John 10 Bible Commentary

John Lightfoot’s Bible Commentary

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(Read all of John 10)
Amongst all the places in the Old Testament which mention this great Shepherd, there is no one doth so exactly describe him and his pastoral work, as chapter 11 of the prophet Zechariah. We will fetch a few things from thence, that may serve to explain the passage now in hand:

I. He describes this great Shepherd manifesting himself, and applying himself to his great pastoral office, when the nation was now upon the brink of destruction: the prophet had foretold their ruin, and brings in this Shepherd undertaking the care of his sheep, lest they should perish too.

As to the first verse, "Open thy doors, O Lebanon"; take the Jews' own comment upon it, who yet do, by all the skill they can, endeavour to take off the whole prophecy from those proper hinges upon which it turns.

"Forty years before the destruction [of Jerusalem], the gates of the Temple opened themselves of their own accord. Rabban Jochanan Ben Zacchai declaimed upon it, saying, 'O Temple, Temple, why dost thou terrify thyself? I know thy end will be destruction; for so Zechariah, the son of Iddo, hath prophesied concerning thee; Open thy doors, O Lebanon,'" &c.

The rest that follows doth plainly enough speak out desolation and ruin, verses 2, 3: but particularly that is remarkable, verse 6, "I will deliver the men every one into his neighbour's hand": how manifestly doth it agree with those intestine broils and discords, those horrid seditions, stirred up amongst them! "And into the hand of his king"; i.e. of Caesar, concerning whom they may remember they once said, "We have no king but Caesar."

II. He describes the evil shepherds of the people under a triumvirate, verse 8: "Three shepherds also I cut off in one month," &c.; i.e. the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and the Essenes; which interpretation though it cannot but sound very unpleasingly in Jewish years, yet is it what seems abundantly confirmed, both from the context and the history of things. They therefore would turn the edge of the prophecy another way, the Gemarists understanding the three shepherds of Moses, Aaron, and Miriam: Jarchi would have it the house of Ahab, the house of Ahaziah, and his brethren: Kimchi, the sons of Josiah, Jehoahaz, Jehoiakim, and Zedekiah. Aben Ezra saith, "Perhaps they are the high priest Joshua, the person anointed to the wars, and the sagan; or perhaps Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi," &c.

But what can be more clear than that the prophet speaks of those shepherds that had wasted and corrupted the flock, and who, when the true Shepherd of the sheep should reveal himself, would do the like again? and who should these be but the principals and chief heads of sects, and the leaders of the people, the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and the Essenes?

Object. But how can these properly be said to be cut off by the great Shepherd when he should come, whereas it is well enough known that these sects lived even after the death of Christ, nay, after the ruins of Jerusalem; not to say that Pharisaism hath its being amongst the Jews to this very day?

Ans. So indeed it is said, that under the gospel, the nations should not learn war any more, Isaiah 2:4; and that there should not be an infant in age, or one under age, in the new Jerusalem, Isaiah 65:20: whereas we find enough of war in every generation, and that infancy or ignorance in divine things abounds still. But nevertheless God had done his part towards the accomplishment of such prophecies; namely, he had brought in the gospel of peace and the gospel of light, that nothing should be wanting on his side that peace might reign on the earth, and infancy in divine things should be no more. So did this great Shepherd bring in the evangelical doctrine, the oracle of truth and religion, which did so beat down and confound all the vain doctrines and institutions of those sects, that, as to what related to the doctrine of Christ, there was nothing wanting to have cut off those heresies and vanities.

III. This great Shepherd broke that covenant that had been made and confirmed with that people, verse 10: "I took my staff, even Beauty, and cut it asunder, that I might break my covenant which I had made with all the people." With all the people; i.e. with all Israel, the ten and the two tribes too. And in verse 14, the affinity and kin which was betwixt Judah and Israel is dissolved; which it would not be amiss for those to take serious notice of, who as yet expect a universal conversion of the whole nation of the Jews. Let them say by virtue of what covenant; if the covenant of grace, that makes no difference betwixt the Jew and the Greek, nor knows any one after the flesh. If by virtue of the covenant peculiarly made with that people, that was broken and dissolved, when God had gathered his flock out of that people. For,

IV. The great Shepherd, when he came, found that there must be a flock gathered in that nation, as Romans 11:5, A remnant according to the election of grace; and these he took care to call and gather before Jerusalem should be destroyed. Zechariah himself calls it the flock of slaughter; and the poor of the flock, verse 7. Where, by the way, whoever compares the Greek version in this place must needs observe, that so the poor is, by those interpreters, jumbled and confounded into one word. For, instead of and so the poor of the flock knew, they read it, the Canaanites shall know the sheep, &c. So instead of for this, or for you, O poor of the flock, verse 7, they read, unto the land of Canaan...I have some suspicion that these interpreters might have had an eye upon the reduction of the dispersed captivity into the land of Canaan, according to the common expectation of that nation. But this only by the by.

That of the apostle ought to be strictly heeded; Even so then at this present time also there is a remnant according to the election of grace. Which indeed is, as it were, the gnomon to that chapter, and, above all other things, does interpret best the apostle's mind. For he propounds to discourse not concerning the universal call of the Jews, but of their not being universally rejected: which may very easily be collected from the very first verse of this chapter, "Hath God cast away his people?" that is, so cast them away that they are universally rejected. "God forbid!" for I myself am an Israelite, and am not cast away. This argument he pursues, and illustrates from the example of those most corrupted times, the age wherein Elijah lived, when they threw down the altars of God, slew his prophets, and not a few worshipped Baal of the Sidonians, whom Ahab had introduced; and almost the whole nation worshipped that golden calf or cow which Jeroboam had set up. And yet, even in that worst state of affairs, saith God, "I have reserved to myself seven thousand men, who have not bowed the knee to that golden calf," the common and universal error of that nation, much less to Baal of the Sidonians. "Even so" (saith the apostle), "at this present time also there is a remnant"; plainly intimating, that he does not assert or argue for the calling of the whole nation, but of that remnant only; and that he discourses concerning the present calling of that remnant, and not about any future call of the whole nation.

V. That is a vast mystery the apostle is upon, verse 25 of that chapter; "Blindness hath severally happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in." I render severally, or by parts, not without warrant from grammar, and according to the meaning and intention of St. Paul. For the mystery mentioned by him is, that blindness severally, and at several times, happened to the Israelites: first, the ten tribes were blinded through idolatry, and, after many ages, the two tribes, through traditions; and yet both those and these reserved together to that time, wherein the Gentiles, who had been blinded for a longer space, are called, and then both Israelites and Jews and Gentiles, being all called together, do close into one body. It is observable that the apostle, throughout this whole chapter, doth not so much as once make mention of the Jews, but of Israel, that he might include the ten tribes with the two within his discourse.

And, indeed, this great Shepherd had his flock, or his sheep, within the ten tribes, as well as within the two: and to me it is without all controversy that the gospel, in the times of the apostles, was brought and preached as well to the one as the other. Doubtless St. Peter, whilst he was in Babylon, preached to the Israelites dispersed in those countries as well as to the Jews.

VI. Some of the Gemarists do vehemently deny any conversion of the ten tribes under the Messiah: let them beware lest there be not a conversion of their own.

"The ten tribes shall never return, as it is written, 'And he cast them into another land, as it is this day,' Deuteronomy 29:28. 'As this day passeth and shall never return, so they are gone and shall not return again.' They are the words of R. Akibah."

"It is a tradition of the Rabbins, that the ten tribes shall not have a part in the world to come; as it is written, 'The Lord rooted them out of their land in anger and in wrath, and in great indignation, and cast them out into another land. He rooted them out of their own land in this world, and cast them out into another land in the world to come.' They are the words of Rabbi."

But, in truth, when the true Messiah did appear, the ten tribes were more happily called (if I may so speak), that is, with more happy success than the Jews; because amongst those Jews that had embraced the gospel, there happened a sad and foul apostasy, the like to which we read not of concerning the ten tribes that were converted.

1. Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that entereth not by the door into the sheepfold, but climbeth up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber.

[By the door into the sheepfold, &c.] The sheepfold amongst the Talmudists is some enclosure or pen: wherein,

I. The sheep were all gathered together in the night, lest they should stray; and where they might be safe from thieves or wild beasts.

II. In the day time they were milked: as,

The Trojans, as the rich man's numerous flocks,
Stand milked in the field.

III. There the lambs were tithed.

"How is it that they tithe the lambs? They gather the flock into the sheepfold; and making a little door at which two cannot go out together, they number 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, and the tenth that goes out they mark with red, saying, 'This is the tithe.' The ewes are without and the lambs within; and at the bleating of the ewes the lambs get out."

So that there was in the sheepfold one larger door, which gave ingress and egress to the flock and shepherds; and a lesser, by which the lambs passed out for tithing.

[Is a thief and a robber.] In Talmudic language: "Who is a thief? He that takes away another man's goods when the owner is not privy to it: as when a man puts his hand into another man's pocket, and takes away his money, the man not seeing him; but if he takes it away openly, publicly, and by force. This is not a thief, but a robber."

3. To him the porter openeth; and the sheep hear his voice: and he calleth his own sheep by name, and leadeth them out.

[The porter.] I am mistaken if the servants that attend about the flock under the shepherd are not called by the owner of them, Ecclesiastes 12:11, those that fold the sheep: at least if the sheepfold itself be not so called. And I would render the words by way of paraphrase thus: "The words of the wise are as goads, and as nails fastened by those that gather the flock into the fold: goads, to drive away the thief or the wild beast; and nails, to preserve the sheepfold whole and in good repair: which goads and nails are furnished by the chief shepherd, the master of the flock, for these uses." Now one of these servants that attended about the flock was called the porter. Not that he always sat at the door; but the key was committed to his charge, that he might look to it that no sheep should stray out of the fold, nor any thing hurtful should get or be let in.

7. Then said Jesus unto them again, Verily, verily, I say unto you, I am the door of the sheep.

[I am the door.] Pure Israelitism among the Jews was the fold, and the door, and all things. For if any one was of the seed of Israel, and the stock of Abraham, it was enough (themselves being the judges) for such a one to be made a sheep, admitted into the flock, and be fed and nourished to eternal life. But in Christ's flock the sheep had another original, introduction, and mark.

8. All that ever came before me are thieves and robbers: but the sheep did not hear them.

[All that ever came before me are thieves.] Our Saviour speaks agreeably with the Scripture; where, when there is any mention of the coming of this great Shepherd to undertake the charge of the flock, the evil shepherds that do not feed but destroy the flock are accused, Jeremiah 23:1, &c. Ezekiel 34:2, &c. Zechariah 11:16. And our Saviour strikes at those three shepherds before mentioned, that hated him, and were hated by him, the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and Essenes, under whose conduct the nation had been so erroneously led for some ages.

I should have believed that those words, All that ever came before me are thieves and robbers, might be understood of those who, having arrogated to themselves the name of the Messiah, obtruded themselves upon the people; but that we shall hardly, or not at all, find an instance of any that ever did so before the true Messiah came. After his coming (it is true) there were very many that assumed the name and title; but before it hardly one. Judas the Galilean did not arrive to that impudence, as you have his story in Josephus. Nor yet Theudas, by any thing that may be gathered from the words of Gamaliel, Acts 5.

An argument of no mean force, which we may use against the Jews, that the time when our Jesus did appear was the very time wherein the nation looked for the coming of Messiah. For why did no one arrogate that name to himself before the coming of our Jesus? Because they knew the fore-appointed and the expected time of the Messiah was not yet come. And why, after Jesus had come, did so many give themselves out for Messiah, according to what our Saviour foretold, Matthew 24? Because the agreeableness of the time, and the expectation of the people, might serve and assist their pretences.

9. I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture.

[Find pasture.] How far is the beasts' pasture? Sixteen miles. The Gloss is, "The measure of the space that the beasts go when they go forth to pasture." A spacious pasture indeed!

13. The hireling fleeth, because he is an hireling, and careth not for the sheep.

[The hireling fleeth.] The Rabbins suppose that some such thing may be done by the hireling, when they allot a mulct, if a sheep should happen to perish through the neglect of its keeper.

"How far is the keeper for hire bound to watch his flock? Till he can say truly, 'In the day the drought consumed me, and the frost by night.'"

"But if, whilst he is going to the city or any ways absent, the wolf or the lion should come and tear the flock, what then?....He ought to have met them with shepherds and clubs," and not to have fled.

15. As the Father knoweth me, even so know I the Father: and I lay down my life for the sheep.

[I lay down my life, &c.] I deliver, or I give, my life for the flock. Judah gave up his life for Benjamin. Hur gave his life for the holy blessed God. For they have a tradition, that Hur underwent martyrdom, because he opposed the golden calf.

22. And it was at Jerusalem the feast of the dedication, and it was winter.

[It was the feast of the Dedication.] I. The rise and original of this feast must be fetched from the story, 1 Maccabees 4:52, &c., of which we have noted something already. The Jewish masters have these passages about it:

"They were seized with such infinite pleasure in the restoration of their sacred rites, being, after so long a time, so unexpectedly possessed of their religion again, that they bound it by a law to posterity, that they should celebrate the restitution of their sacred rites by a feast of eight days' continuance. And from that time to this do we still celebrate this feast, calling it by the name of 'Lights': giving that name to this feast, as I suppose, because we obtained such a liberty so much beyond all hope."

One would believe that the name only of lights, or candles, was given to this feast: I say a name only; for we have no mention here of the 'lighting of candles.' One would believe also that the eight days decreed for the celebration of this feast was done after the pattern of the eight days' feast of Tabernacles: but you will find in the Talmudic authors that it is far otherwise, and they have a cunning way of talking concerning it.

"The Rabbins have a tradition: From the five-and-twentieth day of the month Chisleu there are eight days of the Encaenia [or feast of Dedication], in which time it is not lawful either to weep or fast. For when the Greeks entered into the Temple, they defiled all the oil that was there. But when the kingdom of the Asmoneans had conquered them, they sought and could not find but one single vial of oil that had been laid up under the seal of the chief priest; nor was there enough in it but to light for one day. There was a great miracle: for they lighted up the lamps from that oil for eight days together: so that, the year after, they instituted the space of eight days for the solemnizing that feast."

Maimonides relates the same things, and adds more: "Upon this occasion the wise men of that generation appointed, that eight days from the 25th of the month Chisleu should be set apart for days of rejoicing and the Hallel: and that they should light up candles at the doors of every house each evening of those days, to keep up the memory of that miracle. Those days are called Dedication; and it is forbidden upon all those days either to weep or fast, as in the days of Purim," &c.

Again: "How many candles do they light? It is commanded that every house should set up at least one, let the inhabitants there be more or one only. But he that does honour to the command sets up his candles according to the number of the persons that are in the house. And he again that does more honour to it still sets up one candle for every person in the house the first night, and doubles it the second night. For example, if there be ten persons in the house, the first night there are ten candles lighted; the second night, twenty; the third night, thirty; so that on the eighth night it comes to fourscore."

It would be too tedious to transcribe what he relates about singing the Hallel upon that feast: the place where the candle is fixed, which ordinarily is without doors, but in time of danger or persecution it is within, &c. Let what I have already quoted suffice, with the addition of this one instance more:

"The wife of Tarchinus (whose bones may they be crushed!) brought forth a son the evening of the ninth day of the month Ab, and then all Israel mourned. The child died upon the feast of Dedication. Then said the Israelites, 'Shall we light up candles, or not?' They said, 'We will light them, come what will come.' So they lighted them. Upon which, there were some that went and accused them before the wife of Tarchin, saying, 'The Jews mourned when thou broughtest forth a son; and when that son died they set up candles.'" Who this Tarquinus or Tarquinius was, whether they meant the emperor Trajan or some other, we will not make any inquiry, nor is it tanti. However, the story goes on and tells us, that the woman, calling her husband, accused the Jews, stirring him up to revenge, which he executed accordingly by a slaughter amongst them.

[The feast of the Dedication.] In the title of the thirtieth Psalm, the Greek interpreters translate Dedication: by which the Jewish masters seem to understand the dedication of the Temple: whereas really it was no other than the lustration and cleansing of David's house after Absalom had polluted it by his wickedness and filthiness: which indeed we may not unfitly compare with the purging again of the Temple after that the Gentiles had polluted it.

[At Jerusalem.] It was at Jerusalem the feast of the Dedication. Not as the Passover, Pentecost, and feast of Tabernacles, were wont to be at Jerusalem, because those feasts might not be celebrated in any other place: but the Encaenia was kept everywhere throughout the whole land.

They once proclaimed a fast within the feast of Dedication at Lydda.

The feast of Dedication at Lydda? this was not uncustomary, for that feast was celebrated in any place: but the fast in the time of that feast, this was uncustomary.

"One upon his journey, upon whose account they set up a candle at his own house, hath no need to light it for himself in the place where he sojourneth": for in what country soever he sojourns, there the feast of Dedication and lighting up of candles is observed; and if those of his own household would be doing that office for him, he is bound to make provision accordingly, and take care that they may do it.

Maimonides goes on; "The precept about the lights in the feast of Dedication is very commendable; and it is necessary that every one should rub up his memory in this matter, that he may make known the great miracle, and contribute towards the praises of God, and the acknowledgment of those wonders he doth amongst us. If any one hath not wherewithal to eat, unless of mere alms, let him beg, or sell his garments to buy oil and lights for this feast. If he have only one single farthing, and should be in suspense whether he should spend it in consecrating the day, or setting up lights, let him rather spend it in oil for the candles than in wine for consecration of the day. For when as they are both the prescription of the scribes, it were better to give the lights of the Encaenia the preference, because you therein keep up the remembrance of the miracle."

Now what was this miracle? It was the multiplication of the oil. The feast was instituted in commemoration of their Temple and religion being restored to them: the continuance of the feast for eight days was instituted in commemoration of that miracle: both by the direction of the scribes, when there was not so much as one prophet throughout the whole land.

"There were eighty-five elders, above thirty of which were prophets too, that made their exceptions against the feast of Purim, ordained by Esther and Mordecai, as some kind of innovation against the law." And yet that feast was but to be of two days' continuance. It is a wonder then how this feast of Dedication, the solemnity of which was to be kept up for eight days together, that had no other foundation of authority but that of the scribes, should be so easily swallowed by them.

Josephus, as also the Book of Maccabees, tells us, that this was done about the hundred and forty-eighth year of the Seleucidae: and at that time, nay, a great while before, the doctrine of traditions and authority of the traditional scribes had got a mighty sway in that nation. So that every decree of the Sanhedrim was received as oracular, nor was there any the least grudge or complaint against it. So that, though the traditional masters could not vindicate the institution of such a feast from any tradition exhibited to Moses upon mount Sinai, yet might they invent something as traditional to prove the lawfulness of such an institution.

Who had the presidency in the Sanhedrim at this time cannot be certainly determined. That which is told of Joshua Ben Perachiah, how he fled from Janneus the king, carries some probability along with it, that Joses Ben Joezer of Zeredai, and Joses Ben Jochanan of Jerusalem, to whom Joshua Ben Perachiah and Nittai the Arbelite succeeded in their chairs, sat president and vice-president at that time in the Sanhedrim. But this is not of much weight, that we should tire ourselves in such an inquiry.

The masters tell us (but upon what authority it is obscure), that the work of the tabernacle was finished on the twenty-fifth day of the month Chisleu (that is, the very day of the month of which we are now speaking); "but it was folded up till the first day of the month Nisan, and then set up."

[And it was winter.] The eight days begun from the 25th of the month Chisleu fell in with the winter solstice. Whence, meeting with that in the Targumist upon 1 Chronicles 11:22, I question whether I should render it the shortest day, or a short day (i.e. one of the short winter days), viz. the tenth of the month Tebeth: if he did not calculate rather according to our than the Jewish calendar.

The Rabbins (as we have already observed upon chapter 5:35) distinguish their winter months into winter and mid-winter: intimating, as it should seem, the more remiss and more intense cold. Half Chisleu, all Tebeth, and half Shebat was the winter. Ten days therefore of the winter had passed when on the 25th of the month Chisleu the feast of the Dedication came in.

It was winter, and Jesus walked in the porch. He walked there because it was winter, that he might get and keep himself warm: and perhaps he chose Solomon's porch to walk in, either that he might have something to do with the fathers of the Sanhedrim who sat there; or else that he might correct and chastise the buyers and sellers who had their shops in that place.

24. Then came the Jews round about him, and said unto him, How long dost thou make us to doubt? If thou be the Christ, tell us plainly.

[How long dost thou make us to doubt?] It is not ill rendered, How long dost thou suspend our mind? although not an exact translation according to the letter. But what kind of doubt and suspension of mind was this? Was it that they hoped this Jesus was the Messiah? or that they rather feared he was so? It seems, they rather feared than hoped it. For whereas they looked for a Messias that should prove a mighty conqueror, should deliver the people from the heathen yoke, and should crown himself with all earthly glory; and saw Jesus infinite degrees below such pomp; yet by his miracles giving such fair specimens of the Messias; they could not but hang in great suspense, whether such a Messiah were to be wished for or no.

31. Then the Jews took up stones again to stone him.

[Then the Jews took up stones again.] The blasphemer by judicial process of the Sanhedrim was to be stoned; which process they would imitate here without judgment.

"These are the criminals that must be stoned; he that lieth with his own mother, or with the wife of his father. He that blasphemes or commits idolatry." Now, however, the Rabbins differed in the definition of blasphemy or a blasphemer, yet this all of them agreed in, as unquestionable blasphemy, that which denies the foundation. This they firmly believed Jesus did, and none could persuade them to the contrary, when he affirmed, "I and my Father are one." A miserable besotted nation, who, above all persons or things, wished and looked for the Messiah, and yet was perfectly ignorant what kind of a Messiah he should be!

35. If he called them gods, unto whom the word of God came, and the scripture cannot be broken;

[If he called them gods, &c.] The Jews interpret those words of the Psalmist, "I have said, Ye are gods," to a most ridiculous sense.

"Unless our fathers had sinned, we had never come into the world; as it is written, I have said, 'Ye are gods, and the children of the Most High: but ye have corrupted your doings; therefore ye shall die like men.'" And a little after; "Israel had not received the law, only that the angel of death might not rule over them; as it is said, 'I have said, Ye are gods: but ye have corrupted your doings; therefore ye shall die like men.'"

The sense is, If those who stood before mount Sinai had not sinned in the matter of the golden calf, they had not begot children, nor had been subject to death, but had been like the angels. So the Gloss: "If our fathers had not sinned by the golden calf, we had never come into the world; for they would have been like the angels, and had never begot ten children."

The Psalmist indeed speaks of the magistracy, to whom the word of God hath arrived, ordaining and deputing them to the government by an express dispensation and diploma, as the whole web and contexture of the psalm doth abundantly shew. But if we apply the words as if they were spoken by our Saviour according to the common interpretation received amongst them, they fitly argue thus: "If he said they were angels or gods, to whom the law and word of God came on mount Sinai, as you conceive; is it any blasphemy in me then, whom God in a peculiar manner hath sanctified and sent into the world that I might declare his word and will, if I say that I am the Son of God?"

40. And went away again beyond Jordan into the place where John at first baptized; and there he abode.

[Where John at first baptized.] That is, Bethabara: for the evangelist speaks according to his own history: which to the judicious reader needs no proof.