Matthew 8 Bible Commentary

John Lightfoot’s Bible Commentary

(Read all of Matthew 8)
2. And, behold, there came a leper and worshipped him, saying, Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean.

[Thou canst make me clean.] The doctrine in the law concerning leprosy paints out very well the doctrine of sin.

I. It teacheth, that no creature is so unclean by a touch as man. Yea, it may with good reason be asked, whether any creature, while it lived, was unclean to the touch, beside man? That is often repeated in the Talmudists, that "he that takes a worm in his hand, all the waters of Jordan cannot wash him from his uncleanness"; that is, while the worm is as yet in his hand; or the worm being cast away, not until the time appointed for such purification be expired. But whether it is to be understood of a living or dead worm, it is doubted, not without cause, since the law, treating of this matter, speaketh only of those things that died of themselves. See Leviticus 11:31: "Whosoever shall touch them when they be dead," &c.: and verse 32, "Upon whatsoever any of them, when they are dead, shall fall," &c. But whether he speaks of a living worm, or a dead, uncleanness followed by the touch of it for that day only: for "he shall be unclean (saith the law) until the evening": but the carcase of a man being touched, a week's uncleanness followed. See Numbers 19.

II. Among all the uncleannesses of men, leprosy was the greatest, inasmuch as other uncleannesses separated the unclean person, or rendered him unclean, for a day, or a week, or a month; but the leprosy, perhaps, for ever.

III. When the leper was purified, the leprosy was not healed: but the poison of the disease being evaporated, and the danger of the contagion gone, the leper was restored to the public congregation. Gehazi, the servant of Elisha, was adjudged to perpetual leprosy; and yet he was cleansed, and conversed with the king (2 Kings 8:5); cleanse, not healed. Thus under justification and sanctification there remain still the seeds and filth of sin.

IV. He that was full of the leprosy was pronounced clean; he that was otherwise, was not. Leviticus 13:12; "If the leprosy shall cover the whole body from head to foot, thou shalt pronounce him clean," &c. A law certainly to be wondered at! Is he not clean, till the whole body be infected and covered with the leprosy? Nor shalt thou, O sinner, be made clean without the like condition. Either acknowledge thyself all over leprous, or thou shalt not be cleansed.

3. And Jesus put forth his hand, and touched him, saying, I will; be thou clean. And immediately his leprosy was cleansed.

[Jesus touched him.] It was indeed a wonder, that when the leprosy was a creeping infection, the priest, when he judged of it, was not hurt with the infection. It cannot be passed over without observation, that Aaron, being bound under the same guilt with Miriam, bore not the same punishment: for she was touched with leprosy, he not, Numbers 12. And also that Uzziah should be confuted concerning his encroaching upon the priesthood no other way than by the plague of leprosy. In him God would magnify the priesthood, that was to judge of the leprosy; and he would shew the other was no priest, by his being touched with the leprosy. It can scarcely be denied, indeed, that the priests sometimes might be touched with that plague; but certainly they catched not the contagion while they were doing their office in judging of it. This is a noble doctrine of our High Priest, the Judge and Physician of our leprosy, while he remains wholly untouched by it. How much does he surpass that miracle of the Levitical priesthood! They were not touched by the contagion when they touched the leprous person; he, by his touch, heals him that hath the infection.

4. And Jesus saith unto him, See thou tell no man; but go thy way, show thyself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses commanded, for a testimony unto them.

[Go, shew thyself to the priest, &c.] I. Our Saviour would not have the extraordinary manner whereby he was healed discovered to the priest, that he might pay the ordinary duty of his cleansing. And surely it deserves no slight consideration, that he sends him to the priest. However now the priesthood was too degenerate both from its institution and its office, yet he would reserve to it its privileges, while he would reserve the priesthood itself. Corruption, indeed, defiles a divine institution, but extinguishes it not.

II. Those things which at that time were to be done in cleansing of the leprosy, according to the Rubric, were these: "Let him bring three beasts: that is, a sacrifice for sin, a sacrifice for transgression, and a burnt-offering. But a poor man brought a sacrifice for sin of birds, and a burnt-offering of birds. He stands by the sacrifice for transgression, and lays both his hands upon it, and slays it: and two priests receive the blood; the one in a vessel, the other in his hand. He who receives the blood in his hand goes to the leper in the chamber of the lepers": this was in the corner of the Court of the Women, looking north-west. "He placeth him in the gate of Nicanor," the east gate of the Court of Israel; "he stretcheth forth his head within the court, and puts blood upon the lowest part of his ear: he stretcheth out his hand also within the court, and he puts blood upon his thumb and his foot, and he puts blood also upon his great toe, &c. And the other adds oil to the same members in the same place," &c. The reason why, with his neck held out, he so thrust forth his head and ears into the court, you may learn from the Glosser: "The gate of Nicanor (saith he) was between the Court of the Women and the Court of Israel: but now it was not lawful for any to enter into the Court of Israel for whom there was not a perfect expiation: and, on the contrary, it was not lawful to carry the blood of the sacrifice for transgression out of the court." Hence was that invention, that the leper that was to be cleansed should stand without the court; and yet his ears, his thumbs, and his toes, to which the blood was to be applied, were within the court. We omit saying more; it is enough to have produced these things, whence it may be observed what things they were that our Saviour sent back this healed person to do.

The cure was done in Galilee, and thence he is sent away to Jerusalem; silence and sacrifice are enjoined him: See thou tell no man, &c.: and offer the gift, &c. And why all these things?

First, Christ makes trial of the obedience and gratitude of him that was cured, laying upon him the charge of a sacrifice and the labour of a journey.

Secondly, He would have him restored to the communion of the church (from which his leprosy had separated him), after the wonted and instituted manner. He provides that he himself give no scandal, and the person healed make no schism: and however both his words and gestures sufficiently argue that he believed in Christ, yet Christ will by no means draw him from the communion of the church, but restore him to it. Hence is that command of his to him; "See thou tell no man, but offer a gift for a testimony to them": that is, 'Do not boast the extraordinary manner of thy healing; think not thyself freed from the bond of the law, in case of a leper, because of it; thrust not thyself into the communion of the church before the rites of admission be duly performed: but, however you have no business with the priest in reference to the purification and cleansing, go to the priest nevertheless, and offer the gift that is due, for a testimony that you are again restored into communion with them.' This caution of our Saviour hath the same tendency with that, Matthew 17:27, "That we be not an offence to them," &c.

6. And saying, Lord, my servant lieth at home sick of the palsy, grievously tormented.

[Lieth] Laid forth. Thus, A dead man laid forth, in order to his being carried out. The power and dominion of the disease is so expressed. The weak person lieth so, that he is moved only by others; he cannot move himself, but is, as it were, next door to carrying out. So, verse 14, of Peter's mother-in-law, was laid, and sick of a fever.

16. When the even was come, they brought unto him many that were possessed with devils: and he cast out the spirits with his word, and healed all that were sick:

[When the even was come.] Mark adds, when the sun was now set, and the sabbath was now gone.

I. The sabbath was ended by the Jews at the supper, or the feast. In which they used a candle (as they did upon the entrance of the sabbath), and wine, and spices; and the form of a blessing over a cup of wine, and then over the candle, and then over the spices: "Does the sabbath end when he is now in the middle of his feast? He puts an end to his eating; washes his hands; and over a cup of wine he gives thanks for his food; and afterward over that cup he useth the form of prayer in the separation of the sabbath from a common day: if he be now drinking when the sabbath goes out, he ceaseth from drinking, and recites the form of separation, and then returns to his drinking."

II. The proper limits of the sabbath were from sun-set to sun-set. This is sufficiently intimated by St. Mark, when he saith, that when the sun was now set, they brought the sick to be healed: which they held unlawful to do while the sun was yet going down, and the sabbath yet present.

The Talmudic canons give a caution of some works, that they be not begun on the day before the sabbath, if they may not be ended and finished, while it is yet day: that is (as they explain it), while the sun is not yet set. He that lights a [sabbath] candle, let him light it while it is yet day, before sun-set. "On the sabbath-eve it is permitted to work until sun-set." The entrance of the sabbath was at sun-set, and so was the end of it.

III. After the setting of sun, a certain space was called Bin Hashmashuth: concerning which these things are disputed; "What is Bin Hashmashuth? R. Tanchuma saith, It is like a drop of blood put upon the very edge of a sword, which divides itself every where. What is Bin Hashmashuth? It is from that time when the sun sets, whilst one may walk half a mile. R. Josi saith, Bin Hashmashuth is like a wink of the eye," &c. Bin Hashmashuth properly signifies, between the suns: and the manner of speech seems to be drawn thence, that there are said to be two sun-sets. Concerning which, read the Glosser upon Maimonides. Where thus also Maimonides himself: "From the time that the sun sets till the three middle stars appear, it is called between the suns: and it is a doubt whether that time be part of the day or of the night. However, they every where judge of it to render the office heavy. Therefore, between that time they do not light the sabbatical candle: and whosoever shall do any servile work on the sabbath-eve, and in the going out of the sabbath, is bound to offer a sacrifice for sin." So also the Jerusalem Talmudists in the place last cited: "Does one star appear? Certainly, as yet it is day. Do two? It is doubted whether it be day. Do three? It is night without doubt." And a line after; "On the sabbath-eve, if any work after one star seen, he is clear: if after two, he is bound to a sacrifice for a transgression; if after three, he is bound to a sacrifice for sin. Likewise, in the going out of the sabbath, if he do any work after one star is seen, he is bound to a sacrifice for sin; if after two, to a sacrifice for transgression: if after three, he is clear."

Hence you may see at what time they brought persons here to Christ to be healed, namely, in the going out of the sabbath; if so be they took care of the canonical hour of the nation, which is not to be doubted of.

17. That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Esaias the prophet, saying, Himself took our infirmities, and bare our sicknesses.

[Himself took our infirmities.] Divers names of the Messias are produced by the Talmudists, among others "The Rabbins say, His name is, 'The leper of the house of Rabbi': as it is said, Certainly he bare our infirmities," &c. And a little after, "Rabh saith, If Messias be among the living, Rabbenu Haccodesh is he." The Gloss is, "If Messias be of them that are now alive, certainly our holy Rabbi is he, as being one that carries infirmities," &c. R. Judah, whom they called 'the Holy,' underwent very many sicknesses (of whom, and of his sicknesses, you have the story in the Talmud, "thirteen years Rabbi laboured under the pain of the teeth," &c.); because of which there were some who were pleased to account him for the Messias; because, according to the prophets, Messias should be 'a man of sorrows': and yet they look for him coming in pomp.

This allegation of Matthew may seem somewhat unsuitable and different from the sense of the prophet: for Isaiah speaks of the Messias carrying our infirmities in himself; but Matthew speaks concerning him healing them in others: Isaiah of the diseases of the soul (see 1 Peter 2:24); Matthew of the diseases of the body. But in this sense both agree very well, that Christ's business was with our infirmities and sorrows, and he was able to manage that business: his part was to carry and bear them, and in him was strength and power to carry and bear them. In this sense, therefore, is Matthew to be understood; he healed the demoniacs and all diseased persons with his word, that that of Isaiah might be fulfilled, He it is who is able to bear and carry our sorrows and sicknesses. And so, whether you apply the words to the diseases of the mind or the body, a plain sense by an equal easiness does arise. The sense of Isaiah reacheth indeed further; namely, That Messias himself shall be a man of sorrows, &c., but not excluding that which we have mentioned, which Matthew very fitly retains, as excellently well suiting with his case.

28. And when he was come to the other side into the country of the Gergesenes, there met him two possessed with devils, coming out of the tombs, exceeding fierce, so that no man might pass by that way.

[Into the country of the Gergesenes.] In Mark and Luke it is, of the Gadarenes, both very properly: for it was the city Gadara, whence the country had its name: there was also Gergasa, a city or a town within that country; which whether it bare its name from the ancient Canaanite stock of the Gergashites, or from the word Gargushta, which signifies clay or dirt, we leave to the more learned to discuss. Lutetia, [Paris], a word of such a nature, may be brought for an example.

[Two possessed with devils coming out of the tombs, &c.] "These are the signs of a madman. He goes out in the night, and lodges among the sepulchres, and teareth his garments, and tramples upon whatsoever is given him. R. Houna saith, But is he only mad in whom all these signs are? I say, Not. He that goes out in the night is condriacus, hypochondriacal. He that lodgeth a night among the tombs burns incense to devils. He that tears his garments is melancholic. And he that tramples under his feet whatsoever is given him is cardiacus, troubled in mind." And a little after, "one while he is mad, another while he is well: while he is mad, he is to be esteemed for a madman in respect of all his actions: while he is well, he is to be esteemed for one that is his own man in all respects." See what we say at chapter 17:15.

30. And there was a good way off from them an herd of many swine feeding.

[A herd of many swine feeding.] Were these Gadarenes Jews, or heathens?

I. It was a matter of infamy for a Jew to keep swine: "R. Jonah had a very red face, which a certain woman seeing said thus, Seignior, Seignior, either you are a winebibber, or a usurer, or a keeper of hogs."

II. It was forbidden by the canon: "The wise men forbade to keep hogs anywhere, and a dog, unless he were chained." Hogs upon a twofold account: 1. By reason of the hurt and damage that they would bring to other men's fields. Generally, "the keeping smaller cattle was forbid in the land of Israel"; among which you may very well reckon hogs even in the first place: and the reason is given by the Gemarists, "That they break not into other men's grounds." 2. The feeding of hogs is more particularly forbidden for their uncleanness. It is forbidden to trade in any thing that is unclean.

III. Yea, it was forbid under a curse: "The wise men say, Cursed is he that keeps dogs and swine; because from them ariseth much harm."

"Let no man keep hogs anywhere. The Rabbins deliver: When the Asmonean family were in hostility among themselves, Hyrcanus was besieged within Jerusalem, and Aristobulus was without. The besieged sent money in a box let down by a rope; and they which were without bought with it the daily sacrifices, which were drawn up by those that were within. Among the besiegers there was one skilled in the Greek learning, who said, 'As long as they thus perform the service of the Temple, they will not be delivered into your hands.' The next day, therefore, they let down their money, and these sent them back a hog. When the hog was drawing up, and came to the middle of the wall, he fixed his hoofs to the wall, and the land of Israel was shaken, &c. From that time they said, 'Cursed be he who keeps hogs, and cursed be he who teacheth his son the wisdom of the Greeks.'" This story is cited in Menachoth.

Therefore you will wonder, and not without cause, at that which is related in their Talmud: "They said sometimes to Rabh Judah, There is a plague among the swine. He therefore appointed a fast." What! is a Jew concerned for a plague among swine? But the reason is added: "For Rabh Judah thought that a stroke laid upon one kind of cattle would invade all."

You may not, therefore, improperly guess, that these hogs belonged not to the Jews, but to the heathen dwelling among the Gadarene Jews; for such a mixture was very usual in the cities and countries of the land of Israel. Which we observe elsewhere of the town Susitha or Hippo, but some small distance from Gadara.

Or if you grant that they were Jews, their manners will make that opinion probable, as being persons whose highest law the purse and profit was wont to be. Since brawn and swine's flesh were of so great account with the Romans and other heathens, there is no reason to believe that a Jew was held so straitly by his canons, as to value them before his own profit, when there was hope of gain.