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Matthew 4

Watson's Exposition on Matthew, Mark, Luke & RomansWatson's Expositions

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Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

1 Christ fasteth, and is tempted.

11 The angels minister unto him,

13 He dwelleth in Capernaum,

17 beginneth to preach,

18 calleth Peter, and Andrew,

21 James and John,

23 and healeth all the diseased.

Verse 1

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness. — Τοτε appears here to have the sense of afterward; for in John 1:35; John 1:48; John 2:1, there is an account of the transactions of three days immediately following the baptism of Christ; on one of which he attended the marriage in Cana of Galilee. On the completion of these he was led UP of the Spirit, that is, he was led up from the plain to the mountainous parts of the desert. This mode of speaking plainly shows that the transaction was not in vision. He was impelled by a strong influence of the Spirit, from one place to another. Any place would have been equally suitable for the purpose of producing an impression upon the imagination during sleep, or in a trance; but here a solitary, wild, and secluded region is chosen, that during his forty days’ trial he should be subject to no intrusion, and that he might have no relief from food at that distance from the habitations of men. The Spirit here mentioned is the Holy Spirit, which had just descended upon him; and as that Spirit exerted an extraordinary power upon the animal frame of some of the prophets, impelling them to various places, and signally sustaining them under great exertions and fasts, so this was a sensible proof that the same mighty prophetic Spirit, though in him “without measure,” had been received by him. — St. Mark uses the strong phrase, το Πνευμα αυτον εκβαλλει , “the Spirit driveth him into the wilderness.” The place is generally supposed to be the wilderness of Judea a sterile, rocky, and desolate region, “of savage aspect,” says Maundrell; and which a more modern traveller describes as having “the rudest appearance; not a blade of verdure is to be seen over all the surface, and not the sound of a living creature is to be heard over all the extent.” It is, however, debated whether this wilderness, which ran southward along the Dead Sea, or some part of the mountainous region near the lake of Tiberias, and which in many places is equally wild and solitary, was the scene of the temptation. A third opinion places the transaction in the desert of Quarantonia, which extends from Jericho, by the mountain of Bethel, two miles and a half from Jerusalem, which also was desert and uncultivated. This is maintained by Wetstein, Rosenmuller, and Koinoel. It had its modern name from the forty days during which the temptation continued.

To be tempted of the devil. — The word answers to the Hebrew Satan, “an adversary.” Wickliffe, in his translation, has rendered it the feende, a word derived from the German feind, which also signifies an enemy. This temptation was part of our Lord’s humiliation. His holy soul was to be subject, through this long period of forty days and forty nights, to the foul suggestions of evil; it was also appointed that he should be made, in this respect, as in all others, like unto his brethren, “for that he himself both suffered, being tempted, he is able to succour them that are tempted;” of which ability his victory is the indubitable proof. By this, too, he was to show forth his power over Satan, by whose guile the first Adam had been seduced; and to begin to justify his title to be that seed of the woman, whose office it was to bruise the serpent’s head. Our modern rationalists as they would be esteemed, but who have a much better title to be considered as the Sadducees of the Christian Church, deny the existence of the devil, and resolve therefore the whole of this account of our Lord’s conflict partly into vision and partly into personification. It may, however, be affirmed that on philosophic grounds the existence of such malignant spirits as are employed in the work of tempting men involves no absurdity, and accords with analogies among men which cannot be denied, because they are obvious facts. If man, a rational being, is often seen to hate all good, and delighting only in evil, superior intelligences may possess the same characters. If we see in many men a maturity of vice which expels all the better feelings, and an anxiety in such depraved persons to corrupt others, and to glory in the miseries they thus inflict, what have we in these cases but visible portraits of what Satan himself is, and exemplifications of the work in which he is employed? And, finally, if it enters into our state of probation to be tempted to evil; that such temptations should not arise as well from the influence of evil spirits as from the effect produced upon the imaginations, passions, and appetites by visible external things, no good reason can be given.

There is nothing in this case which is contrary to any principle clearly laid down in the word of God, who maintains our free agency, in these circumstances of our state of trial, by the succours of his grace. On the other hand, the denial of the doctrine of temptation from the influence of invisible beings upon the soul of man must force us either to reject the Scriptures altogether, or to adopt those modes of violent interpretation which are wholly inconsistent with the simplicity of their historical narratives, and which would render their meaning in all cases so uncertain as to destroy their character as a revelation of truth from God. Nor less objectionable is the principle advocated by the neological critics of Germany, and applied to this and other cases, namely, that our Lord and his apostles often adopted, the erroneous theological opinions and modes of speaking current among the Jews, just as they employed the philosophic language and allusions of the age in which they lived, without intending to give their sanction to any system of human science. For it remains to be proved, that either our Lord or his apostles in any case do ever speak according to an erroneous philosophy of the day; and, if they do, it is only allusively in cases where the current notions of the day would serve the moral purpose they intended just as well as the more correct mode of speaking now used, if, indeed, we are nearer to philosophic truth on such subjects than the ancients. But an error in what may be called pneumatological divinity stands on a very different ground. If there be no Satan, there is no Holy Ghost; for each maybe resolved into personification: if there be no spiritual evil influence, we have no reason to conclude from the same Scriptures that there is any supernatural good influence. Farther: if there were no true demoniacal possessions, then were the persons reputed to be so possessed mere lunatics and epileptics; and the casting them out was a deceptive assumption of pretended power, fatal to the character of our Lord, and the honesty of his disciples; and if there be no disembodied spirits, then were the disciples deceived, and that by our Lord himself; and the hope of conscious existence immediately after the death of the body, so cheering to them and to all good men since, is without any foundation in truth. Finally, not to push these consequences any farther, it follows, in direct opposition to our Saviour’s own words, that, although Jehovah is called the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, he is the God of the DEAD, and not of the LIVING.

All these consequences may, indeed, be hazarded by bold men, who treat the Scriptures with little deference; but their crime is not lessened by their temerity; for they profanely represent the inspired writers as teaching popularly what is not true, on some of the most serious subjects which can influence human feelings and human conduct. They change, too, the whole economy of Christianity, which presents us with a grand view of the connection of man, and the events and history of our world, with invisible worlds and beings, and thus isolate our earth as the theatre on which these great displays of the wisdom, power, and mercy of God take place, from those innumerable other beings which take an interest in them, and for whose instruction and advantage, or discomfiture and punishment, they are also permitted. A large portion of the grandeur of the great scheme of human redemption is thus at once annihilated by these petty and minifying systems. As to the notion that the temptation of our Lord was transacted in vision, it is contradicted by the simple narrative form which is used by the evangelists. It is in the same style that they record this event, and those which the objectors themselves acknowledge to be real and with quite as much reason might the history of the crucifixion be resolved into the phantasms of a dream as the account before us. Thus viewed, too, the temptation could no longer be one of the circumstances of our Lord’s humiliation; and the great moral use which St. Paul draws from it, as affording an assurance to the followers of Christ, that in all temptations they might rely upon his sympathy as having been “in all points tempted like unto us, yet without sin,” is lost; seeing that we are tempted to evil, not in vision, but in reality. Finally: it is sufficient to settle this whole question entirely, to remark that if the temptation of our Lord were a dream or visionary representation, the usual exercise of the reason and the senses being suspended, it was no temptation at all; for there could have been no sin, if in a dream or a vision, in which all free agency would be suspended, our Lord had either commanded the stones to be made bread, or had cast himself down from the pinnacle of the temple, or had even done homage to Satan himself.

Verse 2

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

Fasted forty days and forty nights. — Thus Moses and Elijah fasted, being like our Lord sustained by “the Preserver of men.” The nights are mentioned as well as the days, because the Jews used to eat in the night during their common fasts; and, indeed, according to Maimonides, they might eat and drink after sunset during all the fasts, except the month of Abib. Throughout the whole of this period, however, our Saviour felt no hunger; for it is added, “AFTERWARD he hungered.”

Verse 3

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

And when the tempter came to him. — This probably was the first visible appearance of Satan during the temptation; though, as it was the sole object of our Lord’s being led up into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil, we must conclude, that a series of temptations, arising from that secret, invisible influence which the tempter was permitted to exercise upon his thoughts, had troubled his spirit through the whole of that painful season; and so, indeed, it is stated by the other evangelists. Now, however, Satan appears in a human form, as it would seem, for no other is intimated. It has been asked whether it is likely that Satan knew the dignity of our Lord’s person; and if so, what hope of success could he have in tempting him? The question is more curious than useful; and perhaps is not capable of an answer entirely satisfactory. We may, however, remark that Satan could not be ignorant that the Messiah was promised and expected, nor of the high and Divine character assigned to him in the writings of the Jewish prophets; and as perhaps he was a better interpreter of Scripture than the Jews, he would not be thrown into any doubts as to the Messiahship of Jesus by the humility of his advent, and his then apparent indigent circumstances. But of the mystery of the personal union of the Divine and human natures in Christ he could have no adequate conception; for this is one of those respects in which “no man knoweth the Son, but the Father.” Being therefore in necessary ignorance of the mode and degree in which the human nature of our Lord was sustained by the Divine, he could not ascertain how far our Lord AS A MAN was capable of sinning. He might therefore hope to prevail against the inferior nature, and, by defiling that, to render, at least, that incarnation of a Redeemer void.

And said, If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread. — The temptation here is suitable to the circumstances: evil and good each derive force from their seasonableness; a point which a tempter so long practised and subtle as Satan well understands; and hence, our Lord being oppressed with hunger, he suggests to him to command the stones near them to be made bread, to answer the double purpose of supplying his own wants, and giving to a pretended inquirer as to the truth of his mission, which was the character he appears to have assumed, a miraculous proof of his dignity and office. — Satan evidently alludes to the baptism of Christ, in which he had been declared to be the Son Of God. This very allusion shows that the absence of the article before υιος does not lower its sense. This is true also where the article is wanting both before υιος and θεου , as is proved by Matthew 27:43.

Verse 4

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

But he answered and said, It is written, &c. — Our Lord puts honour upon the written word of God, by making use of it in repelling every temptation. He in whom were treasured up the riches of wisdom and knowledge, could have given such answers as had not previously been “written;” but he thus teaches us the sufficiency of God’s revelations for every condition of man; and that we are to rely upon the wisdom of God as revealed in his word, with which we ought to have our memory richly furnished, rather than upon our own. Another important lesson is, that whatever is settled by the word of God admits of no appeal; and therefore, that we are not to dispute, but promptly, and without hesitation, to act upon it. He who lives in this habit soonest escapes from the entanglements of temptation. “He keepeth himself, and that wicked one toucheth him not.” Our Lord’s quotation is from Deuteronomy 8:3. “God suffered thee to hunger, and fed thee with manna; that he might make thee know that man doth not live by bread only, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the Lord doth man live.”

The Israelites, when they hungered, were not sustained by bread, but by manna, a new substance created and “rained from heaven” by “the word” of the Lord. It is that WORD which gives efficacy to the ordinary food of man; or it can provide him with new and extraordinary means of subsistence; or it can sustain him by its own almighty power, without the intervention of means at all, as it had done Christ, and Moses, and Elijah, in their fasts. It is therefore never necessary to do wrong in order to supply our wants. Our only concern is to please God, who has a thousand means of relieving the wants of those who need his interposition, and put their trust in him. But what evil would there have been in our Lord commanding the stones to be made bread? The answer is, that it would have betrayed impatience under the suffering of hunger, which he was to sustain until God sent him supplies, which was therefore done at the best time by the ministry of angels. Our Lord would not shorten the assigned duration of his trial by taking his cause out of the hands of God. Beside this, our Lord knew who the tempter was, though under the guise of a man inquiring after the truth; and thus taught us that we are not to do the devil’s bidding to relieve ourselves from inconvenience or calamity. Even had the pretended inquirer been a real man, it is not allowed to man to prescribe on what signs or evidences he will consent to admit a message or revelation from God. Yet how many ask for different or stronger evidences of the truth of Christianity, or its separate doctrines? Let such persons stand reproved by this history. “It is an evil and adulterous generation which seeketh after a sign;” such signs as they think fitting, and neglect those with which Divine wisdom has been pleased to stamp his own authority upon his own truth.

Verse 5

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

Then the devil taketh him up into the holy city, &c. — The holy city was the name by which Jerusalem was always called by the Jews; and the inscription on their shekel was, “Jerusalem the holy.” That our Lord was taken up by Satan, and transported through the air, as the Holy Spirit carried away Philip to Azotus, Acts 8:39, is a mere conjecture; nor is it indicated in the word used, which signifies to take along with one as a companion is taken. And if Satan appeared, as is likely, in the form of a man, personating, as stated above, an inquirer after truth, it is not probable that he would, by such an act of supernatural power, reveal at once his real character. This was reserved to the last temptation, when other means had failed. We may conclude, therefore, that he proposed it to our Lord to accompany him to Jerusalem, and that he yielded, as well knowing his character and purpose, yet meekly submitting to the whole process of the trial appointed by God.

And setteth him on a pinnacle of the temple. — Grotius takes πτερυγιον to have been a battlement on the temple; but the courts, and all the buildings connected with the temple, may be included, and the battlement of the royal portico, built by Herod, which was at the outer court, was probably the place; especially as this was raised upon the verge of a precipice so deep, that, according to Josephus, it made persons dizzy to look down from it. To the roof of this portico there was easy access; and it was a proper place for the temptation with which our Lord was assaulted.

Verse 6

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down: for it is written, &c.— Here the Scripture is quoted by the tempter in aid of his design; and as the object of this suggestion was to lead to an unauthorized presumption upon special Divine interposition, it represents a numerous class of temptations, by which many have been misled to put themselves into circumstances of moral danger, without a Divine warrant. The promises of Scripture are also often perverted by such persons to support their vain confidence, who consider not the persons and their circumstances to whom they are spoken. The quotation used by Satan is from Psalms 91:12, and was employed by him either because, the Jews applied it prophetically to the Messiah, or because it expresses God’s special care of good men, and so suited his purpose; for the argument was, If God takes charge of good men generally, how much more of “the Son of God” himself! “If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down,” and let thy safety be the proof that thou art so. It is an observation of weight made by Jerome and others, that the tempter makes a mutilated citation of the passage, and leaves out a material circumstance: “He shall give his angels charge concerning thee, to keep thee in all thy ways;” that is, in all thy lawful courses of conduct, of which to cast himself down from a precipice was not one. Thus our Lord was first tempted to distrust God’s care, and then to presume without warrant upon it.

Verse 7

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God. — It has been disputed among critics whether to tempt God in this passage signifies to presume upon his goodness, or to distrust it. The word tempt, when applied to God, as it signifies to make trial of him, has always a bad sense, and in general seems to mean to seek from God displays of his power on occasions and in a way prescribed by ourselves. Now this may proceed either from distrust or presumption; and so the opinions alluded to may be somewhat reconciled. — The passage referred to is, “Ye shall not tempt the Lord your God, as ye tempted him in Massah,” Deuteronomy 6:16. Now, although on that occasion, so provoking to God, when the Israelites wanted water, they are said to have tempted the Lord by saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?” it does not appear that this language proceeded so much from distrust, as from a petulant demand for an exertion of the Divine power at the time and in the manner they dared to prescribe. And though in a case of simple presumption upon Divine interposition, the perverse temper of the Israelites on that occasion maybe wanting, yet the essence of their fault is involved in it; a bold and unauthorized demand being made upon God in our own will for the exercise of his power. The appositeness of the quotation is therefore apparent.

Verse 8

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

Into an exceeding high mountain, &c. — The scene is here again changed into the same wilderness, or some other elevated region. From some of the mountains of Palestine the views are very extensive, as Mount Nebo, from the top of which Moses saw “all the land of Gilead unto Dan, and all Naphtali, and the land of Ephraim, and all the land of Judah, unto the utmost sea,” the Mediterranean, “and the south, and the plain of the valley of Jericho, unto Zoar.” Modern travellers have given their testimony to the vastness of the prospect opened also from some other mountains. Perhaps, as the old dominions of Judah and Israel were now divided into several provinces and tetrarchies, popularly called “kingdoms,” no more is meant by the “kingdoms of the world” than those, the states into which the ancient kingdom of David was now divided; for in this restricted sense the original word is sometimes used. But if “the world” be taken in a more extensive meaning, then, as from such a height, a vast landscape of woods, rivers, lakes, fertile fields, villages, towns, and opulent and splendid cities, would be exhibited, the tempter might from such a scene take occasion to descant upon other and still more glorious kingdoms of the civilized “world;” especially that vast portion of it comprised in the Roman empire, itself often called “the world;” using the actual scene before them to give effect to the picture, which was drawn no doubt with a powerful eloquence.

In support of this it may be said that the Greek word rendered “to show,” like the Latin ostendere, and indeed the English verb itself, does not necessarily signify to exhibit to the sight; but also to describe and make known in any mode. In either sense there is no need to suppose that phantasms and images of worldly regal splendour were supernaturally produced, to give effect to the temptation. It must be confessed, however, that the natural import of the words of Matthew leans this way; and St. Luke’s words, who says that he “showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time,” still more so. But if this should be allowed, it gives no weight to the notion of those who think that the whole temptation took place in a vision; for there is an essential difference between a transaction and a vision, and the connecting of phantasms or aerial, optical appearances with a real scene, which do not affect the mental faculties of the beholder. But whether this preternatural illusion, favoured by the situation, did take place, or the kingdoms of Palestine only were represented to the eye, the devil in desperation now undisguises himself, and makes a bold attack upon our Lord, hoping to influence his mind with the ambition of attaining a splendid earthly monarchy; and that he presented this temptation in his proper character as Satan, is manifest, from his declaration, Luke 4:6, “For that is delivered unto me, and to whomsoever I will I give it;” a falsehood worthy of the “father of lies,” but yet often to appearance, and considering the manner in which earthly power was acquired in that age, and is often acquired now, had great verisimilitude; and it was true, in fact, that he had established a dark and polluted, though not an uncontrolled, dominion among the nations.

Verse 9

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

If thou wilt fall down and worship me. — This mode of paying homage was exacted by eastern monarchs; but, when understood to imply a reference to the Divinity of the person so honoured, was refused by Jews and Christians. Here it is manifest from the answer of our Lord, that it was demanded by Satan as the god and absolute ruler of the world; on which our Lord indignantly rebukes him: “Then saith Jesus unto him. Get thee hence Satan; for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.” Our Lord here showed both that he knew Satan, and that he had power to command him away, — a proof that his submission to the humiliation and pain of these temptations had been voluntary; and that they were endured not for his own sake, but for ours.

Verse 12

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

He departed into Galilee. — This is the commencement of a distinct part of St. Matthew’s gospel, and contains a narrative of the acts and discourses of our Lord in Galilee; not the Galilee over which Herod who had cast John into prison ruled; but Galilee of the Gentiles, so called because it had a great mixture of Gentiles in the population; the coasts of the lake of Tiberias, in the dominions of Philip the tetrarch.

Verse 13

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

He came and dwelt in Capernaum. — Henceforward Capernaum is to be considered as Christ’s place of residence. Hence it is called “his own city.” It was upon “the coast” of “the sea” of Galilee; and gave him easy access by water to many very populous districts, where he delivered many of his discourses, and wrought his astonishing miracles; but from this country he went up thrice in the year, at the great feasts, to Jerusalem.

Verse 14

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

That it might be fulfilled, &c. — St. Matthew begins his quotation with a part of the first verse of Isaiah ix, which has led some to refer the former part of the verse to the preceding chapter; so that a distinct prophecy will begin with “the land of Zebulun, and the land of Naphtali,” &c., which tribes formerly possessed what was afterward called Galilee of the Gentiles. Bishop Lowth, however, following Mr. Mede, begins the prophecy as in our Bibles, with the whole of the first verse, and translates it, “But there shall not hereafter be darkness in the land which was distressed; in the former time, (alluding to the Assyrian invasion, and the captivity of the ten tribes,) he debased the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali; but in the latter time he hath made it glorious, even the way of the sea, beyond Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles, the people that walked in darkness,” &c. To prevent these countries from being confounded with Persia, which is called “beyond Jordan,” in verse 25, Περαν του Ιορδανου may be rendered, “on the Jordan,” on this side Jordan, which was the situation of Galilee, with reference to Judea, where Isaiah delivered his prophecies. Περαν in this sense is a translation of עבר which signifies near to, as well as beyond.

There can be no pretence here to suppose an accommodation of this prediction quoted from Isaiah ix, since it stands in connection with that illustrious prophecy of Christ, “For unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given,” &c. Here the Divine Saviour, so predicted, rises as the light of the world upon “Galilee of the Gentiles,” a province which had within itself a mixed population of Jews and Gentiles; being partly inhabited, says Strabo, by Egyptians, Arabians, and Phenicians and so was a striking emblem of the whole world of Jews and Gentiles. These “sat in darkness,” in ignorance of God and spiritual things, and “in the region and shadow of death;” expressions used for the grave, and for the obscure abodes of the departed spirits of the wicked in the invisible world; and, by a strong and impressive metaphor, they are used to describe the misery, helplessness, and danger of a people without truth and piety. In a still stronger sense they apply to all the pagan Gentile nations, and the Jews in that state of unbelief and rejection in which they have been for so many ages, But as Christ fixed his dwelling in Galilee of the Gentiles as THE LIGHT in these regions of darkness, and THE LIFE amidst these shadowy abodes of death, and filled this benighted country with his heavenly doctrine; so shall this glorious prophecy, one of those which, as Lord Bacon says, have “a germinant accomplishment,” be in every succeeding age more extensively fulfilled, until “the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.” Isaiah uses the phrase, “walked in darkness,” and St. Matthew, “sat,” the meaning of which is the same; each, in the Hebrew mode of speaking, signifying TO BE or TO DWELL.

Verse 17

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

From that time Jesus began to preach, &c. — He fully employed himself henceforth in his public ministry; and to show that the doctrine of the necessity of repentance was not to be confined to John’s dispensation, he himself begins by preaching it as a necessary preparation for that spiritual kingdom which he was about to establish; and thus he taught all his servants, by his own example, where their ministry was to BEGIN. In that respect he took up the dispensation of John the Baptist into his own, and laid the foundations of his religion in “repentance toward God,” as well as faith in his own offices.

Verse 18

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

Walking by the sea of Galilee. — This was otherwise called the sea or lake of Tiberius, from the city of that name which was built on its western shore by Herod the tetrarch, and so named in honour of Tiberius Cesar, This inland sea had also the appellation of the lake of Gennesaret; and in the Old Testament is called “the sea of Cinnereth.” It is between seventeen and eighteen miles in length, and near six in breadth. It is surrounded with a varied scenery of mountains and valleys; is generally smooth and tranquil, but subject to storms of wind suddenly beating down upon it from the mountains.

Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother. — These had been disciples of John the Baptist; but this was not their first calling, which is related John 1:37, &c. At first, therefore, they only continued with Christ for a time; now they were more specially called to “follow” him, and to abandon their occupation to be trained up to be apostles for Christ, by constant attendance upon his teaching, and observance of his example, and of those mighty works by which he demonstrated himself to be “sent of God.”

They and others were first called by Christ as disciples; afterward he chose twelve apostles to be “with him always,” Mark 3:14.

For they were fishers. — Why then did our Lord, choose men in this humble station? — The answer is,

1. That they were pious men, the fruit of the ministry of John the Baptist.

2. That it might in future be acknowledged, that “the excellency of the power was of God, not of man.” That the Gospel might appear to all not to be a device of human genius and subtlety, but “the wisdom of God, and the power of God.” These “fishers” nothing but that wisdom and that power could make fishers of men, in the sense of our Lord; which meant, not only to bring men into the visible community of Christians, but into a state of personal reconciliation with God, and the experience of his regenerating grace. No minister “catches men” until these changes are effected in them by his labours; and his instrumentality as to these stupendous results, affecting the present and eternal interests of his hearers, can only be rendered effectual by the constant co-working of a Divine power. The metaphor suited these circumstances; they had been successful in their occupation as fishermen; now they were to be appointed to the office of instructing and saving souls, and our Lord promises to give them good success in that loftier calling.

Verse 21

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother. — There was another James, the son of Alpheus. These were also distinguished by the former being called James the Greater, and the latter James the Less; which was probably a distinction founded upon seniority. The John here mentioned was “the beloved disciple.” He, it is probable, had previously become a disciple of Christ at the same time with Andrew and Simon Peter, though he suppresses his name in the account, John 1:35.

In a ship. — Πλοιον denotes a vessel of any size. In a boat is somewhat too diminutive a rendering; in a ship, too stately. A fishing vessel may express the precise idea.

Verse 23

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

Teaching in their synagogues. — The antiquity of synagogues is a matter of dispute, but at least from the return of the Jews from the Babylonian captivity, they were established in all their towns and cities, and in the larger cities were very numerous. This was the case also in foreign countries wherever the Jews resided. They were not places for offering sacrifices, which could only be done at Jerusalem, but for public worship on the Sabbath; comprising the reading of the law and the prophets, exhortation, and the oblation of alms. Their officers were,

1. The ruler of the synagogue, αρχισυναγωγος , who presided, and called persons to read the sections for the day, or to exhort, out of the congregation assembled, unless some one voluntarily offered himself, for which it appears there was full liberty given.

2. The elders of the synagogue, πρεσβυτεροι , who were the counsellors of the ruler, and with him formed a court for the settling of disputes, and the punishment of minor offences by expulsion or the infliction of “forty stripes save one.” Hence our Lord foretells that his disciples should be “scourged in the synagogues;” and allusion is made several times in the Gospel, to the penalty of being “cast out of the synagogue.”

3. The collectors of alms, διακονοι , deacons.

4. The servants. The Jews who were unable to go up to Jerusalem on these great festivals are supposed to have had worship in the synagogue on those festivals as well as the Sabbath. This important institution of synagogues, where a congregation was always to be met with on the Sabbath, and often at other times, and where liberty of exhortation and of interpretation was allowed to qualified persons, our Lord availed himself of to teach his heavenly doctrine; and itinerated through all Galilee, preaching the Gospel of the kingdom. It was also by ministering in synagogues that the apostles gathered Churches in different parts of the world; and when Christian congregations were formed, they followed, during the first ages, nearly the same mode of worship as that of the synagogues, with the addition of the Lord’s Supper.

Sickness and disease. — These terms are often used promiscuously; but if any distinction can be. made, νοσος rather signifies a violent disorder; μαλακια , a chronic debility. In the next verse is added, divers diseases and torments, with which people were seized and bound; by which are probably meant those torturing spasmodic affections to which the people of those countries are liable, as tetanus, spasmodic cholera, as well as rheumatic and other more lingering maladies, &c. Those which were possessed with devils, δαιμονιζομενους , (see the following note,) and those who were lunatic, σεληνιαζομενους , that is, epileptic; and perhaps also deranged patients, whose disease was generally thought to be affected by the age of the MOON, and hence the name both in Greek and English; and those that had the palsy, παραλυτικους , the paralytic. All these disorders are mentioned at once, to indicate the immense number of sick persons that were brought to Christ, and his unbounded benevolence and power. Here truly we see the light shining upon these Galileans and Syrians, the people who sat in darkness and the region and shadow of death, as “the Sun of righteousness rising with HEALING in his wings.”

Verse 24

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

Those possessed with devils. — An affliction, calamitous beyond all others, and therefore not only distinguished from the diseases which follow, but put at the head of them; and the removal of which, even more decidedly than any other, marked the Divine power of Christ, and set the broadest seal upon his mission: “But if I with the FINGER OF GOD cast out devils, no doubt the kingdom of God is come upon you,” Luke 11:20. The word used in such cases is δαιμων , a term applied by the Greeks to their gods; but which the Jews applied only to evil spirits, in the number of which indeed they reckoned the Gentile deities. Very strenuous have been the attempts of a certain class of commentators to resolve these demoniacal possessions into madness, and other disorders, which they say the Jews popularly ascribed to evil spirits, as the ignorant among ourselves ascribe extraordinary complaints to witchcraft. But who does not see that this theory seriously compromises the character of our Lord himself? — because it supposes him to have practised upon the credulity and ignorance of the people, and to have falsely represented the casting out of devils as a stronger proof of the Divine power than the healing of diseases; whereas, according to this view, it was but an act of the same kind. How, also, will they reconcile to this theory the conduct of our Lord, who addressed them as beings separate from, and independent of, the possessed; and held conversations with them?

How, again, will they account for the use of the phrase “casting” them out? how, that those afflicted persons, who were possessed, should UNIFORMLY address Jesus as the Messiah? And, finally, how can the history of the devils being permitted to enter the herd of swine be interpreted consistently with common sense, unless an actual possession of men by evil spirits, inflicting torments, and producing and exasperating diseases, be admitted? Human philosophy must necessarily be unable to penetrate the mystery of this permitted evil, because the invisible world and its laws cannot be made the subject of investigation; but with such consequences as must follow from the rejection of the historical character of the narrative, no modest or serious man will dare to entangle himself. Better reject the revelation of God entirely, than set up a mode of interpretation which renders its meaning uncertain, and its use doubtful. (See note on verse 1.) “When,” says Campbell, “I find mention made of the number of demons in particular possessions, their actions so expressly distinguished from those of the man possessed, conversations held by the former in regard to the disposal of them after their expulsion, and accounts given how they were actually disposed of; when I find desires and passions ascribed peculiarly to them, and similitudes taken from the conduct which they usually observe, it is impossible for me to deny their existence.”

Verse 25

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

And there followed him great multitudes, &c. — So widely, did his fame spread, and so powerful an impression was made, that the news of the actions and discourses of this great prophet was spread from one part to another, until great multitudes followed him from Galilee, both Upper and Lower and from Decapolis, a part of Syria, lying on the east of the sea of Galilee, and so named from its ten cities; and from Jerusalem; whither his fame had also spread, though as yet he had not visited it since the commencement of his public ministry; and from Judea, that is, Judea properly so called; and from beyond Jordan, which was a distinct country, named otherwise Peræa. (See the maps of Palestine.)

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Matthew 4". "Watson's Exposition on Matthew, Mark, Luke & Romans". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/rwc/matthew-4.html.
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