COMMENTARY ON MATTHEW
For the date of this Gospel we have only internal evidence, and that far from decisive. Accordingly, opinion is much divided. That it was the first issued of all the Gospels was universally believed. Hence, although in the order of the Gospels, those by the two apostles were placed first in the oldest manuscripts of the Old Latin version, while in all the Greek manuscripts, with scarcely an exception, the order is the same as in our Bibles, the Gospel according to Matthew is "in every case" placed first. And as this Gospel is of all the four the one which bears the most evident marks of having been prepared and constructed with a special view to the Jews--who certainly first required a written Gospel, and would be the first to make use of it--there can be no doubt that it was issued before any of the others. That it was written before the destruction of Jerusalem is equally certain; for as HUG observes [Introduction to the New Testament, p. 316, FOSDICK'S translation], when he reports our Lord's prophecy of that awful event, on coming to the warning about "the abomination of desolation" which they should "see standing in the holy place," he interposes (contrary to his invariable practice, which is to relate without remark) a call to his readers to read intelligently--"Whoso readeth, let him understand" (<"Mt+24:15">Mt 24:15) --a call to attend to the divine signal for flight which could be intended only for those who lived before the event. (FN) But how long before that event this Gospel was written is not so clear. Some internal evidences seem to imply a very early date. Since the Jewish Christians were, for five or six years, exposed to persecution from their own countrymen--until the Jews, being persecuted by the Romans, had to look to themselves--it is not likely (it is argued) that they should be left so long without some written Gospel to reassure and sustain them, and Matthew's Gospel was eminently fitted for that purpose. But the digests to which Luke refers in his Introduction (see on <"#Lu1_1">Lu 1:1) would be sufficient for a time, especially as the living voice of the "eye-witnesses and ministers of the Word" was yet sounding abroad. Other considerations in favor of a very early date--such as the tender way in which the author seems studiously to speak of Herod Antipas, as if still reigning, and his writing of Pilate apparently as if still in power--seem to have no foundation in fact, and cannot therefore be made the ground of reasoning as to the date of this Gospel. Its Hebraic structure and hue, though they prove, as we think, that this Gospel must have been published at a period considerably anterior to the destruction of Jerusalem, are no evidence in favor of so early a date as A.D. 37 or 38--according to some of the Fathers, and, of the moderns, TILLEMONT, TOWNSON, OWEN, BIRKS, TREGELLES. On the other hand, the date suggested by the statement of IRENĈUS [Against Heresies, 3.1], that Matthew put forth his Gospel while Peter and Paul were at Rome preaching and founding the Church--or after A.D. 60--though probably the majority of critics are in favor of it, would seem rather too late, especially as the second and third Gospels, which were doubtless published, as well as this one, before the destruction of Jerusalem, had still to be issued. Certainly, such statements as the following, "Wherefore that field is called the field of blood unto this day" (Mt 27:8); "And this saying is commonly reported among the Jews until this day" (<"Mt+28:15">Mt 28:15), bespeak a date considerably later than the events recorded. We incline, therefore, to a date intermediate between the earlier and the later dates assigned to this Gospel, without pretending to greater precision.
<"Mt+2:1-12">Mt 2:1-12. VISIT OF THE MAGI TO JERUSALEM AND BETHLEHEM.
2. Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews?--From this it would seem they were not themselves Jews. (Compare the language of the Roman governor, <"Joh+18:33">Joh 18:33, and of the Roman soldiers, <"Mt+27:29">Mt 27:29, with the very different language of the Jews themselves, <"Mt+27:42">Mt 27:42, &c.). The Roman historians, SUETONIUS and TACITUS, bear witness to an expectation, prevalent in the East, that out of Judea should arise a sovereign of the world.
for we have seen his star in the east--Much has been written on the subject of this star; but from all that is here said it is perhaps safest to regard it as simply a luminous meteor, which appeared under special laws and for a special purpose.
and are come to worship him--to do Him homage, as the word signifies; the nature of that homage depending on the circumstances of the case. That not civil but religious homage is meant here is plain from the whole strain of the narrative, and particularly <"Mt+2:11">Mt 2:11. Doubtless these simple strangers expected all Jerusalem to be full of its new-born King, and the time, place, and circumstances of His birth to be familiar to every one. Little would they think that the first announcement of His birth would come from themselves, and still less could they anticipate the startling, instead of transporting, effect which it would produce--else they would probably have sought their information regarding His birthplace in some other quarter. But God overruled it to draw forth a noble testimony to the predicted birthplace of Messiah from the highest ecclesiastical authority in the nation.
3. When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled--viewing this as a danger to his own throne: perhaps his guilty conscience also suggested other grounds of fear.
and all Jerusalem with him--from a dread of revolutionary commotions, and perhaps also of Herod's rage.
4. And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together--The class of the "chief priests" included the high priest for the time being, together with all who had previously filled this office; for though the then head of the Aaronic family was the only rightful high priest, the Romans removed them at pleasure, to make way for creatures of their own. In this class probably were included also the heads of the four and twenty courses of the priests. The "scribes" were at first merely transcribers of the law and synagogue readers; afterwards interpreters of the law, both civil and religious, and so both lawyers and divines. The first of these classes, a proportion of the second, and "the elders"--that is, as LIGHTFOOT thinks, "those elders of the laity that were not of the Levitical tribe"--constituted the supreme council of the nation, called the Sanhedrim, the members of which, at their full complement, numbered seventy-two. That this was the council which Herod now convened is most probable, from the solemnity of the occasion; for though the elders are not mentioned, we find a similar omission where all three were certainly meant (compare <"Mt+26:59,27:1">Mt 26:59; 27:1). As MEYER says, it was all the theologians of the nation whom Herod convened, because it was a theological response that he wanted.
he demanded of them--as the authorized interpreters of Scripture.
where Christ--the Messiah.
should be born--according to prophecy.
5. And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judea--a prompt and involuntary testimony from the highest tribunal; which yet at length condemned Him to die.
for thus it is written by the prophet-- (<"Mic+5:2">Mic 5:2).
6. And thou, Bethlehem, in the land of Juda--the "in" being familiarly left out, as we say, "London, Middlesex."
art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come a Governor, &c.--This quotation, though differing verbally, agrees substantially with the Hebrew and the Septuagint. For says the prophet, "Though thou be little, yet out of thee shall come the Ruler"--this honor more than compensating for its natural insignificance; while our Evangelist, by a lively turn, makes him say, "Thou art not the least: for out of thee shall come a Governor"--this distinction lifting it from the lowest to the highest rank. The "thousands of Juda," in the prophet, mean the subordinate divisions of the tribe: our Evangelist, instead of these, merely names the "princes" or heads of these families, including the districts which they occupied.
that shall rule--or "feed," as in the Margin.
my people Israel--In the Old Testament, kings are, by a beautiful figure, styled "shepherds" (<"Eze+34:1-10">Eze 34:1-10, &c.). The classical writers use the same figure. The pastoral rule of Jehovah and Messiah over His people is a representation pervading all Scripture, and rich in import. (See <"Ps+23:1-6,Isa+40:11,Eze+37:24,Joh+10:11,Re+7:17">Ps 23:1-6; Isa 40:11; Eze 37:24; Joh 10:11; Re 7:17). That this prophecy of Micah referred to the Messiah, was admitted by the ancient Rabbins.
14. When he arose, he took the young child and his mother by night, and departed into Egypt--doubtless the same night.
15. And was there until the death of Herod--which took place not very long after this of a horrible disease; the details of which will be found in JOSEPHUS [Antiquities, 17.6.1,5,7,8].
that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying-- (<"Ho+11:1">Ho 11:1).
Out of Egypt have I called my son--Our Evangelist here quotes directly from the Hebrew, warily departing from the Septuagint, which renders the words, "From Egypt have I recalled his children," meaning Israel's children. The prophet is reminding his people how dear Israel was to God in the days of his youth; how Moses was bidden to say to Pharaoh, "Thus saith the Lord, Israel is My son, My first-born; and I say unto thee, Let My son go, that he may serve Me; and if thou refuse to let him go, behold, I will slay thy son, even thy first-born" (<"Ex+4:22,23">Ex 4:22, 23) (FN); how, when Pharaoh refused, God having slain all his first-born, "called His own son out of Egypt," by a stroke of high-handed power and love. Viewing the words in this light, even if our Evangelist had not applied them to the recall from Egypt of God's own beloved, Only-begotten Son, the application would have been irresistibly made by all who have learnt to pierce beneath the surface to the deeper relations which Christ bears to His people, and both to God; and who are accustomed to trace the analogy of God's treatment of each respectively.
18. In Rama was there a voice heard, lamentation, and weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not--These words, as they stand in Jeremiah, undoubtedly relate to the Babylonish captivity. Rachel, the mother of Joseph and Benjamin, was buried in the neighborhood of Bethlehem (<"Ge+35:19">Ge 35:19), where her sepulchre is still shown. She is figuratively represented as rising from the tomb and uttering a double lament for the loss of her children--first, by a bitter captivity, and now by a bloody death. And a foul deed it was. O ye mothers of Bethlehem! methinks I hear you asking why your innocent babes should be the ram caught in the thicket, while Isaac escapes. I cannot tell you, but one thing I know, that ye shall, some of you, live to see a day when that Babe of Bethlehem shall be Himself the Ram, caught in another sort of thicket, in order that your babes may escape a worse doom than they now endure. And if these babes of yours be now in glory, through the dear might of that blessed Babe, will they not deem it their honor that the tyrant's rage was exhausted upon themselves instead of their infant Lord?
20. Saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and go into the land of Israel--not to the land of Judea, for he was afterward expressly warned not to settle there, nor to Galilee, for he only went thither when he found it unsafe to settle in Judea but to "the land of Israel," in its most general sense; meaning the Holy Land at large--the particular province being not as yet indicated. So Joseph and the Virgin had, like Abraham, to "go out, not knowing whither they went," till they should receive further direction.
for they are dead which sought the young child's life--a common expression in most languages where only one is meant, who here is Herod. But the words are taken from the strikingly analogous case in <"Ex+4:19">Ex 4:19, which probably suggested the plural here; and where the command is given to Moses to return to Egypt for the same reason that the greater than Moses was now ordered to be brought back from it--the death of him who sought his life. Herod died in the seventieth year of his age, and thirty-seventh of his reign.
21. And he arose, and took the young child and his mother, and came into the land of Israel--intending, as is plain from what follows, to return to Bethlehem of Judea, there, no doubt, to rear the Infant King, as at His own royal city, until the time should come when they would expect Him to occupy Jerusalem, "the city of the Great King."
22. But when he heard that Archelaus did reign in Judea in the room of his father Herod--Archelaus succeeded to Judea, Samaria, and Idumea; but Augustus refused him the title of king till it should be seen how he conducted himself; giving him only the title of ethnarch [JOSEPHUS, Antiquities, 17.11,4]. Above this, however, he never rose. The people, indeed, recognized him as his father's successor; and so it is here said that he "reigned in the room of his father Herod." But, after ten years' defiance of the Jewish law and cruel tyranny, the people lodged heavy complaints against him, and the emperor banished him to Vienne in Gaul, reducing Judea again to a Roman province. Then the "scepter" clean "departed from Judah."
he was afraid to go thither--and no wonder, for the reason just mentioned.
notwithstanding--or more simply, "but."
being warned of God in a dream, he turned aside--withdrew.
into the parts of Galilee--or the Galilean parts. The whole country west of the Jordan was at this time, as is well known, divided into three provinces--GALILEE being the northern, JUDEA the southern, and SAMARIA the central province. The province of Galilee was under the jurisdiction of Herod Antipas, the brother of Archelaus, his father having left him that and Perea, on the east side of the Jordan, as his share of the kingdom, with the title of tetrarch, which Augustus confirmed. Though crafty and licentious, according to JOSEPHUS--precisely what the Gospel history shows him to be (see on <"#Mr6_14">Mr 6:14-30; <"#Lu13_31">Lu 13:31-35) --he was of a less cruel disposition than Archelaus; and Nazareth being a good way off from the seat of government, and considerably secluded, it was safer to settle there.
23. And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth--a small town in Lower Galilee, lying in the territory of the tribe of Zebulun, and about equally distant from the Mediterranean Sea on the west and the Sea of Galilee on the east. Note--If, from <"Lu+2:39">Lu 2:39, one would conclude that the parents of Jesus brought Him straight back to Nazareth after His presentation in the temple--as if there had been no visit of the Magi, no flight to Egypt, no stay there, and no purpose on returning to settle again at Bethlehem--one might, from our Evangelist's way of speaking here, equally conclude that the parents of our Lord had never been at Nazareth until now. Did we know exactly the sources from which the matter of each of the Gospels was drawn up, or the mode in which these were used, this apparent discrepancy would probably disappear at once. In neither case is there any inaccuracy. At the same time it is difficult, with these facts before us, to conceive that either of these two Evangelists wrote his Gospel with that of the other before him--though many think this a precarious inference.
that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, He shall be called a Nazarene--better, perhaps, "Nazarene." The best explanation of the origin of this name appears to be that which traces it to the word netzer in <"Isa+11:1">Isa 11:1 --the small twig, sprout, or sucker, which the prophet there says, "shall come forth from the stem (or rather, 'stump') of Jesse, the branch which should fructify from his roots." The little town of Nazareth, mentioned neither in the Old Testament nor in JOSEPHUS, was probably so called from its insignificance: a weak twig in contrast to a stately tree; and a special contempt seemed to rest upon it--"Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?" (<"Joh+1:46">Joh 1:46) --over and above the general contempt in which all Galilee was held, from the number of Gentiles that settled in the upper territories of it, and, in the estimation of the Jews, debased it. Thus, in the providential arrangement by which our Lord was brought up at the insignificant and opprobrious town called Nazareth, there was involved, first, a local humiliation; next, an allusion to Isaiah's prediction of His lowly, twig-like upspringing from the branchless, dried-up stump of Jesse; and yet further, a standing memorial of that humiliation which "the prophets," in a number of the most striking predictions, had attached to the Messiah. (FN)
<"Mt+3:1-12">Mt 3:1-12. PREACHING AND MINISTRY OF JOHN. ( = <"Mk+1:1-8,Lu+3:1-18">Mr 1:1-8; Lu 3:1-18).
1. In those days--of Christ's secluded life at Nazareth, where the last chapter left Him.
came John the Baptist, preaching--about six months before his Master.
in the wilderness of Judea--the desert valley of the Jordan, thinly peopled and bare in pasture, a little north of Jerusalem.
2. And saying, Repent ye--Though the word strictly denotes a change of mind, it has respect here (and wherever it is used in connection with salvation) primarily to that sense of sin which leads the sinner to flee from the wrath to come, to look for relief only from above, and eagerly to fall in with the provided remedy.
for the kingdom of heaven is at hand--This sublime phrase, used in none of the other Gospels, occurs in this peculiarly Jewish Gospel nearly thirty times; and being suggested by Daniel's grand vision of the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven to the Ancient of days, to receive His investiture in a world-wide kingdom (<"Da+7:13,14">Da 7:13, 14), it was fitted at once both to meet the national expectations and to turn them into the right channel. A kingdom for which repentance was the proper preparation behooved to be essentially spiritual. Deliverance from sin, the great blessing of Christ's kingdom (<"Mt+1:21">Mt 1:21), can be valued by those only to whom sin is a burden (<"Mt+9:12">Mt 9:12). John's great work, accordingly, was to awaken this feeling and hold out the hope of a speedy and precious remedy.
3. For this is he that was spoken of by the prophet Esaias, saying-- (<"Mt+11:3">Mt 11:3).
The voice of one crying in the wilderness--(See on Lu 3:2); the scene of his ministry corresponding to its rough nature.
Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight--This prediction is quoted in all the four Gospels, showing that it was regarded as a great outstanding one, and the predicted forerunner as the connecting link between the old and the new economies. Like the great ones of the earth, the Prince of peace was to have His immediate approach proclaimed and His way prepared; and the call here--taking it generally--is a call to put out of the way whatever would obstruct His progress and hinder His complete triumph, whether those hindrances were public or personal, outward or inward. In Luke (<"Lu+3:5,6">Lu 3:5, 6) the quotation is thus continued: "Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be brought low; and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways shall be made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God." Levelling and smoothing are here the obvious figures whose sense is conveyed in the first words of the proclamation--"Prepare ye the way of the Lord." The idea is that every obstruction shall be so removed as to reveal to the whole world the salvation of God in Him whose name is the "Saviour." (FN) (Compare <"Ps+98:3,Isa+11:10,49:6,52:10,Lu+2:31,32,Ac+13:47">Ps 98:3; Isa 11:10; 49:6; 52:10; Lu 2:31, 32; Ac 13:47).
5. Then went out to him Jerusalem, and all Judea, and all the region round about Jordan--From the metropolitan center to the extremities of the Judean province the cry of this great preacher of repentance and herald of the approaching Messiah brought trooping penitents and eager expectants.
6. And were baptized of him in Jordan, confessing their sins--probably confessing aloud. This baptism was at once a public seal of their felt need of deliverance from sin, of their expectation of the coming Deliverer, and of their readiness to welcome Him when He appeared. The baptism itself startled, and was intended to startle, them. They were familiar enough with the baptism of proselytes from heathenism; but this baptism of Jews themselves was quite new and strange to them. (FN)
7. But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said unto them--astonished at such a spectacle.
O generation of vipers--"Viper brood," expressing the deadly influence of both sects alike upon the community. Mutually and entirely antagonistic as were their religious principles and spirit, the stem prophet charges both alike with being the poisoners of the nation's religious principles. In <"Mt+12:34,23:33">Mt 12:34; 23:33, this strong language of the Baptist is anew applied by the faithful and true Witness to the Pharisees specifically--the only party that had zeal enough actively to diffuse this poison.
who hath warned you--given you the hint, as the idea is.
to flee from the wrath to come?--"What can have brought you hither?" John more than suspected it was not so much their own spiritual anxieties as the popularity of his movement that had drawn them thither. What an expression is this, "The wrath to come!" God's "wrath," in Scripture, is His righteous displeasure against sin, and consequently against all in whose skirts sin is found, arising out of the essential and eternal opposition of His nature to all moral evil. This is called "the coming wrath," not as being wholly future--for as a merited sentence it lies on the sinner already, and its effects, both inward and outward, are to some extent experienced even now--but because the impenitent sinner will not, until "the judgment of the great day," be concluded under it, will not have sentence publicly and irrevocably passed upon him, will not have it discharged upon him and experience its effects without mixture and without hope. In this view of it, it is a wrath wholly to come, as is implied in the noticeably different form of the expression employed by the apostle in <"1Th+1:10">1Th 1:10. Not that even true penitents came to John's baptism with all these views of "the wrath to come." But what he says is that this was the real import of the step itself. In this view of it, how striking is the word he employs to express that step--fleeing from it--as of one who, beholding a tide of fiery wrath rolling rapidly towards him, sees in instant flight his only escape! (FN)
9. And think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father--that pillow on which the nation so fatally reposed, that rock on which at length it split.
for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham--that is, "Flatter not yourselves with the fond delusion that God stands in need of you, to make good His promise of a seed to Abraham; for I tell you that, though you were all to perish, God is as able to raise up a seed to Abraham out of those stones as He was to take Abraham himself out of the rock whence he was hewn, out of the hole of the pit whence he was digged" (<"Isa+51:1">Isa 51:1). Though the stern speaker may have pointed as he spoke to the pebbles of the bare clay hills that lay around (so STANLEY'S Sinai and Palestine), it was clearly the calling of the Gentiles at that time stone-dead in their sins, and quite as unconscious of it--into the room of unbelieving and disinherited Israel that he meant thus to indicate (see <"Mt+21:43,Ro+11:20,30">Mt 21:43; Ro 11:20, 30).
10. And now also--And even already.
the axe is laid unto--"lieth at."
the root of the trees--as it were ready to strike: an expressive figure of impending judgment, only to be averted in the way next described.
therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire--Language so personal and individual as this can scarcely be understood of any national judgment like the approaching destruction of Jerusalem, with the breaking up of the Jewish polity and the extrusion of the chosen people from their peculiar privileges which followed it; though this would serve as the dark shadow, cast before, of a more terrible retribution to come. The "fire," which in another verse is called "unquenchable," can be no other than that future "torment" of the impenitent whose "smoke ascendeth up for ever and ever," and which by the Judge Himself is styled "everlasting punishment" (<"Mt+25:46">Mt 25:46). What a strength, too, of just indignation is in that word "cast" or "flung into the fire!" (FN)
12. Whose fan--winnowing fan.
is in his hand--ready for use. This is no other than the preaching of the Gospel, even now beginning, the effect of which would be to separate the solid from the spiritually worthless, as wheat, by the winnowing fan, from the chaff. (Compare the similar representation in <"Mal+3:1-3">Mal 3:1-3).
and he will throughly purge his floor--threshing-floor; that is, the visible Church.
and gather his wheat--His true-hearted saints; so called for their solid worth (compare <"Am+9:9,Lu+22:31">Am 9:9; Lu 22:31).
into the garner--"the kingdom of their Father," as this "garner" or "barn" is beautifully explained by our Lord in the parable of the wheat and the tares (<"Mt+13:30,43">Mt 13:30, 43).
but he will burn up the chaff--empty, worthless professors of religion, void of all solid religious principle and character (see <"Ps+1:4">Ps 1:4).
with unquenchable fire--Singular is the strength of this apparent contradiction of figures:--to be burnt up, but with a fire that is unquenchable; the one expressing the utter destruction of all that constitutes one's true life, the other the continued consciousness of existence in that awful condition. (FN)
15. And Jesus answering said unto him, Suffer it to be so now--"Let it pass for the present"; that is, "Thou recoilest, and no wonder, for the seeming incongruity is startling; but in the present case do as thou art bidden."
for thus it becometh us--"us," not in the sense of me and thee," or "men in general," but as in <"Joh+3:11">Joh 3:11.
to fulfil all righteousness--If this be rendered, with SCRIVENER, "every ordinance," or, with CAMPBELL, "every institution," the meaning is obvious enough; and the same sense is brought out by "all righteousness," or compliance with everything enjoined, baptism included. Indeed, if this be the meaning, our version perhaps best brings out the force of the opening word "Thus." But we incline to think that our Lord meant more than this. The import of circumcision and of baptism seems to be radically the same. And if our remarks on the circumcision of our Lord (see on Lu 2:21-24) are well founded, He would seem to have said, "Thus do I impledge Myself to the whole righteousness of the Law--thus symbolically do enter on and engage to fulfil it all." Let the thoughtful reader weigh this.
16. and he saw the Spirit of God descending--that is, He only, with the exception of His honored servant, as he tells us himself (<"Joh+1:32-34">Joh 1:32-34); the by-standers apparently seeing nothing.
like a dove, and lighting upon him--Luke says, "in a bodily shape" (<"Lu+3:22">Lu 3:22); that is, the blessed Spirit, assuming the corporeal form of a dove, descended thus upon His sacred head.
15. The land of Zabulon, and the land of Nephthalim, by the way of the sea--the coast skirting the Sea of Galilee westward--beyond Jordan--a phrase commonly meaning eastward of Jordan; but here and in several places it means westward of the Jordan. The word seems to have got the general meaning of "the other side"; the nature of the case determining which side that was.
Galilee of the Gentiles--so called from its position, which made it the frontier between the Holy Land and the external world. While Ephraim and Judah, as STANLEY says, were separated from the world by the Jordan valley on one side and the hostile Philistines on another, the northern tribes were in the direct highway of all the invaders from the north, in unbroken communication with the promiscuous races who have always occupied the heights of Lebanon, and in close and peaceful alliance with the most commercial nation of the ancient world, the Phnicians.
16. The people which sat in darkness saw great light; and to them which sat in the region and shadow of death light is sprung up--The prophetic strain to which these words belong commences with the seventh chapter of Isaiah, to which the sixth chapter is introductory, and goes down to the end of the twelfth chapter, which hymns the spirit of that whole strain of prophecy. It belongs to the reign of Ahaz and turns upon the combined efforts of the two neighboring kingdoms of Syria and Israel to crush Judah. In these critical circumstances Judah and her king were, by their ungodliness, provoking the Lord to sell them into the hands of their enemies. What, then, is the burden of this prophetic strain, on to the passage here quoted? First, Judah shall not, cannot perish, because IMMANUEL, the Virgin's Son, is to come forth from his loins. Next, one of the invaders shall soon perish, and the kingdoms of neither be enlarged. Further, while the Lord will be the Sanctuary of such as confide in these promises and await their fulfilment, He will drive to confusion, darkness, and despair the vast multitude of the nation who despised His oracles, and, in their anxiety and distress, betook themselves to the lying oracles of the heathen. This carries us down to the end of the eighth chapter. At the opening of the ninth chapter a sudden light is seen breaking in upon one particular part of the country, the part which was to suffer most in these wars and devastations--"the land of Zebulun, and the land of Naphtali, the way of the sea, beyond Jordan, Galilee and the Gentiles." The rest of the prophecy stretches over both the Assyrian and the Chaldean captivities and terminates in the glorious Messianic prophecy of the eleventh chapter and the choral hymn of the twelfth chapter. Well, this is the point seized on by our Evangelist. By Messiah's taking up His abode in those very regions of Galilee, and shedding His glorious light upon them, this prediction, He says, of the Evangelical prophet was now fulfilled; and if it was not thus fulfilled, we may confidently affirm it was not fulfilled in any age of the Jewish ceremony, and has received no fulfilment at all. Even the most rationalistic critics have difficulty in explaining it in any other way. (FN)
19. And he saith unto them, Follow me--rather, as the same expression is rendered in Mark, "Come ye after Me" (<"Mk+1:17">Mr 1:17).
and I will make you fishers of men--raising them from a lower to a higher fishing, as David was from a lower to a higher feeding (<"Ps+78:70-72">Ps 78:70-72). (FN)
3. for theirs is the kingdom of heaven--(See on Mt 3:2). The poor in spirit not only shall have--they already have--the kingdom. The very sense of their poverty is begun riches. While others "walk in a vain show"--"in a shadow," "an image"--in an unreal world, taking a false view of themselves and all around them--the poor in spirit are rich in the knowledge of their real case. Having courage to look this in the face, and own it guilelessly, they feel strong in the assurance that "unto the upright there ariseth light in the darkness" (<"Ps+112:4">Ps 112:4); and soon it breaks forth as the morning. God wants nothing from us as the price of His saving gifts; we have but to feel our universal destitution, and cast ourselves upon His compassion (<"Job+33:27,28,1Jo+1:9">Job 33:27, 28; 1Jo 1:9). So the poor in spirit are enriched with the fulness of Christ, which is the kingdom in substance; and when He shall say to them from His great white throne, "Come, ye blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you," He will invite them merely to the full enjoyment of an already possessed inheritance.
18. For verily I say unto you--Here, for the first time, does that august expression occur in our Lord's recorded teaching, with which we have grown so familiar as hardly to reflect on its full import. It is the expression manifestly, of supreme legislative authority; and as the subject in connection with which it is uttered is the Moral Law, no higher claim to an authority strictly divine could be advanced. For when we observe how jealously Jehovah asserts it as His exclusive prerogative to give law to men (<"Le+18:1-5,19:37,26:1-4,13-16">Le 18:1-5; 19:37; 26:1-4, 13-16, &c.), such language as this of our Lord will appear totally unsuitable, and indeed abhorrent, from any creature lips. When the Baptist's words--"I say unto you" (<"Mt+3:9">Mt 3:9) --are compared with those of his Master here, the difference of the two cases will be at once apparent. (FN)
20. For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees--The superiority to the Pharisaic righteousness here required is plainly in kind, not degree; for all Scripture teaches that entrance into God's kingdom, whether in its present or future stage, depends, not on the degree of our excellence in anything, but solely on our having the character itself which God demands. Our righteousness, then--if it is to contrast with the outward and formal righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees--must be inward, vital, spiritual. Some, indeed, of the scribes and Pharisees themselves might have the very righteousness here demanded; but our Lord is speaking, not of persons, but of the system they represented and taught. (FN)
45. That ye may be the children--sons.
of your Father which is in heaven--The meaning is, "that ye may show yourselves to be such by resembling Him" (compare <"Mt+5:9,Eph+5:1">Mt 5:9; Eph 5:1).
for he maketh his sun--"your Father's sun." Well might BENGEL exclaim, "Magnificent appellation!"
to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust--rather, (without the article) "on evil and good, and on just and unjust." When we find God's own procedure held up for imitation in the law, and much more in the prophets (<"Le+19:2,20:26">Le 19:2; 20:26; and compare <"1Pe+1:15,16">1Pe 1:15, 16), we may see that the principle of this surprising verse was nothing new: but the form of it certainly is that of One who spake as never man spake. (FN)
10. Thy kingdom come--The kingdom of God is that moral and spiritual kingdom which the God of grace is setting up in this fallen world, whose subjects consist of as many as have been brought into hearty subjection to His gracious scepter, and of which His Son Jesus is the glorious Head. In the inward reality of it, this kingdom existed ever since there were men who "walked with God" (<"Ge+5:24">Ge 5:24), and "waited for His salvation" (<"Ge+49:18">Ge 49:18); who were "continually with Him, holden by His right hand" (<"Ps+73:23">Ps 73:23), and who, even in the valley of the shadow of death, feared no evil when He was with them (<"Ps+23:4">Ps 23:4). When Messiah Himself appeared, it was, as a visible kingdom, "at hand." His death laid the deep foundations of it. His ascension on high, "leading captivity captive and receiving gifts for men, yea, for the rebellious, that the Lord God might dwell among them," and the Pentecostal effusion of the Spirit, by which those gifts for men descended upon the rebellious, and the Lord God was beheld, in the persons of thousands upon thousands, "dwelling" among men--was a glorious "coming" of this kingdom. But it is still to come, and this petition, "Thy kingdom come," must not cease to ascend so long as one subject of it remains to be brought in. But does not this prayer stretch further forward--to "the glory to be revealed," or that stage of the kingdom called "the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ" (<"2Pe+1:11">2Pe 1:11)? Not directly, perhaps, since the petition that follows this--"Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven"--would then bring us back to this present state of imperfection. Still, the mind refuses to be so bounded by stages and degrees, and in the act of praying, "Thy kingdom come," it irresistibly stretches the wings of its faith, and longing, and joyous expectation out to the final and glorious consummation of the kingdom of God.
II. The Procrastinating or Entangled Disciple (<"Mt+8:21,,22">Mt 8:21, 22).
As this is more fully given in Luke (<"Lu+9:59">Lu 9:59), we must take both together. "And He said unto another of His disciples, Follow Me. But he said,"
Lord, suffer me first to go and bury my father. But Jesus said unto him, Follow me; and let the dead bury their dead--or, as more definitely in Luke, "Let the dead bury their dead: but go thou and preach the kingdom of God" (<"Lu+9:60">Lu 9:60). This disciple did not, like the former, volunteer his services, but is called by the Lord Jesus, not only to follow, but to preach Him. And he is quite willing; only he is not ready just yet. "Lord, I will; but"--"There is a difficulty in the way just now; but that once removed, I am Thine." What now is this difficulty? Was his father actually dead--lying a corpse--having only to be buried? Impossible. As it was the practice, as noticed on <"Lu+7:12">Lu 7:12, to bury on the day of death, it is not very likely that this disciple would have been here at all if his father had just breathed his last; nor would the Lord, if He was there, have hindered him discharging the last duties of a son to a father. No doubt it was the common case of a son having a frail or aged father, not likely to live long, whose head he thinks it his duty to see under the ground ere he goes abroad. "This aged father of mine will soon be removed; and if I might but delay till I see him decently interred, I should then be free to preach the kingdom of God wherever duty might call me." This view of the case will explain the curt reply, "Let the dead bury their dead: but go thou and preach the kingdom of God." Like all the other paradoxical sayings of our Lord, the key to it is the different senses--a higher and a lower--in which the same word "dead" is used: There are two kingdoms of God in existence upon earth; the kingdom of nature, and the kingdom of grace: To the one kingdom all the children of this world, even the most ungodly, are fully alive; to the other, only the children of light: The reigning irreligion consists not in indifference to the common humanities of social life, but to things spiritual and eternal: Fear not, therefore, that your father will in your absence be neglected, and that when he breathes his last there will not be relatives and friends ready enough to do to him the last offices of kindness. Your wish to discharge these yourself is natural, and to be allowed to do it a privilege not lightly to be foregone. But the kingdom of God lies now all neglected and needy: Its more exalted character few discern; to its paramount claims few are alive: and to "preach" it fewer still are qualified and called: But thou art: The Lord therefore hath need of thee: Leave, then, those claims of nature, high though they be, to those who are dead to the still higher claims of the kingdom of grace, which God is now erecting upon earth--Let the dead bury their dead; but go thou and preach the kingdom of God. And so have we here the genuine, but Procrastinating or Entangled Disciple.
37. Then saith he unto his disciples, The harvest truly is plenteous--His eye doubtless rested immediately on the Jewish field, but this he saw widening into the vast field of "the world" (<"Mt+13:38">Mt 13:38), teeming with souls having to be gathered to Him. (FN)
6. But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel--Until Christ's death, which broke down the middle wall of Partition (<"Eph+2:14">Eph 2:14), the Gospel commission was to the Jews only, who, though the visible people of God, were "lost sheep," not merely in the sense which all sinners are (<"Isa+53:6,1Pe+2:25">Isa 53:6; 1Pe 2:25; compare with <"Lu+19:10">Lu 19:10), but as abandoned and left to wander from the right way by faithless shepherds (<"Jer+50:6,17,Eze+34:2-6">Jer 50:6, 17; Eze 34:2-6, &c.).
22. And ye shall be hated of all men for my name's sake--The universality of this hatred would make it evident to them, that since it would not be owing to any temporary excitement, local virulence, or personal prejudice, on the part of their enemies, so no amount of discretion on their part, consistent with entire fidelity to the truth, would avail to stifle that enmity--though it might soften its violence, and in some cases avert the outward manifestations of it.
but he that endureth to the end shall be saved--a great saying, repeated, in connection with similar warnings, in the prophecy of the destruction of Jerusalem (<"Mt+24:13">Mt 24:13); and often reiterated by the apostle as a warning against "drawing back unto perdition" (<"Heb+3:6,13,6:4-6,10:23,26-29,38,39">Heb 3:6, 13; 6:4-6; 10:23, 26-29, 38, 39, &c.). As "drawing back unto perdition" is merely the palpable evidence of the want of "root" from the first in the Christian profession (<"Lu+8:13">Lu 8:13), so "enduring to the end" is just the proper evidence of its reality and solidity.
23. But when they persecute you in this city, flee ye into another--"into the other." This, though applicable to all time, and exemplified by our Lord Himself once and again, had special reference to the brief opportunities which Israel was to have of "knowing the time of His visitations."
for verily I say unto you--what will startle you, but at the same time show you the solemnity of your mission, and the need of economizing the time for it.
Ye shall not have gone over--Ye shall in nowise have completed.
the cities of Israel, till the Son of man be come--To understand this--as LANGE and others do--in the first instance, of Christ's own peregrinations, as if He had said, "Waste not your time upon hostile places, for I Myself will be after you ere your work be over"--seems almost trifling. "The coming of the Son of man" has a fixed doctrinal sense, here referring immediately to the crisis of Israel's history as the visible kingdom of God, when Christ was to come and judge it; when "the wrath would come upon it to the uttermost"; and when, on the ruins of Jerusalem and the old economy, He would establish His own kingdom. This, in the uniform language of Scripture, is more immediately "the coming of the Son of man," "the day of vengeance of our God" (<"Mt+16:28,24:27,34">Mt 16:28; 24:27, 34; compare with <"Heb+10:25,Jam+5:7-9">Heb 10:25; Jas 5:7-9) --but only as being such a lively anticipation of His second coming for vengeance and deliverance. (So close!) So understood, it is parallel with <"Mt+24:14">Mt 24:14 (on which see).
39. He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it--another of those pregnant sayings which our Lord so often reiterates (<"Mt+16:25,Lu+17:33,Joh+12:25">Mt 16:25; Lu 17:33; Joh 12:25). The pith of such paradoxical maxims depends on the double sense attached to the word "life"--a lower and a higher, the natural and the spiritual, the temporal and eternal. An entire sacrifice of the lower, with all its relationships and interests--or, a willingness to make it which is the same thing--is indispensable to the preservation of the higher life; and he who cannot bring himself to surrender the one for the sake of the other shall eventually lose both.
11. He answered and said unto them, Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven--The word "mysteries" in Scripture is not used in its classical sense--of religious secrets, nor yet of things incomprehensible, or in their own nature difficult to be understood--but in the sense of things of purely divine revelation, and, usually, things darkly announced under the ancient economy, and during all that period darkly understood, but fully published under the Gospel (<"1Co+2:6-10,Eph+3:3-6,8,9">1Co 2:6-10; Eph 3:3-6, 8, 9). "The mysteries of the kingdom of heaven," then, mean those glorious Gospel truths which at that time only the more advanced disciples could appreciate, and they but partially.
but to them it is not given--(See on Mt 11:25). Parables serve the double purpose of revealing and concealing; presenting "the mysteries of the kingdom" to those who know and relish them, though in never so small a degree, in a new and attractive light; but to those who are insensible to spiritual things yielding only, as so many tales, some temporary entertainment.
29. But he said, Nay--"It will be done in due time, but not now, nor is it your business."
lest, while ye gather up the tares, ye root up also the wheat with them--Nothing could more clearly or forcibly teach the difficulty of distinguishing the two classes, and the high probability that in the attempt to do so these will be confounded.
30, 39. Let both grow together--that is, in the visible Church.
until the harvest--till the one have ripened for full salvation, the other for destruction. (See on Mt 13:39).
and in the time of harvest I will say to the reapers--(See on Mt 13:39).
Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them--"in the fire" (<"Mt+13:40">Mt 13:40).
but gather the wheat into my barn--Christ, as the Judge, will separate the two classes (as in <"Mt+25:32">Mt 25:32). It will be observed that the tares are burned before the wheat is housed; in the exposition of the parable (<"Mt+13:41,43">Mt 13:41, 43) the same order is observed: and the same in <"Mt+25:46">Mt 25:46 --as if, in some literal sense, "with thine eyes shalt thou behold and see the reward of the wicked" (<"Ps+91:8">Ps 91:8).
36-38. Then Jesus sent the multitude away, and went into the house: and his disciples came unto him, saying, Declare unto us the parable of the tares of the field, &c.--In the parable of the Sower, "the seed is the word of God" (<"Lu+8:11">Lu 8:11). But here that word has been received into the heart, and has converted him that received it into a new creature, a "child of the kingdom," according to that saying of James (<"Jam+1:18">Jas 1:18), "Of His own will begat He us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of first-fruits of His creatures." It is worthy of notice that this vast field of the world is here said to be Christ's own--"His field," says the parable. (See <"Ps+2:8">Ps 2:8).
27. For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels--in the splendor of His Father's authority and with all His angelic ministers, ready to execute His pleasure.
and then he shall reward, &c.
28. Verily I say unto you, There be some standing here--"some of those standing here."
which shall not taste of death, fill they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom--or, as in Mark (<"Mk+9:1">Mr 9:1), "till they see the kingdom of God come with power"; or, as in Luke (<"Lu+9:27">Lu 9:27), more simply still, "till they see the kingdom of God." The reference, beyond doubt, is to the firm establishment and victorious progress, in the lifetime of some then present, of that new kingdom of Christ, which was destined to work the greatest of all changes on this earth, and be the grand pledge of His final coming in glory.
10. Take heed that ye despise--stumble.
not one of these little ones; for I say unto you, That in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven--A difficult verse; but perhaps the following may be more than an illustration:--Among men, those who nurse and rear the royal children, however humble in themselves, are allowed free entrance with their charge, and a degree of familiarity which even the highest state ministers dare not assume. Probably our Lord means that, in virtue of their charge over His disciples (<"Heb+1:13,Joh+1:51">Heb 1:13; Joh 1:51), the angels have errands to the throne, a welcome there, and a dear familiarity in dealing with "His Father which is in heaven," which on their own matters they could not assume.
11. For the Son of man is come to save that which was lost--or "is lost." A golden saying, once and again repeated in different forms. Here the connection seems to be, "Since the whole object and errand of the Son of man into the world is to save the lost, take heed lest, by causing offenses, ye lose the saved." That this is the idea intended we may gather from <"Mt+18:14">Mt 18:14.