And after the reading of the law and the prophets
Which was done every sabbath day, ( Acts 15:21 ) The five books of Moses, which are meant by the law, were divided into sections: Genesis was divided into twelve, Exodus into eleven, Leviticus into ten, Numbers into ten, and Deuteronomy into ten, which in all make fifty three sections: and so by reading one on each sabbath, and two on one day, they read through the whole law in the course of a year, and which they finished at the close of the feast of tabernacles; and that day was called (hrwt txmv) "the rejoicing of the law"; it was a day of rejoicing, that the law was read through. Some make fifty four sections, and then two of them must be read together, on two sabbath days, to finish the whole in the year. In some synagogues the section was divided into three parts, and so they finished the law in three years; but this custom was less common F16. The custom of reading the law, the Jews say, was one hundred and seventy years before the time of Jesus Christ; though some say the division of the law, into sections, was made by Ezra; and others refer it to Moses himself: it is certain it obtained in the times of Christ and his apostles, as did also the reading of the prophets, and which was introduced in this way, and upon this account. When Antiochus Epiphanes burnt the book of the law, and forbad the reading of it, the Jews in the room of it selected some passages out of the prophets, which they thought came nearest in words and sense to the sections of the law, and read them in their stead; and when the law was restored again, they still continued the reading of the prophetic sections; and the section for the day was called (hrjph) , "the dismission", because usually the people were dismissed upon it, unless anyone stood up, and preached or expounded the word of God unto the people: hence the following message and address to the apostles,
the rulers of the synagogue sent unto them;
that is, those who were the principal men in the synagogue, the ruler of it, together with the elders; for there was but one ruler in a synagogue; (See Gill on Matthew 9:18) though there were more elders; and so the Syriac version here renders it, "the elders of the synagogue"; but it may be asked, why should they send to the apostles? how did they know that they were teachers, being strangers? this they might conclude from their outward appearance, their gravity and solidity; for as for habit or dress there was no distinction; or from their sitting down when they came into the synagogue, which was the custom of teachers; or they might have had some knowledge of them, and conversation with them, before they came into the synagogue; for it cannot be reasonably thought that they admitted anyone, whether they knew him or not, to teach in their synagogues:
saying, ye men and brethren:
which was the common style of the Jews, they used in addresses, and especially to their own countrymen, as they might perceive Paul and Barnabas were; see ( Acts 2:29 ) ( 7:2 ) .
if ye have any word of exhortation for the people, say on;
the sense is, if they were prepared to preach, or had anything upon their minds to say to the people; or if they had, as it is in the original text, "any word of exhortation or comfort" in them, as they had indeed a rich treasure in their earthen vessels, they had leave and liberty to speak it to the people. "A word of exhortation" designs any doctrine that might be for instruction and comfort, and this was agreeably to the practice of the Jews. For it is said F17
``on the sabbath day, (hvrd Nyvrwd) , "they preach a sermon", or expound to housekeepers (or masters of families), who are employed in business all the days of the week; and in the midst of the sermon they teach them the traditions, concerning what is forbidden, and what is lawful; and it is better for them to hear than to read in the Hagiographa;''which books they did not read publicly, as is said in the same place, only the law and the prophets; with the latter of which they dismissed the people, unless a sermon was preached; and which, when done, was chiefly for the sake of the common people, men and women: and it is said F18, that
``the women, and the people of the earth (or the common people), come to hear the sermon, and the preachers ought to draw out their hearts;''speak out their whole mind, and deliver all they know that may be instructive and profitable.
F16 Maimon. Hilchot Tephilla, c. 13. sect. 1. Benjamin Itinerar. p. 114, 115.
F17 Gloss. in T. Bab. Sabbat, fol. 115. 1.
F18 Ib. fol. 30. 2.