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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible
Matthew 8

 

 

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Verse 1

1. Come down… mountain — He descended the slope toward the shores of Gennesaret, where stood Capernaum, his present residence. Great multitudes followed — His vast congregation moved with the preacher toward the city. See the closing comment on last chapter.


Verse 2

§ 29. — FIRST MIRACLE — CLEANSING THE LEPER, Matthew 8:2-4.

2. Behold… a leper — A living instance of the receptive faith alluded to in the closing lines of our comment on the last chapter, now steps forward in the person of a leper. How do afflictions sometimes urge us to Christ! The leper, who had, perhaps, been in the outskirts of the congregation, had seen his works and heard his words of mercy, comes with the language of humility and confession on his lips.

Leprosy, in its worst form, was one of the most terrible of diseases. It began with red spots upon the body, grouped in circles, and covered with a shiny scale or scab. It became, generally, incurable, and so corrupted the system that it became hereditary for generations. The body crumbled, the limbs fell apart, and the man literally went to pieces.

Yet it seems not to have been clearly contagious. Hence Mr. Trench forcibly argues that all the provisions made against it by Moses, placing its examination under the care of the priest, and exiling the man, when clearly a leper, from society, were established as a matter of ceremonial uncleanness. To impress the lesson of the corruption of sin upon men, the touch of a dead body and every contact with the circumstantials of death, rendered a man unclean. From among diseases, leprosy was selected as the emblem of moral uncleanness, and subjected to priestly examinations, to banishment, and to every abhorrence which could indicate his utter moral defilement. Leviticus 14:15. All this arose, not from the special wickedness of the man himself, but to present him as a physical representative of the depravity belonging to our inmost nature.

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Worshipped — The word may signify the reverence paid either to a human or to a divine being. Doubtless, sorrow had so subdued this poor leper, that he was ready to believe this benefactor to be either human or divine, as himself should claim. He could not, indeed, fully measure the amount of power or divinity residing in the Lord’s person, and so his reverence was susceptible of any appropriate measure.

The bowing (called often worshipping) of the Oriental people is low and formal in proportion to the intended reverence paid. A simple inclination of the head is ordinary civility; a low and deliberate curve of the body indicated deep respect; a prostration, with the face upon the ground, was the most worshipful homage.

Lord — Similar varied meanings belong to this title. It may signify the same as our Sir, indicating the respect we pay to man; or it may be a most solemn compellative of God, answering to Jehovah itself.

Note to Matthew 8:2, page 107.

That Matthew places the healing of the leper in its true chronological position appears probable from the following considerations: 1. Mark’s account does not assign it any place or date. Luke gives no chronological sign, but says (and this is the only reason for questioning Matthew’s chronology) it was “when he was in a certain city;” or more literally, When he was in one of their cities. But by Matthew’s account Jesus was on his way from the Mount to Capernaum, which was one of their cities. He may have arrived at the precincts of that city before the leper could acquire courage to come forth and state his case, and the miracle be performed in the presence of the multitudes. 2. The words of Matthew imply the immediate succession of the three points, namely, that Jesus came down; that the multitudes followed him toward Capernaum; and that the leper came from the crowds. 3. It seems not only most appropriate, but most natural, and apparently the writer’s intention, to view the miracle as a confirmation of the sermon; and therefore occurring immediately after it.


Verse 3

3. Touched him — It was contrary to law to touch the unclean leper. But here was a finger which could contract no uncleanness; impurity fled from its approach; it purified what it touched.

Immediately his leprosy was cleansed — How sweet must have been the sensations of renewing health and wholeness. The crumbling limbs renew their shape, the blood flows quickly through the system, the eye recovers its brightness, and the voice its music. He stands up once more in his pure, vigorous manhood; and scarce can he wait the Lord’s commands, before he must rush through the country, a living wonder, to tell the story of his salvation.

Contrary to the order of Harmonists generally, yet without making any alteration in the Synopsis, I have supposed in my notes upon this miracle, that it was performed in the order followed by Matthew, namely, immediately after the Sermon on the Mount. For proof that this is uncontradicted by either evangelist, see supplementary note, page 351 (End of Matthew).


Verse 4

4. Tell no man — Our Lord on many occasions forbade the subjects of his beneficent miracles to speak of them; and on others he directed them to be proclaimed abroad.

Readers are puzzled to know the reasons from which he acted. Perhaps the following views will make this clear:

1. Our Lord did not wish to avoid the full confession of his deeds of mercy on the part of their objects. This is fully illustrated in the case of the woman healed of the issue. See on Mark 5:33.

2. Why, in this case of the leper, and similar cases, he commanded silence, is fully and conclusively explained by Mark in his account of this miracle. The man cured of this leprosy did not obey our Lord; and the inconvenient consequences show what the evils were which our Lord wished to avoid. (Mark 1:45.) He went out and began to publish it loudly, and to blaze abroad the matter, insomuch that Jesus could no more enter into the city, but was without in desert places. How our Lord was incommoded by crowds, will appear from many passages. See Mark 3:9; Mark 3:20. The thoughtless populace were, moreover, liable, in some fit of enthusiasm, to attempt to make him a temporal king, and so embroil him with the government. See notes on Matthew 12:16-21.

3. Our Lord most wisely desired to be the selecter of his own preachers and proclaimers. He justly esteemed it not according to a divine order, that devils should be the free testifiers to his divinity. Nor was every man who was the object of his mercy well qualified by dignity, prudence, understanding, or accuracy, to give a correct impress of his divine power and mission. His own apostles even, after long training and more than one trial, did he find scarce fit to utter his truth or proclaim his deeds and character. His only proper expositor, except in peculiar cases, was himself.

4. Why he bade the demoniac of Gadara publish his deliverance abroad is explained in our comment on the place. (See on Mark 5:19.) Our Lord was about leaving that country, and so was not liable to the inconveniences mentioned above; he was leaving many traducers, and so needed one outspoken defender and preacher.

But… show thyself to the priest — Some commentators suppose that the Saviour silenced him until he had seen the priest, in order that the priest might pronounce him clean, uninfluenced by any rumour of his miracles.

But our Lord utters no until. He gives the man no permission to proclaim it after he has seen the priest. A testimony unto them — That they may know that a mighty cleanser is here. It was a most suitable case to present to the priesthood, because it came by law under their notice, (Leviticus 14:2; Leviticus 14:10; Leviticus 14:21,) because of its peculiar symbolical significance, and because of its demonstrative character. It was a problem which they would be at a loss how to solve, but by admitting his divine mission.


Verse 5

§ 37. — SECOND MIRACLE — HEALING THE CENTURION’S SERVANT, Matthew 8:5-13.

5. Entered into Capernaum — From the Sermon on the Mount. Centurion — A Roman captain over a hundred men. As Lake Gennesaret was a water of no little traffic between northern Syria and Palestine, so Capernaum was a port of revenue, and the abode of a Roman garrison to keep the turbulent Galilean peasantry in order. The centurion on the present occasion was evidently one whose residence in Palestine had detached him from the paganism of his Roman education. He had traced in Judaism evidences of truth which touched his heart. He almost seems a prototype of Cornelius in the Acts.


Verse 9

9. I… under authority… Go, and he goeth — The centurion here utters to the Lord a beautiful parable. As I am a captain on earth, thou art captain of the armies of heaven. As I send men and they obey, so canst thou send death or life, disease or restoration, and they shall obey thy order.

As the preceding miracle was performed with a touch, so this was done through distance of space.


Verse 10

10. No, not in Israel — The entire chosen people of God is now thus signally surpassed in faith in its own Messiah by this poor incoming Gentile! How striking a commentary upon the apostle’s words, Romans 9:31-32 : “Israel hath not attained to righteousness. Wherefore? Because they sought it not by faith.”


Verse 11

11. Many… from the east and west — Our Lord here predicts the call of the Gentiles to occupy a place in the Gospel dispensation. With Abraham — They should become his spiritual descendants, and occupy the place of his natural offspring. Sit down — Rather recline. The image is taken from a banquet, and the ancients did not sit at table on chairs, but reclined upon couches. Kingdom of heaven — Both above and below.


Verse 12

12. Children of the kingdom — Natural Jews. The kingdom of heaven, that is, the Gospel dispensation, including the kingdom of glory as well as of grace, is represented as a divine banquet, in which, while the Jews, the natural children of the kingdom, are excluded, the repentant Gentiles take their couches with Abraham and the other ancestral patriarchs. The heirship by faith is substituted for the heirship by birth, and the spiritual guests are the true children of Abraham.

Outer darkness — The figure of a banquet is carried out. The splendour, the joy, the society, the feast within, are an emblem of God’s kingdom below and above. The darkness of the streets without is an emblem of deep horror. The streets of Eastern cities are narrow and filthy; all the outdoor comfort being reserved for the court or square yard enclosed within the area of the building. At night they are totally dark, being unillumined even by rays from a window. Robbers and ferocious dogs render them dangerous. We have thence a strong image of that utter despair, darkness, and death of a soul excluded from God, and left to weeping and gnashing of teeth.


Verse 14

§ 28. — THIRD MIRACLE — HEALING PETER’S WIFE’S MOTHER, Matthew 8:14-15.

The peculiarity of this miracle seems to be that it was performed upon a person who would remain a present and permanent witness of the fact. It would, no doubt, contribute its share to produce that firm and earnest faith in the heart of Peter, the most eminent of the apostles, which he displayed so conspicuously in life and in death.

14. And when Jesus was come into Peter’s house — This third miracle in Matthew’s group was performed on our Lord’s previous visit to Capernaum, (Mark 1:29-31,) before the delivery of the Sermon on the Mount. It took place, as we learn by Mark, immediately after his curing a demoniac in the synagogue, on the Sabbath. Of Tabiga, the grand manufacturing suburb of Capernaum, Dr. Thomson says: “As there is considerable marshy land about this Tabiga, may not this account for the prevalence of fevers at Capernaum? for here it was, of course, that Peter’s wife’s mother lay sick of a fever. “Fevers of a very malignant type are still prevalent, particularly in summer and autumn, owing, no doubt, to the extreme heat acting upon these marshy plains, such as the Butaiha, at the influx of the Jordan.”

Peter’s house — And his brother Andrew’s also, as Mark says. Peter is mentioned alone by Matthew from his stronger personal character.

Wife’s mother — So the Papists have to confess that the first pope was a married man. And 1 Corinthians 9:5, plainly shows that he led about his wife in his apostolic missions. So little authorized by Scripture is the Romish enforcement of clerical celibacy. Laid sick — Evidently no slight indisposition.


Verse 15

15. He touched her hand — Mark says that he also raised her and grasped her hand. Luke says that he rebuked the disorder, so that perhaps he also spoke. In these different points the evangelist who adds something more, does not contradict him who says the less.

Ministered unto them — A token both of her real and sudden cure of what Luke calls “a great fever,” and of her gratitude for its performance.


Verse 16

16. Even — Old English for evening. Some say they waited for evening to avoid the heat of the day. But as it was Sabbath, and we read of no other instance of withholding the sick until evening, doubtless they waited until the Jewish Sabbatical hours were over.


Verse 17

17. That it might be fulfilled — It can, in a true sense, be said that the prophetic Scriptures must be fulfilled. And in a subordinate sense, it can be truly said that things were done that the Scriptures might be fulfilled; and this without either saying that such was the intention of the doers, or that they could not do otherwise. They freely acted to fulfil prophecy, because prophecy foretold what they would freely do. Esaias — Isaiah 53:4. Took our infirmities, and bare our sicknesses — Sickness, mortality, temporal death, are as truly a part of the great penalty of sin, as the very pains of hell itself. All these were borne by the Saviour in the form of atoning sufferings on the cross. It was by this substitutional suffering in our stead, that the man Christ Jesus was entitled to redeem us from hell and relieve us from even the earthly part of our woes. He healed sicknesses, therefore, by bearing even them in his own body on the tree.


Verse 18

§ 50. — FOURTH MIRACLE — STILLING THE TEMPEST, Matthew 8:18-27.

18. Now when Jesus saw — Matthew now selects a miracle which took place much later in his ministry than the last, (see Hist. Synop.,) and of which the peculiarity is that it manifests our Lord’s command over the elements. He here rules as Lord of external nature. The other side — Of Lake Gennesaret. He crossed from west to east.


Verse 19

19. A certain scribe — As a professional man, read in law, and probably of the tribe of Levi, he would appear to be a more eligible disciple than the fisherman or the toll-gatherer. Whithersoever — He seems prepared for trials. There is no proof of any ambitious motive. Yet our Lord sees that he has not the material for a true apostle. He neither accepts nor rejects him; he only gives a vivid picture of his own poor accommodations, and the scribe’s ardour seems to evaporate. It is very probable that the scribe acted more wisely in staying than in going. He would have spoiled perhaps a good scribe, and have made a poor apostle. Not every profound Christian scholar is bound to be a preacher of the Gospel. He does not seem to have even persisted to cross the Gennesaret. There are those who have an idea that there is something in the life of a missionary attractive and romantic. When such are the motives, a most miserable failure results.


Verses 19-22

19-22. Matthew here relates two incidents illustrating our Lord’s selection of disciples. Two contrasted cases are presented. In the first, a disciple of no ordinary qualifications offers himself, and is not accepted. In the other a chosen disciple presents a very strong plea for being excused, but is imperatively retained.

Luke adds a third instance of a man who was almost ready to follow our Lord, but had a small cause for postponement; our Lord rejects him.

The incident which Matthew here relates of the scribe, is placed by Luke in a very different part of the Lord’s history. Yet in Luke it stands isolated like a separate anecdote, whereas here in Matthew it has the air of being a proposition made by the scribe to our Lord as he was about to cross the lake.


Verse 20

20. Son of man — This title designates our Lord as truly man, in distinction from his being also Son of God. This humbler title is used seventy-one times in the New Testament, and in every case, with a single exception, by our Lord himself. The martyr Stephen, (Acts 7:56,) beholding his glorified humanity at the right hand of God, uses this epithet. Foxes have holes — Wild animals have their regular habitations and their homes, but the divine One is homeless on earth.


Verse 21

21. Another of his disciples — It may be more intelligibly rendered: “Another, being, one of his disciples.” Tradition says it was Philip. It is clear he was one of the twelve, for our Lord does not excuse him at his request. Nothing but the apparent solemn duty which formed the reason for the request justified the making it, for in the instance added by Luke a slight reason offered was ground of reproof and rejection.

Bury my father — Who is aged, and needs my care until he goes down to the grave. Alas! before he dies and the burial is accomplished, the Son of man will have finished his ministry, and thou wilt have lost thy apostleship.

But most commentators understand that the father lies already a corpse, and the disciple asks a dispensation from duty to go and bury him. With this interpretation there is a deep rigour in our Lord’s words. He must then be understood to declare that a higher duty is pressing upon him than even the burying his dead father. The Gospel is more than the paternal corpse. Other relatives may perform that task, on whom rests no higher duty. And perhaps our Lord recognized that if this disciple went, there was danger that he would soon be numbered with the morally dead who were burying the corporeally dead. Our Lord may have perceived a worldliness in his heart and in his request that would have involved him in danger. The tenderest ties are often the conductors of temptation. The man who is willing to delay his obedience to God’s call, may find in his delay the snare that will involve him in ruin.


Verse 22

22. Follow me — Infinite interests must take precedence of the finite.

Dead bury their dead — The maxim is pointed with a play upon the double sense of the word dead. Let the spiritually dead bury the corporeally dead. Let a secular world perform its duties to its secular members. Our duties must be applied to a life eternal. Luke adds, (Luke 9:60,) “But go thou and preach the kingdom of God.”

Did the three instances of settling the matter of following our Lord occur on the same day? Perhaps so. They may have transpired in view of our Lord’s passing over the lake into the wild Gadarene country.

Or, the first one having occurred at that time, the Evangelists may introduce the other instances by association of similarity, as alike illustrating the mode of our Lord’s choice of apostles. It was not because our Lord could not have selected men of rank and influence for the sacred office, but for deeper reasons, that he called the humble laborious laymen.


Verse 23

23. Ship — A small, open fishing boat.


Verse 24

24. There arose a great tempest — It was not so much a storm as a gust or hurricane — a wind-storm; “one of those incidents,” says Stanley, “to which every mountain lake, more or less, and the Sea of Galilee, from its situation, especially, is subject. Through one of the deep ravines, breaking through the hills to the shore, there came down a storm of wind on the lake. in a moment the still waters were aroused as by an earthquake, and the waves filled the boat. Almost every feature of the story which follows can be traced to the locality.”


Verse 25

25. We perish — We are now perishing, while thou art sleeping. Like Jonah, he slept; but, unlike Jonah, he was the arrester, not the cause of the storm.


Verse 26

26. Of little faith — Observe the exquisite language of our Lord. He does not charge that they had no faith, but little. They had not power of faith to still the elements, nor to control their own fears, but they had faith that their Master could. Rebuked the winds — As a master rebukes a raging animal. Great calm — The calm was great from the completeness of the stillness; and great from the contrast with the previous storm; and great as a product of a wonderful power. And with it the terrors of their hearts, the winds and waves within the soul, were composed. So when the fearful sinner resorts to Christ, his word of forgiveness allays the storm, and there is a great calm.


Verse 27

27. The men marvelled — Not the workmen of the boat, for the disciples were probably their own workmen. They are called the men, as a humbling term, in comparison with him, the divine one. What manner of man — They expected, indeed, that he would save them; but they were overwhelmed with the majesty and ease with which he issued his orders to the elements, and at the submission with which they, like living intelligences are hushed by his word.


Verses 28-34

§ 42. — FIFTH MIRACLE — DISPOSSESSING TWO DEMONIACS, Matthew 8:28-34.

Matthew pursues our Lord’s course across the lake, in order to narrate a miracle which displays our Lord’s authority over the powers of hell, as this shows his command over the elements of the earth.

This miracle is more fully narrated by Mark, to whose account, and our notes thereon, the reader is referred.

It may be proper here to note, however, that between the two accounts there is a difference in regard to the number of demoniacs dispossessed. Matthew mentions two; Mark and Luke note but one. Here is variation, but not contradiction. He who says there is two of course includes the one. He who mentions the one does not deny the other. The two evangelists doubtless specify the one which was the more bold and prominent. There was a second less marked, whom they pass over, but Matthew mentions.

CHAPTER 9.

In this chapter the group of TEN SPECIMEN MIRACLES given by Matthew is completed. They are selected from different periods of our Lord’s ministry, and their place in order of time will be found by referring to the Historical Synopsis. The miracles of the present chapter are five, namely: 1. The paralytic; 2. The infirm woman; 3. The ruler’s daughter; 4. The two blind, 5. The dumb demoniac.

 


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Bibliography Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Matthew 8:4". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/whe/matthew-8.html. 1874-1909.

Lectionary Calendar
Saturday, July 4th, 2020
the Week of Proper 8 / Ordinary 13
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