Matthew 9 Bible Commentary

John Lightfoot’s Bible Commentary

(Read all of Matthew 9)
9. And as Jesus passed forth from thence, he saw a man, named Matthew, sitting at the receipt of custom: and he saith unto him, Follow me. And he arose, and followed him.

[He saw a man sitting at the receipt of custom, called Matthew.] Five disciples of Christ are mentioned by the Talmudists, among whom Matthew seems to be named: "The Rabbins deliver, There were five disciples of Jesus, Mathai, Nakai, Nezer, and Boni, and Thodah." These, they relate, were led out and killed. See the place. Perhaps five are only mentioned by them, because five of the disciples were chiefly employed among the Jews in Judea: namely, Matthew who wrote his Gospel there, Peter, James, John, and Judas.

Matthew seems to have sat in the custom-house of Capernaum near the sea, to gather some certain toll or rate of those that sailed over. See Mark, chapter 2:13, 14.

"He that produceth paper [on the Sabbath] in which a publican's note is writ, and he that produceth a publican's note, is guilty." The Gloss is, "When any pays tribute to the lord of the river, or when he excuses him his tribute, he certifies the publican by a note [or some bill of free commerce], that he hath remitted him his duty: and it was customary in it to write two letters greater than ours." See also the Gemara there.

14. Then came to him the disciples of John, saying, Why do we and the Pharisees fast oft, but thy disciples fast not?

[We and the Pharisees fast oft.] Monsters, rather than stories, are related of the Pharisees' fasts:--

I. It is known to all, from Luke 18:12, that they were wont to fast twice every week. The rise of which custom you may fetch from this tradition: "Ezra decreed ten decrees. He appointed the public reading of the law the second and fifth days of the week: and again on the sabbath at the Mincha [or evening service]. He instituted the session of the judges in cities on the second and fifth days of the week," &c. Of this matter discourse is had elsewhere: "If you ask the reason why the decree was made concerning the second and fifth days, &c., we must answer, saith the Gloss, from that which is said in Midras concerning Moses; namely, that he went up into the mount to receive the second tables on the fifth day of the week, and came down, God being now appeased, the second day. When, therefore, that ascent and descent was a time of grace, they so determined of the second and fifth days. And therefore they were wont to fast also on the second and fifth days."

II. It was not seldom that they enjoined themselves fasts, for this end, to have lucky dreams; or to attain the interpretation of some dream; or to turn away the ill import of a dream. Hence was that expression very usual, A fast for a dream; and it was a common proverb, A fast is as fit for a dream, as fire is for flax. For this cause it was allowed to fast on the sabbath, which otherwise was forbidden. See the Babylonian Talmud, in the tract Schabbath: where also we meet with the story of R. Joshua Bar Rabh Idai, who on the sabbath was splendidly received by R. Ishai, but would not eat because he was under a fast for a dream.

III. They fasted often to obtain their desires: "R. Josi fasted eighty fasts, and R. Simeon Ben Lachish three hundred for this end, that they might see R. Chaijah Rubbah." And often to avert threatening evils; of which fasts the tract Taanith does largely treat. Let one example be enough instead of many; and that is, of R. Zadok, who for forty years, that is, from the time when the gates of the Temple opened of their own accord (a sign of the destruction coming), did so mortify himself with fastings, that he was commonly called Chalsha, that is, The weak. And when the city was now destroyed, and he saw it was in vain to fast any longer, he used the physicians of Titus to restore his health, which, through too much abstinence, had been wasted.

15. And Jesus said unto them, Can the children of the bridechamber mourn, as long as the bridegroom is with them? but the days will come, when the bridegroom shall be taken from them, and then shall they fast.

[The children of the bridechamber.] The sons of the bridechamber, an ordinary phrase. There is no need to relate their mirth in the time of the nuptials: I will relate that only, and it is enough, which is spoke by the Glosser, They were wont to break glass vessels in weddings And that for this reason, that they might by this action set bounds to their mirth, lest they should run out into too much excess. The Gemara produceth one or two stories there: "Mar the son of Rabbena made wedding feasts for his son, and invited the Rabbins: and when he saw that their mirth exceeded its bounds, he brought forth a glass cup worth four hundred zuzees, and brake it before them; whereupon they became sad." The like story is also related of Rabh Ishai. And the reason of this action is given; Because it is forbidden a man to fill his mouth with laughter in this world.

...the days of the bridechamber, to the sons of the bridechamber, that is, to the friends and acquaintance, were seven: hence there is frequent mention of "the seven days of the marriage-feast": but to the bride, the days of the bridechamber were thirty. It is forbidden to eat, drink, wash or anoint oneself on the day of Expiation: But it is allowed a king and a bride to wash their faces "For the bride is to be made handsome (saith the Gloss upon the place), that she may be lovely to her husband. And all the thirty days of her bridechamber she is called The Bride."

It is worth meditation, how the disciples, when Christ was with them, suffered no persecution at all; but when he was absent, all manner of persecution overtook them.

18. While he spake these things unto them, behold, there came a certain ruler, and worshipped him, saying, My daughter is even now dead: but come and lay thy hand upon her, and she shall live.

[Behold, a ruler.] Distinction is made between the bishop of the congregation, and the head of the congregation. For while the discourse is there of the high priest reading a certain portion of the law on the day of Expiation agreeable to the day, thus it is said, The bishop of the synagogue takes the book of the law, and gives it to the ruler of the synagogue. Where the Gloss thus, "The synagogue was in the mount of the Temple, near the court [which is worthy to be marked]: The Chazan [or bishop, or overseer] of the synagogue is the minister: and the ruler of the synagogue is he by whose command the affairs of the synagogue are appointed; namely, who shall read the prophet, who shall recite the phylacteries, who shall pass before the ark."

Of this order and function was Jairus, in the synagogue of Capernaum: so that the word ruler, being understood in this sense, admits of little obscurity, although one, or a certain, be not there: "he speaking these words, 'Behold, the ruler of that synagogue,'" &c.

20. And, behold, a woman, which was diseased with an issue of blood twelve years, came behind him, and touched the hem of his garment:

[Diseased with an issue of blood.] Zeba, in Talmudic language. The Talmudic tract may serve for a commentary here.

These things were acted in the streets of Capernaum: for there Matthew lived, and there Jairus also: and in his passage from the house of the one to the house of the other, this diseased woman met him. Weigh the story well, and you will easily judge what is to be thought of that story concerning the statues of this woman and Christ, set up at Paneas, or Caesarea Philippi: of which Eusebius speaks.

23. And when Jesus came into the ruler's house, and saw the minstrels and the people making a noise,

[Seeing the minstrels.] Dion Cassius concerning the funeral of Augustus: "Tiberius, and Drusus his son,...sacrificed frankincense themselves; but they used not a minstrel.

Even the poorest among the Israelites [his wife being dead], will afford her not less than two pipes, and one woman to make lamentation.

"He that hireth an ass-keeper, or a waggoner, to bring pipes, either for a bride, or for a dead person": that is, either for a wedding, or a funeral.

"The husband is bound to bury his dead wife, and to make lamentations and mournings for her, according to the custom of all countries. And also the very poorest among the Israelites will afford her not less than two pipes and one lamenting woman: but if he be rich, let all things be done according to his quality."

"If an idolater bring pipes on the sabbath to the house where anyone is dead, an Israelite shall not lament at those pipes."

This multitude was got together on a sudden: neighbours, for civility's sake; minstrels, perhaps for the sake of gain; both the more officious in this business, as we may guess, by how much the parents of the deceased maid were of more eminent quality. She died, when Christ, together with Jairus, was going forward to the house (Mark 5:35); and yet, behold what a solemn meeting and concourse there was to lament her. There were two things which, in such cases, afforded an occasion to much company to assemble themselves to the house of mourning:

First, some, as it is very probable, resorted thither to eat and drink: for at such a time some banqueting was used. "A tradition. They drink ten cups in the house of mourning; two before meat, five while they are eating, and three after meat." And a little after: "When Rabban Simeon Ben Gamaliel died, they added three more. But when the Sanhedrim saw that hence they became drunk, they made a decree against this."

Secondly, others came to perform their duty of charity and neighbourhood: for they accounted it the highest instance of respect to lament the dead, to prepare things for the burial, to take care of the funeral, to put themselves under the bier, and to contribute other things needful for that solemnity with all diligence. Hence they appropriated The rendering [or bestowing] of mercies to this duty, in a peculiar sense, above all other demonstrations of charity; "One of the disciples of the wise men died, and mercy was not yielded him": that is, no care was taken of his funeral. "But a certain publican died, and the whole city left off work to yield him mercy."

Mourning for the dead is distinguished by the Jewish schools into Aninuth, and Ebluth. Aninuth was on the day of the funeral only, or until the corpse was carried out; and then began Ebluth, and lasted for thirty days. Of these mournings take these few passages: "He that hath his dead laid out before him, and it is not in his power to bury him, useth not Aninuth [that kind of mourning]. For example: If any die in prison, and the magistrate [or governor of the place], permits not his burial, he that is near of kin to him is not bound to that mourning which is called Aninuth," &c. And the reason is given a little after; namely, because he who hath his dead laid out before him, or upon whom the care of his burial lies, is forbidden to eat flesh, to drink wine, to eat with others, to eat in the same house (under which prohibition, thou, Jairus, now art), and he was free from reciting his phylacteries, and from prayer, and from all such-like precepts of the law. "But when the funeral is carried out of the door of the house, then presently begins the mourning called Ebluth." From thence he is free from the foregoing prohibitions, and now is subject to others. Hence,

1. The bending down of the beds; of which the Talmudists speak very much: "From what time (say they) are the beds bended? from that time the dead body is carried out of the gate of the court of the house; or, as R. Josua, From such time, as the grave-stone is stopped up": for so it is commonly rendered; but the Gloss somewhere, the cover, or the uppermost board of the bier. What this bending of the beds should mean, you may observe from those things which are spoken in the tract Beracoth: "Whence is the bending of the beds? R. Crispa, in the name of R. Jochanan saith, From thence, because it is said, And they sat with him to the earth (Job 2:13). It is not said, 'upon the earth,' but 'to the earth': it denotes a thing not far from the earth. Hence it is that they sat upon beds bended down."

2. "He that laments all the thirty days is forbidden to do his work; and so his sons, and his daughters, and servants, and maids, and cattle," &c.

These things concerned him to whom the dead person did belong. His friends and neighbours did their parts also, both in mourning, and in care of the funeral, employing themselves in that affair by an officious diligence, both out of duty and friendship. "Whosoever sees a dead corpse (say they), and does not accommodate [or accompany] him to his burial, is guilty of that which is said, 'He that mocketh the poor reproacheth his Maker,' &c. But now (say they) no man is so poor as the dead man," &c.

24. He said unto them, Give place: for the maid is not dead, but sleepeth. And they laughed him to scorn.

[The maid is not dead, but sleepeth.] It was very ordinary among them to express the death of any one by the word which properly signifies to sleep. When N. slept; that is, when he died: a phrase to be met with hundreds of times in the Talmudists. And this whole company would say, The daughter of Jairus sleeps; that is, she is dead. Therefore it is worthy considering what form of speech Christ here used. The Syriac hath, She is not dead, but asleep.

33. And when the devil was cast out, the dumb spake: and the multitudes marvelled, saying, It was never so seen in Israel.

[It was never so seen in Israel.] These words seem to refer, not to that peculiar miracle only that was then done, but to all his miracles. Consider how many were done in that one day, yea, in the afternoon. Christ dines at Capernaum with Matthew: having dined, the importunity of Jairus calls him away: going with Jairus, the woman with the issue of blood meets him, and is healed: coming to Jarius' house, he raiseth his dead daughter: returning to his own house (for he had a dwelling at Capernaum), two blind men meet him in the streets, cry out Messias after him, follow him home, and they are cured. As they were going out of the house, a dumb demoniac enters, and is healed. The multitude, therefore, could not but cry out, with very good reason, "Never had any such thing appeared in Israel."

34. But the Pharisees said, He casteth out devils through the prince of the devils.

[Through the prince of the devils, &c.] See the notes at chapter 12:24.