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Bible Commentaries

John Broadus' Commentary on Matthew
Matthew 12

 

 

Verses 1-21

Matthew 12:1-21.
Jesus Is Accused Of Breaking The Sabbath

Pursuing his treatment of successive topics, connected with our Lord's life and labours (compare on Matthew 11:2), the Evangelist now speaks (Ch. 12) of the opposition he encountered. This subject has been several times already briefly alluded to, (Matthew 9:3, Matthew 9:11, Matthew 9:14, Matthew 9:34, Matthew 10:25, Matthew 11:19) but is here treated at length, various instances of opposition being stated, with our Lord's reply in each case. First, we have two instances of their charging him with violating the Sabbath, viz., because the disciples plucked ears of grain on the Sabbath, (Matthew 12:1-8) and because he healed the withered hand on the Sabbath. (Matthew 12:9-13) At this, the indignation of the Pharit sees became so violent that it was necessary for Jesus to withdraw, in which withdrawal the Evangelist points out the fulfilment of another prophecy. (Matthew 12:14-21) Next, we have their charge that he cast out demons by league with Beelzebub. (Matthew 12:22-31) Then, the demand for a "sign." (Matthew 12:38-45) And finally, an instance of opposition even from his nearest relatives. (Matthew 12:46-50) The fact that these last cases (Matthew 12:22-50) occurred on the same day on which he afterwards spoke the great series of Parables in Matthew 18 (see on "Matthew 13:1"), may account for Matthews' introducing the whole subject of opposition just at this point of his treatise. Our present section comprises the two accusations of violating the Sabbath and the immediate consequences. We shall see that this belongs much earlier in the history than the remaining instances.

I. Matthew 12:1-8. The Disciples Pluck Ears Of Grain On The Sabbath

Compare Mark 2:23-28, Luke 6:1-5. At that time (season), the same expression in Greek as in Matthew 11:25. It does not necessarily show that what follows took place on the same day with what precedes, but only that it belongs to the same general period of time. (Compare on Matthew 3:1, and contrast Matthew 13:1) At that period, viz., while Jesus was engaged in journeying about Galilee, teaching and healing (see on "Matthew 4:23"and see on "Matthew 9:35"), occurred the events now to be narrated. The order of Mark, who is usually chronological, supported by that of Luke, places these first instances of opposition in the early part of the Galilean ministry, before the Sermon on the Mount. The standing grain shows the time of year, between Passover and Pentecost.(1) As it thus followed a Passover, the question arises to which of the Passovers mentioned in the Fourth Gospel we must refer it. Now, it cannot have been that of John 2:13, after which Jesus tarried in Judea, (John 3:22) with so extensive results of his ministry (John 4:1) as to require at least several months. To place it just after the Passover of John 6:4, a year before the crucifixion (Edersheim ch. 35), is to disregard altogether the order of Mark and Luke, for this supposes that Mark 2:23 f. follows Mark 6:31 ff., and Luke 6:1 ff. follows Luke 9:10 ff. But if we suppose the feast of John 5:1 to be a Passover, (as most of the Harmonies do), all fits exactly. This is long enough after the beginning of our Lord's ministry for the hostility to have become acute; these instances of opposition on the ground of Sabbath-breaking in Galilee correspond to one during the just preceding Passover in Jerusalem, (John 5:10) in both cases awakening a desire to put him to death; (John 5:18, Matthew 12:14) and the order of Mark and Luke is conserved. Of course it is possible that the Passover here in question should be one not mentioned in the Fourth Gospel; but the other supposition is far more probable.

Through the corn (or, grain-fields), literally, through the sown (places), which Tyndale and his followers rendered 'through the corn,' while in Mark 2:23 and Luke 6:1, they make it 'corn-fields,' though the Greek is the same. The word 'corn,' in various European languages, is applied to bread-stuffs in general, especially to that most used in the particular nation, whether wheat, barley, rye, or oats. In England it means especially wheat, while in America it has become confined to maize, which our English ancestors called Indian corn. Besides this and the parallel passages, we find Tyndale and followers using 'corn' in Mark 4:28, Acts 7:12, where the Greek has the common word for 'wheat,' so translated by them all in Matthew 3:12, Matthew 13:25, and wherever else in New Testament it occurs. In John 12:24 'a corn of wheat' (Com. Ver.) means a grain of wheat (Rev. Ver.), as in barley corn. Why Rev. Ver. should not here say 'grain-fields' and 'ears of grain' (Noyes, Bible Un. Ver.) and 'wheat' in Mark 4:28, Acts 7:12, is hard to tell. Among the Jews the lands of different owners were not usually separated by fences, but only by stones set up at intervals as landmarks, (Deuteronomy 19:14) and the roads were not distinct from the fields, as commonly among us, but ran right through them, as Southern plantatation paths often do, so that the grain grew up to the edge of the path (compare on Matthew 13:4); the same thing is seen in Palestine to-day. Disciples, see on "Matthew 5:1". Began to pluck the ears of corn (grain), either wheat or barley, probably the latter, if it was just after the Passover. Luke 6:1 adds, 'rubbing them in their hands,' a thing familiar to every one who has been much in harvest fields. Began to pluck, and presently the Pharisees interfered, and tried to stop it.

Matthew 12:2. These Pharisees (compare on Matthew 3:7) were making a short Sabbath day's journey, about one thousand yards, through the same grain-fields. Behold, calling his attention to something important. Thy disciples do that (are doing). Mark (Mark 2:2) makes it a question addressed to him, and Luke (Luke 5:2) a question addressed to the disciples. In many cases the Evangelists do not undertake to give the exact language employed, but only the substance of it (compare on Matthew 3:17). Which is not lawful to do upon the Sabbath. It was expressly permitted to do this in general, (Deuteronomy 23:25) and such things are still common in Palestine, but the Jews maintained that it should never be done on the Sabbath. For that day they numbered each distinct act that could be called work as a separate sin, requiring a separate sin-offering; to pluck the ears was one act, to rub out the grains was a second (compare Edersheim, ch. 35). As to the numerous and often absurd Rabbinical regulations for the Sabbath, see Edersh. Appendix 17, Geikie, ch. 38.

3 f. Our Lord's reply to this censure of the disciples and himself contains, as here reported, four distinct arguments, Matthew 12:3 f., Matthew 12:5 f., Matthew 12:7, and Matthew 12:8. A fifth argument is given in this connection by Mark 2:27, a sixth below in Matthew 12:11 f., a seventh (probably just before at Jerusalem) in John 5:17, and an eighth (much later) in John 7:22 f. The first argument is an appeal to history, viz., to the conduct of David, (1 Samuel 21:1-6) which these Pharisees would admit to have been justifiable. The point of the argument is, that necessity would justify a departure from the strict law as to things consecrated. And they that were with him may be connected either with 'did,' or with 'was hungry,' and there is no substantial difference. The participation of David's followers is unmistakably indicated in 1 Samuel 21:4 f.; our Lord brings it out clearly in order to make the case more obviously parallel to that of himself and his followers. The house of God, meaning the tabernacle. (Exodus 23:19; Judges 18:31; 1 Samuel 1:7, 1 Samuel 1:24, 1 Samuel 3:15; 2 Samuel 12:20; Psalms 5:7; compare 1 Corinthians 5:1) Shewbread, literally, loaves of the setting-out, loaves that were set out, the common Septuagint' expression, in Hebrew usually 'bread of the face', i.e., placed before the face of Jehovah. For the law about this, see Leviticus 24:5-9. Twelve very large loaves of bread were placed on a small table (at a later period, two tables, 1 Chronicles 28:16), which sat on the right side of the holy place to one entering. When the Sabbath came, new loaves were substituted, and the old ones eaten, there in the holy place, by the priests, the descendants of Aaron—for this offering was to he regarded as peculiarly sacred. (Leviticus 24:9) David was fleeing southward from Gibeah, Saul having determined to slay him, and came to Nob, just north of Jerusalem, where the tabernacle then was. Having left in great haste, without food, he deceived the high-priest by saying that the king had sent him on a secret and urgent mission, and thereby induced him, as there was no other bread on hand, to bring some of the shew-loaves, which had been removed from the table, but not yet eaten. It seems likely, from 1 Samuel 21:5 f., though not certain, that the bread had been changed on that day, which was therefore the Sabbath. This would give additional appositeness to the illustration, but the point of the argument does not depend on it. Our Lord makes no allusion to the deception practised by David, which any one would agree was wrong. The sole point he makes is, that for David and bib attendants (Luke 6:4) to eat the hallowed bread was justifiable, on the ground of necessity—a view in which all his hearers would concur. Kimchi, a celebrated Jewish commentator of the thirteenth century, on 1 Samuel 21:5, maintains that in case of hunger the shew-bread might be eaten by those who were not priests; not only that which had been removed from the table, but that which was upon it; yea, even when there was none to put in its room. And if the law about the hallowed bread might be set aside by necessity, so might the law about the hallowed day. The disciples really needed food. Mark (Mark 2:27) here records our Lord's adding the general principle, 'The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.' It came into existence for the benefit of mankind, and so it may be temporarily set aside by any imperative necessity. (Compare 2 Maccabees 5:19.)

Matthew 12:5 f. A second ground of justification for the disciples was drawn, not from sacred history, but from the law. (Numbers 28:9-10, Numbers 28:18-19) Here as in Matthew 5:17, Jesus shows (Weiss) that he is not abrogating or violating the law, for he justifies his course out of the law itself. Or, introducing another argument, as in Matthew 7:9. Have ye not read, as in Matthew 12:8; (compare Matthew 12:7) Matthew 19:4, Matthew 21:16, etc., reproaches them with ignorance of Scripture. Temple is here the general term, 'sacred (place),' including the whole consecrated enclosure—buildings, courts, and all (see on "Matthew 4:5"), thus applying equally well to the tabernacle and to the Temple. The priests were directed to offer certain sacrifices in the sacred place on the Sabbath—more, in fact, than on other days-though to do so required the slaying of animals and other acts prohibited on the Sabbath, and which under any other circumstances would 'profane the Sabbath.' This was right, because the temple with its sacrifices was of higher importance than the Sabbath, and would override the requirements of its sanctity. Blameless, or, guiltless, both in Matthew 12:5 and Matthew 12:7, or else 'blameless' in both, the Greek word being the same in both verses, and the verbal connection being of some importance. Our Lord argues that the same principle applies to the case in band, and still more strongly, because here, he solemnly tells them, is one—or,something—greater than the temple. The correct reading makes the Greek word not masculine, 'a greater (man),' but neuter, 'a greater (thing),' compare Matthew 12:41, and Matthew 11:9. This peculiar form of expression may have been intended to render the statement less distinctly offensive to Jewish prejudices, but it unquestionably asserts a superior dignity and importance connected, in whatever way, with him and his mission. The temple was superior to the Sabbath, and there was that here which was superior to the temple; much more, then, might the usual law of the Sabbath be set aside without blame, when it became necessary for his disciples in his service. This argument would be best appreciated by Jewish readers, and is given by Matthew only. On a later occasion, our Lord drew a similar argument from circumcision. (John 7:22 f.) The principle he here lays down would show the propriety, even upon grounds of Old Testament law, of all such active exertions on the Sabbath as are really necessary in attending upon and conducting religious worship. (Matthew 12:8 goes further still.)

Matthew 12:7. A third point in the defence is drawn from a prophet, as the others had been from history and law. This again is given by Matthew only, who has Jewish readers especially in mind. But if ye had known what this meaneth—literally—what is, i.e., what means, see on "Matthew 9:13". These Pharisees, many of them Scribes, did know what the passage was in its words, but did not know what it was in its true meaning. The quotation, from Hosea 6:6, has been explained above on Matthew 9:13. The idea here may be thus expressed: "If you knew that God desires kindness and good-will to men, rather than sacrifice, you would not have condemned the guiltless." It is implied that if they really knew the meaning of the passage, they would have acted according to it. Only those who are willing to obey Scripture, fully comprehend its spiritual instruction. (compare John 7:17) The disciples are 'guiltless,' just as the priests in the temple are, because they 'are busy in connection with something even greater than the temple. And if these Pharisees were disposed, according to the prophet's words, to treat their follow-men kindly and fairly, rather than to make piety consist exclusively in outward observances, they would not have condemned them. (compare Matthew 23:23)

Matthew 12:8. This gives a fourth defence of the disciples, in the shape of a reason for declaring them 'guiltless.' Acting under their Master's authority, they had a right to do what would not usually be proper on the Sabbath, for he is Lord of the Sabbath. (Even is genuine in Mark and Luke, but not in Matthew) This statement carries higher the idea of Matthew 12:6. There he declared the presence of something superior to the temple, and a fortiori, to the Sabbath; here he says that the Messiah is Lord of the Sabbath, having full authority to control and regulate it as he may see proper. In both cases it is implied that the speaker is the person referred to, but it is not distinctly stated, because the time for publicly taking such a position has not yet come. The Son of man, see on "Matthew 8:20". If the inspired apostles of Jesus afterwards changed the day to be observed, and absolved Christians from all particular Mosaic as well as traditional rules concerning the manner of observing it, they were not going beyond the authoritative control over the Sabbath which their Master himself had claimed.

As a sixth point, our Lord now shows (Matthew 12:9-13) that it is also proper to depart from the strict observance of the Sabbath, when requisite to the relief of a suffering fellow-man, or even a suffering brute. These two instances have led to the familiar saying, derived from the Westminster Catechism, that we may do on the Sabbath "works of necessity and mercy." Another example of healing on the Sabbath had occurred, apparently just before, leading to a seventh argument; (John 5:9, John 5:17) and yet other instances are recorded in Mark 1:21, Mark 1:29 ff; Luke 13:10 ff.; Luke 14:3; John 9:14 ff. This frequent departure from what the Jews thought to be proper on the Sabbath, with the pains here taken to explain and defend his course, was doubtless designed by our Lord as a part of his general undertaking to teach them a more spiritual interpretation and observance of the law (compare on Matthew 5:17-21). In order to this he showed, by word and deed, the error and folly of that rigid formalism with which they insisted so much on the minute and literal observance of all its outward requirements, regardless of its true spirit and real design, He has here said nothing at all calculated to impair the sanctity of the Sabbath. On the contrary, as "the-exception proves the rule," his argument that there are peculiar circumstances in which its observance should be set aside, necessarily involves the idea that in general it should be observed. The Sabbath seems to have been enjoined upon our first parents as soon as they were created; it and the institution of marriage form the only relics that remain to us of the unfallen life in Paradise. The command to hallow it was included among the Ten Commandments, the moral law which is of perpetual obligation. The very term "Remember the Sabbath-day to keep it holy", (Exodus 20:8) seems to treat it as not something new, but an already existing institution; and it appears from the history of the first fall of manna (Exodus 16:5, Exodus 16:22-30) that the people were previously acquainted with the Sabbath and that some of them were disposed to forget or neglect it. Recent research shows that the Babylonians before the time of Abraham observed a week of seven days, ending with a rest day which they strictly kept, and which the Assyrian writers call by the name Sabbath. With this agrees the week repeatedly mentioned in Genesis, and it is now too late to say that the Sabbath was unknown till the lawgiving at Mount Sinai. In the further legislation which followed the giving of the Ten Commandments, to the general idea of hallowing the day, is added the prohibition of work on the Sabbath, under penalty of death. (Exodus 31:14, Exodus 35:2) To carry this out more effectually, they were prohibited to kindle a fire on that day (Exodus 35:3) probably in order to prevent cooking, just as a double supply of manna fell on the sixth day, and none on the seventh. This regulation about making a fire being forgotten or contemned by one of the people, who was found gathering sticks on the Sabbath, he was, by divine direction, stoned to death; (Numbers 15:32-36) on which occasion it was provided that the people should wear a fringe on the garment, with a ribbon of blue (see above on "Matthew 9:20"), to remind them continually of the commandments of Jehovah, which they seemed so prone to forget. (Numbers 15:37-41) Now these particular regulations, being a part of the civil and ceremonial law of the Jewish people, ceased to be obligatory when the natural gave way to the spiritual Israel, through the work of Christ. But the Sabbath still remained, as it existed before Israel, and was even from the creation a day appointed by God to be holy, (Genesis 2:3) which the Mosaic law recognized at the outset, in reminding the people to keep it holy. After the resurrection of Christ an additional significance was given to the day, as representing not only "the completion of God's work of Creation," but also "the triumphant completion of the still more glorious work of Redemption." (Boyce, Catechism of Bible Doctrine.) In order to this, the day appears to have been changed by the apostles from the seventh to the first day of the week, as that on which Christ rose. (John 20:19, John 20:26, Acts 20:7, 1 Corinthians 16:2, Revelation 1:10) This added significance and change of day did not affect the perpetual obligation to keep holy the Sabbath. But Christianity, true to its spiritual character, gives no particular precepts as to the mode of observing the day, and leaves us to perform the duty of keeping it holy in such methods as an enlightened conscience may deem most conformable to its twofold significance and its general design. Compare below, "Homiletical and Practical."

II. Matthew 12:9-13. Healing The Withered Hand On The Sabbath

(Compare Mark 3:1-5, Luke 6:6-10) And when he was departed thence, he went into their synagogue. We should most naturally infer, had we Matthew's narrative alone, that this incident took place on the same Sabbath as the preceding. But Luke 6:6 says, 'on another Sabbath'; and nothing in Matthew's statement necessarily conflicts with this. The connection in Mark 3:7 appears to show that the place was in Galilee, but it cannot be more exactly determined. 'Their synagogue' means the synagogue of the people in that vicinity. (Compare on Matthew 12:1) As to the synagogues, see on "Matthew 4:23". A man which had, etc. Having a withered hand is the best supported reading. Luke adds (Luke 6:5) that it was his right hand. We cannot determine the precise nature of the affection which caused his hand to wither. Jerome mentions that the so-called "Gospel" of the Nazarenes called him a stone-mason—which, though only a tradition, would illustrate for us the importance of his right hand. And they asked him. Luke states that they were the Scribes and Pharisees. He and Mark only mention that they watched him to see whether he would heal on the Sabbath; Matthew does not contradict them, but simply adds that they asked him whether it was lawful. That they might accuse him, probably before the 'judgment,' the local tribunal (see on "Matthew 5:21"). The later Jewish writings show much discussion as to the propriety of healing on the Sabbath. All agreed that it ought to be done where life was in danger (see Wet., Wun., or Edersheim), but they of course differed much on the question what diseases could be considered as endangering life. The Talmud gives a host of directions for different cases, with many absurd distinctions; e. g., "One who has a sore throat must not gargle with oil; but he may swallow oil (for food), and if that cures him, all right." One Rabbi taught that a man might take a purgative drink, if he took it for pleasure, but must not take it for the purpose of healing. The law had said nothing about healing disease on the Sabbath, but many Rabbis took the ground that it was "work." (Exodus 31:14) Tyndale and followers, including our Com. Ver., have 'on the Sabbath days,' in Matthew 12:10 and, Matthew 12:12, but the plural form of the Greek word is frequently used (Grimm) in the singular sense, as they all translate in Matthew 12:11.

Matthew 12:11 f. He appeals not as in the former instance, to the history, the law, or the prophets, but to the course pursued by the people themselves in other matters. This argument is here given by Matthew only, but similar arguments are given by Luke, (Luke 13:15, Luke 14:5) as afterwards used on other occasions. Mark mentions (Mark 3:3) that Jesus told the man to stand up in the midst, probably that the bystanders might look at him with sympathy, and thus justly appreciate the propriety of healing him. To awaken healthy feeling, is sometimes the best remedy for unreasonable prejudice. One sheep would be a matter of no great consequence, and yet even this the owner would lift out of a pit on the Sabbath day. In the Talmud some Rabbis maintained that it was enough when a beast fell into a pit to give it food; others said, put something under it to lie on, and if by means of this it climbs out, all right; others said, take it out with the intention of killing it, even though afterwards you change your mind and preserve it. To such silly evasions were men driven, by the attempt to convert morality into a mere system of rules. Jesus appeals to common sense, asking whether any one present would fail in such a case to preserve his property. Edersheim: "There could he no doubt, at any rate, that even if the traditional law was, at the time of Christ, as stringent as in the Talmud, a mall would have found some device by which to recover his sheep."The old Roman religious law provided that on the sacred days an ox might be drawn out of a pit. A man better—of more value—than a sheep, see a like argument in "Matthew 6:26", and in Matthew 10:29-31. Wherefore, or, 'so that,' a general inference from what precedes. It is lawful. The word law does not enter into the Greek expression (see also in Matthew 12:10), which means simply it is allowable, or permissible. To do well (good) on the Sabbath. Com. Ver. 'to do well,' looks literal, but really gives a different sense. Wyclif used 'to do good,' Tyn., Cram, Gen., Rheims, 'to do a good deed.' In Mark and Luke he first puts this as a question, 'Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good, or to do harm,' intimating that by delaying to heal the man he would be inflicting an injury. They made no answer, and he 'looked round about on them with anger, being grieved at the hardening of their heart.' (Mark 3:5) They could not reply to his arguments, nor deny that he was right, and yet would not give up their fierce opposition. And so he looked upon them with mingled indignation and grief.

Matthew 12:13. And it was restored in the act of stretching it forth. Whole, healthy, sound, well. Even from their own point of view the Pharisees must have found it difficult to call this breaking the Sabbath, for Jesus used no remedy, performed no action, simply spoke a word, and the man merely stretched forth his hand. They had hoped to make a strong ease against Jesus, and being silenced by his argument and baffled by his action, they were all the more angry, 'filled with madness,' (Luke 6:11)

Matthew 12:14-21. Plot To Destroy Jesus, And His Withdrawal

For the plot compare Mark 3:6, Luke 6:11; the consequent withdrawal is described by Mark (Mark 3:7-12) with his characteristic fullness of detail. Held a council, rather, took counsel, against him, as the same phrase is rendered by Com. Ver. in Matthew 22:15, and elsewhere, and a similar one in Mark 3:6, and as all English versions before King James rendered here. Mark tells us that the Pharisees drew into this consultation the Herodians, who were their own enemies. (Compare on Matthew 22:16) Remembering that this was before the Sermon on the Mount (see on "Matthew 12:1"and see on "Matthew 12:15"), and probably almost two years before the Crucifixion, we perceive that the enmity of the leading Jews had already gone very far. A similar effort to slay him in Jerusalem and upon the same charge of breaking the Sabbath, (John 5:16-18) probably belongs in the history shortly before this effort in Galilee. (See on "Matthew 12:1".) The two movements may have arisen independently, or emissaries may have been sent from Jerusalem, as was done a year later. (Matthew 15:1) Their pretended reason for plotting his destruction was that he violated the Sabbath, and so was condemned to death by the law; (Exodus 31:14, Exodus 25:2) the true reason seems to have been their jealousy of his growing credit among the people, and fear that he would impair their own influence. What a reproach upon human nature, to see men maintaining that it was a mortal sin to heal disease on the Sabbath, and yet foully plotting on that same sacred day, how they might destroy the innocent Teacher and Healer.

Matthew 12:15. Learning that such was their intention, our Lord retired from that neighbourhood, and when crowds gathered to him in his new position beside the Lake of Galilee, he healed them all, and charged them not to make him known; (Matthew 12:16) in which course on his part the Evangelist points out the fulfilment of another prophecy. (Matthew 12:17-21) Already in Matthew 4:12 we have seen him withdraw from some place to avoid persecution; and there will be similar instances hereafter. (Matthew 14:12, Matthew 15:21, Matthew 16:5) Alexander : "The retreat before his enemies was prompted not by fear, but by that wise discretion which was constantly employed in the selection and the use of the necessary means for the promotion of the great end which he came to accomplish. As it entered into the divine plan that his great atoning work should be preceded by a prophetic ministry of several years' duration, the design of which was to indoctrinate the people in the nature of his kingdom, to prepare the way for its erection, and to train the men by whom it should he organized, it formed no small part of his york to check and regulate the progress of events, so as not to precipitate the consummation, but to secure and complete the requisite preparatory process." The hour was not yet come, for the Son of man to be delivered into the hands of sinners. (Matthew 26:45) He never shrank from doing good because of the knowledge that it would provoke opposition; he simply transferred his beneficent labours to another scene, as he directed the disciples to do. (Matthew 10:23) And great multitudes—or, many—followed him. This was early strengthened by some copyists into the familiar phrase, 'many crowds,' or 'great crowds,' as in Matthew 4:25, and often. And he healed them all. Another general and comprehensive statement of his great work (compare on Matthew 4:23, Matthew 8:16; Matthew 9:35). At this period, as appears from a comparison of Matthew 12:15 with Mark 3:7-12, and Luke 6:11-20, the Sermon on the Mount was delivered. We have already seen (on Matthew 4:12, and Matthew 8:1), that in all this portion of his Gospel, Matthew departs from the order of time, and groups his materials according to the relation of topics, as is often done by historical writers. And (he) charged them, the Greek word implying threats of displeasure if they should disobey him. For some general reasons why he usually prohibited persons healed from talking about it, see on "Matthew 8:4". An additional and special reason is here given, viz., that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by (through) Esaias the prophet. For these phrases, compare on Matthew 1:22, and Matthew 4:14. It was the divine design in his teaching thus quietly and unostentatiously, that this prophecy might be fulfilled. The connection, therefore, looks especially to that part of the prophecy which is contained in Matthew 12:19 f., but the Evangelist cites a larger portion, because the remainder also found a fulfilment in Jesus. The Jews expected the Messiah to be a great conqueror, whose warlike exploits would attract universal attention; and as the character and course of Jesus were quite the reverse of all this, it was important for Matthew's purpose of convincing the Jews that he was Messiah, to point out that his action in this respect was in accordance with a Messianic prediction—all the more, as the current Septuagint translation had so interpolated the passage, as to turn away attention from its proper Messianic application (see on "Matthew 12:18"). This quotation, from Isaiah 42:1-4, is made by Matthew alone, being the seventh prophecy he cites, as fulfilled in Jesus (compare on Matthew 8:17), besides the two with reference to John the Baptist. (Matthew 3:3, Matthew 11:10) It is quite characteristic of the two first Gospels, that while Matthew alone gives the prophecy, Mark (Mark 3:7-12) gives much more copious details of the withdrawal and the healings.

Matthew 12:18-21. This interesting quotation is partly from the Septuagint, but with various alterations, for the sake of close conformity to the Hebrew, or to bring out more clearly the Messianic application. Isaiah 42:1-4 may be literally translated from the Hebrew as follows: "Behold my servant, whom I will sustain; my chosen (one) in whom my soul delights. I put my Spirit upon him; he will bring forth judgment to the Gentiles. He will not cry out, he will not lift up (his voice), he will not cause his voice to be heard abroad (or, 'out of doors'). A bruised reed he will not break, and a dim wick he will not quench. He will bring forth judgment unto truth. He will not grow dim like the wick, i.e., become feeble, faint, nor be broken like the reed, i.e., broken down, disheartened, till he set judgment in the earth; and for his law (or, 'instruction') distant coasts shall wait." Now compare Matthew. Behold my servant. The 'servant of Jehovah,' in Isaiah 42:19, is primarily Israel. But here, as in Hosea 11:1, and elsewhere, there is a typical relation between Israel and Messiah (compare above on Matthew 2:15); and the 'servant of Jehovah' also means Messiah. Some of Isaiah's expressions refer equally well to either, Israel or Messiah; in others, as Isaiah 52:13, and Isaiah 53, the reference to Israel seems to sink out of sight, and to our eye there appears nothing but Messiah. (Compare at the beginning of Matthew 24.) The Septuagint translators, understanding Isaiah 42:1 of Israel, inserted the name, "Jacob, my servant.... Israel my chosen." The Greek word here rendered 'servant' in Matthew and Sept., is pais (see on "Matthew 8:6"), which might of itself mean either 'child' (Tyndale, Cram), or 'servant' (Geneva, Com. Ver.); but the Hebrew, here and. elsewhere in Isaiah, is ebed, which unambiguously means 'servant.' In like manner the question is settled as to Acts 3:13, Acts 3:26, Acts 4:27, Acts 4:30, by the manifest reference to this portion of Isa. Whom I have chosen, while the Hebrew has 'will sustain.' Matthew may have purposely used the term 'have chosen' from Isaiah 43:10; Isaiah 44:1, as better bringing out the Messianic reference in the term 'servant of the Lord.' It was certainly lawful for an inspired writer to express more clearly in his quotation an idea that was really present in the prophet's language. (Compare on Matthew 2:6) God will sustain this servant of his, because he has chosen him, to perform an important work. So as to my beloved, instead of Hebrew 'my chosen.' The expression 'is well pleased' reminds us of the words spoken from heaven at the baptism and the transfiguration, which probably alluded to this passage of Isaiah (See above on "Matthew 3:17".) I will put my Spirit upon him, i.e., in a special, remarkable degree. (Com. Isaiah 61:1, Luke 4:18, John 3:34, and see above on "Matthew 3:16".) And he shall shew (will declare) judgment to the Gentiles. 'Announce' or 'declare' (as in Hebrews 2:12) interprets the general term 'bring forth' of the Hebrew. 'Judgment' exactly translates the Hebrew word. It might have been understood as meaning justice and rectitude in general. (Matthew 23:23, Luke 11:42) But it is better to take it, in the prophecy and here, as denoting the whole body of what God declares to be just and right. (Compare Isaiah 51:4) Strive, or 'wrangle,' may have been chosen by Matthew to contrast Jesus with the Scribes, who were constantly disputing and wrangling; perhaps also (Plumptre) to contrast him with "false prophets and leaders of revolt, such as Judas of Galilee had been." In the streets, gives greater distinctness to the Hebrew phrase; he would not talk in public places, in a way designed to attract attention. (Compare Matthew 6:5) If on such an occasion as John 7:37, Jesus 'stood and cried out' in the temple court, it was not through ostentation, lint for the good of those by whom he would make himself heard. A bruised reed shall he not break, completely break, break off. And smoking flax (a wick), literally, smoking linen. The lamp wick was usually a strip of linen; when there was but little oil, it would burn dimly and smoke. Instead of being a harsh conqueror and monarch, Messiah would be gentle and kind; persons bowed down with conscious unworthiness, feeble as if verging toward spiritual extinction, he would not overwhelm and destroy, but would console and strengthen. Till he send—or bring—forth judgment unto victory. The prophecy is quoted in a condensed form. The play upon words in the Hebrew, He will not grow dim (like the wick), nor be broken (like the reed), could not be made fully intelligible in a translation without tedious circumlocution, and as that clause was not important to the present fulfilment of the prophecy, Matthew omits it. He then combines, to some extent, the two brief clauses, 'he will bring forth judgment unto truth' (i.e., truthfully, thoroughly, so that the whole truth about it should be known), and 'until he set judgment in the earth' (i.e., establish it), in each of which clauses the leading term is 'judgment,' i.e., God's righteous requirements. The result is this expression, 'till he send forth judgment unto victory,' i.e., victoriously, which includes the two notions of its being fully manifested and fully established. The Evangelist thus avoids complexity, and comprises the whole in one simple expression. 'Send forth' is literally thrust forth, cast abroad, the word explained on Matthew 9:38; and its notion of forcible action fits the following term victory. Messiah will overcome all obstacles and opposition, and victoriously proclaim and establish God's word. And in his name shall the Gentiles trust, or hope.(1) (Compare Romans 15:12) Here the Evangelist follows the Septuagint, which was sufficiently accurate for his purpose (compare on Matthew 3:3); nay, which states more clearly than the Hebrew expressions a notion specially appropriate to the gospel, and which the Hebrew really contained. The Hebrew word rendered 'isles' or 'coasts' is frequently used for distant lands in general (Isaiah 41:1, Isaiah 41:5; Isaiah 49:1; Isaiah 51:5), so that 'nations,' or Gentiles (see on "Matthew 4:15"), is in such a case equivalent to it. The Hebrew 'shall wait for his law' meant shall confidently expect or hope for his instruction. (Isaiah 1:10, Proverbs 1:4, Proverbs 4:2, Proverbs 7:2) (Compare Toy on Quotations.) The Sept. substituted 'name' and Matthew retained it, since 'hope in his name' amounted to much the same thing as 'wait for his instruction,' both denoting dependence on him. Alexander: "As the first part of the prophecy was cited as an introduction, so this last part was added to give roundness and completeness to the whole quotation. At the same time these supplementary expressions, although not what the author meant especially to quote, serve the incidental but important purpose of suggesting, in the language of a prophet, the extent of the Messiah's mission and the ultimate conversion of the Gentiles." Where Matt. departs from both Hebrew and Sept. it is surely quite as easy to refer the changes to the inspired Evangelist himself, as to a hypothetical oral Aramaic version used in the synagogue. (Toy.)—With this prophetic description of Messiah, compare what Jesus says of himself in Matthew 11:29. How different was his quiet course of life from the turbulent violence of those pretended Messiahs, who frequently involved the nation in confusion and distress.

Homiletical And Practical

In the Christian world at the present day, we may find two extremes in respect to the observance of the Sabbath, as well as to many other things. Some act as if the Mosaic regulations for the manner of observing the Sabbath were still in force, and so they are excessively strict, and unwisely scrupulous. Others imagine that when the civil and ceremonial law ceased to be binding, the Sabbath also ceased to be obligatory, and so they come to hold very loose notions as to abstaining from ordinary employments on the Lord's Day. One class incline to condemn all enjoyment on the Sabbath, at home or abroad; the other class are in danger of making it a day of mere idleness and festivity. Some make no distinction between the Jewish Sabbath and the Christian; others, in urging that the Lord's Day is wholly different from the Jewish Sabbath, forget that it is nevertheless the same as the primeval Sabbath, with only an additional significance and a change in the day of the week. It is a day "hallowed" by divine appointment-distinguished from other days, and set apart to sacred uses; a day of rest from ordinary toils, bodily and mental, of worship and other distinctively religious employments. In an age when reading occupies so large a part of civilized life, it would certainly seem important to abstain on the Lord's Day from secular reading, especially since we have so rich a store of properly religious literature. In deciding how far to deny ourselves exercise, society, table luxuries, and the like, we must have regard both to the objects of the day, to our own bodily, mental, and spiritual health, and to the influence of our example. As regards children, it is extremely important to afford them interesting and appropriate employment, and pleasant food, so that they may not find the day wearisome and disagreeable. In general it should be remembered that most of us are far more likely to be too lax than too stringent, that we gravitate much more powerfully towards self-indulgence than self-denial.

Matthew 12:2. Henry: "It is no new thing for the most harmless and innocent actions of Christ's disciples to be evil spoken of and reflected upon as unlawful, especially by those who are zealous for their own inventions and impositions,"

Matthew 12:5. Henry: "Ignorance of the meaning of the Scripture is especially shameful in those who take upon them to teach others."

Matthew 12:8. Christ is Lord of the Sabbath, and the Christian Sabbath is the Lord's Day. Revelation 1:10.

Revelation 1:1-8. The ceremonial and the moral elements of Christian piety. (1) Ceremony must yield to necessity, Matthew 12:3 f. (2) Worship is superior to any sacredness of place or time, Matthew 12:5 f., compare John 4:21. (3) Kindly and just judgment of others is more acceptable to God than are ceremonial observances, Matthew 12:7. (4) Christ is above all ceremonies, Matthew 12:8

Matthew 12:9-14. Baffled disputants. (1) They seek to entrap the Teacher with a question, Matthew 12:10. (2) They are unable to answer his argument, Matthew 12:11 f., compare Matthew 3:6. (3) They can find no fault with his action, Matthew 12:13. (4) Therefore they plot to kill him.

Matthew 12:13. godet: "Like every call addressed to faith, this command contained a promise of the strength necessary to accomplish it, provided the will to obey was there. He must make the attempt, depending on the word of Jesus, and divine power will accompany the effort." Theophyl.: "Many now also have their hands withered—that is, not compassionating and not communicating; but whenever they hear the gospel word, they stretch forth their hands to give."

Matthew 12:15. Theophyl: "Plunging into danger is not pleasing to God."

Matthew 12:19 f. The quiet and gentle character here ascribed to Messiah by the prophet, corresponds to what Jesus said of himself, meek and lowly and rest-giving, Matthew 11:20.

Matthew 11:18-20. A prophetic picture of the Saviour. (1) A chosen and beloved servant of God, Matthew 12:18. (2) Specially endued with the Spirit of God, Matthew 12:18. (3) Quiet in teaching, and compassionate to the timid and distressed, Matthew 12:19 f. (4) Destined to be victorious in proclaiming God's righteousness, and winning the nations to himself, Matthew 12:18, Matthew 12:20, Matthew 12:21.


Verses 22-37

Matthew 12:22-37.
The Blasphemy Against The Spirit

In the course of those labours in Galilee of which the Evangelist has just given a general account, (Matthew 12:15 f.) there occurred the events narrated in the remainder of Matthew 12, followed by other events on the same day. (See on "Matthew 13:1".) This was a good deal later than the two Sabbaths of Matthew 12:1-13. Between that time and this, I the Sermon on the Mount was delivered. (See on "Matthew 12:15", and compare Mark 3:19) Consulting unity of topic rather than chronological order, Matthew throws together these several instances of opposition to Jesus. Our present section treats of the blasphemous accusation; the other cases of opposition will follow. Luke 11:14-22, describes a similar blasphemous accusation, probably belonging to the ministry in Judea and Peres, during the six months preceding the crucifixion. (Wieseler, Clark.)

Then, not necessarily on the same day as the preceding, but some time more generally, at the same period (see on "Matthew 3:13"Matthew 11:20); here it means, at the time when he was engaged in the labours of Matthew 12:15 f. One possessed, etc., (a demoniac) blind and dumb, see on "Matthew 8:28", where it has been remarked that various bodily affections were frequently connected with the demoniacal possessions, whether as cause or effect. Insomuch, etc., so that the dumb man spake and saw is the correct text.(1) And all the people (crowds), same word as in Matthew 5:1, and often. Jesus was in a house, and the throng was so great that he and his disciples could not even eat bread. (Mark 3:20) Is (omit not) this the son of David? meaning the Messiah, see on "Matthew 9:27". The Greek has an interrogative particle which uniformly implies that a negative answer is expected, as in Matthew 7:16, Matthew 11:23, and it is quite erroneous to render 'Is not this,' etc., as in Tyndale, Cram, Gen., and in all the recent editions of Com. Ver., while the two earliest editions, AD. 1611 and 1613, give it without the 'not'; found already in Hammond, 1659 (Trench on Rev.). It is true that sometimes the speaker may intend to intimate that perhaps the answer ought to be affirmative, as here and in John 4:29 (Winer, p. 511 642); but the form of expression is otherwise, and it ought to be translated accordingly. Colloquial English, could give it quite exactly. "This is not the Messiah, is it?"Eng. Rev. give "Is this," Am. Rev., "Can this be the son of David,"as in John 4:29. The miracle suggested to the crowds the idea that Jesus might he the Messiah; yet surely, they would think, it cannot be so, since he does not appear and act as Messiah will do, viz., as a mighty conqueror and splendid monarch. Observe that the miracle suggested the possibility that he was the Messiah; and in Matthew 12:38, some of the Pharisees express their wish to see a 'sign' from him, after it had been intimated (Matthew 12:28) that he was the Messiah. So the Jews did expect the Messiah to work miracles, though Maimonides (twelfth cent.) declares that no miracles are to be expected from the Messiah, perhaps departing from the older view in order to secure an argument against Jesus.

Matthew 12:24. But when the Pharisees heard it. Mark (Mark 3:22) describes them more particularly as 'the scribes that came down from Jerusalem.' They had no doubt come to Galilee for the purpose of observing the miracles and teaching of Jesus, and seeking to prevent the people from believing on him. (Compare on Matthew 12:14 and Matthew 15:1) The Scribes usually belonged to the great Pharisee party, compare Matthew 12:38, and see on "Matthew 2:3". These men set about their work very vigorously. They saw that if his miracles were recognized the people would believe that be was sent from God, (John 3:2) and then all his teachings must be received as true, and all his claims admitted as just. They could not question the reality of the healing, nor ascribe it to mere human agency; they therefore resorted to the absurd idea of a league with Satan, though Jesus was really destroying Satan's work. 'Heard it,' viz., the inquiry made among the crowds. This fellow doth not cast out devils (the demons), but by (in) Beelzebub, the prince of the devils (demons). 'This' corresponds to the inquiry of Matthew 12:23; there is nothing to authorize the contemptuous term 'fellow' of Com. Vet. 'Demons,' and not 'devils,' see on "Matthew 8:31". 'In' rather than 'by,' see on "Matthew 9:34"; so also Matthew 12:27 f., m Beelzebub, in whom, 'in the Spirit of God' (so Wyclif and Rheims in all these expressions), everywhere denoting intimate union. 'Beelzebul' is unquestionably the proper form of the name,(1) though it might not be worth while now to attempt a change in the popular usage. The name was probably derived from Baal-zebub, the Flygod of Ekron, (2 Kings 1:2-3, 2 Kings 1:6, 2 Kings 1:16) but there is doubt as to the reason for changing the last letter, and for applying the name to Satan. (Matthew 12:26) This application to Satan is not found in the old Jewish writings, and only in Matthew 10:25, Matthew 12:24, Matthew 12:27; Mark 3:22; Luke 11:15-19, all referring to the blasphemous accusation. Flies are often so terrible a plague in the East that we need not be surprised to find one of the forms under which Baal was worshipped to be Baal-zebub, Baal of the fly, or Lord of the fly; Sept. makes it Baal-fly. So one of the Greek titles of Zeus (Jupiter) was "he who drives off the flies." It would be very natural for the later Jews to express their abhorrence of this Philistine idol by using his name for Satan. The change of the last letter may have been merely euphonic, as Bab-el-mandeb (the strait at the entrance of the Red Sea) is often written Babel-mandel, and Belial is sometimes written Beliar; but more likely the change was designed to give a new meaning, which might be, according to different etymologies, (1)"Lord of dung "—as we know the Jews were fond of contemptuously punning upon the names of idols; or (2)"Lord of the house," which would agree with the image of Luke 11:29. This name for Satan was sufficiently common to be readily understood, as appears from Mark 3:22, 'he has Beelzebul,' like 'he has a demon,' and from our Lord's using it in his reply, Matthew 12:27. For the other names, Satan and Devil, see on "Matthew 4:1". 'Prince' is literally 'ruler,' a general term; we do not know the precise nature of his authority over the demons, but everything indicates that it is absolute. Satan is also called 'prince of this world', (John 12:31, John 14:30, John 16:11) and 'prince of the power of the air.' (Ephesians 2:2) In Matthew 9:34, Matthew has already stated that the Pharisees had recourse to this absurd charge, on occasion of a similar miracle of healing; but he did not there pause to tell how Jesus refuted and solemnly rebuked it. Luke 11:15 ff. gives what is probably a third instance in another part of the country; it was very natural that the same class of malignant enemies, involved in the same logical difficulty, should attempt the same blasphemous explanation.

Matthew 12:25 f. His reply divides itself into Matthew 12:25 f. (with which Matthew 12:29 is closely connected), Matthew 12:27 f., Matthew 12:30-31 f., and Matthew 12:33-37. And Jesus knew their thoughts and said, compare on Matthew 9:4. 'Jesus' was an early addition to the text, being thought necessary for clearness. Such insertions of the name frequently occur. The Scribes and Pharisees appear to have made the blasphemous charge in a low tone to those around them, so that Jesus might not hear. They were at some little distance from him, in another part of the principal room or court of the house, (Mark 3:19) for Mark (Mark 3:23) says he 'called them unto him' and replied to the charge. They were disposed to suggest their slanderous and insulting accusations in an underhand way, and he chose to reply openly. Mark says he spoke to them 'in comparisons,' literally 'parables,' see on "Matthew 18:3". Our Lord in his pitying condescension first argues calmly against their insulting charge, before proceeding to declare their awful guilt in making it. He does this, we may suppose, partly to leave the blasphemers not even a seeming excuse, and partly to prevent the bystanders from imagining for a moment that there was any ground for the charge (compare on Matthew 12:30). His argument from analogy does not mean that every case of internal strife or civil war will destroy a State, but that such is the tendency, and every such act, so far as it goes, contributes to that end. And observe that if this charge was accepted: as applying to a single case of casting out ai demon, it must be understood as extending to all cases; the whole work of Jesus in casting out demons must be ascribed to this cause, and throughout his entire ministry he would be having the help of Satan in breaking down Satan's power. That wise "prince of the demons" is too cunning to pursue so suicidal a course. And if Satan cast out Satan. For the prince of the demons to cast out his subjects would be virtually casting out himself, since they were doing his work. Those persons who so dislike the rendering 'deliver us from the evil one' ought (Matthew 6:13, Rev. Ver.) to notice that here and often Jesus distinctly recognizes Satan as personal.

Matthew 12:27 f. Condescending, as he did with reference to the Sabbath, (Matthew 12:3 f.) to present the argument in a variety of ways, our Lord here gives it a new and startling turn, being what logicians call argumentum ad hominem, an appeal to their own case. Your children (sons) means those who had been instructed by the Pharisees, like "sons of the prophets" in 2 Kings 2:3; compare the use of 'father' for revered teacher in Matthew 23:9, 1 Corinthians 4:15, and 'disciples' of the Pharisees in Matthew 22:16. Exorcists would naturally belong to the Pharisee party, for no Sadducee would profess the expulsion of demons, since that party did not believe in spirits, evil or good. To make 'your sons' mean Christ's own apostles, as Chrys. and other Fathers, and some modern writers do, seems unwarranted and absurd, leaving the argument without force. It doubtless arose from an unwillingness to admit that the Jewish exorcists did really cast out demons, and a failure to observe that our Lord does not affirm that they did, but only argues from the point of view of the blasphemers. He appeals to the case of their own followers to silence them, without then stopping to examine the question whether their pretended expulsions were real. (Paul uses the same kind of argument in 1 Corinthians 15:29) It was very common, about the time of our Lord, for Jews to profess to cast out demons. Curious accounts of the methods they employed, such as the use of a remarkable root, with incantations, which they pretended were handed down from Solomon, are given by Josephus,"Ant.," 8, 2, 5,"War.," 7, 6, 3; compare Tobit 8:2; Justin Martyr, Trypho, ch. 85. In Acts 19:13 we read of strolling Jewish exorcists who thought there must be some magical charm in the name of Jesus which Paul named when working miracles, and tried to use it themselves. Therefore they shall be your judges ('they' being emphatic, as in Matthew 5:4 ff.; compare on Matthew 1:21), i.e., shall convict you either of being yourselves in league with Beelzebul, or of unreasonable and wicked conduct in accusing another of league with him for doing what they claim to do. But if I cast out devils (demons) by the Spirit of God, assumes that he does; and he has just shown that the contrary supposition would charge Satan with sheer folly, and would involve the accusers in self-condemnation. The chief emphasis of the sentence (according to the correct reading of the Greek) is on the words 'by the Spirit of God'; but 'I' is also emphatic, and suggests a contrast between his case and theirs. 'Spirit' has in the Greek no article, but is made definite by the appended genitive, since there is but one Spirit of God. Then is in the similar passage of Luke (Luke 11:20) rendered by Com. Ver. 'no doubt'—another of the numerous unnecessary variations. So 'unto you' here in Com. Ver. and 'upon you' in Luke, are for the same Greek preposition. Then the kingdom of God is (or has) come unto you. Matthew here has 'kingdom of God' instead of his usual 'kingdom of heaven' (see on "Matthew 3:2"), probably because of the verbal connection here between 'Spirit of God' and kingdom of God.' The word rendered 'has come' usually signifies to anticipate, to be beforehand, and so to come unexpectedly and some urge such a sense here—has already arrived, when you simply thought it would come before long—has taken you unawares. But the word appears in the later Greek usage to have sometimes meant simply come, arrive, etc. (1 Thessalonians 2:16, Romans 9:31, Philippians 3:15) The idea then is, the kingdom of God, the Messianic Dispensation, has made its appearance in your presence. (Compare Luke 17:20 f.) Here again, as in, Matthew 5:17, Matthew 7:21-23, Matthew 12:8, our Lord strongly intimates that he is the Messiah, yet without distinctly declaring it. The full conviction announced by the apostles in Matthew 16:16 seems to have been then recently arrived at. But that conclusion would not preclude, it would rather pre-suppose, a previous stage of perplexed inquiry, like that of John the Baptist, (Matthew 11:3) and is not fundamentally inconsistent with an early flush of delighted persuasion when some of them first met him, as recorded by John (John 1:41, John 1:49) There is thus no such contradiction between John and the Synoptics on this point as some have imagined. Nor is it strange that Jesus should occasionally intimate his Messiahship long before he thought proper publicly to avow it. But what as to the force of the argument in this passage? How did it follow, that if be was casting out the demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God had arrived? The miracles of Jesus did not directly prove him to be the Messiah, but they proved it indirectly. This constant divine assistance in working his great series of miracles showed that he must have a divine mission, and attested all his claims as just; but he claimed to be the Messiah, as he has before intimated and intimates here; therefore the miracles proved him to be the Messiah. So Paul says he was shown to be the Son of God by the resurrection from the dead. (Romans 1:4) Besides, in casting out demons, he was to that extent destroying the kingdom of Satan, (Matthew 12:26) and in so far establishing the correlative kingdom of God. (Compare Matthew 12:29)

Matthew 12:29. This connects itself closely with the thought of Matthew 12:25 f. Or, to look at the matter in another way. (Compare Matthew 7:9, Matthew 12:5) Else in Com. Ver. (following Cranmer, Gem) has no representative in the original. How can one enter, etc. This is a general truth, with an obvious application to the matter in hand. Jesus was taking away from Satan a part of his property, in delivering the demoniacs, and this could not be unless he were at variance with Satan, and strong enough to bind him. The word translated goods means utensils, implements (as those for cooking, eating, sleeping), and would suggest that the demoniacs were the instruments of Satan. Spoil, or 'plunder,' at the end of the sentence, represents a compound word, 'thoroughly plunder.'

Matthew 12:30. Here again, as in the preceding verses, our Lord speaks in apophthegms, (Mark 3:23) each sentence containing a distinct truth, expressed in general terms. It naturally follows that no connection between these is outwardly indicated, and we are left to see for ourselves the internal connection of the thoughts. (Compare at the beginning of Matthew 7.) The Scribes said that our Lord was in league with Satan, but in reality he is opposing and overthrowing Satan's power, binding him, as it were, and plundering his house. In this great and deadly struggle, there can he no neutrality. No man can be friends with both sides, nor be indifferent to both. It is probable that many of those present were thinking they would not take sides between Jesus and the blaspheming Scribes. To them, in the first place, this saying would come home; but it is general, and applicable to all times, and all varieties of character and conduct. The sentence contains two parallel and practically equivalent members—the Hebrew parallelism. (Compare on Matthew 4:16) The image in the second 'member is from gathering grain in harvest, as in Matthew 3:12, Matthew 6:26, John 4:36. Men often fancy that they are by no means opposing Christ's service, though not engaged in it; that they are friendly to religion in others, though not personally religious. But in the nature of the case, this is impossible. Stier: "Neutrality here is no neutrality, but a remaining on the side of the enemy; indolence here is no mere indolence, but opposition; the merely not believing and not obeying is still resistance and rejection." The gospel is of such a nature, as to its offers and its claims, that it cannot tolerate indifference. If it deserves our respect, it deserves our entire and hearty reception. If we are not yielding Christ our whole heart, we are really yielding him nothing. Professed neutrality, with real hostility of heart, may even be more offensive to him, and is sometimes more injurious in its influence, than avowed opposition.—In Mark 9:40, Luke 9:50 there is an expression which at first seems to contradict this, viz., 'He that is not against us is for us.' But so far is this from being the case that both sayings (Alexander) "may be exemplified in the experience of the very same persons. For example, Nicodemus, by refusing to take part with the Sanhedrin against our Lord, although he did not venture to espouse his cause, proved himself to be upon his side; (John 7:50 f) but if he had continued the same course when the crisis had arrived, he would equally have proved himself to be against him." Compare the apparently contradictory sayings of Pray. 26; 4f.; Galatians 6:2, Galatians 6:5, Romans 3:28, as related to James 2:24.

Matthew 12:31 f. Our Lord now solemnly declares that a blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is the only unpardonable sin; and it is distinctly implied that their accusation, that he cast out demons by the help of Beelzebul, was a blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, and so was past forgiveness. Therefore, viz., on account of all that he has been saying, from Matthew 12:25 onward. It was manifest from such analogies that their charge of league with Beelzebul was absurd; and they must have known that it was not true, and that the miracle was really wrought by divine power. Jesus says it was wrought by the Spirit of God, and so their accusation was not merely an insult to a man, but a blasphemy against the Spirit of God. For this reason he solemnly tells them that such blasphemy will never be forgiven. And We can see (Edersh.) that their malignant hostility to the kingdom of heaven, as appearing in a form so contrary to what they expected and would have been willing to recognize, here reached an acme of virulence from which they went straight on to procure his death. I say unto you, see on "Matthew 5:18". All manner of sin. Every sin is the exact translation. With the general truth that every sin shall be forgiven unto men,(1) he connects the specific term and blasphemy, to leave no doubt that every blasphemy too (as well as every other sin) will be forgiven; and thus brings out all the more strongly the sole exception, but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost (Spirit) shall not be forgiven. This promise of forgiveness for every sin and blasphemy is of course to be limited by the conditions of repentance, etc., elsewhere laid down in Scripture, and understood in such a case without being stated. (Compare on Matthew 7:7 f.) 'Blasphemy' has been explained on Matthew 9:3 as signifying in general injurious or insulting speaking, and so with regard to God, speaking impiously. Blasphemy was considered among the Jews a very great offence. (Matthew 26:65) In Matthew 12:32 we find the general expression speaketh against. Here the guilt of what the Pharisees have done is shown by another contrast. The Son of man, see on "Matthew 8:20". Our Lord had not distinctly claimed to be more than man. To speak against him personally, regarding him simply as a man (e. g. Matthew 11:19), did not involve as great guilt as to speak against the Holy Spirit, whose influences filled his human spirit (see on "Matthew 3:16"; and see on "Matthew 4:1"), and gave to him, as a man, the power of working miracles. (Matthew 12:28) In the phrase, but whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost, Spirit,(2) the word 'holy' is so placed in the Greek as to be emphatic. They said, 'He hath an unclean spirit'; (Mark 3:1) while in truth he was full of the Holy Spirit. (Yet there is no propriety in inserting the word 'holy' in Matthew 12:31, as in Com. Ver.) Their charge of league with Beelzebul was therefore not simply a slander against the man, Jesus of Nazareth, nor simply an insult to the Son of man, the Messiah, but was a blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. And it will not do to say that he was merely warning them against a possibility; for he is surely speaking of the blasphemy they have uttered, as blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. (Compare Matthew 12:28) It must be observed that the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God, (Matthew 12:28) here represents the Divinity in general. There is here no allusion to the peculiar gracious office and work of the Spirit in calling, renewing, and sanctifying the soul; it is the Spirit of God as giving power to work miracles. (Compare Acts 2:4, Acts 8:14-19, etc.) These Pharisees ascribe to the influence and aid of Satan what was manifestly and unmistakably wrought by divine power; and this was not merely an insult to a man, but was a malignant insult to God. Similar, in this particular respect, was the sin of Ananias and Sapphira, who undertook to practice a deception, not merely upon the apostles, but upon the Holy Spirit, who was welt known to give them supernatural knowledge. (Acts 5:3 ff.) Paul had blasphemed Jesus of Nazareth, and yet was forgiven, because he "did it ignorantly, in unbelief." (1 Timothy 1:13) He did not then believe that Jesus spoke by the Spirit of God, and therefore was not blaspheming the Holy Spirit. Afterwards he learned and taught that the Spirit of God is "the Spirit of Christ." (Romans 8:9)

The conditions, then, under which this unpardonable sin of blasphemy against the Spirit of God is committed, are (1) that there shall be a work manifestly supernatural, unmistakably the work of God and not of man, and (2) that one shall, in determined and malignant opposition, insultingly ascribe to Satan this which he knows to be the work of God. Now, are these conditions ever fulfilled, except in an age of miracles? Can any other divine work, as, for instance, the conversion of a friend, or a general revival of spirituality, be so unquestionably and unmistakably the work of God, that a person ascribing it to Satan is guilty, not merely of sin, but of that flagrant and deeply malignant blasphemy against God which is unpardonable? This is the question to be decided; and it can hardly be decided in the affirmative. As miracles continued throughout the apostolic age, this blasphemy against the Spirit may very naturally be understood to be meant by that "sin unto death" which John implies (1 John 5:16) cannot be forgiven. Indeed, we seem compelled so to understand it, since our Lord here says that the blasphemy against the Spirit is the only form of sin that will not be forgiven. The curet phrase, "the sin against the Holy Ghost," is not found in Scripture, and has been formed by combining John's expression with the passage before us. And the familiar idea of "sinning away one's day of grace" ought not to be confounded with the blasphemy here spoken of. It has already been remarked that this blasphemy does not at all refer to the gracious work of the Spirit in calling and regenerating, but manifestly and simply to his miraculous work. Through neglect of this distinction, persons often pass from speaking of blasphemy against the Spirit to discussing what is called "resisting the Spirit," without being aware that these are quite different things. Even the passage in 1 John cannot refer to a person who has resisted the Spirit till his influences are withdrawn, for no one else could decide that a man was in that condition, while the apostle intimates that the "sin unto death" can be definitely known to others, since he will not say that one who has committed it shall be prayed for.—Hebrews 6:4-8 and Hebrews 10:26 if., relate to the sin of apostasy, and are therefore quite distinct from the blasphemy against the Spirit, though often confounded with it.

Neither in this world, neither in the world to come. This is simply a strong and expanded declaration that it will never be forgiven. 'World' is here not kosmos, the physical universe, but aion, a period or age. (Compare on Matthew 25:46) The Jews constantly spoke of "this period", and "the coming period," as separated by the appearance of the Messiah. In the New Testament "the period to come" is usually conceived of as following the second coming of the Lord. (Compare on Matthew 13:22) Weiss : "Neither in this world-period, i.e., in the time up to the Second Coming, nor in the future world-period, which begins with the Judgment; and as the Judgment decides the eternal destiny of men, there can never in that following period be forgiveness of the sin which at the Judgment was established and subjected to punishment." Our Lord's expression might in itself imply that some sins not forgiven in this world will be forgiven in the world to come (Olsh.); but it does not necessarily, nor even very naturally teach this; and as the idea is unsupported by, and inconsistent with, the general teachings of Scripture on that subject, it is quite improper to base so important a doctrine as that of "a second probation" in the future life, upon the merely possible meaning of this one passage, with perhaps the addition of 1 Peter 3:19, according to one possible interpretation. That he only means to say it will never be forgiven, is confirmed by Mark 3:29 (correct text), 'hath never forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin.' Other sins may be blotted out, and, so to speak, cease to exist; but this must continue, from the time it is committed, always existing, an everlasting sin. The thought of Matthew 12:31 f. is not recorded as repeated on the similar occasion of Luke 11:14, Luke 11:23, but on yet another occasion, Luke 12:10.

Matthew 12:33-35. It might be said that here was only speech, only words. But the speech came from the heart, and showed the character, as the tree is known from the fruit. This unpardonable blasphemy was just what might be expected from its authors; they were bad men, and they would say bad things. The portion of the discourse in Matthew 12:33-37 is recorded by Matthew only. The terms of Matthew 12:33 are the same as in Matthew 7:16-19, where see Notes. There the thought is that we must test character by conduct; here it is that conduct (including speech) is all the more important because it corresponds to and reveals character. There has been much discussion about the sense of make, some explaining it as signifying 'regard,' 'consider'; others, 'suppose to be,' etc. The idea seems to be that the fruit will be like the tree, and if you make the tree good you make its fruit good. The word 'make' is thus understood in its ordinary sense. His, the old possessive 'his' from it (hyt), see on "Matthew 24:32"; modern its. Generation (offspring) of vipers, the same expression as in Matthew 3:7.(1) This was strong language and severe; but the loving Saviour did not shrink from the severest rebukes where they were needed. These would be prompted, indeed, as much by love to sinners, as by indignation at their sin. (Compare on Matthew 5:29) How can ye, being evil, speak good things? How is it possible, in the nature of things, that you should? This is a moral, not a constitutional impossibility. For out of the abundance of the heart, more exactly, 'the superabundance.' The word implies excess, that the heart is full and more than full; the mouth speaks what pours forth from the overflowing heart; (compare Matthew 15:18) and as their heart overflows with wickedness, how can it be that they should speak what is good? Compare 1 Samuel 24:13, Matthew 12:35 varies the image to that of a treasure, or store, the word not necessarily indicating something precious. The good man has in him a good store, and he brings out from it good things. This of course means the store of his inner man, heart, and so the word "heart" was early added, in some quarters (as Old Syriac version), by way of explanation, being suggested by Matthew 12:34, and passed into many later documents and the Com. text. Bringeth forth is literally casts out, throws out, the word explained on Matthew 9:38, and here perhaps implying that the evil things are, as it were, involuntarily thrown out," as a fountain doth its waters, by a natural and necessary ebullition" (Barrow). The fact that men speak good or evil according to their nature, by no means frees them from guilt. This ought to be understood from general principles; but our Lord leaves no room for uncertainty on the subject, for he proceeds to declare that words, even idle words, must be answered for.

Matthew 12:36 f. But (and) I say unto you, solemnly introducing an important saying (as in Matthew 12:31), see on "Matthew 5:18". Though they spoke so heedlessly the most blasphemous words, and doubtless thought, as men are apt to do that what one says is of little importance, yet he assures them that men shall give account for every idle word. 'Idle' exactly renders the original term, which signifies 'not working,' and hence inefficient, useless, etc.—words not intended to produce any effect. In the day of judgment, see on "Matthew 11:22". In Matthew 12:37, by thy words, is literally out of thy words, as a thing proceeding from their words, a result or consequence of them. Of course he does not mean that it will proceed from their words alone; every one admits the fact as to actions, and words are here the subject of remark. The repetition of 'by thy words' makes the statement more weighty and impressive. Words are important because they reveal character, (Matthew 12:33, Matthew 12:35) and because they powerfully affect others. The only sin declared to be unpardonable is a sin of speech; and, on the other hand, "if any man offend not in speech, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body." (James 3:2) Speech is indeed one of the grand distinctions of human beings, and a mighty power for good or evil. But this passage must not be understood as condemning all light pleasantries of conversation; it simply declares that the idlest nothings we ever utter are included within the range of accountability to God. We must therefore see to it that our pleasantries are not essentially untruthful, that they are free from malice and impurity—in a word, that they are innocent and helpful. (Compare on Matthew 5:37)

Homiletical And Practical

Matthew 12:23. Different effects produced by the outward evidences of Christianity. (1) Many half convinced that it is divine, but mainly inclined to reject it, Matthew 12:23. (2) Some persuading themselves and others that it is not divine, that its effects are to be otherwise explained, Matthew 12:24. (3) Some trying to play neutral, Matthew Matthew 12:30. (4) Some requiring further evidence, suited to their own notion, Matthew 12:38. (5) Some rejoicing to believe and ready to obey, Matthew 12:49 f.

Matthew 12:24. Anything to explain away the divine power of Christianity; anything, though it be absurd, insulting, blasphemous.

Matthew 12:25 f. The forces of evil in the world do not act at hazard, nor by blind fate, but are directed by a lofty and shrewd intelligence.

Matthew 12:26. Satan and his kingdom. (1) There is a personal spirit of evil. (2) He has a kingdom. (3) The demons are his subjects, and are striving to make men his subjects forever. (4) Jesus opposes and shakes Satan's kingdom. (Compare Luke 10:17-19)

Matthew 12:30. We must be definitely Christ's friends, or we are definitely his enemies. Vinet, "Gospel Studies," preaches from this text on "The Intolerance of Christianity," and from Luke 9:50 on "The Tolerance of Christianity."

Luke 9:31. Gladly, in several recorded cases, the Saviour said, "Thy sins are forgiven thee." Sorrowfully he says that this sin "shall not be forgiven."

Luke 9:33. Henry: "Unless the heart be transformed, the life will never be thoroughly reformed."

Luke 9:34. A heart overfull of evil, a mouth overflowing with evil.

Luke 9:37. Chrys.: "Wherefore not the slandered, but the slanderers, have need to be anxious and to tremble. For the former are not constrained to answer for themselves, touching the evil things which are said of Shem, out the latter for the evil they have spoken; and over these impends the whole danger."

Luke 9:36 f. Speech. (1) It is a peculiarity of human beings, and a great power in human life. (2) It reveals character, Luke 9:35. (3) We are accountable not only for purposely wicked, but for idle speech, Luke 9:36. (4) Speech will help to determine our eternal future. Doddridge: "Discourse tending to innocent mirth, to exhilarate the spirits, is not idle discourse; as the time spent in necessary recreation is not idle time "


Verses 38-50

Matthew 12:38-50.
Two Other Cases Of Opposition To Jesus

These two instances of opposition belong together, (Matthew 12:45) and clearly seem to have followed immediately upon the blasphemous accusation. The word then (Matthew 12:38) does not certainly prove this, (compare Matthew 12:22) but there is an obvious internal connection; and notice that in Mark (Mark 3:31) the coming of the mother and brethren immediately follows the blasphemous accusation, and the house and the multitude correspond. (Mark 3:20, Mark 3:31 f.)

I. Matthew 12:38-42. The Scribes And Pharisees Ask A Sign

Compare Luke 11:29-32, which probably refers to a subsequent occasion, in Judea or Perea. (See above on "Matthew 12:22")

Matthew 12:38. Answered. This was their response to the severe and solemn words he had just spoken. (Matthew 12:31-37) Certain of the Scribes and Pharisees (compare on Matthew 12:24) did not concur with those he had reproved in ascribing his miracles to Beelzebul, (compare Luke 11:15 f.) but they intimated that the miracles he had wrought were insufficient to satisfy them of his divine mission, and as he had impliedly claimed to be the Messiah (Matthew 12:28) they would like to see him present a sign(1) such as they would admit to be unmistakable. Their language was respectful, but their design was bad, as appears from our Lord's reply; and Luke declares on the similar occasion that they did it 'tempting him.' (Luke 11:16) Teacher, didasklos, see on "Matthew 8:19". We would (wish to) see, as in Matthew 16:24.


1. Teras signifies something portentous, suited to excite astonishment or alarm. The New Testament has it only in the plural, and always in connection with 'signs.' It is uniformly translated in Com. Ver. 'wonders.' (Compare Matthew 24:24).

2.
Dunamis strictly signifies power, whether physical or moral, whether natural, acquired, or bestowed, and is often translated 'power,' (e. g., Matthew 22:29, Matthew 24:29 f.; Matthew 26:64, and in Rev. Ver. Matthew 14:2) It is in Com. Ver. translated 'miracle' in Mark 9:39; Acts 2:22, Acts 8:13, Acts 19:11; 1 Corinthians 12:10, 1 Corinthians 12:28-29; Galatians 3:5; Hebrews 2:4. Of these passages Rev. Ver. gives 'mighty work' in Mark 9:39, Acts 2:22, 'powers' in Hebrews 2:4, and retains' miracle' in the rest, always putting 'power' in the margin. So Com. Ver. gives 'wonderful works' in Matthew 7:22 (Rev. Ver. 'mighty works'), and 'mighty works' in Matthew 11:20-23, Matthew 13:54, Matthew 13:58, Matthew 14:2; Mark 6:2, Mark 6:5, Mark 6:14; Luke 10:13, Luke 19:37, which Rev. Ver. retains, except that in Mark 6:14 it changes to 'powers,' as in Matthew 14:2. And yet in all these places except Mark 6:2 it was already rendered 'miracles' by Tyndale, Cran., Gen., and Rheims. So Noyes, except in Mark 6:14. This confusion might be almost entirely corrected by uniformly rendering this word 'miracle' wherever it denotes a deed of supernatural power; since our word miracle, although in its Latin origin signifying a wonder, is now regularly used in the general sense of a supernatural deed.

3.
Semeion, a 'sign,' that by which something is signified or known, is used of things not supernatural in Matthew 16:3, Matthew 26:48, Luke 2:12, 2 Thessalonians 3:17 ('token.') In all other passages it denotes some more or less distinctly supernatural event. It is usually translated 'sign.' But Com. Ver. has 'miracle' in Luke 23:8, John 2:11, John 2:23, John 3:2, John 4:54, John 6:2, John 6:14, John 6:26, John 7:31, John 9:16, John 10:41; John 11:47, John 12:18, John 12:37; Acts 4:16, Acts 4:22; Acts 6:8; Acts 8:6; Acts 15:12; Revelation 13:14; Revelation 16:14; Revelation 19:20; and 'wonder' in Revelation 12:1, Revelation 12:3, Revelation 13:13. In all these passages Rev. Ver. has given 'sign,' except Luke 23:8, Acts 4:16; Acts 22, where it retains 'miracle,' placing 'sign' in the margin. In these last cases miracle seems in English a better word, but the other would suffice, and Rev. Ver. has often sacrificed much more than this to preserve uniformity of rendering. The Bible Union Revision renders uniformly the first word by 'wonder,' the second by 'miracle,' the third by 'sign.' This uniform rendering would make the important subject of miracles in the New Testament appreciably plainer to the English reader.

All we are ere told is that they asked to see a 'sign'. Luke (Luke 11:16) says that on the similar occasion 'they sought of him a sign.' from heaven.' And on another occasion (Matthew 16:1), it is likewise 'a sign from heaven.' Moses gave manna from heaven, Joshua made the sun and moon stand still, Samuel caused thunder and hail in time of harvest, Elijah brought down fire from heaven, and rain at his word, Isaiah (speaking for Jehovah) bade Ahaz ask for a sign,"either in the depth, or in the height above." Some such sign as these the Scribes and Pharisees probably wanted. They may have taken literally the prediction of Joel 2:30. (Acts 2:19.) Compare below on Matthew 24:30.

Matthew 12:39-40. An evil and adulterous generation, viz., one which has forsaken Jehovah, and demands a sign such as itself may dictate. 'Adulterous,' when thus figuratively employed, is usually applied in Old Testament to idolatry (Isaiah 57:3; Ezekiel 16:15; Hosea 3:1, etc.), but it is applicable also to any sin by which the nation forsook her dirge husband. (Compare James 4:4, Rev. Ver.) The Jews had never been generally idolatrous since their return from the Babylonian captivity, but they were God-forsaking and wicked. And there shall no sign be given to it. Our Lord wrought many miracles, and these actually were, and ought to have been considered, signs of his divine mission, as Nicodemus early recognized. (John 3:2, Rev. Ver., 'signs.') But when with a blending of idle curiosity and unbelief, they asked him to furnish a special 'sign' (and of the precise kind that suited their fancy), he would not do it. So likewise in Matthew 16:4, also at Nazareth, (Luke 4:23 ff.) and before Herod. (Luke 23:8 f) But the sign of the prophet Jonas. Jonah instead of Jonas, see on Matthew 1:2. For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale's belly, or, in the belly of the 'huge fish.' The Greek word is used for any huge sea-creature, by Homer once for a seal, at a later period for the whale, the shark, the dog-fish, etc. The Hebrew simply says 'a great fish,' and the Greek term does not enable us to say what kind of fish it was. It was translated 'whale' because that is the largest of the huge creatures denoted by the Greek word; but the rendering was unfortunate, for the whale has not a throat sufficiently large to swallow a man, and this fact has given rise to some sneers from sceptics of the lower grade. The shark or the dog-fish could readily swallow a man, and entire human bodies have sometimes been found in the stomach of fishes of this kind. The prophet's preservation was obviously miraculous; but it is useless to make the mere deglutition a miracle, when the language does not really so indicate. So shall the Son of man, i.e., the Messiah, see on "Matthew 8:20". In the heart of the earth. This expression was probably used with reference to that of Jonah 2:3, 'heart of the seas'; compare Deuteronomy 4:11, 'unto the heart of heaven,' Psalms 46:2, 'in the heart of the seas,' (all these passages in Rev. Ver. and margin of Com. Ver.) The reference is to our Lord's interment, and the passages compared show that there is no propriety in insisting, as many do, that the language is too strong for that simple idea, and must therefore be referred to what is called his "descent into Hades." Three days and three nights. See Jonah 1:17. Our Lord was actually in the grave less than thirty-six hours, but it began before the close "of Friday, and closed on the morning of Sunday, and according to the mode of counting time among the Jeers, this would be reckoned three days, both the first and the last day being always included. (Compare on Matthew 17:1, and on Matthew 27:63 f.) The only difficulty is, that he not merely says "three days," but "three days and three nights," when he spent only two nights in the tomb. But the Jews reckoned the night and day as together constituting one period, and a part of this period was counted as the whole. Lightfoot quotes from the Jerusalem Talmud two Rabbis as saying, "A day and a night make an Onah, and a part of an Onah is as the whole." There was no way to express in Greek this period of twenty-four hours, except by day and night (or night and day) as here, or by the late and extremely rare Greek compound 'night-day' (nuchthemeron) used in 2 Corinthians 11:25. It was natural to choose here the former phrase (even if we suppose the other known to Matthew), in order to state more strongly the similarity of the two cases. We find a parallel use in 1 Samuel 30:12 f., where it is first said that the Egyptian had eaten nothing "three days and three nights," and then, "my master left me because three days ago I fell sick." So also in Esther 4:16, Esther 5:1. Some have inferred from this passage of Matthew that Jesus must have remained seventy-two full hours in the grave; but some of the expressions used in speaking of his resurrection absolutely forbid this. See on "Matthew 27:63". The only sign which should be given to that wicked generation was 'the sign of Jonah the prophet,' a sign resembling the miracle which occurred in the case of Jonah, viz., the resurrection of Jesus after being three days in the tomb. Jonah' s miraculous deliverance from the belly of the fish would naturally be made known by him to the Ninevites, in accounting for the zeal with which he proclaimed his message, (compare Luke 11:30; 'Jonah was a sign to the Ninevites') and would contribute to their reception of his message. And so the resurrection of Jesus was to be a sign to that generation, which ought to conquer the unbelief of tile most perverse, and did conquer in many cases. (Acts 2:32 ff.; Acts 4:33, Romans 1:4) Jesus makes a similar obscure allusion to his resurrection in John 2:21, in which case also he had been asked for a 'sign.' (John 2:18)(1)

Matthew 12:41. By a natural association of ideas, our Lord passes to say that the men of 'this generation' are acting much more wickedly than did the Ninevites. It was a sublime spectacle when the whole population of that vast heathen city, the proud king, the nobles and all, down to the very humblest, repented at the preaching of Jonah. (Matthew 3:5-10) This repentance, both in the grief, the reformation, and the prayer for forgiveness, must have been genuine, for otherwise God would not have regarded it, nor would Jesus have appealed to it here. Subsequent generations relapsed into idolatry, but so it often was with Israel. Shall rise, more literally, stand up, and Rev. Ver. so renders, in order to leave room for the idea of standing up to bear witness, as in Matthew 13:57. But this is the common term for the resurrection, more common than the literal 'be raised' of Matthew 12:42, and does not probably mean anything else in the present case. In (the) judgment see on "Matthew 11:22". With this generation, i.e., along with, in company with. And shall condemn it, show its guilt and desert of condemnation, by the contrast between its conduct and their own. (Compare Matthew 11:22-24) Repented, the verb corresponding to metanoia (see on "Matthew 3:2"), denoting not merely regret, but change of mind. Tyndale, Cram, Gen.,"amended." At the preaching, or proclamation, the word being derived from the verb, explained on Matthew 4:17. The preposition rendered 'at' is, usually rendered 'into' or 'unto,' and often denoting design or aim. It cannot possibly have that sense here, for certainly the Ninevites did not repent in order that Jonah might preach. It clearly introduces the occasion or ground of the repenting(1) (Winer, p. 397, 495); and so it may possibly have the same force in Matthew 8:11 and Acts 2:38. And behold, calling attention to something important. A greater—or more—than Jonah is here. The word is neuter, not 'a greater (man),' but '(something) more.' (Compare on Matthew 11:9, Matthew 12:6) If more than Jonah was here, then the men of this generation were under greater obligation to repent than the Ninevites, and all the more guilty for not repenting. Some records of buried Nineveh have been recently exhumed, and the world eagerly reads their strangely recovered history; let us not forget that the Ninevites of Jonah's day will rise up in the judgment and condemn all those of every age who hear the preaching of the gospel and will not repent. Weiss : "If John already was more than a prophet, (Matthew 11:9) why should not the mightier one to whom he pointed (Matthew 3:11) be beyond comparison more than Jonah?" Wherever the gospel of Jesus is really preached, the same thing holds true; for the gospel, when spoken by the humblest follower of Christ, has higher claims to be believed and heeded than had the solemn warning of Jonah. This reply of our Lord somewhat resembles that made at Nazareth. (Luke 4:23 ff.) In both cases miracles were demanded, and in both the answer rebuked the arrogance of their claim by showing that God had sometimes blessed Gentiles rather than Jews.

Matthew 12:42. Another historical instance is added, to show still further the wickedness of this generation. They not only refused to heed the call to repentance made by a more than prophet, but they slighted the wisdom taught by a more than Solomon. The queen of the south, called in 1 Kings 10:1-10 'the queen of Sheba.' This people, usually called the Sabaeans, appear to have occupied a large portion of Southern Arabia. In this fertile region they grew rich by agriculture and trade, especially the great trade with India, from which country they brought spices, precious stones, etc., to supply the Western nations. Hence came that abundance of costly articles which astonished the court of Solomon. In Joel 3:8 the Sabaeans are called "a nation far off," and so in Jeremiah 6:20, Sheba is "a far country." This corresponds with our Lord's expression, came from the uttermost parts (the ends) of the earth, (compare Deuteronomy 28:49) which, according to the knowledge of the time, would be no exaggeration as applied to the southern extremity of the Arabian peninsula. 'Ends' is literal (so Wye., and Rheims), and simpler than 'uttermost parts' (Tyndale and followers). There were few books in the days of this queen, and the only way to get the full benefit of some famous man's wisdom was to visit and converse with him. In our day of multiplied literature, thoughtful conversation on important topics is too little practised. A greater (more) than Solomon is here, as in Matthew 12:41. It must have startled the Jews very much to find Jesus quietly intimating that he was superior, not only to the prophet Jonah, but to Solomon, the magnificent monarch, the revered sage. In the case of a mere man, and a man wise and humble, such a claim would seem strange. Shall not the delicate woman, who took this long and trying journey to hear the wisdom of Solomon, condemn us in the day of judgment, who have the history and writings of Solomon, the life and sayings-of Jesus, recorded in a book which is any hour within our reach—if we neglect to seek its treasures of wisdom?

II. Matthew 12:43-45. Jesus Illustrates The Consequences Of Neglecting His Teachings

So on the similar occasion of Luke 11:24-26. The illustration was doubtless suggested by the healing of a demoniac (Matthew 12:22) which had led to the foregoing discourse. Plumptre thinks this parable "comes in abruptly." But the wicked conduct of 'this generation' in disregarding him who is more than Jonah or Solomon (Matthew 12:41 f.) is accounted for by the parable, which is distinctly applied to them (Matthew 12:45) and gives to our Lord's immediate hearers a new warning. This view is made clearer by the proper reading 'but' in Matthew 12:43. For when, etc., read, but the unclean spirit, when he is gone out of the man, the spirit and the man, meaning a supposed or ideal individual, taken as representative of what always happens in such a case. For 'unclean 'see on "Matthew 10:1"and see on "Matthew 8:28". He, or it, as in margin of Rev. Ver., the Greek word for 'spirit' being neuter, and so the pronoun being neuter. (So in Matthew 12:44-45) Through dry (waterless) places, the literal translation. It was a prevailing Jewish idea that evil spirits especially frequented desert or desolate places, see Tobit 8:3; Baruch 4:35. And it need not be considered merely as a Jewish notion, for it is favoured by the imagery of this passage and of Revelation 18:2. If the evil spirits that infest the earth are sometimes not occupied in possessing or tempting men, what spots would seem to be a more appropriate abode for them than parched and desolate places? As to demoniacal possessions, see on "Matthew 8:28". That demons did sometimes re-enter, after being cast out, is implied by Mark 9:25, "Come out of him and enter no more into him." The house denotes the man whom he had possessed or occupied. Upon returning, the spirit finds the house unoccupied, swept, and adorned—just ready for an Occupant; which, as said of the man, denotes that after being delivered from the unclean spirit he does not occupy his mind and heart with other and better things, but lives in a state of readiness for repossession. This language distinctly intimates that the possibility of demoniacal possessions depended (at least in some instances) on the moral and spiritual condition of the person, as well as on his physical and mental health. The unclean spirit, finding no rest in all his wanderings, no soot where be can be content quietly to remain, comes to re-enter his 'house'; and seeing it to be in such excellent condition for occupation, he goes after others to share it with him. Seven other spirits, the common, oft-recurring number (compare Luke 8:2, and a much greater number in Mark 5:9) More wicked. There seem then to be degrees of wickedness among the demons; just as we find in Mark 9:29 , that some were harder to cast out than others. And the last state (things) of that man is (or, becomes) worse than the first (things), i.e., his last fortunes or condition. Some propose to take the passage as a purely hypothetical illustration, derived from common fancies and modes of expression, and not implying that such a thing ever really happens as a dispossession and repossession. We have seen on Matthew 8:28 that the demoniacal possessions must be taken as real, there being greater difficulties about any other view. And so here. The illustration is an ideal instance, as the forms of expression show, but it corresponds to and represents realities. Even so shall it be also unto this wicked generation, compare Matthew 12:39, Matthew 16:4, Matthew 24:34. Our Lord distinctly applies his illustration to the Jewish nation of his own generation. The dispossession may refer to the remarkable abandonment of idolatry after the captivity, and the comparatively improved religious and moral condition of the people. Then the empty, swept, and garnished stage might describe the refusal to occupy themselves with the spiritual and salutary teachings of Jesus. Or, the dispossession may refer to the great impression made by John and Jesus,(Matthew 11:12) which in most of the people was proving temporary, so that in finally rejecting the Messianic reign they would become more completely than ever the subjects of Satan, and in forty years more would plunge into sore calamity and ruin. Various additional applications of the illustration might be made, as in others of our Lord's parables; but such applications are of course made by ourselves without claiming that they were contemplated by Jesus.

III. Matthew 12:46-50. His Mother And Brethren Try To Speak To Him

Compare Mark 3:31-35, Luke 8:19-21. It was not enough that the leading men among his own people whom he came to save (John 1:11) rejected him with blasphemies; but it was a part of the cruel opposition Jesus had to encounter, (Hebrews 12:3) that some of his nearest kindred for a long time misunderstood him, so that his brethren taunted him, (John 7:3-5) and on the present occasion "his friends" even said he was insane, and wished to stop his teaching by force. (Mark 3:21) By combining this account with that of Mark (Mark 3:20-21, Mark 3:31) we see that Jesus and the Twelve came into a house, where a crowd assembled, so that they could not so much as eat bread, and that "his friends," (Mark 3:21) upon hearing of it went forth to seize him, saying that he was 'beside himself.' The peculiar expression in Mark does not contain the term 'friends,' but signifies those that were of his family, or his country, or his party, etc. It cannot here mean the apostles, for they were with him in the house; and as "his mother and his brethren "presently reach the house (Mark 5:31) desiring to speak with him, it is natural to understand that they are meant by the phrase, vaguely rendered, 'his friends.' Compare Fritz. and Mey. (on Mark), Grimm, Winer, etc. Meantime, in the house, he healed a demoniac, and then occurred the blasphemous accusation and the discourse following. While he was yet speaking, his mother and brethren arrived at the house, and finding it difficult to enter because of the crowd, (Matthew 12:46, Mark 2:20) they passed in word that they were without, and were seeking to speak to him. Seeking is the literal and exact translation, and so Wyc. and Rheims, while Tyndale and his followers improperly rendered it by desiring, which fails to indicate that efforts were made. His brethren, see on "Matthew 13:55". On any view they were near relatives, which is sufficient for the present passage. Bible Com.: "From the mention of his mother and his brethren only, it has been conjectured, with some probability, that Joseph was now dead." Matthew 13:47 must pretty certainly be omitted,(1) having been brought in here from Mark and Luke to explain the phrase 'him that told him' in Matthew 13:48. There is evidently no loss of substantial meaning.—Are we to understand that Mary wished to seize him, and thought him beside himself. She must surely have remembered what Gabriel had told her, and Simeon and Anna had said; how can she have questioned that he was the Messiah, and was to sit on the throne of his father David? Did she merely give way to the influence of the 'brethren,' or did she in fact, as many prefer to think, go along from no sympathy with their views or intentions, but in order to interpose between Jesus and their violence? Some suppose that they were only concerned about his health, from hearing that he was so thronged as to have no opportunity of taking food, and was still speaking on with solemn vehemence and consuming zeal; but this would hardly have made them venture to 'seize' him. (Mark 3:21) Our Lord's reply here seems to intimate that she, as well as the brethren, was unwarrantably interfering with his work, as he had gently rebuked her for doing on a former occasion. (John 2:4) Perhaps Mary sometimes became perplexed, as John the Baptist appears to have been (see on "Matthew 11:2"), by her son's pursuing a course so widely different from what she, in common with other Jews, expected of the Messiah; and in this frame of mind she could more easily be prevailed on by the 'brethren' to accompany them, without fully sharing either their view or their purpose.

The person who told Jesus naturally thought that b e would consider the claims of his mother and brothers as paramount, and would at once go forth, or cause them to be admitted. But he knew how his brothers misunderstood him, and was aware that their motive at present was not friendly. It seems to be implied that he continued his discourse, and only when this was finished, and the crowd was dispersing, went out and spoke with them. (Compare on Matthew 13:1) However that may be, he took the occasion to make a most affecting declaration of his love for his disciples—for all who do the will of his Father in heaven. What he said was addressed especially to the person who spoke to him (Matthew 12:48); but also (Mark 3:34, Luke 8:21) to the persons present in general. He stretched forth his hand towards his disciples, (compare Mark 3:34) the word here probably including other disciples as well as the Twelve (see on "Matthew 5:1"). The same (literally He) is my brother, with emphasis on 'he,' as in Matthew 1:21. And sister. Our Lord had 'sisters' in the same sense in which he had 'brothers,' probably in the most natural sense (see on "Matthew 13:56"). Observe that he does not say brother, or sister, or mother, (1 Timothy 5:2) but each person is at the same time 'brother and sister and mother,' as much beloved as all these combined. Somewhat similarly Andromache says to her husband, "Hector, thou art to me father, and revered mother, and brother, and thou my blooming spouse." Luke (Luke 8:21) only gives the general sentiment in the briefest form. And so, no doubt, many a discourse of our Lord, which of necessity is very briefly reported to us, was in the actual delivery full of such pointed interrogation and impressive repetition as we have here in Matthew and in Mark.

Homiletical And Practical

Matthew 12:38 f. Men often demand further evidence of Christianity when they have abundant evidence but for their determination not to believe. There is a moral probation involved in believing or rejecting the gospel.

(1 Corinthians 1:18-25) Henry: "Signs were granted to those who desired them for the confirmation of their faith, as to Abraham and Gideon; but were denied to those who demanded them for the excuse of their unbelief."

Matthew 12:39. The Jews of our Lord's generation. (1) Wicked and God-forsaking, Matthew 12:39. (2) Demanding further evidence amid all his teachings and miracles, and in his own impressive presence, Matthew 12:38. (3) Grown worse since the first temporary effect of his ministry, Matthew 12:45. (4) On their way to the sin of crucifying their Messiah, and to national calamity and destruction. (5) Destined to stand ashamed at the judgment in the presence of Gentiles whom they despised, Matthew 12:41 f.

Matthew 12:39 f. Jonah and Jesus. (1) Jonah a great prophet, and Jesus more than Jonah. (2) The sign of Jonah, and the sign of Jesus' resurrection. (3) The preaching of Jonah, and the preaching of Jesus. (4) The effect of the one and of the other.

Matthew 12:42. Henry: "The Queen of Sheba. (1) She had no invitation to Solomon, nor promise of being welcomed; but we are invited to Christ, to sit at his feet and hear his words. (2) Solomon was but a wise man; but Christ is wisdom itself. (3) The queen had many difficulties to break through—leaving her country to subordinates—a laborious and perilous journey; we have no such difficulties. (4) She could not be sure that Solomon would equal his fame; but we come to Christ upon no such uncertainties. (5) She came from the ends of the earth; but we have Christ among us, and his word nigh us. (6) It should seem the wisdom she came for was only philosophy and politics; but the wisdom that is to be had with Christ is wisdom unto salvation."

Matthew 12:43-45. Whenever a nation or an individual attempts a reformation, the evil principles and habits that are cast out must be vigorously and permanently replaced by good principles and habits, or the evil will return and be worse than ever.

Matthew 12:48. Jesus and his mother. (1) Trained by her, Luke 2:40. (2) Subject to her, (Luke 2:51) (3) Gently rebuking her—(a) Luke 2:49; (b) John 2:4; (c) Matthew 12:48. (4) Providing for her, John 19:26 f. (5) Loving all true Christians even more than he loved her, Matthew 13:50. Edersheim: "For had he not entered into earthly kinship solely for the sake of the higher spiritual relationship which he was about to found? Thus it was not that Christ let lightly by his mother, but that he confounded not the means with the end, nor yet surrendered the spirit for the letter of the law of love." Bengel: "He does not contemn the mother, but he puts the Father first." Chrys.: "If she is nothing profited by being his mother, were it not for piety in her, hardly will any one else be saved by his kindred. For there is one only nobleness, to do the will of God. This kind of noble birth is better than the other, and more real."

 


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Bibliography Information
Broadus, John. "Commentary on Matthew 12:4". "John Broadus' Commentary on Matthew". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/jbm/matthew-12.html. 1886.

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Sunday, December 8th, 2019
the Second Week of Advent
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