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Luke 2

John Lightfoot's Commentary on Luke, Chapter 2

1. And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed.

By the way, we may observe that the blessed Virgin offers a sin offering for herself. Now what the meaning and design of a sin offering was, is evident from Leviticus 4 and 5.

25. And, behold, there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon; and the same man was just and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel: and the Holy Ghost was upon him.

[Simeon.--The same man was just and devout.] I. Simeon the Just, of whom the Jewish histories tell so many and great things, hath nothing to do here. For, as it is certain that Simeon died long before, so it is very uncertain whether he deserved the title of Just as well as our Simeon did. He was called 'Just' both for his piety towards God, and his charity towards his countrymen. Grant he was so; yet is it a far greater testimony that is given of our Simeon.

II. Rabban Simeon, the son of Hillel, was alive and at Jerusalem in those very times wherein our evangelist wrote, his father Hillel also still living; whom the son succeeded upon the decease of the father, as president of the council. But as to him, there is nothing famous concerning him amongst Jewish authors but his bare name: "Rabban Simeon, the son of old Hillel, a prince of Israel, as his father had been. As you may see in cap. 1. Schabb. there is no mention of him in Misna." He was, therefore, no father of traditions, neither were there any things recited from him in the Misna: which, indeed, was very extraordinary; but how it should come to pass I cannot tell. Whether he had a sounder apprehension of things; or was not well seen in traditions; or was this very Simeon the evangelist mentions, and so looked higher than the mere traditions of men: this is all the hindrance, that Rabban Simeon lived a great while after the birth of our Saviour and had a son, Gamaliel, whom he bred up a Pharisee.

[Waiting for the consolation of Israel.] That is, believing the consolation of Israel was nigh at hand. The whole nation waited for the consolation of Israel, insomuch that there was nothing more common with them than to swear by the desire which they had of seeing it.

"R. Judah Ben Tabbai said, So let me see the consolation [of Israel], if I have not put to death a false witness. Simeon Ben Shetah saith to him, 'So let me see the consolation, if thou hast not shed innocent blood.'"

"R. Eliezer Ben Zadok said, So let me see the consolation, if I did not see her gleaning barley under the horses' heels."

"R. Simeon Ben Shetah said, 'So let me see the consolation, I saw one pursuing another with a drawn sword.'"

"Those which desire the years of consolation that are to come."

35. (Yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also), that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.

[Yea, and a sword shall pierce through thine own soul also.] Thy soul, i.e. thy life. It is a prediction that the blessed Virgin should suffer martyrdom: "This child of thine shall be set for a sign, which shall be spoken against; neither shalt thou escape in the contradiction that shall be given him, for thou shalt die by the sword." Epiphanius gives some countenance to this exposition.

"Whether the holy Virgin died and was buried, her death was crowned with infinite honour; she made a most chaste end, and the crown of her virginity was given her: or whether she was put to death (as is written, 'A sword shall pass through thine own soul'), she is possessed of glory and a crown amongst the martyrs."

36. And there was one Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Aser: she was of a great age, and had lived with an husband seven years from her virginity;

[Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Aser.] There were, therefore, prophets at this time among the people. It is not to be denied that at this time there were; that is, when the morning of the gospel began to dawn: but for four hundred years past there had not been even one that had deserved that name, however the Jews vainly enough had honoured the memories of some with that title; which we shall not meddle with at this present. But was this Anna accounted a prophetess by the Jews; if so, whence that proverbial expression, "out of Galilee ariseth no prophet"? John 7:52. She was certainly a Galilean; and for that very reason, probably, it is here remarked that she was of the tribe of Aser.

What think we of that passage in Vajicra Rabba, fol. 174.4 and Bemidbar Rabb. fol. 250.4, The king Messiah, who is placed on the north, shall come and build the house of the sanctuary, which is placed on the south. Doth not this savour something of Christ's coming out of Galilee?

37. And she was a widow of about fourscore and four years, which departed not from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day.

[Departed not from the Temple.] I. It may be doubted whether any women ever discharged any office in the Temple: some think they did. But that which they allege out of 1 Samuel 2:22, concerning the women that assembled at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, is quite another thing from any public ministering, if we will admit the Targumist and the Rabbins for expositors. So Exodus 38:8, women assembling by troops at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation. The Targumists both here and in the place before quoted have it, women that came to pray...

It is apparent, that women were wont to come from other parts to the tabernacle for devotion's sake, not to perform any ministry. So this Anna, by birth of the tribe of Aser, had changed her native soil, and fixed her abode at Jerusalem, partly for devotion, that she might be the more at leisure for praying in the Temple, and partly as a prophetess, that she might utter her prophecies in the great metropolis.

II. She departed not from the Temple; that is, not in the stated times of prayer: according as it is commanded Aaron and his sons, Leviticus 10:7; "Ye shall not go out from the door of the tabernacle." Where Siphra, fol. 24. 2, not in the time of their ministry.

42. And when he was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem after the custom of the feast.

[And when he was twelve years old.] "Let a man deal gently with his son till he come to be twelve years old: but from that time, let him descend with him into his way of living": that is, let him diligently, and with severity (if need be), keep him close to that way, rule, or art, by which he may get his living.

At twelve years old, they were wont to inure children to fasting, from time to time, or from hour to hour; that they might be accustomed to it, and so be capable of fasting upon the day of atonement.

Christ being now twelve years old, applies himself to his proper work, to be about his Father's business.

Solomon, when 'twelve years old,'...judged between the two women.

"R. Chama saith, That Moses, when he was twelve years old, was taken from his father's house."

43. And when they had fulfilled the days, as they returned, the child Jesus tarried behind in Jerusalem; and Joseph and his mother knew not of it.

[And when they had fulfilled the days.] Here ariseth a question, Whether it was lawful to depart from Jerusalem before the seven days were ended? If not, why did Peter and Cleophas go away on the third day? If they might, how then is that precept to be understood about eating the unleavened bread throughout the whole seven days?

I. It is controverted amongst the doctors about that passage, Deuteronomy 16:6,7, "Thou shalt sacrifice the Passover at the even, at the going down of the sun, and thou shalt turn in the morning, and go into thy tents," whether it be lawful, after they had eaten the lamb, to go every one to his own house. This is denied, and that not without reason. For as it is in the Gloss, "On the day of the feast," (that is, the first day of the seven,) "the sabbatical limits forbade it." For on the feast day no man ought to exceed the bounds of a sabbath day's journey. "That therefore, (say they) that is said, 'Thou shalt go into thy tents,' is to be thus understood, 'Thou shalt go into thy tents that are without the walls of Jerusalem; but by no means into thine own house.'"

II. Was it lawful then to return home on the second day of the feast? No, it was not. For on that day was the general appearance in the court, and presentment of their offerings. And this seems hinted by R. Elhanani in another Gloss upon the place newly cited: "There were two reasons (saith he) of their lodging in Jerusalem: the one because of the feast day; the other because of the offering."

III. It was not unlawful to depart on the third day, if necessity of affairs required it. But as in many other cases the doctors were wont to speak, so might it be said in this it was much more commendable for them to abide in Jerusalem till all the seven days were ended; and that especially because of the last day, which was a festival or holy day.

"R. Jose the Galilean saith, There are three things commanded to be done in the feast; 1. the Chagigah; 2. the appearance in the court; 3. the rejoicing." The Chagigah or the peace offerings were on the first day; the appearance in the court was on the second day; the rejoicing might be on any day.

IV. In Moed Katon, a treatise that discourseth on things lawful or not lawful to be done in the intermedials of the feast, or in those days of the feast that were not kept holy; in the very entrance of that discourse there are several things allowed, which plainly argue absence and distance from Jerusalem.

As to eating unleavened bread, the precept indeed was indispensable, neither that any thing leavened should be eaten, nor that any leaven should be found in their houses for seven days together: but no one would say that this command was restrained only to Jerusalem. It is said in Jerusalem Kiddushin, the women's Passover is arbitrary: that is, the women's appearance at Jerusalem at the Passover was at pleasure. But let them not say that eating unleavened bread was arbitrary, or at the women's pleasure: for although they sat at home, and did not go to Jerusalem to the Passover, yet did they abstain from leaven in their own houses: the unleavened bread was eaten in every house.

VI. It seems from the very phraseology that Joseph and Mary continued at Jerusalem all the seven days; which was indeed generally done by others for devotion's sake. And then think what numerous companies of people must be going away to this or that country, yea, particularly, how great a crowd might be journeying, together with Joseph and Mary, towards Galilee. So that it may be less strange, if Jesus had not been within his parents' sight, though he had been among the crowd; nor that though they did not see him, yet that they should not suspect his absence.

44. But they, supposing him to have been in the company, went a day's journey; and they sought him among their kinsfolk and acquaintance.

[They went a day's journey.] The first ordinary day's journey from Jerusalem towards Galilee, was to Neapolis, of old called Sychem, distant thirty miles. But was this the day's journey that Joseph and the company that travelled along wit him made at this time? The place where Christ was first missed by his parents is commonly shewed at this day to travellers, much nearer Jerusalem, by the name of Beere, but ten miles from that city. You may believe those that shew it, as you think fit.

46. And it came to pass, that after three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them, and asking them questions.

[Sitting in the midst of the doctors.] I. "There are three courts of judicature in the Temple: one in the gate of the Court of the Gentiles; another in the gate of the Court of Israel; a third in the room Gazith."

There was also a synagogue in the Temple, which must be observed. "The high priest came to read" [those places which were to be read on the day of atonement]. "The chazan of the synagogue takes the book, and gives it to the ruler of the synagogue; the ruler to the sagan; the sagan to the high priest," &c. Where the Gloss: "There was a synagogue near the court, in the Mountain of the Temple."

In which of these places Christ was found sitting amongst the doctors, let those tell us that undertake to shew the place where his parents first missed him.

II. It is not easy to say what place he could be admitted to amongst the doctors, especially when that custom obtained which is mentioned: "The Rabbins have a tradition: From the days of Moses to Rabban Gamaliel's, they were instructed in the law standing. But when Rabban Gamaliel died, the world languished, so that they learned the law sitting." Whence also that tradition, that, "since the death of Rabban Gamaliel, the glory of the law was eclipsed."

Now when it was come to that pass after Gamaliel's death, that the disciples sat while the master read, how did they sit? On the ground. Hence that passage; "Rabh would not sit upon his bed, and read to his scholar, while he sat upon the ground." Gloss: "Either both should be on the bed, or both upon the ground."

"The disciples of R. Eleazar Ben Shammua asked him, 'How came you to this great age?' He answered them, 'I never made the synagogue a common way' [that is, I never took my passage through the synagogue for a shorter cut]. 'And I never walked upon the heads of the holy people.'" The Gloss is, "upon the heads of his disciples, sitting upon the ground."

Whether on the naked floor, might be a question, if there were place for it; but we let that pass at this present. For this custom of sitting prevailed after the death of Gamaliel, who took the chair many years after this that we are now upon. The great Hillel possessed the seat at this time; or if he was newly dead, his son Simeon succeeded him: so that it was the disciples' part in this age to stand, not to sit in the presence of their doctors. How therefore should it be said of Christ, that he was "sitting among the doctors"? Let the following clause solve the difficulty:

[And asking them questions.] It was both lawful and customary for the disciples, or any that were present, publicly to inquire either of the doctor that was then reading, or indeed the whole consistory, about any doubtful matter wherein he was not well satisfied. Take but two stories out of many others that may illustrate this matter:--

"R. Judah ordained R. Levi Ben Susi for a doctor to the Simonians. They made him a great chair, and placed him in it. Then propounded questions to him [occasioned from Deuteronomy 25:9], If thy brother's wife should have her hands cut off, how should she loose the shoe of her husband's brother? If she should spit blood; what then?" Most profound questions certainly! such as require a most cunning sophister to unriddle them.

"There is a story of a certain disciple that came and interrogated R. Joshua, Of what kind is evening prayer? He answered him, It is arbitrary. He came to Rabban Gamaliel and asked him; he told him, It is that we are in duty bound to. 'How then,' saith he, 'did R. Joshua tell me it is voluntary?' Saith the other, 'Tomorrow, when I come into the Consistory, do thou come forth and question me about this matter.' The disciple stood forth and asked Rabban Gamaliel [then president of the Sanhedrim] 'Of what kind is evening prayer?' He answers, It is a thing of duty. 'But behold,' saith the other, 'R. Joshua saith, It is a thing at pleasure.' Saith Gamaliel to Joshua, 'Dost thou affirm it to be a thing of pleasure?' He saith unto him, 'No.' 'Stand upon thy feet,' saith the other, 'that they may witness against thee.' Rabban Gamaliel was then sitting and expounding. [Probably this very article.] R. Joshua stood on his feet till all the people cried out to him. They say to R. Hospith the interpreter, 'Dismiss the people,' They say to R. Zenon the Chazan, 'Say, Begin ye'; and they said, 'Begin thou'; so all the people rose up and stood on their feet. They said unto him, 'Who is it thy wickedness hath not touched?' They went out straightway and made R. Eleazar Ben Azariah president of the council. How many seats were there? R. Jacob Ben Susi saith, fourscore seats for the disciples of the wise, beside those who stood behind the bars. R. Jose Ben R. Bon saith thirty, besides those that stood behind the bars." We have the same story in Bab. Beracoth, fol. 27. 2.

This we transcribed the largelier, not only for proof of what we said, of the disciples' asking the doctors questions in the court, but that the reader might have a little sight of the manner of that court, and how there were many, not only of the disciples of the Wise, but others, too, that flocked thither.

We may further add: "In a city where there are not two great wise men, one fit to teach and instruct in the whole law, the other who knows how to hear, and ask, and answer, they do not constitute a Sanhedrim, although there were a thousand Israelites there," &c. "In a city where there are not two that may speak, and one that may hear, they do not constitute a Sanhedrim. In Bitter, there were three: In Jabneh four; viz. R. Eliezer, R. Joshua, R. Akibah, and Simeon the Temanite. He judged before them, sitting on the ground." By him who hears they mean one skilful in the traditions, that can propound questions, and answer every question propounded. Such a one was Simeon the Temanite; who though he was a man of that learning, yet, not being promoted to become one of the elders, he sat upon the ground; that is, not on any of the benches of the fathers of the Sanhedrim; but on one of the seats that were near the ground; for they speak these things as done in the times after the death of Gamaliel. There is nothing absurd therefore in it, if we should suppose Christ gotten into the very Sanhedrim itself. Thither Joseph and his mother might come, and seeking him, might find him on the benches of the fathers of the council for that time, they having found him so capable both to propound questions and answer them. For it is plain they did admit of others, for other reasons, to sit sometimes in their seats. And it is less wonder if they suffer him to sit amongst them, being but twelve years of age, when as they promoted R. Eleazar Ben Azariah to the presidency itself when he was but sixteen. But if it was in a lower court, it is still less wonder if he sat amongst them. But that which might be chiefly inquired is, whether Christ sat amongst them as one of their disciples? This indeed is hardly credible.

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