1. That the Messiah should come from God, as his minister and servant. 2. That his own personal character should be of the most mild and gentle kind. 3. He should be most tender in his dealings. 4. He should give victory to truth and righteousness in the world. 5. That not only Jews, but Gentiles should trust in his name.
This prophecy, be it remembered, was delivered centuries before our Lord’s birth, and was applied by the early Jews to the coming of the Messiah.
§ 33. — PLUCKING THE CORN UPON THE SABBATH, Matthew 12:1-8.
Of this chapter the part 1-45 has a considerable completeness in itself. It is not inserted precisely in its chronological place; but the facts, though distant in time, stand in their chronological order, and are grouped together in order to show the deepening hostility which Jesus encountered from the Jewish religious leaders. The first two (§ 33 and § 34) occurred soon after the first assault upon Jesus at the passover, and were the proper prelude to the later instance of blasphemy in § 42, with its fearful denunciation, and the cavil of § 43, with its terrible parable. There is a marked increase in the intensity of the Pharisaic hostility.
Matthew places together these two miracles, not because occurring at the same time, but because they touched upon the same point, namely, our Lord’s teaching as to the Sabbath.
Mr. Trench remarks:
“The cures on the Sabbath actually recorded are seven in number, and are the following: That of the demoniac in the synagogue of Capernaum, (Mark 1:21;) that of Simon’s wife’s mother, (Mark 1:29;) of the impotent man of Bethesda, (John 5:9;) of the man with the withered hand; of the man born blind, (John 9:14;) of the woman with a spirit of infirmity, (Luke 13:14;) of the man who had the dropsy, (Luke 14:2.) We have a general intimation of many more, as at Mark 1:34, and have already observed that the ‘one work’ to which our Lord alludes at John 7:21-23, is perhaps not any of the miracles which he has recorded at length, but one to which we have no other allusion than that contained in these verses.”
Our Lord’s defence of himself for these miracles of mercy on the Sabbath brings from him the enunciation of the great principle, that positive and ceremonial institutions were really established for the highest good of man, and must give way whenever they come in collision with it.
2. The decalogue, which is of perpetual validity, commands the observance of one day in seven as Sabbath or rest, (for rest is the meaning of the word Sabbath,) but lays down no unchangeable law as to the particular day.
3. After the resurrection of Christ the Jewish Sabbath, which was laid upon the primitive Sabbath, was abolished, and “the Lord’s day,” (Revelation 1:10,) or Christian Sabbath, was superimposed upon another day. Thus the Christian Sabbath, being the same as the decalogue Sabbath, or the creation Sabbath, is of perpetual obligation and universal observance.
4. That Sunday is the “Lord’s day,” is clear from early Christian history; that it is the weekly holy day of the Christian dispensation is clear, because this day is alone mentioned as a sacred day after the resurrection; it is not identical with the overlaid Jewish Sabbaths, for they are abolished. It is, therefore, by necessity identical with the universal creational Sabbath, which is perpetual in its obligations.
5.The priests in the temple profane the sabbath — They perform what, on the reasoning of the Pharisees, would be profanation. The priests on that day killed, flayed, and dressed and burned the sacrifice, and baked the showbread. So that the law of itself made provision for its own profanation, as the Jews of the Saviour’s time construed law.
It appears from the passage in 1 Samuel xxi, that it was fresh bread which David ate. But by the law (Leviticus 24:8) the fresh bread was set on the table on the Sabbath. Hence, Alford infers that our Lord might have drawn a double argument from David’s case in regard to the Sabbath.
There is something striking in the remark that Jesus, who was king and priest of the new dispensation, draws his justifying example from a king and the priests of the old dispensation.
6.One greater than the temple — And, therefore, able to dispense with temple and ritual sanctities when they come in collision with the object of my mission, or the maintenance of my ministers in the performance of that mission. It in fact adds a force to our Lord’s words, that the word greater is, in the Greek, in the neuter gender. Christ is a greater existence or thing than the temple.
7.I will have — I require of men the performance of mercy. And not sacrifice — Not sacrifice, or ceremonial performances, as a substitute for the performance of moral duties. It is useless to profess to be a pious man, without being an honest, just, and good man.
8.Lord even of the sabbath day — As the Lord said, in the sixth verse, that he was greater than the temple, now he affirms himself greater than the statute law of Moses; nay, he is greater than the Sabbath law established by God at the creation. Thus does he maintain himself to be the incarnate Legislator of the world, He is truly God manifest in the flesh. Our Lord here asserts his high dignity in order to silence the murmurings of the Jews at his assuming to change the fundamental interpretations of the law. But may we not also believe that he here hints as Lord of the Sabbath, that some change would be made in its observance under the new dispensation of the Son of man?
In regard to the Sabbath we may here observe, 1. There is good proof that it was established on the day of the holy rest of God, at the end of the creative week. That day was the first Sabbath, just as that week was the first week. This Sabbath formed a part of the patriarchal religion, and was adopted with the great body of the patriarchal system into the law of Moses. Yet under Moses much that was specially Jewish was overlaid upon the original Sabbath, so that a double Sabbath, as it were, existed on the same day.
§ 34. — WITHERED HAND RESTORED, Matthew 12:9-21.
10.His hand withered — A case of paralysis, by which the hand was shrunken away, and the nerves of motion had become incapable of action. This has ever been regarded as an incurable disease. They asked him — Luke informs us that they were watching our Lord’s movements that they might be able to accuse him of breaking the Sabbath. That they might accuse him — The position of the minds of the accusers of our Lord was peculiar and strange. They did not doubt that he was about to work a miracle; they expected it. But they are intending to make out that his miracles are contrary to the divine law, and so immoral. They would then have some ground for saying that he worked miracles by a diabolical power; which charge they did soon begin to make.
11.And he said — Our Lord proceeds to answer them by showing, from their own practice, that deeds of necessary mercy did not infringe the Sabbath day. Pit — Cisterns dug in the earth for the purpose of water, into which animals often fell. It is said by Stier, that the Jews (probably in consequence of these words of our Saviour) were afterward accustomed to cover these pits with planks. Our Lord here does not merely convict the Jews on their own ground. He proves by this example, again, that they are making the preceptive law war against the law of universal benevolence.
12.A man better than a sheep — By as much as a man is better than a brute, by so much is it more justifiable to heal this man than to rescue your cattle.
The physician performs his work of preserving health and life rightfully on the Sabbath day; though a conscientious one will allow his profession to interfere as little as possible with his Sabbath duties. And so, though it is not lawful to employ the day in making property, it may be lawful to prevent destruction, as in case of fire.
13.Stretch forth thine hand — Our Lord here commanded an intrinsically impossible act. Yet the volition or will to stretch forth was not impossible. And when the will was exerted, power to accomplish was granted.
When men say that they cannot obey the will of God, because God’s Spirit does not operate upon them, let them know that a graciously bestowed power from God is conferred on all, through the atonement, to will to obey, if they will use it. And as they proceed onward in the effort to obey, they will find divine strength supplied when needed and used. Let them truly exert, in the spirit of this man’s faith, their graciously conferred powers, as Christ’s Gospel directs, and they will find their powers energized and recreated.
14.Then the Pharisees went out — They were determined not to admit the defence which they could not confute, and were bent upon using the act to charge our Lord’s miracles to a diabolical source.
Held a council — Mark says that the Pharisees at this council called in the aid of the Herodians. These were the partisans of Herod, who maintained the rightfulness of the Roman dominion over Judea, and the propriety of introducing Greek and Roman customs among the Jews. Thus did these sticklers for the law of Moses unite with its bold political subverters in order to accomplish their designs against Jesus. Little sincere surely could have been their burning zeal for that Sabbath and the law at the moment they were plotting thus with the overthrowers of both.
16.Charged them’ not make him known — Our Lord is now sensible that his enemies are aroused. His deeds of goodness must be in secret. He who came to save men must hide his benefactions from the eyes of men. See note on Matthew 8:4.
17.By Esaias the prophet — The evangelist considers this quietude of our Lord as going to fulfil Isaiah 43:1-4, a passage in which the Messiah is described, under the image of one of the ancient Hebrew judges, as establishing righteousness in the earth by the most silent and spiritual means and influences. It predicted these things:
18.Behold my servant — Christ, though the Son, humbled himself, and took upon himself the form of a servant. He shall show judgment — That is, he shall reveal the principles of truth and righteousness to the Gentiles. Here the enlargement of the dispensation of the Messiah beyond the limits of Judaism (which was so great a difficulty at first even with our Lord’s apostles and the Apostolic Church) is expressly predicted by the Old Testament prophets.
19.He shall not strive — Here the peaceful character of the Saviour is set in beautiful contrast with the greatness of his deeds. Though he rule the nations with his law, he shall be peaceful and noiseless. His victories shall be the victories of peace. The rulers of Christendom have sometimes spread Christianity by the sword; but that was in express contradiction both to the personal character of Christ and to the precepts and principles of his Gospel. Strive — To strive is to fight. Our Lord at this time retreated from publicity to avoid all contest or strife. Nor cry — He shall raise no battle cry. Voice in the streets — Rallying his partisans to the riot and the sedition.
20.A bruised reed — He shall be the tenderest of all conquerors to those who desire to submit to his authority. The spirit, bruised like a bruised reed, shall receive no crushing blow from him. He will be rather the tender cultivator, who will bind up and restore the broken plant, than the ravager, who will break its bruised stem. Smoking flax — Rather smoking lamp-wick. The submitting soul, whose life flickers like the last spark of the expiring lamp-wick, will find that He will not extinguish, but pouring in fresh oil will raise it to a blaze. Judgment unto victory — Tender as he is, he still shall conquer. Judgment here means rectitude, or righteousness, as laid down in the divine law and embodied in the Gospel. But this righteousness the Messiah shall send forth to victory, to conquest, and to triumph in the earth. So successful, though so meek, shall this subduer be.
21.Gentiles trust — The spirit of inspiration here paraphrases the words of the prophet, giving his essential meaning rather than the exact terms. In the book of Isaiah the words are, “The isles shall wait for his law.” By the isles are meant the distant nations of the earth, especially those separated by water, and so the Gentiles in general. We have here a clear prediction that the religion of the Gospel shall become universal.
Mr. Gibbon objects to the proofs from prophecy, because they so commonly predict the Messiah as a conquering warrior. The present prophecy is one of those predictions that clearly show the descriptions of his warlike victories to be truly figurative representations of the triumphs of his holy doctrines.
22.One possessed with a devil, blind, and dumb — The kingdom of wickedness naturally associates with the natural evils of men. Disease and possession are the product of sin, and they are thus found going naturally together. See note on Matthew 4:24.
23.Amazed — These fresh displays of love surprised and melted their hearts. They cannot but feel the movings of faith upon one so mighty and so benevolent. Son of David — They no doubt were aware that he was reputed to be of the royal line; and these miracles, coming thus from him, awakened a presentiment that he might indeed be the illustrious Son of David, predicted in the prophets as the coming Messiah.
24.Pharisees heard it — The miracle was reported doubtless to them for explanation. They felt that if his pure doctrines should prevail, their influence was at an end. The miracle they do not deny, but ascribe it to an infernal power.
Beelzebub the prince of the devils — So great and numerous are the miracles that they cannot ascribe them to any one less than the prince. Beelzebub was worshipped at Ekron, (2 Kings 1:1-2,) as the god of flies; that is, as the god who protected the inhabitants from the annoyance of gnats and flies. See note on Matthew 10:25.
25.Every kingdom divided against itself — Our Lord proceeds to refute the slander that he is confederated with the prince of darkness. It is plain that he is working against the evil power, He is driving the infernal power from his strongest posts, and beating him back from his boldest incursions into the world. Now this would imply that the kingdom of evil was working against itself, and that Satan was in the act of self-destruction. No doubt the kingdom of evil is the kingdom of confusion, but it cannot be conceived that it should divide against itself and one half fight for the good.
26.Cast out Satan — Our Lord here assumes, what doubtless the Jews would grant, that to cast out Satan is the strongest proof that can be visibly given of hostility to Satan. It is a case of the directest possible issue. It is a point where the kingdom of God and of Satan come into direct hostile contact. Certainly, as the general fights the battle for one side, the side of good, it is the highest possible proof that he is truly on that side.
27.Your children — That is, your disciples. That there were among the Jews exorcists, who at least professed to cast out devils, we know from the Apocrypha, from Josephus, and from Acts 19:12-14. It appears by the writings of the earliest Christian fathers that this power of exorcism remained for some time in the primitive Church. The truth doubtless is, that as the power of Satan had been for a period extraordinarily manifest at our Saviour’s coming, (see note on Matthew 1:20,) by the fact of possession, so some power had been divinely allowed to the Jews to dispossess. If, therefore, the Jews looked upon the appearance of demoniac possession as an increase of the power of Satan in the world, and if they looked upon the power of expulsion exercised by their own sons as a benevolent power and hostile to Satan, what right had they to ascribe this stupendous mastery over evil spirits, displayed by our Lord and exercised by him in the most merciful way, to any power but the highest power of God? Judging our Saviour as they judged their own sons, they were bound to attribute his miracles to a gracious power.
28.The kingdom of God — So numerous and powerful had been our Saviour’s works that the Jews had ascribed them, not to a spirit of common order, but to the very prince of hell. But if they were as beneficent as they were powerful, why not ascribe them to the prince of heaven, and so conclude that the kingdom of heaven had come?
29.A strong man’s house — Our Lord here argues that his expelling devils proves his superiority over them. As a strong man enters the house of a weaker and spoils his goods, so our Lord enters the devil’s tenement and despoils him of it.
30.Not with me is against me — Our Lord here illustrates by a proverbial maxim the contrariety of Satan’s kingdom and his own, as shown by the opposite works of the two.
He — Any one; here spoken in allusion to Satan. Not with me — That does not harmonize with me in spirit and in action. Is against me — And therefore one is not to be considered the ally of the other, as you charge me with being the ally of Satan. Gathereth’ scattereth — These words allude to a gathering in harvest. Co-labourers gather in concert; the ravager of their fields scattereth the produce.
31.Wherefore — That is, in consequence of what has just been said. This seems to imply either that the Pharisees had committed a blasphemy against the Holy Ghost, or were in great danger of so doing. There is nothing to show conclusively which. All manner — All sorts of sin may upon repentance, through the atonement, be forgiven. Blasphemy — The original meaning of the word blasphemy is simply reproach or slander. At the present time it is applied almost exclusively in reference to the Supreme Being. It may therefore, in general, be defined “the utterance of a presumptuous insult toward God.” But as it may be as truly committed in thought or in act as in speech, it may rather be defined the offering a presumptuous insult to God. It is a great sin. Humanly speaking, there may be greater crimes; but there can be no greater sin. If the magnitude of an offence be measured by the rank of the dignity insured, this must be pre-eminently an infinite sin. It is therefore the wonder and the glory of the atonement that it should be forgiven, or that the author of it should escape everlasting retribution. This passage informs us that such forgiveness, through the atonement, can take place, when the blasphemy and the insult infringe against the Father or the Son; but when the blasphemy finds itself appropriated by the Holy Ghost as an insult to himself, there is no forgiveness.
32.Against the Son — Olshausen has called special attention to the gradations of aggravation implied in the blasphemy successively against the Father and the Son and the Spirit. But perhaps in detail he has hardly so developed it as to bring out the true point.
Let it be remarked, that when sin is committed against the Father or the Son, neither is ever viewed as withdrawing himself from the sinner during the day of his probation. God, the Father, as Creator and Providence, still continues his mercies; and the atonement of God the Son is never probationarily withdrawn. But the Spirit does become grieved, and does become vexed and depart.
God the Father is contemplated as the original back-ground, so to speak, of Deity; God the Son is Deity manifest in the redemptive plan and dispensation; God the Holy Spirit is Deity, specially in his sanctifying personality, going forth as a Spirit of purity, making his trials to win and assimilate man to his own pure nature. As a pure Spirit, he is also represented as a tender and a sensitive Spirit. He is easily vexed and grieved and made to depart. On this point let us remark:
1. To grieve, to vex, or to resist the Holy Spirit does not of itself amount to this blaspheming the Holy Spirit. For all these, as matter of fact, are done, and yet the sinners do repent and be saved. And from this fact has perhaps arisen the real difficulty which commentators have found in this passage.
2. Nor is this blasphemy of the Holy Spirit the same as becoming hardened against impression, or becoming hopeless by continuance in sin, or as “sinning away the day of grace.” It is plainly, however long the preparation, one heinous act; so heinous in itself as that the Spirit becomes, therefor, the sinner’s enemy. Isaiah 63:10.
3. Not every reproach, nay, not every word or expression truly in itself blasphemous toward the Holy Spirit, not even with blasphemous intention, really reaches its aim; that is, really is accepted by the Holy Spirit as blasphemy against itself. Experience shows that such words are repented of, and, though perhaps not often, forgiven. Even a dignified human spirit will frequently refuse to impute to persons the full insult they intend. The mind of the Spirit itself is most pure, wise, and sovereign judge when the insult offered to itself shall be held as blasphemy against itself. Just as many a man of high and sensitive honour will not be insulted by certain characters, either from their insignificance, or their irresponsibility, or their ignorance, so the Holy Spirit will not always accept of intended insult offered to itself as this blasphemy against itself.
4. When the Holy Spirit does so think right to accept and feel the full force of a blasphemy offered in thought, word, or deed against itself, then does it resent the insult with a justice that knows no mercy. It makes not the decision capriciously or arbitrarily, but with perfect measurement of the actual guilt; and then with absolute finality it abandons the sinner, never to return. The man is left in a hardness that will never relent. He will live doubtless in a state of moveless indifference until his departure to his own place. This results from the very fact of his being abandoned. The atonement, though not withdrawn, will never avail, and the Spirit of holiness is his perfect and pure “enemy.” That relation is as immortal as the nature of both.
Whosoever speaketh against — A softer phrase is here used than blasphemeth. Nakedly taken, it would imply that every uttered word derogatory to the Holy Spirit is unpardonable. The phrase to speak against, must, however, be interpreted by the previous phrase blasphemy against. Or else we may make a difference between blasphemy or reproachful words uttered in regard to the Holy Ghost, and blasphemy or evil speaking against the Holy Ghost; meaning by the latter phrase that blasphemy which the Holy Ghost does, in his infinite wisdom and justice, interpret and accept against itself. Of the sin against the Holy Ghost, the Holy Ghost is the sole Judge. It behooves blasphemous men to beware. The unfrequency with which such men ever come to God is sad proof that they do sin beyond all pardon. But it may be remarked, that inasmuch as the withdrawal of the Spirit will ever result in complete indifference, the very fear of a penitent man, that he has committed it, is full demonstration that he has not so done.
A sin unto death is spoken of by Saint John, for which no prayer is to be offered. That the sin mentioned by Saint John, is the same as our Lord here describes is evident from this, that our Lord declares that all other sins are pardonable; whereas the sin described by John is unpardonable. The same may perhaps be said of the sin of apostacy described by the apostle in the sixth chapter of Hebrews. It appears that there is but one unpardonable sin, and all these are it. Neither in this’ to come — Neither in time nor in eternity. Mark 3:24, expresses it: “Hath never forgiveness, but is in danger of eternal damnation.” It is difficult to say in what words the eternity of retribution could be more unequivocally expressed.
33.Either make the tree good — That is, consider or hold the tree to be good. There cannot be a permanent contrariety between a moral agent’s moral actions and his moral dispositions.
There is a sort of religious doctrine which teaches that men are not depraved in their natures, but only in their actions. Their nature back of their actions, it is claimed, is either innocent or it is neutral — neither good nor bad; and all of human depravity consists in the fact that men do freely act bad, and always will do so. Now, in opposition to this doctrine, our Lord teaches that there is in men a moral nature back of moral action; just as the tree is back of the fruit, just as the fountain is back of the stream, and just as the treasury full of good or evil is drawn from by the owner. It follows from this fact of man’s fallen moral nature, that in order to be pure in life he must become pure in heart. There must be a change in heart in order that there should be a complete change in moral action. This does not indeed deny that in individual acts (as in the fall of the angels or of man) their free will may choose wrong from a right nature. But in their permanent history, the actions and the character will conform to each other.
Now no nature can change itself. If the nature is bad, the resulting action is bad; and if the action is bad, that bad action cannot react and make the nature good. So that no mere natural man can regenerate himself; that is, make his own nature good and pure. No filthy stream can make its fountain clean. No corrupt fruit can send back a stream of pure sap and regenerate the tree.
There must then be a divine aid. A gracious power must be able to enter our nature, and there, by power, make all right, or must communicate to the fallen nature the power to perform those conditions by which it may come right. Fatalism teaches that God by arbitrary power seizes some part of the human race, and absolutely makes them right. Our own Church teaches that God gives the power to all men by his Holy Spirit to do works meet for repentance; that grace used obtains further grace and power; so that by a gracious ability, and not by a natural ability, man may attain reformation, regeneration, and salvation. Yet that grace is not irresistible, nor necessarily unresisted, but accepted and used in action, with a full power of willing and acting otherwise instead.
Tree corrupt — Moral corruption of nature lies to a great degree in the state of the dispositions. It consists in a permanent temper and purpose to indulge the appetites, passions, and desires, with little or no regard to the divine law or the obligations of absolute right. Hence sin is either a state or an action which is a transgression of the law.
33-37.Our Lord in this passage first argues in regard to himself, that as his fruit is good, namely, his miracles of mercy, it follows that he is good, and not, as they have blasphemously charged, on the side of evil. He then retorts the same principle on themselves. They cannot do right and good so long as their hearts are evil. Nothing but the change of heart can produce the beneficent change of life.
34.O generation of vipers — Our Lord in the last verse had used these doctrines to show that he was pure and good, because his actions were so. He now turns upon his opponents to convince them that they were the reverse in nature, and must be the reverse in action. The term generation of vipers indicates that depravity is inborn. As the viper’s nature is derived by propagation from its original parents, so man’s moral nature is derived from his progenitors. Divine grace is therefore necessary as that which by nature we cannot have; and a man must as a free agent use that grace which worketh within him both to will and to do. He must not receive the grace of God in vain. How can ye — They could not by mere nature, any more than an Ethiop can make himself white. Experience, Scripture, and reason teach this. God’s grace, over and above nature, must give the power of change, and man must use it. Abundance of the heart — Abundance of the dispositions back of the will.
35.Good treasure of the heart — A most beautiful expression. The heart of a good man is a treasure of good things. Divine truths, blessed expressions, spiritual susceptibilities, holy emotions, dwell there richly, and abound. Like a wealthy banker, he has only to draw the precious treasure forth whenever occasion demands. Evil treasure — But the depraved man also has his treasury of evil. Hostile feelings against truth and goodness, skeptical arguments, malign emotions, purpose to prefer self-interest to right, hatred of God and religion, are all heaped together, and ready to furnish of their store whenever the occasion demands.
36.Every idle word — Every worthless and unworthy word. The term idle means not merely unimportant or insignificant; but implies that there is some positive evil in the word, something on account of which it were better omitted.
It is not meant by this that all the prattle of the mother to her child, or of children among themselves, or all the pleasantries of social life, are in themselves evil; to be condemned because they do not tend to some special religious, pecuniary, or scientific end. It may indeed be said they do tend to a right and natural end. They give play to the pleasant and cheerful emotions, which are a part of rightful human happiness. They develop the faculties, and physiologically quicken the vital circulation, and are necessary to health both of body and of mind. Only beware that they are regulated by good sense, decency, and moderation; for, let it be remembered, they are all to pass God’s judgment trial, to be condemned if evil, and thereby to condemn us.
37.For by thy words thou shalt be justified — This explains the preceding verse. By our words, however unimportant, we shall be justified or condemned, according as they are good or evil.
38.Master, we would see a sign — This asking for a sign seemed to be a standing demand, made at different times; by the scribes and Pharisees, as here; by the Pharisees with the Sadducees in Matthew 16:1; Matthew 16:4; and by the people in Luke 11:16; Luke 11:29. See also John 6:30; 1 Corinthians 1:22. Our Lord uniformly not only refused compliance, but rebuked the request. From this, some skeptics have boldly inferred that our Lord could not furnish the sign; and that he really performed no miracles; since miracles are signs. To these cavils, perhaps answers will appear in the course of our remarks. But we may here remark that although a miracle is in a true sense a sign, yet there is a difference between a miracle and a sign. A miracle is a work going forth from our Lord’s own power and act. A sign would be some divine token, given from some other source, as a confirmatory seal of his Messiahship. Now, as miracles going out from our Lord’s power were proper and true manifestations of himself, it was upon proof of those that our Lord rightly held that he was to be received. He claimed to be accepted for what he himself was or did. What the Jews at this time sought, as appears from Luke, was a sign from heaven; and it is probable that they had in their minds what in Matthew 24:30, is called “the sign of the Son of man in heaven;” that is, the glory of his approaching presence, preceding and betokening him. And this is explained in Daniel 7:13, where the Son of man, with his glory in the heavens, is described, exhibiting the Lord in the same array of state, though not upon the same occasion. The Jews may have identified this glorious manifestation in the skies with the Messiah’s first advent or coming. And as it was, possibly, this sign of the Son of man, or manifestation in the heavens, which the Jews now had in their thoughts in asking a celestial sign, so hence we have a good reason why our Lord does not grant their request. It was out of the divine order; inasmuch as that glorious appearing belonged to his second coming in power and judgment, and not to his first coming in humiliation and for salvation. But see notes on Matthew 16:1-4.
39.He answered — Our Lord uniformly rebuked this demand for a sign. The temper of the demand itself was not to be indulged. Luke says that they made the request tempting, or making experiments upon him. They had a moblike desire to see splendid shows in the sky, not unlike the excitement of the populace for fireworks on some day of public celebration. And for a Messiah they wished a leader of the people who should gratify their riotous tastes and give them war and victory. This is the Messiah that gross human nature ever seeks. Adulterous — Compare note, Matthew 4:8, and introduction to chap. v, par. 4. Israel had once been, as it were, the true spouse and bride of Jehovah. Their true spouse now was Jesus, the Jehovah incarnate. But with a vile spiritual adultery they were forsaking him, and embracing in their hearts a false Messiah, the incarnation of their own riotous tastes and appetites. Hence they were not only an evil, but adulterous generation. Sign of the prophet Jonas — Our Lord, even in refusing a sign, gives a sign. His prophecy of his burial, after the manner of the swallowing of Jonah, was in itself a miracle of foreknowledge, and so a proof of his Messiahship.
40.Three days — His resurrection, connected with the diurnal revolution, would be an astronomical sign.
Our Saviour was not in the tomb three days and three entire nights, according to our modes of calculation. He expired on Friday afternoon and rose on Sunday morning. He was therefore entombed but the nights of Friday and Saturday. But the Jews reckoned the entire twenty-four hours in an unbroken piece, as a night-and-day. They counted the odd fragment of a day, in computation, as an entire night-and-day. Our Lord therefore was dead during three night-and-days.
The sign of the prophet Jonah was full of warning to the Jews. Jerusalem was the modern Nineveh; a living parallel to Jonah, greater than Jonah himself, was predicting its destruction; and the three night-and-days suggested that without repentance Jerusalem might meet the destruction that Nineveh, by repentance, escaped. Jonah prophesied a destruction in forty days; Jerusalem was destroyed after forty years. Whale — Rather, sea monster. But Dr. Thomson has the following remarks on this subject:
“The Bible says that the Lord had prepared a great fish to swallow up the prophet; but in Matthew it is called a whale by our Saviour. Now, if I am correctly informed, there are no whales in the Mediterranean. How do you explain this?
“Simply by the fact that the multiplication of ships in this sea, after the time of Jonah, frightened them out of it, as other causes have driven all lions out of Palestine, where they were once numerous. It is well known that some of the best fishing stations, even in the great oceans, have been abandoned by the whales because of the multitude of whalers that visited them. This sea would of course be forsaken. If you could stock it thoroughly with these monsters to-day, there would be none left a year hence. But up to the time of Jonah navigation was in its infancy, ships were few and small, and they kept mostly along the shores, leaving the interior undisturbed. Whales may therefore have been common in the Mediterranean.
And there are instances on record of the appearance of huge marine creatures in this sea in ancient days. Some of these may have been whales. The Hebrew word dâg, it is true, means simply any great fish; but nothing is gained by resorting to such a solution of the difficulty. Our Lord calls it a whale, and I am contented with his translation; and whale it was, not a shark or lamia, as some critics maintain. In a word, the whole affair was miraculous, and as such, is taken out of the category of difficulties.”
Heart of the earth — As our Lord was not buried in the ground, but enclosed in a tomb of rock, some have understood by the phrase, heart of the earth, the place of departed spirits, to which our Lord at his death descended. But surely the rock is a part of the earth, as truly as the soil. The bosom of a rock is very expressively styled the heart of the earth.
41.Shall condemn it — The far superior example of the Ninevites shall reflect condemnation on the Jerusalemites. They repented — Though Jonah and Nineveh were a type of Jesus and Jerusalem, yet there is one point in which there is contrast rather than parallel. Nineveh repented on much less evidence. Jerusalem rejected the most beneficent miracles, persisted in sin, and died in impenitence. Thus did our Lord, in refusing a sign, give a sign and a witness.
42.Queen of the south — Of Sheba. Alford says: “Josephus calls her ‘queen of Egypt and Ethiopia,’ that is, Meroe, whose queens were usually called Candace. Abyssinian tradition, agreeing with this account, calls her Maqueda, and supposes her to have embraced the Jewish religion in Jerusalem. The Arabians, on the other hand, also claim her, calling her Balkis, which latter is probably nearer the truth, as Sheba is a tract in Arabia Felix, near the Red Sea, near the present Aden, abounding in spice, and gold, and precious stones.”
43.When the unclean spirit — Our Lord draws a picture of the present apostate generation, (including the blaspheming Pharisees,) from the demoniac whom he had dispossessed before the commencement of this discourse, and whose case had given rise to it, (Matthew 12:22.) That generation had melted, and been transiently converted, under the preaching of John.
They were precisely like the man he had just dispossessed. But how had the devil again possessed them! Dry places — Waterless, and therefore uninhabited deserts. Walketh through dry places — The demon, driven by divine power from the hearts of men, is pictured by our Lord as not going to hell directly, but as lingering in the unpeopled regions of the dry desert. Seeking rest, and findeth none — Because he pants for a residence in a human being.
44.Return into my house — The living human frame. Empty, swept — The terms still describe the man under the figure of a house ready for the demon to enter. He is empty of the blessed Spirit now grieved away; swept of all past holy influences and impressions. Garnished — Furnished; fitted up for his devilish tenant. The old word garnish, garniture, applies properly to all ornamental furnishing of a house or other object.
45.Goeth’ taketh’ seven — He will not re-enter weak and alone. He will take with him a strong reinforcement, so as not again to be ejected. Worse than the first — At least seven times worse. This wicked generation — From whom John’s preaching briefly expelled the devil, but to whom eight devils have now returned.
ATTEMPT OF THE MOTHER AND BROTHERS OF JESUS TO SEE HIM, Matthew 12:46-50.
46.Mother’ brethren — Concerning the brothers of our Lord, see on chap. Matthew 13:55, also Matthew 1:25. Stood without — This was in Galilee, but in what house is not said. He was doubtless surrounded within doors by a dense congregation, probably in a synagogue. The purpose for which the mother and brothers of Jesus came to obtain an interview with him, is explained in the parallel passage of Mark 3:31. The family are anxious for his safety or his health, and come to induce him to retire from his ministry to their home at Nazareth.
It seems that our Lord’s disciples were within the house on this occasion, and his brothers were without. They could not then have been the same persons. James the Less, therefore, could not have been one of his brothers, for he was one of the apostles. Nor could James’s brother Jude, otherwise called Thaddeus and Lebbeus. Nor could their brother Matthew, if he was a son of the same Alpheus or Cleophas. Hence the James and Judas, or Jude, among the disciples, who were sons of Cleophas, and cousins of Jesus, were not the same as the James and Judas mentioned Matthew 13:55, who were literally brothers of Jesus. Jesus then had half-brothers, the sons of Mary, and the perpetual virginity of Mary is not to be believed.
Our Lord had brothers, (half brothers,) whose names were James, Joses, Simon, and Judas, and also sisters, He had cousins, whose names were James, Joses, Judas, and Matthew. See note on Matthew 13:55.
49.Disciples’ my mother — Our Lord here refused, or at least delayed to see his relatives, to teach an important lesson. Nothing more close than the connection of Christ and his believers. The tie of human relationship is physical and temporal; the tie to Christ is spiritual and eternal. And we see from this passage how absurd is the idea that Mary is our intercessor with Christ or God. The connection of any saint with Jesus by faith is greater than this tie of blood in itself is.
Our Lord speaks of mother, brother, and sister; but never of any human father.
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Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Matthew 12". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
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