Bible Commentary in 8 Volumes
The Gospel According to St. Matthew
Notes on Chapter 8
Verse 1. From the mountain— That mountain on which he had delivered the preceding inimitable sermon.
Great multitudes followed him.— Having been deeply impressed with the glorious doctrines which they had just heard.
Verse 2. And, behold, there came a leper— The leprosy lepra, from lepiv, a scale, was an inveterate cutaneous disease, appearing in dry, thin, white scurfy scales or scabs, either on the whole body, or on some part of it, usually attended with violent itching, and often with great pain. The eastern leprosy was a distemper of the most loathsome kind, highly contagious, so as to infect garments, (Leviticus 13:47, etc.,) and houses, (Leviticus 14:34, etc.,) and was deemed incurable by any human means. Among the Jews, GOD alone was applied to for its removal; and the cure was ever attributed to his sovereign power.
The various symptoms of this dreadful disorder, which was a striking emblem of sin, may be seen in Leviticus 13:14:, where also may be read the legal ordinances concerning it; which, as on the one hand, they set forth how odious sin is to God, so, on the other, they represent the cleansing of our pollutions by the sacrifice and resurrection of Christ, by the sprinkling and application of his blood, and by the sanctifying and healing influences of the Holy Spirit.
The Greek name lepra, seems to have been given to this distemper, on account of the thin, white SCALES (lepidev) with which the bodies of the leprous were sometimes so covered as to give them the appearance of snow, Exodus 4:6; Numbers 12:10; 2 Kings 5:27.
Herodotus, lib. 1, mentions this disorder as existing, in his time, among the Persians. He calls it leukhn, the white scab; and says, that those who were affected with it were prohibited from mingling with the other citizens; and so dreadful was this malady esteemed among them that they considered it a punishment on the person, from their great god, the sun, for some evil committed against him. Dr. Mead mentions a remarkable case of this kind which came under his own observation. “A countryman whose whole body was so miserably seized with it that his skin was shining as covered with flakes of snow, and as the furfuraceous or bran-like scales were daily rubbed off, the flesh appeared quick or raw underneath.” See the doctor’s Medica Sacra, chap. 2. It was probably on account of its tendency to produce this disorder, in that warm climate, that God forbade the use of swine’s flesh to the Jews. Feeding on this crude aliment, in union with the intemperate use of ardent spirits, is, in all likelihood, the grand cause of the scurvy, which is so common in the British nations, and which would probably assume the form and virulence of a leprosy, were our climate as hot as that of Judea. See the notes on “Exodus 4:6”, and on Leviticus 13: and 14.
Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean.— As this leper may be considered as a fit emblem of the corruption of man by sin; so may his cure, of the redemption of the soul by Christ. A sinner, truly penitent, seeks God with a respectful faith; approaches him in the spirit of adoration; humbles himself under his mighty hand, acknowledging the greatness of his fall, and the vileness of his sin; his prayer, like that of the leper, should be humble, plain, and full of confidence in that God who can do all things, and of dependence upon his will or mercy, from which all good must be derived. It is peculiar to God that he need only will what he intends to perform. His power is his will. The ability of God to do what is necessary to be done, and his willingness to make his creatures happy, should be deeply considered by all those who approach him in prayer. The leper had no doubt of the former, but he was far from being equally satisfied in respect of the latter.
Verse 3. Jesus put forth his hand-I will; be thou clean.— The most sovereign authority is assumed in this speech of our blessed Lord-I WILL: there is here no supplication of any power superior to his own; and the event proved to the fullest conviction, and by the clearest demonstration, that his authority was absolute, and his power unlimited. Be thou cleansed, kaqarisqhti; a single word is enough.
And immediately his leprosy was cleansed.— What an astonishing sight! A man whose whole body was covered over with the most loathsome disease, cleansed from it in a moment of time! Was it possible for any soul to resist the evidence of this fact? This action of Christ is a representation of that invisible hand which makes itself felt by the most insensible heart; of that internal word which makes itself heard by the most deaf; and of that supreme will which works every thing according to its own counsel.
Verse 4. Jesus saith-See thou tell no man— Had our Lord, at this early period, fully manifested himself as the Messiah, the people in all likelihood would have proclaimed him King; this, however, refused by him, must have excited the hatred of the Jewish rulers, and the jealousy of the Roman government; and, speaking after the manner of men, his farther preachings and miracles must have been impeded. This alone seems to be the reason why he said to the leper, See thou tell no man.
Show thyself to the priest— This was to conform to the law instituted in this case, Leviticus 14:1, etc.
Offer the gift— This gift was two living, clean birds, some cedar wood, with scarlet and hyssop, Leviticus 14:4, which were to be brought for his cleansing; and, when clean, two he lambs, one ewe lamb, three tenth deals of flour, and one log of oil, Leviticus 14:10; but if the person was poor, then he was to bring one lamb, one tenth deal of flour, one log of oil and two turtle doves, or young pigeons, Leviticus 14:21, 22. See the notes on Leviticus 14.
Now all this was to be done for a testimony to them; to prove that this leper, who was doubtless well known in the land, had been thoroughly cleansed; and thus, in this private way, to give full proof to the priesthood that Jesus was the true Messiah. The Jewish rabbins allowed that curing the lepers should be a characteristic of the Messiah; (see Bishop Chandler’s Vindication;) therefore the obstinacy of the priests, etc., in rejecting Christ, was utterly inexcusable.
Verse 5. Capernaum— See “Matthew 4:13”.
A centurion— ekatontarcov. A Roman military officer who had the command of one hundred men.
Verse 6. Lord— Rather, Sir, for so the word kurie should always be translated when a Roman is the speaker.
Lieth at home— beblhtai, lieth all along; intimating that the disease had reduced him to a state of the utmost impotence, through the grievous torments with which it was accompanied.
Sick of the palsy— Or paralytic. See “Matthew 4:24”. This centurion did not act as many masters do when their servants are afflicted, have them immediately removed to an infirmary, often to a work-house; or sent home to friends or relatives, who probably either care nothing for them, or are unable to afford them any of the comforts of life. In case of a contagious disorder, it may be necessary to remove an infected person to such places as are best calculated to cure the distemper, and prevent the spread of the contagion. But, in all common cases, the servant should be considered as a child, and receive the same friendly attention. If, by a hasty, unkind, and unnecessary removal, the servant die, are not the master and mistress murderers before God?
Verse 7. I will come and heal him.— egw eloqwn qerapeusw auton, I am coming, and will heal him. This saying is worthy of observation. Jesus did not positively say, I will came and heal him; this could not have been strictly true, because our Lord healed him without going to the house: and the issue shows that the words ought to be taken in the most literal sense: thus understood, they contained a promise which it seems none of them distinctly comprehended. Foreseeing the exercise of the centurion’s faith, he promises that while he is coming, ere he arrives at the house, he will heal him, and this was literally done, Matthew 8:13. There is much beauty in this passage.
Verse 8. But speak the word only— Or instead of eipe logon read eipe logw, speak by word or command. This reading is supported by the most extensive evidence from MSS., versions, and fathers. See here the pattern of that living faith and genuine humility which ought always to accompany the prayer of a sinner: Jesus can will away the palsy, and speak away the most grievous torments. The first degree of humility is to acknowledge the necessity of God’s mercy, and our own inability to help ourselves: the second, to confess the freeness of his grace, and our own utter unworthiness. Ignorance, unbelief, and presumption will ever retard our spiritual cure.
Verse 9. For I am a man under authority— That is, under the authority of others. This verse has given considerable embarrassment to commentators and critics. I believe the paraphrase given above to be the true meaning of the evangelist. To make this matter more plain, let it be observed, that the Roman foot was divided into three grand parts, Hastati, Principes, and Triarii. Each of these grand divisions was composed of thirty manipuli or companies; and every manipulus made two centuries or companies of one hundred men. Every manipulus had two centurions; but these were very far from being equal in rank and honor, though possessing the very same office. The Triarii and Principes were esteemed the most honorable, and had their centurions elected first; and these first elected centurions took precedency of the centurions of the Hastati, who were elected last. The centurion in the text was probably one of this last order; he was under the authority of either the Principes or Triarii, and had none under him but the hundred men whom he commanded, and who appear to have been in a state of the most loving subjection to him. The argument of the centurion seems to run thus. If I, who am a person subject to the control of others, yet have some so completely subject to myself, that I can say to one, Come, and he cometh, to another, Go, and he goeth, and to my slave (tw doulw mou) Do this, and he doeth it; how much more then canst thou accomplish whatsoever thou willest, being under no control, and having all things under thy command: He makes a proper use of his authority, who, by it, raises his mind to the contemplation of the sovereign power of God, taking occasion from it to humble himself before Him who has all power in heaven and earth, and to expect all good from him.
There are two beautiful passages in Arrian that tend much to illustrate this speech of the centurion. katatageiv agamemnwn, legei moi, poreuou prov ton acillea, kai apospason thn brishida, poreuomai. ercou, ercomai. “He who personates Agamemnon says to me, Go to Achilles, and bring hither Briseis: I go. He says, Come hither: I come.” Dissert. l. i. c. 25. p. 97. otan o qeov eiph toiv futoiv anqein, anqei. otan eiph blastanein, blastanei. otan ekferein ton karpon, ekferei. otan pepainein, pepainei. otan palin apoballein, kai fullorroein, kai auta eiv auta suneiloumena ef/ hsuciav menein, kai anapauesqai, menei kai anapauetai. “When God commands the plants to blossom, they bear blossoms. When he commands them to bear seed, they bear seed. When he commands them to bring forth fruit, they put forth their fruits. When he commands them to ripen, they grow ripe. When he commands them to fade, and shed their leaves, and remain inactive, involved in themselves, they thus remain, and are inactive.” Cap. 14. p. 62. See Raphelius.
This mode of speech fully marks supreme and uncontrolled power, and that power put forth by a sovereign will to effect any purpose of justice or mercy. And God said, let there be light, and there was light, is a similar expression.
Verse 10. I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel.— That is, I have not found so great an instance of confidence and faith in my power, even among the Jews, as this Roman, a Gentile, has shown himself to possess.
From Luke 7:5, where it is said of this centurion, “he loved our nation, and has built us a synagogue,” we may infer that this man was like the centurion mentioned Acts 10:1; a devout Gentile, a proselyte of the gate, one who believed in the God of Israel, without conforming to the Jewish ritual or receiving circumcision. Though the military life is one of the most improper nurses for the Christian religion, yet in all nations there have been found several instances of genuine humility, and faith in God, even in soldiers; and perhaps never more, in the British military, than at present, A. D. 1831.
Verse 11. Many shall come from the east and west— Men of every description, of all countries, and of all professions; and shall sit down, that is, to meat, for this is the proper meaning of anakliqhsontai, intimating the recumbent posture used by the easterns at their meals. The rabbins represent the blessedness of the kingdom of God under the notion of a banquet. See several proofs of this in Schoettgenius. This was spoken to soften the unreasonable prejudices of the Jews, which they entertained against the Gentiles, and to prepare them to receive their brethren of mankind into religious fellowship with themselves, under the Christian dispensation.
With Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob— In the closest communion with the most eminent followers of God. But if we desire to inherit the promises, we must be followers of them who through faith and patience enjoy them. Let us therefore imitate Abraham in his faith, Isaac in his obedience unto death, and Jacob in his hope and expectation of good things to come, amidst all the evils of this life, if we desire to reign with them.
Verse 12. Shall be cast out into outer darkness— As the enjoyment of that salvation which Jesus Christ calls the kingdom of heaven is here represented under the notion of a nuptial festival, at which the guests sat down in a reclining posture, with the master of the feast; so the state of those who were excluded from the banquet is represented as deep darkness; because the nuptial solemnities took place at night. Hence, at those suppers, the house of reception was filled with lights called dadev, lampadev, lukneia, fanoi, torches, lamps, candles, and lanthorns, by Athenaeus and Plutarch: so they who were admitted to the banquet had the benefit of the light; but they who were shut out were in darkness, called here outer darkness, i.e. the darkness on the outside of the house in which the guests were; which must appear more abundantly gloomy, when compared with the profusion of light within the guest-chamber. And because they who were shut out were not only exposed to shame, but also to hunger and cold; therefore it is added, there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. As these feasts are often alluded to by the evangelists, I would observe, once for all:-that they who were invited to them entered by a gate designed to receive them; whence Christ, by whom we enter into the marriage feast, compares himself to a gate, John 10:1, 2, 7, 9. This gate, at the time the guests were to come, was made narrow, the wicket only being left open, and the porter standing there, that they who were not bidden to the marriage might not rush into it. Hence Christ exhorts the Jews to enter in at the strait gate, Matthew 7:13, etc. When all that were invited were once come, the door was presently shut, and was not to be opened to any who came too late, and stood knocking without; so after the wise virgins had entered with the bridegroom, the gate was shut, and was not opened to the foolish virgins, who stood knocking without, Matthew 25:11. And in this sense we are to understand the words of Christ, Luke 13:24, 25. Many shall seek to enter in, but shall not be able. Why? because the master of the house hath risen up and shut to the door; they would not come to him when they might, and now the day of probation is ended, and they must be judged according to the deeds done in the body. See Whitby on the place. How many of those who are called Christians suffer the kingdom, the graces, and the salvation which they had in their hands, to be lost; while West-India negroes, American Indians, Hindoo polytheists, and atheistic Hottentots obtain salvation! An eternity of darkness, fears, and pains, for comparatively a moment of sensual gratification, how terrible the thought! What outer darkness, or to skotov to exwteron, that darkness, that which is outermost, may refer to, in eternal damnation, is hard to say: what it alludes to I have already mentioned: but as the words brugmov twn odontwn, gnashing or CHATTERING of teeth, convey the idea, not only of extreme anguish, but of extreme cold; some have imagined that the punishment of the damned consists in sudden transitions from extreme heat to extreme cold; the extremes of both I have found to produce exactly the same sensation.
MILTON happily describes this in the following inimitable verses, which a man can scarcely read, even at midsummer, without shivering.
Beyond this flood a frozen continent
Lies dark and wild, heat with perpetual storms
Of whirlwind and dire hail
— the parching air
Burns frore, and cold performs the effect of fire
Thither by harpy-footed furies haled,
At certain revolutions all the damn’d
Are brought; and feel by turns the bitter change
Of fierce extremes, extremes by change more fierce,
From beds of raging fire, to starve in ice,
— and there to pine
Immovable, infix’d, and frozen round
Periods of time; thence hurried back to fire
Parad. Lost, book ii. line 586
There is a passage in the Vulgate, Job 24:19, that might have helped Milton to this idea. Ad nimium calorem transeat ab aquis nivium. “Let him pass to excessive heat, from waters of snow.” This reading, which is found only in this form in the Vulgate, is vastly expressive. Every body knows that snow water feels colder than snow itself, even when both are of the same temperature, viz. 32, because the human body, when in contact with snow water, cools quicker than when in contact with snow. Another of our poets has given us a most terrible description of perdition on the same ground.
The once pamper’d spirit
To bathe in fiery floods, or to reside
In thrilling regions of thick-ribbed ice;
To be imprison’d in the viewless winds,
And blown with restless violence round about
This pendant world; or to be worse than worst
Of those that lawless and incertain thoughts
Similar to this is that dreadful description of the torments of the wicked given in the Institutes of Menu: “The wicked shall have a sensation of agony in Tamisra, or utter darkness, and in other seats of horror; in Asipatrauana, or the sword-leaved forest, and in different places of binding fast, and of rending: multifarious tortures await them: they shall be mangled by ravens and owls, and shall swallow cakes boiling hot, and shall walk over inflamed sands, and shall feel the pangs of being baked like the vessels of a potter: they shall assume the forms of beasts continually miserable, and suffer alternate afflictions from extremities of cold and heat; surrounded with terrors of various kinds. They shall have old age without resource; diseases attended with anguish; pangs of innumerable sorts, and, lastly, unconquerable death.”
Institutes of MENU, chap. 12. Inst. 75-80.
In the Zend Avesta, the place of wicked spirits is termed, “The places of darkness, the germs of the thickest darkness.” An uncommonly significant expression: Darkness has its birth there: there are its seeds and buds, there it vegetates everlastingly, and its eternal fruit is-darkness!
See Zend Avesta, vol. i. Vendidad sadi, Fargard. xviii. p. 412.
And is this, or, any thing as bad as this, HELL? Yes, and worse than the worst of all that has already been mentioned. Hear Christ himself. There their worm dieth not, and the fire is NOT QUENCHED! Great God! save the reader from this damnation!
Verse 13. As thou hast believed; so be it done— Let the mercy thou requestest be equal to the faith thou hast brought to receive it by. ACCORDING to thy faith be it done unto thee, is a general measure of God’s dealings with mankind. To get an increase of faith is to get an increase of every grace which constitutes the mind that was in Jesus, and prepares fully for the enjoyment of the kingdom of God. God is the same in the present time which he was in ancient days; and miracles of healing may be wrought on our own bodies and souls, and on those of others, by the instrumentality of our faith. But, alas! where is faith to be found!
And his servant was healed in the selfsame hour.— en th wra ekeinh, in that very hour. Faith is never exercised in the power and goodness of God till it is needed; and, when it is exercised, God works the miracle of healing. Christ never says, Believe now for a salvation which thou now needest, and I will give it to thee in some future time. That salvation which is expected through works or sufferings must of necessity be future, as there must be time to work or suffer in; but the salvation which is by faith must be for the present moment, for this simple reason, IT IS BY FAITH, that God may be manifested and honored; and not by works or by sufferings, lest any man should boast. To say that, though it is of faith, yet it may; and, must in many cases, be delayed, (though the person is coming in the most genuine humility, deepest contrition, and with the liveliest faith in the blood of the Lamb,) is to say that there is still something necessary to be done, either on the part of the person, or on the part of God, in order to procure it; neither of which positions has any truth in it.
Verse 14. Peter’s house— That Peter lived at Capernaum, and that Christ lodged with him, is fully evident from this verse compared with Matthew 17:24.
Peter’s-wife’s mother— Learn hence, says Theophylact, that marriage is no hinderance to virtue, since the chief of the apostles had his wife. Marriage is one of the first of Divine institutions, and is a positive command of God. He says, the state of celibacy is not GOOD, Genesis 2:18. Those who pretend to say that the single state is more holy than the other slander their Maker, and say in effect, “We are too holy to keep the commandments of God.”
Verse 15. He touched her hand— Can any thing on this side the unlimited power of God effect such a cure with only a touch? If the Scriptures had not spoken of the divinity of Christ, these proofs of his power must have demonstrated it to the common sense of every man whose creed had not previously blinded him.
Ministered unto them.— autoiv, them, is the reading of most of the printed editions, but autw, to him, has the utmost evidence in its support from MSS., versions, and fathers. Serving Christ in his ordinances and in his members is the best proof we can give to others of our being soundly restored to spiritual health.
Verse 16. When the even was come— The Jews kept their sabbath from evening to evening, according to the law, Leviticus 23:32, From evening to evening shall ye celebrate your sabbath. And the rabbins say, The sabbath doth not enter but when the sun is set. Hence it was that the sick were not brought out to our Lord till after sun-set, because then the sabbath was ended.
Many that were possessed with devils— Dr. Lightfoot gives two sound reasons why Judea, in our Lord’s time, abounded with demoniacs. First, Because they were then advanced to the very height of impiety. See what Josephus, their own historian, says of them: There was not (said he) a nation under heaven more wicked than they were. See on “Romans 1:1”. Secondly, Because they were then strongly addicted to magic, and so, as it were, invited evil spirits to be familiar with them. It seems strange to find men at this distance of time questioning the truth of that which neither scribes nor Pharisees then doubted; nor did they ever object against the pretensions of Christ and his apostles to cast them out. And, if the whole business of demonism had been only a vulgar error, (as wise men now tell us,) what a fine opportunity had the wise men then, to unmask the whole matter, and thus pour contempt on the pretensions of our blessed Lord and his followers, who held it to be one proof of their Divine mission, that demons were subject to them!
And healed all that were sick— Not a soul did the Lord Jesus ever reject, who came to him soliciting his aid. Need any sinner despair who comes to him, conscious of his spiritual malady, to be healed by his merciful hand?
Verse 17. Himself took our infirmities— The quotation is taken from Isaiah 53:4, where the verb asn nasa signifies to bear sin, so as to make atonement for it. And the rabbins understand this place to speak of the sufferings of the Messiah for the sins of Israel; and say that all the diseases, all the griefs, and all the punishments due to Israel shall be borne by him. See Synopsis Sohar. Christ fulfils the prophecies in all respects, and is himself the completion and truth of them, as being the lamb and victim of God, which, bears and takes away the sin of the world. The text in Isaiah refers properly to the taking away of sin; and this in the evangelist, to the removal of corporeal afflictions: but, as the diseases of the body are the emblems of the sin of the soul, Matthew, referring to the prediction of the prophet, considered the miraculous healing of the body as an emblem of the soul’s salvation by Christ Jesus.
Verse 18. Unto the other side.— Viz. of the lake of Genesareth, whence he proceeded to the country of the Gergesenes, Matthew 8:28.
Verse 19. A certain scribe— Though eiv grammateuv, ONE scribe, may be considered as a Hebraism, yet it is probable that the literal construction of it was intended, to show that few of this class came to the Lord Jesus for instruction or salvation.
Master— Rather, teacher, didaskale from didaskw, I teach, which itself seems to be derived from deikw, I show, and means the person who shows or points out a particular way or science.
I will follow thee whithersoever thou goest.— A man who is not illuminated by the Spirit of God thinks himself capable of any thing: he alone who is divinely taught knows he can do nothing but through Christ strengthening him. Every teacher among the Jews had disciples, and some especially that followed or accompanied them wherever they went, that they might have some person at hand with whom they might converse concerning the Divine law.
Verse 20. The foxes have holes, etc.— Reader! art thou a poor man? and dost thou fear God? Then, what comfort must thou derive from the thought, that thou so nearly resemblest the Lord Jesus! But how unlike is the rich man, who is the votary of pleasure and slave of sin, to this heavenly pattern!
Son of man— A Hebrew phrase, expressive of humiliation and debasement; and, on that account, applied emphatically to himself, by the meek and lowly Jesus. Besides, it seems here to be used to point out the incarnation of the Son of God, according to the predictions of the prophets, Psalm 8:5; Daniel 7:13. And as our Lord was now showing forth his eternal Divinity in the miracles he wrought, he seems studious to prove to them the certainty of his incarnation, because on this depended the atonement for sin. Indeed our Lord seems more intent on giving the proofs of his humanity, than of his divinity, the latter being necessarily manifested by the miracles which he was continually working.
Verse 21. Another of his disciples— This does not mean any of the twelve, but one of those who were constant hearers of our Lord’s preaching; the name of disciple being common to all those who professed to believe in him, John 6:66. Bury my father: probably his father was old, and apparently near death; but it was a maxim among the Jews, that, if a man had any duty to perform to the dead, he was, for that time, free from the observance of any other precept or duty. The children of Adam are always in extremes; some will rush into the ministry of the Gospel without a call, others will delay long after they are called; the middle way is the only safe one: not to move a finger in the work till the call be given, and not to delay a moment after.
Verse 22. Let the dead bury their dead.— It was usual for the Jews to consider a man as dead who had departed from the precepts of the law; and, on this ground, every transgressor was reputed a dead man. Our Lord’s saying, being in common use, had nothing difficult in it to a Jew. Natural death is the separation of the body and soul; spiritual death, the separation of God and the soul: men who live in sin are dead to God. Leave the spiritually dead to bury their natural dead. All the common offices of life may be performed by any person; to preach the glad tidings of the kingdom of God is granted but to a few, and to these only by an especial call; these should immediately abandon worldly concerns and employments, and give themselves wholly up to the work of the ministry.
Verse 24. Arose a great tempest in the sea— Probably excited by Satan, the prince of the power of the air, who, having got the author and all the preachers of the Gospel together in a small vessel, thought by drowning it, to defeat the purposes of God, and thus to prevent the salvation of a ruined world. What a noble opportunity must this have appeared to the enemy of the human race!
Verse 25. And his disciples— THE disciples. In the common printed editions, as well as in our translation, it is HIS disciples, but autou, his, is omitted by the very best MSS., and by Bengel, Wetstein, and Griesbach. This is a matter of very small importance, and need not be noticed; only every translator and commentator should aim, to the uttermost of his knowledge and power, to give every particle of the language of the inspired penman that can be expressed, and to insert no one word which he has reason to believe did not come by the inspiration of God.
Lord, save us: we perish.— One advantage of trials is to make us know our weakness, so as to oblige us to have recourse to God by faith in Christ. It is by faith alone that we may be said to approach him; by love we are united to him, and by prayer we awake him. All good perishes in us without Christ: without his grace, there is not so much as one moment in which we are not in danger of utter ruin. How proper, then, is this short prayer for us, and how familiar should it be to us! Taken in the extensive Christian sense it is exceedingly expressive: it comprehends all the power of our Lord’s might, all the merit of his atonement, and all the depth of our misery and danger. See Quesnel.
Verse 26. Why are ye fearful, O ye of little faith?— Faith is ever bold-incredulity always timid. When faith fails in temptation, there is the utmost danger of shipwreck. Lord, increase our faith! is a necessary prayer for all who desire to be saved.
Then he arose and rebuked the winds, etc.— As the agitation of the sea was only the effect of the wind, it was necessary to remove the cause of the disturbance, that the effect might cease. Joshua did not say to the earth, Earth, stand thou still, because the earth is not the cause of its own motion: but, Sun, stand thou still, µwd çmç shemesh dom, Sun, be silent, or restrain thy influence, which is a proper cause of the revolutions of all the planets. When the solar influence was by the miraculous power of God suspended, the standing still of the earth was a necessary consequence. Both Christ and Joshua spoke with the strictest philosophical precision. See the notes on Joshua 10:12-14.
There was a great calm.— One word of Christ can change the face of nature; one word of his can restore calm and peace to the most troubled and disconsolate soul. Prayer and faith, if sincere, shall be heard, though they may be weak. 1. That our imperfections may not hinder us from praying to God. 2. That we may be persuaded it is not our merits which make our prayers effectual. 3. That we may offer them up with great humility: and, 4. That we may be fully united to Christ, without which union there is no salvation.
There was at first a great agitation; then a great calm. Thus God ever proportions the comfort to the affliction.
Verse 27. The men marvelled— Every part of the creation (man excepted) hears and obeys the Creator’s voice. Sinners have an ear for the world, the devil, and the flesh: till this ear is shut, God’s voice is not discerned; for when it is shut to its enemies it is open to its friends.
What manner of man is this— potapov estin outov, How great is this person! Here was God fully manifest; but it was in the flesh-there were the hidings of his power.
Verse 28. The country of the Gergesenes— This word is variously written in the MSS, and versions; Gergasenes, Gerasenes, Gadarenes, Gergesions, and Gersedonians, The three first are supported by the greater authorities. They might have all been names of the same place or district; but, if we depend on what Origen says, the people mentioned here could not have been the inhabitants of Gerasa, which, says he, is a city of Arabia, oute qalassan, oute limnhn plhsion econta, which has neither sea nor lake nigh to it. “Gadara was, according to Josephus, the metropolis of Perea, or the region beyond Jordan: both the city and villages belonging to it lay in the country of the Gergasenes; whence Christ going into the country of the Gadarenes, Mark 5:1, is said to go into the region of the Gergasenes, Matthew 8:28.” WHITBY.
Two possessed with devils— Persons possessed by evil demons. Mark and Luke mention only one demoniac, probably the fiercer of the two.
Coming out of the tombs— It is pretty evident that cupolas were generally builded over the graves among the Jews, and that these demoniacs had their dwellings under such: the evil spirits which were in them delighting more in these abodes of desolation and ruin, as being more congenial to their fierce and diabolic nature, and therefore would drive the possessed into them.
Verse 29. What have we to do with thee— The literal translation of ti hmin kai soi, is, What is it to us and to thee; which perhaps might be understood to imply their disclaiming any design to interfere with the work of Christ, and that he should not therefore meddle with them; for it appears they exceedingly dreaded his power.
What have we to do with thee, is a Jewish phrase, which often occurs in the Old Testament, signifying an abrupt refusal of some request, or a wish not to be troubled with the company or importunity of others. Jehu said to the messenger who was sent by Joram to meet him, What hast thou to do with peace? David said, What have I to do with you, ye sons of Zeruiah? Compare Judges 11:12; 2 Samuel 16:10; 2 Kings 9:18; Ezra 4:3; John 2:4. See the note on “Mark1:24”.
Jesus, thou Son of God— Griesbach omits the word Jesus, on the authority of several MSS. of the greatest antiquity and respectability; besides some versions, and several of the fathers. I heartily concur with these MSS., etc., for this simple reason, among others, that the word Jesus, i.e. Savior, was of too ominous an import to the Satanic interest to be used freely, in such a case, by any of his disciples or subalterns.
Art thou come hither to torment us before the time?— From this it appears that a greater degree of punishment awaited these demons than they at that time endured; and that they knew there was a time determined by the Divine Judge, when they should be sent into greater torments.
Verse 30. A herd of many swine— These were in all probability Jewish property, and kept and used in express violation of the law of God; and therefore their destruction, in the next verse, was no more than a proper manifestation of the justice of God.
Verse 31. Suffer us to go away— epitreyon hmin apelqein: this is the common reading; but aposteilon hmav, send us away, appears more likely to be genuine. This latter reading Griesbach has adopted, on the authority of three ancient MSS., the Coptic, Sahidic, Ethiopic, Syriac, all the Arabic, Saxon, most of the Itala, and the Vulgate. Send us away seems to express more fully the absolute power Jesus Christ had over them-permission alone was not sufficient; the very power by which they were to go away, must come from Christ himself! How vain was the boast of Satan, Matthew 4:9, when we find he could not possess the body of one of the vilest animals that God has made, without immediate authority from the Most High! Since a demon cannot enter even into a swine without being sent by God himself, how little is the power or malice of any of them to be dreaded by those who have God for their portion and protector!
Verse 32. They went into the herd of swine— Instead of thn agelhn twn coirwn, the herd of swine, Griesbach reads touv coirouv, the swine, on the authority of many MSS. and versions.
The whole herd of swine— twn coirwn, of swine, is omitted by many MSS. and versions. See Griesbach, and see on “Luke 8:20”, etc.
Ran violently down a steep place, etc.— The prayer of these demons is heard and answered! Strange! But let it be noted, that God only hears demons and certain sinners when their prayer is the echo of his own justice. Here is an emblem of the final impenitence and ruin into which the swinish sinners, the habitually unpure, more commonly fall than other sinners. Christ permits the demons to do that in the swine which he did not permit them to do in the possessed, on purpose to show us what rage they would exercise on us if left to their liberty and malice. Many are the Divine favors which we do not consider, or know only in general. “But the owners of the swine lost their property.” Yes; and learn from this of how small value temporal riches, are in the estimation of God. He suffers them to be lost, sometimes to disengage us from them through mercy; sometimes out of justice, to punish us for having acquired or preserved them either by covetousness or injustice.
Verse 33. And they that kept them fled— Terrified at what had happened to the swine.
Verse 34. The whole city came out— Probably with the intention to destroy Jesus for having destroyed their swine; but, having seen him, they were awed by his presence; and only besought him to depart from their borders. Many rather chose to lose Jesus Christ than those temporal goods by which they gratify their passions at the expense of their souls. They love even their swine better than their salvation.
Certain doctors in both sciences, divinity and physic, gravely tell us that these demoniacs were only common madmen, and that the disease was supposed, by the superstitious Jews, to be occasioned by demons. But, with due deference to great characters, may not a plain man be permitted to ask, by what figure of speech can it be said that “two diseases besought-went out-filled a herd of swine-rushed down a precipice?” etc. What silly trifling is this! Some people’s creeds will neither permit God nor the devil to work; and, in several respects, hardly to exist. For he who denies Divine inspiration, will scarcely acknowledge diabolic influence. See the note on “Matthew 8:16”, and see on “Luke 7:21”.
It is said, The whole city came out to meet Jesus. This means no more than all the inhabitants of that place, which, most probably, was no more than a small country village; or perhaps but a few houses. I have observed that the inhabitants of the Zetland Isles, in the North Seas, denominate any collection of houses a town, even where there are but three or four: and thus I think that the Jews denominated their villages, often calling them cities.