Notes on the Bible, by Albert Barnes, , at sacred-texts.com
When he was come down from the mountain - That is, immediately on his descending from the mountain. His discourse had attracted great attention, and the fame of it drew together great multitudes, who were convinced that he had come from God. Then follows, in this chapter and the chapter succeeding, a succession of "miracles" not less remarkable than his teaching was; miracles that tended to confirm beyond a doubt the impression made by his sermon that he was sent from God.
Great multitudes followed him - Great numbers of those who had been with him in the mountain, and great numbers of others who were attracted by the fame of that discourse.
There came a leper - No disease with which the human family has been afflicted has been more dreadful than that which is often mentioned in the Bible "as the leprosy." It first exhibits itself on the surface of the skin. The appearance is not always the same, but it commonly resembles the spot made by the puncture of a pin or the pustules of a ringworm. The spots generally make their appearance very suddenly. Perhaps its appearance might be hastened by any sudden passion, as fear or anger. See Num 12:10; Ch2 26:19. The spots commonly exhibit themselves at first on the face, about the nose and eyes, and increase in size a number of years, until they become as large as a pea or a bean.
There are three kinds of leprosy, distinguished by the appearance of the spots - the white, the black, and the red leprosy. These spots, though few at first, gradually spread until they cover the whole body.
But, though the "appearance" of the disease is at first in the skin, yet it is deeply seated in the bones, and marrow, and joints of the body. We have reason to suppose that in children it is concealed in the system for a number of years until they arrive at the age of puberty; and in adults for three or four years, until at last it gives fearful indications on the skin of its having gained a well-rooted and permanent existence. A leprous person may live twenty, or thirty, or even fifty years, if he received the disease at his birth, but they will be years of indescribable misery. The bones and marrow are pervaded with the disease. The malady advances from one stage to another with slow and certain ruin. "Life still lingers amid the desolation;" the joints, and hands, and feet lose their power; and the body "collapses," or falls together in a form hideous and awful. There is a form of the disease in which it commences at the extremities: the joints separate; the fingers, toes, and other members one by one fall off; and the malady thus gradually approaches the seat of life. The wretched victim is thus doomed to see himself dying "piecemeal," assured that no human power can arrest for a moment the silent and steady march of this foe to the seat of life.
This disease is contagious and hereditary. It is easily communicated from one to another, and is transmitted to the third and fourth generation. The last generation that is afflicted with it commonly exhibits the symptoms by decayed teeth, by a fetid breath, and by a diseased complexion.
Moses gave particular directions by which the real leprosy was to be distinguished from other diseases. See Lev. 13. The leprous person was, in order to avoid contagion, very properly separated from the congregation. The inspection of the disease was committed to the priest; and a declaration on his part that the person was healed, was sufficient evidence to restore the afflicted man to the congregation. It was required, also, that the leprous person should bring an offering to the priest of two birds, probably "sparrows" (see Lev 14:4 's margin), one of which was slain and the other dismissed, Lev 14:5-7. In compliance with the laws of the land, Jesus directed the man that he had healed to make the customary offering, and to obtain the testimony of the priest that he was healed. The leprosy has once, and but once, appeared in America. This loathsome and most painful disease has in all other instances been confined to the Old World, and chiefly to the Eastern nations.
It is matter of profound gratitude to a benignant God that this scourge has been permitted but once to visit the New World. That awful calamity was on the island of Guadeloupe, in the West Indies, about the year 1730, and is thus described by an eye-witness: "Its commencement is imperceptible. There appear only some few white spots on the skin. At first they are attended with no pain or inconvenience, but no means whatever will remove them. The disease imperceptibly increases for many years. The spots become larger, and spread over the whole body. When the disease advances, the upper part of the nose swells, the nostrils become enlarged, and the nose itself grows soft. Tumors appear on the jaws; the eyebrows swell; the ears become thick; the points of the fingers, as also the feet and the toes, swell; the nails become scaly; the joints of the hands and feet separate and drop off. In the last stage of the disease the patient becomes a hideous spectacle, and falls to pieces.
Worshipped him - Bowed down before him, to show him respect. See the notes at Mat 2:2.
If thou wilt - This was an exhibition of great faith, and also an acknowledgment of his dependence on the will of Jesus, in order to be healed. So every sinner must come. He must feel that Jesus "can" save him. He must also feel that he has no claim on him; that it depends on his sovereign will; and must cast himself at his feet with the feelings of the leper:
"I can but perish if I go;
I am resolved to try;
For if I stay away, I know
I shall forever die."
Happily, no one ever came to Jesus with this feeling who was not received and pardoned.
Make me clean - Heal me. The leprosy was regarded as an unclean and disgusting disease. To be "healed," therefore, was expressed by being "cleansed" from it.
And Jesus ...touched him - It was an offence to the Jews to "touch" a leprous person, and was regarded as making him who did it ceremonially impure, Lev 13:3. The act of putting forth his hand and "touching" him, therefore, expressed the intention of Jesus to cure him, and was a pledge that he "was," in fact, already cured.
See thou tell no man - This command is to be understood as extending only to the time until he had made the proper representation to the priest. It was his duty to hasten to him immediately Lev 14:2; not to delay by talking about it, but, as the first thing, to obey the laws of God, and make proper acknowledgments to him by an offering. The place where this cure was performed was in Galilee, a distance of 40 or 50 miles from Jerusalem; and it was his duty to make haste to the residence of the priest, and obtain his sanction to the reality of the cure. Perhaps, also, Christ was apprehensive that the report would go "before" the man if he delayed, and the priest, through opposition to Jesus, might pronounce it an imposition.
And offer the gift that Moses commanded - That Moses directed to be offered by a leper when he was cured. That gift consisted of "two birds alive and clean, cedar-wood, scarlet, and hyssop," Lev 14:4.
For a testimony unto them - Not to the priest, but to the people. Show thyself to the priest, and get his testimony to the reality of the cure, as a proof to the people that the healing is genuine. It was necessary that he should have that testimony before he could be received to the congregation or allowed to mingle with the people. Having this, he would be, of course, restored to the privileges of social and religious life, and the proof of the miracle, to the people, would be put beyond a doubt.
Capernaum - See the notes at Mat 4:13.
There came unto him a centurion - A centurion was the commander of 100 men in the Roman armies. Judea was a Roman province, and garrisons were kept there to preserve the people in subjection. This man was probably by birth a pagan. See Mat 8:10.
Sick of the palsy - See the notes at Mat 4:24. The particular form which the palsy assumed in this case is not mentioned. It seems it was a violent attack. Perhaps it was the painful form which produced violent "cramps," and which immediately endangered his life.
I am not worthy ... - This was an expression of great humility. It refers, doubtless, to his view of his "personal" unworthiness, and not merely to the fact that he was a "Gentile." It was the expression of a conviction of the great dignity and power of the Saviour, and of a feeling that he was so unlike him that he was not suitable that the Son of God should come into his dwelling. So every truly penitent sinner feels - a feeling which is appropriate when he comes to Christ.
I am a man ... - He had full confidence in the ability of Jesus to heal his servant, and requested him simply to give the command. This request he presented in a manner appropriate to a soldier. I am a man, says he, under authority. That is, I am subject to the commands of others, and know how to obey. I have also under me soldiers who are accustomed to obedience. I say to one, Go, and he goes; and to another, Come, and he comes. I am "prepared," therefore, to believe that your commands will be obeyed. As these obey me, so do diseases, storms, and seas obey you. If men obey me, who am an "inferior" officer, subject to another, how much more shall diseases obey you - the original source of power having control over all things! He asked, therefore, simply that Christ would give commandment, and he felt assured he would be obeyed.
When Jesus heard it, he marveled - He wondered at it, or he deemed it remarkable.
I have not found so great faith - The word "faith," here, means "confidence" or belief that Christ had power to heal his servant. It does not of "necessity" imply that he had saving faith; though, from the connection and the spirit manifested, it seems probable that he had. If this was so, then he was the first Gentile convert to Christianity, and was a very early illustration of what was more clearly revealed afterward - that the pagan were to be brought to the knowledge of the truth.
Not in Israel - Israel was a name given to "Jacob" Gen 32:28-29, because, as a prince, he had power with God; because he persevered in wrestling with the angel that met him, and obtained the blessing. The name is derived from two Hebrew words signifying "Prince" and "God." He was one of the patriarchs, a progenitor of the Jewish nation; and the names "Israel and Israelites" were given to them, as the name Romans to the Roman people was in honor of Romulus, and the name "American" to this continent from "Americus Vespuccius." The name Israel was given to the whole nation until the time of Jeroboam, when only the ten tribes that revolted received the name, probably because they were a majority of the nation. After the captivity of Babylon it was given to all the Jews indiscriminately. See Mat 10:6; Act 7:42; Heb 8:8; Mar 15:32. It here means, "I have not found such an instance of "confidence" among the Jews."
Many shall come from the east ... - Jesus takes occasion from the faith of a Roman centurion to state that this conversion would not be solitary; that many pagans - many from the east and west would be converted to the gospel, and be saved, as Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were. The phrase "from the east and from the west," in the Scripture, is used to denote the "whole world," Isa 45:6; Isa 59:19. The phrase, "shall sit down," in the original, refers to the manner of sitting at meals (see the notes at Mat 23:6); and the enjoyments of heaven are described under the similitude of a feast or banquet - a very common manner of speaking of it, Mat 26:29; Luk 14:15; Luk 22:30. It is used here to denote felicity, enjoyment, or honor. To sit with those distinguished men was an honor, and would be expressive of great felicity.
The children of the kingdom - That is, the children, or the people, who "expected the kingdom," or to whom it properly belonged; or, in other words, the Jews. they supposed themselves to be the special favorites of heaven. They thought that the Messiah would enlarge their nation and spread the triumphs of their kingdom. They called themselves, therefore, the children or the members of the kingdom of God, to the exclusion of the Gentiles. Our Saviour used the manner of speech to which they were accustomed, and said that "many of the pagans would be saved, and many Jews lost.
Shall be cast out into outer darkness ... - This is an image of future punishment. It is not improbable that the image was taken from Roman dungeons or prisons. They were commonly constructed under ground. They were shut out from the light of the sun. They were, of course, damp, dark, and unhealthy, and probably most filthy. Masters were in the habit of constructing such prisons for their slaves, where the unhappy prisoner, without light, or company, or comfort, spent his days and nights in weeping from grief, and in vainly gnashing his teeth from indignation. The image expresses the fact that the wicked who are lost will be shut out from the light of heaven, and from peace, and joy, and hope; will weep in hopeless grief, and will gnash their teeth in indignation against God, and complain against his justice. What a striking image of future woe! Go to a damp, dark, solitary, and squalid dungeon; see a miserable and enraged victim; add to his sufferings the idea of eternity, and then remember that this, after all, is but an image, a faint image, of hell! Compare the notes at Mat 22:13.
He was healed in that self-same hour - This showed decisively the goodness and power of Jesus. No miracle could be more complete. There could be no imposition or deception.
This account, or one similar to this, is found in Luk 7:1-10. There has been a difference of opinion whether the account in Luke refers to the same case as that recorded in Matthew, or whether a second centurion, encouraged by the success of the first, applied to our Saviour in a similar case and manner, and obtained the same success. In support of the supposition that they are different narratives, it is said that they disagree so far that it is impossible to reconcile them, and that it is not improbable that a similar occurrence might take place, and be attended with similar results.
To a plain reader, however, the narratives appear to be the same. They agree in the character of the person, the place, and apparently the time; in the same substantial structure of the account; in the expression of similar feelings, the same answers, and the same result. It is very difficult to believe that all these circumstances would coincide in two different stories.
They differ, however. Matthew says that the centurion "came himself." Luke says that he at first sent elders of the Jews, and then his particular friends. He also adds that he was friendly to the Jews, and had built them a synagogue. An infidel will ask whether there is not here a palpable contradiction. In explanation of this, let it be remarked:
1. That the fact that the centurion came himself, supposing that to have been the fact, is no evidence that others did not come also. It was "in" the city. The centurion was a great favorite, and had conferred on the Jews many favors, and they would be anxious that the favor which he desired of Jesus should be granted. At his suggestion, or of their own accord, his Jewish friends might apply to Jesus, and press the subject upon him, and be anxious to represent the case as favorably as possible. All this was probably done, as it would be in any other city, in considerable haste and apparent confusion; and one observer might fix his attention strongly on one circumstance, and another on another. It is not at all improbable that the same representation and request might have been made both by the centurion and his friends. Matthew might have fixed his eye very strongly on the fact that the centurion came himself, and been particularly struck with his deportment; and Luke on the remarkable zeal shown by the friends of a pagan, the interest they took in his welfare, and the circumstance that he had done much for them. Full of these interesting circumstances, he might comparatively have overlooked the centurion himself. But,
2. It was a maxim among the Jews, as it is now in law, "that what a man does by another, he does himself." So, in Mar 10:35, James and John are represented as coming to the Saviour with a request: in Mat 20:20, it appears that they presented their request through their mother. In Joh 4:1, Jesus is said to baptize, when, in fact, he did not do it himself, but by his disciples. In Joh 19:1, Pilate is said to have scourged Jesus; but he certainly did not do it with his own hands. In the case of the centurion, Matthew narrates what occurred very briefly; Luke goes more into detail, and states more of the circumstances. Matthew was intent on the great leading facts of the cure. He was studious of brevity. He did not choose to explain the particular circumstances. He says that the centurion "made the application" and received the answer. He does not say whether by himself or by "an agent." Luke explains particularly "how" it was done. There is no more contradiction, therefore, than there would be if it should be said of a man in a court of law that he came and made application for a new trial, when the application was really made by his lawyer. Two men, narrating the fact, might exhibit the same variety that Matthew and Luke have done, and both be true. It should never be forgotten that "the sacred narrative of an event is what it is stated to be by all the sacred writers; as the testimony in a court in which a case is decided is what is stated by all the credible witnesses, though one may have stated one circumstance and another another."
One thing is most clearly shown by this narrative: that this account was not invented by the evangelists for the sake of imposition. If it had been, they would have "agreed in all the circumstances."
This account is contained also in Mar 1:29-31, and Luk 4:38-41. Mark says that Simon and Andrew lived together, and that James and John went with them to the house. He adds, also, that before the miracle they spake to him about the sick person. The miracle was direct and complete. She that had been sick was so completely restored as to attend to them and minister to them. The mention of "Peter's wife's mother" proves that Peter either then was or had been married. The fair and obvious interpretation is, that his wife was then living. Compare Co1 9:5, and see the note at that place. Peter is claimed by the Roman Catholics to be the head of the church and the vicegerent of Christ. The Pope, according to their view, is the successor of this apostle. On what pretence do they maintain that it is wrong for "priests" to marry? Why did not Christ at once reject Peter from being an apostle for having a wife? How remarkable that he should be set up as the head of the church, and an example and a model to all who were to succeed him! But all this is human law, and is contrary to the New Testament. Compare Ti1 3:2, Ti1 3:4-5. That Peter had a wife was no objection to his being an apostle, and marriage has been expressly declared to be "honorable in all," Heb 13:4.
When the even was come ... - The fame of the miracles of Jesus would probably draw together a crowd, and those who had friends that were afflicted would bring them. All that were brought to him he healed. This was proof of two things: first, of his great benevolence; and, secondly, of his divine mission. He might have established the latter by miracles that would do no good. None of his miracles were performed, however, merely to make a display of power, unless the cursing of the barren fig-tree be an exception. Compare Mar 11:11-14. What is here recorded occurred on the evening of the Sabbath, Mar 1:21-32. The Jews kept the Sabbath from evening to evening, Lev 23:32. On the Sabbath they would not even bring their sick to be healed Luk 13:14; but as soon as it was closed, on the evening of the same day, they came in multitudes to be cured.
Possessed with devils - See the notes at Mat 4:24.
With his word - By his command; by a word.
That it might be fulfilled ... - This passage is found in Isa 53:4. Our English translation of that important passage is, "Surely he hath borne our griefs and carried our sorrows." The Greek in Matthew is an exact translation of the Hebrew, and the same translation should have been made in both places. In Isa 53:1-12, Isaiah fully states the doctrine of the atonement, or that the Messiah was to suffer for sin. In the verse quoted here, however, he states the very truth which Matthew declares. The word translated "griefs" in Isaiah, and "infirmities" in Matthew, means properly, in the Hebrew and Greek, "diseases of the body." In neither does it refer to the disease of the mind, or to sin. To bear those griefs is clearly to bear them away, or to remove them. This was done by his miraculous power in healing the sick. The word rendered "sorrows" in Isaiah, and "sicknesses" in Matthew, means "pain, grief, or anguish of mind." To "carry" these is to sympathize with the sufferers; to make provision for alleviating those sorrows, and to take them away. This he did by his precepts and by his example; and the cause of all sorrows - "sin" - he removed by the atonement. The passage in Isaiah and Matthew, therefore, mean precisely the same thing. See "Magee on Atonement," and the notes at Isaiah, Isa. 53.
Unto the other side - Jesus was now in Capernaum, a city at the northwest corner of the Sea of Tiberias, or Sea of Galilee. See the notes at Mat 4:18. The country to which he purposed to go was the region on the east of the Sea of Tiberias.
And a certain scribe came ... - It is not improbable that this man had seen the miracles of Jesus, and had formed an expectation that by following him he would obtain some considerable worldly advantage. Christ, in reply to his professed purpose to follow him, proclaimed his own poverty, and dashed the hopes of the avaricious scribe. The very foxes and birds, says he, have places of repose and shelter, but the Son of man has no home and no pillow. He is a stranger in his own world - a wanderer and an outcast from the homes of people. Compare Joh 1:11.
Son of man - This means, evidently, Jesus himself. No title is more frequently given to the Saviour than this, and yet there is much difficulty in explaining it. The word "son" is used in a great variety of significations. See the notes at Mat 1:1. The name "Son of man" is given to Jesus only three times in the New Testament Act 7:56; Rev 1:13; Rev 14:14, except by himself. When he speaks of himself, this is the most common appellation by which he is known. The phrase "Son of God," given to Christ, denotes a unique connection with God, Joh 10:36. The name "Son of man" probably denotes a corresponding unique connection with man. Perhaps the Saviour used it to signify the interest he felt in man; his special love and friendship for him; and his willingness to devote himself to the best interests of the race. It is sometimes, however, used as synonymous with "Messiah," Mat 16:28; Joh 1:34; Act 8:37; Joh 12:34.
And another of his disciples ... - The word "disciple" properly signifies "learner," and was given to the followers of Jesus because they received him as their teacher. See the notes at Mat 5:1. It does not of necessity mean that a "disciple" was a pious man, but only one of the multitude, who, for various causes, might attend on his instructions. See Joh 6:66; Joh 9:28.
Suffer me first to go and bury my father - This seemed to be a reasonable request, as respect for parents, living or dead, is one of the first duties of religion. But the Saviour saw that in his circumstances there might be danger, if he was thus permitted to go, that he would not return to him: and he commanded him, therefore, to perform the more important duty - the duty of attending to the salvation of his soul even at the risk of the apparent neglect of another duty. The first duty of man is religion, and everything else should be made subordinate to that.
Let the dead bury their dead - The word "dead" is used in this passage in two different senses. It is apparently a paradox, but is suited to convey the idea very distinctly to the mind. The Jews used the word "dead" often to express indifference toward a thing; or, rather, to show that that thing has no "influence" over us. Thus, to be dead to the world; to be dead to the law Rom 7:4; to be dead to sin Rom 6:11, means that the world, law, and sin have not influence or control over us; that we are free from them, and act "as though they were not." A body in the grave is unaffected by the pomp and vanity, by the gaiety and revelry, by the ambition and splendor that may be near the tomb. So people of the world are dead to religion. They see not its beauty, hear not its voice, are not won by its loveliness. This is the class of people to which the Saviour refers here. Let people, says he, who are uninterested in my work, and who are "dead in sin" Eph 2:1, take care of the dead. Your duty is now to follow me.
There may have been several reasons for this apparently harsh direction. One may have been to "test" the character and attachment of the man. If he had proper love for Christ, he would be willing to leave his friends, even in the most tender and trying circumstances. This is required, Mat 10:27; Luk 14:26. A second reason may have been, that if he returned "at that time," his friends might ridicule or oppose him, or present plausible arguments, "in the afflictions of the family," why he should not return to Christ. The thing to which he was called was moreover of more importance than any earthly consideration; and, for that time, Christ chose to require of the man a very extraordinary sacrifice, to show his sincere attachment to him. Or it may have been that the Saviour saw that the effect of visiting his home at that time might have been to drive away all his serious impressions, and that he would return to him no more.
His impressions may not have been deep enough, and his purpose to follow the Saviour may not have been strong enough to bear the trial to which he would be subjected. Strange as it may seem, there are few scenes better suited to drive away serious impressions than those connected with a funeral. We should have supposed it would be otherwise: but facts show it to be so, and demonstrate that if this was one of the reasons which influenced the Saviour, he had a thorough knowledge of human nature. The arrangements for the funeral, the preparation of mourning apparel, and the depth of sorrow in such cases, divert the mind from its sins and its personal need of a Saviour; and hence few persons are awakened or converted as the result of death in a family. The case here was a "strong" one - it was as strong as can well be conceived; and the Saviour meant to teach by this that nothing is to be allowed to divert the mind from religion nothing to be an excuse for not following him. Not even the death of a father, and the sorrows of an afflicted family, are to be suffered to lead a man to defer religion, or to put off the purpose to be a Christian. That is a fixed duty - a duty not to be deferred or neglected, whether in sickness or health, at home or abroad whether surrounded by living and happy kindred, or whether a father, a mother, a child, or a sister lies in our house dead.
It is the "regular" duty of children to obey their parents, and to show them kindness in affliction, and to evince proper care and respect for them when dead. Nor did our Saviour show himself insensible to these duties. He taught here, however, as he always taught, that a regard to friends, and ease, and comfort, should be "subordinate to the gospel;" and that we should always be ready to sacrifice these when duty to God requires it.
Into a ship - This was on the Sea of Tiberias. The "ship" in which they sailed was probably a small open boat with sails, such as was commonly used for fishing on the lake.
His disciples - Not merely the apostles, but probably many others. There were many other ships in company with him, Mar 4:36. This circumstance would render the miracle much more striking and impressive.
A great tempest - A violent storm; or a "wind" so strong as to endanger their lives. This lake was subject to sudden squalls. Dr. Thomson ("The Land and the Book," vol. ii. p. 59) says: "Small as the lake is, and placid, in general, as a molten mirror, I have repeatedly seen it quiver, and leap, and boil like a caldron, when driven by fierce winds from the eastern mountains."
The ship was covered with the waves - The billows dashed against the ship Mar 4:37, so that it was fast filling and in danger of sinking.
He was asleep - On the hinder part of the vessel, on a pillow, Mar 4:38. It was in the night, and Jesus had retired to rest. He was probably weary, and slept calmly and serenely. He apprehended no danger, and showed to his disciples how calmly one can sleep with a pure conscience, and who feels safe in the hands of God.
Save us - Save our lives.
We perish - We are in danger of perishing. This showed great confidence in the Saviour. It shows, also, where sinners and Christians should always go who feel that they are in danger of perishing. There is none that can save from the storms of divine wrath but the Son of God.
Why are ye fearful? - You should have remembered that the Son of God, the Messiah, was on board. You should not have forgotten that he had power to save, and that with him you are safe. So Christians should never fear danger, disease, or death. With Jesus they are safe. No enemy can reach him; and as he is safe, so they shall be also, Joh 14:19.
Rebuked the winds - Reproved them, or commanded them to be still. What a power was this! What irresistible proof that he was divine! His word awed the tempest and allayed the storm! There is not anywhere a sublimer description of a display of power. Nor could there be clearer proof that he was truly the Son of God.
A great calm - The winds were still, and the sea ceased to dash against the vessel and to endanger their lives.
The men marveled - Wondered, or were amazed.
What manner of man - What kind of a personage. How unlike other men! What a vast display of power! and how far exalted above mortals must he be!
Jesus spake to the winds; rebuked their raging, and the sea was suddenly calm. The storm subsided; the ship glided smoothly; danger fled; and in amazement they stood in the presence of him who controlled the tempests that God had raised; and they felt that "he" must be God himself, for none but God could calm the heaving billows and scatter the tempest. No scene could have been more grand than this display of the power of Jesus. The darkness; the dashing waves; the howling winds; the heaving and tossing ship; the fears and cries of the seamen, all by a single word hushed into calm repose, present an image of power and divinity irresistibly grand and awful. So the tempest rolls and thickens over the head of the awakened sinner. So he trembles over immediate and awful destruction. So, while the storm of wrath howls, and hell threatens to ingulf him, he comes trembling to the Saviour. He hears; he rebukes the storm, and the sinner is safe. An indescribable peace takes possession of the soul, and he glides on a tranquil sea to the haven of eternal rest. See Isa 57:20-21; Rom 5:1; Phi 4:7.
The same account of the demoniacs substantially is found in Mark 5:1-20, and Luk 8:26-38.
The other side - The other side of the Sea of Tiberias.
Country of the Gergesenes - Mark Mar 5:1 says that he came into the country of the "Gadarenes." This difference is only apparent.
"Gadara" was a city not far from the Lake Gennesareth, one of the ten cities that were called "Decapolis." See the notes at Mat 4:25. "Gergesa" was a city about 12 miles to the southeast of Gadara, and about 20 miles to the east of the Jordan. There is no contradiction, therefore, in the evangelists. He came into the region in which the two cities were situated, and one evangelist mentioned one, and the other another. It shows that the writers had not agreed to impose on the world; for if they had, they would have mentioned the same city; and it shows. also, they were familiar with the country. No men would have written in this manner but those who were acquainted with the facts. Impostors do not mention places or homes if they can avoid it.
There met him two - Mark and Luke speak of only one that met him. "There met him out of the tombs a man," Mar 5:2. "There met him out of the tombs a certain man," Luk 8:27. This difference of statement has given rise to considerable difficulty. It is to be observed, however, that neither Mark nor Luke say that there was no more than one. For particular reasons, they might have been led to fix their attention on the one that was more notorious, and furious, and difficult to be managed. Had they denied plainly that there was more than one, and had Matthew affirmed that there were two, there would have been an irreconcilable contradiction. As it is, they relate the affair as other people would. It shows that they were honest witnesses. Had they been impostors; had Matthew and Luke agreed to write books to deceive the world, they would have agreed exactly in a case so easy as this. They would have told the story with the same circumstances. Witnesses in courts of law often differ in unimportant matters; and, provided the main narrative coincides, their testimony is thought to be more valuable.
Luke has given us a hint why he recorded only the cure of one of them. He says there met him "out of the city, a man, etc.; or, as it should be rendered, "a man of the city" a citizen. Yet the man did not dwell in the city, for he adds in the same verse, "neither abode he in any house, but in the tombs." The truth of the case was, that he was born and educated in the city. He had probably been a man of wealth and eminence; he was well known, and the people felt a deep interest in the case. Luke was therefore particularly struck with his case; and as his cure fully established the power of Jesus, he recorded it. The other person that Matthew mentions was probably a stranger, or one less notorious as a maniac, and he felt less interest in the cure. Let two persons go into a lunatic asylum and meet two insane persons, one of whom should be exceedingly fierce and ungovernable, and well known as having been a man of worth and standing; let them converse with them, and let the more violent one attract the principal attention, and they would very likely give the same account that Matthew and Luke do, and no one would doubt the statement was correct.
Possessed with devils - See the notes at Mat 4:24.
Coming out of the tombs - Mark and Luke say that they lived among the tombs. The sepulchres of the Jews were frequently caves beyond the walls of the cities in which they dwelt, or excavations made in the sides of hills, or sometimes in solid rocks. These caves or excavations were sometimes of great extent. They descended to them by flights of steps. These graves were not in the midst of cities, but in groves, and mountains, and solitudes. They afforded, therefore, to insane persons and demoniacs a place of retreat and shelter. They delighted in these gloomy and melancholy recesses, as being congenial to the wretched state of their minds. Josephus also states that these sepulchres were the haunts and lurking-places of those desperate bands of robbers that infested Judea. For further illustration of this subject see my notes at Isa 14:9; Isa 22:16; Isa 65:4. The ancient Gadara is commonly supposed to be the present Umkeis. "Near there Burckhardt reports that he found many sepulchres in the rocks, showing how naturally the conditions of the narrative respecting the demoniacs could have been fulfilled in that region. Reliable writers state that they have seen lunatics occupying such abodes of corruption and death." - Hackett's "Illustrations of Scripture," p. 109.
Dr. Thomson, however ("The Land and the Book," vol. ii. pp. 34-37), maintains that Gadara could not have been the place of the miracle, since that place is about "three hours" (some 10 or 12 miles) to the south of the extreme shore of the lake in that direction. He supposes that the miracle occurred at a place now called "Kerza" or "Gersa." which he supposes was the ancient "Gergesa." Of this place he says: "In this Gersa or Chersa we have a position which fulfills every requirement of the narratives, and with a name so near that in Matthew as to be in itself a strong corroboration of the truth of this identification. It is, within a few rods of the shore, and an immense mountain rises directly above it, in which are ancient tombs, out of some of which the two men possessed of the devils may have issued to meet Jesus. The lake is so near the base of the mountain that the swine, rushing madly down it, could not stop, but would be hurried on into the water and drowned. The place is one which our Lord would be likely to visit, having Capernaum in full view to the north, and Galilee 'over against it,' as Luke says it was. The name, however, pronounced by Bedouin Arabs is so similar to Gergesa, that, to all my inquiries for this place, they invariably said it was at Chersa, and they insisted that they were identical, and I agree with them in this opinion."
What have we to do with thee? - This might have been translated with great propriety, What hast thou to do with us? The meaning is "Why dost thou trouble or disturb us?" See Sa2 16:10; Kg2 9:18; Ezr 4:3.
Son of God - The title, "Son of God," is often given to Christ. People are sometimes called sons, or children of God, to denote their adoption into his family, Jo1 3:1. But the title given to Christ denotes his superiority to the prophets Heb 1:1; to Moses, the founder of the Jewish economy Heb 3:6; it denotes his unique and near relation to the Father, as evinced by his resurrection Psa 2:7; Act 13:33; it denotes his special relation to God from his miraculous conception Luk 1:35; and is equivalent to a declaration that he is divine, or equal to the Father. See the notes at Joh 10:36.
Art thou come hither to torment us? ... - By "the time" here mentioned is meant the day of judgment. The Bible reveals the doctrine that evil spirits are not now bound as they will be after that day; that they are permitted to tempt and afflict people, but that in the day of judgment they also will be condemned to everlasting punishment with all the wicked, Pe2 2:4; Jde 1:6. These spirits seemed to be apprised of that, and were alarmed lest the day that they feared had come. They besought him, therefore, not to send them out of that country, not to consign them then to hell, but to put off the day of their final punishment.
Mark and Luke say that Jesus inquired the name of the principal demoniac, and that he called his name "Legion, for they were many." The name legion was given to a division in the Roman army. It did not always denote the same number, but in the time of Christ it consisted of 6,000 to 3,000 foot soldiers and 3,000 horsemen. It came, therefore, to signify "a large number," without specifying the exact amount.
A herd of many swine - The word "herd," here applied to swine, is now commonly given to "cattle." Formerly, it signified any collection of beasts, or even of people.
The number that composed this "herd" was 2,000, Mar 5:13.
They that kept them fled - These swine were doubtless owned by the inhabitants of the country.
Whether they were Jews or Gentiles is not certainly known. It was not properly in the territory of Judea; but, as it was on its borders, it is probable that the inhabitants were a mixture of Jews and Gentiles. Swine were to Jews unclean animals, and it was unlawful for Jews to eat them, Lev 11:7. They were forbidden by their own laws to keep them, even for the purpose of traffic. Either, therefore, they had expressly violated the law, or these swine were owned by the Gentiles.
The keepers fled in consternation. They were amazed at the power of Jesus. Perhaps they feared a further destruction of property; or, more likely they were acquainted with the laws of the Jews, and regarded this as a judgment of heaven for keeping forbidden animals, and for tempting the Jews to violate the commands of God.
This is the only one of our Saviour's miracles, except the case of the fig-tree that he cursed Mat 21:18-20, in which he caused any destruction of property. It is a striking proof of his benevolence, that his miracles tended directly to the comfort of mankind. It was a proof of goodness added to the direct purpose for which his miracles were performed. That purpose was to confirm his divine mission; and it might have been as fully done by splitting rocks, or removing mountains, or causing water to run up steep hills, as by any other display of power. He chose to exhibit the proof of his divine power, however, in such a way as to benefit mankind.
Infidels have objected to this whole narrative. They have said that this was a wanton and unauthorized violation of private rights in the destruction of property. They have said, also, that the account of devils going into swine, and destroying them, was ridiculous. In regard to these objections the narrative is easily vindicated.
1. If Christ, as the Bible declares, is divine as well as human - God as well as man - then he had an original right to that and all other property, and might dispose of it as he pleased, Psa 50:10-12. If God had destroyed the herd of swine by pestilence or by lightning, by an inundation or by an earthquake, neither the owners or anyone else would have had reason to complain. No one now feels that he has a right to complain if God destroys a thousand times the amount of this property by overturning a city by an earthquake. Why, then, should complaints be brought against him if he should do the same thing in another way?
2. If this property was held "by the Jews," it was a violation of their law, and it was right that they should suffer the loss; if "by the Gentiles," it was known also to be a violation of the law of the people among whom they lived; a temptation and a snare to them; an abomination in their sight; and it was proper that the nuisance should be removed.
3. The cure of two men, one of whom was probably a man of distinction and property, was of far more consequence than the amount of property destroyed. To restore a "deranged" man now would be an act for which "property" could not compensate, and which could not be measured in value by any pecuniary consideration. But,
4. Jesus was not at all answerable for this destruction of property. He did not "command," he only "suffered" or "permitted" the devils to go into the swine. He commanded them merely to "come out of the magi." They originated the purpose of destroying the property, doubtless for the sake of doing as much mischief as possible, and of destroying the effect of the miracle of Christ. In this they seem to have had most disastrous success, and they only are responsible.
5. If it should be said that Christ permitted this, when he might have prevented it, it may be replied that the difficulty does not stop there. He permits all the evil that exists, when he might prevent it. He permits men to do much evil, when he might prevent it. He permits one bad man to injure the person and property of another bad man. He permits the bad to injure the good. He often permits a wicked man to fire a city, or to plunder a dwelling, or to rob a traveler, destroying property of many times the amount that was lost on this occasion. Why is it any more absurd to suffer a wicked spirit to do injury than a wicked man? or to suffer a "legion of devils" to destroy a herd of swine, than for "legions of men" to desolate nations, and cover fields and towns with ruin and slaughter.
The whole city came out - The people of the city probably came with a view of arresting him for the injury done to the property; but, seeing him, and being awed by his presence, they only besought him to leave them.
Out of their coasts - Out of their country.
1. That the design of Satan is to prejudice people against the Saviour, and even to make what Christ does an occasion why they should desire him t leave them.
2. The power of avarice. These people preferred their property to the Saviour. They loved it so much that they were blind to the evidence of the miracle, and to the good he had done to the miserable people whom he had healed.
It is no uncommon thing for people to love the world so much; to love property - even like that owned by the people of Gadara so much as to see no beauty in religion and no excellence in the Saviour; and, rather than part with it, to beseech Jesus to withdraw from them. The most grovelling employment, the most abandoned sins, the most loathsome vices, are often loved more than the presence of Jesus, and more than all the blessings of his salvation.
Remarks On Matthew 8
1. The leprosy, the disease mentioned in this chapter, is a suitable representation of the nature of sin. Like that, sin is loathsome; it is deep fixed in the frame; penetrating every part of the system; working its way to the surface imperceptibly, but surely; loosing the joints, and consuming the sinews of moral action; and adhering to the system until it terminates in eternal death. It goes down from age to age. It shuts out men from the society of the pure in heaven; nor can man be admitted there until God has cleansed the soul by his Spirit, and man is made pure and whole.
2. The case of the centurion is a strong instance of the nature and value of humility, Mat 8:5-10. He sustained a fair character, and had done much for the Jews. Yet he had no exalted conception of himself. Compared with the Saviour, he felt that he was unworthy that he should come to his dwelling. So feels every humble soul. "Humility is an estimate of ourselves as we are." It is a willingness to be known, and talked of, and treated just according to truth. It is a view of ourselves as lost, poor, and wandering creatures. Compared with other people with angels, with Jesus, and with God - it is a feeling by which we regard ourselves as unworthy of notice. It is a readiness to occupy our appropriate station in the universe, and to put on humbleness of mind as our proper array, Pe1 5:5.
3. We have in the case of the centurion an equally beautiful exhibition of "faith." He had unwavering confidence in the power of Jesus. He did not doubt at all that he was able to do for him just what he "needed, and what he wished him to do." This is faith; and every man who has this "trust" or confidence in Christ for salvation, has "saving faith."
4. Humility and faith are always connected. The one prepares the mind for the other. Having a deep sense of our weakness and unworthiness, we are prepared to look to Him who has strength. Faith also produces humility. Jesus was humble; and believing on him, we catch his spirit and learn of him, Mat 11:28-30. Compared with him, we see our unworthiness. Seeing his "strength," we see our "feebleness;" seeing "his" strength exerted to save creatures impure and ungrateful as we are, we sink away into an increased sense of our unfitness for his favor.
5. We see the compassion and kindness of Jesus, Mat 8:16-17. He has borne "our" heavy griefs. He provides comfort for us in sickness and sustains us in dying. But for his merciful arm, we should sink; and dying, we should die without hope. But:
"Jesus can make a dying bed
Feel soft as downy pillows are;
While on his breast we lean our head,
And breathe our life out sweetly there."
6. We are forcibly struck with his condescension, Mat 8:19-20. People of wickedness and crime dwell in splendid mansions, and stretch themselves on couches of ease; when afflicted, they recline on beds of down; but Jesus had no home and no pillow. The birds that fill the air with music and warble in the groves, nay, the very foxes, have homes and a shelter from the storms and elements; but He that made them, clothed in human flesh, was a wanderer, and had nowhere to lay his head. His sorrows he bore alone; his dwelling was in the mountains. In the palaces of the people for whom he toiled, and for whom he was about to bleed on a cross, he found no home and no sympathy. Surely this was compassion worthy of a God.
7. It is no disgrace to be poor. The Son of God was poor, and it is no dishonor to be like him. If our Maker, then, has cast our lot in poverty; if he takes away by sickness or calamity the fruits of our toils; if he clothes us in homely and coarse apparel; if he bids the winds of heaven to howl around our open and lonely dwellings, let us remember that the Redeemer of mankind trod the same humble path, and that it can be no dishonor to be likened to him who was the beloved Son of God.
8. We should be willing to embrace the gospel without hope of earthly reward, Mat 8:19-23. Religion promises no earthly honors or wealth. It bids its disciples to look beyond the grave for its highest rewards. It requires people to love religion "for its own sake;" to love the Saviour, even when poor, and cast out, and suffering, "because he is worthy of love;" and to be willing to forsake all the allurements which the world holds out to us for the sake of the purity and peace of the gospel.
9. We learn the necessity of forsaking all for the sake of the gospel. Our first duty is to God, our Creator and Saviour; our second, to friends, to our relations, and to our country, Mat 8:22. When God commands we must follow him, nor should any consideration of ease, or safety, or imaginary duty deter us. To us it is of no consequence what people say or think of us. Let the will of God be prayerfully ascertained, and then let it be done though it carry us through ridicule and flames.
10. Jesus can preserve us in the time of danger, Mat 8:23-27. He hushed the storm and his disciples were safe. His life was also in danger with theirs. Had the ship sunk, without a miracle he would have perished with them. So in every storm of trial or persecution, in every heaving sea of calamity, he is united to his followers. His interest and theirs is the same. He feels for them, he is touched with their infirmities, and he will sustain them. Because I live, says he, ye shall live also. Never, never, then, shall man or devil pluck one of his faithful followers from his hand, Joh 10:27-28.
11. All that can disturb or injure us is under the control of the Christian's Friend, Mat 8:28-32. The very inhabitants of hell are bound, and beyond his permission they can never injure us. In spite, then, of all the malice of malignant beings, the friends of Jesus are safe.
12. It is no uncommon thing for people to desire Jesus to depart from them, Mat 8:34. Though he is ready to confer on them important favors, yet they hold His favors to be of far less consequence than some unimportant earthly possession. Sinners never love him, and always wish him away from their dwellings.
13. It is no uncommon thing for Jesus to take people at their word, and leave them. He gives them over to worldly thoughts and pursuits; he suffers them to sink into crime, and they perish forever. Alas, how many are there, like the dwellers in the country of the Gergesenes, that ask him to depart; that see him go without a sigh; and that never, never again behold him coming to bless them with salvation!