Bible Commentaries
Matthew 4

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Verse 1

1. Led up… into the wilderness As the preposition up indicates that the wilderness was high ground, and the circumstances of the temptation suggest the nearness of the temple, we may accept the tradition which assigns the wilderness of Judea and Mount Quarantania as the locality. This is in the mountainous region toward Jericho, within a brief distance of Jerusalem. Dr. Durbin thus describes the scene on his journey from Jerusalem to Jericho:

“After pursuing our way for an hour or two down the rugged ravine which forms the road, we turned to the left, and ascended into the desolate and blackened mountains of the ‘Wilderness of Judea,’ the scene of John the Baptist’s ministration and of our Lord’s temptation. Of all places in the world, it is naturally fittest for the centre and kingdom of Satan the destroyer; for, as Maundrell says, ‘it is a most miserable, dry, barren place, consisting of high, rocky mountains, so torn and disordered as if the earth had suffered some great convulsion, in which its very bowels had been turned outward.’ This fearful wilderness, not ten miles east of Jerusalem, has always been the abode of violence and misery. The very road on which we passed was the scene of our Lord’s parable of the Good Samaritan.

“About half way between Jerusalem and Jericho we passed the crumbling walls of a large khan, with immense cisterns. Following the rugged road, often through avenues cut in the rock, we came, by two o’clock, to the eastern edge of the wilderness which overlooks the plain of Jericho, clad in deep green verdure, caused by the fertilizing streams of the Fountain of Elisha. Beyond it, deep in the valley, and as yet invisible, flowed the Jordan, while the view beyond was closed by the dark masses of the mountains of Moab, inviting the eye of the pilgrim to select Nebo and Pisgah. I paused on the brow of the mountain, near the well-preserved remains of a Roman aqueduct, which once supplied water to the city of Jericho, and gazed upon this wide and gloomy panorama encircling the rich green plain which lay spread out far away below me. Immediately around was the dreary wilderness already described; to the right, in their deep, sunken bed, lay the still waters of the Dead Sea; far to the left, the mountains of the wilderness projected into the Jordan, and closed the plain to the north. In that direction, just above the Fountain of Elisha, rose above the rest the dark, thunder-scathed head of Mount Quarantania, which tradition assigns as the ‘exceeding high mountain’ from which Satan showed our Lord ‘all the kingdoms of this world.’ Its summit seems inaccessible; yet a little chapel is perched upon it, and its side next the Jordan is cut into caverns and chambers, in which we saw at night the flitting taper of the hermit, or of the pilgrim doing penance during Lent.”

Of the Spirit So Ezekiel 3:14: “The spirit lifted me and took me.” So also Acts 8:39: “The Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip… Philip was found at Azotus.”

To be tempted Put to the test. His virtues were to be tried by a contest with his and our great adversary. The heads of the kingdom of heaven and the kingdom of hell must meet in contest. How vapid to reduce all this to a vision! The devil The Diabolus or Accuser. The being who accused Job, and who brings ever a charge against God’s elect. He is not the “personified principle of evil,” but a being deeply animated by the purpose of evil.

1 . We have no more right to reduce Satan and hell to figure, than we have Christ, angels, and heaven, nay, God himself. If there are good beings in the body there are also bad. So, also, if there are good bodiless spirits, there may be bad. It is no more contrary to the nature of God’s government that there should be a Satan, than that there should be a Nimrod, a Tamerlane, or a Mohammed.

2 . Though Satan is not omnipresent nor omnipotent, he may fill a vast space with his presence. We know not how much of the earth he may overshadow at the same moment. And we know not how numerous the demoniac angels who do his bidding, and through whom he tempts the sons of men.

3 . The allusions to his fall from a state of purity are too numerous and pointed to leave a doubt as to its being a doctrine of Scripture. Such are John 8:44; Jude 1:6; 2 Peter 2:4.

4 . Satan is crafty beyond measure, but very little wise. There may be depths of cunning and masses of knowledge in him, and yet many of the plainest, simplest things of redemption, Christ, and Scripture, may be utterly unintelligible to his fatuity. The simplest saint, though immeasurably outwitted by him, may be deep, beyond his comprehension, in the things of God. So the bee can build her comb with the science of a profound mathematician without being able to count three.

Verses 1-11

§ 17. TEMPTATION OF JESUS, Matthew 4:1-11 .

For great missions the preparation is great trials. It was befitting that the newly inaugurated Prince of Light should come into a trial-contest with the prince of darkness. Our views of this transaction we present with sincere diffidence, giving often what appears to us as on the whole the best solutions, rather than dogmatic certainties.

We can view this transaction neither as a mere train of thought, as a vision, as a parable, nor a myth; but as a great verity, occupying a most significant place in the system of sacred realities. The first Adam truly was tempted, and fell; the second Adam was as truly tempted, and won the victory.

Hence he became the great head of triumphant humanity. Tempted in all points as we, he shows how to overcome. We remark:

1 . The history implies in the abstract human nature of Jesus the power to sin. This is necessary in order to a responsible, free agency. If he had no power to choose sin, it is difficult to see how he could be tempted to a choice, not only impossible, but consciously impossible. If he could not comply with temptation, there could be no danger, and truly no temptation at all. If he was unable to comply with the temptation, there was no virtue in the non-compliance. He was that much no free agent; his non-compliance was necessary and mechanical, and so non-meritorious. The supposition that Christ could not sin raises him above all fitness to be an example for us as one “tempted in all points like as we are, yet without sin.” Propose such a pattern to a fallible sinner, and he can answer conclusively, “Make it impossible for me to sin and I will be as holy as he.” None but a free agent can be an example for a free agent, Nor is any but a free agent capable of responsible probation. This free agency implies not, indeed, a preferential state of soul for evil, as exists in depraved man, but a susceptibility, as in the perfect first Adam, to impressions which, voluntarily followed out to excess or misdirection, would become sin. This view implies no uncertainty of his accomplishing our redemption. For, in full view of all possibilities, the infinite wisdom and foreknowledge of God had selected, for Messiah, that being, of all others, who, he foresaw, would, with perfect free will, prefer God to Satan, and, in spite of all temptation, prove true to his redemptional office. Hence, while there was an intrinsic possibility in the thing, there was a full and perfect certainty upon which the divine mind could rest, that that possible catastrophe of his fall would not take place.

2 . In the whole transaction we are to view the Saviour in pure humanity. As he is led by the Spirit to the scene, so the blessed human one stood sole and singular in the universe a pure lone man, as the first Adam himself, leaning, indeed, as every Christian may, on the divine arm, yet as truly able to fall by his own will from all union with God, as our first progenitor, and truly able, by freely standing, to maintain an identification with God, impossible to the man of Eden.

3 . As God said to Satan of Job, so now, we conceive, he said of his Son: “Behold, he is in thine hand, but save his life.” Satan had it in his power to tempt him only with apparent good. Not now was his hour and power to try him with untold agonies. But by withstanding the temptations to the apparently good, the man Jesus proved his fitness to stand the terrible ordeal of ill.

4 . This surrender to Satan was greater, we think, than is ordinarily conceived. So far forth as the necessities of the trial required, yet with no power of violence or contamination, our Lord’s person was in his hand. How else did Satan take him to the temple’s summit, or to the mountain top? Or how did he make all the kingdoms of the world visible to his eye? The miracles indicated in the first query maybe supposed to be performed, 1. By creating the conceptions in the Saviour’s mind; or, 2. By snatching his soul from his body; or, 3. By transporting his person so with the quickness of a thought, that he is not to be conceived as on his way at any intermediate point. We adopt the last as being perfectly supposable, and as best meeting the honest demands of the literal history. The miracle suggested in the second question above, of making visible to his eye all the kingdoms of the world, but simply requires that we frame our ideas to the unparallelled statement. It is as conceivable that Satan should endow a human eye with miraculous vision, as that he should fire the human blood of Job with miraculous heat, and compel it to fling out boils upon the skin. That he should do this upon a high mountain, where the natural eye could see as far as possible, accords with the universal rule that the miraculous should never be used where the natural will suffice; or rather that the natural should furnish a nucleus for the miraculous, just as our Saviour, touching with his finger, or with a clay and spittle ointment, the eyes of the blind, formed a nucleus for the miracle of restoration of sight.

Verse 2

2. Had fasted forty days Just so Moses fasted forty days at Sinai, (Deuteronomy 9:9,) and so Elijah fasted forty days. Moses was founder of a dispensation; Elijah was restorer; and Christ was both founder and restorer. And as Christ was led by the Spirit, so it was the divine will and order that he should pass this ordeal as an induction to his office. As Adam and Eve in the garden were, by the divine order, made to fast from a particular food, so Christ in the wilderness was required, by the same divine order, to fast for a particular season. He was… ahungered He hungered.

Verse 3


3. The tempter The being who loves to lead man into sin. Came to him In what form Satan came is not said. He tempted Eve as a serpent; perhaps he tempted our Lord as an angel of light or truth. At any rate, he was at first disguised; for our Saviour did not recognize him to be Satan until the deceiver claimed his worship.

If thou be the Son of God The consciousness of his divine union with God, so far forth as he had yet received it, may now, perhaps, be supposed to be in a measure withheld. He is the pure-minded, guileless, guiltless Jewish youth, alone in the wilderness; worn and weak with the fasting and the excitement with which the fast had been sustained. Was it not a rare chance for Satanic counsels? “How know you that you are the Son of God? True, there are some prodigious narratives about your birth, but they may be fables; there were the dove and the voice dropped from the sky at your baptism; but that may have been an ocular illusion. It is a great thing for a quiet young man to imagine himself Messiah and Son of God.” Command Nothing like experiment. Try to put forth miraculous power, and that will show whether or not you are divine. That these stones be made bread You are hungry. Here is the material, and you have the power. Use your Messianic power to supply your bodily wants. So you will at once prove your divinity and satisfy your hunger.

In this first temptation Satan tempts our Lord, as he did Eve, by the bodily appetite. He appeals to the animal nature first. By this avenue he approaches and conquers the great majority of mankind. Beneath this temptation of bodily appetites all gluttons, drunkards, and debauchees have fallen and become the devil’s prey.

Verse 4

4. He answered Our Lord, like Eve, though with more constancy and better success, quotes God hath said. Our Saviour may not have known to whom he quoted Scripture; but as the devil dared not reveal his wicked character, Jesus won the argument. Man shall not live by bread alone Man’s whole life and nature are not sustained solely by material food. Bodily food may imperfectly sustain the body. But man has something nobler than stomach. He has a spirit, noble, God-given, immortal. Hence, though feeding my body with bread made from stones may gratify my hunger, it may irreparably ruin my higher nature. By every word… of God As the bread feeds the body, so the word feeds the soul. The word is the manna by which God sustains our spiritual nature. Whether it be his instructive, consoling, or preceptive word, it is by that every word proceeding from the mouth of God that man’s soul liveth. The soul of the man Jesus, as here intimated, lived by a perfect obedience to every preceptive word proceeding from God, which preceptive word now forbade him to create that bread by which the body might live, but the soul perish. But what wrong would there have been in transforming the stones and eating the bread? We answer, he would have transgressed the divine order specified in our comment on Matthew 4:2. He was still under the rule of the Spirit; and the period of his inductive probation was unexpired. Had he complied with the tempter, he would have fallen by just the same sin as the first Adam. His probation lasted until the moment that angels came and ministered unto him. Adam chose to live by the corporeal food; Christ chose to live by the word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.

Verse 5


5. Taketh him Many commentators interpret this as merely meaning that Satan induced the Saviour to go with him to the temple. But these same commentators do not maintain that in Matthew 4:8 our Lord walked up the exceeding high mountain. And yet the words implying Satan’s control of his person are the stronger in this verse. The devil not only taketh him, but setteth him on a pinnacle of the temple. To suppose that our Lord voluntarily walked from the wilderness, breaks the continuity of the scene, and the unity of place.

Holy city So called, in spite of many a wickedness, as being the seat of the theocracy. “They call themselves of the holy city,… but not in truth, nor in righteousness.” Isaiah 48:1-2. Pinnacle or little wing, as the word means. It was doubtless the summit of the royal gallery built by Herod over the brink of the valley of Kedron, with a dizzy height from summit to bottom of seven hundred feet, down which as any one looked, according to Josephus, “he would become dizzy, his eyes being unable to reach so vast a depth.”

Verse 6

6. If thou be the Son of God By resisting the former temptation, Jesus had maintained himself to be the Son of God, and had sustained his own faith in his own divide mission. Let him now show that faith in his mission on a more heroic scale. A sublime faith is just the temper for a sublime display. Let him leap from the summit of the pinnacle to the depth of the gorge. All the world will wonder at so grand an exploit. Cast thyself down Put God to the test, and astonish the universe. Use thy Father’s power, like a wanton son, for freaks and experiments at miracle. For it is written And so the devil can quote Scripture to make out his point. Nothing makes wicked men so self-satisfied as to be able to bless their crime with a holy text. They can ridicule the Bible, and trample upon it at any other time. But they are profoundly biblical, and deep reverers of God’s holy and inspired word, if a text can be wrested to their purpose. They, like Satan, only use the Bible for the occasion, as the plaster for sin. They truly insult the word of God, and do truly add blasphemy to the sin which they try to make it cover. He shall give… charge Psalms 91:12. Some have questioned how this text in the Psalms is truly to be applied to Christ. But it is a probable fact that the main body of the book of Psalms has for its subject, a holy one, a perfect and therefore divine man, a Messiah.

Mark that the Bible, like every other good, can be misused and wrested for our own destruction. It is a part of our probation, that God has not given a revelation so unequivocal that perverse minds may not pervert it to the service of error and sin. The honest heart can alone use it with true security. Charge concerning thee As a parent gives the nurse charge concerning the tottering child, so God has given his angels charge concerning thee, his dear son. Hands shall bear thee up Angel nurses shall carry thee in their arms. Dash thy foot Hit thy foot against an obstacle and stumble.

Verse 7

7. It is written again One text should limit, modify, and explain another. Promises are not to be wantonly presumed upon. They are to be interpreted in the spirit of the divine Promiser. The promise of God to keep us presumes that we soberly and truly desire to be kept.

It would be well for those who maintain the infallible perseverance of all saints to ponder this point. They quote God’s promises to keep and preserve the converted man in every case, omitting to note that all such promises of God are conditional. He will keep us, under proviso that we rationally and voluntarily will to be in his holy keeping. Tempt Or put to the test. To assume to draw at will upon the fund of his Father’s omnipotence, to perform a capricious experiment, would be a presumptuous tempting and insulting God.

The first temptation, as we showed, (in Matthew 4:3,) appealed to the animal appetites. This second rises to the higher sentiment, the love of show the gratification of admiration. All those who are carried away from God by the love of pomp, the gratification of mental taste, the pleasures of imagination, the gaieties of fashion, the enthusiasm for fame, and are induced to pervert for these objects powers given by God for rightful use, fall by this temptation. They tempt God by expending the powers he has given for ostentatious, wanton, selfish, and destructive purposes. The first temptation was animal, the second aesthetical.

Verses 8-9


8. Again Satan is twice defeated. He could not persuade Jesus to distrust his Sonship, nor presumptuously to assume it. He will make a third effort. He will offer Jesus a Messiahship and a royalty beyond all possibility of doubt, and beyond all limitation. He will first authenticate his power by miracle; he will then show the splendor of the prize; he will then declare on how easy terms, and under what allegiance, Jesus can be a Satan’s Messiah, lord of the world under “the god of this world.” An exceeding high mountain Arriving like a thought at his destination, Satan lays no hand upon him; all is done, as we may suppose, by the power and with the quickness of a volition. And as the Saviour’s bodily eye took in the limits of the prospect, his perceptive faculty, out-reaching its material organ, acquiring the sweep of Satan’s own vision, beheld all the kingdoms of the earth and around the globe, with the glory thereof, in an instant of time.

Yet, after all, it is not said that our Lord really beheld the world’s kingdoms. It only says that Satan showed, that is, pointed them out, for the word asserts nothing more. Yonder, eastward, lies Persia; down southward is old Egypt; and, lo! far to the west, beyond the Mediterranean, is imperial Rome, where Tiberius now rules the world. Thou shalt possess his throne and more. And Satan points with his hand, and paints with his tongue, and offers him a warranty of all that goodly parcel of land. Why should he prefer a doubtful Messiahship to a certain universal monarchy?

Verse 10

10. Get thee hence, Satan For now Satan has, so to speak, showed his cloven foot. This soft-spoken man, this most interesting angel, turns out to be none else than God’s foe. He demands to be worshipped! and that ends the matter. The devil is a coward; he only needs resistance, and he runs.

James 4:7. Jesus had but to give him a Get thee hence and he is gone, and makes room for the better company of angels, whose benevolence and whose form, perhaps, he had been counterfeiting.

As the first temptation appealed to the animal appetites, and the second to the mental tastes, so the third appealed to the ambition. This is the very triple division referred to by St. John: “The lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life.” John 2:16. It is the very triple temptation by which Eve fell. The fruit was good for food, and so appealed to the appetite; it was pleasant to the eyes, and so pleased the sense of beauty; it would make her as the gods, and so it awakened her ambition.

By this last temptation the great men of this world have fallen in myriads. Not that true greatness is incompatible with goodness. Many a ruler of the people has been the servant of God; but often their ruin has been this temptation serve the devil and rule the world. They have believed the devil to be the true dispenser of this world’s endowments, and they have sought his patronage.

Verse 11

11. Devil leaveth him Victory, glorious victory, is now won by the Prince of Light. The prince of hell is defeated and overcome. This defeat is the prelude to the hour when the Messiah will cast him into the lake of fire. The second Adam did not, like the first, fall before the power of the tempter; and the victory which he won was won for us, that he might restore the lost Paradise to our race. Angels came and ministered unto him As soon as the angel of darkness departed the angels of light appeared upon the scene. It is a change from deep night to glorious morning. The Messiah is faint with the terrible combat; and to indicate that he is truly master, angels become the providers of his food and the waiters at his table. And so all his followers, who in his strength win the victory, will find angels to become their ministering servants, and will partake, at the table of their Lord, of the feast of victory.

Verse 12


12. Now With the temptation at the close of the last verse, the first two Periods of our Lord’s history, embracing the Infancy and Qualification, terminate. Thus far Matthew’s narrative has marched forward in regular chronological order. But from this point to the next great crisis, namely, his laying the platform of his dispensation in the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew’s account (constituting only the remainder of this chapter,) is very brief, and unobservant of chronology.

John was cast into prison The third period, embracing our Lord’s Preparatory Ministry, has now commenced. It begins with (events which Matthew omits) his first miracle at Cana, the casting out the traders at his first passover, his discourse to Nicodemus, his baptizing, and receiving John’s final testimony, (§ 19-§ 22;) opens more distinctly as John recedes, but maintains its preparatory character until the inauguration of the apostolic college and the Sermon on the Mount. The imprisonment of the Baptist finds Jesus tarrying and baptizing in Judea. By the divine plan, as predicted by prophecy, his preparatory ministry must take place in Galilee. He retires therefore from Judea, and takes his position at the predicted spot.

Departed into Galilee Galilee was the most northerly of the three general divisions of Palestine. There was an upper or northern part, and a lower or southern part. The latter, lying between the Mediterranean and Lake Gennesaret, was the principal scene of our Lord’s ministry. Its principal towns were Tiberias, Chorazin, Bethsaida, Nazareth, Cana, Capernaum, and Nain. Our Lord’s disciples were all from Galilee.

The Galileans were a turbulent and fighting race, whose presence frequently produced great disturbances at Jerusalem during the passover. Their dialect was considered by the people of Jerusalem as rustic and impure. Hence Peter’s speech proved his Galilean origin, and confirmed the charge of his being a follower of Christ. The name of Galilee occurs in the Old Testament as early as Joshua 20:7.

Verse 13

13. Leaving Nazareth After being rejected there the first time. (See Hist. Synop.) As Nazareth was in Galilee, this implies that our Lord’s course from Judea was first to Nazareth. Thence, for reasons we proceed to explain, he went and took his residence at Capernaum. Came and dwelt at Capernaum As Bethlehem was the place of Jesus’s birth, and Nazareth of his childhood, so Capernaum was the home of his ministry, and Jerusalem the place of his death.

Capernaum was a town situated upon the western shore of the Lake of Gennesaret. Its name is compounded of the words Kefr, village, and Nahum, refreshment. It was called the place of refreshment, from the springs near which it stood. There is much difference of opinion as to its true position. We adopt, however, the opinion of Dr. Thomson, that it was situated at the point which is now called Tell-Hum. The word Hum is doubtless the closing syllable of thee word Caperna um. As the word Kefr signifies a village, and the word Tell signifies a mound, or ancient, site, so the ancient Kefr-Nahum would be the modern Tell-Hum. The town of Khorazy, about two miles north of Tell-Hum, seems to represent the ancient Chorazin. This place was eminently suited to be the location of our Lord’s ministry. The lake by which it stood, though now deserted and lonely, was then the scene of busy life. “Situated,” says Stanley, “in the midst of the Jordan valley, on the great thoroughfare from Babylon and Damascus, in Palestine, its waters seemed to answer a purpose like that served by the Lake of Lucerne, between Italy and Germany. Its fisheries furnished a source of sustenance to the surrounding inhabitants, and an industry for its labourers. Its surface was alive with the ships, or rather lake-boats, of fisher-men and navigators. Under the Roman government custom-houses were established, at which tribute was taken by the publicans, of which Matthew was one. The adjoining countries of Naphtali and Zebulun, diversified with mountain and vale, were covered with verdure, and cultivated by a swarming population. Its surface was dotted by countless villages, visited by our Lord at various times, mentioned or unmentioned by the evangelists. Thus the double advantages of intercourse by sea and land were secured by our Lord’s position at Capernaum.”

Which is upon the sea coast The coast or shore of the Lake of Gennesaret. This lake and its surrounding localities must ever remain one of the most interesting spots on the map of the globe.

The Lake of Gennesaret is seldom mentioned in the Old Testament, or in secular history. In the dim antiquity of the most ancient records, its name appears to have been Cinneroth, of which Gennesaret is the modernized Greek form, and which appears to have been derived from a town of Cinneroth, on its western shore. It was afterward called the Sea of Galilee, and finally, in honour of the Emperor Tiberius, it was called the Lake of Tiberias, and a town was called Tiberias on its western coast.

The Sea of Tiberias is about thirteen miles in length, and, in its broadest part, six miles in breadth. In the clearness of the eastern atmosphere it looks much smaller than its real size. What gives it a remarkable aspect, is the deep depression of its surface not only far below the lofty summits of its banks, but far below the level of the Mediterranean Sea. As the traveller descends from the rocky walls by which it is encompassed, the temperature of its deep basin grows warm. In the summer or late spring it is filled with an atmosphere of oppressive heat, in great contrast with the bracing breezes of the neighbouring hills of Galilee. “All along the edge of this secluded basin,” says Stanley, “runs the whole way round from north to south a level beach, at the southern end roughly strewn with the black and white stones peculiar to this district, and also connected with its volcanic structure; but the central or northern part formed of smooth sand, or of a texture of shells and pebbles so minute as to resemble sand, like the substance of the beach on the Gulf of ‘Akabah. Shrubs, too, of the tropical thorn, fringe the greater part of the line of shore, mingled here and there with the bright pink colours of the oleander,

‘All thro’ the summer night

Those blossoms, red and bright,

Spread their soft breasts’

long before they are in flower in the valleys of the higher country. On this beach, which can be discerned running like a white line all round the lake, the hills plant their dark base, descending nowhere precipitously, but almost everywhere presenting an alternation of soft grassy slopes and rocky cliffs, occasionally broken away so as to exhibit the red and gray colours so familiar in the limestone of Greece.”

Through the centre of this lake, from north to south, runs the rapid current of the River Jordan, which, coming down from its sources in the Lebanon, passes onward to the Dead Sea. On both sides of the inlet of the River Jordan, at the northern extremity of the lake, stood the double town of Bethsaida. Thence on the curve of the northeastern shore was the grassy plain of Butaiha, where the five thousand were miraculously fed. Moving down the eastern shore, we come to Kersa or Gergesa, the place of the two demoniacs and the possessed swine. On the western banks were the towns of Tiberias, of Magdala, (the residence of the Magdalen,) Capernaum, and Chorazin. These localities are unparalleled in interest to the heart of the Christian traveller, and no waters in the world are surveyed with such emotions as the Lake of Gennesaret, and the stream of the Jordan.

Borders of Zebulun and Nephalim By the ancient division of the tribes, Zebulun bordered on this Sea of Gennesaret. Long before the settlement of the tribes in the land of Canaan, the dying Jacob prophesied of Zebulun, (Genesis 49:13:) “Zebulun shall dwell at the haven of the sea; and he shall be an haven of the ships; and his borders shall be unto Zidon.”

Verse 14

14. Which was spoken by Esaias the prophet Isaiah 9:1-2. The prophecy from which Matthew extracts a brief and abrupt fragment, extends through chap. 8, to Matthew 9:7. This entire passage forms one distinct piece of prophecy. Through the eighth chapter the prophet predicts the overthrow of Syria and the northern tribes of Israel by the mighty power of the king of Assyria. The ninth chapter opens with a beam of hope to succeed this terrible overthrow. Terrible as was this period of vexation, “nevertheless,” says the prophet, (Isaiah 9:1,) “the dimness shall not be such as was in her vexation, when at the first he lightly afflicted the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, and afterwards did more grievously afflict her by the way of the sea beyond Jordan in the Galilee of the nations.” The reason why the dimness should not be such as under the Assyrian overthrow, the prophet proceeds to tell in the six following verses, (2-7,) namely: A great light should arise upon them, an emancipation like the “joy in harvest;” all the weapons of war should be destroyed by the power of the Prince of Peace; “for unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given,” etc.”

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“But there shall not hereafter be darkness in the land which was distressed: In the former time he debased The land of Zebulun, and the land of Naphtali; But in the latter time he made it glorious:

Even the way of the sea beyond Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles, The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light; They that dwelled in the land of the shadow of death, Unto them hath the light shined.

Thou hast multiplied the nation, thou hast increased their joy: They rejoice before thee as with the joy of harvest, As they rejoice who divide the spoil.

For the yoke of his burden, the staff laid on his shoulder, The rod of his oppressor hast thou broken, as in the day of Midian. For the greaves of the armed warrior in the conflict, And the garment rolled in much blood Shall be for a burning, even fuel for the fire.

For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given, And the government shall be upon his shoulders, And his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The Mighty God, the Father of the Everlasting Age, the Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, Upon the throne of David and upon his kingdom, To fix it, and to establish it With judgment and with justice, henceforth and forever: The zeal of JEHOVAH, God of Hosts, will do this.”

In this piece of prophetic poetry the development and emancipation from its enemies of the Messianic “nation” or kingdom is compared as far superior to the deliverance from Assyria, though upon the same spot. Upon that same locality the light should rise, the joyous kingdom should increase, the oppressor’s “rod” should be broken before it, all armour should “be for a burning,” and war should cease, for the “Prince of Peace” is born. He is son of David, seated on his throne and ruling his kingdom; which throne and kingdom under him become eternal, since he is “the Mighty God.”

Verse 15

15. The land of Zebulun and the land of Nephthalim The territories of these two tribes were the first to feel the overthrow and captivity of Assyria, at first lightly, and then more grievously. And according to this prophecy, that ancient dimness and darkness should be reversed by a light that should burst upon the people, produced by the coming of the Prince of Peace. The ancient Jews accordingly expected that the coming of the Messiah would be in these regions. One of their books, called the Sohar, has this declaration: “The Messiah shall be revealed in the land of Galilee.”

Grammatically, we may remark that the repeated word land in this verse is in apposition with the people in Matthew 4:16. The two lands and the people it is which sat in darkness, and saw the great light.

By the way of the sea The word way here signifies route or tract of country; and the phrase, by the way of the sea, signifies on the borders of the sea. It describes the situation of the land of these two tribes, as being contiguous to the Sea of Tiberias.

Galilee of the Gentiles This phrase is commonly understood as a geographical name of a particular part, namely, of northern Galilee. But it is very plain that northern Galilee, which lay far beyond the lake, could not here be meant. Hengstenberg says that it is not a geographical name specifying a particular part, but simply a phrase of description. Galilee is called of the Gentiles because, from various circumstances, a Gentile population had largely intermingled with the Jewish. This had corrupted their religion, debased their character, and produced much of the darkness which had deepened into the shadow of death.

Verse 16

16. The people That is, the people of the land of Zebulun and Naphthali.

Sat in darkness The prophet says, “Walked in darkness.” Sat in darkness embraces the same idea, but an intenser meaning. He who walks in darkness may be looking for light; but he who sits in darkness is settled in his condition. Saw great light The prophet describes the future as past. Before his eye the scene transpires. The people are described as sitting in hopeless midnight, when a sudden noonday breaks upon them.

Shadow of death Physically we conceive there to be a darkness of night, and also a deeper darkness of death. Spiritually, too, as here, there is to the souls of men a darkness of moral night; and when this becomes hopeless it deepens to the shades of spiritual and eternal death. In this condition of hopeless spiritual darkness of death, were these Galileans when the Messianic light, Jesus, the Redeemer, sprung up upon them.

Verse 17

17. From that time From the time of John’s imprisonment and the Saviour’s settlement in Capernaum.

Began… to say, Repent As the preaching of the Baptist had ceased, the Saviour took up the Baptist’s theme. That theme was repentance, as preparatory to the founding of Messiah’s kingdom. Repent Repentance includes two elements, renunciation of our past sin, and the adoption of a future better course. This renunciation is founded upon a sorrow more or less emotional, and an abhorrence, more or less earnest, of our past misdoing. But the genuineness of our repentance depends less upon the emotional excitement, than upon the strength of the volition by which we have renounced the past, and the reality of the reformation in the future. The repentance that produces no reformation may have some sincerity, but little soundness, and no happy result.

Kingdom of heaven See note on Matthew 3:2.

Verse 18


18. Saw two brethren Of this call of Simon and Andrew a fuller account is given in Luke 5:1-11. This was not the first meeting of our Lord with the brothers, for that is narrated in the first chapter of John. Nor is it to be identified with their incorporation into the body of the twelve apostles, which is narrated in Matthew 3:14. This call to follow him as a disciple was intermediate between those two events and preparatory to the latter. It may be remarked that in the apostolic college there were two couples of brothers, namely, Simon and Andrew, James and John. All four were from Bethsaida, on the Galilean side of the Jordan.

Simon, called Peter A Hebrew and a Greek name, according to the custom of that day. The Greek name, Petros, was given by our Lord in allusion to the hardy nature of this, the oldest, the most ardent, and, from the boldness of his character, the most conspicuous of the apostles. Hence he was chief of the apostles until surpassed by St. Paul; but not in the Romish sense. He possessed not a primacy of office, but a pre-eminence of character. On the contrary, Andrew, of the same stock, is tame in character and obscure in history. As apostles, they were officially equal; as men, they possessed by nature a great disparity.

They were fishers We have already remarked that the waters of the Gennesaret were prolific of fish, the taking of which formed a large share of the occupation of the dwellers upon its shores.

Verse 19

19. Fishers of men The comparison of the preacher to the fisherman, as derived from this passage, was a favourite idea with the early writers of the Christian Church. Fish in the waters are as sinners in the world. It is the preacher’s art so to bait the hook of divine truth as that, with ready appetite, the sinner will receive it and be captured for salvation. Hence there was a striking accordance, and perhaps even an intended typeism, between the early engagements of these men and their subsequent profession as apostles.

Verse 20

20. Straightway left their nets They had been previously disciples of John. The preaching of Jesus had divinely impressed their hearts. The miracle performed upon the present occasion, as detailed by Luke, had filled their hearts with awe. Straightway they left their nets, their boats, their father, and their father’s house, surrendering all to follow him, with a quickness that renders them the very model of a prompt obedience.

Verse 23


23. Jesus went about all Galilee In regard to Galilee, consult notes on Matthew 4:12.

Synagogues The word synagogue is from the Greek συν , syn, together, and αγω , ago, to collect; and its signification is about synonymous with our American word “meeting-house.” They were very numerous in Palestine in our Saviour’s time, it being allowable to raise a synagogue wherever ten responsible men could be found. Our Saviour and the apostles found the synagogues most eligible places for the first preaching of the Gospel, both in Palestine and in Gentile countries where Jews resided. St. James calls the place of Christian worship synagogue. James 2:2.

The existence of synagogues long before the captivity cannot be proved. The Church of the Patriarchs worshipped in tents, or under the open sky, or wherever their devotion saw reason to raise an altar. The words in Psalms 84:8: They have burned up all the synagogues of God in the land, prove the existence of edifices of worship which fire could consume, before the captivity. After the re-establishment of the Jewish Church in Palestine, care seems to have been taken for their general diffusion, in order that worship and instruction might spread and perpetuate doctrine and piety.

The arrangements of a Jewish congregation, as well as the construction of the synagogue, seem to have resembled those of a modern Christian Church. The people in the front part of the building sat facing the pulpit, or desk on a platform, which was occupied by the reader or speaker. Behind the pulpit were ranged high seats of honour, “chief seats,” where the Scribes and Pharisees loved to sit facing the people. A chest or ark was near the pulpit, in which the Scriptures of the Old Testament were deposited. From the pulpit the Scriptures were read; and the reader or some other person expounded, taught, or preached. Prayers were also offered; and at the close a solemn benediction was pronounced, and the people responded Amen and dispersed. These exercises took place every (Saturday) Sabbath.

The synagogue had its regular officers, who may be divided simply into four classes. First, a “ruler of the synagogue,” who was not the minister, but a sort of president or executive over its management. Second, a body of elders, nearly corresponding, perhaps, with our modern trustees. Third the legatus ecclesiae; that is, the delegate or representative of the Church, appointed to lead the devotional exercises, corresponding somewhat to the modern preacher or reader. Yet he was often nothing more than the man selected, as we would say, to lead the exercises. Fourth, the minister, as he is called in Luke 4:20, or servant; that is, the sexton, who took care of the cleanliness of the building and other conveniences of the congregation and worship. To these may also, perhaps, be added the deacons; that is, the almoners or takers of the collections or alms.

Verse 24

24. All Syria The extent of the country of Syria cannot be defined with much exactness. The name was, perhaps, derived from Syr or Tyre, so that Syria is equivalent to Tyria. In its widest limits it seems to have comprehended all the country lying between the Mediterranean and the Euphrates. The rumour of our Lord’s miracles was no doubt circulated with more or less clearness over all that land. The territory from which there came followers and bearers of invalids was of a much narrower extent, as defined in the following verse.

Diseases and torments Diseases are those illnesses by which the body is enfeebled and the life consumed. Torments are those inflictions producing bodily torture and agony. Possessed with devils That evil spirits are permitted, in some ages of gross wickedness, to possess men, has been the doctrine of the Church in all ages, until the cavils of some modern thinkers, more skeptical than wise, brought it in question. The word here rendered devils is more properly demons. Strictly speaking, there is but one devil, diabolus. He is called Satan, and is the prince of evil spirits or demons. Possession implies that the demon occupied the body of a man, like a second more powerful soul, controlled his mental faculties, spoke through his organs, and mastered his limbs. These phenomena might be combined with natural disease. A person enfeebled by malady might be the more easily overcome by the demon, and physical or mental derangements might invite his entrance. Especially maladies and corruption produced by vices and depravity might fit a man for demoniac possession; the demon might operate through his diseases, maliciously aggravate their symptoms, and increase their violence. But the possession and the disease were two distinct things. This appears from the preceding verse. Diseases, torments, lunacy, and palsy are all mentioned as separate afflictions, differing in nature from demoniac possession. Lunatic This word is derived from luna, the moon. It signifies insane persons, whose case is supposed to be aggravated by the influence of the moon. The name remains as a simple term for insane persons after the belief in the influence of the moon has ceased. Its use does not imply at the present day, nor any more in the evangelist, any belief that the moon produces insanity. The most skeptical physician of the present day would not hesitate to use the word, apart from all reference to its etymology.

Verse 25

25. Followed him great multitudes How true to the life this picture is, the following passage will show. “The news that a foreign hakeem or doctor was passing through the country,” says Mosier, “very soon was spread abroad, and at every halt our camp was thronged with the sick, not only of the village near to which we were encamped, but of all the surrounding villages. Many came several days’ journey to consult our doctor, and were brought to him in spite of every difficulty and inconvenience. Some came on asses, bolstered up on cushions, and supported by their relations; others on camels, whose rough pace must have been torture to any one in sickness. It may be conceived what a misfortune sickness must be in a country where there is no medical relief, nor even a wheel conveyance to seek relief when it is at hand.” Our Lord, as a miraculous healer, as well as teacher, doubtless attracted, in a similar way, still greater crowds.

From Decapolis Decapolis signifies the Ten Cities. These ten cities, including their rural territories, lay mostly on the east side of the Jordan, near Lake Gennesaret. Their names are differently given, and their numbers really appear to have varied at different times, amounting at one time to fourteen. They are commonly reckoned to be,

1. Damascus,

2. Philadelphia,

3. Raphana,

4. Scythopolis,

5. Gadara,

6. Hippos,

7. Dion,

8. Pella,

9. Galas,

10. Canatha.

But one of these, namely, Scythopolis, was situated in Galilee.

From beyond Jordan From the Greek word περαν , peran, signifying beyond, the country beyond Jordan was called Perea. This name in its largest sense was applied to the whole strip of territory lying east of the Jordan, and bounded on the east by mountains, which divided it from Arabia Deserta. In its narrower sense, it designated the territory east of the Jordan, toward the south. According to Josephus, its northern limit was at Pella, its southern at Macheron, its east at Philadelphia, its west the Jordan.

This paragraph of the evangelist, beginning at Matthew 4:12, gives a general view of our Lord’s ministry during its period in Galilee. It properly succeeds the account of the temptation by which our Lord was proved and perfected for the work. It also well prepares the way for the great summary of his moral doctrines contained in the Sermon on the Mount, which he now sets before us.

It is well remarked by Mr. Stanley, that the scene of the main events of the first three Gospels was in Galilee, while that of the fourth was mainly in Jerusalem. These three, then, he calls the Galilean Gospels.

Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Matthew 4". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". 1874-1909.