Matthew 11:23
And you, Capernaum, which are exalted to heaven, shall be brought down to hell: for if the mighty works, which have been done in you, had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(23) And thou, Capernaum.—This city had already witnessed more of our Lord’s recorded wonders than any other. That of the nobleman’s son (John 4:46-54), of the demoniac (Mark 1:21-28), the man sick of the palsy (Matthew 9:1-8), of Peter’s wife’s mother and the many works that followed (Matthew 8:1-14), of the woman with the issue of blood, and of Jairus’s daughter (Matthew 9:18-26), of the centurion’s servant (Matthew 8:5-13), had all been wrought there, besides the unrecorded “signs” implied in Luke 4:23. In this sense, and not in any outward prosperity, had Capernaum been “exalted unto heaven.” All this, however, had been in vain, and therefore the sentence was passed on it that it should be “brought down to hell,” i.e., to Hades, the grave, not Gehenna. The words point, as the next verse shows, to the ultimate abasement of the guilty city in the day of judgment, but the words have had an almost literal fulfilment. A few ruins conjecturally identified mark the site of Capernaum. Not one stone is left upon the other in Chorazin and Bethsaida.

11:16-24 Christ reflects on the scribes and Pharisees, who had a proud conceit of themselves. He likens their behaviour to children's play, who being out of temper without reason, quarrel with all the attempts of their fellows to please them, or to get them to join in the plays for which they used to assemble. The cavils of worldly men are often very trifling and show great malice. Something they have to urge against every one, however excellent and holy. Christ, who was undefiled, and separate from sinners, is here represented as in league with them, and polluted by them. The most unspotted innocence will not always be a defence against reproach. Christ knew that the hearts of the Jews were more bitter and hardened against his miracles and doctrines, than those of Tyre and Sidon would have been; therefore their condemnation would be the greater. The Lord exercises his almighty power, yet he punishes none more than they deserve, and never withholds the knowledge of the truth from those who long after it.And thou, Capernaum - See the notes at Matthew 4:13.

Which art exalted to heaven - This is an expression used to denote great privileges. He meant that they were especially favored with instruction. The city was prosperous. It was signally favored by its wealth. Most of all, it was signally favored by the presence, the preaching, and the miracles of the Lord Jesus Christ. Here he spent a large portion of his time in the early part of his ministry, and in Capernaum and its neighborhood he performed his chief miracles.

Shalt be brought down to hell - This does not mean that all the people would go to hell, but that the city which had flourished so prosperously would lose its prosperity, and occupy the "lowest place" among cities. The word "hell" is used here, not to denote a place of punishment in the future world, but a state of "desolation and destructions." It stands in contrast with the word "heaven." As their being exalted to heaven did not mean that the "people" would all be saved or dwell in heaven, so their being brought down to "hell" refers to the desolation of the "city." Their privileges, honors, wealth, etc., would be taken away, and they would sink as low among cities as they had been before exalted. This has been strictly fulfilled. In the wars between the Jews and the Romans, Chorazin, Bethsaida, Capernaum, etc., were so completely desolated that it is difficult to determine their former situation. See the notes at Matthew 4:13. It is not to be denied, also, that he threatened future punishment on those who rejected him. The truth inculcated is, that those who are especially favored will be punished accordingly if they abuse their privileges.

If the mighty works ...had been done in Sodom - See the notes at Matthew 10:15. Sodom was destroyed on account of its great wickedness. Christ says if his miracles had been performed there, they would have repented, and consequently the city would not have been destroyed. As it was, it would be better for Sodom in the day of judgment than for Capernaum, for its inhabitants would not be called to answer for the abuse of so great privileges.

23. And thou, Capernaum—(See on [1263]Mt 4:13).

which art exalted unto heaven—Not even of Chorazin and Bethsaida is this said. For since at Capernaum Jesus had His stated abode during the whole period of His public life which He spent in Galilee, it was the most favored spot upon earth, the most exalted in privilege.

shall be brought down to hell: for if the mighty works, which have been done in thee, had been done in Sodom—destroyed for its pollutions.

it would have remained until this day—having done no such violence to conscience, and so incurred unspeakably less guilt.

See Poole on "Matthew 10:24". And thou Capernaum,.... This city is singled out from all the rest, and spoken to particularly, because of its peculiar advantages:

which art exalted unto heaven; which has respect to the very great privileges this place enjoyed, it being the city where Christ chose to dwell, and for a time fixed his abode in; where he first began to preach, and where such a train of miracles were done; a particular enumeration, of which has been before given: as also it may refer to the situation of the place, which was very high and lofty, so that it seemed to reach unto heaven; for the account that R. Benjamin Tudelensis (n) gives of it is, that

"Capernaum, which is, by interpretation, "the village of comfort", at first sight looks to be , "a place higher than Mount Carmel".''

And Nonnus on John 6:59 calls it, which the interpreter renders, the land of "Capernaum founded on high". But notwithstanding all this,

shalt be brought down to hell; meaning, it should be attended with very humbling providences, be reduced to a very low condition, see Isaiah 14:15 be destroyed and laid waste, as a city, as it was in the times of Vespasian; and the inhabitants of it not only punished with temporal, but everlasting destruction;

for if the mighty works which have been done in thee, had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. The sense of these words is the same with that of Matthew 11:22 only this may be observed, that whereas Capernaum was superior in privileges and advantages than the other cities, and yet acted the vile and ungrateful part it did; so that its impenitence and unbelief were the more aggravated; hence a still viler set of men are pitched upon, even the men of Sodom, to make the comparison of them with: for as wicked as the men of that place were, who were so infamous for their unnatural lusts; yet if they had enjoyed such a ministry as Christ's, and had had such miracles wrought among them, for the attestation of the doctrines taught them, in all human probability they would have repented of their flagitious crimes; at least in an external way, in such a manner as to have escaped that dreadful judgment, which laid their city, and several adjacent ones, in ashes; and so would have continued a city until this day. The phrase remained is Jewish, and is used of Sodom by the Rabbins, who say (o), that

"Abraham was "ninety nine" years of age when he was circumcised, and then was the overthrow of Sodom; which was "fifty one" years, after the generation of the division (of the people and languages), and near "fifty two" years; but "Zoar remained" one year, "after Sodom remained".''

According to the Jews, it stood but fifty two years at most (p): and they have a notion, that Sodom and Gomorrha will be built again in the future state (q), or world to come, the times of the Messiah.

(n) Itinerarium, p. 37. (o) Juchasin, fol. 8. 1.((p) T. Bab. Sabbat, fol. 11. 2. & Gloss. in ib. Jarchi in Genesis 19.20. (q) Shemot Rabba, sect. 15. fol. 101. 3.

And thou, Capernaum, which art exalted unto heaven, shalt be brought down to hell: for if the mighty works, which have been done in thee, had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
Matthew 11:23. he diversity in the reading μὴ or ἡ ἕως, etc., does not affect the sense. In the one case the words addressed to Capernaum contain a statement of fact by Jesus; in the other a reference to a feeling prevailing in Capernaum in regard to the facts. The fact implied in cither case is distinction on some ground, probably because Capernaum more than all other places was favoured by Christ’s presence and activity. But there may, as some think (Grotius, Rosen., De Wette, etc.), be a reference to trade prosperity. “Florebat C. piscatu, mercatu, et quae alia esse solent commoda ad mare sitarum urbium” (Grot.). The reference to Tyre and Sidon, trade centres, makes this not an idle suggestion. And it is not unimportant to keep this aspect in mind, as Capernaum with the other two cities then become representatives of the trading spirit, and show us by sample how that spirit received the Gospel of the kingdom. Capernaum illustrated the common characteristic most signally. Most prosperous, most privileged spiritually, and—most unsympathetic, the population being taken as a whole. Worldliness as unreceptive as counterfeit piety represented by Pharisaism, though not so offensive in temper and language. No calumny, but simply invincible indifference.—ἕως οὐρανοῦ, ἕως ᾃδου: proverbial expressions for the greatest exaltation and deepest degradation. The reference in the latter phrase is not to the future world, but to the judgment day of Israel in which Capernaum would be involved. The prophetic eye of Jesus sees Capernaum in ruins as it afterwards saw the beautiful temple demolished (chap. Matthew 24:2).23. Capernaum] See map. Although Capernaum was truly exalted unto heaven in being our Lord’s “own city,” the thought is rather of self-exaltation. The expressions recall Isaiah 14:13-15. Capernaum has exalted herself like Babylon—like Babylon she shall be brought low. Possibly too Capernaum was on a height at Tell Hum or Khan Minyeh. This would give force to the expression in the text.

According to the Sinaitic and Vatican MSS. this verse should be read: “Capharnaum, shalt thou be exalted unto heaven? Thou shalt be brought down to hell.”Matthew 11:23. Καπερναοὺμ, Capernaum) This city had been more highly blessed than Chorazin and Bethsaida, but from its sin became more miserable. It is therefore compared with Sodom, not with Tyre and Sidon.—ἓως τοῦ οὐρανοῦ, even unto heaven) For the Lord from heaven had come to dwell there, and in bringing Himself, had brought heaven thither.[537]—ὑψωθεῖσα, exalted) In the sight of God, of Christ, and of the angels.—ᾅδου, hell) Which is lowest in the nature of things.—ἔμειναν ἄν, they would have remained) Instead of having been destroyed. Great is the effect of the conditional form.[538] The same verb occurs in John 21:22.

[537] For specimens of this exaltation, see John 2:12; John 4:47; Matthew 4:13 to Matthew 13:53; John 6:24; Matthew 17:24.—Harm., p. 301.

[538] For they, in that case, either would not have perpetrated the enormities which they did, or else would have repented of having committed them: in which case they would not have been destroyed, either then or subsequently.—V. g.Verse 23. - And thou, Capernaum (Matthew 4:13, note), which art exalted unto heaven; Shalt thou be exalted unto heaven? (Revised Version); Μὴ ἕως οὐρανοῦ ὑψωθήσῃ; i.e. Shalt thou be raised high in public estimation, as thou thinkest, who art so proud of thy share in the busy and gay life on the lakeside? Shalt be brought down to hell; thou shalt go down unto Hades (Revised Version). The change of voice in the two clauses (ὑψωθήση... καταβήσῃ) may imply that if thou 'art indeed raised, it will be by Another; but if thou fallest, it will be by thyself. Observe that our Lord's words are an adaptation of Isaiah's address to the King of Babylon (Isaiah 14:13-15). For if the mighty works, which have been done in thee, had been done in Sodom (transposed in the Revised Version, as in ver. 21), it would have remained until this day. In this verso the stress lies on the effect of the moral attitude; in ver. 21, on the moral attitude itself.
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