Tuesday, June 6th, 2023
the Week of Proper 4 / Ordinary 9
the Week of Proper 4 / Ordinary 9
Contending for the Faith Contending for the Faith
Contending for the Faith reproduced by permission of Contending for the Faith Publications, 4216 Abigale Drive, Yukon, OK 73099. All other rights reserved.
Contending for the Faith reproduced by permission of Contending for the Faith Publications, 4216 Abigale Drive, Yukon, OK 73099. All other rights reserved.
Editor Charles Baily, "Commentary on Matthew 8". "Contending for the Faith". https://studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ ctf/ matthew-8.html. 1993-2022.
Editor Charles Baily, "Commentary on Matthew 8". "Contending for the Faith". https://studylight.org/
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When he was come down from the mountain, great multitudes followed him.
When he was come down from the mountain: Chapters five, six, and seven serve as a parenthesis to the Galilean ministry of the Lord. Having turned the religious status quo upside down with His authority, Jesus now continues His work among the people (9:35). The miracles Matthew depicts in the next two chapters back up Jesus’ authority and His teaching.
There is some question as to whether Matthew 8:1 through 9:35 is to be taken as a chronological or a topical continuation of Jesus’ ministry. Because Mark’s and Luke’s accounts differ from Matthew’s, some suggest the latter. The theme of "healing" runs through both with no less than ten separate miracles being described. In addition, the comment in Matthew 4:23-25 may be an overview of Jesus’ work with Matthew 8:1 to Matthew 9:35 being a return to specific details. The obvious similarity between Matthew 4:23-25 and Matthew 9:35 may also indicate a concern with theme rather than time. Matthew is often thematic rather than strictly chronological.
great multitudes followed him: Not all follow Jesus out of sincerity. Some are committed to the truth, but others follow him out of curiosity or in hopes of gaining some material benefit (John 6:26). Many today are no different. What Jesus shows in this chapter, however, is that true discipleship is an expensive proposition where comforts of life are left behind (8:18-22).
And, behold, there came a leper and worshipped him, saying, Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean.
And, behold, there came a leper: No sooner has Jesus finished expounding the beauties of God’s word than one of the most despised of all outcasts’ falls at his feet. A leper meets him in humble adoration. Luke says the man is full of leprosy and falls on his face beseeching Jesus (5:12).
It is difficult to determine the exact nature of this man’s leprosy as the word is often used of several skin ailments (Leviticus 13). The Greek word is lepros and means "scaly," thus describing one of the first and most obvious characteristics of the disease (McArthur, Vol. II 5).
Many scholars believe the condition Matthew describes is what modern medicine calls "Hansen’s disease." The name is taken from A.G. Hansen who in 1874 discovered and described the microbes causing the ailment (Fowler, Vol. II 8). If such is the case, a bleak picture emerges. Hansen’s disease is contagious and is spread by direct contact with infected skin and mucous membranes. Furthermore, McArthur indicates that recent medical studies confirm it may also be passed on to others when inhaled through the air (Vol. II 6). This information may explain why Levitical Law required a leper to cover his mouth (Leviticus 13:45). William Hendricksen, in his commentary on Matthew, draws from Dr. L.S. Huizenga’s book "Unclean! Unclean!" and describes leprosy as follows:
As the sickness progresses, the thickened spots become dirty sores and ulcers, due to poor blood supply. The skin, especially around the eyes and ears, begins to bunch, with deep furrows between the swellings, so that the face of the afflicted individual begins to resemble that of a lion. Fingers drop off or are absorbed; toes are affected similarly. Eyebrows and eyelashes drop out. By a touch of the finger one can also feel it. One can even smell it, for the disease-producing agent frequently also attacks the larynx, the leper’s voice acquires a grating quality. His throat becomes hoarse, and you can now not only feel, see, and smell the leper, but you can hear his rasping voice. And if you stay with him for some time, you even imagine a peculiar taste in your mouth, probably due to the odor. All the senses of the well person are engaged in the detection of the leper (Hendricksen 388).
This horrible disease appears to have originated in Egypt. Broadus notes it was particularly common in that area, and the climate was suited to aggravate the disease (Broadus 175). One is reminded that leprosy played a role in Moses’ sign to the Egyptians (Exodus 4:6-7). Israel, however, had to guard against the dreaded ailment. Leviticus 13, 14 give specific regulations as to its diagnosis and prevention. When a person was suspected of having the disease, he was taken to the priest for inspection. If leprosy were unequivocally detected, he was immediately pronounced "unclean" on the spot (Leviticus 13:1-2). If, however, certain less obvious symptoms existed, an isolation period was prescribed (Leviticus 13:4-8).
When one contracted leprosy, he was ostracized because he was considered unclean. Leviticus 13:45 says, "And the leper in whom the plague [is], his clothes shall be rent, and his head bare, and he shall put a covering upon his upper lip, and shall cry, Unclean, unclean" (Leviticus 13:45). In addition, he was doomed to live alone outside the camp.
McArthur indicates that out of the sixty-one defilements of ancient Judaism, leprosy is second only to a dead body in seriousness (Vol. II 6). Furthermore, the Talmud forbids a Jew from coming closer than six feet to a leper. If the wind is blowing, the limit is one hundred feet. The disgust for lepers may be seen in Edersheim’s comment that one ancient Rabbi would not so much as eat an egg purchased on a street where there was a leper. Another Rabbi boasted that he always threw stones to keep them far off (Edershim, Life 495).
(For a further study of this disease and its impact on biblical life, see Leviticus 13-14; Numbers 12:10; Deuteronomy 24:8-10; 2 Samuel 3:29; 2 Kings 5:14-27; 2 Kings 7; 2 Chronicles 26:19-23; Matthew 10:8; Matthew 11:5; Luke 4:27; Luke 17:11-19.)
and worshipped him, saying, Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean: Though an outcast, this man obviously recognizes the power of Jesus and believes He can help. Perhaps having seen Jesus’ previous miracles, he wants the same from Him. At the same time, however, he seems willing to leave the final decision in the Lord’s hands. "Sir, ’if’ thou wilt" is his plea!
There is some question as to whether this leper fully understands the deity of Jesus. McGarvey thinks not and holds that in this place the word "worship" denotes obeisance paid to a man of superior rank rather than to a God. He further adds that, being a Jew, the leper will not have an adequate concept of Jesus’ divinity (75). Likewise Fowler says the word "Lord" is probably used here out of respect just as we might use the word "Sir" (Fowler, Vol. II 11). Fowler and McGarvey may be correct; however, because the leper seems to have no doubt in his mind about Jesus’ ability, it is certain he views Jesus as more than a mere mortal (see comments on verse 6).
Leprosy is to the physical body what sin is to the spiritual body. No better analogy to sin exists. As leprosy renders its victim numb to pain, eats the flesh, and hideously disfigures the body, so sin numbs the heart, gnaws the spirit, and makes gross any semblance of godliness. Yet leprosy is uninvited, and its victims are innocent to its desolation. Sin is a conscience choice.
And Jesus put forth [his] hand, and touched him, saying, I will; be thou clean. And immediately his leprosy was cleansed.
And Jesus put forth [his] hand: Jesus’ response to this wretched man’s request is both beautiful and significant. Jesus could heal this man with only a word. Such is well within the power of the divine "logos." This He will do in his next miracle (8:13); however, in this instance, He couples His words of compassion with the action of an outstretched hand.
and touched him: To appreciate fully our Savior’s response, one must remember that Leviticus 5:2-3 forbids the touching of anything unclean (Leviticus 11:44-45). Thus, to touch a leper puts one to the inconvenience of a legal cleansing (McGarvey 75).
The obvious question that arises is how Jesus can touch this man and yet remain true to the legislation of Moses? Various explanations are given and Harold Fowler masterfully lays out the options in his commentary on this chapter (Vol. II 13-16). We must not forget, however, that Jesus is Deity, the author of the Mosaic Law, and His actions fall within His divine prerogative of helping those who need healing. Just as his healing on the Sabbath do not break the tenor of Mosaic commands forbidding work, so here Jesus does not place himself at risk of ceremonial uncleanness by healing this leper. In both cases the Mosaic laws were designed to help man, not to burden him. In any event, Jesus can not be defiled because his mastery over uncleanness is so complete that it is impossible for it to pass to him.
And immediately his leprosy was cleansed: The miracle is instantaneous. Unlike modern healers who claim to need the aid of time to achieve their cures, Jesus’ touch is immediate. Before his onlooker’s eyes, this leper’s skin is cleansed, his scales removed, his withered limbs restored, his stench vanquished. His body is given new life.
Just as quickly as Jesus cleanses this man, He will do the same for those in sin. No less a miracle is it that the blood of the sinless Lamb of God purify the soul of those that cry to God. With loving hand Jesus still reaches forth—willing and waiting to touch all who in obedient faith come to him.
And Jesus saith unto him, See thou tell no man; but go thy way, shew thyself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses commanded, for a testimony unto them.
And Jesus saith unto him, See thou tell no man: Jesus’ command to "tell no man" is not peculiar to this verse and will be seen frequently in the gospel narratives (Matthew 16:20; Mark 7:36; Mark 8:30; Mark 9:9; Luke 5:14; Luke 8:56; Luke 9:21). While Jesus’ purpose is to bring the light to all mankind, He also realizes that timing is important. Premature and undue excitement will hinder His ministry. On certain occasions Jesus actually commands that His ministry be publicized (Matthew 9:2-8; Mark 5:18-20). In this case, however, the desired secrecy probably springs from an unwillingness to be classified as a miracle worker or political reformer. Fowler suggests that Galilee and Judea are particularly sensitive to any Messianic uprising and that Jesus wants to instruct the people about what kind of Messiah God has in mind before they seize Him and attempt to make His movement a front for deliverance from the galling yoke of Rome (Vol. II 18).
but go thy way, shew thyself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses commanded: Although Jesus delivers a New Law, He lives under the Old Law and commands obedience to it (Galatians 4:4; Matthew 5:17). In this instance He commands the former leper to journey to Jerusalem and to appear before the priests to be pronounced clean. As stated, his cleansing requires that the appropriate sacrifice be offered (see Leviticus 14 for the entire process).
for a testimony unto them: While this man was to show himself to "the priest," the healing was for the benefit of "them." This statement obviously refers to those priests at Jerusalem who have not had the opportunity to witness firsthand the miracles of our Lord. By giving the healed man this commanding, Jesus sends a message to the priests that He is the Messiah and that He has not come to destroy the Law (Matthew 5:17).
There is some doubt whether this man ever makes it to Jerusalem. Mark indicates that in opposition to Jesus’ command the man publishes the event publicly. The result is that Jesus is driven into the country to preach the gospel (Mark 1:45). Luke says Jesus withdrew to the wilderness to pray about this crisis (Luke 5:16).
And when Jesus was entered into Capernaum, there came unto him a centurion, beseeching him,
And when Jesus was entered into Capernaum: Capernaum is one of the most significant cities in Jesus’ Galilean ministry. It is situated on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee and becomes Jesus’ home instead of Nazareth (4:13). It is called "his own city" (9:1) and seems to be the closest thing Jesus has to a permanent dwelling place. It is here that Peter lives (8:14). Here Jesus teaches in their synagogue and performs many of his miracles (Mark 1:21-28); however, because of their unbelief, this once beautiful ancient city is destroyed just as Jesus predicts (Matthew 11:23). Today only the ruins of a few houses and a synagogue exist. Tradition says that one of the houses is Peter’s.
there came unto him a centurion: At this period of Roman occupation, Capernaum is a customs station and a place of residence for certain Roman officers and their troops. Ellicott suggests a garrison is stationed at Capernaum to preserve order (105). Fowler suggests the garrison is here because the city is located on one of the main East-West caravan routes from Egypt to Damascus (Fowler, Vol. II 28). All of these circumstances illuminate the miracle under consideration.
Centurion (hekatontarchos) is the title of one of the officers of a Roman legion. Literally the word means "ruler of a hundred," thus placing this man in a considerably prestigious position of power. Fowler observes that centurions are the moral fiber of the army with abilities to fight, command, and carry out peace time operations (Vol. II 28). This man, however, has attributes that extend beyond his military prowess. His arm is mighty, but his heart is kind. Luke records that he loves the Jews and their nation and has even personally built them a synagogue (7:1-5). Although he is not a full Jewish proselyte (verse 8), his actions infer he is a God-fearing Gentile just like Cornelius (Acts 10:2).
beseeching him: Even though this centurion is of great authority, he recognizes Jesus’ authority and begs him on behalf of his servant.
And saying, Lord, my servant lieth at home sick of the palsy, grievously tormented.
And saying, Lord: The centurion expresses humility as he addresses Jesus as "Lord." He does this twice in this simple narrative (verses 6 and 8). As in 8:2, the term "Lord" may be a term of respect and not necessarily a full recognition of Christ’s Deity (Broadus 177). The term can mean much the same as the modern term "Sir." Nevertheless, as with the leper, this man believes Jesus can heal his servant. Such faith, if pursued, will most certainly lead to full acceptance of Jesus’ Godhood. McArthur makes the interesting observation that each of the Roman centurions mentioned in the New Testament are spoken of favorably and likely became believers in Christ (Vol. II 12).
servant lieth at home: The request of this Roman leader demonstrates his love for his servant. The term Matthew uses to describe the servant is pais (servant) and literally means a young child. Broadus, however, notes that it can refer to a servant of any age (177). Luke uses the term doulos (slave) that describes more accurately the young man’s social position. It is possible this is a servant/slave who has been born into the family of the centurion. Whatever the case, the centurion’s concern indicates the slave is a productive and cherished member of his household.
To appreciate fully the unashamed concern the centurion has for his servant, it is necessary to understand the conditions that generally existed in ancient times between slaves and owners. Aristotle says, "There can be no friendship nor justice towards inanimate things; indeed, not even towards a horse or an ox, nor yet towards a slave as a slave. For master and slave have nothing in common; a slave is a living tool, just as a tool is an inanimate slave" (Barclay 302). Gaius, an expert in Roman law, writes, "We may note that it is universally accepted that the master possesses the power of life and death over the slave." (Institutes, quoted by Barclay 302). Cato, another Roman writer, says, "Look over the livestock, and hold a sale. Sell your oil, if the price is satisfactory, and sell the surplus of your wine and grain. Sell worn-out oxen, blemished cattle, blemished sheep, wool, hides, an old wagon, old tools, an old slave, a sickly slave, and whatever else is superfluous" (Barclay 302). Peter Chrysologus sums it up by saying, "Whatever a master does to a slave, unreservedly, in anger, willingly, unwillingly, in forgetfulness, after careful thought, knowingly, unknowingly, is judgment, justice and law" (Barclay 302).
sick of the palsy, grievously tormented: There is some difficulty in determining the exact nature of the servant-boy’s illness. Obviously it is painful and fatal. Apparently the boy is bedridden, and his paralysis prevents him from being brought to Jesus. Matthew adds that the boy is grievously tormented (deinos basanizomenos), and Luke says he is at the point of death (Luke 7:2). With such a description, some suggest the illness to be spinal meningitis; progressive paralysis with respiratory spasms; or even tetanus (Fowler 32).
And Jesus saith unto him, I will come and heal him.
The simplicity of this verse is striking yet beautiful. The words of Jesus are short and to the point yet reveal His concern and willingness to reach out to those unable to help themselves. "I will come" but not only so "I will heal him." Christ is willing not only to grace this centurion’s home with His presence but with His power as well.
Likewise the Christ can impact our homes. For those who beseech him with humility of heart and genuine faith, Jesus sheds abroad his presence and power. But not without an invitation will He enter. Only after the centurion’s request does Jesus say, "I will come and heal him."
The centurion answered and said, Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldest come under my roof: but speak the word only, and my servant shall be healed.
The centurion answered and said, Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldest come under my roof: This verse provides additional insight into this centurion’s respect for Jesus and for Judaism as well. The phrase "I am not worthy" may have reference to his deep humility and awe for the Lord. But it probably refers to his realization that it is not proper for a Jew to enter the "unclean" house of a Gentile. This taboo is recounted by Peter to Cornelius in Acts 10:28 in noting that God no longer considers any man common or unclean. Luke indicates this taboo is the reason the centurion approaches Jesus through intermediaries (7:7).
As noted in verse 5, this centurion, while demonstrating respect for the Jews and God, is not himself a proselyte. Edershiem notes that a proselyte would have no reason for not approaching Christ directly, nor would he speak of himself as unfit for Christ to come under his roof. Edersheim further says proselytes are in all respects equal to Jews. Also the contrast Jesus makes in verse 9 between Jewish faith and Gentile faith is without context if this centurion is not a Gentile (Edershim, Life, I 546). It might also be noted that it is unlikely that a proselytized Gentile would carry out Roman military duty.
but speak the word only, and my servant shall be healed: This centurion recognizes the power of Jesus’ spoken word (Psalms 33:6-9, Matthew 24:35, Hebrews 4:12). He will demonstrate further in verse 9 that he understands the entire axiom of authority. Fowler notes that this man’s personal experience in the military has taught him that real authority needs only a word (Fowler, Vol. II 35).
For I am a man under authority, having soldiers under me: and I say to this [man], Go, and he goeth; and to another, Come, and he cometh; and to my servant, Do this, and he doeth [it].
For I am a man under authority, having soldiers under me: The attitude of this powerful centurion is refreshing. His sway over others is tempered with the realization that he himself is under authority. Luke 7:8 says, "set under authority" (tassomenos).
How tempting it is for those with rank to forget that they too have superiors. Likewise, how frequently Christians in positions of church leadership forget they are "bondservants" of Christ.
and I say to this [man], Go, and he goeth; and to another, Come, and he cometh; and to my servant, Do this, and he doeth [it]: This statement depicts an understanding of delegated authority. If this centurion, as a mortal, commands with a word, how much more can the Divine Son of God command with words.
When Jesus heard [it], he marvelled, and said to them that followed, Verily I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel.
When Jesus heard [it], he marveled: Matthew and Luke both record that Jesus "marvels" at this man’s faith. While Jesus is omnipotent and knows the hearts and minds of all men, He yet possesses total human emotion and is suddenly taken back by such a demonstration of faith. Ellicott says, "Facts came to Him, in that true humanity, as to other men, unlooked for, and as with a novelty that caused surprise" (107).
and said to them that followed, Verily I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel: Jesus sets this Roman Gentile apart from even the Jews in Israel. In reality this statement is a condemnation of Israel. While most Jews do not accept Jesus as their Messiah, some accept Him yet still do not show this degree of sincerity, humility, and reverence for Jesus. This Gentile, without the full privileges of Judaism, and no doubt without full knowledge of Messianic prophecy, has more faith than the very ones to whom the Messiah is first sent. Ultimately Jesus comes for the entire world and His encounter with this "Gentile" hints of the universal nature of His ministry.
And I say unto you, That many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven.
And I say unto you, That many shall come from the east and west: This statement is designed to show the universal nature of the kingdom (Mark 16:15-16; Acts 10:15; Acts 13:46; Romans 11:25). Jesus now shows that while the kingdom comes first to the Jews, they will be left out because of their unbelief. Even though they are descendants of Abraham, non-Jews will take precedent at the Messianic banquet. Remember this statement by Jesus is in response to a Gentile’s faith and depicts the universal nature of Matthew’s gospel (28:18-19).
and shall sit down: Literally this phrase means to "recline" as at a banquet table. The Greek verb anaklino is from kline, meaning couch (Earle 8). The custom comes initially from the Persians but is later adopted by the Greeks and Romans and the Jews as well. It has reference to reclining at meal time on a couch or pillow around a low table. Centuries earlier this posture symbolized the wicked luxury of the people. Amos mentions it as he condemns those who are at "ease in Zion" (6:4-7). By Jesus day, however, it has apparently lost its negative connotation and has become the accepted norm of eating.
The person reclined leaning on his left elbow, so as to take food from the table with his right hand, while the feet extended obliquely to the outside of the couch. Thus the feet could be washed while one was reclining (Luke 7:38, John 13:4); a man could lean his head back upon the breast, or lie "in the bosom" of one who reclined, behind him (John 13:23; John 13:25; John 1:18; Luke 16:23) (179).
with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven: Such a statement no doubt shocks his hearers. As noted, the Jews are fond of tracing their lineage to Abraham. The Jews long believe that in the day of the Messiah redeemed Israel will be gathered to a great feast, with the patriarchs and heroes of the Jewish faith. The apocryphal book of Second Baruch says the participants will dine sumptuously on behemoth and Leviathan (2 Baruch 29 as quoted by Barclay, Vol. 1 303). Furthermore, the crowning fact is the alleged absence of all gentiles. Some rabbis even interpret Psalms 23:5 in this light. A table will be spread exclusively for the Jews within sight of their gentile enemies, leaving these outcasts to watch in shame and anger. (Edersheim, III 550).
But the children of the kingdom shall be cast out into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
But the children of the kingdom: A second shock wave no doubt ripples through the crowd as Jesus concludes his remarks. Not only will the Messianic Feast include Gentiles, but many Jews will not be allowed to participate in the feast. Furthermore their fate will be eternal punishment.
With the term "children of the kingdom," Jesus uses a common Hebrew idiom referring to Abraham’s legal descendants. Jesus’ point is that. Abraham’s "true" descendants are those who combine a faith in Christ with good works. Jesus says in John 8:39, "If ye were Abraham’s children, ye would do the works of Abraham" (John 8:39). Furthermore, Paul reminds the Romans that the Gentile’s faith is as valid as Jew’s (Romans 9:30-32). The apostle concludes in Galatians 3:9 by saying, "So then they which be of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham."
shall be cast out: The punishment reserved for the unfaithful Jew is not a mere slap on the wrist. Unbelief is a serious offense. Whether of the linage of Abraham or not, God severely punishes those who reject his son.
Here the obvious illusion is to Gehenna hell, a theme Jesus addresses at various times in his public ministry (Matthew 13:42; Matthew 13:50; Matthew 22:13; Matthew 24:51; Matthew 25:30, Luke 13:2). The term "Gehenna" and its reference to the fires of hell stem from an illusion to the valley of Hinnom. This valley is just outside the city of Jerusalem and serves as the trash dump for the city. Stench, death and decay, and burning filth characterize the location. This awful location is allegorized by the Jews and comes to refer to the eternal punishment of the wicked. Edershim remarks that Jewish tradition maintains that Gentiles will be consigned to the darkness of the valley of Hinnom. Jewish sinners, on the other hand, because of the merit of circumcision, will be delivered from this awful place (III 550). Jesus indicates exactly the opposite.
into outer darkness: Each of the deplorable things Jesus describes stands in opposition to the metaphor of banqueting. Banquets are usually held at night with light being provided in ample supply. In contrast, however, the wicked enjoy no such comfort but are cast into the thick blackness of night (Robertson 65). At judgment, theologically speaking, evil doers will be banished from the light of God’s presence.
there shall be weeping: Weeping stands in contrast to the gaiety of the Messianic feast. While believing Gentiles feast and laugh around the banquet table with the Messiah and patriarchs of old, the unfaithful Jews moan because of their self-inflicted fate. The invitation they arrogantly assume to be in the mail are in reality delivered to the faithful.
and gnashing of teeth: In scripture "gnashing of teeth" does not result so much from the anguish of pain as it does anger (see Psalms 35:16; Psalms 37:12; Psalms 112:10; Job 16:9; Acts 7:54). This scene again stands in stark contrast to the happiness of the Messianic feast. While believers smile with joy, the faithless will gnash their teeth with anger.
And Jesus said unto the centurion, Go thy way; and as thou hast believed, [so] be it done unto thee. And his servant was healed in the selfsame hour.
Having sufficiently contrasted the faithlessness of the Jews to the faith-filled centurion, Jesus now refocuses his attention on those who have been sent (Luke 7:10). The word is spoken, and the servant is instantly healed. Those who have acted as emissaries are dismissed to discover the same at the house.
And when Jesus was come into Peter’s house, he saw his wife’s mother laid, and sick of a fever.
And when Jesus was come into Peter’s house: This healing is mentioned by both Mark and Luke as occurring directly after Jesus has taught in the synagogue at Capernaum (Mark 1:29-31; Luke 4:38-39). Here the house is called "Peter’s," but Mark indicates it is also the home of Andrew (1:29). The second gospel writer adds that James and John are on hand to witness this wonderful miracle.
John 1:44 clearly states that Peter and Andrew are from Bethsaida, yet here Jesus seems to be in the vicinity of Capernaum, leaving some expositors to puzzle over the alleged discrepancy. Two possible explanations exist. First Bethsaida might be a suburb of or so intimately connected with Capernaum that our gospel writer makes no distinction. Edersheim, Robinson, and others to lean to this view (Unger 141). Jesus, however, mentions Bethsaida as quite different from Capernaum (Matthew 11:20-24), leading some to conclude that while Peter and Andrew are from Bethsaida they have moved by this time to Capernaum. This view is supposed by Broadus (180). Neither explanation is definitive, but no solution is required to understand the text.
he saw his wife’s mother laid: Prior to this miracle, Matthew demonstrates Jesus’ love as He heals two people for whom the Jews have little regard. First, an outcast leper is cleansed. Next, a despised Roman Gentile’s servant is healed. Now Jesus extends his love to a woman, another of the Jewish lower class.
Women in ancient times enjoyed little status. The Morning Prayer that many Jewish males pray says, "Lord, I thank Thee that I was not born a slave, a Gentile, or a woman" (McArthur, Vol. II 15); however, Jesus’ miracles know no gender discrimination. In fact, it may be said with confidence that our Lord and his apostles do much to elevate the social status of women.
It is obvious from this passage and from 1 Corinthians 9:5 that Peter is married. Other apostles, with the exception of Paul, are married as well; thus, the Catholic doctrine of "celibacy" is un-biblical. Broadus says, "It seems strange that Romanists can so insist on the celibacy of the clergy, when Peter himself, of whom the Pope is imagined to be the successor, was a married man, and not only at this time but long after" (Broadus 180).
and sick of a fever: The sickness of Peter’s mother-in-law is variously interpreted. "Lying sick of a fever (biblemenen kai perussousan) indicates she is bedridden and burning with fever (Robertson 65; Edershim 485). Some believe she has malaria, which Broadus says commonly occurs around the mosquito-infested marshes near the mouth of the Jordan (181).
Unlike the powerful word Jesus uses to heal Peter’s mother-in-law, ancient cures for such illnesses are often strange and filled with superstition. Incantations and magic formulas are not an uncommon part of such proceedings. Edersheim says the Talmud prescribes a magical remedy, of which the principal part is to tie a knife wholly of iron by a braid of hair to a thorn bush, and to repeat on successive days Exod. iii. 2,3, then ver. 4, and finally ver.5, after which the bush is to be cut down while a certain magical formula is pronounced (Edershim, III 486).
And he touched her hand, and the fever left her: and she arose, and ministered unto them.
And he touched her hand, and the fever left her: Mark indicates Jesus takes her by the hand and lifts her up (1:31). Luke says Jesus stands over her and rebukes the fever (4:39). At this action the fever immediately leaves, and she is fully restored.
And she arose, and ministered unto them: The healing is complete, and she feels no after affects. She arises and begins to minister to them. Fowler says the tense of kai egerthe kai diekonei (and she arose and ministered unto them) implies that she "got up and began serving and kept it up" (Vol. 2 48). Hospitality is provided to all as long as there is need. No doubt this verse gives us a window into the role of a godly woman. She is one who guides the house and entertains guests (1 Timothy 5:14; Titus 2:5; 1 Timothy 5:10).
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: Matthew does not explain why the people wait until evening to bring those who are sick. The parallel accounts, however, indicate this incident occurs at the end of the Sabbath (Mark 1:21; Luke 4:31). Luke specifically says, "when the sun was setting." Broadus observes the Jewish day is reckoned as beginning and ending at sunset (181). Leviticus 23:32 further instructs that the Sabbath is to be celebrated from evening to evening; thus, the people come the moment the Sabbath is past.
It seems likely that many are reluctant to seek help from the Lord on the Sabbath because such healing is considered a violation of Sabbath law and rabbinical tradition. John’s gospel records the hostility toward Jesus is so great for healing on the Sabbath that the Jews seek to kill him (John 5:10-18).
they brought unto him many that were possessed with devils: On this Sabbath Jesus has already healed a demon-possessed man in the synagogue. At this miracle, the people are amazed; and the report about Him spreads throughout the surrounding region (Luke 4:37). Consequently, as soon as the second star in the sky is seen, marking an end to the Sabbath, the whole city flocks to the door of Peter’s house where Jesus is staying (Mark 1:33).
and he cast out the spirits with his word, and healed all that were sick: Jesus accomplishes two classes of notable miracles. First, He casts out demons and evil spirits with the power of His word. Mark says Jesus does not allow the evil spirits to speak (Mark 1:34). When the demons acknowledge Him, Jesus commands them to be silent (Luke 4:41). Second, Jesus heals all those who are sick. Luke says He lays His hands on every one of them and heals them all (Luke 4:40). Just as with the leper, Jesus’ touch supplies the power.
There is then a clear distinction between demon possession and sickness. At times the effects are similar, afflicting the body in much the same way; but the source is dissimilar. McGarvey comments at length on this issue and notes that Jesus deals with each in a different fashion (McGarvey 78). Jesus’ dealings with the demons show they possess intelligence and will. Thus, He commands, rebukes, and forbids them. With natural illnesses, however, Jesus uses quite a different approach.
That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Esaias the prophet, saying, Himself took our infirmities, and bare [our] sicknesses.
That it might be fulfilled: The mighty deeds of the Lord are not haphazard events. In His ministry Jesus fulfills the prophecies concerning Him and carries out the Father’s timetable.
which was spoken by Esaias the prophet, saying, Himself took our infirmities, and bare [our] sicknesses: Matthew indicates these physical healings fulfill Isaiah 53:4. Because this prophecy is obviously in reference to Christ’s substitutionary sacrifice for sin, many scholars and expositors puzzle over Matthew’s application.
Admittedly the solution is not an easy one, and care must be taken in theorizing about this passage. Two possible explanations should be considered.
First, Jesus figuratively takes our infirmities and bears our sicknesses in that He sympathizes with those who are troubled. An apt illustration is the pain a parent feels for a sick child. So Jesus, the Great Physician and Suffering Servant, has compassion on all who come to him. The gospel writers repeatedly mention the Lord’s emotion toward the multitudes (Matthew 9:36; Matthew 15:32; Mark 10:41; Luke 10:33). The writer of Hebrews beautifully says, "For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as [we are, yet] without sin" (Hebrews 4:15).
Plumptre holds that Jesus’ power to heal is so intimately connected with the intensity of His sympathy that it produces weariness and physical exhaustion. According to this view, this is the reason for Jesus’ subsequent escape to solitude (Mark 1:35; Luke 4:42) (Plumptre as quoted by Broadus 182-3).
A second view is that Jesus takes infirmities in the sense that He takes away sin, the root cause of all pain and sorrow. McArthur illustrates this point by saying that Jesus does not weep at Lazarus’ tomb in remorse over the death of a dear friend for He knows His friend will soon be raised from the dead. But He rather weeps because of the evil, sinful power that brings suffering and death to every man. Thus, Jesus cannot see the pain of sickness and death without feeling the pain of sin (McArthur, Vol. 2, p. 18). Genesis 3:14-19 shows that pain and physical difficulty are inextricably connected to sin, and ultimately both may be traced to a common source. Fowler says the Master takes upon himself the whole crushing moral responsibility for the underlying cause of all our sin and sickness (Fowler, Vol. II 52).
No matter how one interprets the theological nuances of this verse, one fact remains: Jesus, the perfect Lamb of God, provides spiritual cleansing by His blood shed on Calvary’s tree. Whatever else that might be drawn from Isaiah 53 is overshadowed by this illuminating fact. Jesus the Christ dies so that we might be spiritually free. Matthew destroys the false Jewish notion that Jesus suffers because of His own sins. Believers know that His death is vicarious for the sins of mankind.
Now when Jesus saw great multitudes about him, he gave commandment to depart unto the other side.
There is a lapse of time between verses 17 and 18. Mark 1:35-39 notes that after the events at Peter’s house, Jesus departs from Capernaum and preaches in the surrounding towns. Now, perhaps a day or two later, Jesus sees the multitudes coming and gives order to depart to the east side of the Sea of Galilee and the less populated area of the Gergesenes (Matthew 8:28).
While exhaustion no doubt plays a role in Jesus’ decision to leave the crowds, such must be balanced with the fact that His ministry is often hindered by popularity. Thus, Jesus may give orders to travel for other reasons than personal comfort. To leave the multitudes will perhaps awaken them from their earthy cries for food and healing and give them space to consider His heavenly mission. In addition such a departure will give the Master time to commune privately with His disciples. Matthew does not specify whose boat is used, but it might be Peter’s since he is a former fisherman.
And a certain scribe came, and said unto him, Master, I will follow thee whithersoever thou goest.
And a certain scribe came: Before Jesus can enter the boat and set sail, a scribe steps forward with a bold assertion. "Master, I will follow thee whithersoever thou goest."
To grasp the statement of this man, we must understand who he is. Scribes are the authorities of the Jewish law. They have their roots in the priesthood and by the first century have become an honored class of professional lawyers. Their aim is to defend the Jewish faith fiercely. Furthermore, they consider themselves the primary leaders of Judaism. It is striking that this man addresses Jesus as "Master" (that is, teacher–didaskalos), and even more novel that he seeks to follow him.
The twenty-third chapter of Matthew shows that as a whole Jesus does not get along with this class of people. As He did the Pharisees, Jesus brands many of them as hypocrites, egoists, cheats, and frauds. Such, however, seems not to be the case with this man. There is nothing in our text to indicate that this scribe is insincere or seeks to sabotage the Lord’s ministry. Furthermore, Matthew seems to indicate by verse 21 that this scribe is a genuine learner of the Lord. He calls this man and another man by the term, "disciple."
The problem for this scribe is dedication. He is enamored with Jesus’ superb teaching, but he neither fully realizes the cost of discipleship nor appreciates the immense rigors of being a part of Jesus’ ministry.
and said unto him, Master, I will follow thee whithersoever thou goest: The implications of this statement are astounding. To follow another, one must be willing to submit to his leadership and surrender to his will. Furthermore, this man says he will follow Jesus "wherever" He goes. It seems clear that this scribe does not fully understand the rigors and daily sacrifice of Jesus ministry. Neither does he understand that Jesus’ path leads to Golgotha. Jesus now warns that true discipleship requires much sacrifice.
And Jesus saith unto him, The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air [have] nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay [his] head.
And Jesus saith unto him: As in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus returns to a favorite way of expressing spiritual truths by again pointing to nature.
The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air [have] nests: Foxes have holes (pholeous) or burrows in which they can rest. Likewise birds have their roosts (kataskenoseis). This word is a compound word from "kata" (down) and "skene" (tent) and means the birds have a place to tent down for the night (Earle 8). Unlike these, however, Jesus has no place to lay his head.
but the Son of man hath not where to lay [his] head: The question arises as to how this statement should be interpreted. Literally speaking, Capernaum is Jesus’ home; and Mark 2:1 seems to indicate He has a regular place of stay. In addition, He often visits the homes of disciples, such as Mary and Martha, Peter, and others. Furthermore, Oriental hospitality demands that a place be provided for travelers even if they are strangers.
Most likely Jesus is exaggerating His case in order to impress upon this scribe the spiritual nature of His ministry. While the scribe is accustomed to the physical comforts of a fine home and security, Jesus knows none of these. Jesus is an itinerant preacher without earthly luxuries. Broadus says Jesus does not so much intend to indicate His extreme poverty and discomfort as He wishes to emphasize a ministry that frequently takes Him far and wide with no permanence (184).
The term "Son of man" is used more than eighty times in the gospels to describe the humanity of Jesus’ Messiahship. As "the Son of man," Jesus is fully human; but as the "Son of God," He is fully divine. Luke 22:69-70 shows that "son of man" and "son of God" are sometimes used interchangeably. The Jews readily recognize "Son of man" as an Old Testament epitaph for the Messiah (John 12:33). The prophet Daniel first uses the term in Daniel 7:13-14. When Jesus stands before the high priest in Matthew 26:63, He affirms He is the Son of God and makes reference to Daniel 7:13-14. Here Jesus fully acknowledges His deity and authority and affirms to this skilled student of Old Testament prophecy that He fulfills the Mosaic Law.
By using this term, Jesus illustrates that as the Messiah He is not above the physical discomforts of humanity. As with any human, Jesus knows sorrow, pain, loneliness, and suffering. John indicates that Jesus, the incarnate Logos, becomes flesh and tabernacles among men (John 1:14). What poignancy is found in the fact that He through whom the world was made has no place to call His own. Fowler notes, however,
"Before we feel too much pity for Jesus who had no comfortable, permanent home on earth, we must ask ourselves who is really to be pitied: Him who knew how to detach Himself from home so as to be free to prepare Himself and men for God’s eternity, or us who are so attached to the loved and known, to home and family that we cannot respond to Jesus’ call to service as we ought?" (Vol. 2 67).
And another of his disciples said unto him, Lord, suffer me first to go and bury my father.
And another of his disciples said unto him: This man and the previous scribe are called "disciples" or "learners" of Jesus. Luke’s record shows Jesus calls this man to "follow" just as he did his other apostles (compare Luke 9:59 and Matthew 4:19; Matthew 9:9). Some conjectured from this incident that Jesus is actually calling this man to be one of his inner-circle with perhaps the intent of sending him out with the seventy (Luke 10:1).
There is a marked difference between the scribe and this man. The scribe is an enthusiast. This man is overly cautious (Robertson 68). In the final analysis, however, they both manifest an attitude of selfishness. This attitude will keep them both from following the Lord.
Lord, suffer me first to go and bury my father.
Much speculation on this verse is made with the crux centering on the actual state of the father in question. Is this man’s father already dead? Is he simply asking to give proper respect to the deceased? It is obvious that the Jews hold it a sacred duty to ensure a decent burial of family members (Genesis 50:5). However, if this is the case, Jesus’ comment seems insensitive?
Is the father gravely ill or perhaps near to death and, hence, the request centers around the man’s desire to stay at home several more weeks or months until his father dies? What better way to "honor one’s parents" than to be beside a dying father’s bedside. Furthermore, it is customary for Jews to observe thirty days of special mourning after such a death. Is this what the man is requesting?
While the above scenarios are arguable, it seems likely that the father is still in good health. If so, the request is one that centers on selfishness; however, this man wants to wait until his father dies so he can gain the inheritance. In other words, this man would like to follow Jesus but not until all of his monetary concerns are met and he becomes the master of his own financial destiny. McArthur says it is considered the son’s responsibility to help his father in the family business until the father dies and the inheritance is distributed (Vol. 2 24).
This request stands in contrast to Jesus’ statement of his own "financial wellbeing." While Jesus realizes discipleship promises no rewards, this man wants a guarantee before he sets out behind Jesus.
But Jesus said unto him, Follow me; and let the dead bury their dead.
But Jesus said unto him, Follow me: Jesus is not being insensitive to death or human suffering but is rather exposing the procrastination of one whose commitment comes with reservation. This man has a superficial desire to follow the Lord; but, like the scribe, his interests are rooted in personal gain and comfort. Someday he wants to follow the Lord, but for now he has more important matters to which he must attend. Jesus statement is one of priority. Follow first, and let secular matters take care of themselves.
let the dead bury their dead: Jesus avoids direct mention of the man’s father and shifts the focus to those who are really dead—dead spiritually. Jesus says those with no interest in the kingdom of heaven are always on hand to tend to earthly matters; for His disciple, there are more pressing engagements. "Chrysostom says that, while it is a good deed to bury the dead, it is a better one to preach Christ" (Robertson 69). Luke records that after Jesus’ initial statement, He directly addresses this man’s responsibility by saying, "but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God" (Luke 9:59). We cannot say whether this man then or at a later period fulfills the Lord’s command, but Jesus certainly knows human nature and the tendency to let mundane matters cloud one’s vision of righteous living.
Matthew omits a third man who comes to Jesus on this occasion, but Luke says that yet another speaks with good intentions (Luke 9:61). This one wants to follow the Lord but only after he has returned home to say goodbye to family and friends. Jesus shows that service for Him requires looking forward, not backward. To look back to the former life with fondness makes one unfit for service, for it demonstrates a fickleness of affection. "And Jesus saith unto him, No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God" (Luke 9:62).
And when he was entered into a ship, his disciples followed him.
And when he was entered into a ship: Having been delayed from His intent to cross the sea because of the three encounters with "would be followers," Jesus now enters a ship with His disciples. Mark indicates that other fishing vessels set out along with the Savior’s ship (Mark 4:36). All will apparently meet the same peril. Mark’s phraseology of this sequence says "they took Him along in the boat as he was" (Mark 4:36). Ellicott believes this passage points to Christ’s extreme exhaustion and fatigue from teaching (114). This may be the case because Jesus immediately falls asleep on a pillow.
his disciples followed him: One cannot help but notice the contrast between those Jesus leaves on the shore and those who now enter the ship with Him. Three have verbalized their desire to be His disciples, but there is no indication they are among the ones who actually enter the boats.
And, behold, there arose a great tempest in the sea, insomuch that the ship was covered with the waves: but he was asleep.
And, behold, there arose a great tempest in the sea: The Sea of Galilee is an inland body of water some thirteen miles long and eight miles wide. It is situated some 680 feel below sea level with hills on all sides. Just to the north, rising 9,200 feet, is the majestic Mount Hermon. With such terrain, storms often sweep down onto this small sea without warning, reeking havoc on the many small fishing vessels that traverse the water. More than once Jesus and His disciples find themselves in such peril.
Matthew says a "great tempest" arose on the sea. The word "storm" (seismos) literally means a shaking and is the same term from which we get the English words seismic and seismograph (Earle 8). Thirteen other times in the New Testament the same word is translated "earthquake."
The parallel accounts (Mark 4:37; Luke 8:23) describe the scene with the word "lapsis" (whirlwind). Earle comments, "This was the source of the shaking: It was due to the down rush of violent gusts of wind, which churned the water into an angry monster reaching out wet hands to seize its helpless victims and drag them down to a watery grave" (Earle 8).
insomuch that the ship was covered with the waves: Mark indicates that as the storm continues the boat fills with water (4:37). When coupled with the fact that this trip began at evening and by now it may be pitch black, a scene of panic emerges.
but he was asleep: Such simple words speak volumes about our Lord. While all around Him panic and chaos ensues, He sleeps in peace. But one should not only interpret these words theologically. It seems equally clear that while Jesus is at peace in a world of chaos, He is also physically exhausted. As the ship sets out on calm water, the drone of the multitudes is left behind and a quietness envelopes the rowing party. In this peace Jesus apparently falls into a deep sleep, so deep that even the encroaching waves and the careening of the boat do not wake Him. Soaked and lying on the hard wooden planks of the ship’s stern with only a pillow for his head, the Savior sleeps.
And his disciples came to [him], and awoke him, saying, Lord, save us: we perish.
And his disciples came to [him], and awoke him: It is of the great interest to note that when the disciples find themselves in danger, they always know where to turn. When all is well, these self-reliant followers seem to take the Lord for granted. But when, in the midst of the perilous storm, they find themselves at the end of their own strength, their quivering lips immediately cry, "Lord, save us."
Lord, save us: we perish: The cry of the disciples is urgent. "Save, Lord; we perish" (Kurie, soson, apollumetha). Literally the phrase means "Lord, save us at once!" (Robertson 69). Luke’s account says, "Master, Master, we are perishing" (Luke 8:24). Fowler further indicates that the verbs used by all three gospel writers indicate repeated cries by the disciples for Jesus to awaken (Vol. 2, p. 84).
Lenksi makes the interesting observation that these oarsmen, as experienced as they are with fishing vessels, now turn to one who claimed no earthly trade but carpentry. Lenski says:
"How could a former carpenter help these expert sailors when all their skill was at and end, and death in the roaring waves was their certain fate? In the providence of God this storm brought to view such faith as they really had" (346).
As will be noted, Jesus does not commend them for this faith but rather upbraids them. While the faith they have is enough and of sufficient quality to turn them toward the Lord, it is weak and insufficient to keep them from being overcome with terror.
And he saith unto them, Why are ye fearful, O ye of little faith? Then he arose, and rebuked the winds and the sea; and there was a great calm.
And he saith unto them, Why are ye fearful: The question that Jesus poses to this terrified group is one that all followers of the Lord must consider. "Why are ye fearful?" In this the Lord seems to ask, "Do you not realize that I am in control of all? Do you not realize my power over nature? Have you forgotten the power of my touch as I healed the leper or the power of my word as I healed the Centurion’s servant? Where have you placed your faith?"
Fowler correctly points out that fear, in and of itself, is not wrong (Vol. 2, p. 87). Indeed God grants us our emotions for self preservation and protection. The disciples are not wrong for having a healthy concern for their lives.
O ye of little faith: The problem in this instance is that their fear overwhelms them—it has become excessive debilitating because they have forgotten the providence of the Almighty. Jesus points to a problem common to mankind: most problems in life are "faith problems." When the believer fails to trust God, he opens the window to the storms of life.
Ellicott says, "They had not altogether lost their trust in Him, but they had not learnt the lesson of the centurion’s faith, and were only at ease when they heard His voice, and saw that He was watching over them" (115).
Then he arose, and rebuked the winds and the sea; and there was a great calm: This is the second rebuke that Jesus gives. After taking time in the midst of the raging storm to set the disciple’s spiritual course aright, He then proceeds to their immediate physical danger. Here we see the Lord’s priorities: to correct the soul is of far greater import than to provide for the body. Jesus has already reminded his disciples of this truth (Matthew 6:25 ff).
Mark records Jesus’ exact words to the storm, "Peace be still" (4:39). Ellicott says the rebuke literally means "be dumb, be muzzled" (114). The result is immediate and complete. A passive calm settles over the sea. The gnawing waves that sought to devour the disciples now lap gently at the ships bow. The Lord does not provide just enough calm so the disciples can struggle to the shore—He blesses them with a placid sea.. Nor does He continue to punish them for their faithlessness. He has given His rebuke, and they have learned their lesson. This situation pictures what Jesus does for His followers today when He calms the sea of a troubled heart as one comes to Him.
But the men marvelled, saying, What manner of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him!
Luke says the disciples are both afraid and amazed (8:25). Mark says "they feared exceedingly" (4:41). The kind of fear they now experience is of a different quality than the storm has affected. Both fears have caused them to consider the Lord; however, in the former, they consider him for no deeper reason than to save their own physical lives. In this instance, they consider the spiritual implications of a Man with this power.
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.
And when he was come to the other side: By this time, daylight breaks over the hills around the Sea of Galilee and the sailing party arrives at the eastern shore of the lake. The general region is known as the Decapolis, so called because of its ten major cities.
into the country of the Gergesenes: The exact location of this miracle is uncertain. Comparison of the synoptic texts reveals that the Greek manuscripts differ with some having "Gadarenes" (Matthew 8:28-34), "Gerasenes" (Mark 5:1), and "Gergesenes" (Luke 8:26). Matthew’s use of "Gadarenes" probably refers to a larger area that takes its name from Gadara, the capital city, under whose jurisdiction the area lies. Some believe the event takes place specifically at the village of Khersa (Gersa) on the northeast shore of the Sea. Robertson says this village is also in the district of Gadara (p 69). McGarvey gives a vivid description of the terrain that surrounds the site:
Immediately south of it rises a rocky mountain penetrated by tombs, which extends more than a mile along the lake-shore, at first leaving a plain more than a quarter of a mile wide between its base and the water’s edge, but finally projecting one of its spurs out close to the shore. Here…must be the place where the hogs into which the demons entered ’ran violently down a steep place into the sea. (Lands 328-9).
there met him: The welcoming party is not one fit for a heavenly dignitary such as Jesus. No key to the city is presented to the Master. There is no parade or speech given by the mayor of the area. Instead, two half crazed, bloody, naked men come running from the tombs and fling themselves at Jesus’ feet.
two possessed with devils: Matthew mentions two demon possessed men. Mark and Luke, however, turn their focus to only one of these men and describe his deplorable condition. Mark records that at least one of the men identifies his name as "Legion" because of the many demons that dwell within him (5:9). A full Roman legion consists of 6,826 men (Robertson 296). It is uncertain whether this is to be taken literally or merely in the sense of a great number. Some have connected the 2000 swine that later drown with the number of demons that inhabit these men but the conclusion is a forced one without definitive proof. If many demons can inhabit two men, any number can inhabit 2000 swine.
coming out of the tombs: These men no longer live in the city but find what shelter they need among the stench of decaying human flesh. Tombs of this period are "caves" that are hewn into the rock hillsides common to Palestine. We are not told if these men are Jews or Gentiles; however, Jews regard tombs as being unclean places. If these men are of Jewish background, it makes their plight that much more deplorable.
McGarvey believes the demons in these men are the departed spirits of dead men and speculates that these tombs may be the place where their "own" dead bodies are buried (McGarvey 289, see also McGarvey on Matthew 8:16). The theory is interesting, but highly speculative if not suspect.
exceeding fierce, so that no man might pass by that way: These men are so ferocious that the village people will not pass near the tombs. At night they hear the screams of these men and are terrified of them (Mark 5:5). Mark and Luke note these men are unable to be tamed or shackled. Their strength is "super-human," and their fierceness is unexcelled. Furthermore, Mark indicates they cut themselves with stones and are a naked bloody mess (Mark 5:5; Luke 8:27). McGarvey believes the cutting of themselves is perhaps an attempt by their natural spirits to throw off the foreign spirits (p 290).
To human eyes, this is a hopeless case; however, inspiration will show that Jesus forever changes both the lives of the demonics as well as the lives of the towns folks. The cause that seems so lost ends in hope. The voices that once shriek in the night soon proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ (Mark 4:19-20).
And, behold, they cried out, saying, What have we to do with thee, Jesus, thou Son of God? art thou come hither to torment us before the time?
And, behold, they cried out, saying: Admittedly this passage is difficult to understand. Mark 5:6 notes the men initially worship Jesus. Here, however, there seems to be a different cry as the demons try to distance themselves from Jesus, giving rise to a problem of harmonizing the passages. McGarvey believes the demons are responsible for both the worship and the cries but speculates they are insincere. He remarks:
They probably had two purposes in this: first, by cunning flattery and fawning, to dissuade Jesus from casting them out; and second, to injure his cause by making it appear that there was friendship between him and themselves (McGarvey 289).
Others, however, see the initial praise (Mark 5:6) as coming from the men themselves as they plead for help. Such an appeal is short lived, however, as the demons interrupt. Fowler says, "If the men worshipped Jesus, then this could be seen as a desperate bid for freedom against the awful possession which seemed unending (Vol. 2, p. 105).
While a good case may be made for both positions, it seems logical to view both as the action of the demons. When the spirits see Jesus, their worship and accusing words come from realizing they now stand in the presence of the Son of God. This fact alone demands worship yet brings fear of being cast out. The demon’s recognition and response is wholly to be expected.
Demons are fallen angels, and before they joined Satan in his rebellion against God they knew intimately each member of the Trinity. Though they had never before seen Him in human form, they instantly recognized Jesus as the second Person of the Godhead. As spirits they recognized His spirit. They knew intuitively that they were standing in the presence of the Son of God (Vol. 2 42).
In discussing demon possession, one encounters many complexities, not the least of which is determining the exact place where the natural faculties of the victim leave off and where the demonic influence begins. In Biblical examples, possession seems so thoroughly complete that the natural will is ineffective in wielding power over the demonic inhabitants. In keeping with this idea, the case before us seems to paint these men as helpless victims rather than participants with these spirits (see also Matthew 17:15; Mark 9:18). Fowler says, "Jesus dealt with demons as spirits who inhabited the body and governed the mind of human beings. He addressed them as evil visitors from the spirit world whose malignant control over these made in God’s image roused His indignation and sympathy" (Vol. 2 104).
Edersheim takes the issue in a different direction, however, and contends there is no evidence for permanent or constant possession. He cites our Lord’s encounter with a demon-possessed man in the synagogue at Capernaum (Mark 1:21-28) as a case in point. In this instance, after what might be viewed as a time of quiet control over his own faculties, the demon takes over with a sudden outburst; and the man reacts to the Person and preaching of Christ (see also Matthew 17:15 and especially Mark 9:18).
The synagogue example leaves many questions unanswered in ascertaining whether or not demon possession in an individual is transient or permanent. It seems likely those afflicted are constantly possessed with the demon exerting more influence at certain times than others; however, the case is a difficult one and far from resolved. Even in the text before us, we must give account as to how these demonics are at times "unpossessed" enough so common men can bind them with chains. On the other hand, if there are times when the demons do not exert an influence on these men, thus leaving their natural will and mental faculties intact, why will they submit to being bound? When the demons are "not at home," are these victims left in such a stupor as to be unable to reason with the townspeople? Such seems unlikely.
On the other hand Jesus’ comment must be explained when He says, "When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walketh through dry places, seeking rest, and findeth none" (Matthew 12:43). Does this statement indicate that demons are free to come and go as they please?
In view of this dilemma, and although our craving is not satiated by it, we find nourishing food for thought in Ederhiem’s comment:
But, in our view, it is of the deepest importance always to keep in mind, that the ’demonised’ was not a permanent state, or possession by the powers of darkness. For, it establishes a moral element, since, during the period of their temporary liberty, the demonised might have shaken themselves free from the overshadowing power, or sought release from it. Thus the demonised state involved personal responsibility, although that of a diseased and disturbed consciousness (Life, III 484).
What have we to do with thee, Jesus, thou Son of God: These words are significant. Fowler suggests the demons want to know what they have in common with Jesus. In other words what common bond do they have with the master (Vol. 2, p. 107, see also Broadus 191). The obvious answer is they have nothing in common except Jesus is their creator. The demon’s statement also preempts any possible accusation that Jesus casts them out via the power of Satan. Later Jesus will be accused of this, but it is clear from this text that even the demons realize they have nothing in common with Christ (compare Matthew 12:26).
art thou come hither to torment us before the time: These demons know there will be a final judgment. Until such a time, however, they want to be left alone in the physical world to do as they please. Jesus’ presence suggests perhaps He has some kind of preemptive strike in mind. They shudder in fear at the prospect of being judged so soon. Luke notes they ask not to be cast into the "abyss" (8:31). In the Old Testament the abyss is a figure used for the ocean depths (Psalms 33:7; Psalms 77:16; Psalms 107:26). By New Testament times, however, it denotes the netherworld. In scripture the Greek term (abusson) is used to describe the place of the dead (Romans 10:7); the dungeon where the devil is kept (Revelation 20:3); abode of the beast (Revelation 11:7; Revelation 17:8); and the bottomless pit (Revelation 20:1; Revelation 20:3). Thus, these demons do not want to be banished from the physical realm. They do not want to be sent back to the spiritual world to await their final judgment.
And there was a good way off from them an herd of many swine feeding.
Mark indicates the number of pigs is about 2,000 (5:13), thus making the event noteworthy not only in the eyes of the owner but in the minds of the entire region (Matthew 5:17).
To the Jews, pigs are unclean and unfit for consumption. This fact indicates the area on the eastern edge of the Sea of Galilee is not inhabited by Jews only but by Gentiles as well. Ellicott, suggests that such a sizable herd might have been kept to supply the wants of the Romans. "For while the Jews did not eat pork, Roman soldiers did" (Ellicott 118). History further indicates that Herod kept swine on his estate for his personal consumption. Thus, it is possible that these swine are owned by Jews to be sold to Gentile buyers. Fowler humorously says of the Jews, "They could have justified themselves, whining, ’But we don’t eat the stuff! We just grow the hogs and sell the pork to the heathen neighbors.’" (Vol. 2 111).
So the devils besought him, saying, If thou cast us out, suffer us to go away into the herd of swine.
These demons know Jesus will certainly cast them out. Their comment of "if thou . . ." is not one of doubt but one of certainty. Before Jesus performs the exorcism, however, the demons try to barter with the Lord. They beg Jesus to send them into the herd of swine.
Scripture gives no definitive explanation as to why these demons ask to be sent into the pigs, but the following points should be considered.
1. The demons find swine more suitable than the abyss. McGarvey says the demons believe it less wretched to inhabit the bodies of these brute beasts than to endure an existence in the abyss (McGarvey 292).
2. It is obvious Jesus will not send them into the body of another human, for this would defeat his purpose.
3. Demons apparently prefer to inhabit some kind of physical body and having no other immediate option they suggest the swine feeding nearby (Matthew 12:34-35).
4. Fowler suggests the demons might have maliciously made the request, knowing that the swine will be destroyed thus hoping to destroy Jesus’ reputation (Vol. 2, p. 111).
And he said unto them, Go. And when they were come out, they went into the herd of swine: and, behold, the whole herd of swine ran violently down a steep place into the sea, and perished in the waters.
And he said unto them, Go: The request having been made, Jesus now grants permission for the demons to leave. With a single word (hupagete, lit: be gone), He casts out the entire legion. Again, the power of the incarnate Logos is magnificently demonstrated by His word (John 1:1).
Commentators puzzle over why Jesus knowingly allows the destruction of the swine and the loss to their keepers. Various theories are proposed, with some saying Jesus weighs the value of the men against the value of the swine thus making the obvious correct decision. Others, such as McGarvey, believe the swine owners are Jews; and because they are in this business against Mosaic Law, Jesus allows the loss of their unlawful business as righteous retribution for their evil conduct (McGarvey 292).
In reality, scripture is silent on the issue and over-speculation is unnecessary and dangerous. To know the answer adds nothing to the inspired account of Jesus’ power.
Beyond this point, however, there are a few questions that should be given at least marginal consideration:
1. Do the demons deliberately drive the swine into the sea? If so, then why do they seek to enter them in the first place? Is their request made from a fear of being disembodied and, thus, condemned to the abyss? Does the pigs’ death force them back into the abyss? (McGarvey 292).
2. Is it possible that the swine’s inferior intellect and will cannot handle the sudden influx of demonic power and, thus, these brute beasts stamped to their destruction? McGarvey holds this view, saying the demons cannot control the hogs as they did the men (292).
And they that kept them fled, and went their ways into the city, and told every thing, and what was befallen to the possessed of the devils.
The other synoptics record that the keepers flee both to the city and to the surrounding country (Mark 5:14; Luke 8:34). Probably the city of Gerasa is the first to hear of the news, and from there it spreads to other towns and villages.
One can only imagine the fear of the keepers as their otherwise peaceful day is shattered by the destruction of the entire herd of 2000 pigs. Imagine their frantic yells as they desperately try to head off the pigs as they turn toward the cliff. Imagine their anguish as they consider the responsibility they have for the safety of the herd.
And, behold, the whole city came out to meet Jesus: and when they saw him, they besought [him] that he would depart out of their coasts.
And, behold, the whole city came out to meet Jesus: Having heard the amazing story from the keepers, the people now turn out to see for themselves if these things are so. What they witness will change their lives forever.
Mark records that at least one, presumably both, are now sitting quietly at the feet of the Master. Their crazed and insane frenzy has subsided. Their threats and demonic yells are no longer heard. The shame of their nakedness is no longer seen. They are fully healed, fully clothed, and fully restored to their right minds.
and when they saw him, they besought [him] that he would depart out of their coasts: The reaction of the townsfolk is not what one might expect. It might be imagined they will be happy for the new lives these once tormented men now enjoy. One might surmise they will be grateful their city is again safe. One might imagine their relief knowing their sleep will no longer be shattered by piercing demonic screams. This, however, is not the people’s reaction.
Perhaps because of the emotion of the moment, this situation is too much to handle. Luke says they are "seized with great fear." Thus, they beg Jesus to leave their region. The Master with His gospel message has come, but they are unwilling to let Him stay.
Although Matthew does not record the events, we learn from parallel accounts that at least one of the healed men sought to follow Jesus (Mark 5:18-20; Luke 8:38-39). On more than one occasion, Jesus calls men to follow Him. Here, however, Jesus refuses to let this man follow. Rather He sends him back home, telling him to go and report to others what great things have happened to him.