Exercitations upon the Evangelist St. John
Chapters 9 and 10
II. But that the infant should be born lame or blind, or defective in any part, for any
sin or fault of his own, seems a riddle indeed.
1. Nor do they solve the matter who fly to that principle of the transmigration of
souls, which they would have the Jews tinctured with; at least if we will admit
Josephus as a just interpreter and judge of that principle. For thus he:
It is the opinion of the Pharisees that "the souls of all are immortal, and do
pass into another body; that is, those of the good only [observe this]; but those
of the wicked are punished with eternal torments." So that unless you will say that
the soul of some good man passing into the body of this man was the cause of his being
born blind (a supposition that every one would cry shame of), you say nothing to the case
in hand. If the opinion of the transmigration of souls amongst the Jews prevailed only so
far, that they supposed 'the souls of good men only' passed into other bodies, the very
subject of the present question is taken away; and all suspicion of any punishment or
defect happening to the infant upon the account of transmigration wholly vanisheth, unless
you will say it could happen upon a good soul's passing out of the body of a good man.
2. There is a solution attempted by some from the soul's preexistency; which, they
would pretend, the Jews had some smatch of, from what they say about those souls which
are in Goph, or Guph.
"R. Jose saith, The Son of David will not come till the souls that are in Goph
are consummated." The same passage is recited also in Niddah, and Jevamoth,
where it is ascribed to R. Asi.
"There is a repository (saith R. Solomon), the name of which is Goph: and
from the creation, all the souls that ever were to be born were formed together and there
But there is another Rabbin brought in by another commentator, that supposeth a twofold
Goph, and that the souls of the Israelites and of the Gentiles are not in one and
the same Goph. Nay further, he conceives that in the days of the Messiah there will
be a third Goph, and a new race of souls made.
R. Jose deduceth his opinion from Isaiah 57:16, miserably wresting the words of the
prophet to this sense, "My will shall hinder for the souls which I have made."
For so Aruch and the commentators explain his mind.
Grant now that what I have quoted might be sufficient confirmation that the Jews did
entertain the opinion of the soul's preexistence, yet what concern the preexistence of
souls hath with this place, I confess I have not so quick an apprehension as any way to
III. I would therefore seek to untie this knot some other way.
I. I would have that passage observed which we have in Vajicra Rabba: "And
the days draw nigh, in the which thou shalt say, I have no pleasure in them,"
Ecclesiastes 12:1. "Those are the days of the Messiah, wherein there shall be
neither merit nor demerit": that is, if I mistake not, wherein neither the good
deserts of the parents shall be imputed to the children for their advantage, nor their
deserts for their fault and punishment. They are the words of R. Akibah in locum,
and they are his application of that passage in Ecclesiastes, and indeed his own
invention: but the opinion itself, that there shall be neither merit nor demerit in the
days of the Messiah, is what is commonly received amongst the Jews. If so, then let me
a little enlarge this question of our Saviour's disciples, by way of paraphrase, to this
purpose: "Master, we know that thou art the Messiah, and that these are the days of
the Messiah; we have also learned from our schools, that there is no imputation of merit
or demerit from the parents in the days of the Messiah; whence then is it that this man is
born blind? that in these days of the Messiah he should bring into the world with him some
mark and imputation of fault or blame somewhere? What, was it his parents' fault? This
seems against the received opinion. It seems therefore that he bears some tokens of his
own fault: is it so, or not?"
2. It was a conceit amongst the Jews, that the infant, when formed and quickened in the
womb, might behave itself irregularly, and do something that might not be altogether
In the treatise last mentioned, a woman is brought in complaining in earnest of her
child before the judge, that it kicked her unreasonably in the womb. In Midras
Coheleth and Midras Ruth, cap. iii. 13, there is a story told of Elisha Ben
Abujah, who departed from the faith, and became a horrible apostate; and, amongst other
reasons of his apostasy, this is rendered for one:
"There are which say, that his mother, when she was big with child of him, passing
through a temple of the Gentiles, smelt something very strong, and they gave to her of
what she smelt, and she did eat; and the child in the womb grew hot, and swelled into
blisters, as in the womb of a serpent."
In which story his apostasy is supposed as originally rooted and grounded in him in the
womb, upon the fault of his mother eating of what had been offered to idols. It is also
equally presumed, that an infant may unreasonably and irregularly kick and punch in the
womb of its mother beyond the rate of ordinary infants. The infants in the womb of Rebecca
may be for an instance; where the Jews indeed absolve Jacob from fault, though ht took
Esau by the heel; but will hardly absolve Esau for rising up against his brother Jacob.
"Antoninus asked R. Judah, 'At what time evil affections began to prevail in the
man? Whether in the first forming of the foetus in the womb, or at the time of its
coming forth?' The Rabbi saith unto him, 'From the time of its first coming.' 'Then,'
saith Antoninus, 'it will kick in the mother's womb and rush out.' The Rabbi saith, 'This
I learned of Antoninus; and the scripture seems to back it when it saith, Sin lieth at
It appears from this dispute, whether true or feigned, that the ancient opinion of the
Jews was, that the infant, from its first quickening, had some stain of sin upon it. And
that great doctor, R. Judah the Holy, was originally of that opinion himself, but had
lightly changed his mind upon so paltry an argument. Nay, they went a little further, not
only that the infant might have some stain of sin in the womb, but that it might, in some
measure, actually sin, and do that which might render it criminal. To which purpose this
passage of the disciples seems to have some relation; "Did this man sin, that he was
born blind?" That is, Did he, when his mother carried him in her womb, do any foul or
enormous thing that might deserve this severe stroke upon him, that he should bring this
blindness with him into the world?
"R. Meir sat, and was teaching in the evening of the sabbath day. There was a
woman stood by hearing him preach; after he had done she went home and found her candle
gone out. Her husband saith to her, 'Where hast thou been?' 'I have been,' saith she,
'standing and hearing the voice of a preacher.' Her husband saith to her, 'Thou shalt not
enter in till thou hast gone and spat in the face of him that taught.' After three weeks,
her neighbouring women persuading and heartening her to it, she goes to the chapel. Now
the whole matter was already made known to R. Meir. He saith therefore to them, 'Is
there ever a woman among you skilled in muttering charms over eyes?' [for he feigned a
grievous ailment in his eyes:] The woman said, 'R., I am skilled': 'However,' saith he,
'do you spit seven times upon my eyes, and I shall be healed'; which she did." Gloss:
"Whenever they muttered any charms over the eyes, it was necessary that they should
spit upon them."
II. It was prohibited amongst them to besmear the eyes with spittle upon the sabbath
day upon any medicinal account, although it was esteemed so very wholesome for them.
"They do not squirt wine into the eyes on the sabbath day, but they may wash the
eyebrows with it: but as to fasting spittle" [which was esteemed exceedingly
wholesome], "it is not lawful to put it so much as upon the eyelids."
"One saith, that wine is prohibited so far that it may not be injected into the
middle of the eyes; upon the eyebrows it may. Another saith that spittle is
forbidden so much as upon the eyelids."
I. That he does not heal this sick man with a word, as he did others; but chooseth to
do a thing which was against their canonical observation of the sabbath; designing thereby
to make a trial of the man, whether he was so superstitious, that he would not admit such
things to be done upon him on the sabbath day. He made an experiment not much unlike this
upon the man at Bethesda, as we have before observed.
II. Whiles he mingles spittle with dust, and of that makes a clay to anoint the
eyes of the blind man, he thereby avoideth the suspicion of using any kind of charm, and
gives rather a demonstration of his own divine power, when he heals by a method contrary
to nature; for clay laid upon the eyes, we might believe, should rather put out the eyes
of one that sees, than restore sight to one that had been blind. Yea and further, he gave
demonstration of the divine authority he himself had over the sabbath, when he heals upon
that day by the use of means which had been peculiarly prohibited to be used in it.
The connexion of this chapter with the former is such, that the stories in both seem to
have been acted on one and the same day. [Going through the midst of them, and so
passed by. And as he passed by, he saw a man which was blind.] If it be so, (which I
will not much contend about,) then do they bring the adulterous woman before Christ, yea,
and attempt to stone him too, on the sabbath day. Jesus hid himself; or perhaps the
sense is, he was hidden; that is, by the multitude that had a favour for him, and
compassed him about, lest his enemies should have wreaked their malice and displeasure
Hence we may apprehend the reason why the whole Sanhedrim is sometimes comprehended
under the name of the Pharisees; because the common people and the main body of
that nation were wholly at the management of the Pharisees, governed by their decrees and
laws. But there was once a Sanhedrim that consisted chiefly of the sect of the Sadducees,
and what was done then? R. Eliezer Ben Zadok saith, There was a time when they burnt a
priest's daughter for whoredom, compassing her about with bundles of young twigs. But the
answer is, There was not a Sanhedrim at that time that was well skilled. Rabh
Joseph saith, "that Sanhedrim was made up of Sadducees." It is worth our
taking notice of this passage.
But suppose we, it might be understood of the ordinary excommunication; among all the
four-and-twenty reasons of excommunication, which should it be for which this was decreed,
viz. that "if any man did confess that Jesus was the Christ, he should be put out of
the synagogue?" The elders of the Sanhedrim, perhaps, would answer, what upon other
occasions is frequently said and done by them, "It is decreed for the necessity of
"They delivered two disciples of the wise men into the hands of the chief
priest" [that they might instruct him about the rites and usages of the day of
expiation]; they were of the disciples of Moses. And who are these disciples of
Moses? it follows, the very phrase excludes the Sadducees.
"Moses was angry about three things, and the tradition was accordingly hid from
him: I. About the sabbath, Exodus 16:20: while he was angry he forgot to recite to them
the traditions about the sabbath. II. About the vessels of metal, Numbers 31:14: while he
was angry, he forgot to recite to them the traditions about the vessels of metal. III.
About the mourner, Leviticus 10:16: while he was wrath, the tradition was hid from him,
which forbade the mourner to eat of the holy things."
Did Moses think it unlawful for the mourner to have eaten of the holy things, when he
spake to Eleazar and Ithamar, while they were in the very act of bewailing the death of
their two brethren, "Wherefore have ye not eaten the sin offering in the holy
place?" Yes, but in his passion he forgot both the tradition and himself too.
Excellent disciples indeed! that can thus chastise your great master at pleasure, as a man
very hasty, apt to be angry, and of a slender memory! Let him henceforward learn from you
to temperate his passions and quicken his memory. You have a memory indeed that have
recovered the tradition which he himself had forgot.
Amongst all the places in the Old Testament which mention this great Shepherd, there is
no one doth so exactly describe him and his pastoral work, as chapter 11 of the prophet
Zechariah. We will fetch a few things from thence, that may serve to explain the passage
now in hand:
I. He describes this great Shepherd manifesting himself, and applying himself to his
great pastoral office, when the nation was now upon the brink of destruction: the prophet
had foretold their ruin, and brings in this Shepherd undertaking the care of his sheep,
lest they should perish too.
As to the first verse, "Open thy doors, O Lebanon"; take the Jews' own
comment upon it, who yet do, by all the skill they can, endeavour to take off the whole
prophecy from those proper hinges upon which it turns.
"Forty years before the destruction [of Jerusalem], the gates of the Temple
opened themselves of their own accord. Rabban Jochanan Ben Zacchai declaimed upon it,
saying, 'O Temple, Temple, why dost thou terrify thyself? I know thy end will be
destruction; for so Zechariah, the son of Iddo, hath prophesied concerning thee; Open thy
doors, O Lebanon,'" &c.
The rest that follows doth plainly enough speak out desolation and ruin, verses 2, 3:
but particularly that is remarkable, verse 6, "I will deliver the men every one into
his neighbour's hand": how manifestly doth it agree with those intestine broils and
discords, those horrid seditions, stirred up amongst them! "And into the hand of his
king"; i.e. of Caesar, concerning whom they may remember they once said, "We
have no king but Caesar."
II. He describes the evil shepherds of the people under a triumvirate, verse 8:
"Three shepherds also I cut off in one month," &c.; i.e. the Pharisees, the
Sadducees, and the Essenes; which interpretation though it cannot but sound very
unpleasingly in Jewish years, yet is it what seems abundantly confirmed, both from the
context and the history of things. They therefore would turn the edge of the prophecy
another way, the Gemarists understanding the three shepherds of Moses, Aaron, and
Miriam: Jarchi would have it the house of Ahab, the house of Ahaziah, and his brethren:
Kimchi, the sons of Josiah, Jehoahaz, Jehoiakim, and Zedekiah. Aben Ezra saith,
"Perhaps they are the high priest Joshua, the person anointed to the wars, and the
sagan; or perhaps Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi," &c.
But what can be more clear than that the prophet speaks of those shepherds that
had wasted and corrupted the flock, and who, when the true Shepherd of the sheep should
reveal himself, would do the like again? and who should these be but the principals and
chief heads of sects, and the leaders of the people, the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and the
Object. But how can these properly be said to be cut off by the great Shepherd
when he should come, whereas it is well enough known that these sects lived even after the
death of Christ, nay, after the ruins of Jerusalem; not to say that Pharisaism hath its
being amongst the Jews to this very day?
Ans. So indeed it is said, that under the gospel, the nations should not learn
war any more, Isaiah 2:4; and that there should not be an infant in age, or one under age,
in the new Jerusalem, Isaiah 65:20: whereas we find enough of war in every generation, and
that infancy or ignorance in divine things abounds still. But nevertheless God had done
his part towards the accomplishment of such prophecies; namely, he had brought in the
gospel of peace and the gospel of light, that nothing should be wanting on his side that
peace might reign on the earth, and infancy in divine things should be no more. So did
this great Shepherd bring in the evangelical doctrine, the oracle of truth and religion,
which did so beat down and confound all the vain doctrines and institutions of those
sects, that, as to what related to the doctrine of Christ, there was nothing wanting to
have cut off those heresies and vanities.
III. This great Shepherd broke that covenant that had been made and confirmed with that
people, verse 10: "I took my staff, even Beauty, and cut it asunder, that I
might break my covenant which I had made with all the people." With all the people;
i.e. with all Israel, the ten and the two tribes too. And in verse 14, the affinity and
kin which was betwixt Judah and Israel is dissolved; which it would not be amiss for those
to take serious notice of, who as yet expect a universal conversion of the whole nation of
the Jews. Let them say by virtue of what covenant; if the covenant of grace, that makes no
difference betwixt the Jew and the Greek, nor knows any one after the flesh. If by virtue
of the covenant peculiarly made with that people, that was broken and dissolved, when God
had gathered his flock out of that people. For,
IV. The great Shepherd, when he came, found that there must be a flock gathered in that
nation, as Romans 11:5, A remnant according to the election of grace; and these he
took care to call and gather before Jerusalem should be destroyed. Zechariah himself calls
it the flock of slaughter; and the poor of the flock, verse 7. Where, by the
way, whoever compares the Greek version in this place must needs observe, that so the
poor is, by those interpreters, jumbled and confounded into one word. For, instead of and
so the poor of the flock knew, they read it, the Canaanites shall know the sheep,
&c. So instead of for this, or for you, O poor of the flock, verse 7,
they read, unto the land of Canaan...I have some suspicion that these interpreters
might have had an eye upon the reduction of the dispersed captivity into the land of
Canaan, according to the common expectation of that nation. But this only by the by.
That of the apostle ought to be strictly heeded; Even so then at this present time
also there is a remnant according to the election of grace. Which indeed is, as it
were, the gnomon to that chapter, and, above all other things, does interpret best the
apostle's mind. For he propounds to discourse not concerning the universal call of the
Jews, but of their not being universally rejected: which may very easily be collected from
the very first verse of this chapter, "Hath God cast away his people?" that is,
so cast them away that they are universally rejected. "God forbid!" for I myself
am an Israelite, and am not cast away. This argument he pursues, and illustrates from the
example of those most corrupted times, the age wherein Elijah lived, when they threw down
the altars of God, slew his prophets, and not a few worshipped Baal of the Sidonians,
whom Ahab had introduced; and almost the whole nation worshipped that golden calf
or cow which Jeroboam had set up. And yet, even in that worst state of affairs,
saith God, "I have reserved to myself seven thousand men, who have not bowed the knee
to that golden calf," the common and universal error of that nation, much less
to Baal of the Sidonians. "Even so" (saith the apostle), "at this
present time also there is a remnant"; plainly intimating, that he does not assert or
argue for the calling of the whole nation, but of that remnant only; and that he
discourses concerning the present calling of that remnant, and not about any future call
of the whole nation.
V. That is a vast mystery the apostle is upon, verse 25 of that chapter; "Blindness
hath severally happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in."
I render severally, or by parts, not without warrant from grammar, and
according to the meaning and intention of St. Paul. For the mystery mentioned by him is,
that blindness severally, and at several times, happened to the Israelites:
first, the ten tribes were blinded through idolatry, and, after many ages, the two tribes,
through traditions; and yet both those and these reserved together to that time, wherein
the Gentiles, who had been blinded for a longer space, are called, and then both
Israelites and Jews and Gentiles, being all called together, do close into one body. It is
observable that the apostle, throughout this whole chapter, doth not so much as once make
mention of the Jews, but of Israel, that he might include the ten tribes with the two
within his discourse.
And, indeed, this great Shepherd had his flock, or his sheep, within the ten tribes, as
well as within the two: and to me it is without all controversy that the gospel, in the
times of the apostles, was brought and preached as well to the one as the other. Doubtless
St. Peter, whilst he was in Babylon, preached to the Israelites dispersed in those
countries as well as to the Jews.
VI. Some of the Gemarists do vehemently deny any conversion of the ten tribes under the
Messiah: let them beware lest there be not a conversion of their own.
"The ten tribes shall never return, as it is written, 'And he cast them into
another land, as it is this day,' Deuteronomy 29:28. 'As this day passeth and shall never
return, so they are gone and shall not return again.' They are the words of R.
"It is a tradition of the Rabbins, that the ten tribes shall not have a part in
the world to come; as it is written, 'The Lord rooted them out of their land in anger and
in wrath, and in great indignation, and cast them out into another land. He rooted them
out of their own land in this world, and cast them out into another land in the world to
come.' They are the words of Rabbi."
But, in truth, when the true Messiah did appear, the ten tribes were more happily
called (if I may so speak), that is, with more happy success than the Jews; because
amongst those Jews that had embraced the gospel, there happened a sad and foul apostasy,
the like to which we read not of concerning the ten tribes that were converted.
1. Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that entereth not by the door into the
sheepfold, but climbeth up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber.
[By the door into the sheepfold, &c.] The sheepfold amongst the Talmudists
is some enclosure or pen: wherein,
I. The sheep were all gathered together in the night, lest they should stray; and where
they might be safe from thieves or wild beasts.
II. In the day time they were milked: as,
The Trojans, as the rich man's numerous flocks,
Stand milked in the field.
III. There the lambs were tithed.
"How is it that they tithe the lambs? They gather the flock into the sheepfold;
and making a little door at which two cannot go out together, they number 1, 2, 3, 4, 5,
6, 7, 8, 9, and the tenth that goes out they mark with red, saying, 'This is the tithe.'
The ewes are without and the lambs within; and at the bleating of the ewes the lambs get
So that there was in the sheepfold one larger door, which gave ingress and
egress to the flock and shepherds; and a lesser, by which the lambs passed out for
[Is a thief and a robber.] In Talmudic language: "Who is a thief? He
that takes away another man's goods when the owner is not privy to it: as when a man puts
his hand into another man's pocket, and takes away his money, the man not seeing him; but
if he takes it away openly, publicly, and by force. This is not a thief, but a robber."
3. To him the porter openeth; and the sheep hear his voice: and he calleth his own
sheep by name, and leadeth them out.
[The porter.] I am mistaken if the servants that attend about the flock under
the shepherd are not called by the owner of them, Ecclesiastes 12:11, those that fold
the sheep: at least if the sheepfold itself be not so called. And I would render the
words by way of paraphrase thus: "The words of the wise are as goads, and as nails
fastened by those that gather the flock into the fold: goads, to drive away the
thief or the wild beast; and nails, to preserve the sheepfold whole and in good
repair: which goads and nails are furnished by the chief shepherd, the
master of the flock, for these uses." Now one of these servants that attended about
the flock was called the porter. Not that he always sat at the door; but the
key was committed to his charge, that he might look to it that no sheep should stray out
of the fold, nor any thing hurtful should get or be let in.
7. Then said Jesus unto them again, Verily, verily, I say unto you, I am the door of
[I am the door.] Pure Israelitism among the Jews was the fold, and the
door, and all things. For if any one was of the seed of Israel, and the stock of
Abraham, it was enough (themselves being the judges) for such a one to be made a sheep,
admitted into the flock, and be fed and nourished to eternal life. But in Christ's flock
the sheep had another original, introduction, and mark.
8. All that ever came before me are thieves and robbers: but the sheep did not hear
[All that ever came before me are thieves.] Our Saviour speaks agreeably with
the Scripture; where, when there is any mention of the coming of this great Shepherd to
undertake the charge of the flock, the evil shepherds that do not feed but destroy the
flock are accused, Jeremiah 23:1, &c. Ezekiel 34:2, &c. Zechariah 11:16. And our
Saviour strikes at those three shepherds before mentioned, that hated him, and were hated
by him, the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and Essenes, under whose conduct the nation had been
so erroneously led for some ages.
I should have believed that those words, All that ever came before me are thieves
and robbers, might be understood of those who, having arrogated to themselves the name
of the Messiah, obtruded themselves upon the people; but that we shall hardly, or not at
all, find an instance of any that ever did so before the true Messiah came. After his
coming (it is true) there were very many that assumed the name and title; but before it
hardly one. Judas the Galilean did not arrive to that impudence, as you have his story in
Josephus. Nor yet Theudas, by any thing that may be gathered from the words of Gamaliel,
An argument of no mean force, which we may use against the Jews, that the time when our
Jesus did appear was the very time wherein the nation looked for the coming of Messiah.
For why did no one arrogate that name to himself before the coming of our Jesus? Because
they knew the fore-appointed and the expected time of the Messiah was not yet come. And
why, after Jesus had come, did so many give themselves out for Messiah, according to what
our Saviour foretold, Matthew 24? Because the agreeableness of the time, and the
expectation of the people, might serve and assist their pretences.
9. I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and
out, and find pasture.
[Find pasture.] How far is the beasts' pasture? Sixteen miles. The Gloss
is, "The measure of the space that the beasts go when they go forth to pasture."
A spacious pasture indeed!
13. The hireling fleeth, because he is an hireling, and careth not for the sheep.
[The hireling fleeth.] The Rabbins suppose that some such thing may be done by
the hireling, when they allot a mulct, if a sheep should happen to perish through
the neglect of its keeper.
"How far is the keeper for hire bound to watch his flock? Till he can say
truly, 'In the day the drought consumed me, and the frost by night.'"
"But if, whilst he is going to the city or any ways absent, the wolf or the lion
should come and tear the flock, what then?....He ought to have met them with shepherds
and clubs," and not to have fled.
15. As the Father knoweth me, even so know I the Father: and I lay down my life for
[I lay down my life, &c.] I deliver, or I give, my life for the
flock. Judah gave up his life for Benjamin. Hur gave his life for the holy blessed God.
For they have a tradition, that Hur underwent martyrdom, because he opposed the golden
22. And it was at Jerusalem the feast of the dedication, and it was winter.
[It was the feast of the Dedication.] I. The rise and original of this feast
must be fetched from the story, 1 Maccabees 4:52, &c., of which we have noted
something already. The Jewish masters have these passages about it:
"They were seized with such infinite pleasure in the restoration of their sacred
rites, being, after so long a time, so unexpectedly possessed of their religion again, that
they bound it by a law to posterity, that they should celebrate the restitution of their
sacred rites by a feast of eight days' continuance. And from that time to this do we still
celebrate this feast, calling it by the name of 'Lights': giving that name to this
feast, as I suppose, because we obtained such a liberty so much beyond all hope."
One would believe that the name only of lights, or candles, was given to
this feast: I say a name only; for we have no mention here of the 'lighting of candles.'
One would believe also that the eight days decreed for the celebration of this feast was
done after the pattern of the eight days' feast of Tabernacles: but you will find in the
Talmudic authors that it is far otherwise, and they have a cunning way of talking
"The Rabbins have a tradition: From the five-and-twentieth day of the month
Chisleu there are eight days of the Encaenia [or feast of Dedication], in which
time it is not lawful either to weep or fast. For when the Greeks entered into the Temple,
they defiled all the oil that was there. But when the kingdom of the Asmoneans had
conquered them, they sought and could not find but one single vial of oil that had been
laid up under the seal of the chief priest; nor was there enough in it but to light for
one day. There was a great miracle: for they lighted up the lamps from that oil for eight
days together: so that, the year after, they instituted the space of eight days for the
solemnizing that feast."
Maimonides relates the same things, and adds more: "Upon this occasion the wise
men of that generation appointed, that eight days from the 25th of the month Chisleu
should be set apart for days of rejoicing and the Hallel: and that they should light up
candles at the doors of every house each evening of those days, to keep up the memory of
that miracle. Those days are called Dedication; and it is forbidden upon all those
days either to weep or fast, as in the days of Purim," &c.
Again: "How many candles do they light? It is commanded that every house should
set up at least one, let the inhabitants there be more or one only. But he that does
honour to the command sets up his candles according to the number of the persons that are
in the house. And he again that does more honour to it still sets up one candle for every
person in the house the first night, and doubles it the second night. For example, if
there be ten persons in the house, the first night there are ten candles lighted; the
second night, twenty; the third night, thirty; so that on the eighth night it comes to
It would be too tedious to transcribe what he relates about singing the Hallel
upon that feast: the place where the candle is fixed, which ordinarily is without doors,
but in time of danger or persecution it is within, &c. Let what I have already quoted
suffice, with the addition of this one instance more:
"The wife of Tarchinus (whose bones may they be crushed!) brought forth a son the
evening of the ninth day of the month Ab, and then all Israel mourned. The child died
upon the feast of Dedication. Then said the Israelites, 'Shall we light up candles, or
not?' They said, 'We will light them, come what will come.' So they lighted them. Upon
which, there were some that went and accused them before the wife of Tarchin, saying, 'The
Jews mourned when thou broughtest forth a son; and when that son died they set up
candles.'" Who this Tarquinus or Tarquinius was, whether they meant the
emperor Trajan or some other, we will not make any inquiry, nor is it tanti.
However, the story goes on and tells us, that the woman, calling her husband, accused the
Jews, stirring him up to revenge, which he executed accordingly by a slaughter amongst
[The feast of the Dedication.] In the title of the thirtieth Psalm, the Greek
interpreters translate Dedication: by which the Jewish masters seem to understand the
dedication of the Temple: whereas really it was no other than the lustration and
cleansing of David's house after Absalom had polluted it by his wickedness and filthiness:
which indeed we may not unfitly compare with the purging again of the Temple after that
the Gentiles had polluted it.
[At Jerusalem.] It was at Jerusalem the feast of the Dedication. Not as
the Passover, Pentecost, and feast of Tabernacles, were wont to be at Jerusalem, because
those feasts might not be celebrated in any other place: but the Encaenia was kept
everywhere throughout the whole land.
They once proclaimed a fast within the feast of Dedication at Lydda.
The feast of Dedication at Lydda? this was not uncustomary, for that feast was
celebrated in any place: but the fast in the time of that feast, this was uncustomary.
"One upon his journey, upon whose account they set up a candle at his own house,
hath no need to light it for himself in the place where he sojourneth": for in what
country soever he sojourns, there the feast of Dedication and lighting up of
candles is observed; and if those of his own household would be doing that office for him,
he is bound to make provision accordingly, and take care that they may do it.
Maimonides goes on; "The precept about the lights in the feast of Dedication
is very commendable; and it is necessary that every one should rub up his memory in this
matter, that he may make known the great miracle, and contribute towards the praises of
God, and the acknowledgment of those wonders he doth amongst us. If any one hath not
wherewithal to eat, unless of mere alms, let him beg, or sell his garments to buy oil and
lights for this feast. If he have only one single farthing, and should be in
suspense whether he should spend it in consecrating the day, or setting up lights,
let him rather spend it in oil for the candles than in wine for consecration of the day.
For when as they are both the prescription of the scribes, it were better to give the
lights of the Encaenia the preference, because you therein keep up the remembrance
of the miracle."
Now what was this miracle? It was the multiplication of the oil. The feast was
instituted in commemoration of their Temple and religion being restored to them: the
continuance of the feast for eight days was instituted in commemoration of that miracle:
both by the direction of the scribes, when there was not so much as one prophet throughout
the whole land.
"There were eighty-five elders, above thirty of which were prophets too, that made
their exceptions against the feast of Purim, ordained by Esther and Mordecai, as some kind
of innovation against the law." And yet that feast was but to be of two days'
continuance. It is a wonder then how this feast of Dedication, the solemnity of
which was to be kept up for eight days together, that had no other foundation of authority
but that of the scribes, should be so easily swallowed by them.
Josephus, as also the Book of Maccabees, tells us, that this was done about the hundred
and forty-eighth year of the Seleucidae: and at that time, nay, a great while before, the
doctrine of traditions and authority of the traditional scribes had got a mighty sway in
that nation. So that every decree of the Sanhedrim was received as oracular, nor was there
any the least grudge or complaint against it. So that, though the traditional masters
could not vindicate the institution of such a feast from any tradition exhibited to Moses
upon mount Sinai, yet might they invent something as traditional to prove the lawfulness
of such an institution.
Who had the presidency in the Sanhedrim at this time cannot be certainly determined.
That which is told of Joshua Ben Perachiah, how he fled from Janneus the king, carries
some probability along with it, that Joses Ben Joezer of Zeredai, and Joses Ben Jochanan
of Jerusalem, to whom Joshua Ben Perachiah and Nittai the Arbelite succeeded in their
chairs, sat president and vice-president at that time in the Sanhedrim. But this is not of
much weight, that we should tire ourselves in such an inquiry.
The masters tell us (but upon what authority it is obscure), that the work of the
tabernacle was finished on the twenty-fifth day of the month Chisleu (that is, the
very day of the month of which we are now speaking); "but it was folded up till the
first day of the month Nisan, and then set up."
[And it was winter.] The eight days begun from the 25th of the month Chisleu
fell in with the winter solstice. Whence, meeting with that in the Targumist upon 1
Chronicles 11:22, I question whether I should render it the shortest day, or a
short day (i.e. one of the short winter days), viz. the tenth of the month Tebeth:
if he did not calculate rather according to our than the Jewish calendar.
The Rabbins (as we have already observed upon chapter 5:35) distinguish their winter
months into winter and mid-winter: intimating, as it should seem, the more
remiss and more intense cold. Half Chisleu, all Tebeth, and half Shebat was the winter.
Ten days therefore of the winter had passed when on the 25th of the month Chisleu the
feast of the Dedication came in.
It was winter, and Jesus walked in the porch. He walked there because it
was winter, that he might get and keep himself warm: and perhaps he chose Solomon's
porch to walk in, either that he might have something to do with the fathers of the
Sanhedrim who sat there; or else that he might correct and chastise the buyers and sellers
who had their shops in that place.
24. Then came the Jews round about him, and said unto him, How long dost thou make
us to doubt? If thou be the Christ, tell us plainly.
[How long dost thou make us to doubt?] It is not ill rendered, How long dost
thou suspend our mind? although not an exact translation according to the letter. But
what kind of doubt and suspension of mind was this? Was it that they hoped this Jesus was
the Messiah? or that they rather feared he was so? It seems, they rather feared than hoped
it. For whereas they looked for a Messias that should prove a mighty conqueror, should
deliver the people from the heathen yoke, and should crown himself with all earthly glory;
and saw Jesus infinite degrees below such pomp; yet by his miracles giving such fair
specimens of the Messias; they could not but hang in great suspense, whether such a
Messiah were to be wished for or no.
31. Then the Jews took up stones again to stone him.
[Then the Jews took up stones again.] The blasphemer by judicial process
of the Sanhedrim was to be stoned; which process they would imitate here without judgment.
"These are the criminals that must be stoned; he that lieth with his own mother,
or with the wife of his father. He that blasphemes or commits idolatry." Now,
however, the Rabbins differed in the definition of blasphemy or a blasphemer, yet this all
of them agreed in, as unquestionable blasphemy, that which denies the foundation.
This they firmly believed Jesus did, and none could persuade them to the contrary, when he
affirmed, "I and my Father are one." A miserable besotted nation, who, above all
persons or things, wished and looked for the Messiah, and yet was perfectly ignorant what
kind of a Messiah he should be!
35. If he called them gods, unto whom the word of God came, and the scripture cannot
[If he called them gods, &c.] The Jews interpret those words of the
Psalmist, "I have said, Ye are gods," to a most ridiculous sense.
"Unless our fathers had sinned, we had never come into the world; as it is
written, I have said, 'Ye are gods, and the children of the Most High: but ye have
corrupted your doings; therefore ye shall die like men.'" And a little after;
"Israel had not received the law, only that the angel of death might not rule over
them; as it is said, 'I have said, Ye are gods: but ye have corrupted your doings;
therefore ye shall die like men.'"
The sense is, If those who stood before mount Sinai had not sinned in the matter of the
golden calf, they had not begot children, nor had been subject to death, but had been like
the angels. So the Gloss: "If our fathers had not sinned by the golden calf, we had
never come into the world; for they would have been like the angels, and had never begot
The Psalmist indeed speaks of the magistracy, to whom the word of God hath arrived,
ordaining and deputing them to the government by an express dispensation and diploma, as
the whole web and contexture of the psalm doth abundantly shew. But if we apply the words
as if they were spoken by our Saviour according to the common interpretation received
amongst them, they fitly argue thus: "If he said they were angels or gods, to whom
the law and word of God came on mount Sinai, as you conceive; is it any blasphemy in me
then, whom God in a peculiar manner hath sanctified and sent into the world that I might
declare his word and will, if I say that I am the Son of God?"
40. And went away again beyond Jordan into the place where John at first baptized;
and there he abode.
[Where John at first baptized.] That is, Bethabara: for the evangelist speaks
according to his own history: which to the judicious reader needs no proof.