gracious God expect from men the life of angels. If any are dissatisfied with the account of things here given, I would beg leave to ask them whether unprofitable talk be not a sinful wasting of time? and whether that must not render a man in some degree criminal before God?” For by thy words — That is, by the evidence of thy words, as well as of thy tempers and works, thou shall be justified, &c. — Shalt be either acquitted or condemned; since by the tenor of these the disposition of thy heart is shown, and thy true character discovered. Therefore these shall be produced in evidence for or against thee at the great day, and by this evidence thou shalt then stand or fall.
Matthew 12:38-40. Then certain of the scribes, &c. — Now present, upon hearing how plainly Christ admonished, and how severely he rebuked them, answered — Probably with a view to divert the discourse to another topic, We would see a sign from thee — As if they had said, Otherwise we will not believe this doctrine. Thus they insinuated that the ejection of devils was but a trifling miracle, which, for all he had said to the contrary, might be done by the help of devils, and that no signs of that kind, however numerous, should convince them; for that they would not believe unless he would prove his mission by what is here called a sign, and in Luke 11:16, a sign from heaven, meaning, probably, some such celestial appearance as several of the ancient prophets gave; particularly Moses, Joshua, Samuel, and Elijah. But he answered, An evil and adulterous generation — A spurious breed, which has degenerated from the faith and piety of their great progenitor, Abraham; or, a generation whose heart wanders from God, though they profess him to be their husband. Such adulterers are all those who love the world, and all who seek the friendship of it. Seeketh a sign — After all the signs they have had already, which were abundantly sufficient to have convinced them, had not their hearts been estranged from God, and consequently averse to the truth. And there shall no sign be given to it, but [or, unless it be] the sign of the Prophet Jonas — Who was herein a type of Christ. For as Jonas was three days and three nights, &c. — It was customary with the eastern nations to reckon any part of a natural day of twenty-four hours for the whole day. Accordingly, they used to say a thing was done after three, or seven days, &c., if it was done on the third or seventh day from that last mentioned. Instances of this may be seen, 1 Kings 20:29; 2 Chronicles 10:5; 2 Chronicles 10:12, and in many other places. And, as the Hebrews had no word exactly answering to the Greek νυχθημερον, to signify a natural day of twenty- four hours, they used night and day, or day and night, for it. See also Esther 4:16; Esther 5:1; Genesis 7:4; Genesis 7:12; Exodus 24:18; Exodus 34:28. In the whale’s belly — Or, in the belly of the great fish that swallowed him. See note on Jonah 1:17. So shall the Son of man be — in the heart of the earth — That is, in the earth; for the expression does not imply that he was to be buried in the middle of the earth, but in the earth simply. Thus, in Ezekiel 28:2, Tyre is said to be in the heart of the sea, though it was so near the continent, that, when Alexander besieged it, he carried a causeway from the land to the city.
Matthew 12:41. The men of Nineveh, &c. — “The Ninevites being judged at the same time with the men of that generation, and their behaviour being compared with theirs, should make their guilt appear in its true colour and condemn them. For though they were idolaters, they repented at the preaching of Jonah, a stranger, a poor person, one that continued among them only three days, and wrought no miracle to make them believe him. But the men of that generation, though worshippers of the true God by profession, could every day hear unmoved the much more powerful preaching of a prophet infinitely greater than Jonah, even the preaching of the eternal Son of God, who confirmed his doctrine by the most astonishing miracles.” — Macknight. Of the reasons which might induce the Ninevites to repent, see note on Jonah 3:5-6.
Matthew 12:42. The queen of the south, &c. — Of this queen, see note on 1 Kings 10:1. She came from the uttermost parts of the earth — That part of Arabia from which she came was the uttermost part of the earth that way, being bounded by the sea. A greater than Solomon is here — “Our Lord speaks of himself in this sublime language with the utmost reason, and with perfect modesty and decorum. The humble form of his appearance, and his necessary reserve in declaring himself the Messiah in so many words, made it yet more expedient, that by such phrases as these he should sometimes intimate it: and indeed his saying he was greater than Solomon, that most illustrious of all the descendants of David, was as plain an intimation as could well be given.” — Doddridge.
Matthew 12:43-45. When the unclean spirit, &c. — In these verses, with a view to show how dreadful the state of the Jewish people would be, if they continued to reject him and his gospel, our Lord introduces a parable, borrowed from the late subject of his dispute with the Pharisees. He compares their condition to that of a man, who, after having had an evil spirit expelled out of him, is again, through God’s permission, as a punishment of his continuing in sin, taken possession of by that spirit, with seven others still more wicked, and is thereby brought into a worse condition than ever. The parable evidently supposes the existence of demoniacal possessions, for if there had been no reality in them, the comparison would have meant nothing; and it supposes, also, that the Pharisees allowed their existence, otherwise our Lord’s words, instead of convincing or instructing them, must have been treated by them with contempt. When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man — Not of his own accord, or willingly, but compelled by one that is stronger than he; he walketh — Wanders up and down, through dry places — Barren, dreary, desolate; or places not yet watered with the gospel. The words contain a plain allusion to the common notion, that evil demons had their haunts in deserts and desolate places. Compare Isaiah 13:21; where, instead of satyrs, the LXX. read δαιμονια, demons. See also Revelation 18:2. Seeking rest — To his own malignant nature, in observing barren wastes and desolations, rather than such agreeable scenes as might present to his view the memorials of God’s goodness to the human race: and findeth none — How should he find any, while he carries with him his own hell? And is it not the case of his children, too? Reader, is it thy case? Then he saith, I will return into my house — He resolves to make another attack on the person out of whom he had been expelled: whence I came out — He speaks as if he had come out of his own accord: see his pride! And when he is come, he findeth it empty — Of truth and grace; of wisdom and piety; of God, and Christ, and the Holy Spirit: swept and garnished — That is, prepared to receive him: swept, from love, lowliness, meekness, and all the fruits of the Spirit, and adorned with levity and folly, vanity and sin. In other words, he finds the miserable sinner unaffected with his late affliction and deliverance, and still a slave to those vices which render him an agreeable dwelling for Satan. Then goeth he and taketh seven other spirits — That is, a great many, the number seven denoting perfection, whether of good or bad things; more wicked than himself — Whence it appears that there are degrees of wickedness among the devils themselves. And they enter in, finding easy access, and dwell there — Namely, for ever, in him that is forsaken of God. And the last state, &c., is worse than the first — The devils having taken a sevenfold stronger possession of him than they had before. So shall it be also unto this wicked generation — Who resist the convictions which my doctrine and miracles have raised in them. Instead of growing wiser and better, they will become seven times more foolish, sinful, and miserable, “as both the natural and judicial consequence of their rejecting the methods used by divine grace for their recovery; till, as if they were possessed by a multitude of devils, they are madly hurried on to their irrecoverable ruin in this world and the next. They who have read the sad account, given by Josephus, of the temper and conduct of the Jews after the ascension of Christ, and just before their final destruction by the Romans, must acknowledge that no emblem could have been more proper to describe them. Their characters were the vilest that can be conceived, and they pressed on to their own ruin, as if they had been possessed by legions of devils, and wrought up to the last degrees of madness.” — Doddridge. But this parable is also designed to teach men, in every age, the danger and awful consequences of resisting the convictions produced in their minds by the truth and grace of God; or of grieving, quenching, and doing despite to the Holy Ghost, by breaking through their resolutions, and relapsing into their former sins; the effect being commonly to render them more obdurate and abandoned than before.
Matthew 12:46-50. While he yet talked with the people — While he was uttering these solemn truths, and giving these awful warnings, in the audience of the vast multitudes that were gathered around him: behold, his mother and his brethren — Or near kinsmen, (namely, the sons of Mary the wife of Cleopas, or Alpheus, his mother’s sister,) stood without, not being able to come near him because of the multitude that sat about him: But he said, Who is my mother? &c. — We must not suppose that our Lord meant to put any slight on them, especially on his mother. He only took this opportunity of expressing his affection to his obedient disciples in a peculiarly endearing manner; which could not but be a great comfort to them, and a rich equivalent for all the fatigue and expense which their zeal for him and his heavenly doctrine occasioned. Stretching forth his hand toward his disciples, he said, Behold my mother, &c. — “This short speech, related by the evangelists with great simplicity, is, without their seeming to have designed it, one of the finest encomiums imaginable. Could the most elaborate panegyric have done Jesus Christ and his religion half the honour which this divine sentiment hath done them? Whosoever shall do the will of my Father, &c., the same is my brother, and sister, and mother! — A saying, this, which will never be forgotten while there are memories in the world to retain it, or tongues to repeat it.” As if he had said, “I regard obedience to God so highly, that I prefer the relation it constitutes, and the union it begets, to the strongest ties of blood. They who do the will of my Father, have a much greater share of my esteem than my kinsmen, as such. I love them with an affection tender and steady, like that which subsists between the nearest relations; nay, I reckon them, and them only, my brethren, my sisters, and my mother. A high commendation this, and not a reflection upon our Lord’s mother, who, without doubt, was among the chief of those who did the will of God. What veneration should live in the hearts of men for Jesus and his religion, which exhibits such perfection in goodness!” — Macknight.
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Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Matthew 12". Joseph Benson's Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany