|Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary|
11:17-32 Here was a house where the fear of God was, and on which his blessing rested; yet it was made a house of mourning. Grace will keep sorrow from the heart, but not from the house. When God, by his grace and providence, is coming towards us in ways of mercy and comfort, we should, like Martha, go forth by faith, hope, and prayer, to meet him. When Martha went to meet Jesus, Mary sat still in the house; this temper formerly had been an advantage to her, when it put her at Christ's feet to hear his word; but in the day of affliction, the same temper disposed her to melancholy. It is our wisdom to watch against the temptations, and to make use of the advantages of our natural tempers. When we know not what in particular to ask or expect, let us refer ourselves to God; let him do as seemeth him good. To enlarge Martha's expectations, our Lord declared himself to be the Resurrection and the Life. In every sense he is the Resurrection; the source, the substance, the first-fruits, the cause of it. The redeemed soul lives after death in happiness; and after the resurrection, both body and soul are kept from all evil for ever. When we have read or heard the word of Christ, about the great things of the other world, we should put it to ourselves, Do we believe this truth? The crosses and comforts of this present time would not make such a deep impression upon us as they do, if we believed the things of eternity as we ought. When Christ our Master comes, he calls for us. He comes in his word and ordinances, and calls us to them, calls us by them, calls us to himself. Those who, in a day of peace, set themselves at Christ's feet to be taught by him, may with comfort, in a day of trouble, cast themselves at his feet, to find favour with him.
Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible
And many of the Jews came to Martha and Mary,.... Or "to those that were about Martha and Mary"; in order to have access to them, they came to them, and to the rest of the family; though the phrase may design them only, as the Vulgate Latin, and all the Oriental versions read: these Jews, as appears from the context, John 11:18, came from Jerusalem, and might be some of the principal inhabitants; and it may be concluded, that these persons, Lazarus, Martha, and Mary, were people of note and figure; and indeed all the accounts of them here, and elsewhere, show the same; see Luke 10:38. The end of their coming to them was
to comfort them concerning their brother; by reason of his death, as was usual with the Jews to do, after the dead was buried; for they did not allow of it before: hence that saying (g) of R. Simeon ben Eleazar,
"do not comfort him (thy friend) in the time his dead lies before him.''
The first office of this kind was done when they returned from the grave; for it is said (h), when they return
"from the grave they make rows round about the mourner, "to comfort him", and they make him to sit, and they stand, and there never were less than ten in a row.''
It was an ancient custom for the mourners to stand in their place in a row, and all the people passed by, and every man as he came to the mourner comforted him, and passed on (i). But besides these consolations, there were others administered at their own houses, which were usually done the first week, for it is said (k),
"the mourner the first week does not go out of the door of his house; the second he goes out, but does not sit, or continue in his place; the third he continues in his place, but does not speak; the fourth, lo, he is as every other man. R. Judah says, there is no need to say, the first week he does not go out of the door of his house, for behold, all come to his house, "to comfort him".''
And is was on the third day more particularly on which these consolatory visits were paid (l):
"on the first day he (the mourner) did not wear his phylacteries; on the second, he put them on; on the third day, others come to comfort him.''
This rule the Jews here seem to have observed, since Lazarus had been dead four days; and they were come from Jerusalem hither to comfort his sisters on account of his death. The whole of this ceremony is thus related by Maimonides (m),
"how do they comfort mourners? after they have buried the dead, the mourners gather together, and stand on the side of the grave; and all that accompany the dead stand round about them, one row within another: and there is no row less than ten; and the mourners are not of the number; the mourners stand on the left hand of the comforters; and all the comforters go to the mourners, one by one, and say to them, , "may ye be comforted from heaven": after that the mourner goes to his house, and every day of the seven days of mourning, men come to comfort him; whether new faces come, or do not, the mourner sits down at the head, (or in the chief place,) and no comforters may sit but upon the floor, as it is said, Job 2:13, "and they sat with him on the ground": nor may they say any thing until the mourner has opened his mouth first, as it is said, Job 2:13, "and none spake a word unto him": and it is written afterwards, Job 3:1, "so opened Job his mouth", &c. and Eliphaz answered, Job 4:1, and when he nods with his head, the comforters may not sit with him any longer, that they may not trouble him more than is necessary. If a man dies, and there are no mourners to be comforted, ten worthy men go and sit in his place all the seven days of mourning; and the rest of the people gather to them; and if there are not ten fixed every day, ten of the rest of the people gather together, and sit in his place:''
for this business of comforting mourners was reckoned an act of great piety and mercy (n); and these Jews here might come, not so much out of respect to the dead, or to his sisters, as because it was thought to be a meritorious act.
(g) Pirke Abot, c. 4. sect. 18. (h) Gloss in Cetubot, fol. 8. 2. & in Beracot, fol. 16. 2.((i) Gloss in T. Bab. Sanhedrin, fol. 19. 1.((k) T. Bab. Moed Katon, fol. 23. 1.((l) Massech. Semachot, c. 6. fol. 14. 3.((m) Hilch. Ebel, c. 13. sect. 1, 2, 3, 4. (n) Maimon. in Misn. Peah, c. 1. sect. 1.
Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
19. many of the Jews came to Martha and Mary to comfort them—Thus were provided, in a most natural way, so many witnesses of the glorious miracle that was to follow, as to put the fact beyond possible question.
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