John 11:18
Now Bethany was near to Jerusalem, about fifteen furlongs off:
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(18) Bethany was nigh unto Jerusalem.—This way of speaking of places in the past tense is not found in the other Gospels. (Comp., in this Gospel, John 18:1; John 19:41; and, on the other hand, Note on John 5:2.) The explanation may be that from St. John’s point of view, writing after the destruction of Jerusalem, the buildings and gardens could no longer be described as still existing.

About fifteen furlongs off.—The Greek stadium which is here rendered “furlong” was 606¾ English feet. The distance was, then, as the margin gives it, not much short of two English miles. This is mentioned to account for the fact stated in the following verse, that many of the Jews came to comfort Martha and Mary.

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.Nigh unto Jerusalem - This is added to show that it was easy for many of the Jews to come to the place. The news that Jesus was there, and the account of the miracle, would also be easily carried to the Sanhedrin.

Fifteen furlongs - Nearly two miles. It was directly east from Jerusalem. Dr. Thomson (The Land and the Book, vol. ii. p. 599) says of Bethany: "It took half an hour to walk over Olivet to Bethany this morning, and the distance from the city, therefore, must be about two miles. This agrees with what John says: 'Now Bethany was nigh unto Jerusalem, about fifteen furlongs off.' The village is small, and appears never to have been large, but it is pleasantly situated near the southeastern base of the mount, and has many fine trees about and above it. We, of course, looked at the remains of those old edifices which may have been built in the age of Constantine, and repaired or changed to a convent in the time of the Crusades. By the dim light of a taper we also descended very cautiously, by 25 slippery steps, to the reputed sepulchre of Lazarus, or El Azariyeh, as both tomb and village are now called. But I have no description of it to give, and no questions about it to ask. It is a wretched cavern, every way unsatisfactory, and almost disgusting."

18. Bethany was nigh Jerusalem, about fifteen furlongs—rather less than two miles; mentioned to explain the visits of sympathy noticed in the following words, which the proximity of the two places facilitated. That, as we count, wants of two miles half a quarter. Now Bethany was nigh unto Jerusalem,.... Which was a reason why them were so many of the Jews come there to condole the two sisters upon the death of their brother; and by this means the following miracle became more known there: it was

about fifteen furlongs off; that is, about two miles, for seven furlongs and a half made a Jewish mile, as appears from one of their canons (c), which runs thus:

"they do not spread nets for doves, except it be distant from an habitable place, , "thirty furlongs";''

which the commentators say (d) are "four miles": and still more expressly it is said (e), that

"between Jerusalem and Zuck, (the place where the scape goat was had,) there were ten tents, and ninety furlongs, "seven and a half to every mile".''

Hence a furlong was called one seventh and a half of a mile (f), which was 266 cubits, and two thirds of one.

(c) Misn. Bava Kama, c. 7. sect. 7. (d) Maimon. Jarchi, & Bartenora in ib. (e) Misn. Yoma, c. 6. sect. 4. (f) T. Bab. Bava Metzia, fol. 33. 1. Maimon. Hilch. Rotzeach, c. 13. sect. 6.

Now Bethany was nigh unto Jerusalem, about fifteen furlongs off:
John 11:18. This observation explains the fact mentioned in the following verse, that so many of the Ἰουδαῖοι (from the neighbouring capital) were present.

ἦν] The use of the praet. does not of itself necessarily imply that Bethany had ceased to exist at the time when the writer wrote, but might be explained (as it usually is) from the general connection with the past events narrated (see on Acts 17:21; Krüger on Xen. Anab. i. 4. 9; Breitenbach, ad Xen. Hier. 9. 4). At the same time, as John is the only one of the evangelists who uses the praet. thus (see besides John 18:1, John 19:41), and as he further wrote a considerable time after the destruction of Jerusalem, it is more natural to suppose that Jerusalem and the surrounding neighbourhood was presented before his mind as lying waste, and Bethany also as no longer existing.

ἀπὸ σταδίων δεκαπ.] fifteen stadia off, i.e. about three-eighths of a geographical mile. On this mode of describing the distance (Revelation 14:20) see Buttm. Neut. Gr. p. 133 [E. T. p. 153]. Compare also John 12:1, and on Acts 10:30. A stadium = 589⅓ feet Rhenish (606¾ feet English) measure.18. Now Bethany was nigh unto Jerusalem] The ‘was’ need not imply that when S. John wrote Bethany had been destroyed, but this is the more probable meaning; especially as no other Evangelist speaks of places in the past tense, and S. John does not always do so. The inference is that he wrote after the destruction of Jerusalem; and that what was destroyed in the siege he speaks of in the past tense; e.g. Bethany (here), the garden of Gethsemane (John 18:1), Joseph’s garden (John 19:41) what was not destroyed, in the present tense; e.g. Bethesda (John 11:2, where see note).

about fifteen furlongs] Literally, about fifteen stades. A Greek stade Isaiah 18 yards less than an English furlong; but the translation is sufficiently accurate, like ‘firkin’ (John 2:6). This distance, therefore, was under two miles, and is mentioned to account for the many Jews who came to condole with the sisters.Verses 18, 19. - Now Bethany was nigh unto Jerusalem. This geographical observation is introduced to explain the following verse. Meyer and Alford think that the use of the past tense, η}ν, may be perfectly justified in making reference to past events; yet, since John is the only New Testament writer who uses it, the usage may have been adopted by him because, at the time when he wrote his Gospel, Bethany had been for the time destroyed with Jerusalem itself. The construction is peculiar: ὡς ἀπὸ (compare a similar use of πρὸ, John 12:1; John 21:8; Revelation 14:20; see Winer, p. 697, Eng. trans.). Many think that it is to be understood - about fifteen stadia from it - a kind of trajection of the preposition; but Winer thinks that it points to the spot where the fifteen stadia might be supposed to terminate, i.e. "lying off at the end of the fifteen stadia," and so giving an adverbial force to the preposition: and he adds a long list of similar constructions in later Greek writers. The stadium was 606.75 feet - less than the eighth of an English mile; the distance was therefore between a mile and a half and a mile and three quarters. And many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary. "The Jews" is a phrase generally, not uniformly, used by John to denote those permanently hostile to our Lord, and often of the upper and ruling classes. These, therefore, had one more trial of faith, one further opportunity of recognizing his glory. Many of them came to Martha and Mary. They came to comfort them, according to ordinary usage among the Jews after bereavement. This ceremony often lasted seven days. Concerning (their) brother. We cling to earthly love. The gush of strong affection that mourners lavish on the dead deepens their love to one another, and the praises of the departed often gild and almost pierce the veil itself. The fact that many Jews should have taken the trouble to journey nearly two miles to comfort the bereaved sisters shows that the family at Bethany was one of some wealth, position, and importance (cf. Matthew 26:6-13). If so, it is exceedingly unlikely that the narrative stands in any relation to the parable of the rich man and the beggar. Fifteen furlongs

About two miles.

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