1. There were present at that season some that told him of the Galilaeans, whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices.
[Of the Galileans.] If this report concerning the Galileans was brought to our Saviour immediately after the deed was done, then was this tragedy acted by Pilate, a little before the feast of Dedication; for we find Christ going towards that feast, verse 22. But the time of this slaughter is uncertain: for it is a question, whether they that tell him this passage, relate it as news which he had not heard before, or only to draw from him his opinion concerning that affair, &c.
It is hotly disputed amongst some, as to the persons whom Pilate slew. And,
I. Some would have them to have been of the sect of Judas the Gaulonite; and that they were therefore slain, because they denied to give tribute to Caesar. He is called, indeed, “Judas of Galilee”; and there is little doubt, but that he might draw some Galileans into his opinion and practice. But I question then, whether Christ would have made any kind of defence for such, and have placed them in the same level with these, upon whom the tower of Siloam fell; when it so plainly appears, that he taught directly contrary to that perverse sect and opinion. However, if these were of that sect (for I will not contend it), then do these, who tell this to our Saviour, seem to lay a snare for him, not much unlike that question they put to him, “Is it lawful to give tribute to Caesar, or no?”
II. There is one that confounds this story with that of Josephus, which he relates from him thus abbreviated; “In Galilee there were certain Samaritans, who, being seduced by a notorious impostor, moved sedition at mount Gerizim, where this cheat promised them to shew them the sacred vessels which, he falsely told them, had been hid by Moses in that place. Pilate, sending his forces upon them, suppressed them; the greater of them were taken and adjudged to death.” I admire how this learned man should deliver these things with so much confidence, as even to chastise Josephus himself for his mistake in his computation of the time for this story, concluding thus; “When, indeed, this slaughter, made upon the Samaritans by Pilate, seems to be that very slaughter of the Galileans mentioned by St. Luke, chapter 13:1.”
Whereas, in truth, Josephus mentions not one syllable either of Galilee or sacrifice, or the Galileans, but Samaritans: and it is a somewhat bold thing to substitute rebelling Samaritans in the place of sacrificing Galileans. Nor is it probable that those that tell this matter to our Saviour would put this gloss and colour upon the thing while they related it.
III. The feud and enmity that was between Pilate and Herod might be enough to incense Pilate to make this havock of the subjects of Herod.
[Whose blood Pilate mingled.] “David swore to Abishai, As the Lord liveth, if thou touch the blood of this righteous man [Saul], I will mingle thy blood with his blood.” So Pilate mingled the blood of these sacrificers with the blood of those sacrifices they had slain. It is remarkable that in Siphra, “the killing of the sacrifices may be well enough done by strangers, by women, by servants, by the unclean; even those sacrifices that are most holy, provided that the unclean touch not the flesh of them.” And a little after; “At the sprinkling of the blood, the work of the priest begins; and the slaying of them may be done by any hand whatever.”
Hence was it a very usual thing for those that brought the sacrifice to kill it themselves; and so, probably, these miserable Galileans were slaughtered, while they themselves were slaying their own sacrifices. For it is more likely that they were slain in the Temple while they were offering their sacrifices, than in the way, while they were bringing them thither.
4. Or those eighteen, upon whom the tower in Siloam fell, and slew them, think ye that they were sinners above all men that dwelt in Jerusalem?
[Upon whom the tower in Siloam fell.] The poor of Bethesda was the pool of Siloam; and from thence all that adjacent part of the city is denominated Siloam. And therefore it is left doubtful, whether this tower were built over the pool, that is, over the porches of the pool, or stood something remote from it in those parts that yet bore the name of Siloam. And if the article in does not determine the matter, we must continue still in doubt. Will grammar permit that that article should be prefixed to that part of the city? It is certain, that the very pool is called the pool of Siloam. So that I conceive this tower might be built over the porticoes of the pool, and might overwhelm those eighteen men, while they were busied about purifying themselves (and so this event falls in the more agreeably with that of the Galileans), or as they were expecting to be healed at the troubling of the waters: for it is very uncertain at what time this tower fell.
7. Then said he unto the dresser of his vineyard, Behold, these three years I come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and find none: cut it down; why cumbereth it the ground?
Behold, these three years I come, &c.] There was no tree that was of a kind to bear fruit might lightly and upon every small occasion be cut down, that law providing against it in Deuteronomy 20:19,20; where the Pesikta observes that there is both an affirmative and also a negative command, by which it is the more forbidden that any tree of that kind should be cut down, unless upon a very indispensable occasion. “Rabh saith, ‘Cut not down the palm that bears a cab of dates.’ They urge, ‘And what of the olive, that that should not be cut down?’ ‘If it bear but the fourth part of a cab.’ R. Chaninah said, My son Shibchah had not died, had he not cut down a fig-tree before its time.”
[For more info, please see The Barren Fig-Tree by John Bunyan (140k).]
8. And he answering said unto him, Lord, let it alone this year also, till I shall dig about it, and dung it:
[I will dig about it, and dung it.] They dung it and dig it &c. The Gloss is; “They lay dung in their gardens to moisten the earth. They dig about the roots of their trees, they pluck up the suckers, they take off the leaves, they sprinkle ashes, and they smoke under the trees to kill worms.”
11. And, behold, there was a woman which had a spirit of infirmity eighteen years, and was bowed together, and could in no wise lift up herself.
[Having a spirit of infirmity.] I. The Jews distinguish between spirits, and devils, and good angels. “All things do subserve to the glory of the King of kings, the holy blessed One, even spirits, also devils also ministering angels.”
The difficulty is in what sense they take spirits, as they are distinguished from angels and devils: when it is probable they did not mean human souls. But these things are not the business of this place.
II. Therefore, as to this phrase in St. Luke, a spirit of infirmity, let us begin our inquiry from this passage: “It is written, ‘If I put the plague of leprosy in a house of the land of your inheritance.’ R. Judah saith, ‘This foretells such plagues to come upon them.’ R. Simeon saith, ‘He excepts those violent plagues that do not render a man unclean.'” Where the Gloss is, If those plagues come by the insufflation of the devil, which do not defile the man. And the Gemara a little after; “Rabba saith, He excepts the plagues of spirits. Rabh Papa saith, ‘He excepts the plagues of enchantments.'” Where the Gloss again hath it; “Those plagues which are inflicted by the insufflation of the devil, not by the hands of men.”
I. You see, therefore, first, that it was a most received opinion amongst the Jews, that diseases or plagues might be inflicted by the devil. Which is plain also from the evangelists; because our Saviour, in this very place, tells us, that the bowing together of this woman was inflicted upon her by Satan.
II. They conceived further, that some diseases were inflicted that were unclean, and some that were not unclean. The unclean were the leprosy, issues, &c.; not unclean, were such as this woman’s infirmity, &c.
III. They distinguish betwixt an evil spirit, and an unclean spirit. Not but they accounted an unclean spirit ill enough, and an evil spirit to be unclean enough; but that they might distinguish the various operations of the devil, as also concerning the various persons possessed and afflicted by him.
1. They acknowledged that evil spirits might inflict diseases. “Whomsoever either the Gentiles, or evil spirit drive,” i.e. beyond the bounds of the sabbath. Where the Gloss is; “The evil spirit is the devil that hath entered into him, disturbs his intellectuals, so that he is carried beyond the bounds.” But Rambam saith, “They call all kind of melancholy an evil spirit.” And elsewhere: an evil spirit, i.e. a disease.
2. The unclean spirit amongst them was chiefly and more peculiarly that devil that haunted places of burial, and such-like, that were most unclean. The unclean spirit, i.e. the devil that haunts burying-places. “Thither the necromancer betook himself” (as the Gemara hath it, which I have also quoted in another place); “and when he had macerated himself with fasting, he lodgeth amongst the tombs, to the end that he might be the more inspired by the unclean spirit.” Nor is it much otherwise (as they themselves relate it) with the python or prophesying spirit. “For the Rabbins deliver: the python is he that speaks within the parts.” The Gloss is, “He that raiseth a dead person, and sits between the parts of the bones,” &c.
Hence that reason of our conjecture concerning that demoniac, Luke 4:33; that he was either a necromancer or pythonist, taken from that unusual way of expressing it which is there observable, not having an unclean spirit, nor having an unclean devil, but having a spirit of an unclean devil.
There were therefore two sorts of men whom they accounted under the possession of an unclean spirit, in their proper sense so called: those especially who sought and were ambitious to be inspired of the devil amongst tombs and unclean places; and those also, who, being involuntarily possessed by the devils, betook themselves amongst tombs and such places of uncleanness. And whether they upon whom the devil inflicted unclean diseases should be ranked in the same degree, I do not determine. There were others who were not acted by such diabolical furies, but afflicted with other kind of diseases, whom they accounted under the operation of an evil spirit of disease or infirmity. Not of uncleanness; but of infirmity. And perhaps the evangelist speaks according to this antithesis, that this woman had neither a spirit of uncleanness, according to what they judged of a spirit of uncleanness; nor a disease of uncleanness; but a spirit of infirmity.
15. The Lord then answered him, and said, Thou hypocrite, doth not each one of you on the sabbath loose his ox or his ass from the stall, and lead him away to watering?
[Doth not each one of you on the sabbath loose his ox?] That disceptation doth attest this, How far a beast going forth. Where it is very much cautioned that the beast be not brought out on the sabbath day carrying any thing upon him that might be a burden not permitted to be borne on that day. They allow that a camel be led out with a halter, a horse with a collar, &c.; that is, when they are led out either to pasture or watering. Nay, the Gloss upon the place adds, “that they may lead out the horse to the water, that he may dip the collar in the water if the water be unclean.”
To this may be referred that abstruse and obscure rule concerning the building of mounds about a spring that belongs to a private man, with that art that the beast, being led thither to watering on the sabbath day, shall not go out of the place that is of common right.
It is not only permitted to lead the beast out to watering on the sabbath day, but they might draw water for him, and pour it into troughs, provided only that they do not carry the water, and set it before the beast to drink; but the beast come and drink it of his own accord.
23. Then said one unto him, Lord, are there few that be saved? And he said unto them,
[Are there few that be saved?] This question, Lord, are there few that be saved? when it was a received opinion amongst the Jews, ‘that all Israel should have their part in the world to come,’ makes it doubtful whether it was propounded captiously, or merely for satisfaction.
This very matter is disputed amongst the Masters. “Therefore hell hath enlarged herself, and opened her mouth beyond the statute [without measure, AV]. Resh Lachish saith, ‘This is for him who forsaketh one statute.’ (The Gloss is, ‘He that leaves one statute unobserved shall be condemned in hell.’) But R. Jochanan saith, ‘Their Lord will not have it so as thou sayest concerning them.’ (The Gloss is, ‘He will not have thee judge so concerning Israel.’) For the sense is, Although a man have learned but one statute only, he shall escape hell. It is said, ‘It shall come to pass that in all the land, saith the Lord, two parts of it shall be cut off and die, and the third part shall be left.’ Resh Lachish saith, ‘The third part of Shem.’ R. Jochanan saith unto him, ‘Their Lord will not have it so as thou sayest concerning them, for it is the third part of Noah.’ It is said, ‘I will take you one of a city and two of a tribe.’ Resh Lachish saith, ‘These words are to be understood in the very letter.’ R. Jochanan saith unto him, ‘Their Lord will not have it so as thou sayest concerning them, but one of a city shall expiate for the whole city, and two of a family for the whole family. It is said, ‘I will take them for my people’; and it is said, ‘I will bring you into the land.’ He compares their going out of the land of Egypt with their coming in to their own land: now how was their coming in into the land of Canaan? There were only two persons of threescore myriads that entered it. Rabba saith, So also shall it be in the days of the Messiah.'” A man would hardly have expected such ingenuity from a Jew as we here meet with in Resh Lachish and Rabba.
32. And he said unto them, Go ye, and tell that fox, Behold, I cast out devils, and I do cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I shall be perfected.
[Tell that fox.] I conceive our Saviour may allude here to the common proverb: “The brethren of Joseph fell down before his face and worshipped him, saith R. Benjamin Bar Japheth. Saith R. Eliezer This is what is commonly said amongst men, Worship the fox in his time.” The Gloss is, ‘In the time of his prosperity.’ But go you, and say to that fox, however he may wallow in his present prosperity, that I will never flatter him, or for any fear of him desist from my work; but “behold, I cast out devils,” &c.
33. Nevertheless I must walk today, and tomorrow, and the day following: for it cannot be that a prophet perish out of Jerusalem.
[It cannot be that a prophet perish, &c.] “A tribe, nor false prophet, [such a one they accounted the holy Jesus,] nor a high priest, can be judged but by the bench of seventy-one.” Rambam upon the place, as also the Gemara; “We know that a false prophet must be judged by the Sanhedrim, from the parity of the thing: for so is judged a rebellious judge.”
Now as to the judgment itself, these things are said: “They do not judge him to death in the court of judicature, that is, in his own city, nor in that that is at Jabneh; but they bring him to the great Consistory that is at Jerusalem, and reserve him to one of their feasts; and at their feast they execute him, as it is said, ‘All Israel shall hear, and shall fear, and do no more so.'”
35. Behold, your house is left unto you desolate: and verily I say unto you, Ye shall not see me, until the time come when ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.
[Ye shall not see me, until the time come when ye shall say, Blessed is he, &c.] There was a time (I confess) when I apprehended no difficulty at all in these words; but now (which may seem a paradox) my old eyes see better than my younger ones did; and by how much the more I look into this passage, by so much the more obscure it appears to me.
I. What sense must that be taken in, Ye shall not see me? when as after he had said this, (at least as the words are placed in our evangelist), they saw him conversant amongst them for the space of three months and more: particularly and in a singular manner, in that august triumph, when riding upon an ass he had the acclamations of the people in these very words, “Blessed is he that cometh,” &c. One might therefore think, that the words have some respect to this very time and action; but that in St. Matthew these words are repeated by our Saviour after this triumph was over.
Christ is now at Jerusalem, at the feast of Dedication; at least that feast was not far off; for we find him going to it, verse 22: so that this exposition of the words looks fair enough; “Ye see me now, but henceforward ye shall see me no more, until ye shall say, ‘Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord'”; which very thing was said in that triumph of his. But what shall we say then to that of St. Matthew, that these very words are recited sometime after he had received these acclamations from the people? I would hardly believe with the learned Heinsius, that the words in St. Matthew are not set in their proper place, but the series of the history is transposed: I would rather think our Saviour meant not an ocular seeing him, but spoke it in a spiritual and borrowed sense; viz. in the sense wherein the Jews were wont to use the word seeing, when they spake of “seeing the Messiah, the days of the Messiah, and the consolation of Israel”; that is, of partaking and enjoying the comforts and advantages of the Messiah, and of those days of his. So that our Saviour’s meaning may seem to be this; “Ye shall, from henceforward, enjoy no benefit from me the Messiah, till ye shall say, ‘Blessed is he that cometh,'” &c.: for it is worthy our inquiry, whether Christ ever after these words of his, did endeavour so to gather the children of Jerusalem together, that the city might not be destroyed, and the whole nation cast off. He did indeed endeavour to gather the remnant according to the election of grace, but did he ever after this labour that the place and nation might be preserved? As to these, it is argument enough that he had given them wholly over in his own mind, in that here, and in St. Matthew, he did in such precise terms denounce the ruin of Jerusalem, immediately before he uttered these words. I had rather, therefore, than admit any immethodicalness in St. Matthew, expound the passage to this sense; “From henceforward, ye shall never see the consolations of Messiah, nor have me any ways propitious amongst you, endeavouring at all the preservation of your city or nation from ruin, till ye shall say, ‘Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.'”
II. But then here ariseth as great a difficulty about the word till; that is, whether it concludes that in time they will say and acknowledge it; or whether it excludes and denies that they ever shall. For who knows not how different and even contrary a force there is in this word until? “Occupy till I come”: here it concludes that he will come again. “This iniquity shall not be forgiven you till you die”: there their forgiveness is excluded for ever. And indeed the expression in this place looks so perfectly two ways, that he that believes the conversion of the Jewish nation as a thing must come to pass, may turn it to his side; he that believes the contrary, to his.
[Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.] Although a more intimate weighing of these words will not very much help in determining the force of this word until in this place, yet will it probably afford us some light into the whole clause.
The words are taken out of Psalm 118:26, and were sung in the Great Hallel. So that I will beg the reader’s leave to digress a little in search of this usage, especially as to those words that are now in hand.
I. The Great Hallel was the recitation of Psalms 113-118 upon every feast, in every family or brotherhood. The hymn that our Saviour with his apostles sung at the close of the Passover was the latter part of this Hallel.
II. Every one, indeed, was of right bound to repeat it entirely in his own person. But seeing it was not every one’s lot to be so learned or expedite as that came to, there was one to recite it in the stead of all the rest, and they after him made some responsals. This went for a maxim amongst them, if he hear, it is as if he responded. If he hear, though he do not answer, he performs his duty: the meaning is, if any be so unskillful that he can neither recite himself, nor answer after another that doth recite, let him but hear attentively, and he doth as much as is required from him.
III. There was a twofold way of responding according to the difference of persons reciting. If an elder, or master of a family, or one that could fitly represent the whole congregation, should recite or lead in singing; then the rest repeat no other words after him except the first clause of every Psalm; and as to all the remainder, they answered verse by verse Hallelujah. For the action of him that represented them, and led up in singing, availed for those that were represented, especially they having testified their consent by answering Hallelujah. He was a dunce, indeed, that could not answer so far amongst the rest.
IV. But if there wanted such an elder so well skilled in reading or reciting, that it became necessary for a servant or woman, or some more skilful boy, to lead, then let us hear what they did in that case: “If a servant, or woman, or boy should lead in singing, every one in the congregation recites those very words which he had said: if a more ancient person or one of greater note, do sing or read, they answer after him ‘Hallelujah.’ Now the reason why the words recited by a servant, woman, or boy should be repeated after him verbatim, was this, because such a one was unfit to represent a congregation, and his action could not avail for the rest: so that it behoved every person to recite singly for himself, that he might perform his duty.”
V. When they came to the words now in hand, blessed be he that cometh in the name of the Lord, if it be a boy or a servant that is the praecentor, he saith, Blessed be he that cometh; and the rest answer, In the name of the Lord. And this is that for which I have so long ventured upon the reader’s patience, that he may observe what is done differently from the rest when this clause is recited. It is cut in two, which is not done in others. And the first words are not repeated after the praecentor, as they are in other clauses. And whether this custom obtained only in families where servants or boys led in singing, we may judge from this following passage:
“They asked R. Chaijam Bar Ba, ‘How doth it appear, that he who heareth and doth not answer performs his duty?’ ‘From this, saith he, That we see the greatest Rabbins standing in the synagogue, and they say, Blessed be he that cometh, and they answer, In the name of the Lord: and they both perform their duty.'” Midras Tillin leaves these last words wholly out. For so that hath it: “The men of Jerusalem say from within, Save us now, O Lord, we beseech thee. The men of Judea say from without, Prosper us now, Lord, we beseech thee. The men of Jerusalem say from within, Blessed be he that cometh: and the men of Judea say from without, We have blessed you out of the house of the Lord.”
I will not confidently assert that these men had any ill design when they thus mangled this famous clause; but surely there is at least some ground of suspicion that they hardly refer the words to the right object. R. Solomon assuredly doth not. For, “So it ought to be said (saith he) to those that bring their firstfruits, and go up to the feasts.”
1. To come is oftentimes the same with them as to teach; “If any one shall come in his own name, him ye will receive”: i.e. If any one shall teach. And so it is frequently in the Jerusalem Talmud, concerning this or the other Rabbins, he came, and when he cometh. Which if it be not to be understood of such a one teaching, I confess I am at a loss what it should mean else.
2. Those doctors did not come and teach in the name of the Lord, but either in their own name, or in the name of some father of the traditions. Hence nothing more familiar with them, than “R. N. in the name of R. N. saith”: as every leaf, I may say almost every line of their writings witnesses. If, therefore, by cutting short this clause, they would be appropriating to themselves the blessing of the people, whom they had taught to say, Blessed be he that cometh, letting that slip, or omitting what follows, In the name of the Lord; they do indeed like themselves, cunningly lying at catch, and hunting after fame and vainglory.
Let the reader judge, whether Christ might not look this way in these words. However, I shall not scruple to determine, that they shall never see the Messiah, as to any advantage to themselves, till they have renounced the doctrines of coming in their own name, or in the name of the Fathers of the Traditions, embracing his doctrine, who is come in the name of the Lord.
1. And it came to pass, as he went into the house of one of the chief Pharisees to eat bread on the sabbath day, that they watched him.
[To eat bread on the sabbath day.] The Jews’ tables were generally better spread on that day than on any others: and that, as they themselves reckoned, upon the account of religion and piety. I have spoken to this elsewhere: take here a demonstration. “Rabba Bar Rabh Houna went to the house of Rabba Bar Rabh Nachman. He set before him three measures of rich cake: to whom he, ‘How did you know of my coming?’ The other answered, ‘Is there any thing more valuable to us than the sabbath?'” The Gloss is; ‘We do by no means prefer thee before the sabbath: we got these things ready in honour of the sabbath, not knowing any thing of thy coming.’
“Rabba Abba bought flesh of thirteen butchers for thirteen staters, and paid them at the very hinge of the door.” The Gloss tells us, ‘That he bought of thirteen butchers, that he might be sure to taste the best: and before they could come that should bring the flesh, he had gotten his money ready for them, and paid them at the very gate, that he might hasten dinner: and all this in honour of the sabbath-day.’
R. Abhu sat upon an ivory throne, and yet blew the fire: that was towards the cooking of his dinner in honour of the sabbath. It ought not to be passed by without observation, that Christ was at such a dinner, and that in the house of a Pharisee, who doubtless was observant enough of all ceremonies of this kind.
3. And Jesus answering spake unto the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, Is it lawful to heal on the sabbath day?
[Is it lawful to heal on the sabbath day?] A Jew will be ready to cavil against the truth of the evangelists upon the occasion of this and such like questions they report from our Saviour. What need had he (will such a one say) to ask this question, when he could not but know that, in danger of life, it was permitted them to do any thing towards the preservation of it. Nay, where there was no imminent danger, they were allowed to apply medicines, plasters, &c.; especially, which I must not omit, to apply leaven even in the time of Passover to a ‘Gumretha,’ some very burning distemper.
This is all true indeed; and this no doubt our Saviour understood well enough: but withal he could not but observe with how ill an eye they looked at him, and would not allow that in him which was lawful in another man. He was always accused for healing on the sabbath day, which whiles he did with a word speaking, he could not violate the sabbath so much as even their own canons permitted him: and wherefore then should they accuse him? In mere hatred to his person and actions. There are two little stories we meet with in places quoted before, which perhaps may serve in some measure to illustrate this matter.
“The grandchild of R. Joshua Ben Levi had some disease in his throat, There came one and mumbled to him in the name of Jesus the son of Pandira, and he was restored.” Here we see the virtue and operation of Jesus not so utterly exploded, but they did allow of it.
“When R. Eliezer Ben Damah had been bitten with a serpent, and Jacobus Capharsamensis came in the name of Jesus the son of Pandira to heal him, R. Ismael forbade it.” And so the sick man died.
5. And answered them, saying, Which of you shall have an ass or an ox fallen into a pit, and will not straightway pull him out on the sabbath day?
[Which of you shall have an ass or an ox fallen into a pit, &c.] It being an undoubted maxim, “That they must deal mercifully with an Israelite’s goods,” the doctors in many things dispensed with the sabbath for the preservation of a beast. “They do not play the midwives with a beast that is bringing forth its young on a feast day, but they help it. How do they help it? They bear up the young one, that it doth not fall upon the ground: they bring wine, spirt it into the nostrils: they rub the paunch of the dam, so that it will suckle its young.”
“A firstling if it fall into a ditch [on a fast day, or the sabbath], let the Mumcheh look into it; and if there be any blemish in it, let him take it out and kill it: if not, let him not kill it.” He draws it out however, that it might not be lost. And so they deal with other beasts; only the Mumcheh is not made use of.
8. When thou art bidden of any man to a wedding, sit not down in the highest room; lest a more honourable man than thou be bidden of him;
[Sit not down in the highest room.] They were ambitious of the ‘highest room’ in honour of their wisdom. “There were three persons invited to a feast, a prince, a wise man, and an ordinary person: the wise man sat next to the prince. Being asked by the king why he did so; he answered, ‘Because I am a wise man.'” “Janneus the king sitting at table with some of the nobles of Persia, Simeon Ben Shetah, that had been invited, placed himself betwixt the king and queen. Being asked, why so; he answered, ‘In the book of Ben Sirah it was written, Exalt Wisdom, and she shall exalt thee, and make thee to sit among princes.'”
It is much such advice as this of our Saviour’s that is given us in Proverbs 25:7: upon which place we have this passage: “R. Aquila, in the name of R. Simeon Ben Azzai, thus expounds it: ‘Go back from thy place two or three seats, and there sit, that they may say unto thee, Go up higher,'” &c.
18. And they all with one consent began to make excuse. The first said unto him, I have bought a piece of ground, and I must needs to and see it: I pray thee have me excused.
[With one consent to make excuse.] A very ridiculous, as well as clownish and unmannerly excuse this, if it grew towards night; for it was supper-time. A very unseasonable time to go and see a piece of ground new bought, or to try a yoke of oxen. The substantive, therefore, that should answer to the adjective, I would not seek any otherwhere than as it is included in the word make excuse; so that the sense of it may be they began all for one cause to make excuse, i.e. for one and the same aversation they had to it.
23. And the lord said unto the servant, Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled.
[Go out into the highways and hedges.] Into the highways, that he might bring in the travellers: but who were those that were among the hedges? We have a parallel place, 1 Chronicles 4:23: “These were the potters,” in Greek, Those that dwell in Ataim and Gadir. But the Vulgar, dwelling in plantations and hedges. To the same purpose R. Solomon and Kimchi; “They employed themselves in making pots, in planting, in setting hedges, and making mud walls.” The Targumist here is very extravagant: “These are those disciples of the law, for whose sake the world was made; who sit in judgment and stablish the world; and their daughters build up the waste places of the house of Israel with the presence of the Eternal King, in the service of the law, and the intercalation of months,” &c.
34. Salt is good;: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be seasoned?
[But if the salt have lost his savour.] This hath a very good connection with what went before. Our Saviour had before taught how necessary it was for him that would apply himself to Christ and his religion, to weigh and consider things beforehand, how great and difficult things he must undergo, lest when he hath begun in the undertaking he faint and go back; he apostatize, and become unsavoury salt.
Savour suits very well with the Hebrew word which both signifies unsavoury and afool; Can that which is unsavoury be eaten without salt? Thy prophets have seen for thee vanity and that which is unsavoury. [Vain and foolish things, AV] The Greek,vain things and folly. He gave not that which is unsavoury to God. The Greek, he did not give folly to God, [nor charged God foolishly, AV].
4. What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it?
[Ninety-and-nine.] This was a very familiar way of numbering and dividing amongst the Jews, viz. betwixt one and ninety. I have given instances elsewhere, let me in this place add one more: “Of those hundred cries that a woman in travail uttereth,ninety-and-nine of them are to death, and only one of them to life.”
7. I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance.
[Which need no repentance.] Here we are to consider the distinction commonly used in the Jewish schools:–
I. All the good, and those that were to be saved at last, they called just persons. [It is opposed to the word wicked persons, as we may observe more than once in the first Psalm.] Hence this and the like passage very frequently, Paradise is for the just: good things laid up for the just.
Let us by the way play a little with the Gemarists, as they themselves also play with the letters of the alphabet, and amongst the rest especially the letter Tsadi, there is Tsadi that begins a word [or the crooked Tsadi] and Tsadi that ends a word [or the straight Tsadi]. What follows from hence? There is the just person that is crooked[or bowed down], and there is the just person that is erect or straight. Where the Gloss hath it, “It is necessary that the man that is right and straight should be bowed or humble, and he shall be erect in the world to come.” Aruch acknowledgeth the same Gloss; but he also brings another which seems of his own making; That “there is a just person who is mild or humble; but there is also a just person who is not so.” Let him tell, if he can, what kind of just person that should be that is not mild or humble. But to return to our business.
II. They divide the just into those that are just and no more: and those that areperfectly just. Under the first rank they place those that were not always upright; but having lived a wicked and irreligious life, have at length betaken themselves to repentance and reformation. These they call penitents. Under the latter rank are they placed who have been always upright and never declined from the right way: these they call perfectly just, and just from their first original: as also, holy or good men, and men of good works. Such a one did he account himself, and probably was so esteemed by others, that saith, “All these have I kept from my youth.” And such a one might that holy man be thought, who never committed one trespass all the days of his life: excepting this one misfortune that befel him, that once he put on the phylacteries for his forehead before the phylacteries for his arms. A wondrous fault indeed! And what pity is it that for this one trespass of his life he should lose the title of one perfectly holy. Yet for this dreadful crime is the poor wretch deprived of a solemn interment, and by this was his atonement made.
We meet with this distinction of just persons in Beracoth: “R. Abhu saith, In the place where stand the penitents, there do not stand the perfectly just.” This distinction also appeared both in the tongues and persons of those that were dancing in the Temple at the feast of Tabernacles. “Some of them said, ‘Blessed be our youth that have not made our old men ashamed.’ These were the holy and men of good works. Others said, ‘Blessed be our old men who have expiated for our youth.’ These were they who became penitents.”
This phrase of perfectly just persons, puts me in mind of that of the apostle, the spirits of just men made perfect. Where (if I understand aright the scope of the apostle in the argument he is upon) he speaks of just men who are still in this life, and shews that the souls and spirits of believers are made perfectly righteous by faith, contrary to what the Jews held, that men were complete in their righteousness by works, even bodily works.
Seeing those whom they accounted perfectly just are termed men of works; so thatperfectly just and men of works were convertible terms, it may not be improbable that the Essenes or Essaei may have their name from of works; so that they might be called workers, and by that be distinguished from the penitents. But of that matter I will raise no dispute.
III. Now which of these had the preference, whether perfect righteousness to repentance, or repentance to perfect righteousness, it is not easy to discern at first view, because even amongst themselves there are different opinions about it. We have a disputation in Beracoth, in the place newly cited, in these words: “R. Chaiah Bar Abba saith, R. Jochanan saith, All the prophets did not prophesy, unless for those that repent. As for those that are perfectly just, eye hath not seen besides thee, O God. But R. Abhu contradicts this: for R. Abhu saith, The penitent do not stand in the place where the perfectly just stand; as it is said, Peace, peace to him that is far off, and to him that is near. He names him that is far off first, and then him that is nigh. But R. Jochanan, Who is he that is far off? He that was far off from transgressing from his first original. And who is he that is nigh? He that was next to transgression, but now is afar off from it.”
These passages of the Talmud are quoted by Kimchi upon Isaiah 57:19; and, out of him, by Drusius upon this place; but as far as I can perceive, very far wide from the mind of Kimchi. For thus Drusius hath it; R. David Isaiah 57:19, Hoc in loco, &c. In this place the penitent is said to be far off, and the just to be nigh, according to the ancients: but he that is far off is preferred; whence they say, The penitents are better than the perfectly just. As if this obtained amongst them all as a rule or maxim; when indeed the words of Kimchi are these: “He that is far off, that is, he that is far off from Jerusalem, and he that is near, that is, he that is near to Jerusalem. But there is a dispute in the words of our Rabbins about this matter. And some of them interpret it otherwise; for they expound him that is afar off, as to be understood of the penitent, and him that is near, as meaning the just: from whence they teach and say, That the penitent are better than those that are perfectly just.”
Some, indeed, that do so expound it, say, that those that are penitent are to be preferred before those that are the perfectly just, but this was not the common and received opinion of all. Nay, the more general opinion gave so great a preference toperfect righteousness, that repentance was not to be compared with it. Hence that of R. Jochanan, approved of by R. Chaijah the great Rabbin, that those good and comfortable things concerning which the prophets do mention in their prophecies, belong only to those who were sometimes wicked men but afterward came untorepentance; but they were far greater things that were laid up for perfectly just persons,–things which had never been revealed to the prophets, nor no prophetic eye ever saw, but God only; things which were indeed of a higher nature than that they could be made known to men; for so the Gloss explaineth those words of theirs.
In this, indeed, they attribute some peculiar excellency to the penitent; in that, although they had tasted the sweets of sin, yet they had abandoned it, and got out of the snare: which it might have been a question whether those that are perfectly justwould have done if they had tasted and experienced the same. But still they esteemed it much nobler never to have been stained with the pollutions of sin, always to have been just, and never otherwise than good. Nor is it seldom that we meet with some in the Talmudists making their own perfection the subject of their boast, glorying that they have never done any enormous thing throughout their whole life; placing those whom they called holy or good men, who were also the same with perfectly just, placing them (I say) in the highest form of just persons.
IV. After all this, therefore, judge whether Christ spoke simply or directly of any such persons (as if there were really any such) that could need no repentance; or rather, whether he did not at that time utter himself according to the common conceptions that nation had about some perfectly just persons, which he himself opposed. And this seems so much the more likely by how much he saith, “I say unto you,” as if he set himself against that common conceit of theirs: and that example he brings of a certain person that needed no repentance, viz., the prodigal’s brother, savours rather of the Jewish doctrine than that he supposed any one in this world perfectly just.
8. Either what woman having ten pieces of silver, if she lose one piece, doth not light a candle, and sweep the house, and seek diligently till she find it?
[A woman lighteth a candle.] There is a parable not much unlike this in Midras Schir, “R. Phineas Ben Jair expoundeth. If thou seek wisdom as silver, that is, if thou seek the things of the law as hidden treasures–A parable. It is like a man who if he lose a shekel or ornament in his house, he lighteth some candles, some torches, till he find it. If it be thus for the things of this world, how much more may it be for the things of the world to come!”
11. And he said, A certain man had two sons:
[A certain man had two sons.] It is no new thing so to apply this parable, as if the elder son denoted the Jew, and the younger the Gentile. And, indeed, the elder son doth suit well enough with the Jew in this, that he boasts so much of his obedience, “I have not transgressed at any time thy commandment”: as also, that he is so much against the entertainment of his brother, now a penitent. Nothing can be more grievous to the Jews than the reception of the Gentiles.
13. And not many days after the younger son gathered all together, and took his journey into a far country, and there wasted his substance with riotous living.
[He wasted his substance with riotous living.] Ought not this prodigal to be looked upon as that stubborn and rebellious son mentioned Deuteronomy 21:18? By no means, if we take the judgment of the Sanhedrim itself. For, according to the character that is given of a stubborn and rebellious son in Sanhedrim, cap. 8, where there is a set discourse upon that subject, there can hardly be such a one found in nature as he is there described. Unless he steal from his father and his mother, he is not such a son; unless he eat half a pound of flesh, and drink half a log of wine, he is not such a son. If his father or mother be lame or blind, he is not such a son, &c. Half a pound of flesh! It is told of Maximin, that “he drank frequently in one day a Capitoline bottle of wine, and ate forty pounds of flesh; or, as Cordus saith, threescore.”