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Matthew 17

John Lightfoot's Commentary on Matthew, Chapter 17

2. And was transfigured before them: and his face did shine as the sun, and his raiment was white as the light.

[He is lunatic.] Luke 9:39, a spirit taketh him; Mark 9:17, hath a dumb spirit.

I. He that is skilled in the Talmudic writings will here remember what things are said concerning a deaf and mad man, concerning whom there is so much mention in their writings.

"There are five who do not pay the Trumah; but if they do, their Trumah is no Trumah: the deaf and dumb, the lunatic," &c. "Any one is fit to sacrifice a beast, except a dumb and deaf, a lunatic, and a child": and very many passages of this nature, &c. I have rendered deaf and dumb, according to the sense of the masters, who, in the first place cited, do thus interpret the word; "concerning which the wise men speak, is he who neither heareth nor speaketh." See there the Jerusalem Gemara, where, among other things, this occurs not unworthy our noting; "That all the sons of R. Jochanan Ben Gudgoda were deaf and dumb."

II. It was very usual to the Jews to attribute some of the more grievous diseases to evil spirits, specially those wherein either the body was distorted, or the mind disturbed and tossed with a phrensy.

"If any one, vexed with an evil spirit, shall say, when the disease did first invade him, Write a bill of divorce for my wife," &c.

"If any, whom Kordicus vexeth, say, Write a bill of divorce for my wife," &c. "Kordicus, say the Glossers, is a demon, which rules over those that drink too much new wine. What is 'Kordicus?' Samuel saith, When new wine out of the press hath caught any one." Rambam, upon the place, hath these words; "Kordicus is a disease, generated from the repletion of the vessels of the brain, whereby the understanding is confounded; and it is a kind of falling-sickness." Behold the same a demon and a disease! to which the Gemarists applied exorcisms and a diet.

"Shibta is an evil spirit, who, taking hold on the necks of infants, dries up and contracts their nerves."

"He that drinks up double cups, is punished by the devils."

From this vulgar opinion of the nation, namely, that devils are the authors of such kind of diseases, one evangelist brings in the father of this child, saying of him he is lunatic, another, he hath a spirit. He had been dumb and deaf from his birth; to that misery was added a phrensy, or a lycanthropy, which kind of disease it was not unusual with the nation to attribute to the devil; and here, in truth, a devil was present.

17. Then Jesus answered and said, O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you? how long shall I suffer you? bring him hither to me.

[O faithless and perverse generation, &c.] The edge of these words is levelled especially against the scribes (see Mark 9:14); and yet the disciples escaped not altogether untouched.

Christ and his three prime disciples being absent, this child is brought to the rest to be healed: they cannot heal him, partly, because the devil was really in him; partly, because this evil had adhered to him from his very birth. Upon this the scribes insult and scoff at them and their master. A faithless and perverse generation, which is neither overcome by miracles, when they are done, and vilify, when they are not done! The faith of the disciples (v 20) wavered by the plain difficulty of the thing, which seemed impossible to be overcome, when so many evils were digested into one, deafness, dumbness, phrensy, and possession of the devil: and all these from the cradle.

20. And Jesus said unto them, Because of your unbelief: for verily I say unto you, If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you.

[Faith as a grain of mustard seed, &c.] As a seed of mustard, or as a drop of mustard, in Talmudic language. See chapter 13:23.

[Ye shall say to this mountain, &c.] See what we note at chapter 21:21.

21. Howbeit this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting.

[This kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting.] It is not much unlike this, which is said, By reason of an evil spirit a singular or religious man may afflict himself with fastings.

24. And when they were come to Capernaum, they that received tribute money came to Peter, and said, Doth not your master pay tribute?

[They that receive the (didrachma) tribute-money.] Two things persuade me that this is to be understood of the half-shekel, to be yearly paid into the treasury of the Temple:

1. The word itself whereby this tribute is called, Concerning this, thus Josephus writes: "He laid a tax upon all the Jews wheresoever they were, namely, two drachms: commanding every one, of whatever age, to bring it into the Capitol, as before they had paid it into the Temple at Jerusalem." And Dion Cassius of the same thus, "He commanded all to bring the didrachm yearly to Jupiter Capitolinus."

The Seventy Interpreters, indeed, upon Exodus 30:13, render it half a didrachm; but adding this moreover, which is according to the holy didrachm. Be it so; the whole shekel was the holy didrachm: then let the half shekel be, the common didrachm. However, the thing is, he that paid the half-shekel, in the vulgar dialect, was called, he that paid the shekels; and that which is here said by Matthew, they that receive the didrachm, the Talmudists express they that demand or collect the shekels. The Targumists render that place, Exodus 3 [13], the half of the shekel; the reason of which see, if you please, in Maimonides. "The shekel (saith he) concerning which the Law speaks, did weigh three hundred and twenty grains of barley; but the wise men sometime added to that weight, and made it to be of the same value with the money Sela, under the second Temple, that is, three hundred eighty-four middling grains of barley." See the place and the Gloss.

2. The answer of Christ sufficiently argues that the discourse is concerning this tax, when he saith, He is son of that king for whose use that tribute was demanded: for, "from thence were bought the daily and additional sacrifices, and their drink offerings, the sheaf, the two loaves (Lev 23:17), the shewbread, all the sacrifices of the congregation, the red cow, the scapegoat, and the crimson tongue, which was between his horns," &c.

But here this objection occurs, which is not so easy to answer. The time of the payment of the half shekel was about the feast of the Passover; but now that time was far gone, and the feast of Tabernacles at hand. It may be answered, 1. That Matthew, who recites this story, observed not the course and order of time, which was not unusual with him, as being he among all the evangelists that most disjoints the times of the stories. But let it be granted that the order of the history in him is right and proper here, it is answered, 2. Either Christ was scarcely present at the Passover last past; or if he were present, by reason of the danger he was in by the snares of the Jews, he could not perform this payment in that manner as it ought to have been. Consider those words which John speaks of the Passover last past, chapter 6:4, "The Passover, a feast of the Jews, was near"; and chapter 7:1, "After these things Jesus walked in Galilee; for he would not walk any more in Jewry, because the Jews sought to kill him." 3. It was not unusual to defer the payment of the half shekels of this year to the year following, by reason of some urgent necessity. Hence it was, when they sat to collect and receive this tribute, the collectors had before them two chests placed; in one of which they put the tax of the present year, in the other of the year past.

But it may be objected, Why did the collectors of Capernaum require the payment at that time, when, according to custom, they began not to demand it before the fifteenth day of the month Adar? I answer, 1. It is certain there were, in every city, moneychangers to collect it, and, being collected, to carry it to Jerusalem. Hence is that in the tract cited, "The fifteenth day of the month Adar, the collectors sit in the cities," to demand the half shekel; "and the five-and-twentieth they sit in the Temple." 2. The uncertain abode of Christ at Capernaum gave these collectors no unjust cause of demanding this due, whensoever they had him there present; at this time especially, when the feast of Tabernacles was near, and they about to go to Jerusalem, to render an account, perhaps, of their collection.

But if any list to understand this of the tax paid the Romans, we do not contend. And then the words of those that collected the tribute, "Does not your master pay the didrachm?" seem to sound to this effect, "Is your master of the sect of Judas of Galilee?"

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