Jesus said, Take you away the stone. Martha, the sister of him that was dead, said to him, Lord, by this time he stinks: for he has been dead four days.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)Martha, the sister of him that was dead.—This fact of close relationship is mentioned again to account for her remark. We know, from the whole narrative, that she was his sister; but this verse would say, not simply that Martha spoke, but that that in Martha which was sister to him who was dead spoke. She thinks that the form of him she loved has now passed to corruption; she cannot bear that her own eyes or the eyes of others should see it.
For he hath been dead four days.—The word “dead” is not expressed in the Greek, which says literally, for he hath been of the fourth day; and the thought is rather of the sepulchre than of death—“for he hath been in the sepulchre four days.” (Comp. John 11:17.) The body had been embalmed (John 11:44); but the manner of the Jews was to embalm only with spice, and to wrap in linen clothes (John 19:40-42), and there is no evidence that they at any time followed the Egyptian method of embalming. The only instance of Jewish embalming mentioned in the Old Testament is that of Asa (2Chronicles 16:14).
The fact that the body had been in the sepulcher four days is given by the sister as a proof that decomposition must have taken place, and expositors have generally assumed that it was so. This is, however, not stated in the text, and the assumption is opposed by the fact that there was an interval during which the sepulchre was open, and Jesus prayed to the Father (John 11:41-42).
Martha, the sister of … the dead—and as such the proper guardian of the precious remains; the relationship being here mentioned to account for her venturing gently to remonstrate against their exposure, in a state of decomposition, to eyes that had loved him so tenderly in life.
Lord, by this time he stinketh, for he hath been dead four days—(See on Joh 11:17). It is wrong to suppose from this (as Lampe and others do) that, like the by-standers, she had not thought of his restoration to life. But the glimmerings of hope which she cherished from the first (Joh 11:22), and which had been brightened by what Jesus said to her (Joh 11:23-27), had suffered a momentary eclipse on the proposal to expose the now sightless corpse. To such fluctuations all real faith is subject in dark hours. (See, for example, the case of Job).
Martha the sister of him that was dead: that is, of Lazarus, as the Persic version expresses it, calling him, "Gazarus",
saith unto him, Lord, by this time he stinketh; or smells; not that she perceived this upon their moving the stone, but she concluded it from the time he had been dead, and had lain in the grave, in which dead bodies usually putrefy and smell: whether she said this out of respect to her brother, being unwilling he should be exposed to the view of persons, in such a state of corruption, she knew he must now be; or whether out of respect to Christ, lest he should be disordered with the offensive smell, is not certain: however, it seems as if she had no notion that Christ was about to raise her brother from the dead; and that the stone was commanded to be removed for that purpose, not merely for a sight of the dead, but that the dead might be seen to come forth alive: she imagined that Christ only wanted to have the stone removed, that he might have a sight of his deceased friend, which she thought would be very disagreeable and nauseous; so soon had she forgot what Christ had said to her, and lost that little exercise she had of faith and hope, with respect to the resurrection of her brother. Frames of soul, and acts of grace, are very changeable, and uncertain things; and especially when carnal reasoning is indulged.
For he hath been dead four days; he had been so long in the grave, John 11:17. The word "dead" is not in the text; he might have been dead longer; though the Jews usually buried on the same day a person died: however, the sense is here, he had been so long in the grave; and so the Persic version renders it, "for it is the fourth day that he has been in the grave"; in the original text it is, "he is one of four days"; so many days he had been in the house appointed for all living; so long he had been removed from the sight of men, and had been in another world, and had begun another era, and four days had passed in it; he was so many days old according to that: so that his countenance was changed, he was not fit to be seen, nor approached unto; nor was there any hope of his returning to life. The Jews (i) say, that
"for three days the soul goes to the grave, thinking the body may return; but when it sees the figure of the face changed, it goes away, and leaves it, as it is said, Job 14:22.''
So of Jonah's being three days and three nights in the whale's belly, they say (k),
"these are the three days a man is in the grave, and his bowels burst; and after three days that defilement is turned upon his face.''
Hence, they do not allow anyone to bear witness of one that is dead or killed, that he is such an one, after three days, because then his countenance is changed (l), and he cannot be well known.
(h) Apud Buxtorf Lex. Rab. col. 437. (i) Bereshit Rabba, sect. 100. fol. 88. 2. & T. Hieros. Moed Katon, fol. 82. 2.((k) Zohar in Exod. fol. 78. 2.((l) Misn. Yebamot, c. 16. sect. 3. & Maimon. Jarchi, & Bartenora in ib. & Maimon. Hilchot Gerushim, c. 13. sect. 21. T. Bab. Yebamot, fol. 120. 1. & Gloss. in ib.Jesus said, Take ye away the stone. Martha, the sister of him that was dead, saith unto him, Lord, by this time he stinketh: for he hath been dead four days.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)John 11:39-40. While Jesus called upon those present to take away the stone (which was done, as related in John 11:41), Mary waited in silent resignation. On Martha, however, with her mobile practical tendency, the command of Jesus, which was equivalent to a wish to see Lazarus, produced a terrifying effect. Her sisterly heart (hence ἡ ἀδελφὴ τοῦ τετελ.) shudders at the thought, and rises up against it, and she will not see the corpse of her beloved brother, already passing over into a state of putrefaction, exposed to the gaze of those who were present;—from the fact of his having already lain four days, she concludes, with good reason, that he must already have begun to stink. For her earlier idea of a possible resurrection (John 11:22), which, moreover, had been entertained only for a time, had passed over, owing to the expressions of the Lord in John 11:23-26, into the faith in Christ, as the Resurrection and the Life in general, through whom the dear departed one also liveth (John 11:26). Accordingly, it is incorrect to suppose that her wish was to call the attention of Jesus to the magnitude of the work to be performed by Him, with a view to calling forth a new confirmation of His promise (Hengstenberg); on the contrary, far removed from such reflections, she now no longer at all expects the reawakening of the corpse, and that, too, not from unbelief, but because the higher direction which her faith had received through Christ’s words had taught her resignation.
The embalming of the body (its fumigation, embrocation, and envelopment in spices, as also its anointing, John 12:7) can not have taken place; otherwise Martha could not have come to the conclusion which she expresses. This omission may have been due to some cause unknown to us; but the supposition that the sisters still intended carrying out the embalming is inadmissible owing to the ἤδη ὄζει.
τεταρταῖος] of the fourth day (comp. on John 11:17), that is, one buried for that time. See Wetstein. Comp. Xen. Anab. vi. 4. 9 : ἤδε γὰρ ἦσαν πεμπταῖοι (dead); Diog. Laert. 7. 184.
The gentle reproof contained in John 11:40 refers to John 11:23 ff., and is justified; for that which He had said regarding the glory of God in John 11:4 was to be realized by means of the ἀναστ. promised in John 11:23—promised in the sense present to Christ’s mind. At the same time, the performance of the miracle was itself dependent on the fulfilment of the condition ἐὰν πιστευσ. (which had been required also in John 11:25 f.); to unbelieving sisters He could no more have restored the dead brother than to an unbelieving Jairus his child (Luke 8:50), or to the widow of Nain her son, if her attitude towards His compassion and His injunction μὴ κλαῖε (Luke 7:13) had been one of unbelief.John 11:39. The detail, that Jesus said, Ἄρατε τὸν λίθον, is mentioned because it was an unexpected step and quickened inquiry as to what was to follow, but also because it gave rise to practical Martha’s quick objection, ἤδη ὄζει. [“He employed natural means to remove natural obstructions, that His Divine power might come face to face with the supernatural element. He puts forth supernatural power to do just that which no less power could accomplish, but all the rest He bids men do in the ordinary way.” Laidlaw, Miracles, p. 360.]—ἤδη ὄζει shows that Lazarus had not been embalmed or even wrapped in spiced grave-clothes; which, some suppose, sheds light on John 12:3. The fact is mentioned, however, to show how little Martha expected what Jesus was going to do: evidently she supposed He wished to take a last look at His friend, and she [ἡ ἀδελφὴ τοῦ τετελευτηκότος] the sister of the deceased, and therefore jealous of any exposure, interposes, knowing what He would see.—τεταρταῖος γὰρ ἐστι, “for he is four days [dead]”. Herodotus, ii. 89, tells us that the wives of men of rank were not at death given to the embalmers at once, ἀλλʼ ἐπεὰν τριταῖαι ἢ τεταρταῖαι γένωνται. Lightfoot quotes a remarkable tradition of Ben Kaphra: “Grief reaches its height on the third day. For three days the spirit hovers about the tomb, if perchance it may return to the body. But when it sees the fashion of the countenance changed, it retires and abandons the body.”39. the sister of him that was dead] Not inserted gratuitously. It was because she was his sister that she could not bear to see him or allow him to be seen disfigured by corruption. The remark comes much more naturally from the practical Martha than from the reserved and retiring Mary. There is nothing to indicate that she was mistaken; though some would have it that the miracle had begun from Lazarus’ death, and that the corpse had been preserved from decomposition.
he hath been dead four days] Literally, he is of the fourth day.John 11:39. Ἡ ἀδελφὴ τοῦ τεθνηκότος, sister of him that was dead) Herein is specified a cause of the greater feeling of instinctive shuddering, arising from nature and the tie of relationship.—ὄζει, he stinketh) The loathing of putrefaction [is instinctive with all], even with the nearest relatives. There is a contest between reason as well as natural affection on the one hand, and faith on the other.—τεταρταῖος, of four days’ continuance) Lazarus seems to have been committed to the tomb the same day on which he died, John 11:17, “When Jesus came, He found that he had lain in the grave four days already.” A similar phrase, τριταῖος, [thine asses that were lost] three days, 1 Samuel 9:20 [ἀπολωλυιῶν—τριταίων, in LXX.], 1 Samuel 30:13.Verse 39. - Jesus saith, Take ye away the stone. Ἄρατε has rather the idea of "lift" than "roll away;" it is used for "take," "take away," "carry as a burden." Martha, the sister of him that was dead, said unto him, Lord, by this time he stinketh: for he hath been four days here. Martha's language is another singular illustration of the desire on her part to give a certain kind of advice and direction to our Lord, as though he might be the wiser and bettor for her monitions. The characterization of her as "the sister of the dead" man is not needed for identification, but rather to explain or justify her intrusion upon the solemn, stately direction of the Lord. She shrank from such an exposure of the body of her beloved brother, as an unnecessary act, since he was only to rise at the last day, or to be regarded by his faith in Christ before his death as having already passed from death and through death into a new life. She must have relinquished at that moment all hope of resurrection of the body of Lazarus there and then: ἤδη ὄζει, "he already stinketh." This is explained by many of the Fathers as proof that our Lord not only raised from death-swoon Jairus's daughter, and the young man on his way to burial, but also a putrefying corpse; thus giving three symbols of the effects of sin:
(1) a young life blighted;
(2) a man's energies dissipated and his condition apparently hopeless; and
(3) a type also of one dead in trespasses and sins (Trench on the Miracles) - one whose habits of trespass and bondage to evil seem to forbid all renewal. Godet thinks that Martha had special reasons for such a speech. Others, that all that we have here is the speculation or lanai of Martha, and that it must be so. She puts one more arrest, as it would seem, upon the free act and love of Jesus. This seems quite sufficient to account for the use of the word. It would seem that, for some reason, the body had not been fully embalmed, or she would not have used the expression. Still, all had been done with spices and perfumes that was intended. The Tübingen criticism eagerly lays hold on this point, as proof that the fourth evangelist intended by such a touch to exalt and exaggerate the wonder-working power of Christ. There is no need whatever to see in it more than Martha's sisterly love getting the better of her submission to her Master's order. Τετερταῖος γάρ ἐστι, "For he is of the fourth day (dead) (buried)." On the fourth day the countenance changes, and, as the Jewish proverb urged, the spirit takes its flight from the sepulcher, and no longer hovers over the departed form.
The stone was placed over the entrance mainly to guard against wild beasts, and could easily be removed.
The sister of him that was dead
An apparently superfluous detail, but added in order to give point to her remonstrance at the removal of the stone, by emphasizing the natural reluctance of a sister to have the corrupted body of her brother exposed.
Only here in the New Testament. Not indicating an experience of her sense, which has been maintained by some expositors, and sometimes expressed in the pictorial treatment of the subject, but merely her inference from the fact that he had been dead four days.
He hath been dead four days (τεταρταῖος ἐστιν)
A peculiar Greek idiom. He is a fourth-day man. So Acts 28:13, after one day: literally, being second-day men, The common Jewish idea was that the soul hovered about the body until the third day, when corruption began, and it took its flight.
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