Now there is at Jerusalem by the sheep [market]
The word "market" is not in the text, and of such a market, no account is given in the Scripture, nor in the Jewish writings; and besides, in our Lord's time, sheep and oxen were sold in the temple; rather therefore this signifies, the sheep gate, of which mention is made, in ( Nehemiah 3:1 Nehemiah 3:32 ) ( 12:39 ) , through which the sheep were brought into the city, to the temple.
The Vulgate Latin and Ethiopic versions read, "there is at Jerusalem a sheep pool"; and so it is interpreted in the Arabic version, and Jerom calls it the "cattle pool" F6. The Targumist on ( Jeremiah 31:39 ) speaks of a pool called (hlge hkyrb) , "the calf", or "heifer pool", as Dr. Lightfoot renders it; though the translations of it, both in the London Polyglott, and in the king of Spain's Bible, interpret it "the round pool". This pool of Bethesda, is thought by some, to be the same which the Jews call the great pool in Jerusalem; they say F7,
``between Hebron and Jerusalem, is the fountain Etham, from whence the waters come by way of pipes, unto the great pool, which is in Jerusalem.''And R. Benjamin F8 speaks of a pool, which is to be seen to this day, where the ancients slew their sacrifices, and all the Jews write their names on the wall: and some think it was so called, because the sheep that were offered in sacrifice, were there washed; which must be either before, or after they were slain; not before, for it was not required that what was to be slain for sacrifice should be washed first; and afterwards, only the entrails of a beast were washed; and for this there was a particular place in the temple, called (Nyxydmh tkvl) "the washing room"; where, they say F9, they washed the inwards of the holy sacrifices. This pool here, therefore, seems rather, as Dr. Lightfoot observes, to have been a bath for unclean persons; and having this miraculous virtue hereafter spoken of, diseased persons only, at certain times, had recourse to it. The Syriac and Persic versions call it, "a place of a baptistery"; and both leave out the clause, "by the sheep market", or "gate": it is not easy to say where and what it was:
which is called in the Hebrew tongue, Bethesda;
which signifies, according to the Syriac, Arabic, and Persic versions, "an house of mercy", or "grace", or "goodness"; because many miserable objects here received mercy, and a cure. Hegesippus F11 speaks of a Bethesda, which Cestius the Roman general entered into, and burnt; and which, according to him, seems to be without Jerusalem, and so not the place here spoken of; and besides, this is called a pool, though the buildings about it doubtless went by the same name. The Vulgate Latin and Ethiopic versions read Bethsaida, very wrongly; and it is called by Tertullian F12 the pool of Bethsaida. The Hebrew tongue here mentioned is (rhnh rbe lv btk) , "the language of those beyond the river" F13, i.e. the river Euphrates; which is the Chaldee language, as distinct from the Assyrian language, which is called the holy and blessed language; the former is what the Cuthites, or Samaritans used; the latter, that in which the book of the law was written F14.
Having five porches;
or cloistered walks, which were very convenient for the diseased, which lay here for a cure, so Nonnus: Athanasius
F15 speaks of the pool itself, as in being, though the buildings round about lay in ruins in his time; and F16 Daviler observes, there are still remaining five arches of the "portico", and part of the basin. Now this place may be an emblem of the means of grace, the ministry of the word, and ordinances: the house of God, where the Gospel is preached, may be called a Bethesda, an house of mercy; since here the free, sovereign, rich, and abundant grace and mercy of God, through Christ, is proclaimed, as the ground and foundation of a sinner's hope; the mercy of God, as it is displayed in the covenant of grace, in the mission of Christ, and redemption by him, in regeneration, and in the forgiveness of sin, and indeed, in the whole of salvation, from first to last, is here held forth for the relief of distressed minds: and this Bethesda being a pool, some of the ancients have thought, it was an emblem of, and prefigured the ordinance of baptism; and that the miraculous virtue in it, was put into it, to give honour and credit to that ordinance, shortly to be administered: but as that is not the means of regeneration and conversion, or of a cure or cleansing, but pre-requires them; rather it might be a symbol of the fountain of Christ's blood, opened for polluted sinners to wash in, and which cleanses from all sin, and cures all diseases; and this is opened in the house of mercy, and by the ministry of the word: or rather, best of all, the Gospel itself, and the ministration of it, mass be signified; which is sometimes compared to waters, and a fountain of them; see ( Isaiah 4:1 ) ( Zechariah 14:8 ) ( Joel 3:18 ) ; and whereas this pool was in Jerusalem, and that so often designs the church of Christ under the Gospel dispensation, it may fitly represent the ministry of the word there: and it being near the sheep-market, or gate, or a sheep-pool, may not be without its significancy; and may lead us to observe, that near where Christ's sheep are, which the Father has given him, and he has died for, and must bring in, he fixes his word and ordinances, in order to gather them in: and inasmuch as there were five porches, or cloistered walks, leading unto, or adjoining to this place, it has been thought by some of the ancients, that the law, as lying in the five books of Moses, may be intended by them; for under the law, and under a work of it, men are, before they come into the light and liberty, and comfort of the Gospel; and as the people which lay in these porches, received no cure there, so there are no relief, peace, joy, life, and salvation, by the law of works.
F6 De Locis Hebraicis, p. 89. L. Tom. III.
F7 Cippi Hebraici, p. 10.
F8 Itinerar. p. 43.
F9 Misn. Middot, c. 5. sect. 2. Maimon. Beth Habbechira, c. 5. sect. 17.
F11 De Excidio, l. 2. c. 15.
F12 Adv. Judaeos, c. 13.
F13 De Semente, p. 345. Tom. I.
F14 In Chambers' Dictionary, in the word "Piscina".
F15 Vid. Gloss. in T. Bab. Sabbat, fol. 115. 1. Megilla, fol. 18. 2. & Sanhedrin, fol. 21. 2.
F16 Maimon. & Bartenora in Misn. Yadaim, c. 4. sect. 5. Vid. Gloss. in T. Bab. Megillia, fol. 8. 2.