Notes Matthew chapter 9
© copyright 1997 drs Gijs van den Brink
The Healing of a Lame Man 9:1-8
1. Jesus … came to his own town. Jesus embarked to return (Matt 8:18) over the lake to ‘his own’ city (Capernaum; Matt 4:13). If anyone had lived in the same town for a twelvemonth he acquired citizenship and might speak of ‘his own’ town (SB I, 493). Jesus was apparently living in Peter’s house at this time (‘in the house;’ Mark 2:1).
We read in this chapter how opposition to Jesus grew. He is accused of blasphemy (v.3), of lack of respect (vv.14 ff) and of working in the power of the devil (vv. 32 ff).
2. Thanks to his friends the paralytic has been able to come to Jesus. The man’s partial or total paralysis was the reason for him to be carried as he lay on a bed.
Your sins are forgiven. Jesus encourages him and tells him his sins are forgiven. He does not forgive on His own authority, but in the name of God (‘your sins are forgiven’ is couched in the passive voice). This does not mean that sin and illness are the same thing for Jesus (Luke 13:1-5; John 9:1-3), but rather that there is a close connection between sin and illness in general, just as between forgiveness and healing (Ps 103:3). This man was healed in body and soul also through the faith of his four friends. Here Jesus fulfils the function of the messenger of salvation from Isaiah (Isa 61:1).
3. “This fellow is blaspheming!” Jesus was accused of blasphemy by the scribes because He tells this man his sins are forgiven. In their opinion God alone can and may forgive sins (Mark 2:7; Luke 5:21; cf. Exod 34:6 ff; Isa 43:25 ff; 44:22). Even the Messiah should not have this privilege (SB I, 495). But God can work through a prophet (cf. 2 Sam 12:13). There are therefore two possibilities: either Jesus is usurping the privilege of God; or He is speaking in the power of a prophetic gift. The second seems to be the case, as appears from the presence of this prophetic gift in v. 4 and the passive voice of forgive in vv 2 and 5. The scribes, however, taught that the prophetic gifts had ceased and therefore judge differently, i.e., that this was a question of blasphemy. Blasphemy carried the death penalty (by stoning), cf. Lev 24:14; I Kings 21:10,13.
4. Why do you entertain evil thoughts. His critics thought that He would not know their condemnatory thoughts, but nothing is hidden from His eyes. The Greek for ‘why’ (hina ti) indicates that Jesus does not ask about their motivation nor the cause, but about the purpose of their considerations. There is an opposition between Jesus and the Scribes. Not He but they intend evil.
5. Which is easier …? Jesus does not mean that one work is more difficult for Him than the other. Both deeds are done in the power of God. But He asks the question with an eye on His opponents. According to the scribes, the word of forgiveness was easier because the result could not be checked here, and the word of healing was more difficult because a visible result must follow.
6. Jesus demonstrates His power to forgive sins by healing the paralytic, although there is no reason to think He would not have done so if the scribes had not spoken to Him.
The Son of Man has authority. The Greek word for ‘authority’ (exousia) here means derived power, authority, competence. Jesus was empowered by the Father, who had sent Him (Dan 7:14; John 7:29). ‘The Son of Man’: see commentary on Matt 8:20.
7. The man got up. The man believed in Jesus’ words and was able to carry out the command immediately. He had acted in faith and was healed in soul and body. Luke tells us that He glorified God on his way back home (Luke 5:25).
8. The people were deeply impressed and glorified God. Although the crowd did not fully understand Jesus’ word in v. 6 (they speak of ‘men’ instead of ’the Son of Man’) their judgment is quite different from that of the Scribes (v. 3; cf. v. 34).
The Calling of Matthew the Tax-Gatherer 9:9-13
9. Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. The main way from Syria to Egypt (the ‘sea way’) ran past Capernaum. All goods entering the territory of Herod Antipas were subject to duty at the tollpost in Capernaum. In Roman times four kinds of general tax had to be paid: a land-tax (in money or in kind), a capital tax (Matt 22:17), a toll (in ports and cities), and in Jerusalem a tax on houses (IDB,IV, 521). The tax-collectors had to collect the taxes for the occupying force and were hated by the people on that account. Moreover they were often dishonest, demanded too much and put it in their own pockets (Luke 3:13; 19:8). They were so despised that their money was not acceptable in alms by the Jews and their witness in a Jewish court of law was held to be invalid.
While Mark and Luke give the man’s name as Levi (Mark 2:14; Luke 5:27) we read here that he was also called Matthew (cf. Matt 10:3). We have already heard of four disciples who gave up their calling to follow Jesus; they were all fishermen (Simon Peter and Andrew; James and John, 4:18-21). The fifth is now a tax-collector. Luke tells us (Luke 5:28) that he left everything when Jesus called him. He therefore belongs to the small group of disciples who accompanied Jesus on his travels.
10. At Matthew’s house: litt. ‘in the house’. It is not clear from Matthew where the meal was held, but it is clear from Luke that it was Matthew’s house that is meant (Luke 5:29). It was not an ordinary meal but a great feast (Luke 5:29). It was a farewell banquet, because Matthew was going to leave the tax- house and his old friends. Many tax-collectors and other acquaintances had come and were reclining with them.
“Sinners” came and ate with him. We see here that Jesus breaks through the pharisaistic norm, in which the tax-collectors were reckoned among the greatest of sinners and ceremonially unclean on account of their contact with the heathen (cf. Luke 18:11). Jesus’ whole life bears witness to the fact that there is now grace for sinners.
11. The Pharisees … asked his disciples. The Pharisees were not present at the feast, but possibly they had seen the company go to Matthew’s house. After the meal they speak to the disciples in order to accuse Jesus. They do not go directly to Jesus, but try to embarrass His disciples. They now ask the disciples questions about Jesus, but later they will speak to Jesus about His disciples (12:2;15:2).
12. It is not the healthy who need a doctor. But Jesus hears the question and answers it Himself. He does not draw attention to Himself, but justifies His concern with the sick in a proverb. The drift is: as the need of the sick calls for a doctor, so does the need of the sinner call for a Saviour. At the same time He urges His listeners to examine themselves about their calling in relation to tax-collectors and sinners.
13. Go and learn is not a rejection but rabbinical expression for study.
I desire mercy, not sacrifice. Jesus quotes Hos 6:6. The Greek word eleos means sympathy, mercy, tenderheartedness and the Hebrew chesed (of which eleos is a translation) means love, goodness, grace. This is the second time that Hosea has been quoted in this gospel (see Matt 2:15), this time by Jesus Himself.
I have not come to call the righteous. In the first part of the verse, which is found only in Matthew, Jesus points the Pharisees to the OT. In the second part Jesus says that He has not come to invite (the Greek kalein means call, invite, cf. 22:3) those who have justified themselves, but for sinners in particular (v.12). He can give nothing to self-righteous people, and so He must pass them by. Jesus uses the Pharisees’ view of themselves as an answer to their objection.
The Pharisees had studied the scriptures carefully, but yet they had not learned the principles about which Jesus is speaking here.
The Question about Fasting 9:14-17
14. John’s disciples came and asked him. It is obvious here that John’s disciples (i.e., disciples in the restricted sense of those who shared their Master’s life, in contrast to the others who had been baptized) had remained as a group after John had been thrown in prison (4:12;11:2). They came directly to Jesus and not to His disciples, unlike the Pharisees (v.11). The Pharisees came to criticise, but the question of these disciples demonstrates much more modesty and Jesus’ answer (vv. 15-17) is therefore much milder. The feast at Matthew’s house (v.10) was also the occasion for the question of these disciples (v.10).
How is it that … your disciples do not fast? The fact that they were earnest in fasting (most mss. read ‘oft’, cf. KJV) differentiates them from Jesus’ disciples. The contrast is all the more striking because the day of the feast was a day of fasting for them (Mark 2:18).
In the Law, fasting was compulsory on one day only, the Day of Atonement (Lev 16:29). But the Jews fasted on many other days as well (the so-called National Days of Mourning, Zech 7:3, 5; 8:19). The Pharisees usually fasted twice a week (Luke 18:12; on Mondays and Thursdays) and we read here that John’s disciples fasted too.
This passage is not concerned with fasting in itself, for Jesus Himself fasted (Matt 4:2), and He also expected His disciples to fast (Matt 6:16-18; 17:21) i.e. a personal, voluntary fasting in faith and prayer. The Old Testament manner of fasting is concerned here, as an expression of sadness and mourning (v.15; I Sam 20:34; II Sam 1:12; Dan 10:2,3; Joel 2:12; Zech 7:5), which also took place at set times (cf. Zech 7:3, 5; 8:19). Jesus and the disciples did not do so.
15. Guests of the bridegroom. If anyone was a wedding guest, he was excused certain more serious religious observations during the seven days of the feast (cf. SB,I,506), which is understood in view of the meaning of fasting here. The drift of Jesus’ words is clear to a Jewish listener. It is said in the OT that in the time of salvation, which is put forward as a marriage, the relationship between the Lord and His people will be like that between a bridegroom and his bride (Isa 54:5-8; Jer 2:2; Hos 2:18-21). It is obvious: Jesus is the bridegroom of the time of salvation. The preparatory fasting is no longer necessary, the time of fulfilment has dawned.
The bridegroom will be taken from them. Jesus then speaks, for the first time in Mathew’s gospel, of His departure, His death (referring to Isa 53:8). The time after Jesus’ death will be characterised by fasting. This means that it will be a time of mourning and tears. But an end to that will come! (John 16:20).
16-17. Jesus supplies a parable to His basic proof (v. 15) in which He says that the old cloth of Judaism cannot be restored with new patches, and that the new wine of the Gospel cannot be kept in old wineskins.
In those days wine was not kept in bottles but in leather bags. These bags were made from animal skins (usually goat or sheep) which were used in their entirety, so that the bags retained the shape of the animal. Young wine fermented in the bags, whereby pressure built up. A new skin had a certain elasticity, but the old skins were stiff and would burst.
The core is: Judaism with its piety directed towards the Law (including times of fasting) and the Gospel with the breakthrough of the Kingdom of God are completely incompatible. The new content of the Gospel demands a new lay-out. As an answer to the question of John’s disciples about fasting (v.14) this means: fasting, as far as it is maintained, takes on a new significance and a new form in the New Covenant (see commentary on 6:6-18 and 17:21).
The Healing of the Ruler’s Daughter and the Woman with the Issue of Blood 9:18-26
18. A ruler came and knelt before him. The man’s name was Jairus and he was ruler of the synagogue in Capernaum (Mark 5:22; Luke 8:41). The ruler of the synagogue, chosen by the Elders for the post, was one of the most eminent men in the congregation. He was not in fact a teacher nor a preacher, but his task was to ensure that everything during the services occurred in an orderly respectful way. He appointed someone to lead the prayer for each service, someone to read the scriptures and invited a speaker (SB IV.1, 145-146). Doubtless the ruler had witnessed Jesus’ miracles before. Now he comes to Jesus and his high position and the people do not restrain him from kneeling at Jesus’ feet.
My daughter has just died. Luke tells us that the girl was his only child and about 21 years old. According to Mark and Luke she was on the point of death when her father left to look for Jesus. On his return a servant meets him with the message that the girl is dead. Matthew compresses this into: she has just died. In this way Matthew places a strong stress on Jesus’ miraculous powers. He was even considered capable of raising the dead.
19. Jesus got up and went with him. When Jesus hears these words of faith (v. 18) He immediately stands up and goes with him. As a matter of fact He has never rejected anyone who came to Him in need. Jesus’ standing up probably does not mean that He was still reclining in Matthew’s house (v. 10), in connection with the conversation with the Pharisees (vv. 11-13) and with John’s disciples (vv. 14-17). It must be understood generally in the sense of ‘got ready’ (cf. Luke 1:39).
20. A woman who had been subject to bleeding. This woman was unclean in Jewish law on account of her illness (haemorrhage of the womb: see Lev 15:25). She had been ill for 12 years. Because the woman was diffident she approached Jesus from behind and touched only the edge of his cloak (possibly one of the four fringes of the cloak, Num 15:38 ff; Deut 22:12). Perhaps she was afraid that Jesus would refuse to touch her, because she was ‘unclean’ (Lev 15:19ff). Apparently she did not want to talk to Him about her sickness in public.
21. If I only touch his cloak. Apparently her belief in Jesus was mingled with a magical superstition and she thought that there were healing powers in his cloak. The Greek word siz, used here to verbalise the woman’s thoughts, does not mean much more in this case than ‘heal, be healthy’ (Bauer, s.v).
22. Take heart … your faith has healed you. Jesus did not condemn the woman because she dared to mingle with the people despite her uncleanness. He gave her courage. With the words ’take heart, daughter’, Jesus immediately showed her that he did not take her manner of approach at all amiss. By ‘your faith has healed you’ He also intended to take from her any wrong imaginings. She must not think that He was a wonderworker endowed with power that sprang forth to heal in a magic way. It is not the secret power in Jesus’ garments but the woman’s faith (followed by Jesus’ words, Mark 5:34) that had cured her.
The Greek word sizein has a broad spectrum of meanings and includes saving as well as healing. It is healing in body, soul and spirit. The woman’s healing was spiritual too, for faith brought her into a personal relationship with Jesus.
23. After the interruption described in vv. 19-22 Jesus arrives in the house of the ruler (v. 18) where the mourning ceremony is in full swing. Even the poorest people were required to hire two flute-players (to accompany the laments for the funeral) and one wailing-woman (SB I, 521). Doubtless there were many wailing-women present because an eminent family was involved. The funeral was held on the day of death (Acts 5:5,6,10) because of the hot climate and because a dead body in a house made it unclean (Num 19:11-14).
24. The girl is not dead but asleep. ‘Sleeping’ is well-known Bible language for ’to be dead’ (cf. Dan 12:2). Jesus declares that death is but a sleep, i.e., not definite. Jesus has aroused the dead from their beds (as here), from the bier (Luke 7:14) and from the grave (John 11:44).
They laughed at him. The crowd of mourners laughed Him to scorn, for they knew that the girl was dead and they did not believe that Jesus could rouse her. For this reason Jesus drives the crowd away (against the strict rules of mourning!).
25. Jesus aroused the girl from death as a person is aroused from sleep. Five witnesses were present: Peter, James, John and the girl’s parents (Mark 5:37-40). This miracle too points to Jesus as He Who Shall come, the Expected One, for raising the dead is a sign of the Messiah (Matt 11:3-5).
26. News of this spread through all that region. This reaction is recorded only twice in the Gospels : here, and at the raising of the young man from Nain (Luke 7:17). We read broadly the same thing, however, in v.31 and 28:15.
The expression ‘all that region’ doubtless means the whole northern area of Palestine.
Jesus Heals Two Blind Men 9:27-31
27. Two blind men followed him. Only Matthew writes of the two blind men. There was much blindness in those days, caused by bad hygiene among other things. The two men were earnest seekers. When they heard that Jesus was passing, they followed Him, all the while calling out ‘Have mercy on us.’ They did not ask for justification but for mercy. They did not come to make demands, but with an humble petition.
Son of David is the royal title of the Messiah (cf. Matt 1:1; 15:22; 20:30; 21:9,15), whom the people expected to free them from Roman domination. This name is apparently the reason for Jesus’ paying no public attention to them at first. He wished to avoid giving the impression that He has come to fulfil the function of the political Messiah.
28. Do you believe that I am able to do this? Once He has entered the house, Jesus begins to speak to them. He puts their sincerity to the test and at the same time wants to arouse a right attitude of faith in them: belief in His Person and in His Power. It is not recorded in whose house this occurred. Probably it was not Matthew’s house (v.10) and certainly not the ruler’s house (vv.23,27), but apparently Peter’s house is meant, where Jesus was apparently staying during His time in Capernaum (see commentary on 9:11).
29. According to your faith will it be done to you. The promises of greater blessing are for those whose belief grows as it is put to the test. With the words ‘according to your faith will it be done to you’ Jesus does not mean that the healing obtained is to be equated with the measure of their faith (their faith was not at all great), but that they receive healing as a response to their faith. Faith is the hand that receives what God gives.
30. See that no-one knows about this. It is completely natural that they would tell what had happened to them with great zeal everywhere, but Jesus did not want to become known as a miracle-worker and so arouse the expectation that He would even now declare himself as the Messianic king. This is why He admonished them so strongly. The Greek word that Matthew uses here (embrimaomai) gives expression to a deep feeling of indignation and anger (cf. Mark 14:5; John 11:33, 38). Jesus’ anger must be linked here to the fact that the blind men had shouted ‘Son of David’ after Him so noisily. That He is the Messiah must remain concealed until after the Resurrection (Mark 9:9; Matt 17:9). Jesus often repeated this order at the beginning of his travels.
31. They went out and spread the news. These two men, who had formerly been blind, acted wrongly, although it is understandable. They simply could not help telling of the great blessing they had received. But in so doing, they were being disobedient (v.30). We learn that humble obedience is better than impulsive spontaneity. At the same time it is clear that witnessing to Jesus could not remain concealed.
The Freeing of a Deaf and Dumb Possessed Man 9:32-34
32-33. The two healed blind men had hardly gone away when a dumb possessed man was brought to Jesus.
A man who was demon-possessed and could not talk. This man was dumb and therefore could not tell Jesus his need, but other people helped him. He was not dumb in the normal sense of the term, but his dumbness was caused by a demonic power.
The Greek kophos means dumb, deaf, or deaf-and-dumb (Bauer, s.v.). The man was dumb at any rate, because he was unable to speak (v. 33a), but possibly he was deaf-and-dumb.
The crowd was amazed. Because the crowd had not been present in the house their reaction is not specially related to this latest happening, but to everything that had happened that day. Matthew tells us of the impression created on the people by Jesus’ works in general.
34. It is by the prince of demons that he drives out demons. Besides the reaction of the crowd Matthew mentions, although very briefly, another reaction: that of the Pharisees. They did not deny Jesus’ power to work miracles, but connected His power with the devil. It was also not possible to deny the miracle, for the proof was there in their midst (v. 33). In Acts 4:16 the religious leaders have a similar problem. The Pharisees cannot deny Jesus’ miracles. But because they did not wish to acknowledge them they committed the great sin of claiming that Jesus was working in the power of Satan (cf. Matt 12:24, 31-32).
The Harvest is Plentiful 9:35-38
35. Jesus travelled through Galilee, preaching the Gospel and healing the sick. He did not go only to the great cities but also to tiny villages.
Our verse repeats Matt 4:23 and tells of Jesus’ twofold ministry: 1. teaching and preaching which are closely connected and 2. healing. This verse is a transition from the previous chapters, i.e., Matt 5-7 (Jesus’ teaching) and Matt 8-9 (Jesus’ works) to Matt 10, which tells of the disciples’ sharing in Jesus’ double ministry of preaching and healing (vv. 1,7 and 8).
36. He had compassion. The Greek word (esplanchnisth) is the strongest expression for compassion in Greek. Apart from a few parables, this expression is reserved for Jesus in the gospels (Matt 9:36; 14:14; 15:32; 20:34; Mark 1:41; 8:2; Luke 7:13). It is said that Jesus had compassion on pain and sickness, on suffering and possessed people, on the lonely and the lost.
The people of God have been referred to in the OT as a flock without a shepherd (Num 27:17;I Kings 22:17;Isa 53:6).
Harassed and helpless. Eskulmenoi (‘harrassed’) really means ’to be flayed’ (the skin), ’to be wounded’ (of sheep by thorns), also ’to be plundered’ (by robbers), in general terms ’to be weary.’ Errimmenoi (‘helpless’) is really ‘cast aside,’ ’to fall to the ground as a body’ (lie on the ground), generally ‘weary’ (so that you can go no further). This flock is so weary because of the heavy burdens laid on their shoulders by the religious leaders (Matt 11:28; 23:4). Jesus sees His task to be the gathering together of the scattered and lost sheep (Matt 15:24; cf. 10:6; 18:12) and so reveals Himself as the promised shepherd, the Messiah (Ezek 34:23; 37:24; Micah 5:3; John 10:1-18).
37. The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Jesus spoke these words several times (see also Luke 10:2 and John 4:35-38).
In this verse we find a contrast between the great (lit. many) harvest and the few labourers (really only Jesus). Jesus is not speaking about the yield of the harvest (as in Rev 14:5) but about the happenings at harvest time (as in Matt 13:30-39; Mark 4:29; John 4:35). Old Testament prophecies refer to the last days as a time of harvest, which on the one hand will be a time of salvation, when the children of God are gathered in (Isa 27:12), but on the other hand will be a time of judgment (Joel 3:13 etc.). Jesus is here speaking primarily of the salvation side (as Matt 10 makes clear).
38. Ask the Lord … to send out workers. This commission follows directly out of the details of v. 37. The Lord of the Harvest is God the Father. Before Jesus sends His disciples out (Matt 10), He urges them to pray for more workers. He wants to prepare the disciples spiritually so that they may experience the same calling as He does (cf. v.36) in this urgent situation (v.37).