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Whyte's Dictionary of Bible Characters
OUR men of natural science are able sometimes to reconstruct the shape and the size of a completely extinct species from a single bone, or splinter of a bone, that has been quite accidentally dug out of the earth. And in something of the same way Pilate's wife rises up before us out of a single sentence in Matthew's Gospel. We see the governor's wife only for a moment. We hear her only for a moment. But in the space of that short moment of time she so impresses her sudden footprint on this page of this Gospel, that as long as this Gospel is read, this that Pilate's wife said and did that Passover morning shall be held in remembrance for a most honourable memorial of her.
Both Pilate and his wife, in Paul's words, were Gentiles in the flesh, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world. Both Pilate and his wife were perfect heathens, as we would say. They were still at what we would call the pre-patriarchal period of divine revelation. They were still very much what Abraham himself was when God chose him, and spake to him, and said to him, "Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father's house, unto a land that I will show thee." As regards many of the good things of this life; learning, civilisation, refinement, and such like; the Roman governor and his gifted wife were very far advanced; but as regards what our Lord estimates to be the one thing needful for all men, they were not unlike Terah, and Nahor, and Abram, when they still dwelt in old time on the other side of the flood, and still served other gods. Both Pilate and his wife were still at that stage in which God was wont to speak to men at sundry times and in divers manners; and, among other manners, in the manner of a dream. For, till Holy Scripture came to some fulness and to some clearness, we find God revealing Himself in a dream, not only to Abraham, and Pharaoh, and Nebuchadnezzar; but even to Jacob, and Joseph, and Solomon, and down even to such New Testament men as Peter, and Paul, and John. Almighty God has complete control and continual command of all the avenues that lead into the soul of man, and He sends His message to this soul and to that at the very time and in the very way that seems wisest and best in His sight. And Elihu's remarkable description of the manner and the matter of one of his own divine dreams may be taken as a prophetic forecast of this passover dream of Pilate's wife: "In a dream, in a vision of the night, when deep sleep falleth upon men, in slumberings upon the bed: then He openeth the ears of men, and sealeth their instruction, that He may withdraw man from his purpose, and hide pride from man. He keepeth back his soul from the pit, and his life from perishing by the sword. He is chastened also with pain upon his bed, and the multitude of his bones with strong pain." A perfect picture of Pilate's wife's dream in the Prætorium that night, and of its divinely-intended purpose toward Pilate himself, which was to withdraw Pilate from his purpose, and to keep back his soul from the pit.
Long before that passover morning Pilate's wife had made up her mind about Jesus of Nazareth. With all the wealth and all the rank of the city against Him; with all the temple learning and all the temple authority against Him; with, without exception, every responsible ruler and every influential man in all Jerusalem against Him; and with all her own and all her husband's original interests and natural instincts strongly prejudicing her against Him-she had overcome all that, and had deliberately and resolutely taken up His side. She had made up her mind that whatever else He was, or might turn out to be, at any rate up to the present moment, He had been a blameless man. He had gone about doing good. The procurator's palace was the centre and the seat of everything. All the telegraph wires ran up and delivered themselves there. Everything that took place in the province was instantly reported at the Prætorium. Not a word of rebellion was whispered in closets, not a zealot stirred a foot in the greatest stealth, not a sword was sharpened at midnight in all the land, but it was all as well known to Pilate and to his wife as to the intending insurrectionary himself. And, though the Roman procurators were wont to leave their wives at home when they set out to their provinces, Pilate's wife was far too meet a help to him to be left behind him when he was wrestling for his life with those rebellious and treacherous Jews in Jerusalem. And it was so. The procurator's wife shared all her husband's anxieties, all his responsibilities, and all his apprehensions. She was with him in everything with her keen mind and her noble heart. And with all her swift divination she had come to the sure conclusion long ago that Jesus of Nazareth was all and more than He seemed to be. Her Hebrew maid could not assist her Roman mistress to dress, but, one way or other, the same subject of conversation continually came up-what He had last said, and what He had last done. She could not drive out through the gate of the city but there was His congregation covering the highway. She could not return home that He was not healing some sick man at the door of the temple. And, all that passover week,-what with her husband's spies, and what with her own, she knew as well as Annas and Caiaphas themselves knew what they had determined to do. She had watched out of her window what we now know as the entry into Jerusalem. She had heard coming over the valley the voices of the children in the temple crying out and saying, "Hosanna to the Son of David!" till she wished that her children were among them. The last thing that absolutely carried her whole heart captive was Martha and Mary and their brother Lazarus. And it had needed all her own self-command, and all her husband's command over her as her husband, to keep her from going out to Bethany to see Lazarus with her own eyes. She had often read of such things in her own ancient books at home, but such a thing as this had never come so near her before. And then, when the report came to the Prætorium that Lazarus's friend had been betrayed and taken prisoner, and was all that night to be under trial before Caiaphas and the council; and then, that it would all roll in upon her husband the next morning-if a dream cometh through the multitude of business-no wonder that Pilate's wife dreamed about Jesus of Nazareth all that passover night!
Just what shape her dream took that passover night, I would give something for myself to know. And it is not mere and idle curiosity that makes me say that, for it would be to me a great lesson in the first principles of divine revelation to the Old Testament Church, as well as to this Roman matron's soul, and to my own soul. It would be as good as another disinterred manuscript of the Acts of Pilate, did we know something of the multitude of this business about Jesus that had gone that night to make up that so suffering and so opportune dream. With the books of the Hebrew prophets on her table, and with the echoes of John's preaching and Jesus' parables filling the air all around her, what may the governor's wife not have seen and heard in the visions and voices of that ominous night? She may have seen a hand coming out and writing it on the wall of the Prætorium, "Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin." She may have seen the same sight that made Daniel himself to be troubled, and his countenance to change. She may have seen the Ancient of days, with His throne like the fiery flame, and His wheels as burning fire, and the judgment set, and the books opened. She may have seen one like the Son of Man come with the clouds of heaven, till His kingdom was an everlasting kingdom, and His dominion that shall not be destroyed. Till, 'For God's sake,' she said, 'have thou nothing to do with that dreadful man?' Now, among all your dreams and visions on your bed do you ever dream about Jesus Christ? You dream every night about this man and that woman that you love or hate. Do you ever dream about your Saviour? Do you love and fear Him to that extent? If He were actually engaged within you on the salvation of your soul, the multitudinous business connected with that inward work would surely make you think about Him all day till you would dream about Him all night. Do you ever do it? Will you be able to say to Him at the last day, 'Lord, Thou knowest that I often thought about Thee all day and dreamed about Thee all night, and told my husband my dreams about Thee in the morning?' Will you have as much as Pilate's heathen wife will have to say for herself and for him? Will you; or will you not? What do you think? What do you say?
And then, this will be openly acknowledged and admitted in the day of judgment that Pilate's wife was fearlessly true and faithful to all her light. Her best light was as yet but candle-light. It was but as rush-light. But, even candle-light, even rush-light, even the faintest reflection of candle-light or rush-light is, all the time, the very same light as the light of the noonday sun. All light of all kinds comes, in one way or another, from one and the same source. And the lurid light of Pilate's wife's dream that night all came to her and to him from the Light of the world. The identical same Light that is lighting you and me with such brilliance and beauty in this house tonight, that very same Light struggled within that Roman lady's soul on her bed and in her dreams in Jerusalem that night. And nothing in divine things is more sure than this, that they who love the light-be it candle-light or be it sun-light-shall have more light sent to them, till they have all the light that they need. To them their path shall shine more and more to the perfect day. They who love the light, and walk in what light they have, they shall never lie down in darkness. You may absolutely depend upon it that the True Light Himself, who stood under such a cloud before Pilate's bar that daybreak, both overheard and laid up in His heart the noble message that came out to the procurator. You may rely on it that He who had already sent her so much of His own light, continued to send her more, till she became one of those princess saints of Cæsar's household, whom Paul so saluted in long after days. And may we not hope that Pilate himself was at last completely won with the holy walk of his wife, as he beheld her chaste conversation coupled with fear?
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Whyte, Alexander. Entry for 'Pilate's Wife'. Alexander Whyte's Dictionary of Bible Characters. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/wbc/p/pilates-wife.html. 1901.
the Fifth Sunday after Epiphany