1. And Jesus being full of the Holy Ghost returned from Jordan, and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness.
[Was led by the Spirit.] In St. Matthew it is, was led up of the Spirit. By which I would suppose our Saviour caught up by the Holy Spirit into the air, and so carried into the wilderness. The reasons of this conjecture are, I. Because we read of the like thing done to Philip, Acts 8:39,40. The same also is supposed concerning Elijah, 1 Kings 18:12; 2 Kings 2:16. II. It is probable the devil also might snatch Jesus up into the air, having this occasion to pretend himself no other than the Holy Ghost, who had caught him up and brought him already into the wilderness: and under this notion he might require that worship from him, as if he himself was indeed the Holy Ghost. III. We must not pass by the method which St. Luke takes in describing the order of the temptations, somewhat different from that of St. Matthew. The temptation upon the pinnacle of the Temple is mentioned by St. Matthew, and that most truly, the second in order: but in St. Luke it is reckoned the third; adding, that "when the devil had ended all his temptation, he departed from him for a season." But now, according to St. Luke, how did Christ get down from the pinnacle again? He tells us, that he was carried up thither by the devil, and there (according to his method in the story) the temptation was ended: how then did Christ get down again? Observe but what follows; Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit into Galilee: and then join the stories as they are joined in St. Luke: the devil set him on the pinnacle of the Temple, and there urgeth him to cast himself down; but when he could not persuade him, he leaves him standing on the pinnacle, and all the temptation was ended; and Jesus, by the power of the Spirit returned into Galilee. May we not suppose that the evangelist would by this give us to understand, that Christ, after the temptation was ended, was carried through the air by the Holy Ghost into Galilee, as he had been caught up before by him, and been brought into the wilderness, yea, and under that pretence [or upon that occasion], had been snatched up by the devil himself to the pinnacle of the Temple, and to a very high mountain?
2. Being forty days tempted of the devil. And in those days he did eat nothing: and when they were ended, he afterward hungered.
[Forty days, &c.] Moses, in his dealings with God, fasted forty days three times, one after another. It was sufficient for Christ, having withal so great a conflict with the devil, to do it but once. Moses' first quadragesimal was Exodus 24:18: his second time was after he had destroyed the golden calf, Deuteronomy 10:10: the third was after the tables of the law had been made anew, Exodus 34:28. About that very time of the year wherein Moses ended his last forty days' fast, Christ began his; viz. about the middle of the month Tisri; and how long he continued it on in the month Marchesvan, it is not difficult to apprehend.
5. And the devil, taking him up into an high mountain, showed unto him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time.
[In a moment of time.] In momento. So the Vulgar. Now what quantity of time a moment contains, if it be worth the while to inquire, the doctors tell us:
How much is a moment? It is the fifty-eight thousand, eight hundred, eighty-eighth part of an hour. Very accurately calculated truly!
13. And when the devil had ended all the temptation, he departed from him for a season.
[He departed from him for a season.] The devil had now found by experience, how much in vain it was for him to tempt our Saviour by suggestions, or those kinds of allurements by which he inveigles mankind; and therefore he watches for an opportunity of trying his arts upon him some other way: which at last he doth, both by himself and by his instruments. And when that season drew near, and the devil returned to his proper business, we find there is mention made of Satan entering into Judas, and that "now the prince of this world cometh," John 14:30.
16. And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up: and, as his custom was, he went into the synagogue on the sabbath day, and stood up for to read.
[He stood up to read.] That we may frame the better judgment of this action of our Saviour's, let us a little look into the customs of the synagogue:--
I. They read standing up. Piske: and Rabbenu Asher; "They do not read in the law otherwise than standing up. Nay, it is unlawful for him that readeth to lean upon any thing. Whence comes it that he that readeth in the law is bound to stand up? Rabh Abhu saith, Because the Scripture saith, Do thou stand by me. Nor ought any one to lean any way, as it is in the Jerusalem. R. Samuel Bar Isaac going into a synagogue found one expounding and leaning against a pillar. He saith to him, This is not lawful: for as the law was given with reverence, so are we to handle it with reverence too."
They preferred the Law before the Prophets, and the Law and the Prophets above the Hagiographa, or holy writings: and yet they yielded that honour to the Prophets, that even they should not be read but standing up. Whence that is particular which they say concerning the Book of Esther, "A man may read out of the Book of Esther, either standing or sitting. But not so out of the law." Christ in this followed the custom of the synagogue, in that while he read the Law he stood up, while he taught it he sat down.
II. He that read in the Prophets was called Maphtir; and was appointed to that office by the ruler of the synagogue.
"Rabh Bibai was a great man in taking care of the things of God. And Mar was a great man in taking care of the things of the town." The Gloss is: "Of the things of God, that is, about the collectors of the alms, and the distribution of it, and the ordering those that were to expound and read the Prophets."
It is probable that Christ did at this time offer himself as a Maphtir, or as one that would read in the Prophets, and preach upon what he read; not before hand appointed to it by the ruler of the synagogue, but rather approved of when he had offered himself. For those of Nazareth had heard of some miracles which he had wrought at Capernaum, verse 23: and therefore no wonder if they were very desirous to hear something from him answerable to those great things he had done.
III. Piske: "He that reads in the Prophets ought not to read less than one-and-twenty verses." Here our Saviour doth not seem to have observed the custom of the synagogue, for he read but two verses: and yet he did nothing but what was both allowable and usual. And that is worth our taking notice of which we meet with, "If there be an interpreter or preaching on the sabbath day, they read out of the prophets, three, or five, or seven verses, and are not so careful to read just one-and-twenty."
"If there be an interpreter [or interpretation] on the sabbath day": was there not always one on every sabbath day? So that neither Moses nor the Prophets might be read unless one stood by that could expound: as seems abundantly evident both from the traditions and the rules that concerned such a one.
These words, therefore I would understand in such a sense; 'If either the interpreter should in his exposition enlarge himself into a sermon, or any other should preach,' &c. For the interpreter did sometimes comment and preach upon what they read. And probably Christ did at this time both read and properly interpreted.
"Jose the Maonite expounded in the synagogue of Maon. 'Hear, O ye priests; hearken, O house of Israel; and give y ear, O house of the king,' Hosea 5. He said, The holy blessed God is about to snatch away the priests and set them in judgment, saying unto them, 'Why have ye not laboured in the law? Have you not had the use and enjoyment of four-and-twenty portions belonging to the priests?' They say unto him, 'They have not given us any thing.' 'Hearken, O ye house of Israel, why have you not given those four-and-twenty portions to the priests which I have commanded you in the law?' They answer him, 'Because of those who are of the house of the prince, who devour all themselves.' 'Give ear, O house of the king, for judgment is towards you; for to you I have said that this should be the rule concerning the priests: to you, therefore, and over you, is it turned a rule of judgment.' Rabbi [the prince] heard this, and was displeased with it."
"After these things did king Ahasuerus promote Haman the son of Hammedatha."
"Rabh Joseph expounded it, After these things the king promoted Haman of Hammedatha the Agagite, the son of Cuza, the son of Aphlet, the son of Dio, the son of Diusot, the son of Paros, the son of Nidan, the son of Baalkan," &c. See the place, and compare it with the Targumist upon Esther, chapter 3:1.
"A reader in the Prophet enlargeth upon 'Shemaa'" [the manner and form of the thing we have in Massech. Soph. cap. 14]; "he passeth before the ark, and lifteth up his hands" (that is, in order to give him blessing); "but if he be a child, his father or his master doth these things in his stead," &c. But the Gloss tells us that these things are to be understood of an ordinary reader of the prophets. Now Christ was an extraordinary reader. However, he read here, which he did not do in any other synagogue; for this was the synagogue to which he belonged, and he read as a member of that synagogue.
17. And there was delivered unto him the book of the prophet Esaias. And when he had opened the book, he found the place where it was written,
[And there was delivered unto him the book of Esaias.] I. The minister of the church kept the sacred books in his custody, and brought them out to be read when they met together in the synagogue.
"The high priest came to read [on the day of expiation]; the minister of the synagogue takes the book of the law, and giveth it to the ruler of the synagogue," &c. Where the Gloss is, The 'chazan' of the synagogue, that is, the minister. From him did our Saviour receive the book, and to him he returned it again.
II. If it be asked whether he received the book of the Prophet Isaiah by itself or joined with the other prophets, it is not easy to determine it. We may gather something from what vulgarly obtained amongst them.
"The Rabbins deliver: 'Let a man frame the Law and the Prophets and the holy writings into one volume': they are the words of R. Meir. But R. Judah saith, 'Let the Law be apart by itself; the book of the Prophets by itself; and the book of the holy writings [Hagiographa] by itself.' And the wise men say, 'Every book by itself.'"
But we may ask if every prophet was by himself, Isaiah by himself, Jeremiah by himself, &c. It is probable they were: for so they sometimes divided the law into single quintanes [or fifth parts].
All know what title the books of the law do bear in the front of the Hebrew Bibles, viz. The five quintanes of the law. Genesis is the first quintane: Exodus is the second quintane: and so of the rest...
"They fold up the book of the Law in the cloth of the quintanes, and the quintanes in the cloth of the Prophets and Hagiographa: but they do not fold up the Prophets and Hagiographa in the cloth of the quintanes, nor the quintanes in the cloth of the Law." And a little after; "They lay the Law upon the quintanes, and the quintanes upon the Prophets and Hagiographa; but not the Prophets and Hagiographa upon the quintanes, nor the quintanes upon the Law": that is, not any one single quintane upon all the quintanes made up into one volume. So the Gloss hath it; "A quintane; that is, a book of the law, in which there is only one quintane."
Seeing, therefore, that the book of that Law was sometimes divided in this manner, into distinct books, we may judge as well that the greater prophets might be thus divided also, and the twelve lesser made up into one volume. Hence, perhaps, that passage: "The reader of the Prophet might skip from one text to another: but he might not skip from prophet to prophet: but in the twelve prophets it was lawful." For they were all made up in one volume ready to his hand; and so were not the greater prophets.
Give me leave, therefore, to conjecture that on that sabbath wherein these things were transacted in the synagogue at Nazareth, that section which was to be read in the Prophets was, according to the rubric, in the prophet Isaiah; and upon that account the minister of the synagogue delivered that book to our Saviour when he stood up to read.
[And when he had opened the book, he found the place, &c.] In the Talmudic language I would render it thus, unrolling the book...
The high priest after the reading of the law, rolling, or folding up the book, puts it into his bosom. And yet
It is said...which we must not render they do not fold up, but they do not unfold or unroll the book of the law in the synagogue.
They unroll a prophet in the congregation, but they do not unroll the law in he congregation. That is, as the Gloss hath it, They unroll from one place or passage to another passage in another place. So they were wont to do in the Prophets, but not in the Law. And upon this account was it permitted for the reader to skip in the prophet from one place to another, because it was permitted them to unroll the prophet, either a single prophet, or the twelve lesser in the synagogue; but as to the Law, it was not allowed them so to do.
And they put the question How far may he skip so that he that interprets do not break off? The Gloss is, "Let him not skip from the place he reads, unless that he may unroll the book, and be ready to read the place to which he skips, when the interpreter ceaseth."
And because it was not lawful for him so to unroll the law in the synagogue, "on the kalends of the month Tebeth, if it proved to be the sabbath day, they brought three books of the law and read in one of them the place for the sabbath, in another, that for the kalends, in the third, that for the feast of dedication."
The words therefore of our evangelist to me seem not barely to mean that he unfolded or opened the book; but that being opened, he unrolled it from folio to folio, till he had found the place he designed to read and expound. Which though it was not the section appointed by the rubric for the day, yet did not Christ much recede from the custom of the synagogue, which allowed the reader to skip from one place to another.
25. But I tell you of a truth, many widows were in Israel in the days of Elias, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, when great famine was throughout all the land;
[When the heavens were shut up three years and six months.] This number of three years and six months is much used both in the Holy Scriptures and in Jewish writings; concerning which we have more largely discoursed in another place. And although both in the one and the other it is not seldom used allusively only, yet in this place I can see no reason why it should not be taken according to the letter in its proper number, however indeed there will be no small difficulty to reduce it to its just account. That there was no rain for three years together, is evident enough from 1 Kings 17, &c.: but whence comes this addition of six months?
"Elijah said to Ahab, As the Lord God of Israel liveth, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years, but according to my word; If there shall be these years." These words include three years at the least, because he saith, years in the plural, and not years in the dual.
And chapter 18, "The word of the Lord came to Elijah in the third year, saying, Go shew thyself unto Ahab, and I will send rain upon the earth." In the third year; where then shall we find the six months?
I. Doubtless both our Saviour and his apostle St. James, chapter 5 verse 17, in adding six months do speak according to the known and received opinion of that nation; which is also done elsewhere sometimes in historical matters in the New Testament.
St. Stephen tells us, Acts 7:16, that the bones of the twelve patriarchs were carried over from Egypt and buried in Sychem, when holy writ mentions only the bones and burial of Joseph: wherein he speaks according to the vulgar opinion of the nation.
Again, verse 30, he tells us that Moses was forty years old when he fled into the land of Midian, and that he tarried there forty years more, when Moses himself mentions nothing of the circumstance: this he speaks agreeably to the opinion of the people.
II. Neither our Saviour nor St. James says that Elijah shut up the heavens three years and six months; but Christ tells us, "That the heaven was shut up in the days of Elias three years and six months": and St. James, "That Elias prayed that it might not rain, and it rained not upon the earth by the space of three years and six months."
May I therefore have leave to distinguish in this manner? Elijah shut up the heaven for three years, that there might be no rain, as in the Book of Kings: and there was no rain for three years and a half, as our Saviour and St. James relate.
III. The words of Menander in Josephus may help a little towards the untying this knot: Menander also makes mention of this drought in the acts of Ithobalus, king of Tyre, saying, There was no rain from the month of October to the month of October the year following.
It is true he shortens the space of this drought by making it continue but one year; but however, having placed the beginning of it in the month of October, he gives us a key that opens us a way into things more inward and secret.
IV. Consider the distinction of the former and the latter rain, Deuteronomy 11:14; Jeremiah 5:24; Joel 2:23.
"The Rabbins deliver: the former is in the month Marchesvan; the latter in the month Nisan."
The Targumist in Joel 2:23: "Who hath given you the first rain in season and the latter in the month Nisan." See also our note upon chapter 2:8.
R. Solomon, upon Deuteronomy 11, differs a little; but we are not solicitous about the order, which should be the first, either that in the month Marchesvan, or that in the month Nisan: that which makes to our purpose is, that rains were at those stated times; and for the rest of the year generally there was no rain.
V. Those six months mentioned by our Saviour and St. James must be accounted before the beginning of the three years, and not tacked to the end of them, as is very evident from this, that it is said, "The third year Elijah shewed himself to Ahab," &c.
In the beginning therefore of those three years we believe Elijah shut up heaven upon the approach of that time wherein the rains were wont to fall in the month of Marchesvan, and opened heaven again the same month at the end of three years. Nor is it nothing that Menander speaks of the drought, taking its beginning in the month October, which in part answers to the Jews' Marchesvan: for consult that passage, chapter 18; "Ahab said unto Obadiah, Go into the land unto all the fountains of water, and unto all brooks: peradventure we may find grass to save the horses and mules alive." No one will say this search was made in the winter, but in the summer: not before or in the month Nisan, wherein the rains were wont to fall; for what hay or grass could be expected at that time? But when the year grew on to the summer, then was it a seasonable time to inquire after hay and grass. Reckon therefore the time of Ahab's and Obadiah's progress in this search: the time wherein Elijah and Obadiah meeting together, Ahab fell in with them: the time wherein the Israelites and the prophets of Baal were gathered together at mount Carmel; when Elijah sacrificed there, and the followers of Baal were killed: and certainly it will be more probable that the unlocking of the heavens and the fall of the rains happened in that usual and ordinary season, the month Marchesvan, than any other part of the year. Three years agone, in that month when the rains were expected, according to the common season of the year, Elijah shut heaven up that it should not rain; and now at the close of three years, when the season for those rains recurred, he unlocks the heavens and the rains fall abundantly.
VI. Now, go back from Marchesvan, the month wherein the prophet locked up heaven, to the month Nisan preceding, and those six months between, they were also without rain, according to the ordinary course of the year and climate. In the month Nisan it rained; the rest of the year to Marchesvan it was fair and held up: when that month came the rains were expected; but Elijah had shut the heavens up, and they remained shut up for the space of three years ensuing. So that though he did not shut up heaven above the space of three years, yet there was no rain for three years and six months.
27. And many lepers were in Israel in the time of Eliseus the prophet; and none of them was cleansed, saving Naaman the Syrian.
[Naaman the Syrian.] These instances galled those of Nazareth upon a twofold account:
I. That they looked upon themselves as vilified by these examples; especially if we consider the occasion upon which our Saviour brought them. 'Thou hast wrought miracles in Capernaum; do something also here in thine own city.' 'No, you are unworthy of it, as Israel of old was unworthy of the prophets Elijah and Elisha, who were therefore sent amongst the Gentiles.'
II. That by these instances he plainly intimated the calling of the Gentiles, than which nothing could be more grating in the ear of the Jews. Elijah was sent to a heathen woman, and a heathen man was sent to Elisha: and both of them were turned from heathenism to the true religion. Those words therefore of Naaman, 2 Kings 5:17,18, I would thus render; "Thy servant will henceforth offer neither burnt offering nor sacrifice to strange gods, but unto Jehovah. And concerning this thing the Lord pardon thy servant [viz. concerning my former idolatry], that when my master went into the house of Rimmon to worship there, and leaned upon my hand, I also bowed myself in the house of Rimmon; for that I bowed myself in the house of Rimmon, the Lord pardon thy servant concerning this thing."
29. And rose up, and thrust him out of the city, and led him unto the brow of the hill whereon their city was built, that they might cast him down headlong.
[That they might cast him down headlong.] By what authority, or by what legal process could those of Nazareth do this? There was, indeed, a court of judicature consisting of three men, because a synagogue was there; but it was not in the power of that court to decree any thing in capital matters. It may be asked, whether that license that was permitted the zealots extended thus far: "He that steals the consecrated dishes and curseth by a conjurer" (that is, curseth God in the name of an idol), "and goes in to a heathen woman (that is, openly, as Zimri, Num 25:6), the zealots slay him. And the priest that ministers in his uncleanness, his brethren the priests beat out his brains with clubs." But doth this license of the zealot belong to all persons upon all occasions? When Nathanael said, [John 1:46] "Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth?" he does not seem there to reflect so much upon the smallness and insignificancy of the town, as the looseness and depravity of its manners.
33. And in the synagogue there was a man, which had a spirit of an unclean devil, and cried out with a loud voice,
[Who had a spirit of an unclean devil.] An expression something unusual. Perhaps it points towards the pythonic or necromantic spirit: how these are distinguished amongst the doctors we may see in Ramban in Sanhedrin, cap. 7. hal. 4. Both of them (though in a different manner) invited and desired the inspirations of the devil. But of this thing I shall treat more largely at chapter 13:11.