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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible
Matthew 9

 

 

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Verse 1

1. To his own city — His own by residence, Capernaum. See note on Matthew 4:13.

This verse properly closes the narrative of our Lord’s excursion across Gennesaret and his return. What follows occurred at Capernaum some time previous, and before his Sermon on the Mount.

§ 30. — SIXTH MIRACLE — THE PALSY CURED, Matthew 9:2-8.

The main points in this miracle are these: 1. Such is the true faith of the man himself, beheld by our Lord’s discerning spirit, that he pardons his sins before he heals his palsy. It is first soul, and then body. So when the wreck made by sin in our entire nature is repaired, man will become physically perfect. 2. Our Lord is a perfect logician. He places here the miracle as proof, in close succession after his claim of forgiving power as the thing to be proved. No geometrician could ever bring preposition and demonstration into closer contact. “Thy sins be forgiven thee,” is, first, the proposition, and then the miracle is the proof. His miracles demonstrate that he is connected and clothed with the divine power by which he forgives the penitent. Miracles are therefore intended to be a demonstration of divine authority. 3. Our Lord reads the conscious thoughts of men. He gave the blaspheming scribes a proof to their inward consciousness that he knew their hearts. See note on Matthew 5:4.


Verse 2

2. Behold, they brought… palsy — It appears by the parallel passage in Luke, that there were present a number of Pharisees and doctors from north and south, even from as far as Jerusalem. Our Lord either addressed the crowd from the court gallery, or in the large reception room. They brought… lying on a bed — Mark says he was brought by four men. Palsy seems to be a contraction of the word paralysis. It implies the loss of the power of muscular motion. Seeing their faith — But what special display of faith, calling even for the forgiveness of the man’s sins, does there here appear? We should not know from Matthew’s brief account: but Mark and Luke, without any such design, explain the matter. They furnish the absent fact, and thus unintentionally show how a true event is the basis of all the common narrative. Such was the crowd in the room where our Lord was, that they could not bring their couch before him. They therefore ascended a flight of stairs which ran up the house from the court, or perhaps stairs belonging to some adjoining house, and mounted the roof. They tore up the matting, of which the slight roof was composed, and let the palsied man down into the room or gallery where our Lord and the assembly were.

From this two things are evident: First, the man himself was probably a personage of no ordinary consequence, to presume on such a procedure; and, second, his faith must have been strong to induce him to force his bearers through such a process. For a description of an Oriental house and explanation of the circumstances of the narrative, see supplementary note at end of the chapter. Son, be of good cheer — Disease had rendered him desperate; perhaps the consciousness of having, by evil courses, brought on his condition, induced penitence; so that in the presence of our Lord his heart had sunk. Sweet, then, were the words of the blessed Jesus, calling him son, encouraging his heart, and forgiving his sin. Thy sins be forgiven thee — Our Lord here has a double purpose. In the man he sees repentance and faith, and his first purpose is to show him mercy. In the scribes’ hearts he knows there is impenitence and cavil, and he means to refute, and even, if it were possible, furnish argument to convince them.

SUPPLEMENTARY NOTE TO Matthew 9:2.

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The Oriental houses, very unlike our own, were low frames with flat roofs, so constructed as to enclose a square yard or court under the open sky in the centre.

They are built for privacy, and so present to the street (which is very narrow) almost a blank wall; and the doors and windows open and front inwardly toward the court.

From the street you enter such a house by a small door into a passage way leading directly to the court. The court is generally paved, with perhaps a fountain or well in its centre. As you enter the court from the passage way you see opposite you, across the court, the ordinary reception room for visitors. Or, ascending a flight of steps, as you have entered the court, you mount to the floor of the upper story. This upper story is lined with a gallery or piazza, projecting from all the four walls toward the court, with its edges made safe for walkers by a railing or balustrade.

It has been made a matter of much skeptical query how this paralytic could be thus let down through the roof to Jesus. Mr. Kitto supposes that our Saviour stood in the crowded gallery and addressed the multitude who densely filled the court below. The bearers of the paralytic, ascending the stairs near the entry of the court, and finding the gallery crowded, mounted the stairs leading to the roof. As the gallery had a slight covering, the man was easily let down by its removal.

Dr. Thomson says:

“The houses of Capernaum, as is evident from the ruins, were like those of modern villages in this same region, low, very low, with flat roofs, reached by a stairway from the yard or court. Jesus probably stood in the open lewan, [or reception room,] and the crowd were around and in front of him. Those who carried the paralytic, not being able ‘to come at him for the press ascended to the roof, removed so much of it as was necessary, and let their patient down through the aperture.

“The roof is only a few feet high, and by stooping down and holding the corners of the couch, merely a thickly padded quilt, as at present in this region, they could let down the sick man without any apparatus of ropes or cords to assist them. I have often seen it done, and done it myself, to houses in Lebanon, but there is always more dust than is agreeable. The materials now employed for roofs are beams about three feet apart, across which short sticks are arranged close together and covered with thickly matted thorn-brush, called bellan. Over this is spread a coat of stiff mortar, and then comes the marl or earth, which makes the roof. Now it is easy to remove any part of this without injuring the rest. No objection therefore would be made on this account by the owners of the house. They had merely to scrape back the earth from a portion of the roof over the lewan, take up the thorns and short sticks, and let down the couch between the beams at the very feet of Jesus. The end achieved, they could easily restore the roof as it was before.”


Verse 3

3. Blasphemeth — By its proper force, this word means to slander or reproach. Here it means to infringe the divine attributes or impeach the divine character in a presumptuous way.


Verse 4

4. Knowing their thoughts — To know the hearts of men was, with the Jews, a test of the true Messiah’s claims. When Bar Cocav declared himself Messiah, the rabbins quoted Isaiah 11:3, and examined him to see if he could reveal the secrets of their hearts. He failed, and they slew him.


Verse 5

5. Whether is it easier to say — That is, to say it with a clear and visible effect to sustain it. Any popish priest can SAY, Thy sins be forgiven thee, and the credulous may believe that a miracle of pardon is performed. But it is not quite so easy to perform the bodily miracle. The papist may claim that he performs a miracle in transforming the sacramental elements into real flesh and blood, and his followers may believe him. But it always takes a sensible and material miracle, attested beyond rational doubt, to make the moral miracle credible. When a man does heal the sick, and raise the dead at will, we may then begin to believe that he has authority to forgive the sins by which disease and death are produced.


Verse 6

6. Power on earth — The counterpart of power in heaven. It could be no superior scientific skill, it could be no mere earthly magnetic power, it could be no accidental coincidence of events.

Take up thy bed — A light mattress. Other men brought him on the bed; he can now carry himself away, bed and all.


Verse 7

7. And he arose — Christ said, Arise, and he arose. It is the public, instantaneous succession of divine cause and effect. To his house — Doubtless now the cheerful home of a happy occupant, whose body and soul were both made whole.


Verse 8

8. Multitudes saw it — No motives of self-interest interfered to prevent their yielding to the force of demonstration. They glorified God. Had the hearts of the Pharisees and scribes, many of whom were present, been in a reasonable mood, they would have done the same.


Verse 9

§ 31. — CALL OF MATTHEW.

9. Matthew — The call of Matthew, as a consultation of the Synopsis will show, occurred early in the history of our Lord, before the Sermon on the Mount. It is inserted in this group of miracles, we might almost suppose, because Matthew himself considered it a miracle of love and mercy to call and inspire him with so ready a faith and so prompt an obedience. Sitting at the receipt of custom — In the office of the receiver of the duties on the trades of Lake Gennesaret. Sitting — Dr. Thomson remarks: “The people of this country sit at all kinds of work. The carpenter saws, planes, and hews with his hand-adze, sitting on the ground or upon the plank he is planing. The washerwoman sits by the tub; and, in a word, no one stands where it is possible to sit. Shopkeepers always sit; and Levi sitting at the receipt of custom is the exact way to state the case.”

Mr. Morier, at Persepolis, observes: “Here is a station of rahdars, or toll-gatherers, appointed to levy a toll upon kafilers, or caravans of merchants; and who, in general, exercise their office with so much brutality and extortion that they are execrated by all travellers. The collections of the tolls are farmed, consequently extortion ensues; and as most of the rahdars receive no other emolument than what they can exact over and above the prescribed dues from the traveller, their insolence is accounted for, and a cause sufficiently powerful is given for their insolence on the one hand, and the detestation in which they are held on the other.” How unpopular the publicans were in the days of Matthew, is shown by the customary phrase, “publicans and sinners.”

He arose, and followed — The promptness of Matthew is not emphasized or expatiated upon, but it appears in the striking rapidity of the narrative. The call of Matthew is the fourth instance of the matter of our Lord’s engaging a disciple which we have had to note in our comment. (See notes on Matthew 8:19-22.) It differs in character from either of the other three.


Verse 10

§ 52. — CONVERSATION AT MATTHEW’S FEAST, Matthew 9:10-17.

This fact occurred probably some six months after the call mentioned in the last verse.

10. At meat in the house — Luke informs us that it was in Matthew’s or Levi’s house. Publicans and sinners — Men of unpopular reputation, and men guilty of wicked conduct. Matthew called to this feast not only his old associates the publicans, but many whom he would gladly bring under the reforming power of our Lord’s discourse. He thus showed to his acquaintances and friends that he gloried in his Christian profession and Christian hopes.


Verse 11

11. Pharisees — Their very name signifies separatists, indicating that they stood apart from the unholy masses. Said… Why — It was thought unsuitable for a rabbi to eat with the commonalty.


Verse 12

12. Whole need not a physician — Here is the fundamental principle of benevolence on which he proceeded. He asked not, Where shall I find the wealthy, the honourable, or the learned? Such had their comforts, and would despise his offers. He visited not Herod or Caesar. He condescended to those whom all acknowledged to be miserable and lost. He thus visibly declared that the Saviour of man is emphatically a Saviour of the lost.


Verse 13

13. What that meaneth — Hosea 6:6. I — Jehovah. Will have — Will require from men. Mercy — The benevolent disposition of soul toward our fellow-men. Not sacrifice — Instead of the right disposition of heart. It is a poor piety that attempts to be a substitute for virtue. Jehovah requires of us mercy like Christ’s, rather than sacrifice like the Pharisee’s. Righteous — As you esteem yourselves. Sinners — As you esteem these poor publicans and others at Matthew’s table. If they were indeed righteous, independently of Christ, Christ was no Saviour for them. But he went to the outcast to show that it is only as outcasts any of us can claim any share in his mission.


Verse 14

14. Disciples of John — Their master was in prison, and their sorrowing hearts, influenced by the ascetic views of their master as well as by his calamitous circumstances, can hardly understand how Jesus is feasting with the publicans. They as little understand his benevolence as do the Pharisees; but their false view is from a different standpoint. The sternest Old Testament spirit was in John and his mission. Our Lord here shows them the gladder temper of the Gospel.


Verse 15

15. Children of the bride-chamber — These were the attendant young comrades of the bridegroom, who assisted in the festivities of the wedding. Bridegroom — When the bridegroom should come to the house of the bride’s father the wedding would proceed, and the hilarity would begin.

See notes on Matthew 25:1-13. Christ is the glorious bridegroom who has come. He who was just now the physician for the sick, and so the source of health, is now the bridegroom for the anxious waiters, and so the source of joy. His disciples are the bridegroom’s friends. Theirs is not the part of the Old Testament tarriers for his coming; they belong to a gladder dispensation; they proclaim a Saviour come. Bridegroom shall be taken — The Saviour shall disappear. Then shall they fast — Sorrow then shall be for his absence and for our distance from him, which shall sober the joy even of this dispensation; but never a stern sadness which forgets that the Saviour has come, and that in spirit he is here evermore. The sentiment, then, stripped of its symbols, is this: My disciples refuse to fast, in order to show that they belong to the new and joyous dispensation; yet after my departure Christians shall ever feel the sorrow of a distance from me temper the joy of my having come.

Mr. Roberts remarks, in his illustrations, that when a man is gloomy and stern in the midst of surrounding joy, or upon some occasion demanding hilarity, his neighbour in the East would be apt to say: “What, do people weep in the house of marriage? Is it a funeral or a marriage you are going to celebrate?” Does a person go to cheer his friend, he says, on entering the house, “I am come this day to the house of marriage.”


Verse 16

16. Piece of new cloth — Symbol of the spirit and mode of the new dispensation. Old garment — The Old Testament institutions and John’s dispensation. Rent is made worse — The new patch, undressed by the fuller, and moist, will shrink and rend the old worn garment’s cloth. The sentiment is clear, by translation of the symbols. There is a contrariety between the old, stern dispensation of Moses and Elias, (the latter antityped in John,) and the new dispensation of peace and salvation. Our serene joy, fastened upon your gloomy dispensation, would be like a new patch on an old garment, unsightly and marring. The same point is illustrated by additional symbols in the following verses.

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Verse 17

17. New wine — Which has yet to ferment. Old bottles — These bottles or flasks were made of leather skins. When old and rigid, they were liable to burst from the fermentation of the newly made wine. As here again the new wine is the symbol of the new dispensation of joy, and the old bottles are the symbol of the old dispensation of shadows; so the truth is again illustrated that new Christianity, with its living spirit, cannot afford to remain enveloped in the old skin of ascetic Judaism. And this is the answer to the disciples of John, who wonder at the new fashion of Christ’s disciples, who do not disfigure their faces, according to the old custom with much fasting.

Luke (Luke 5:39) adds a sort of apology by our Lord for the prejudices expressed in the query of John’s disciples. “No man also having drunk the old wine straightway desireth the new; for he saith, The old is better.” So it takes a while for the disciple of the old dispensation to accommodate his feelings to the new order of things. His attachments to the institutions so mellowed, like wine, by time, induce him to prefer them from their very antiquity. He saith the old is better. There is, indeed, an excellence about the old, there is something exciting and fermenting about the new; but the old must be worn out and disappear. The new is truly an advance in excellence, and it is a mere customary taste that induces the man to repeat the constant saw “The old is better.”


Verse 18-19

§ 52. — SEVENTH MIRACLE — RAISING THE RULER’S DAUGHTER, Matthew 9:18-26.

This miracle is narrated with greater detail by Mark, upon whose account see our comments.

18. A certain ruler — A ruler of the synagogue at Capernaum. His name was Jairus. Worshipped — The Greek word implies reverence, but not necessarily divine worship. See note on Matthew 8:2. Even now dead — The exaggeration of his parental feelings. She had not at that moment probably died. She shall live — The ruler’s faith was firm.


Verses 20-26

§ 52. — EIGHTH MIRACLE — HEALING THE ISSUE, Matthew 9:20-22.

20. Behold, a woman — The evangelist’s narrative makes this, as it were, a miracle within a miracle. See notes on Mark 5:25-34.


Verse 27

§ 53. — NINTH MIRACLE — CURING TWO BLIND, Matthew 9:27-31.

27. Departed thence — Returned from the ruler’s house to his own sojourn. Two blind men — The curing of the blind was a frequent miracle of our Lord, as narrated by the evangelists. From the sandiness of the soil irritating the eyes with flying particles, as well as from sleeping in the open air and exposing the eyes to the noxious night dews, the disease of blindness is much more prevalent in the East than among us. And as all our Lord’s miracles of mercy to the body were emblems of mercy to the soul, this frequent miracle beautifully illustrates the Gospel power of relieving the spiritual blindness of sinners. Thou Son of David — They hereby acknowledged the royal lineage and consequent Messiahship of our Lord. The carpenter’s son was truly by birth a prince; his pedigree, as given by the evangelists, though doubtless seldom referred to or named by his lowly parents, was still on record.


Verse 28

28. Into the house — Where he dwelt at Capernaum. The blind men found him on the way, and followed him in, with supplication. Believe ye… I am able — They had shown faith both by calling him Son of David and following him into the house. But the Lord proceeds still farther to draw out their faith. Confession confirms faith. They must confess, and they will doubly profit by the miracle.


Verse 29

29. Touched their eyes — As if his finger were the conductor of the power. But the act served to show that the cure was no accidental coincidence. It visibly manifested that the work was his. According to your faith — So that the measure of faith which you have shall be exactly justified, sustained, and rewarded. Thus faith is a readiness to receive of God. Though it has no merit to deserve a reward, yet it is the right state of soul to receive God’s truth and mercy.


Verse 30

30. That no man know it — Not every man is fit to preach the Gospel who has received God’s mercy. Not every time is proper for proclaiming the truth. Compare on Matthew 8:4.


Verse 31

31. Spread abroad his fame — Affectionately disobedient! It was not like the disobedience of a hater of Christ, but still it was a disobedience and a wrong. Young converts often err even in their Christian zeal.


Verse 32

§ 54. — TENTH MIRACLE — CURING A DUMB DEMONIAC, Matthew 9:32-34.

32. Dumb man possessed with a devil — His dumbness was not (like that in Mark 7:31-37) a natural defect, but produced upon him by an evil power. It only required the expulsion of the evil one to relieve the disqualification. Our natural evils spring from sin, and therefore Satan joins with them, when he can, against us. Sin, Satan, and disease are allied enemies of man.


Verse 34

34. But the Pharisees said — What could they say? Not that he never performed any miracles. Not that his miracles were ever contrary to mercy, benevolence, peace, and every divine virtue. And yet they ascribed the whole system of miraculous works to Satan. As if they did not know that all devilish manifestations are ever malignant, base, and sensual.

With this closes the group of nine miracles of the last two chapters. (Introduction to chap. 8.) They should be studied to see what a variety of kinds they embrace, and with what a variety of incidents they are attended. They are selected, too, from an immense number. They imply power over disease, life, elements, brutes, devils, and the secrets of men’s hearts. They exhibit touches of tenderness, faith, gratitude, and wonder. But in the background is a party of deep, malignant, calumniating enemies, who hate him because he is pure and good, and will disbelieve because they hate. Hatred will give spring to action, and they will land in crimes which the soul shudders to mention.


Verse 35

35. Went about all the cities and villages — Before sending forth his preachers, over how wide a circuit, and with what an active ministry, did our Lord himself precede them. He was the original itinerant, and they but his commissioned imitators. Cities and villages — Wherever he found a sufficiently dense population. Synagogues — The Jewish synagogues were the first scene of the preached Gospel; and so acceptable was our Lord’s preaching, that the Jewish people of Galilee did not exclude him. See note on Matthew 4:23.

Preaching the gospel… healing… sickness — His mercy to the body secured reception for his medicine for the soul.


Verses 35-38

§ 56. — PREPARATION FOR SENDING FORTH THE TWELVE, Matthew 9:35-38.

Matthew having, in chapters fifth, sixth, and seventh, given the platform of the new dispensation, and in chapters eighth and ninth, specimens of our Lord’s miracles, proceeds now to narrate the occasion and mode of sending forth his disciples upon their ministrations. The present paragraph gives a summary of our Lord’s travels and ministry previous to his solemn declaration that the labourers were too few for harvest. The evangelist proceeds, then, in the next chapter, to relate how our Lord sent the “labourers” forth.


Verse 36

36. When he saw the multitudes — That is, whenever, during his circuit, he saw the vast congregations attracted by the fame of his works and listening with ready ear to his words. He was moved with compassion — A tender pity would arise in his heart, day after day, at the sight of the successive crowds. Because they fainted — The epithet fainted is applied to them in their character of sheep, who are worried and exhausted in the way.

Having no shepherd — Even Moses is no shepherd to them, for the Galileans were half Gentile in their views. Their professed religious teachers were rather wolves than shepherds, who fed upon rather than fed the flock. The words of truth and mercy from the lips of Jesus were new to their ears and hearts. Doubtless the evangelist, in this verse, expresses the feeling of the Saviour in the very words which fell from his own lips.


Verse 37

37. Then saith he — Probably on more occasions than one in his circuit. The harvest truly is plenteous — He views the vast multitudes scattered over the plains as a vast field of grain, which had now ripened for the Gospel sickle. So in John 4:35, he exclaims in a similar figure to his disciples, Behold, I say unto you, lift up your eyes and look on the fields, for they are white already to harvest. The labourers are few — The Gospel reapers for this vast white fields — where are they? None as yet but myself.


Verse 38

38. Pray ye therefore — For though it be the act of God, it depends upon the prayer of man. Divine operation waits upon human co-operation. God will do, m answer to prayer, what will not be done without prayer. Low faith in the Church produces slow development of the work of salvation. No doubt our Lord primarily has in view the Jewish multitudes before him. Yet in more distant prospect is to be included the wide field of the world and its vast harvest in the coming age.

And now, in the next chapter, we find Jesus sending forth his Twelve.

 


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Bibliography Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Matthew 9:4". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/whe/matthew-9.html. 1874-1909.

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Friday, November 22nd, 2019
the Week of Proper 28 / Ordinary 33
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