Luke 5
Benson Commentary
And it came to pass, that, as the people pressed upon him to hear the word of God, he stood by the lake of Gennesaret,
Luke 5:1-10. As the people pressed upon him, with great eagerness, to hear the word of God — Insomuch that no house could contain them: they perceived Christ’s word to be the word of God, by the divine power and evidence that accompanied it, and therefore they were eager to hear it. It seems the sermons which Jesus had preached in his last tour through the country had made a great impression on the minds of the people who heard him; for they either followed him to Capernaum, or came thither soon after his return in great numbers, in expectation of receiving still further instruction from him. He stood by the lake of Gennesaret — Elsewhere called the sea of Galilee, Mark 1:16; and the sea of Tiberias, John 6:1; being distinguished by these names, because it was situated on the borders of Galilee, and the city of Tiberias lay on the western shore of it. The name Gennesaret seems to be a corruption of the word Cinnereth, the name by which this lake was called in the Old Testament. See note on Matthew 4:13. It appears from Mark 1:16, that Jesus had been walking on the banks of this lake. And he saw two ships — Two small vessels, as the word πλοια, frequently occurring in the gospels, evidently means, though in the common versions rendered ships. They were a sort of large fishing-boats, which Josephus calls σκαφαι, observing that there were about two hundred and thirty of them on the lake, and four or five men to each. Standing by the side of the lake, or aground near the edge of the lake, as Dr. Campbell renders εστωτα παρα την λιμνην, observing that the vessels are said to be, not εν τη λιμνη, in the lake, namely, at anchor, but παρα την λιμνην, at, or beside the lake. But the fishermen were gone out of them — After the labour of a very unsuccessful night; and were washing their nets — Namely, in the sea, as they stood on the shore. And he entered into one of the ships — Namely, Simon’s — With whom, as well as with his brother Andrew, he had formed some acquaintance on the banks of Jordan, while John was baptizing there. See John 1:37-42 : and prayed that he would thrust out a little from the land — Jesus desired this, that he might avoid the crowd, and at the same time be more conveniently heard. And he taught the people out of the ship — The subject of his discourse at this time is not mentioned by the evangelist; he introduces the transaction only because it was followed by an extraordinary miracle, which he is going to relate. When he had left speaking, he said unto Simon — Who was the owner of the boat, and his own disciple; Launch out into the deep, and let down your nets for a draught — Christ intended by the multitude of fishes, which he would make Simon catch, to show him the success of his future preaching, even in cases where little success was reasonably to be expected. And Simon said, We have toiled all the night and taken nothing — A circumstance this, which “one would have thought,” says Henry, “should have excused them from hearing the sermon; but such love had they to the word of God, that it was more reviving and refreshing to them than the softest slumbers.”

Nevertheless, at thy word — In obedience to it, and dependance on it; I will let down the net — Though they had toiled to no purpose all night, yet at Christ’s command they are willing to renew their toil, knowing, that by relying on him, their strength should be renewed as work was renewed upon their hands. Observe, reader, we must not presently quit the callings in which we are engaged, because we have not the success in them which we promised ourselves. The ministers of the gospel in particular must continue to let down their nets, though they have, perhaps, toiled long, and caught nothing. They must persevere unwearied in their labours, though they see not the success of them. And in this they must have an eye to the word of Christ, and a dependance thereupon. We are then likely to have success, when we follow the conduct of Christ’s word. And they enclosed a great multitude of fishes — The net was no sooner let down, than such a shoal of fishes ran into it, that it was in danger of breaking, or rather did break in many parts. How vast was that power which brought such a multitude of fishes into the net! But how much greater and more apparently divine was the energy which, by the ministration of one of these illiterate men, converted at once a much greater number of souls, and turned the despisers and murderers of Christ into his adorers! And they beckoned to their partners which were in the other ship — Namely, James and John, who, it seems, were at such a distance from them, that they were not within call; that they should come and help them — To secure this vast draught of fishes, and bring them safe to the shore. Such a draught had, doubtless, never been seen in the lake before. Wherefore it could not miss being acknowledged plainly miraculous, by all the fishermen present, especially as they had toiled in that very place to no purpose the whole preceding night, a season much more favourable than the daytime for catching fish in such clear waters. Peter in particular was so struck with the miracle, that he could not forbear expressing his astonishment in the most lively manner, both by words and gestures: he fell down at Jesus’s knees — In amazement and confusion; saying, in deep self-abasement, Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord — And therefore utterly unworthy to be in thy presence. He believed the holy God was peculiarly present with the person who could work such a miracle; and a consciousness of sin made him afraid to continue in his presence, lest some infirmity or offence should expose him to some more than ordinary punishment. Observe here, reader, 1st, Peter’s acknowledgment was very just, and one which it becomes us all to make, I am a sinful man, O Lord: for even the best of men are sinful men, and should be ready upon all occasions to own it, and especially to own it to Jesus Christ; for to whom else but to him, who came into the world to save sinners, should sinful men apply themselves? 2d, His inference from it was not just: if we be sinful men, as indeed we are, we should rather say, “Lord, for that very reason, while we own ourselves most unworthy of thy presence, we most importunately entreat it: Come unto me, O Lord, for I am a sinful man, and if thou stand at a distance from me, I perish! Come and recover my heart from the tyranny of sin; come and possess it, and fix it for thyself.” But, considering what reasons sinful men have before the holy Lord God to dread his wrath, Peter may well be excused in crying out, on a sudden, under a sense of his sinfulness and vileness, Depart from me, O Lord. Though Peter was the only person who spake on this occasion, the rest were not unaffected. James and John, who were partners with him — Were also struck with astonishment, and, doubtless, were also humbled before him. But Jesus encouraged them all, and especially Simon, saying, Fear not: from henceforth thou shalt catch men — Instead of doing thee any harm, I from this time design to employ thee in much nobler work, in which I will give thee such happy success, that thou shalt captivate men, in greater abundance than those fishes thou hast now caught: enclosing them in the net of the gospel, and drawing them out of the gulf of ignorance, sin, and misery, to the land of life eternal. The original expression here is very emphatical, ανθρωπους εση ζωγρων, Thou shalt be employed in catching men alive: it is spoken in allusion to those fishes and beasts that are caught, not to be killed, but to be put into ponds and parks.

Thus by a signal miracle our Lord, 1st, Showed his dominion in the seas as well as on the dry land; and over its wealth as well as over its waves; and that he was that Song of Solomon of man, under whose feet all things were put. 2d, He confirmed the doctrine he had just preached out of Peter’s ship, and proved that he was at least a preacher come from God. 3d, He repaid Peter for the loan of his boat; and manifested that his gospel now, as his ark formerly, in the house of Obed-Edom, would be sure to make ample amends for its kind entertainment; and that Christ’s recompenses for services done to his name would be abundant, yea, superabundant. And lastly, he hereby gave a specimen to those who were to be his ambassadors to the world, of the success of their embassy; that though they might for a time, and in some particular places, toil and catch nothing, yet, that they should be made the instruments of enclosing many in the gospel net, and bringing them to Christ and salvation, present and eternal.

And saw two ships standing by the lake: but the fishermen were gone out of them, and were washing their nets.
And he entered into one of the ships, which was Simon's, and prayed him that he would thrust out a little from the land. And he sat down, and taught the people out of the ship.
Now when he had left speaking, he said unto Simon, Launch out into the deep, and let down your nets for a draught.
And Simon answering said unto him, Master, we have toiled all the night, and have taken nothing: nevertheless at thy word I will let down the net.
And when they had this done, they inclosed a great multitude of fishes: and their net brake.
And they beckoned unto their partners, which were in the other ship, that they should come and help them. And they came, and filled both the ships, so that they began to sink.
When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus' knees, saying, Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord.
For he was astonished, and all that were with him, at the draught of the fishes which they had taken:
And so was also James, and John, the sons of Zebedee, which were partners with Simon. And Jesus said unto Simon, Fear not; from henceforth thou shalt catch men.
And when they had brought their ships to land, they forsook all, and followed him.
Luke 5:11. And when they had brought their ships to land, they forsook all, &c. — Doubtless, before this the disciples entertained a high idea of their Master, as they believed him to be the Messiah, and had followed him, John 1:43; till now, however, they did not forsake all, but continued to work at their ordinary calling. But this miracle of the fishes was such a striking demonstration of his power, that from this time they left their vessels and nets, nay, and all they had in the world, neglecting even the booty they had now taken, and became his constant followers; being henceforward more solicitous to serve the interest of his kingdom, than to advance any secular interests of their own whatever. Observe here, reader, the wonderful choice which Jesus makes of those who were to be the chief ministers in his kingdom! “Surely the same divine power which prevailed on these honest fishermen to leave their little all to follow him, could with equal ease have subdued the hearts of the greatest and wisest of the nation, and have engaged them to have attended him in all his progress through the country, with the exactest observance, and the humblest reverence: but he chose rather to preserve the humble form in which he had at first appeared, that he might thus answer the schemes of Providence, and by the weak things of the world confound them that were mighty.” It must be remembered, however, that he did not “go to call them that stood all the day idle; but, on the contrary, conferred this honour upon honest industry; on them that had been toiling all the night in the proper duties of their station and profession in life. Let us pursue our business with vigilance and resolution; assuring ourselves, that, however mean it be, Christ will graciously accept us in it; and let us fix our dependence on his blessing, as absolutely necessary to our success.” — Doddridge.

And it came to pass, when he was in a certain city, behold a man full of leprosy: who seeing Jesus fell on his face, and besought him, saying, Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean.
Luke 5:12-16. Behold a man full of leprosy — Of this miracle, see the notes on Matthew 8:2-4, and Mark 1:45. And he withdrew himself into the wilderness and prayed — The original expression, ην υποχωρων εν ταις ερημοις, και προσευχομενος, implies that he frequently did this. Though no one was ever more busily employed than he was, or did so much good in public as he did, yet he found time for pious and devout retirement: not that he needed to avoid either distraction or ostentation; but he meant to set us an example, who have need so to order the circumstances of our devotion as to guard against both. It is likewise our wisdom so to order our affairs, that our public work and our secret devotions may not intrench upon, or interfere with each other. Observe, reader, private prayer must be performed secretly; and how much soever we have to do in the best business in this world, we ought to have stated times for it, and steadily to attend to them.

And he put forth his hand, and touched him, saying, I will: be thou clean. And immediately the leprosy departed from him.
And he charged him to tell no man: but go, and shew thyself to the priest, and offer for thy cleansing, according as Moses commanded, for a testimony unto them.
But so much the more went there a fame abroad of him: and great multitudes came together to hear, and to be healed by him of their infirmities.
And he withdrew himself into the wilderness, and prayed.
And it came to pass on a certain day, as he was teaching, that there were Pharisees and doctors of the law sitting by, which were come out of every town of Galilee, and Judaea, and Jerusalem: and the power of the Lord was present to heal them.
Luke 5:17-25. And on a certain day, as he was teaching — Not on a sabbath day, as it appears, but on a week-day; and not in the synagogue, but in a private house. Preaching and hearing the word of God is good work, if it be performed properly, on any day in the week, as well as on the sabbath days; and in any convenient place, as well as in a place peculiarly set apart for divine worship: even there where we ordinarily converse with our friends, it is not improper to give and receive good instruction. There were Pharisees and doctors of the law sitting by — As being more honourable than the bulk of the congregation, who stood. These men of learning and influence had come from all quarters, on hearing the report of his miracles, to see his works, and scrutinize his pretensions of being a divinely-commissioned teacher. And the power of the Lord was present to heal — Namely, as many as then applied to him for the cure of their diseases. The sense is, that Christ not only preached such awakening sermons as might have converted them to righteousness, but his mighty and miraculous power was there to perform such cures as ought to have removed all their scruples with respect to his divine mission. Accordingly he embraced an opportunity, which now offered, of showing his power on a man afflicted with the palsy to such a degree that he could neither walk, nor stand, nor sit, nor move any member of his body, nor utter so much as a word importing the least desire of relief; but seemed a carcass rather than a man. This miserable object was carried in his bed, or couch, by four persons, who, when they could not bring him in at the door because of the crowd that was gathered to see how Jesus would behave before such learned judges, they bare him up, by some stairs on the outside, to the roof of the house, which, like other roofs in that country, was flat, with a battlement round it, and had a kind of trap-door, it seems, by which the members of the family could come out upon it to walk, and take the air, or perform their devotions. Through this they let him down with his couch, into the midst of the company assembled, before Jesus — Who, knowing the man to be a true penitent, and observing the faith of those who brought him, immediately gave him the consolation of knowing that his sins were all forgiven; and as a proof that he had authority to announce to him such glad tidings, he immediately so perfectly healed him of his disorder, as to enable him instantly to rise up before all that were present, take up his couch, and walk. For a more particular elucidation of the circumstances of this remarkable miracle, see notes on Mark 2:3-12. To what is there observed, it may not be improper to add here, that by our Lord’s manner of proceeding on this occasion we are taught two important lessons; 1st, That sin is the cause of all sickness, and the forgiveness of sin the only foundation on which the expectation of a recovery from sickness can be comfortably built. 2d, That when we are sick, we should be more concerned to get our sins pardoned than our sickness removed; Christ, in what he said to this man, directing us when we seek to God for health, to begin with seeking to him for pardon. And from the influence which the healing of this man’s soul and body had upon his mind, inducing him as he departed to his house, bearing his couch, to praise and glorify God, we may learn to give God the praise of those mercies of which we have the comfort, and to acknowledge his hand in all our recoveries from affliction and escapes from death, and to glorify him for them, by whose mercy and power alone they are wrought.

And, behold, men brought in a bed a man which was taken with a palsy: and they sought means to bring him in, and to lay him before him.
And when they could not find by what way they might bring him in because of the multitude, they went upon the housetop, and let him down through the tiling with his couch into the midst before Jesus.
And when he saw their faith, he said unto him, Man, thy sins are forgiven thee.
Luke 5:20. They were all amazed — Greek, εκστασις ελαβεν απαντας, astonishment seized all, that is, the Pharisees and doctors of the law, as well as the people: and they glorified God — Matthew says, who had given such power unto men; power not only to heal diseases, but to forgive sins. For they could not but acknowledge the authority of Christ’s declaration, Thy sins be forgiven thee, when their eyes showed them the efficacy of his command, Arise and walk. And were filled with fear

With a reverential kind of fear and dread, in consequence of this marvellous proof of the divine presence among them; saying, We have seen strange things to-day — Sins forgiven, miracles wrought. Greek, παραδοξα, paradoxes, or, incredible things, as Dr. Campbell renders it; things which we should think impossible to be performed, and should conclude to be tricks and illusions, had we not indisputable proofs of their reality. Indeed, “whether we examine the nature of this miracle, as being a perfect and instantaneous cure of an obstinate, universal palsy, under which a person advanced in years had laboured, it seems, for a long time, a perfect cure produced by the pronouncing of a single sentence; or whether we consider the number and quality of the witnesses present, Pharisees and doctors of the law from every town of Galilee, and Judea, and Jerusalem, together with a vast concourse of people; or whether we attend to the effect which the miracle had upon the witnesses; — namely, the Pharisees and doctors of the law, not able to find fault with it in any respect, though they had come with a design to confute our Lord’s pretensions as a miracle-worker, were astonished, and openly confessed that it was a strange thing which they had seen; the multitude glorified God who had given such power unto men; the person upon whom the miracle was wrought employed his tongue, the use of which he had just recovered, in celebrating the praises of God: in short, view it in whatever light we please, we find it a most illustrious miracle, highly worthy of our attention and admiration.” — Macknight. Still, however, it does not appear that these Pharisees and doctors of the law, though struck with amazement at this miracle, were convinced thereby of the divine mission of Jesus, or induced to lay aside their enmity against him.

And the scribes and the Pharisees began to reason, saying, Who is this which speaketh blasphemies? Who can forgive sins, but God alone?
But when Jesus perceived their thoughts, he answering said unto them, What reason ye in your hearts?
Whether is easier, to say, Thy sins be forgiven thee; or to say, Rise up and walk?
But that ye may know that the Son of man hath power upon earth to forgive sins, (he said unto the sick of the palsy,) I say unto thee, Arise, and take up thy couch, and go into thine house.
And immediately he rose up before them, and took up that whereon he lay, and departed to his own house, glorifying God.
And they were all amazed, and they glorified God, and were filled with fear, saying, We have seen strange things to day.
And after these things he went forth, and saw a publican, named Levi, sitting at the receipt of custom: and he said unto him, Follow me.
Luke 5:27-29. He went forth and saw a publican, &c. — Having performed this great miracle on the paralytic, Jesus thought proper to allow the Pharisees and doctors an opportunity of conferring upon it among themselves, and of making what observations they pleased concerning it, in the hearing of the common people. He left the house, therefore, immediately. But on his going out the people accompanied him, eager to hear him preach. This good disposition which they were in, Jesus improved to their advantage. He went with them to the lake, and on the shore preached to a great multitude, Mark 2:13. When he had made an end of speaking, he passed by the receipt of custom, or booth, where the collectors of the tax waited to levy it, possibly from the vessels which used the port of Capernaum. Here he saw a publican, Matthew or Levi, (for it was a common thing among the Jews for a person to have two names,) sitting, whom he ordered to follow him, and who immediately obeyed, being designed of God for a more honourable employment than that of collecting the taxes. Matthew, thinking himself highly honoured by this call, made a great feast, or entertainment, for Jesus and his disciples, inviting, at the same time, as many of his brother publicans as he could, hoping that Christ’s conversation might bring them to repentance. In this action, therefore, Matthew showed both gratitude and charity; gratitude to Christ who had now called him, and charity to his acquaintance in labouring to bring about their conversion.

And he left all, rose up, and followed him.
And Levi made him a great feast in his own house: and there was a great company of publicans and of others that sat down with them.
But their scribes and Pharisees murmured against his disciples, saying, Why do ye eat and drink with publicans and sinners?
Luke 5:30-32. But their scribes and Pharisees murmured — The Pharisees of Capernaum, who knew both Matthew’s occupation and the character of his guests, were highly offended that Jesus, who pretended to be a prophet, should have deigned to go into the company of such men; so offended that they could not forbear condemning his conduct openly, by asking his disciples, with an air of insolence, in the hearing of the whole company, why he sat with publicans and sinners. Jesus answering, said, They that be whole, &c. — The Pharisees had not directed their discourse to Jesus, but having spoken so loud as to let all the guests hear their censure, he could not with propriety let it pass without showing the unreasonableness of it; which he does in a forcible manner, in these words: As if he had said, They that are in perfect health do not need the converse and advice of the physician, but those that are sick; and therefore, because of their need of him, he visits and converses with them, though it cannot otherwise be agreeable to him to do it; and I act on the same principles; for I am not come to call the righteous — As you arrogantly suppose yourselves to be, but such poor sinners as these; to repentance — Or, the persevering penitence, faith, and holiness of such as are truly righteous, is not so much the object of my attention, as the conversion of sinners. See a like form of expression, 1 Corinthians 1:17. Some commentators imagine that self- righteous persons are here spoken of; but the scope and connection of the passage evidently confirm the former meaning. Indeed it is not true that our Lord did not come to call self-righteous persons to repentance: he certainly came as much to call them as any other class of sinners. Such were the scribes and Pharisees, and many of his discourses were evidently levelled at them, and intended to bring them to a sense of their sin and danger, in order to their humiliation, self-abasement, and conversion. See this paragraph more fully explained in the notes on Matthew 9:9-13; Mark 2:13-17.

And Jesus answering said unto them, They that are whole need not a physician; but they that are sick.
I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.
And they said unto him, Why do the disciples of John fast often, and make prayers, and likewise the disciples of the Pharisees; but thine eat and drink?
Luke 5:33-39. The contents of these verses occur Matthew 9:14-17, where they are explained at large. The disciples of John fast and make prayers — Long and solemn prayers: but thine eat and drink — Freely, though thou professest a high degree of righteousness. And he said, Can ye make, &c. — That is, Is it proper to make men fast and mourn during a festival solemnity? My presence and converse render this a kind of festival to my disciples: for, as John taught his hearers but a little before his confinement, I am the bridegroom of my church; you cannot, therefore, in reason, expect I should command them to fast now, or that they should do it without such a command. But the days will come — And that very soon; when the bridegroom shall be taken away from them — And shall leave them exposed to much toil, hardship, and suffering; “with their hearts full of sorrow, their hands full of work, and the world full of enmity and rage against them.” — Henry. Then shall they fast in those days — They shall have great need, and even shall be compelled so to do. They shall both hunger and thirst, and even be destitute of clothing, 1 Corinthians 4:11. They shall also keep many religious fasts; shall serve the Lord with fastings, Acts 13:2-3; for Providence shall call them to it. He spake also a parable unto them — Taken from clothes and wine, therefore peculiarly proper at a feast. See on Matthew 9:16-17. No man having drunk old wine — As people, who have been accustomed to drink wine made mellow with age, do not willingly drink new wine, which for the most part is harsh and unpleasant; so my disciples, having been accustomed for some time to live without practising any of the severities for which John’s disciples and the Pharisees are remarkable, cannot relish that new way of life which they recommend. They are not yet so fully acquainted with and established in my doctrine as to submit cheerfully to any extraordinary hardships. To this purpose is Le Clerc’s interpretation of the verse; but Wolfius and others apply it to the Pharisees, who were much better pleased with the traditions of the elders than with the doctrines of Christ; because the latter prescribed duties more difficult and disagreeable to the corrupt natures of men than the former. Perhaps the general sense of the sentence may be, that men are not wont to be soon or easily freed from old prejudices. As if Christ had said, Judge how fit it is that I should not oblige my disciples to a new course of severities at once, but should rather gradually form their characters to what the duty of their future profession, and the usefulness of their lives, may require.

And he said unto them, Can ye make the children of the bridechamber fast, while the bridegroom is with them?
But the days will come, when the bridegroom shall be taken away from them, and then shall they fast in those days.
And he spake also a parable unto them; No man putteth a piece of a new garment upon an old; if otherwise, then both the new maketh a rent, and the piece that was taken out of the new agreeth not with the old.
And no man putteth new wine into old bottles; else the new wine will burst the bottles, and be spilled, and the bottles shall perish.
But new wine must be put into new bottles; and both are preserved.
No man also having drunk old wine straightway desireth new: for he saith, The old is better.
Benson Commentary on the Old and New Testaments

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