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Bible Commentaries

Joseph Benson's Commentary of the Old and New Testaments
Matthew 15

 

 

Verses 1-6

Matthew 15:1-6. Then came to Jesus scribes and Pharisees — See notes on Mark 7:1-23, where the facts here spoken of are related more at large. Why do thy disciples transgress the tradition of the elders — That is, of the principal doctors or teachers among the Jews. They wash not when they eat bread — Food in general is termed bread in the Hebrew: so that to eat bread is the same as to make a meal. But he said, Why do ye also, &c. — As if he had said, Nay; but I may with much greater reason ask you why you transgress what is infinitely more sacred, even the commandment of God, by your tradition — Your vain and superstitious doctrine, delivered by verbal communication, and handed down from age to age. For God commanded, Honour thy father and mother — Which implies the affording them all such relief as they stand in need of: and, He that curseth father or mother — Although it be in a sudden transport of passion; let him die the death — Let him be put to death without mercy, Exodus 21:17; Leviticus 20:9; where see the note. But ye say — But what you teach is contradictory to this divine command; and an ungrateful child may justify himself in the neglect of it in consequence of your tradition: for your doctrine is, Whosoever shall say to his father, It is a gift, &c. — That is, I have given, or at least I purpose to give, to the treasury of the temple, what you might otherwise have had from me; and honour not his father and his mother — Namely, by relieving them in their poverty, or supplying their wants, he shall be free — From all blame, or from all obligation of giving them relief. Thus have ye made the commandment of God — Even a commandment written with his own finger on the tables of stone; of none effect by your tradition — Have absolutely rendered it useless, and as it were annihilated it.


Verses 7-9

Matthew 15:7-9. Ye hypocrites — To substitute superstitious observances of man’s invention, in the place of obedience to God’s commands, is downright hypocrisy; it is, however, the prerogative of Him who searches the heart, and knows what is in man, to pronounce who are hypocrites. And as hypocrisy is a sin which only his eye discovers, so it is a sin which above all others he abhors. Well did Esaias prophesy of you — That is, the words which Isaiah addressed to your fathers are exactly applicable to you: his description of them is a prophecy with regard to you. Observe, reader, the reproofs of sin and sinners, which we find in the Scriptures, were designed to be applied to similar persons and practices to the end of the world; for they are not of private interpretation, 2 Peter 1:20. Threatenings directed against others belong to us, if we be guilty of the same sins. This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouths, &c. — They make a great profession, and pretend to much devotion and piety; but their heart is far from me — They do not sincerely love and obey me. They do not give me their hearts; and, if the heart be not given to God, all outward worship is no better than a mockery of him. In vain they do worship me — That is, idly, unprofitably, and to no purpose. Their worship does not attain the end for which divine worship was appointed. It neither pleases God nor profits themselves. For if it be not in spirit, it is not in truth, and so it is all nothing. Teaching for doctrines the commandments of men — As equal with, nay, superior to, those of God. What can be a more heinous sin?


Verse 10-11

Matthew 15:10-11. And he called the multitude — Having shown the hypocrisy of the Pharisees, and condemned them for the unwarrantable stress which they laid on their vain and precarious traditions, he took this opportunity to undeceive the people, and let them see how insignificant that outward strictness was on which the Pharisees insisted. And said, Hear and understand — From these words, and those recorded Mark 7:16, He that hath ears to hear, let him hear, all spoken to the multitude, it is evident that, in our Lord’s judgment, the whole multitude was capable of understanding those things which the Pharisees did not understand, and by which their traditions and those of the elders were overthrown. Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man — It is not the kind or quality of our food, nor the want of cleanness of hands when we eat it, that affects the soul with any moral pollution. For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink, Romans 14:17. A man is defiled by that by which guilt is contracted before God, and the man is rendered offensive to him, and unfitted for communion with him. Now what we eat, if we do not eat unseasonably and immoderately, does not produce this effect, for to the pure all things are pure, Titus 1:15. The Pharisees carried their ideas concerning the ceremonial pollutions which arose from eating certain forbidden meats much further than the law intended, and burdened it with additions of their own, which our Saviour witnesses against, intending hereby to pave the way for a repeal of the ceremonial law in that matter. But that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man — We are polluted, not by the meat we eat with unwashen hands, but by the words we speak from unsanctified hearts. Christ, in a former discourse, had laid a great stress upon our words, Matthew 12:36, which was intended for reproof and warning to those that cavilled at him. This, here, is intended for reproof and warning to those that cavilled at and censured the disciples. The latter did not defile themselves with what they ate, but the Pharisees defiled themselves with what they spoke spitefully and censoriously of them. Observe, reader, those who charge guilt upon others for transgressing the commandments of men, many times bring greater guilt upon themselves by transgressing the law of God against rash judging. Those most defile themselves who are most forward to censure the defilements of others.


Verse 12-13

Matthew 15:12-13. Then came his disciples — Namely, when he was come into the house, apart from the multitude; and said unto him, Knowest thou that the Pharisees were offended, &c. — The apostles, it seems, would gladly have conciliated the good-will of the Pharisees, thinking it might be of service to their cause; and thought it strange that their Master should say that which he knew would give them so much offence. Surely, they thought, if he had considered how provoking such a saying would be, he would not have uttered it. But he knew what he said, and to whom he said it, and what would be the effect of it; and he hereby teaches us, that though in indifferent things, we must be tender of giving offence, yet we must not, for fear of that, neglect to declare any truth, or enforce any duty. Truth must be owned, and duty must be done; and if any be offended, it is their own fault. Offence is not given, but taken. But he said, Every plant — Or rather, plantation, as φυτεια is more properly rendered. As if he had said, Be they as angry as they will, you need not be afraid of them, for they and their doctrine shall perish together, being neither of them from God. Not only the corrupt opinions and superstitious practices of the Pharisees, but their sect, and way, and constitution were plants not of God’s planting: the rules of their profession were not his institutions, but owed their original to pride and formality. And the people of the Jews in general, though planted a noble vine, were now become the degenerate plant of a strange vine. God disowned them as not of his planting.


Verse 14

Matthew 15:14. Let them alone — Do not trouble or concern yourselves about their censures: neither court their favour nor dread their displeasure, nor much care though they be offended. Seek not to please a generation of men that please not God, 1 Thessalonians 2:15; and will be pleased with nothing less than absolute dominion over your consciences. They be blind leaders of the blind — Teachers, who foolishly think to lead their disciples to heaven by the observation of precepts wherein there is not the smallest degree of true piety, and will not be convinced of the contrary, being grossly ignorant of divine things, and strangers to the spiritual nature of God’s law; and yet so proud, that they think they see better than any others, and therefore undertake to be leaders of others. And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch — The guides and the guided, the blind leaders and the blind followers, shall perish together. Both will be involved in the general desolation coming upon the Jews, and both will fall into the ditch of eternal destruction. We find, Revelation 22:15, that hell is the portion of those that make a lie, and of those that love it when made. The sin and rain of the deceivers will be no security to those that are deceived by them. “Though the leaders of the people cause them to err, yet they that are led of them are destroyed,” Isaiah 9:16; because they shut their eyes against the light which would have rectified their mistake. Hence “it follows,” says Dr. Whitby, “that sometimes the multitude neither ought, nor can, without their utmost peril, follow the guidance of their ecclesiastical superiors;” or, as he expresses himself afterward, believe, or comply with their rules, “because it is their duty never to follow them into the ditch.” “Learn here,” says Burkit, “1st, that ignorant, erroneous, and unfaithful ministers are the heaviest judgment that can befall a people; 2d, that the following of such teachers and blind guides will be no excuse to people another day, much less free them from the danger of eternal destruction.”


Verses 15-20

Matthew 15:15-20. Peter said, Declare unto us this parable — That is, the sentence, maxim, or proverb, mentioned Matthew 15:11. Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth the man, &c. — A declaration very intelligible, and evidently true, and yet appearing to the disciples obscure, and needing explanation, or doubtful, and wanting confirmation. The reason is evident: it did not agree with the notions of religion which they had formerly imbibed. And Jesus said, Are ye also yet without understanding? — Are ye so stupid as not to see that what a man eats or drinks, being of a corporeal nature, cannot defile the mind, or make a man a sinner in the sight of God, unless when used immoderately, or in opposition to the commandment of God, in which case the pollution arises from the man, and not from the meat; whereas, that which proceedeth out of a man’s mouth, coming from his heart, really pollutes his mind. How fair and candid are the sacred historians! Never concealing or excusing their own blemishes. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts — Or rather, evil reasonings, as the words διαλογισμοι πονηρι properly signify. The expression includes all sinful devices, contrivances, schemes, designs, and purposes which arise from the thoughts and imaginations of the mind: murders — Including rash anger, hatred, malice, envy, and revenge, sins against the sixth commandment: adulteries, fornications — Sins against the seventh commandment; proceeding from unchaste thoughts, wanton looks, immodest expressions, lascivious actions; thefts — All unjust or dishonest actions, sins against the eighth commandment; frauds, wrongs, rapines, and all injurious contracts: false witness — An offence against the ninth commandment; arising generally from a complication of falsehood and covetousness, or falsehood and malice in the heart. If truth, holiness, and love reigned in the heart, as God requires that they should, there would be no bearing false witness: blasphemies — Or calumnies, as the original word may be rendered, which signifies either speaking evil of God, a violation of the third commandment, or calumniating our neighbor, a breach of the ninth. These are the things which defile a man — And are therefore the things which we should carefully avoid, and guard against all approaches to them; and not lay an undue stress on the washing of the hands, or on any distinction of meats and drinks. It is a matter of much lamentation that our corrupted nature should abound with such poisonous productions as these; let us earnestly pray that they may be rooted out by divine grace, and that the Holy Spirit may create in us clean hearts, and implant therein tempers diametrically opposite to all these enormities!


Verses 21-28

Matthew 15:21-28. Jesus departed into the coasts of Tyre and Sidon — Not to those cities which were to have no share in his mighty works, Matthew 11:21-22; but into that part of the land of Israel which bordered on their coast. And behold a woman of Canaan — Or, a Syrophœnician, as she is called, Mark 7:26; Canaan being also called Syrophœnicia, as lying between Syria, properly so called, and Phœnicia, by the sea-side. Came, and cried unto him — From afar; Have mercy on me, thou son of David — Consider my distressed case, and extend thy compassion to me, though a stranger. By addressing him as the son of David, she shows she had some knowledge of the promised Messiah, and that she believed Jesus to be that divine person. But he answered her not a word — He did not seem to regard her, intending that the greatness of her faith should be manifested: an end highly worthy of the wisdom of Jesus; because it not only justified his conduct in working a miracle for a heathen, but was a sharp rebuke to the Jews for their infidelity. Our Lord often tries the faith of his followers in a similar way. His disciples besought him, saying, Send her away — The disciples, being ignorant of our Lord’s design, were uneasy at the woman’s importunity, thinking, if she were permitted to follow them, that they would soon be discovered. Desiring, therefore, to get rid of her, they entreat their Master to dismiss her as he was wont to dismiss such petitioners, namely, with the grant of her request. But he answered, I am not sent — Not primarily; not yet; but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel — By the lost sheep of Israel we are to understand the whole nation of the Jews, who, being as sheep dispersed, and having no shepherd, are therefore called lost sheep. To them the Messiah was first promised; to them he came; and to them his personal ministry was to be almost wholly confined: and hence he is styled a minister of the circumcision, Romans 15:8. Thus at the first Jesus seemed both to refuse this woman’s request, and the intercession of the disciples in her behalf. She, however, far from being discouraged by the repulse, drew near and worshipped him — That is, fell on her knees before him; saying, Lord, help me — Her necessity and distress were great, and she was unwilling to take a denial. But he said — What was still more discouraging, and seemed to cut her off from all hope, and would, doubtless, have driven her to despair, if she had not had very strong faith indeed; It is not meet to take the children’s bread, and to cast it to dogs — “The Jews gloried greatly in the honourable title of God’s children, because of all nations they alone knew and worshipped the true God. They gave the name of dogs to the heathen for their idolatry and other pollutions, by which they had degraded themselves from the rank of reasonable creatures: this appellation, therefore, marked the impurity of the Gentiles, and their odiousness in the sight of God; at the same time conveying an idea of the contempt in which they were held by the holy nation. But though, in some respects, it was applicable, it must have been very offensive to the heathen. Nevertheless, this woman neither refused it, nor grudged the Jews the honourable title of children. She acknowledged the justness of what Christ said, and by a strong exercise of faith drew an argument from it, which the candour and benevolence of his disposition could not resist.” She said, Truth, Lord — It would not be fit to put the dogs and the children on a level; Yet the dogs eat of the crumbs, &c. — “Let me have such kindness as the dogs of any family enjoy: from the plenty of miraculous cures which thou bestowest on the Jews, drop the offal of this one to me who am a poor distressed heathen; for by it they will suffer no greater loss than do the children of a family by the crumbs which are cast to the dogs.” — Macknight. Then Jesus answered, O woman, great is thy faith — There were several other graces that shone bright in her; wisdom, humility, meekness, patience, perseverance in prayer, but these were the product of her faith, and therefore Christ particularly commends that: because of all graces faith honours Christ most, therefore of all graces Christ honours faith most. This woman’s faith was great indeed, considering that she had no promise to rely on, and had suffered so many repulses, joined with such seeming contempt, and yet still she retained a confidence in the mercy, kindness, and power of Jesus. Be it unto thee even as thou wilt — Thy request is granted in all its extent. And her daughter was made whole from that very hour — Thus the mother’s faith prevailed for the daughter’s cure, and the patient’s being at a distance was no hinderance to the efficacy of Christ’s word, He spake, and it was done. We learn two important lessons from the success which the suit of this Canaanitish woman met with: 1st, that God is no respecter of persons, but always accepts sincere faith and fervent prayer, proceeding from an humble, penitent heart. 2d, That it is our duty to continue in prayer with earnestness, although the answer thereof should be long deferred.


Verses 29-31

Matthew 15:29-31. Jesus came unto the sea of Galilee — The Jews gave the name of seas to all large lakes. This was one hundred furlongs long, and forty broad. It was called also the sea of Tiberias. It lay on the borders of Galilee, and the city of Tiberias stood on its western shore. It was likewise styled the lake of Gennesaret; perhaps a corruption of Cinnereth, the name by which it was anciently called. See notes on Numbers 34:11, and Matthew 4:15-16. And went up into a mountain and sat down — Not only to rest himself, but also, and especially, to teach the people, who resorted to him in great multitudes; having with them those that were lame, blind, dumb, maimed, &c. — The dumb were probably deaf also, and the maimed, such as had lost one or more limbs, as the word κυλλους

properly signifies. It is true, it is sometimes applied to those who were only disabled in those parts; we may “reasonably suppose, however, that among the many maimed who were brought on such occasions, there were, at least, some whose limbs had been cut off; and I thinks,” says Dr. Doddridge, “hardly any of the miracles of our Lord were more illustrious and amazing than the recovery of such.” And many others — Who had different complaints; and cast them down at Jesus’s feet — Entreating his compassion, which was so moved at the sight of so many people in distress, that he graciously healed them all. On these miracles, Dr. Macknight remarks as follows: “On the dumb, who are commonly deaf also, he not only conferred the faculty of hearing and pronouncing articulate sounds, but conveyed into their minds at once the whole language of their country, making them perfectly acquainted with all the words in it, their significations, and their uses, so as to comprehend the whole distinctly in their memories, and, at the same time, he gave them the habit of speaking it both fluently and copiously. This was a kind of miracle vastly astonishing. The change that was produced in the bodies of the men was but the least part of it; what passed in their minds was the principal thing, being an effect so extensive that nothing inferior to infinite power could produce it. With respect to the maimed, that is, persons who had lost their legs and arms, Jesus gave them new members in their stead. But when he thus created such parts of their bodies as were wanting, without having any thing at all, as a subject, to work upon, the spectators could not have been more surprised had they seen him make a whole human body out of the dust of the earth.” Accordingly, on the sight of these miracles, it is here said, They wondered and glorified the God of Israel. See also Matthew 9:33; and Matthew 12:22-23; Mark 7:37.


Verses 32-39

Matthew 15:32-39. Jesus called his disciples, and said, I have compassion, &c. — For some observations on the contents of these verses, see the notes on Mark 8:1-9.

 


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Bibliography Information
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Matthew 15:4". Joseph Benson's Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/rbc/matthew-15.html. 1857.

Lectionary Calendar
Saturday, November 16th, 2019
the Week of Proper 27 / Ordinary 32
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