Matthew 11:7
And as they departed, Jesus began to say unto the multitudes concerning John, What went ye out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken with the wind?
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(7) As they departed.—There was an obvious risk that those who heard the question of the Baptist, and our Lord’s answer, might be led to think with undue harshness, perhaps even with contempt, of one who had so far failed in steadfastness. As if to meet that risk, Jesus turns, before the messengers were out of hearing, to bear His testimony to the work and character of John. But a little while before, almost as his last public utterance, the forerunner had borne his witness to the King (John 3:23-36), and now He, in His turn, recognises to the full all the greatness of the work which that forerunner had accomplished.

What went ye out . . .?—The tense points to the time when the first proclamation of the Baptist, as the voice of one crying in the wilderness, drew out crowds to listen to him. Jesus, by His question, bids them recall the impression which had then been made upon them. Had they gone out to see “a reed shaken by the wind?” The imagery was, of course, drawn from the rushes that grew upon the banks of the Jordan, but the use of the singular shows that it was meant to be understood symbolically. Had they gone out to see one who was swayed this way and that by every blast of popular feeling? No, not that; something quite other than that was what they had then beheld.

Matthew 11:7-10. And as they departed — Or, as Luke has it, when they were departed, Jesus began to say concerning John — What he would not say concerning him in the hearing of these his disciples, lest he should seem to flatter him, or to compliment him into an adherence to his former testimony. To avoid all suspicion of this kind, he deferred his commendation of him till the messengers were gone: and then delivered it to the people, to prevent all imaginations as if John were wavering in his judgment, and had sent the two disciples for his own rather than their satisfaction. What went ye out into the wilderness, in which he preached, to see? A reed shaken by the wind — That is, a man of an unstable disposition, of a weak and cowardly conduct? In this question, which implies a strong negation, the invincible courage and constancy of the Baptist are applauded. His imprisonment for reproving King Herod showed that he was not afraid of men; and as for his constancy, though it might seem a little shaken by the message which he sent, it was not impaired by it in the least. For his faith in Christ could not but remain inviolable, as it had been founded on a particular revelation, and on the visible descent of the Holy Spirit, accompanied by a voice from heaven, declaring him to be the Son of God. A man clothed in soft raiment — An effeminate courtier, accustomed to fawning and flattery? You may expect to find persons of such a character in palaces, not in a wilderness. In this question, the austere and mortified life of the Baptist is praised, and the spiritual nature of the Messiah’s kingdom insinuated. His forerunner did not resemble any of the officers who attend the courts of earthly princes, and consequently Christ himself was in no respect to be like an earthly prince. A prophet? yea, and more (Luke, much more) than a prophet — John justly deserved to be called a prophet, because he excelled in every thing peculiar to a prophet. He was commissioned by God, and had immediate communication with him, John 1:33; he foretold that the kingdom of heaven, spoken of by Daniel, was at hand. He pointed out the Messiah by revelation. He declared the terrible judgments that were to befall the Jews on account of their impenitence, their unbelief, and their rejecting the Messiah, Luke 3:17. And he was more than a prophet, inasmuch as he was the Messiah’s harbinger, sent to prepare the way before him, (see note on Malachi 3:1,) an office which clothed him with a dignity superior to that of a simple prophet; not to mention that he had the honour of baptizing the Messiah himself.

11:7-15 What Christ said concerning John, was not only for his praise, but for the people's profit. Those who attend on the word will be called to give an account of their improvements. Do we think when the sermon is done, the care is over? No, then the greatest of the care begins. John was a self-denying man, dead to all the pomps of the world and the pleasures of sense. It becomes people, in all their appearances, to be consistent with their character and their situation. John was a great and good man, yet not perfect; therefore he came short of glorified saints. The least in heaven knows more, loves more, and does more in praising God, and receives more from him, than the greatest in this world. But by the kingdom of heaven here, is rather to be understood the kingdom of grace, the gospel dispensation in its power and purity. What reason we have to be thankful that our lot is cast in the days of the kingdom of heaven, under such advantages of light and love! Multitudes were wrought upon by the ministry of John, and became his disciples. And those strove for a place in this kingdom, that one would think had no right nor title to it, and so seemed to be intruders. It shows us what fervency and zeal are required of all. Self must be denied; the bent, the frame and temper of the mind must be altered. Those who will have an interest in the great salvation, will have it upon any terms, and not think them hard, nor quit their hold without a blessing. The things of God are of great and common concern. God requires no more from us than the right use of the faculties he has given us. People are ignorant, because they will not learn.And as they departed ... - Jesus took occasion, from the inquiries made by John's disciples, to instruct the people respecting the true character of John. Multitudes had gone out to hear him when he preached in the desert Matthew 3, and it is probable that many had been attracted by the novelty of his appearance or doctrines, or had gone simply to see and hear a man of singular habits and opinions. Probably many who followed Christ had been of that number. He took occasion, therefore, by some striking questions, to examine the motives by which they had been drawn to his ministry.

A reed shaken with the wind? - The region of country in which John preached, being overflowed annually by the Jordan, produced great quantities of "reeds" or "canes," of a light fragile nature, easily shaken by the wind. They were therefore an image of a light, changing, inconstant man. John's sending to Christ to inquire his character might have led some to suppose that he was changing and inconstant, like a reed. He had once acknowledged him to be the Messiah, and now, being in prison and sending to him to inquire into the fact, they might have supposed he had no firmness or fixed principles. Jesus, by asking this question, declared that, notwithstanding this appearance, this was not the character of John.

2. Now when John had heard in the prison—For the account of this imprisonment, see on [1261]Mr 6:17-20.

the works of Christ, he sent, &c.—On the whole passage, see on [1262]Lu 7:18-35.

See Poole on "Matthew 11:9".

And as they departed,.... That is, the messengers of John, Luke 7:24 when they returned to their master, to give an account to him of what they had heard and seen,

Jesus began to say unto the multitudes concerning John; he took this opportunity before the whole company, who had heard what passed in conversation between him and the disciples of John, to say some things concerning his character and ministry: and which he did, partly to rectify and remove any wrong opinion they might have conceived of him, from this message of his, as if he had retracted his former sentiments concerning Christ, at least was wavering and doubtful about him; and partly, to put them in mind of their former zeal and attachment to John's ministry, when they went out in large bodies to attend upon it; and to revive a good opinion of him; and signifies, that they would do well to ask themselves, what views they had in attending on him, and how they came to grow indifferent to so great a man: and Christ, by giving an account of his character and office, confirms his own Messiahship; and this commendation of John, he chose to enter into, after the departure of his messengers, lest what he said of him should be interpreted as mere flattery:

what went ye out in the wilderness to see? This refers to Matthew 3:5 where we read, that great numbers from Jerusalem, Judea, and the country round about Jordan, went out into the wilderness of Judea, where John came preaching, to hear him, and be baptized by him; and our Lord asks, what was it that led such multitudes of them into the wilderness? What did they expect to see there?

A reed shaken with the wind? This may either refer to John's gesture in preaching, who might wave to and fro as a reed does, when shaken by the wind; and Christ's question is, did ye go out only to see and observe the preacher's gesture, to see him move his body to and fro? Was it not to hear his doctrine, and receive benefit for your souls? And did you not? Wherefore, you ought still to retain a valuable respect for him. Or this may regard their opinion of him; and the sense of the interrogation is, when you first went out to him, did you take him to be an unstable, inconstant man? Like a reed shaken with every wind! If you did, you were mistaken; he was firm and stable in his sentiments and ministry, his preaching was not yea and nay, his doctrine was all of a piece; he stood to it, that he was not the Messiah, but his forerunner; the testimony he bore was always alike, consistent with himself, and he is the same man now he ever was. The Jews use this comparison of a man to a reed, in a sense just the reverse, and make it to signify constancy, and not inconstancy, as well as tenderness, in opposition to roughness, severity, and stubbornness.

"Let a man (say they (w)) be always , "tender as a reed", and let him not be hard and stubborn as a cedar: when the four winds of the world go out, the reed goes and comes with them; and when the winds are still, the reed stands in its place.''

So they observe (x), that it is said, that "the Lord shall smite Israel, as a reed shaken in the water", 1 Kings 14:15 which they interpret by way of blessing.

"As a reed (say they) stands in a place of water, its body waves about, and its roots are many; and though all the winds in the world come and blow upon it, they cannot move it out of its place, but it goes and comes with them; and when the winds are still, the reed stands in its place.''

(w) Derech Eretz, fol. 18. 1.((x) T. Bab. Taanith, fol. 20. 1.

{2} And as they departed, Jesus began to say unto the multitudes concerning John, What went ye out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken with the wind?

(2) The similarity and the difference between the ministry of the prophets, the preaching of John, and the full light, of the gospel, which Christ has brought.

Matthew 11:7. The answer to John’s question has been given; the disciples are withdrawing; but just as they are going away (πορευομένων) Jesus turns to the multitude that was present, and with some emotion proceeds to set forth to them, in the plainest way possible, the sacred character and the whole position of the Baptist, and by this means seeks to anticipate or correct any false opinion that might be formed regarding him.

The mark of interrogation should be placed after θεάσασθαι (in answer to Paulus and Fritzsche, who put it even after ἔρημον); according to the correct reading (see the critical remarks), the animated style of the passage does not change till Matthew 11:9, so that ἀλλὰ τί ἐξήλθετε forms a question by itself.

ἐξήλθετε] at the time that John appeared in the wilderness. Observe that here stands θεάσασθαι, to behold, and immediately after the simple ἰδεῖν, to see. The more earnest expression is in keeping with the first question.

κάλ. σαλ.] figuratively, in allusion to the reed growing on the bank of Jordan, and meaning: a fickle and irresolute man. Others (Beza, Grotius, Wetstein, Gratz, Fritzsche, de Wette) understand it literally: “non credibile est, vos coivisse, ut arundines vento agitatas videretis.” This is not in keeping with the qualifying expression, ὑπὸ ἀνέμου σαλευόμενον. And how meaningless the question would be alongside the parallels in Matthew 11:8-9! Comp. 1 Kings 14:15; Ezekiel 29:6.

Matthew 11:7-15. Judgment of Jesus concerning the Baptist (Luke 7:24-30). Characteristically magnanimous, while letting it be seen that He is aware of John’s limits and defects.

7. A reed shaken with the wind] If the first suggestion (Matthew 11:3) be adopted, the words have a corroborative force. It was no waverer that ye went out to see—his message was clear, his faith was strong then.

Others give the words a literal sense—the reeds on the banks of Jordan—and observe a climax, a reed—a man—a prophet—more than a prophet—the greatest of them.

Matthew 11:7. Πορευομένων, as they departed) Otherwise they might have become puffed up. The world praises to the face, reviles behind the back. Divine truth does the opposite.—ἤρξατο, began) The multitude would not have begun, had He not done so first.—περὶ Ἰωάννου, concerning John) The state of John is described in Matthew 11:7-9, with reference to men, to himself, to God.—θεάσασθαι, to see as a spectacle) idly. See John 5:35.—κάλαμον, a reed) The ford of Jordan abounded with them. They would have wished John to be such in conduct as they liked to be themselves, and as they are described in this verse and the following. They sought a man of easy disposition, and one ready to second their desires, whom they would not themselves style a reed; but Jesus calls a reed, a reed. For often does truth attribute to man a speech, not such as he frames himself, but such as expresses the reality. See Jeremiah 18:12. The people themselves did not sufficiently know why they had gone forth. On the other hand, the character of John is described (cf. Matthew 11:18), and at the same time the stumbling-block is taken away, which might have arisen from the imprisonment of our Lord’s precursor.—ἀνέμου, by the wind) of favour (by his having been supposed to be the Messiah) or persecution.—σαλευόμενον, agitated) The word is here in the middle voice, and signifies permitting himself to be agitated. This opinion is not refuted like those which follow, because it refutes itself.

Verses 7-15. - Jesus recognition of the greatness of John as herald. Vers. 7-11: parallel passage: Luke 7:24-28. Verse 7. - And as they departed; and as these went their way (Revised Version). Fulfilling his command (ver. 4). It' we may combine the language of St. Matthew and St. Luke ("when the messengers of John were departed"), we may say that they had left the circle immediately round our Lord, but were hardly further than the outskirts of the crowd. What went ye out into the wilderness to see? to behold (Revised Version); θεάσασθαι (cf. θέατρον,). It almost suggests that they went out as though to see a spectacle. They were stirred by no deeper motive. Bengel compares John 5:35. A reed shaken with the wind? If the reed referred to by our Lord was the papyrus, which still grows freely in certain parts of the Jordan valley, the description of this plant in 'Rob Roy on the Jordan,' ch. 17, is specially interesting: "There is first a lateral trunk, lying on the water and half-submerged. This is sometimes as thick as a man's body, and from its lower side hang innumerable string-like roots from three to five feet long, and of a deep purple colour .... These pendent roots... retard much of the surface-current where the papyrus grows On the upper surface of the trunks the stems grow alternately in oblique rows;, their thickness at the junction is often four inches, and their height fifteen feet, gracefully tapering until at the top is a little round knob, with long, thin brown, wire-like hairs eighteen inches long, which rise and then, recurving, hang about it in a thyrsus-shaped head." He also says, "The whole jungle of papyrus was floating upon the water, and so the waves raised by the breeze were rocking the green curtain to and fro." This explained "a most curious hissing, grinding, bustling sound, that was heard like waves upon a shingly beach," as "the papyrus stems were rubbing against each other as they nodded out and in." It is, however, much more probable that the reed referred to was "the Arundo donax, a very tall cane, growing twelve feet high, with a magnificent panicle of blossom at the top, and so slender and yielding that it will lie perfectly flat under a gust of wind, and immediately resume its upright position." It grows especially on the western side of the Dead Sea (cf. Tristram, 'Natural History of the Bible,' p. 4,37, edit. 1889). To our Lord's question no answer was needed. John had rejected the overtures of the nationalists (John 1:19-21), and had not feared to rebuke a king (Matthew 14:4). Matthew 11:7As they departed (τούτων δὲ πορευομένων)

Rev., more literal and better, as these went their way; or while they, John's disciples, were departing' thus giving the simultaneousness of Jesus' words with the act of departure.

To see (θεάσασθαι)

Rev., to behold. θεᾶσθαι, like θεωρεῖν, expresses the calm, continuous contemplation of an object which remains before the spectator. Compare John 1:14. Another verb is used in Christ's repetition of the question, Matthew 11:8, Matthew 11:9; ἰδεῖν in the ordinary sense of seeing. The more earnest expression suits the first question.

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