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Bible Commentaries

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged
Matthew 12

 

 

Verse 1

At that time Jesus went on the sabbath day through the corn; and his disciples were an hungred, and began to pluck the ears of corn, and to eat.

The season of the year when this occurred is determined by the event itself. Ripe grain-ears are only found in the fields just before harvest. The barley harvest seems clearly intended here, at the close of our March and beginning of our April. It coincided with the Passover-season, as the wheat harvest with Pentecost. But in Luke (Luke 6:1) we have a still more definite note of time, if we could be certain of the meaning of the special term which he employs to express it. "It came to pass (he says) on the sabbath, which was the first-second" [ sabbatoo (Greek #4521) deuteroprootoo (Greek #1207)] - for that is the proper rendering of the word, and not "the second sabbath after the first," as in our version. Of the various conjectures what this may mean, that of Scaliger is the most approved, and, as we think, the freest from difficulty, namely, 'the first sabbath after the second day of the Passover:' that is, the first of the seven sabbaths which were to be reckoned from the second day of the Passover, which was itself a sabbath, until the next feast, the feast of Pentecost (Leviticus 23:15-16; Deuteronomy 16:9-10). In this case, the day meant by the Evangelist is the first of those seven sabbaths intervening between Passover and Pentecost. And if we are right in regarding the "feast" mentioned in John 5:1 as a Passover, and consequently the second during our Lord's public ministry (see on that passage), this plucking of the ears of grain must have occurred immediately after the scene and the discourse recorded in John 5:1-47, which, doubtless, would induce our Lord to hasten His departure for the north, to avoid the wrath of the Pharisees, which He had kindled at Jerusalem. Here, accordingly, we find Him in the fields-on His way probably to Galilee.

At that time Jesus went on the sabbath day through the corn - "the grain fields" (Mark 2:23; Luke 6:1).

And his disciples were an hungered - not as one may be before his regular meals; but evidently from shortness of provisions; because Jesus defends their plucking the grain-ears and eating them on the plea of necessity.

And began to pluck the ears of corn, and to eat - "rubbing them in their hands" (Luke 6:1).


Verse 2

But when the Pharisees saw it, they said unto him, Behold, thy disciples do that which is not lawful to do upon the sabbath day.

But when the Pharisees saw it, they said unto him, Behold, thy disciples do that which is not lawful to de upon the sabbath day. The act itself was expressly permitted (Deuteronomy 23:25). But as being "servile work," which was prohibited on the sabbath day, it was regarded as sinful.


Verse 3

But he said unto them, Have ye not read what David did, when he was an hungred, and they that were with him;

But he said unto them, Have ye not read [or as Mark has it, "Have ye never read"] what David did (1 Samuel 21:1-6), when he was an hungered, and they that were with him;}


Verse 4

How he entered into the house of God, and did eat the shewbread, which was not lawful for him to eat, neither for them which were with him, but only for the priests? How he entered into the house of God, and did eat the showbread, which was not lawful for him to eat, neither for them which were with him, but only for the priests? No example could be more apposite than this. The man after God's own heart, of whom the Jews ever boasted, when suffering in God's cause and straitened for provisions, asked and obtained from the high priest what, according to the law, it was illegal for anyone except the priests to touch. Mark (Mark 2:26) says this occurred "in the days of Abiathar the high priest." But this means not during his high priesthood-for it was under that of his father Ahimelech-but simply, in his time. Ahimelech was soon succeeded by Abiathar, whose connection with David, and prominence during his reign, may account for his name, rather than his father's, being here introduced. Yet there is not a little confusion in what is said of these priests in different parts of the Old Testament. Thus he is called both the son and the father of Ahimelech (1 Samuel 22:20; 2 Samuel 8:17); and Ahimelech is called Ahiah (1 Samuel 14:3), and Abimelech (1 Chronicles 18:16).


Verse 5

Or have ye not read in the law, how that on the sabbath days the priests in the temple profane the sabbath, and are blameless?

Or have ye not read in the Law, how that on the sabbath days the priests in the temple profane the sabbath (by doing "servile work,") and are blameless? The double offerings required on the sabbath day (Numbers 28:9) could not be presented, and the new-baked showbread (Leviticus 24:5; 1 Chronicles 9:32) could not be prepared and presented every sabbath morning, without a good deal of servile work on the part of the priests; not to speak of circumcision, which, when the child's eighth day happened to fall on a sabbath, had to be performed by the priests on that day. (See the notes at John 7:22-23.)


Verse 6

But I say unto you, That in this place is one greater than the temple.

But I say unto you, That in this place is one greater [ meizoon (G3187)] than the temple - or rather, according to the reading which is best supported [ meizon (Greek #3185)], 'something greater.' The argument stands thus: 'The ordinary rules for the observance of the sabbath give way before the requirements of the temple; but there are rights here before which the temple itself must give way.' Thus indirectly, but not the less decidedly, does our Lord put in His own claims to consideration in this question-claims to be presently put in even more nakedly.


Verse 7

But if ye had known what this meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice, ye would not have condemned the guiltless.

But if ye had known what [this] meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice, (Hosea 6:6; Micah 6:6-8, etc.) See the note at Matthew 9:13.

Ye would not have condemned the guiltless: - q. d., 'Had ye understood the great principle of all religion, which the Scripture everywhere recognizes-that ceremonial observances must give way before moral duties, and particularly the necessities of nature-ye would have refrained from these captious complaints against men who in this matter are blameless.' But our Lord added a specific application of this great principle to the law of the sabbath, preserved only in Mark: "And he said unto them, the sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath" (Mark 2:27). A glorious and far-reaching maxim, alike for the permanent establishment of the sabbath and the true freedom of its observance.


Verse 8

For the Son of man is Lord even of the sabbath day.

For the Son of man is Lord [even] of the sabbath day. [The bracketed word "even" - kai (Greek #2532) - should not be in the text, as the overwhelming weight of authority against it shows.] In what sense now is the Son of man Lord of the sabbath day? Not surely to abolish it-that surely were a strange lordship, especially just after saying that it was made or instituted [ egeneto (Greek #1096)] for MAN-but to own it, to interpret it, to preside over it, and to ennoble it, by merging it in "the Lord's Day" (Revelation 1:10), breathing into it an air of liberty and love necessarily unknown before, and thus making it the nearest resemblance to the eternal sabbatism.

Remarks:

(1) How affecting are the glimpses of which this is one, which the Gospel History furnishes of the straitened circumstances into which once and again our Lord found Himself in the discharge of His public work! Doubtless, He whose is every beast of the forest, and the cattle upon a thousand hills, could have easily and simply supplied Him, or sent "twelve legions of angels" to minister to Him. But He did not; partly, that we might know how "poor He who was rich for our sakes became, that we through His poverty might be rich," and partly, no doubt, to give Him an experimental taste of His people's and His servants' straits, and thus assure them of His sympathy with them, and ability to succour them.

(2) How valuable is an intelligent and ready familiarity with Scripture, when beset by the temptations of Satan (see the note at Matthew 4:3, etc.) and the cavils of captious men!

(3) How miserable a thing is a slavish adherence to the letter of Scripture, which usually the closer it is occasions only a wider departure from its spirit!

(4) How can the teaching of this section be made to agree with the theory of the temporary and local character of the sabbath-law, and its abrogation under the Gospel? (See the note at Romans 14:6.)


Verse 9

And when he was departed thence, he went into their synagogue:

And when he was departed thence [but "on another sabbath" (Luke 6:6)], he went into their synagogue - "and taught." He had now, no doubt, arrived in Galilee; but this, it would appear, did not occur at Capernaum, because after it was over He "withdrew Himself," it is said, "to the sea" (Mark 3:7), whereas Capernaum was at the sea.


Verse 10

And, behold, there was a man which had his hand withered. And they asked him, saying, Is it lawful to heal on the sabbath days? that they might accuse him.

And, behold, there was a man which had his hand withered - disabled by paralysis (as 1 Kings 13:4). It was his right hand, as Luke graphically notes.

And they asked him, saying, Is it lawful to heal on the sabbath days? that they might accuse him.

Matthew and Luke say they "watched Him whether He would heal on the sabbath day." They were now come the length of dogging His steps, to collect materials for a charge of impiety against Him. It is probable that it was to their thoughts rather than their words that Jesus addressed Himself in what follows.


Verse 11

And he said unto them, What man shall there be among you, that shall have one sheep, and if it fall into a pit on the sabbath day, will he not lay hold on it, and lift it out?

And he said unto them, What man shall there be among you that shall have one sheep, and if it fall into a pit on the sabbath day, will he not lay hold on it, and lift it out?


Verse 12

How much then is a man better than a sheep? Wherefore it is lawful to do well on the sabbath days.

How much then is a man better than a sheep? Resistless appeal! "A righteous man regardeth the life of his beast" (Proverbs 12:10), and would instinctively rescue it from death or suffering on the sabbath day; how much more his nobler fellow-man. But the reasoning, as given in the other two Gospels, is singularly striking: "But He knew their thoughts, and said to the man which had the withered hand, Rise up, and stand forth in the midst. And he arose and stood forth. Then said Jesus unto them, I will ask you one thing; Is it lawful on the sabbath days to do good, or to do evil? to save life or to destroy it?" (Luke 6:8-9) or as in Mark (Mark 3:4) "to kill?" He thus shuts them up to this startling alternative: 'Not to do good, when it is in the power of our hand to do it, is to do evil; not to save life, when we can, is to kill'-and must the letter of the sabbath-rest be kept at this expense? This unexpected thrust shut their mouths. By this great ethical principle our Lord, we see, held Himself bound, as Man. But here we must turn to Mark, whose graphic details make the second Gospel so exceedingly precious. "When He had looked round about on them with anger, being grieved for the hardness of their hearts, He saith unto the man" (Mark 3:5). This is one of the very few passages in the Gospel History which reveal our Lord's feelings. How holy this anger was, appears from the "grief" which mingled with it at "the hardness of their hearts."


Verse 13

Then saith he to the man, Stretch forth thine hand. And he stretched it forth; and it was restored whole, like as the other.

Then saith he to the man, Stretch forth thine hand. And he stretched it forth - the power to obey going forth with the word of command.

And it was restored whole, like as the other. The poor man, having faith in this wonderful Healer-which no doubt the whole scene would singularly help to strengthen-disregarded the proud and venomous Pharisees, and thus gloriously put them to shame.


Verse 14

Then the Pharisees went out, and held a council against him, how they might destroy him.

Then the Pharisees went out, and held a council against him, how they might destroy him. This is the first explicit mention of their murderous designs against our Lord. Luke (Luke 6:11) says "they were filled with madness, and communed one with another what they might do to Jesus." But their doubt was not, whether to get rid of Him, but how to compass it. Mark (Mark 3:6), as usual, is more definite: "The Pharisees went forth, and straightway took counsel with the Herodians against Him, how they might destroy Him." These Herodians were supporters of Herod's dynasty, created by Caesar-a political rather than religious party. The Pharisees regarded them as untrue to their religion and country. But here we see them combining together against Christ, as a common enemy. So on a subsequent occasion, Matthew 22:15-16.


Verse 15

But when Jesus knew it, he withdrew himself from thence: and great multitudes followed him, and he healed them all;

But when Jesus knew it, he withdrew himself from thence - where, our Evangelist says not; but Mark (Mark 3:7) says "it was to the sea" - to some distance, no doubt, from the scene of the miracle, the madness, and the plotting just recorded.

And great multitudes followed him, and he healed them all. Mark gives the following interesting details: "A great multitude from Galilee followed Him, and from Judea, and from Jerusalem, and from Idumea, and from beyond Jordan; and they about Tyre and Sidon, a great multitude, when they had heard what great things he did, came unto Him. And he spake to His disciples, that a small ship" - or 'wherry' [ ploiarion (Greek #4142)] - "should wait on Him because of the multitude, lest they should throng Him. For He had healed many; insomuch that they pressed upon Him for to touch Him, as many as had plagues. And unclean spirits, when they saw Him, fell down before Him, and cried, saying, Thou art the Son of God. And He straitly charged them that they should not make Him known" (Mark 3:7-12). How glorious this extorted homage to the Son of God! But as this was not the time, so neither were they the fitting preachers, as Bengel says. (See the note at Mark 1:25, and cf. James 2:19.) Coming back now to our Evangelist: after saying "He healed them all," he continues,


Verse 16

And charged them that they should not make him known:

And charged them (the healed) that they should not make him known. (See the note at Matthew 8:4.)


Verse 17

That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Esaias the prophet, saying,

That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Esaias the prophet, saying (Isaiah 42:1).


Verse 18

Behold my servant, whom I have chosen; my beloved, in whom my soul is well pleased: I will put my spirit upon him, and he shall shew judgment to the Gentiles.

Behold my servant, whom I have chosen; my beloved, in whom my soul is well pleased: I will put my Spirit upon him, and he shall show judgment to the Gentiles.


Verse 19

He shall not strive, nor cry; neither shall any man hear his voice in the streets.

He shall not strive, nor cry; neither shall any man hear his voice in the streets.


Verse 20

A bruised reed shall he not break, and smoking flax shall he not quench, till he send forth judgment unto victory.

A bruised reed shall he not break, and smoking flax shall he not quench, until he send forth judgment unto victory - "unto truth," says the Hebrew original, and the Septuagint also. But our Evangelist merely seizes the spirit, instead of the letter of the prediction in this point. The grandeur and completeness of Messiah's victories would prove, it seems, not more wonderful than the unobtrusive noiselessness with which they were to be achieved. And whereas one rough touch will break a bruised reed, and quench the flickering, smoking flax, His it should be, with matchless tenderness, love, and skill, to lift up the meek, to strengthen the weak hands and confirm the feeble knees, to comfort all that mourn, to say to them that are of a fearful heart, Be strong, fear not.


Verse 21

And in his name shall the Gentiles trust.

And in his name shall the Gentiles trust. Part of His present audience were Gentiles-from Tyre and And in his name shall the Gentiles trust. Part of His present audience were Gentiles-from Tyre and Sidon-first-fruits of the great Gentile harvest, contemplated in the prophecy.

Remarks:

(1) Did Christians habitually act on the great principle by which our Lord held Himself bound-that to neglect any opportunity of doing good is to do evil-what a different face would the Church, and society, and even the world at large, soon put on! And shall not we who write, and we who read or hear these things, strive prayerfully for ourselves to act upon it?

(2) What a picture of finely-balanced sensibilities have we in the emotions of "anger" and "grief" which the conduct of the Pharisees on this occasion kindled in the bosom of Jesus! It is possible, we see, to "be angry and sin not" (Ephesians 4:26); but first, the anger must not be causeless (see the note at Matthew 5:22); and next, even though just, nay, though demanded by the occasion, as in the present case, that anger is never sinless, unless when "grief" for what kindles the "anger" mingles with and tempers it.

(3) In the remarkable command, to stretch forth a withered hand, we have an illustration of such seemingly unreasonable calls as these: "Prophesy upon these bones, and say unto them, O ye dry bones, hear the word of the Lord" (Ezekiel 37:4); "Incline your ear, and come unto me: hear, and your soul shall live" (Isaiah 55:3); "Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light" (Ephesians 5:14). To ask dry bones to hear and live, and call upon the dead to listen and live, and demand from the impotent an exercise of power-there is apparent mockery in all this. Yet as the dry bones, in the vision, when prophesied to as commanded, did hear and obey; and the withered hand found power to extend itself-even so, it is no vain thing to say to the dead in sin, "Hear, and your soul shall live." Your "wise and prudent" (see the note at Matthew 11:25), will demonstrate to you, that one or other of these things must be false: 'either they are not dead, or, if they be, they can't hear; and if they hear, you need not add "and your soul shall live," for they are alive already.' But if the narrative of this section be not a fable, all such reasoning is false; and as long as the Gospel History lives, this narrative will stand out at once as a directory and as a glorious encouragement, to preach to the dead in sin as the divinely appointed means of summoning them into life.

(4) Determined prejudice against the truth is only irritated by additional evidence. Of this the whole conduct of the Pharisees toward our Lord forms one varied, vivid, and affecting illustration.

(5) If the enemies of the truth, notwithstanding their mutual jealousies and discords, find it easy to unite and cooperate against the truth which they feel a common interest in crushing, how shameful is it that Christians should allow their petty differences to prevent combined action for the advancement of their common Christianity!

(6) The predicted noiselessness of Messiah's footsteps, and the gentleness of His dealings with feeble and tender souls, opens up a great general principle of moral and spiritual strength. This was grandly illustrated to Elijah. Standing on Mount Horeb, the Lord passed by, while a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before him; but the Lord was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the Lord was not in the earthquake: and after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire: and after the fire, a still small voice: And it was so, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle (1 Kings 19:11-13). Yes, in that still small voice the prophet felt the immediate presence of God, as he had not done in the wind, nor in the earthquake, nor in the fire. True power is quiet. Even "a soft answer turneth away wrath" (Proverbs 15:1); and how grand-though all noiseless and imperceptible-is the growth of the animal and vegetable world! Let the servants of Christ, then, not estimate the value of the work done in His service by the sound of their movements and the noise of the machinery, but by the steady silent purpose and the persistent activity with which they prosecute the work given them to do. The precise time of this section is uncertain. Judging from the statements with which Mark introduces it, we should conclude that it was when our Lord's popularity was approaching its zenith, and so, before the feeding of the five thousand. But, on the other hand, the advanced state of the charges brought against our Lord, and the plainness of His warnings and denunciations in reply, seem to favour the later period at which Luke introduces it. "And the multitude," says Mark (Mark 3:20-21), "cometh together again," referring back to the immense gathering which Mark had before recorded (Mark 2:2) - "so that they could not so much as eat bread. And when His friends" [ hoi (Greek #3588) par' (Greek #3844) autou (Greek #846)] - or rather, 'relatives,' as appears from Mark 3:31, and see the note at Matthew 12:46 - "heard of it, they went out to lay hold on Him: for they said, He is beside Himself" [ exestee (Greek #1839)]. Compare 2 Corinthians 5:13, "For whether we are beside ourselves [ exesteemen (Greek #1839)], it is to God."


Verse 22

Then was brought unto him one possessed with a devil, blind, and dumb: and he healed him, insomuch that the blind and dumb both spake and saw.

Then was brought unto him one possessed with a devil [or 'a demonized person' daimonizomenos (G1139)] blind and dumb: and he healed him, insomuch that the blind and dumb both spake and saw.


Verse 23

And all the people were amazed, and said, Is not this the son of David?

And all the people were amazed, and said, Is not this the son of David? [ Meeti (Greek #3385) houtos (Greek #3778) estin (Greek #1510) ho (Greek #3588) huios (Greek #5207) Dauid (Greek #1138)?] The form of the interrogative requires this to be rendered, 'Is this the Son of David?' And as questions put in this form (in Greek) suppose doubt, and expect rather a negative answer, the meaning is, 'Can it possibly be?'-the people thus indicating their secret impression that this must be He; yet saving themselves from the wrath of the ecclesiastics, which a direct assertion of it would have brought upon them. (See on a similar question in John 4:29; and on the phrase, "Son of David," at Matthew 9:27.)


Verse 24

But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, This fellow doth not cast out devils, but by Beelzebub the prince of the devils. But when the Pharisees heard it. Mark (Mark 3:22) says "the scribes which came down from Jerusalem;" so that this had been a hostile party of the ecclesiastics, who had come all the way from Jerusalem to collect materials for a charge against Him. (See the note at Matthew 12:14.)

They said, This fellow, [ Houtos (G3778), an expression of contempt] doth not cast out devils, but by Beelzebub - rather, Beelzebul (see the note at Matthew 10:25) --

The prince of the devils. Two things are here implied-first, that the bitterest enemies of our Lord were unable to deny the reality of His miracles; and next, that they believed in an organized infernal kingdom of evil, under one chief. This belief would be of small consequence, had not our Lord set His seal to it; but this He immediately does. Stung by the unsophisticated testimony of "all the people," they had no way of holding out against His claims, but by the desperate shift of ascribing His miracles to Satan.


Verse 25

And Jesus knew their thoughts, and said unto them, Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand:

And Jesus knew their thoughts ("called them" (Mark 3:23), and said unto them, Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and every city or house (that is, household) divided against itself shall not stand:


Verse 26

And if Satan cast out Satan, he is divided against himself; how shall then his kingdom stand?

And if Satan cast out Satan, he is divided against himself; how shall then his kingdom stand? The argument here is irresistible: 'No organized society can stand-whether kingdom, city, or household-when turned against itself; such intestine war is suicidal: But the works I do are destructive of Satan's kingdom: That I should be in league with Satan, therefore, is incredible and absurd.'


Verse 27

And if I by Beelzebub cast out devils, by whom do your children cast them out? therefore they shall be your judges. And if I by Beelzebub cast out devils, by whom do your children - `your sons' [ huioi (Greek #5207)] meaning here, the 'disciples' or pupils of the Pharisees, who wore so termed after the familiar language of the Old Testament in speaking of the sons of the prophets. (1 Kings 20:35; 2 Kings 2:3, etc.) Our Lord here seems to admit that such works were performed by them; in which case the Pharisees stood self-condemned, as expressed in Luke (Luke 11:19), "Therefore shall they be your judges."


Verse 28

But if I cast out devils by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God is come unto you.

But if I cast out devils by the Spirit of God. In Luke (Luke 11:20) it is, "with (or 'by') the finger of God." This latter expression is just a figurative way of representing the power of God, while the former tells us the living Personal Agent made use of by the Lord Jesus in every exercise of that power.

Then ("no doubt" (Luke 11:20)) the kingdom of God, is come unto you , [ ef' (Greek #1909) humas (Greek #5209)] - rather 'upon you,' as the same expression is rendered in Luke: q.d., 'If this expulsion of Satan is, and can be, by no other than the Spirit of God, then is his Destroyer already in the midst of you, and that kingdom which is destined to supplant his, is already rising on its ruins.'


Verse 29

Or else how can one enter into a strong man's house, and spoil his goods, except he first bind the strong man? and then he will spoil his house.

Or else how can one enter into a (or rather, 'the') strong man's house, and spoil his goods, except he first bind the strong man? and then he will spoil his house.


Verse 30

He that is not with me is against me; and he that gathereth not with me scattereth abroad.

He that is not with me is against me; and he that gathereth not with me scattereth abroad. On this important parable, in connection with the corresponding one, Matthew 12:43-45, see the notes at Luke 11:21-26.


Verse 31

Wherefore I say unto you, All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men: but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven unto men.

Wherefore I say unto you, All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men. The word "blasphemy" [ blasfeemia (Greek #988)] properly signifies 'detraction' or 'slander.' In the New Testament it is applied, as it is here, to vituperation directed against God as well as against men; and in this sense it is to be understood as an aggravated form of sin. Well, says our Lord, all sin-whether in its ordinary or its more aggravated forms-shall find forgiveness with God. Accordingly, in Mark (Mark 3:28) the language is still stronger: "All sins shall be forgiven unto the sons of men, and blasphemies wherewith soever they shall blaspheme." There is no sin whatever, it seems, of which it may be said, 'That is not a pardonable sin.' This glorious assurance is not to be limited by what follows; but, on the contrary, what follows is to be explained by this.

But the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit shall not be forgiven unto men.


Verse 32

And whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come.

And whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but whosoever speaketh against the Holy Spirit, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come. In Mark the language is awfully strong, "hath never forgiveness, but is in danger of eternal damnation" [ kriseoos (Greek #2920)] - or rather, according to what appears to be the preferable, though very unusual reading, 'in danger of eternal guilt' [ hamarteematos (Greek #265)] - a guilt which he will underlie forever. Mark has the important addition (Matthew 12:30), "Because they said, He hath an unclean spirit." (See the note at Matthew 10:25). What, then, is this sin against the Holy Spirit-the unpardonable sin? One thing is clear: Its unpardonableness cannot arise from anything in the nature of the sin itself; because that would be a naked contradiction to the emphatic declaration of Matthew 12:31, that all manner of sin is pardonable. And what is this but the fundamental truth of the Gospel? (See Acts 13:38-39; Romans 3:22; Romans 3:24; 1 John 1:7; etc.)

Then, again, when it is said (Matthew 12:32), that to speak against or blaspheme the Son of man is pardonable, but the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is not pardonable, it is not to be conceived that this arises from any greater sanctity in the one blessed Person than the other. These remarks so narrow the question, that the true sense of our Lord's words seem to disclose themselves at once. It is a contrast between slandering "the Son of man" in His veiled condition and unfinished work-which might be done "ignorantly, in unbelief" (1 Timothy 1:13), and slandering the same blessed Person after the blaze of glory which the Holy Spirit was soon to throw around His claims, and in the full knowledge of all that. This would be to slander Him with eyes open, or to do it "presumptuously." To blaspheme Christ in the former condition-when even the apostles stumbled at many things-left them still open to conviction on fuller light; but to blaspheme Him in the latter condition would be to hate the light the clearer it became, and resolutely to shut it out; which, of course, precludes salvation. (See the notes at Hebrews 10:26-29.) The Pharisees had not as yet done this; but in charging Jesus with being in league with hell they were displaying beforehand a malignant determination to shut their eyes to all evidence, and so, bordering upon, and in spirit committing the unpardonable sin.


Verse 33

Either make the tree good, and his fruit good; or else make the tree corrupt, and his fruit corrupt: for the tree is known by his fruit.

Either make the tree good ...


Verse 34

O generation of vipers, how can ye, being evil, speak good things? for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.

O generation of vipers (see the note at Matthew 3:7).

How can ye, being evil, speak good things? for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh - a principle obvious enough, yet of deepest significance and vast application. In Luke 6:45 we find it uttered as part of the discourse delivered after the choice of the apostles.


Verse 35

A good man out of the good treasure of the heart bringeth forth good things: and an evil man out of the evil treasure bringeth forth evil things.

A good man, out of the good treasure of the heart, bringeth [ ekballei (Greek #1544), 'or putteth'] forth good things: and an evil man, out of the evil treasure, bringeth [or 'putteth'] forth evil things.} The word 'putteth' indicates the spontaneousness of what comes from the heart; because it is out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaketh. We have here a new application of a former saying (see the notes at Matthew 7:16-20). Here, the sentiment is, 'There are but two kingdoms, interests, parties-with the proper workings of each: If I promote the one, I cannot belong to the other; but they that set themselves in willful opposition to the kingdom of light openly proclaim to what other kingdom they belong. As for you, in what ye have now uttered ye have but revealed the venomous malignity of your hearts.'


Verse 36

But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment.

But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment. They might say, 'It was nothing; we meant no evil; we merely threw out a supposition, as one way of accounting for the miracle we witnessed; if it will not stand, let it go; why make so much of it, and bear down with such severity for it?' Jesus replies, 'It was not nothing, and at the great day will not be treated as nothing: Words, as the index of the heart, however idle they may seem, will be taken account of, whether good or bad, in estimating character in the day of judgment.'

Remarks:

(1) Instead of wondering that our Lord should have been thought "beside Himself," by those who were totally unable to sympathize with, or even to comprehend, His exalted views, His compassionate feelings, His gracious errand, and the preciousness of the time allotted for the execution of it, this is precisely what we might have expected from those who "judged after the flesh." Nor is it any wonder, if those who tread the most in His steps are similarly misunderstood and misrepresented. (See the note at 2 Corinthians 5:13.)

(2) When we see the vast organized unseen kingdom of evil, though full of contradiction and division within itself, so tremendously harmonious in its opposition to truth and righteousness, what a consolation is it to know that "for this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil" (1 John 3:8), subvert his kingdom, and utterly bruise the serpent's head (Genesis 3:15)!

(3) Let scoffers at Christianity tremble. For, if they tread underfoot the Son of God, and do despite unto the Spirit of grace, "there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins," and nothing more to be done by the Spirit of grace (Hebrews 10:26-29); and having poured contempt upon the uttermost provisions of Heaven for their restoration to eternal life, they shut themselves up by their own act and deed, and, with their eyes open, to irremediable ruin. But

(4) How distressing is it, the other hand, to find tender consciences making themselves miserable with the apprehension that the guilt of the unpardonable sin lies upon them? If this arise, as in many cases it does, from a morbid state of the nervous system, acting on a religious temperament, the remedy lies beyond the limits of this Exposition. But if it be the fruit of inaccurate conceptions of Bible teaching, surely a dispassionate consideration of Matthew 12:31-32 of the present section, as above expounded, ought to dissipate such apprehensions. And if the language of 1 John 5:16-17, should seem still to present some difficulty (see on those verses) - let not the plain sense of the great general statements of Scripture be stripped of their value by the supposed meaning of some isolated and obscure passage; but, in spite of all such obscurities, let the trembling sinner assure himself of this, that "all manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men," and that "the blood of Jesus Christ, God's Son, cleanseth from all sin."

The occasion of this section was manifestly the same with that of the preceding.


Verse 37

For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned.

No JFB commentary on this verse.


Verse 38

Then certain of the scribes and of the Pharisees answered, saying, Master, we would see a sign from thee.

Then certain of the scribes and of the Pharisees answered, saying, Master, [ Didaskale (G1320), 'Teacher,' equivalent to 'Rabbi'] we would see a sign from thee - "a sign from heaven" (Luke 11:16); something of an immediate and decisive nature, to show, not that his miracles were real-that they seemed willing to concede-but that they were from above, not from beneath. These were not the same class with those who charged Him with being in league with Satan (as we see from Luke 11:15-16); but as the spirit of both was similar, the tone of severe rebuke is continued.


Verse 39

But he answered and said unto them, An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas:

But he answered and said unto them - "when the people were gathered thick together" (Luke 11:20),

An evil and adulterous generation. This latter expression is best explained by Jeremiah 3:20, "Surely as a wife treacherously departeth from her husband, so have ye dealt treacherously with me, O house of Israel, saith the Lord." For this was the relationship in which He stood to the covenant people - "I am married unto you" (Jeremiah 3:14).

Seeketh after a sign. In the eye of Jesus this class were but the spokesmen of their generation, the exponents of the reigning spirit of unbelief.

And there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas:


Verse 40

For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale's belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.

For as Jonas was - "a sign unto the Ninevites, so shall also the Son of man be to this generation" (Luke 11:30). For as Jonas was "three days and three nights in the whale's belly" (Jonah 1:17),

So shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. This was the second public announcement of His resurrection three days after His death. (For the first, see John 2:19.) Jonah's case was analogous to this, as being a signal judgment of God; reversed in three days; and followed by a glorious mission to the Gentiles. The expression "in the heart of the earth," suggested by the expression of Jonah with respect to the sea (Jonah 2:3, in Septuagint), means simply the grave, but this considered as the most emphatic expression of real and total entombment. The period during which He was to lie in the grave is here expressed in round numbers, according to the Jewish way of speaking, which was to regard any part of a day, however small, included within a period of days, as a full day. (See 1 Samuel 30:12-13; Esther 4:16; Esther 5:1; Matthew 27:63-64; etc.)


Verse 41

The men of Nineveh shall rise in judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: because they repented at the preaching of Jonas; and, behold, a greater than Jonas is here.

The men of Nineve shall rise in judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: because they repented at the preaching of Jonas; and, behold, a greater than Jonas is here. The Ninevites, though pagans, repented at a man's preaching; while they, God's covenant people, repented not at the preaching of the Son of God-whose supreme dignity is rather implied here than expressed.


Verse 42

The queen of the south shall rise up in the judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: for she came from the uttermost parts of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and, behold, a greater than Solomon is here.

The queen of the south shall rise up in the judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: for she came from the uttermost parts of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and, behold, a greater than Solomon is here. The Queen of Sheba-a tract in Arabia, near the shores of the Red Sea-came from a remote country, "south" of Judea, to hear the wisdom of a mere man, though a gifted one, and was transported with wonder at what she saw and heard (1 Kings 10:1-9). They, when a Greater One than Solomon had come to them, despised and rejected, slighted and slandered Him.


Verses 43-45

When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walketh through dry places, seeking rest, and findeth none.

When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man ... On this important parable, in connection with the corresponding one - Matthew 12:29 - see the notes at Luke 11:21-26.

A charming little incident, given only in Luke 11:27-28, seems to have its proper place here. "And it came to pass, as He spake these things, a certain woman of the company" [ ek (Greek #1537) tou (Greek #3588) ochlou (Greek #3793)] - 'out of the crowd,' "lifted up her voice and said unto Him, Blessed is the womb that bare thee, and the paps which Thou hast sucked." With true womanly feeling, she envies the mother of such a wonderful Teacher. And a higher and better than she had said as much before her (see the note at Luke 1:28).

How does our Lord, then, treat it? He is far from condemning it. He only holds up as "blessed rather" another class: "But he said, Yea rather, blessed are they that hear the word of God, and keep it" - in other words, the humblest real saint of God. How utterly alien is this sentiment from the teaching of the Church of Rome, which would doubtless excommunicate any one of its members that dared to talk in such a strain!


Verse 46

While he yet talked to the people, behold, his mother and his brethren stood without, desiring to speak with him.

While he yet talked to the people, behold, his mother and his brethren (see the notes at Matthew 13:55-56) stood without desiring to speak with him - "and could not come at Him for the press" (Luke 8:19). For what purpose these came, we learn from Mark 3:20-21. In His zeal and ardour He seemed indifferent both to food and repose, and "they went to lay hold of Him" as one "beside himself." Mark says graphically, "And the multitude sat about Him" [ peri (Greek #4012) auton (Greek #846)] - or 'around Him.'


Verse 47

Then one said unto him, Behold, thy mother and thy brethren stand without, desiring to speak with thee. Then one said unto him, Behold, thy mother and thy brethren stand without, desiring to speak with thee.


Verse 48

But he answered and said unto him that told him, Who is my mother? and who are my brethren?

But he answered and said unto him that told him, Who is my mother? and who are my brethren?

Absorbed in the awful warnings He was pouring forth, He felt this to be an unseasonable, interruption, fitted to dissipate the impression made upon the large audience-such an interruption as duty to the nearest relatives did not require Him to give way to. But instead of a direct rebuke, He seizes on the incident to convey a sublime lesson, expressed in a style of inimitable condescension.


Verse 49

And he stretched forth his hand toward his disciples, and said, Behold my mother and my brethren!

And he stretched forth his hand toward his disciples. How graphic is this! It is the language evidently of an eye-witness.

And said, Behold my mother and my brethren!


Verse 50

For whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother.

For whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother: - q.d., 'There stand here the members of a family transcending and surviving this of earth: Filial subjection to the will of my Father in heaven is the indissoluble bond of union between Me and all its members; and whosoever enters this hallowed circle becomes to Me brother, and sister, and mother!'

Remarks:

(1) What strange revelations will the day of judgment make, particularly as to the relative character of some (1) What strange revelations will the day of judgment make, particularly as to the relative character of some of the most, and some of the least, favoured of the human family! (Matthew 12:41-42.) Verily "the last shall be first, and the first last."

(2) When the demands of even the nearest and dearest relatives, urging on us only that attention to our personal interests or comforts which in other circumstances would be natural and proper, are seen to interfere with some present work of God, let the spirit of our Lord's example here be our guiding principle, rather than the suggestions of nature.

(3) How glorious is the thought that there is a family even upon earth of which the Son of God holds Himself a part; a family, the loving bond and reigning principle of which is subjection to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ and so embracing high and low, rude and refined, bond and free, of every kindred and every age that have tasted that the Lord is gracious; a family whose members can at once understand each other and take sweetest counsel together, though meeting for the first time from the ends of the earth-while with their nearest relatives, who are but children of this world, they have no sympathy in such things; a family which death cannot break up, but only transfer to their Father's house! Did Christians but habitually realize and act upon this, as did their blessed Master, what would be the effect upon the Church and upon the world?

 


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Bibliography Information
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Matthew 12:4". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/jfu/matthew-12.html. 1871-8.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, November 20th, 2019
the Week of Proper 28 / Ordinary 33
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