Then came to him the disciples of John
Of John the Baptist, to whom they had addicted themselves, and by whom they abode: though their master was in prison, and the Messiah was known to be come, yet still they were attached to John, and particularly imitated him in the austerities of his life. These, either hearing of the great entertainment made at Matthew's house for Christ, and his disciples, at which they were offended; or else being moved, and set on by the Pharisees, with whom they were agreed in the business of fasting, came to Christ where he was, and put this question to him,
saying, why do we, and the Pharisees, fast oft, but thy disciples
Not that they wanted to know the reason why they and the Pharisees fasted; that they could account for themselves, but why Christ's disciples did not: and this is said not so much by way of inquiry, as reproof; and their sense is; that Christ's disciples ought to fast, as well as they and the Pharisees, and not eat, and drink, and feast in the manner they did. The fastings here referred to are not the public fasts enjoined by the law of Moses, or in any writings of the Old Testament; but private fasts, which were enjoined by John to his disciples, and by the Pharisees to their's; or which were, according to the traditions of the elders, or of their own appointing, and which were very "often" indeed: for besides their fasting twice a week, on Monday and Thursday, ( Luke 18:12 ) they had a multitude of fasts upon divers occasions, particularly for rain F3. If the 17th of Marchesvan, or October, came, and there was no rain, private persons kept three days of fasting, viz. Monday, Thursday, and Monday again: and if the month of Cisleu, or November, came, and there was no rain, then the sanhedrim appointed three fast days, which were on the same days as before, for the congregation; and if still there was no rain came, they added three more; and if yet there were none, they enjoined seven more, in all thirteen, which R. Acha and R. Barachiah kept themselves F4. Fasts were kept also on account of many other evils, as pestilence, famine, war, sieges, inundations, or any other calamity; sometimes for trifling things, as for dreams F5, that they might have good ones, or know how to interpret them, or avoid any ill omen by them; and it is almost incredible what frequent fastings some of the Rabbins exercised themselves with, on very insignificant occasions. They F6 say,
``R. Jose (Nymwu yynmt Mu) , "fasted fourscore fasts" to see R. Chiyah Rubba; at last he saw, and his hands trembled, and his eyes grew dim: --R. Simeon Ben Lakish (Nymwu Nwwam) (tlt Mu) , "fasted three hundred fastings" to see R. Chiyah Rubba, and did not see him.''Elsewhere it is said, that R. Ase fasted "thirty days" to see the same person, and saw him not F7. Again F8,
``R. Jonathan fasted every eve of the new year, R. Abin fasted every eve of the feast of tabernacles, R. Zeura fasted "three hundred fasts", and there are that say "nine hundred fasts".''This may serve to illustrate and prove the frequency of the Jewish fastings. Luke represents this question as put by the Pharisees, which is here put by the disciples of John: it was doubtless put by both agreeing in this matter; and which shows that John's disciples were instigated to it by the Pharisees, who sought to sow discord between them, and to bring Christ and his disciples into contempt with them.
F3 Misn. Taanith, c. 1. sect. 4. 5, 6. & c. 3. sect. 4, 5, 6, 7, 8. Maimon. & Bartenora in ib.
F4 T. Hieros. Taanlot, fol. 65. 2. & 66. 4.
F5 T. Bab. Sabbat. fol. 10. 1. Maimon Taaniot, c. 1. sect. 12-14.
F6 T. Hieros. Cilaim, fol. 32. 2. & Cetubot, fol. 35. 1.
F7 Midrash Kohelet, fol. 79. 1.
F8 lb. Nedarim, fol. 40. 4. & Taanioth, fol. 66. 1.