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, spirit 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 conversation 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 establish 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 a fool; 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].