The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah
THE ASCENT: FROM THE RIVER JORDAN TO THE MOUNT OF TRANSFIGURATION
A GROUP OF MIRACLES AMONG A SEMI-HEATHEN POPULATION
(St. Matthew 15:29-31; St. Mark 7:31-37; St.
Luke 8:22-26; St. Matthew 11:27-31.)
If even the brief stay of Jesus in that friendly Jewish home by
the borders of Tyre could not remain unknown, the fame of the healing of the
Syro-Phœnician maiden would soon have rendered impossible that privacy and
retirement, which had been the chief object of His leaving Capernaum.
Accordingly, when the two Paschal days were ended, He resumed His journey,
extending it far beyond any previously undertaken, perhaps beyond what had been
originally intended. The borders of Palestine proper, though not of what the
Rabbis reckoned as belonging to it,1
were passed. Making a long circuit through the territory of Sidon,2
He descended - probably through one of the passes of the Hermon range - into
the country of the Tetrarch Philip. Thence He continued 'through the midst of
the borders of Decapolis,' till He once more reached the eastern, or
south-eastern, shore of the Lake of Galilee. It will be remembered that the
Decapolis, or confederacy of 'the Ten Cities,'3 was wedged in between the Tetrarchies
of Philip and Antipas. It embraced ten cities, although that was not always
their number, and their names are variously enumerated. Of these cities Hippos,
on the southeastern shore of the Lake, was the most northern, and Philadelphia,
the ancient Rabbath-Ammon, the most southern. Scythopolis, the ancient
Beth-Shean, with its district, was the only one of them on the western bank of
the Jordan. This extensive 'Ten Cities' district was essentially heathen
territory. Their ancient monuments show, in which of them Zeus, Astarte, and
Athene, or else Artemis, Hercules, Dionysos, Demeter, or other Grecian
divinities, were worshipped.4
Their political constitution was that of the free Greek cities. They were
subject only to the Governor of Syria, and formed part of Coele-Syria, in
contradistinction to Syro-Phoenicia. Their privileges dated from the time of
Pompey, from which also they afterwards reckoned their era.
2. The correct reading of St. Mark vii. 31, is 'through Sidon.' By the latter I do not
understand the town of that name. which would have been quite outside the
Saviour's route, but (with Ewald and Lange) the territory of
3. The fullest notice of the 'Ten Cities' is that of Caspari, Chronolog. Geogr.
Einl. pp. 83-91, with which compare Menke's Bibel-Atlas, Map V.
4. Comp. Sch�rer, pp. 382, 383.
It is important to keep in view that, although Jesus was now
within the territory of ancient Israel, the district and all the surroundings
were essentially heathen, although in closest proximity to, and intermingling
with, that which was purely Jewish. St. Matthew5
gives only a general description of Christ's activity there, concluding with a
notice of the impression produced on those who witnessed His mighty deeds, as
leading them to glorify 'the God of Israel.' This, of course, confirms the
impression that the scene is laid among a population chiefly heathen, and
agrees with the more minute notice of the locality in the Gospel of St. Mark.
One special instance of miraculous healing is recorded in the latter, not only
from its intrinsic interest, but perhaps, also, as in some respects typical.
5. St. Matt xv. 29-31.
1. Among those brought to Him was one deaf, whose speech had,
probably in consequence of this, been so affected as practically to deprive him
of its power.6
This circumstance, and that he is not spoken of as so afflicted from his birth,
leads us to infer that the affection was - as not unfrequently - the result of
disease, and not congenital. Remembering, that alike the subject of the miracle
and they who brought him were heathens, but in constant and close contact with
Jews, what follows is vividly true to life. The entreaty to 'lay His Hand upon
him' was heathen, and yet semi-Jewish also. Quite peculiar it is, when the Lord
took him aside from the multitude; and again that, in healing him, 'He spat,'
applying it directly to the diseased organ. We read of the direct application
of saliva only here and in the healing of the blind man at Bethsaida.78
We are disposed to regard this as peculiar to the healing of Gentiles.
Peculiar, also, is the term expressive of burden on the mind, when, 'looking up
to heaven, He sighed.'9
Peculiar, also, is the 'thrusting'10
of His Fingers into the man's ears, and the touch of his tongue. Only the
upward look to Heaven and the command 'Ephphatha' - 'be opened' - seem the same
as in His every day wonders of healing. But we mark that all here seems much
more elaborate than in Israel. The reason of this must, of course, be sought in
the moral condition of the person healed. Certain characteristics about the
action of the Lord may, perhaps, help us to understand it better. There is an
accumulation of means, yet each and all inadequate to effect the purpose, but
all connected with His Person. This elaborate use of such means would banish
the idea of magic; it would arouse the attention, and fix it upon Christ, as
using these means, which were all connected with His own person; while, lastly,
the sighing, and the word of absolute command, would all have here their
6. mogilaloV or moggilaloV does not mean one absolutely dumb. It is
literally: difficulter loquens. The Rabbinic designation of such a
person would have been Cheresh (Ter. i. 2) although different opinions obtain as to whether the term includes impediment of speech (comp. Meg. ii. 4; Gitt. 71 a).
7. St. Mark viii. 23.
8. In St. John ix. 6 it is really application of clay.
9. stenazw occurs only here in the
Gospels. Otherwise it occurs in Rom. viii. 23; 2 Cor. v. 2, 4; Hebr. xiii. 17; James v. 9; the substantive in Acts vii. 34; Rom, viii. 26.
10. So literally.
Let us try to realize the scene. They have heard of Him as the
wonder-worker, these heathens in the land so near to, and yet so far from,
Israel; and they have brought to Him 'the lame, blind, dumb, maimed,11
and many others,' and laid them at His Feet. Oh, what wonder! All disease
vanishes in presence of Heaven's Own Life Incarnate. Tongues long weighted are
loosed, limbs maimed or bent by disease
are restored to health, the lame are stretched straight; the film of disease
and the paralysis of nerve-impotence pass from eyes long insensible to the
light. It is a new era - Israel conquers the heathen world, not by force, but
by love; not by outward means, but by the manifestation of life-power from
above. Truly, this is the Messianic conquest and reign: 'and they glorified the
God of Israel.'
11. KulloV means here incurvatus,
and not as in ix. 43 mutilatus.
From amongst this mass of misery we single out and follow one,12
whom the Saviour takes aside, that it may not merely be the breath of heaven's
spring passing over them all, that wooeth him to new life, but that He may
touch and handle him, and so give health to soul and body. The man is to be
alone with Christ and the disciples. It is not magic; means are used, and such
as might not seem wholly strange to the man. And quite a number of means! He
thrust His Fingers into his deaf ears, as if to make a way for the sound: He
spat on his tongue, using a means of healing accepted in popular opinion of Jew
He touched his tongue. Each act seemed a fresh incitement to his faith - and
all connected itself with the Person of Christ. As yet there was not breath of
life in it all. But when the man's eyes followed those of the Saviour to
heaven, he would understand whence He expected, whence came to Him the power -
Who had sent Him, and Whose He was. And as he followed the movement of Christ's
lips, as he groaned under the felt burden He had come to remove, the sufferer
would look up expectant. Once more the Saviour's lips parted to speak the word
of command: 'Be opened'15
- and straightway the gladsome sound would pass into 'his hearing,'16
and the bond that seemed to have held his tongue was loosed. He was in a new
world, into which He had put him that had spoken that one Word; He, Who had
been burdened under the load which He had lifted up to His Father; to Whom all
the means that had been used had pointed, and with Whose Person they had been
12. St. Mark vii. 31-37.
13. Shabb. 108 b; Pliny, H. N. xxviii. 7; Suet. Vesp. 7.
14. W�nsche (ad. loc.) is guilty of serious misapprehension when he says that the Talmud
condemns to eternal punishment those who employ this mode of healing. This
statement is incorrect. What it condemns is the whispering of magical formulas over a wound (Sanh. 90 a), when it was the custom of some magicians to spit before (Sanh. 101 a), of others after pronouncing the
formula (Jer. Sanh. 28 b). There is no analogy whatever between this and what our Lord did, and the use of saliva for cures is universally recognised by the Rabbis.
15. effaqa = xt@apat:)e
16. So literally, or rather 'hearings' - in the plural.
It was in vain to enjoin silence. Wider and wider spread the
unbidden fame, till it was caught up in this one hymn of praise, which has
remained to all time the jubilee of our experience of Christ as the Divine
Healer: 'He hath done all things well, He maketh even the deaf to hear, and the
dumb to speak.' This Jewish word, Ephphatha, spoken to the Gentile
Church by Him, Who, looking up to heaven, sighed under the burden, even while
He uplifted it, has opened the hearing and loosed the bond of speech. Most
significantly was it spoken in the language of the Jews; and this also does it
teach, that Jesus must always have spoken the Jews' language. For, if ever, to
a Grecian in Grecian territory would He have spoken in Greek, not in the Jews'
language, if the former and not the latter had been that of which He made use
in His Words and Working.
2. Another miracle is recorded by St. Mark,17
as wrought by Jesus in these parts, and, as we infer, on a heathen.18
All the circumstances are kindred to those just related. It was in
Bethsaida-Julias, that one blind was brought unto Him, with the entreaty that
He would touch him, - just as in the case of the deaf and dumb. Here, also, the
Saviour took him aside - 'led him out of the village' - and 'spat on his eyes,
and put His Hands upon him.' We mark not only the similarity of the means
employed, but the same, and even greater elaborateness in the use of them,
since a twofold touch is recorded before the man saw clearly.19
On any theory - even that which would regard the Gospel-narratives as spurious
- this trait must have been intended to mark a special purpose, since this is
the only instance in which a miraculous cure was performed gradually, and not
at once and completely. So far as we can judge, the object was, by a gradual
process of healing, to disabuse the man of any idea of magical cure, while at
the same time the process of healing again markedly centered in the Person of
Jesus. With this also agrees (as in the case of the deaf and dumb) the use of
spittle in the healing. We may here recall, that the use of saliva was a
well-known Jewish remedy for affections of the eyes.20
It was thus that the celebrated Rabbi Meir relieved one of his fair hearers,
when her husband, in his anger at her long detention by the Rabbi's sermons,
had ordered her to spit in the preacher's face. Pretending to suffer from his
eyes, the Rabbi contrived that the woman publicly spat in his eyes, thus
enabling her to obey her husband's command.21
The anecdote at least proves, that the application of saliva was popularly
regarded as a remedy for affections of the eyes.
17. St. Mark viii. 22-26.
18. Most commentators regard this as the eastern Bethsaida, or Bethsaida-Julias.
The objection (in the Speaker's Commentary) that the text speaks of 'a village' (vv. 23, 26) is obviated by the circumstance that similarly we read immediately
afterwards (ver. 27) about the 'villages of C�sarea Philippi.' Indeed, a
knowledge of Jewish law enables us to see here a fresh proof of the genuineness of the Evangelic narrative. For, according to Meg. 3 b the villages about a town were reckoned as belonging to it, while, on the other hand, a town
which had not among its inhabitants ten Batlanin (persons who devoted themselves to the worship and affairs of the Synagogue) was to be regarded as a village. The Bethsaida of ver. 22 must refer to the district, in one of the
hamlets of which the blind man met Jesus. It does not appear, that Jesus ever again wrought miracles, either in Capernaum or the western Bethsaida, if, indeed, He ever returned to that district. Lastly, the scene of that miracle must have been the eastern Bethsaida (Julias), since immediately afterwards the continuance of His journey to C�sarea Philippi is related without any notice of crossing the Lake.
19. The better reading of the words is given in the Revised Version.
20. Jer. Shabb. xiv. 4; Baba B. 126 b.
21. Jer. Sot. 16 d, about the middle.
Thus in this instance also, as in that of the deaf and dumb,
there was the use of means, Jewish means, means manifestly insufficient (since
their first application was only partially successful), and a multiplication of
means - yet all centering in, and proceeding from, His Person. As further
analogies between the two, we mark that the blindness does not seem to have
but the consequence of disease, and that silence was enjoined after the
the confusedness of his sight, when first restored to him, surely conveyed, not
only to him but to us all, both a spiritual lesson and a spiritual warning.
22. Comp. St. Mark viii. 24.
23. ver. 26.
3. Yet a third miracle of healing requires to be here
considered, although related by St. Matthew in quite another connection.24
But we have learned enough of the structure of the First Gospel to know, that
its arrangement is determined by the plan of the writer rather than by the
chronological succession of events.25
The manner in which the Lord healed the two blind men, the injunction of
silence, and the notice that none the less they spread His fame in all that
land,26 seem to
imply that He was not on the ordinary scene of His labours in Galilee. Nor can
we fail to mark an internal analogy between this and the other two miracles
enacted amidst a chiefly Grecian population. And, strange though it may sound,
the cry with which the two blind men who sought His help followed Him, 'Son of
David, have mercy on us,' comes, as might be expected, more frequently from
Gentile than from Jewish lips. It was, of course, pre-eminently the Jewish
designation of the Messiah, the basis of all Jewish thought of Him. But,
perhaps on that very ground, it would express in Israel rather the homage of
popular conviction, than, as in this case, the cry for help in bodily disease.
Besides, Jesus had not as yet been hailed as the Messiah, except by His most
intimate disciples; and, even by them, chiefly in the joy of their highest
spiritual attainments. He was the Rabbi, Teacher, Wonder-worker, Son of Man,
even Son of God; but the idea of the Davidic Kingdom as implying spiritual and
Divine, not outwardly royal rule, lay as yet on the utmost edge of the horizon,
covered by the golden mist of the Sun of Righteousness in His rising. On the
other hand, we can understand, how to Gentiles, who resided in Palestine, the
Messiah of Israel would chiefly stand out as 'the Son of David.' It was the
most ready, and, at the same time, the most universal, form in which the great
Jewish hope could be viewed by them. It presented to their minds the most
marked contrast to Israel's present fallen state, and it recalled the Golden
Age of Israel's past, and that, as only the symbol of a far wider and more
glorious reign, the fulfilment of what to David had only been promises.27
24. St. Matt. ix. 27-31.
25. Thus, the healing recorded immediately after this history, in St. Matt. ix. 32-35, belongs evidently to a later period. Comp. St. Luke xi. 14.
26. I admit that especially the latter argument is inconclusive, but I appeal to the general context and the setting of this history. It is impossible to regard St.
Matt. ix. as a chronological record of events.
27. He is addressed as 'Son of David,' in this passage, by the Syro-Phœnician
woman (St. Matt. xv. 22), and by the blind men near Jericho (St. Matt. xx. 30, 31; St. Mark x. 47, 48; St. Luke xviii, 38, 39), and proclaimed as such by the people in St. Matt. xii. 23; xxi. 9, 15.
Peculiar to this history is the testing question of Christ,
whether they really believed what their petition implied, that He was able to
restore their sight; and, again, His stern, almost passionate, insistence28
on their silence as to the mode of their cure. Only on one other occasion do we
read of the same insistence. It is, when the leper had expressed the same
absolute faith in Christ's ability to heal if He willed it, and Jesus had, as
in the case of those two blind men, conferred the benefit by the touch of His
Hand.29 In both
these cases, it is remarkable that, along with strongest faith of those who
came to Him, there was rather an implied than an expressed petition on their
part. The leper who knelt before Him only said: 'Lord, if Thou wilt, Thou canst
make me clean;' and the two blind men: 'Have mercy on us, Thou Son of David.'
Thus it is the highest and most realising faith, which is most absolute in its
trust and most reticent as regards the details of its request.
28. embrimaomai - the word occurs in that
sense only here and in St. Mark i. 43; otherwise also in St. Mark xiv. 5, and
in St. John xi. 33, 38.
29. St. Mark i. 40, 41.
But as regards the two blind men (and the healed leper also),
it is almost impossible not to connect Christ's peculiar insistence on their
silence with their advanced faith. They had owned Jesus as 'the Son of David,'
and that, not in the Judaic sense (as by the Syro-Phœnician woman30),
but as able to do all things, even to open by His touch the eyes of the blind.
And it had been done to them, as it always is - according to their faith. But a
profession of faith so wide-reaching as theirs, and sealed by the attainment of
what it sought, yet scarcely dared to ask, must not be publicly proclaimed. It
would, and in point of fact did, bring to Him crowds which, unable spiritually
to understand the meaning of such a confession, would only embarrass and
hinder, and whose presence and homage would have to be avoided as much, if not
more, than that of open enemies.31
For confession of the mouth must ever be the outcome of heart-belief, and the
acclamations of an excited Jewish crowd were as incongruous to the real
Character of the Christ, and as obstructive to the progress of His Kingdom, as
is the outward homage of a world which has not heart-belief in His Power, nor
heart-experience of His ability and willingness to cleanse the leper and to
open the eyes of the blind. Yet the leprosy of Israel and the blindness of the
Gentile world are equally removed by the touch of His Hand at the cry of faith.
30. It should be borne in mind, that the country, surroundings, &c., place these men in a totally different category from the Syro-Phœnician woman.
31. St. Mark i. 45.
The question has been needlessly discussed,32
whether they were to praise or blame, who, despite the Saviour's words, spread
His fame. We scarcely know what, or how much, they disobeyed. They could not
but speak of His Person; and theirs was, perhaps, not yet that higher silence
which is content simply to sit at His Feet.
32. Roman Catholic writers mostly praise, while Protestants blame, their conduct.