|Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary|
5:1-9 We are all by nature impotent folk in spiritual things, blind, halt, and withered; but full provision is made for our cure, if we attend to it. An angel went down, and troubled the water; and what disease soever it was, this water cured it, but only he that first stepped in had benefit. This teaches us to be careful, that we let not a season slip which may never return. The man had lost the use of his limbs thirty-eight years. Shall we, who perhaps for many years have scarcely known what it has been to be a day sick, complain of one wearisome night, when many others, better than we, have scarcely known what it has been to be a day well? Christ singled this one out from the rest. Those long in affliction, may comfort themselves that God keeps account how long. Observe, this man speaks of the unkindness of those about him, without any peevish reflections. As we should be thankful, so we should be patient. Our Lord Jesus cures him, though he neither asked nor thought of it. Arise, and walk. God's command, Turn and live; Make ye a new heart; no more supposes power in us without the grace of God, his distinguishing grace, than this command supposed such power in the impotent man: it was by the power of Christ, and he must have all the glory. What a joyful surprise to the poor cripple, to find himself of a sudden so easy, so strong, so able to help himself! The proof of spiritual cure, is our rising and walking. Has Christ healed our spiritual diseases, let us go wherever he sends us, and take up whatever he lays upon us; and walk before him.
Verse 2. - Now there is in Jerusalem. A phrase denoting intimate acquaintance with the topography of the city, and the present tense suggests either a hint of a ruin yet existing after the fall of Jerusalem, or it may betray the fact that the evangelist wrote down at the very time some details of the incident which formed the occasion of the following discourse, and never, in his later editing of the document, omitted or altered the form of his sentence. At the sheep (market) or (gate) a pool, surnamed in Hebrew Bethesda, having five porticoes or porches. The adjective προβατικῇ requires some substantive to be introduced, and since there is no reference to any sheep market in the Old Testament, little justification can be found for the gloss contained in the Authorized Version. There was a "sheep gate" mentioned in Nehemiah 3:1, 32 and Nehemiah 12:39. There is no reason against this method of supplying the sense, except this, that there is no other instance of the word πύλη, or "gate," being omitted after this fashion. The "sheep gate" stood next. in Nehemiah's recital, to the "fish gate," and it was built by the priests. The old "sheep gate" is now known by the name of St. Stephen's Gate, to the north of the Haram es-Sherif, or temple area from which the path leads down into the valley of the Kedron, and if "gate" be the proper term to add to προβατικη and we have its site fixed by the modern St. Stephen's Gate, then we must look for the pool surnamed Bethesda in that vicinity. Eusebius and Jerome speak of a piscina probatica as visible in their day, but do not determine its site. Robinson ('Bib. Researches,' 1, p. 489) did not accept the identification of the sheep gate with St. Stephen's Gate, and places the former more to the south, and nearer to what is now called the Fountain of the Virgin. This fountain, on Robinson's visit, displayed some curious phenomena of periodical and intermittent ebullition, receiving a supply of water from another source. It was found by Robinson to be connected by a tunnel with the fountain of Siloam, and the relations of these wells have been quite recently submitted to fresh examination ('Palestine Expl. Soc. Rep.,' Oct. 1883). Robinson identified this pool with "Solomon's Pool" of Josephus and "King's Pool" of Nehemiah, and thought it might be the original pool of Bethesda. Neander and Tholuck incline to agree with him. The observations of Robinson have been confirmed by Tobler, and at least show that what certainly happens now in some of these fountains may have been phenomena constantly expected at some other fountain bearing the name now before us, on the northeastern side of the Haram area. Within the (sheep gate) St. Stephen's Gate the traditional site of Bethesda is pointed out. The modern name is Birket lsrael, and this tank, from the accumulation of rubbish, does not now show its original extent; neither does it now hold water, but receives the drainage of neighbouring houses (Colonel Wilson in 'Plot. Palestine,' vol. 1, pp. 66, 106-109). A church, near that of St. Anne, was built by the Crusaders over a well, in this immediate vicinity - a spot which was supposed to be the site of the angelic disturbance. Colonel Wilson prefers this traditional site to that fixed upon by Robinson. So also Sir G. Grove, in Smith's 'Bible Dict.' The five porches, or porticoes, may have been a columnar structure of pentagonal form, which sheltered the sick and the impotent folk. At present no indubitable relic of this building has been discovered. Alford (7th edit.) quotes a letter which makes it probable that Siloam was Bethesda, and the remains of four columns in the east wall of that pool, with four others in the centre, show that a structure with five openings or porches might easily have been erected there. Bethesda, which is said to be the Hebrew (that is, Aramaic) surname of the pool, is very doubtful. Probably this is the correct form of the text, though there are many variants, such as Bethzatha, in א, 33, Tischendorf (8th edit.); Bethsaida, in some versions and Tertullian. It seems generally allowed that its significance (בֵּית חֶסְדָּא) is "house of grace or mercy," and that it derived its reference from the dispensation there of God's providential gifts. The healing virtue of waters charged with iron and carbonic acid and other gas is too well known to need reference, and the remarkable cures derived from their use may account forevery part of the statement which was here written by John. Eusebius speaks of these waters as "reddened," so he thought, with the blood of sacrifices, but tar more probably by chatybeate earth.
Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible
Now there is at Jerusalem by the sheep market,.... The word "market" is not in the text, and of such a market, no account is given in the Scripture, nor in the Jewish writings; and besides, in our Lord's time, sheep and oxen were sold in the temple; rather therefore this signifies, the sheep gate, of which mention is made, in Nehemiah 3:1, through which the sheep were brought into the city, to the temple.
A pool. The Vulgate Latin and Ethiopic versions read, "there is at Jerusalem a sheep pool"; and so it is interpreted in the Arabic version, and Jerom calls it the "cattle pool" (f). The Targumist on Jeremiah 31:39 speaks of a pool called , "the calf", or "heifer pool", as Dr. Lightfoot renders it; though the translations of it, both in the London Polyglott, and in the king of Spain's Bible, interpret it "the round pool". This pool of Bethesda, is thought by some, to be the same which the Jews call the great pool in Jerusalem; they say (g),
"between Hebron and Jerusalem, is the fountain Etham, from whence the waters come by way of pipes, unto the great pool, which is in Jerusalem.''
And R. Benjamin (h) speaks of a pool, which is to be seen to this day, where the ancients slew their sacrifices, and all the Jews write their names on the wall: and some think it was so called, because the sheep that were offered in sacrifice, were there washed; which must be either before, or after they were slain; not before, for it was not required that what was to be slain for sacrifice should be washed first; and afterwards, only the entrails of a beast were washed; and for this there was a particular place in the temple, called "the washing room"; where, they say (i), they washed the inwards of the holy sacrifices. This pool here, therefore, seems rather, as Dr. Lightfoot observes, to have been a bath for unclean persons; and having this miraculous virtue hereafter spoken of, diseased persons only, at certain times, had recourse to it. The Syriac and Persic versions call it, "a place of a baptistery"; and both leave out the clause, "by the sheep market", or "gate": it is not easy to say where and what it was:
which is called in the Hebrew tongue, Bethesda; which signifies, according to the Syriac, Arabic, and Persic versions, "an house of mercy", or "grace", or "goodness"; because many miserable objects here received mercy, and a cure. Hegesippus (k) speaks of a Bethesda, which Cestius the Roman general entered into, and burnt; and which, according to him, seems to be without Jerusalem, and so not the place here spoken of; and besides, this is called a pool, though the buildings about it doubtless went by the same name. The Vulgate Latin and Ethiopic versions read Bethsaida, very wrongly; and it is called by Tertullian (l) the pool of Bethsaida. The Hebrew tongue here mentioned is , "the language of those beyond the river" (m), i.e. the river Euphrates; which is the Chaldee language, as distinct from the Assyrian language, which is called the holy and blessed language; the former is what the Cuthites, or Samaritans used; the latter, that in which the book of the law was written (n).
Having five porches; or cloistered walks, which were very convenient for the diseased, which lay here for a cure, so Nonnus: Athanasius (o) speaks of the pool itself, as in being, though the buildings round about lay in ruins in his time; and (p) Daviler observes, there are still remaining five arches of the "portico", and part of the basin. Now this place may be an emblem of the means of grace, the ministry of the word, and ordinances: the house of God, where the Gospel is preached, may be called a Bethesda, an house of mercy; since here the free, sovereign, rich, and abundant grace and mercy of God, through Christ, is proclaimed, as the ground and foundation of a sinner's hope; the mercy of God, as it is displayed in the covenant of grace, in the mission of Christ, and redemption by him, in regeneration, and in the forgiveness of sin, and indeed, in the whole of salvation, from first to last, is here held forth for the relief of distressed minds: and this Bethesda being a pool, some of the ancients have thought, it was an emblem of, and prefigured the ordinance of baptism; and that the miraculous virtue in it, was put into it, to give honour and credit to that ordinance, shortly to be administered: but as that is not the means of regeneration and conversion, or of a cure or cleansing, but pre-requires them; rather it might be a symbol of the fountain of Christ's blood, opened for polluted sinners to wash in, and which cleanses from all sin, and cures all diseases; and this is opened in the house of mercy, and by the ministry of the word: or rather, best of all, the Gospel itself, and the ministration of it, mass be signified; which is sometimes compared to waters, and a fountain of them; see Isaiah 4:1 Joel 3:18; and whereas this pool was in Jerusalem, and that so often designs the church of Christ under the Gospel dispensation, it may fitly represent the ministry of the word there: and it being near the sheep-market, or gate, or a sheep-pool, may not be without its significancy; and may lead us to observe, that near where Christ's sheep are, which the Father has given him, and he has died for, and must bring in, he fixes his word and ordinances, in order to gather them in: and inasmuch as there were five porches, or cloistered walks, leading unto, or adjoining to this place, it has been thought by some of the ancients, that the law, as lying in the five books of Moses, may be intended by them; for under the law, and under a work of it, men are, before they come into the light and liberty, and comfort of the Gospel; and as the people which lay in these porches, received no cure there, so there are no relief, peace, joy, life, and salvation, by the law of works.
(f) De Locis Hebraicis, p. 89. L. Tom. III.((g) Cippi Hebraici, p. 10. (h) Itinerar. p. 43. (i) Misn. Middot, c. 5. sect. 2. Maimon. Beth Habbechira, c. 5. sect. 17. (k) De Excidio, l. 2. c. 15. (l) Adv. Judaeos, c. 13. (m) De Semente, p. 345. Tom. I.((n) In Chambers' Dictionary, in the word "Piscina". (o) Vid. Gloss. in T. Bab. Sabbat, fol. 115. 1. Megilla, fol. 18. 2. & Sanhedrin, fol. 21. 2.((p) Maimon. & Bartenora in Misn. Yadaim, c. 4. sect. 5. Vid. Gloss. in T. Bab. Megillia, fol. 8. 2.
Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
2, 3. sheep market—The supplement should be (as in Margin) "sheep [gate]," mentioned in Ne 3:1, 32.
Bethesda—that is, "house (place) of mercy," from the cures wrought there.
five porches—for shelter to the patients.
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