Matthew 17:15
Lord, have mercy on my son: for he is lunatic, and sore vexed: for often he falls into the fire, and oft into the water.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(15) Lunatick.—See Note on Matthew 4:24. The other Gospels add some further touches. The boy had a “dumb spirit.” When the spirit seized him it “tore him,” and he foamed at the mouth, and gnashed with his teeth. Slowly, and as with difficulty, the paroxysm passed off, and the sufferer was wasting away under the violence of the attacks. The phenomena described are, it need hardly be said, those of epilepsy complicated with insanity, a combination common in all countries, and likely to be aggravated where the “seizure,” which the very word epilepsy implies, was the work of a supernatural power. A prolonged melancholy, an indescribable look of sadness, a sudden falling, and loss of consciousness, with or without convulsions, or passing into a tetanic stiffness, a periodical recurrence coinciding often with the new or full moon (hence probably the description of the boy as “lunatick”), grinding the teeth, foaming at the mouth, are all noted by medical writers as symptoms of the disease. The names by which it was known in the earlier stages of medical science were all indicative of the awe with which men looked on it. It was the “divine,” the “sacred” disease, as being a direct supernatural infliction. The Latin synonym, morbus comitialis, came from the fact that if a seizure of this kind occurred during the comitia, or assemblies of the Roman Republic, it was looked upon as of such evil omen that the meeting was at once broken up, and all business adjourned. Whether there was in this case something more than disease, viz., a distinct possession by a supernatural force, is a question which belongs to the general subject of the “demoniacs” of the Gospel records. (See Note on 8:28.) Here, at any rate, our Lord’s words (Matthew 17:21) assume, even more emphatically than elsewhere, the reality of the possession. (See Mark 9:25.)

17:14-21 The case of afflicted children should be presented to God by faithful and fervent prayer. Christ cured the child. Though the people were perverse, and Christ was provoked, yet care was taken of the child. When all other helps and succours fail, we are welcome to Christ, may trust in him, and in his power and goodness. See here an emblem of Christ's undertaking as our Redeemer. It encourages parents to bring children to Christ, whose souls are under Satan's power; he is able to heal them, and as willing as he is able. Not only bring them to Christ by prayer, but bring them to the word of Christ; to means by which Satan's strong-holds in the soul are beaten down. It is good for us to distrust ourselves and our own strength; but it is displeasing to Christ when we distrust any power derived from him, or granted by him. There was also something in the malady which rendered the cure difficult. The extraordinary power of Satan must not discourage our faith, but quicken us to more earnestness in praying to God for the increase of it. Do we wonder to see Satan's bodily possession of this young man from a child, when we see his spiritual possession of every son of Adam from the fall!Lord, have mercy - The word "Lord" here means "Sir," a title of civility, not implying divinity.

My son - This was an only son (Luke). He was possessed with a devil. This calamity was attended with the following symptoms: he was lunatic (see the notes at Matthew 4:24); he was sore vexed; that is, he suffered greatly, or was greatly afflicted; he fell often suddenly, in the manner of persons having epileptic fits; he was dumb - that is, he was mute except when the seizure was coming upon him, for Luke says that when the spirit took him he cried suddenly out; he foamed and gnashed with his teeth, and wasted away, or became poor and emaciated. Luke Luk 9:39 adds of the evil spirit, "it teareth him that he foameth again, and, bruising him, hardly departeth from him;" that is, scarcely departed from him, or he had only short intervals of reason, for so the passage in Luke, "bruising him, hardly departeth from him," should be translated.

Mt 17:14-23. Healing of a Demoniac Boy—Second Explicit Announcement by Our Lord of His Approaching Death and Resurrection. ( = Mr 9:14-32; Lu 9:37-45).

The time of this section is sufficiently denoted by the events which all the narratives show to have immediately preceded it—the first explicit announcement of His death, and the transfiguration—both being between His third and His fourth and last Passover.

Healing of the Demoniac and Lunatic Boy (Mt 17:14-21).

For the exposition of this portion, see on [1322]Mr 9:14-32.

Second Announcement of His Death (Mt 17:22, 23).

See Poole on "Matthew 17:16". Lord, have mercy on my son,.... He addressed him with great marks of honour and respect, not only by gesture, but by words; he craves mercy, pity, and compassion; for the case he had to present, was a miserable one; and his earnestness and importunity he hoped might be excused, since it was for a child of his own. Luke adds "for he is mine only child"; and therefore his affection for him must be thought to be very strong, and he greatly concerned for its grievous affliction, and earnestly desirous of its health and life.

For he is lunatic: not a mad man, but troubled with the epileptic disease; upon which, as on madness or lunacy, the changes and full of the moon have an influence: hence the next clause,

and sore vexed, is rendered in the Arabic version, "and sore vexed at the beginning of full moons"; at which times, he had very grievous and frequent fits of his disorder:

for ofttimes he falleth into the fire, and oft into the water: which shows it to be the "epilepsy", or "falling sickness", he was afflicted with; which, whenever it seized him, whether by the fireside, or by the side of a river or brook, or any place of water, or in any other dangerous situation, he fell into it, not being able to help himself, or avoid any danger to which he was exposed. A larger account of this child's disorder, and of the circumstances of his cure, are related by Mark 9:17 where this case will be more fully considered. See Gill on Mark 9:17. See Gill on Mark 9:18.

Lord, have mercy on my son: for he is {g} lunatick, and sore vexed: for ofttimes he falleth into the fire, and oft into the water.

(g) They that at certain times of the moon are troubled with the falling sickness, or any other kind of disease: but in this case, we must so understand it, that besides the natural disease he had a demonic derangement.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
Matthew 17:15. The lunatic, whose malady was regarded as the result of demoniacal possession (Matthew 17:18; Mark 5:16; Luke 5:39), was evidently suffering from epilepsy, and, according to Mark, deprived of the power of speech as well.

κακῶς πάσχειν] to be ill (opposite of εὖ πάσχ.), is likewise very common among classical writers. Hom. Od. xvi. 275; Plat. Menex. p. 244 B; Xen. Anab. iii. 3. 7; Herod, iii. 146.Matthew 17:15. σεληνιάζεται, he is moonstruck; the symptoms as described are those of epilepsy, which were supposed to become aggravated with the phases of the moon (cf. Matthew 4:24).—κακῶς πάσχει (ἔχει W. H[105] text), good Greek. Raphel (Annot.) gives examples from Polyb. = suffers badly.

[105] Westcott and Hort.15. for he is lunatick] This is the only special instance of cure in the case of a lunatic. They are mentioned as a class, ch. Matthew 4:24. The word literally means “affected by changes of the moon.” There appears to be some truth in the notion that there is an access of mania at the time of lunar changes. See Belcher, Our Lord’s Miracles of Healing, p. 131.

St Mark describes the child as foaming, gnashing with his teeth, and pining away. St Luke mentions that he “crieth out.” All these were epileptic symptoms; “the child was a possessed epileptic lunatic.”Matthew 17:15. Ἐλέησόν μου τὸν υἱὸν, have mercy on my son) The lunatic might have said, in the words of David (see Psalm 25:16 [Psalm 25:16]), both in the Hebrew original and S. V.:[789] “Have mercy upon me, for I am an only son.” And this his father repeats.—τὸ πῦρτὸ ὕδωρ, THE fire—THE water) The article implies that the nature of these elements universally[790] is intended: because the lunatic is more liable to fall into the paroxysm when near fire or water: but in Mark 9:22 (see Gnomon) fires and waters are mentioned, and that indefinitely, without the article.

[789] Ps. 24:16, LXX. ἐπίβλεψον ἐπʼ ἐμὲ καὶ ἐλέησόν με, ὅτι μονογενής εἰμι ἐγώ.—ED.

[790] Middleton remarks on this, “Bengel (in Gnom.) has here a note which I do not understand: he says, ‘Articulus UNIVERSE innuit naturam horum elementorum, quod lunaticus apud ignem et aquam proclivior sit in paroxysmum.’ ” Though it savours of presumption to attempt any explanation of that which Middleton did not understand, I would venture to suggest, that Bengel means to say, that the article shows that the element of fire is intended, in the abstract, and consequently every presence of it (universè), in the concrete.—(I. B.)

In Mark 9:22, fire and water are not used in the general sense as here (Oft-times he falleth into a paroxysm, wherever fire is and wherever water is,”—this is the effect which these elements produce on him): but of particular fires and waters. Though the sing. τὸ πῦρ is used there, it stands for the plural, as the accompanying ὕδατα show: also the article τὸ gives the same force, as there is no plur. of πῦρ else τὰ πῦρα would be found. However, BCD abcd reject the τὸ there; but A supports it.—ED.Verse 15. - This verse in the Vulgate is contained in ver. 14. Have mercy on my son. According to St. Luke, the father makes his plea more touching by adding that he was his only son - an appeal to which the Saviour's tender heart was always open, as when he stopped the bier at Nain, and said to the childless widow, "Weep not." He is lunatic (σεληνιάξεται). The Revised Version most unnecessarily renders the verb, he is epileptic. Doubtless the case in many respects simulated epilepsy, and might have been so described; but it seems inexpedient to conceal the actual word used, which gave the popular and probably correct view of one phase of the complaint. Surely a real fact well known to medical science underlies the term lunacy, in the catalogue of the diseased persons who were brought to Christ to be healed (Matthew 4:24), we find a class called lunatics, distinct from the paralytic and possessed. It is by no means an exploded fallacy that the moon has some mysterious influence on certain constitutions, and produces an aggravation of symptoms in accordance with some of its changes. It was from observation of this phenomenon that this form of insanity was termed seleniasmus or lunacy. In the present instance the disease was complicated and of no ordinary nature. The other synoptists state that the child was possessed by a demon. This was the fact which differentiated the malady from any merely organic sickness. It was in truth epilepsy accompanied by or occasioned by demoniacal possession. St. Matthew does not mention the possession in his introductory account, but he afterwards (ver. 18) speaks of the demon departing. Sore vexed (κακῶς πάσχει); is in evil case; suffers grievously. He was affected with terrible paroxysms, which are detailed more at length by Mark and Luke. Matthew narrates some of the effects of the mania upon the victim. Ofttimes he falleth into the fire. The fits, coming on suddenly and without warning, brought the sufferer into imminent dangers, perhaps produced suicidal tendencies, which urged him to destroy himself. Is lunatic (σεληνιάζεται)

Rev., epileptic. The A. V. preserves the etymology of the word (σελήνη, the moon), but lunatic conveys to us the idea of demented; while the Rev. epileptic gives the true character of the disease, yet does not tell us the fact contained in the Greek word, that epilepsy was supposed to be affected by the changes of the moon. See on Matthew 4:24.

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