Bible Commentaries
Matthew 8

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - UnabridgedCommentary Critical Unabridged

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Verse 1

When he was come down from the mountain, great multitudes followed him.

The time of this miracle seem too definitely fixed here to admit of our placing it where it stands in Mark and Luke, in whose Gospels no such precise note of time is given.

[And] When he was come down from the mountain, great multitudes follow him.

Verse 2

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 - "a man full of leprosy," says Luke 5:12. Much has been written on this disease of leprosy, but certain points remain still doubtful. All that needs be said here is, that it was a cutaneous disease, of a loathsome, diffusive, and, there is reason to believe, when thoroughly pronounced, incurable character; that though in its distinctive features it is still found in several countries-as Arabia, Egypt, and South Africa-it prevailed, in the form of what is called white leprosy, to an unusual extent, and from a very early period, among the Hebrews; and that it thus furnished to the whole nation a familiar and affecting symbol of SIN, considered as

(1) loathsome

(2) spreading,

(3) incurable.

And while the ceremonial ordinances for detection and cleansing prescribed in this case by the law of Moses (Leviticus 13:1-59; Leviticus 14:1-57.) held forth a coming remedy "for sin and for uncleanness" (Psalms 51:7; 2 Kings 5:1; 2 Kings 5:7; 2 Kings 5:10; 2 Kings 5:13-14), the numerous cases of leprosy with which our Lord came in contact, and the glorious cures of them which He worked, were a fitting manifestation of the work which He came to accomplish. In this view, it, deserves to be noticed that the first of our Lord's miracles of healing recorded by Matthew is this cure of a leper.

And worshipped him - in what sense we shall presently see. Mark says (Mark 1:40), he came, "beseeching and kneeling to Him," and Luke says (Matthew 7:12), "he fell on his face."

Saying, Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean. Since this is the only cure of leprosy recorded by all Saying, Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean. Since this is the only cure of leprosy recorded by all the three first Evangelists, it was probably the first case of the kind; and if so, this leper's faith in the power of Christ must have been formed in him by what he had heard of His other cures. And how striking a faith is it! He does not say he believed Him able, but with a brevity expressive of a confidence that knew no doubt, he says simply, "Thou canst" [ dunasai (G1410)]. But of Christ's willingness to heal him he was not so sure. It needed more knowledge of Jesus than he could be supposed to have to assure him of that. But one thing he was sure of that He had but to "will" it. This shows with what "worship" of Christ this leper fell on his face before him. Clear theological knowledge of the Person of Christ was not then possessed even by those who were most with Him and nearest to Him. Much less could full insight into all that we know of the Only begotten of the Father be expected of this leper. But he who at that moment felt and owned that to heal an incurable disease needed but the fiat of the Person who stood before him, had assuredly that very faith in the germ, which now casts its crown before Him that loved us, and would at any time die for His blessed name.

Verse 3

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

And Jesus (or 'He,' according to another reading) - "moved with compassion," says Mark (Mark 1:41); a precious addition,

Put forth his hand, and touched him. Such a touch occasioned ceremonial defilement (Leviticus 5:3); even as the leper's coming near enough for contact was against the Levitical regulations (Leviticus 13:46). But as the man's faith told him there would be no case for such regulations if the cure he hoped to experience should be accomplished, so He who had healing in His wings transcended all such statutes.

Saying, I will; be thou clean, [ Theloo (G2309), katharistheeti (G2511)]. How majestic these two words! By not assuring the man of His power to heal him. He delightfully sets His seal to the man's previous confession of that power; and by assuring him of the one thing of which he had any doubt, and for which he waited-His will to do it-He makes a claim as divine as the cure which immediately followed it.

And immediately his leprosy was cleansed. Mark, more emphatic, says (Mark 1:42), "And as soon as He had spoken, immediately the leprosy departed from him, and he was cleansed" - as perfectly as instantaneously. What a contrast this to modern pretended cures!

Verse 4

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 ("straitly charged him, and forthwith sent him away," Mark 1:43 , and) saith unto him; See thou tell no man. A hard condition this would seem to a grateful heart, whose natural language, in such a case, is "Come, hear, all ye that fear God, and I will declare what He hath done for my soul" (Psalms 66:16). We shall presently see the reason for it.

But go thy way, show thyself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses commanded (Leviticus 14:1-57 ), for a testimony unto them - a palpable witness that the Great Healer had indeed come, and that "God had visited His people." What the sequel was, our Evangelist says not; but Mark thus gives it (Mark 1:45): "But he went out, and began to publish it much, and to blaze abroad the matter, insomuch that Jesus could no more openly enter into the city, but was without in desert places: and they came to Him from every quarter." Thus-by an over-zealous, though most natural and not very culpable, infringement of the injunction to keep the matter quiet-was our Lord, to some extent, thwarted in His movements. As His whole course was sublimely noiseless (Matthew 12:19), so we find Him repeatedly taking steps to prevent matters coming prematurely to a crisis with Him. (But see the notes at Mark 5:19-20) "And He withdrew Himself," adds Luke (Luke 7:16), "into the wilderness, and prayed;" retreating from the popular excitement into the secret place of the Most High, and thus coming forth as dew upon the mown grass, and as showers that water the earth (Psalms 72:6). And this is the secret beth of strength and of sweetness in the servants and followers of Christ in every age.


(1) It is, at least, a pleasing thought, that this first healed leper was none other than he who within a few days of his Lord's death, under the familiar name of "Simon the leper," made Him a supper at Bethany in his own house. (See the note at Mark 14:3.) And if so, is it not refreshing to think that he who so early experienced the healing power and grace of Jesus, and abode true and grateful to Him throughout, should have had the privilege of ministering to him at His loved retreat of Bethany when the hour of His last sufferings was so near at hand?

(2) How gloriously is the absolute authority of Christ to heal or not, just as He "will," both owned by this leper and claimed by Himself! And as the cure instantaneously followed the expression of that will, how bright is the attestation of Heaven thus given to the Personal Divinity of the Lord Jesus! (Compare Psalms 33:9; Genesis 1:3, etc.)

(3) Would those who groan under the leprosy of sin obtain a glorious cure? Let them but honour the power of Christ as did this poor leper, adding to this a confidence in His "will" which the leper could not be expected to reach; and they will not be disappointed.

(4) Our own sense of propriety is never to be carried out in opposition to commanded duty. The strange command of Christ would seem to this healed leper to be more honoured in the breach than in the observance. In blazing abroad his cure, he would seem to himself to be simply obeying a resistless and holy impulse; and but for the injunction, in this particular case, to do the very opposite, he would have acted most laudably. But after receiving a command to keep silence, the part of duty was not to judge of it, but to obey it. As he was no competent judge of the reasons which dictated the command, so he ought to have "brought into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ;" and thus should we act in every such case.

(5) Healed lepers, not now required to keep silence, let the love of Christ constrain you to sing forth the honour of His name, and make His praise glorious: so will the sense of it habitually retain its freshness and warmth.

Verses 5-13

And when Jesus was entered into Capernaum, there came unto him a centurion, beseeching him,

This incident belongs to a later stage. For the exposition, see the notes at Luke 7:1-10.

Verses 14-17

And when Jesus was come into Peter's house, he saw his wife's mother laid, and sick of a fever.

For the exposition, see the notes at Mark 1:29-34.

The incidents here are two: in the corresponding passage of Luke they are three. Here they are introduced before the mission of the Twelve; in Luke, when our Lord was making preparation for His final journey to Jerusalem. But to conclude from this, as some good critics do, as Bengel, Ellicott, etc, that one of these incidents at least occurred twice-which led to the mention of the others at the two different times-is too, artificial. Taking them, then, as one set of occurrences, the question arises, Whether are they recorded by Matthew or by Luke in their proper place? Neander, Schleiemacher, and Olshausen adhere to Luke's order; while Meyer, de Wette, and Lange prefer that of Matthew. Probably the first incident is here in its right place. But as the command, in the second incident, to preach the kingdom of God, would scarcely have been given at so early a period, it is likely that it and the third incident have their true place in Luke. Taking these three incidents, then, up here, we have --

Verse 18

Now when Jesus saw great multitudes about him, he gave commandment to depart unto the other side.

No JFB commentary on this verse.

Verse 19

And a certain scribe came, and said unto him, Master, I will follow thee whithersoever thou goest. And a certain scribe came, and said unto him, Master, I will follow thee whithersoever thou goest.

And a certain scribe came, and said unto him, Master, I will follow thee wheresoever thou goest.

Verse 20

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, The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head. Few as there were of the scribes who attached themselves to Jesus, it would appear, from his calling Him 'Teacher' Didaskale (G1320), that this one was a "disciple" in that looser sense of the word in which it is applied to the crowds who flocked after Him, with more or less conviction that His claims were well founded. But from the answer which he received we are led to infer that there was more of transient emotion-of temporary impulse-than of intelligent principle in the speech. The preaching of Christ had riveted and charmed him; his heart had swelled; his enthusiasm had been kinkled; and in this state of mind he will go anywhere with Him; and feels impelled to tell Him so. 'Wilt thou?' replies the Lord Jesus 'Knowest thou Whom thou art pledging thyself to follow, and where haply He may lead thee? No warm home, no downy pillow has He for thee: He has them not for Himself. The foxes are not without their holes, nor do the birds of the air want their nests; but the Son of man has to depend on the hospitality of others, and borrow the pillow whereon He lays His head.' How affecting is this reply! And yet He rejects not this man's offer, nor refuses him the liberty to follow Him. Only He will have him know what he is doing, and 'count the cost.' He will have him weigh well the real nature and the strength of his attachment, whether it be such as will abide in the day of trial. If so, he will be right welcome, because Christ puts none away. But it seems too plain that in this case that had not been done. And so we have called this the rash or precipitate disciple.

Verses 21-22

And another of his disciples said unto him, Lord, suffer me first to go and bury my father.

Since this is more fully given in Luke, we must take both together. "And He said unto another of his disciples, Follow me. But he said, Lord, suffer me first to go and bury my father. But Jesus said unto him, Follow me; and let the dead bury their dead" - or, as more definitely in Luke, "Let the dead bury their dead: but go thou and preach the kingdom of God." This disciple did not, like the former, volunteer his services, but is called by the Lord Jesus, not only to follow, but to preach Him. And he is quite willing; only, he is not ready just yet. "Lord, I will; but" - `There is a difficulty in the way just now; but that once removed, I am Thine.' What now is this difficulty? Was his father actually dead-lying a corpse-having only to be buried? Impossible. As it was the practice, as noticed on Luke 7:12, to bury on the day of death, it is not very likely that this disciple would have been here at all if his father had just breathed his last; nor would the Lord, if He was there, have hindered him discharging the last duties of a son to a father.

No doubt it was the common case of a son having a frail or aged father, not likely to live long, whose head he No doubt it was the common case of a son having a frail or aged father, not likely to live long, whose head he thinks it his duty to see under the ground before he goes abroad. 'This aged father of mine will soon be removed; and if I might but delay until I see him decently interred, I should then be free to preach the kingdom of God wherever duty might call me.' This view of the case will explain the curt reply, "Let the dead bury their dead: but go thou and preach the kingdom of God." Like all the other pardoxical sayings of our Lord, the key to it is the different senses-a higher and a lower-in which the same word "dead." is used: 'There are two kingdoms of God in existence upon earth; the kingdom of nature, and the kingdom of grace: To the one kingdom all the children of this world, even the most ungodly, are fully alive; to the other, only the children of light: The reigning irreligion consists not in indifference to the common humanities of social life, but to things spiritual and eternal: Fear not, therefore, that your father will in your absence be neglected, and that when he breathes his last there will not be relatives and friends ready enough to do to him the last offices of kindness.

Your wish to discharge these yourself is natural, and to be allowed to do it a privilege not lightly to be foregone. But the Kingdom of God lies now all neglected and needy: Its more exalted character few discern; to its paramount claims few are alive; and to "preach" it fewer still are qualified and called: But thou art: The Lord therefore hath need of thee: Leave, then, those claims of nature, high though they be, to those who are dead to the still higher claims of the kingdom of grace, which God is now erecting upon earth-Let the dead bury their dead: but go thou and preach the kingdom of God.' And so have we here the genuine; but procrastinating or entangled disciple. The next case is recorded only by Luke.


Luke 9:61. "And another also said, Lord, I will follow thee; but let me first go bid them farewell which are at home at my house. Luke 9:62. And Jesus said unto him, No man, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God." But for the very different replies given, we should hardly have discerned the difference between this and the second case: the one man called, indeed, and the other volunteering, as did the first; but both seemingly alike willing, and only having a difficulty in their way just at that moment. But, by help of what is said respectively to each, we perceive the great difference between the two cases. From the warning given against "looking back," it is evident that this man's discipleship was not yet thorough, his separation from the world not entire. It is not a case of going back, but of looking back; and as there is here a manifest reference to the case of "Lot's wife" (Genesis 19:26; and see the note at Luke 17:32), we see that it is not actual return to the world that we have here to deal with, but a reluctance to break with it.

The figure of putting one's hand to the plow and looking back is an exceedingly vivid one, and to an agricultural people most impressive. As plowing requires an eye intent on the furrow to be made, and is marred the instant one turns about, so will they come short of salvation who prosecute the work of God with a distracted attention, a divided heart. The reference may be chiefly to ministers; but the application at least is general. Since the image seems plainly to have been suggested by the case of Elijah and Elisha, a difficulty may be raised, requiring a moment's attention. When Elijah cast his mantle about Elisa-which the youth quite understood to mean appointing him his successor, he was plowing with twelve yoke of oxen, the last pair held by himself. Leaving his oxen, he ran after the prophet, and said, "Let me, I pray thee, kiss my father and my mother, and [then] I will follow thee."

Was this said in the same spirit with the same speech uttered by our disciple? Let us see. "And Elijah said unto him, Go back again: for what have I done to thee." Commentators take this to mean that Elijah had really done nothing to hinder him from going on with all his ordinary duties. But to us it seems clear that Elijah's intention was to try what manner of spirit the youth was of: 'Kiss thy father and mother? And why not? By all means, go home and stay with them; for what have I done to thee? I did but throw a mantle about thee; but what of that?' If this was his meaning, Elisha thoroughly apprehended and nobly met it. "He returned back from him, and took a yoke of oxen, and slew them, and boiled their flesh with the instruments of the oxen [the wood of his plowing implements], and gave unto the people, and they did eat: then he arose, and went after Elijah, and ministered unto him" (1 Kings 19:19-21).

We know not if even his father and mother had time to be called to this hasty feast. But this much is plain, that, though in affluent circumstances, he gave up his lower calling, with all its prospects, for the higher, and at that time perilous office to which he was called. What now is the bearing of these two cases? Did Elisha do wrong in bidding them farewell with whom he was associated in his earthly calling? Or, if not, would this disciple have done wrong if he had done the same thing, and in the same spirit, with Elisha? Clearly not. Elisha's doing it proved that he could with safety do it; and our Lord's warning is not against bidding them farewell which were at home at his house, but against the probable fatal consequences of that step; lest the embraces of earthly relationship should prove too strong for him, and he should never return to follow Christ. Accordingly, we have called this the irresolute or wavering disciple.


(1) Rash or precipitate discipleship is scarcely to be looked for in times of spiritual death in lethargic conditions of the Church. The man who said he would follow Christ wherever He went had doubtless had his enthusiasm kindled, as we have said, by Christ's matchless preaching, though possibly also by the sight of His miracles. Even so an earnest, warm, rousing ministry, or a season of unusual awakening, stirring the most thoughtless, calls forth the enthusiasm of not a few, particularly among the young and ardent, who resolve-perhaps with tears of joy-that they will henceforth abandon the world and follow Christ. "Yet have they not root in themselves, but endure for a while; for when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word, presently they are stumbled." They want depth of solid conviction. Their spiritual necessities and danger have never led them to flee from the wrath to come. Their faith in Christ, then, and joy in the Gospel being but superficial, it gives way in the day of trial. The thing which such require is to 'count the cost;' and while rejoicing to see men, in a time of general awakening, drinking in the truth, melted under it, and giving in their accession to Christ, let them see to it that they "break up their fallow ground, and sow not among thorns."

(2) How many real disciples are not ready disciples. The Lord hath need of them, and they are heartily desirous of serving Him - "but." They will do this and that-but: they will go here or there when called to do so-but. There is a difficulty in the way just now. As soon as that is out of the way they are ready. But what if the work required of them can only be done just now-cannot stand still until their difficulty is removed? What if, before that is out of the way, their disposition to go has evaporated, or, if still there, has no field - "help having some from another quarter"? Young ministers are wanted as missionaries abroad, and young, ardent, female disciples, who are wanted as helps meet for them, both hesitate. 'But for those aged parents, I would gladly go; but until their head is beneath the ground I am not free.' By that time, however, they are neither so in love with the work, nor is the field open to them. While the harvest is so plenteous and the labourers so few, let those who hear the Macedonian cry, "Come over and help us," beware of allowing secular obstacles, however formidable, to arrest the impulse to obey the summons. Beyond all doubt it is owing to this, among other things, that the commission, "Go, make disciples of all nations," remains still to so vast an extent unexecuted-eighteen centuries since it was given forth.

(3) The best illustration of the danger of "looking back," after having "put our hand to the plow," is the case of those converts from Hinduism, whose parents, when apprised of their intention to be baptized, travel to the mission-house, and plead, with tears and treats, that they will not take a step so fatal. Failing by this means to shake their resolution, they at length submit to their hard fate; only requesting that before they undergo the rite which is to sever them forever from home, they will pay them one parting visit-to "bid them farewell which are at home at their house." It seems but reasonable. To refuse it looks like gratuitously wounding parental feeling. 'Well, I will go; but my heart is with you, my spiritual fathers, and soon I will rejoin you.' He goes-but never returns. How many promising converts have thus been lost to Christianity, to the anguish of dear missionaries, travailing in birth until Christ be formed in the pagan, and to their own undoing! And though some have, after again conforming to paganism, been filed with such remorse, that, like Peter when he denied his Lord, they have gone out and wept bitterly, and, after severe and protracted struggles, have returned to be more resolute followers of Christ than ever, what seas of trouble does this "looking back" cost them! and how very few are such cases compared to the many that "make shipwreck of faith and of a good conscience"! "Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall."

Verses 23-27

And when he was entered into a ship, his disciples followed him.

For the exposition, see the notes at Mark 4:35-41.

Verses 28-34

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.

For the exposition, see the notes at Mark 5:1-20.

Bibliographical Information
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Matthew 8". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". 1871-8.