Matthew 23:29
Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because ye build the tombs of the prophets, and garnish the sepulchres of the righteous,
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(29) Ye build the tombs . . .—Four conspicuous monuments of this kind are seen to the present day at the base of the Mount of Olives, in the so-called Valley of Jehoshaphat, the architecture of which, with its mixture of debased Doric and Egyptian, leads archæologists to assign them to the period of the Herodian dynasty. These may, therefore, well have been the very sepulchres of which our Lord spoke, and to which, it may be, He pointed. They bear at present the names of Zechariah, Absalom, Jehoshaphat, and St. James; but there is no evidence that these were given to them when they were built, and the narratives of earlier travellers vary in reporting them. It may be noticed, however, that of these four names, Zechariah is the only one that belonged to a prophet, and the reference to the death of a martyr-prophet of that name in Matthew 23:35, makes it probable that the name may have been, as it were, suggested by the monument on which the Pharisees were lavishing their wealth and their skill at the very time when they were about to imbrue their hands in the blood of One who was, even in the judgment of many of their own class, both a “prophet” and a “righteous” man.

Garnish.—Better, adorn—as, e.g., with columns, cornices, paintings, or bas-reliefs. Even these acts, natural and legitimate in themselves, were part of the “hypocrisy” or “unreality” of the Pharisees. They did not understand, and therefore could not rightly honour, the life of a prophet or just man. They might have learnt something from the saying of a teacher of their own in the Jerusalem Talmud, that “there is no need to adorn the sepulchres of the righteous, for their words are their monuments.” In somewhat of the same strain wrote the Roman historian: “As the faces of men are frail and perishable, so are the works of art that represent their faces; but the form of their character is eternal, and this we can retain in memory, and set forth to others, not by external matter and skill of art, but by our own character and acts” (Tacitus, Agricola, c. 46).

23:13-33 The scribes and Pharisees were enemies to the gospel of Christ, and therefore to the salvation of the souls of men. It is bad to keep away from Christ ourselves, but worse also to keep others from him. Yet it is no new thing for the show and form of godliness to be made a cloak to the greatest enormities. But dissembled piety will be reckoned double iniquity. They were very busy to turn souls to be of their party. Not for the glory of God and the good of souls, but that they might have the credit and advantage of making converts. Gain being their godliness, by a thousand devices they made religion give way to their worldly interests. They were very strict and precise in smaller matters of the law, but careless and loose in weightier matters. It is not the scrupling a little sin that Christ here reproves; if it be a sin, though but a gnat, it must be strained out; but the doing that, and then swallowing a camel, or, committing a greater sin. While they would seem to be godly, they were neither sober nor righteous. We are really, what we are inwardly. Outward motives may keep the outside clean, while the inside is filthy; but if the heart and spirit be made new, there will be newness of life; here we must begin with ourselves. The righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees was like the ornaments of a grave, or dressing up a dead body, only for show. The deceitfulness of sinners' hearts appears in that they go down the streams of the sins of their own day, while they fancy that they should have opposed the sins of former days. We sometimes think, if we had lived when Christ was upon earth, that we should not have despised and rejected him, as men then did; yet Christ in his Spirit, in his word, in his ministers, is still no better treated. And it is just with God to give those up to their hearts' lusts, who obstinately persist in gratifying them. Christ gives men their true characters.Ye build the tombs of the prophets - That is, you build sepulchres or tombs ever the prophets that have been slain. This they did professedly from veneration and respect for their character. This is often done at the East at the present day, and indeed elsewhere. Among the Muslims it is a common way of showing respect for any distinguished man to build a tomb for him. By doing this, they profess respect for his character and veneration for his memory. So the Pharisees, by building tombs in this manner, professedly approved of the character and conduct of the prophets, and disapproved of the conduct of their fathers in killing them.

And garnish ... - That is, adorn or ornament. This was done by rebuilding them with more taste, decorating them, and keeping them neat and clean. The original word means, also, to show any proper honor to the memory of the dead, as by speaking well of them, praying near them, or rearing synagogues near them in honor of their memory.

27. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like whited sepulchres—or, whitewashed sepulchres. (Compare Ac 23:3). The process of whitewashing the sepulchres, as Lightfoot says, was performed on a certain day every year, not for ceremonial cleansing, but, as the following words seem rather to imply, to beautify them.

which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men's bones, and of all uncleanness—What a powerful way of conveying the charge, that with all their fair show their hearts were full of corruption! (Compare Ps 5:9; Ro 3:13). But our Lord, stripping off the figure, next holds up their iniquity in naked colors.

Wherefore ye be witnesses unto yourselves, that ye are the children of them which killed the prophets—that is, "ye be witnesses that ye have inherited, and voluntarily served yourselves heirs to, the truth-hating, prophet-killing, spirit of your fathers." Out of pretended respect and honor, they repaired and beautified the sepulchres of the prophets, and with whining hypocrisy said, "If we had been in their days, how differently should we have treated these prophets?" While all the time they were witnesses to themselves that they were the children of them that killed the prophets, convicting themselves daily of as exact a resemblance in spirit and character to the very classes over whose deeds they pretended to mourn, as child to parent. In Lu 11:44 our Lord gives another turn to this figure of a grave: "Ye are as graves which appear not, and the men that walk over them are not aware of them." As one might unconsciously walk over a grave concealed from view, and thus contract ceremonial defilement, so the plausible exterior of the Pharisees kept people from perceiving the pollution they contracted from coming in contact with such corrupt characters.

See Poole on "Matthew 23:30".

Woe unto you Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites,.... This is the seventh and last time, in which these words are delivered in this exact form by our Lord, in this chapter; and expresses the certainty, both of their sin and punishment: and the instance annexed to it, no less discovers the hypocrisy of these persons, and supports the character given of them; as also furnishes out a sufficient reason, why a woe is denounced upon them,

because ye build the tombs of the prophets, and garnish the sepulchres of the righteous; meaning by the "prophets" and "righteous" men, the same persons, the prophets, who were righteous men; or else the prophets, and also other righteous men besides them. Rightly is the word "build", used of tombs and sepulchres; the Jews have a canon, which runs thus (h),

"they do not dig graves nor sepulchres, on a feast day.

The commentators (i) on it say, that the graves are the holes which they dig in the earth, and the sepulchres are the buildings over the graves. In the Gemara it is asked (k),

"what are the graves? and what are the sepulchres? says R. Judah, the graves are made by digging and the sepulchres or tombs "by building";

and these edifices which they built over the graves of some of their prophets, and righteous men, were very grand and beautiful. The Cippi Hebmici furnish us with many instances of this kind: in Hebron, in the land of Canaan, which is Kirjath Arba, is the cave of Machpelah; in which were buried the fathers of the world, Adam and Eve, Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, Jacob and Leah; and over it is a wonderful, "and beautiful" building and it is the building of David the king; and opposite the city, in the mountain, is a beautiful building, and there was buried Jesse, the father of David the king: in the way from Hebron to Jerusalem, is Chalchul, where Gad, David's seer, was buried; and Tekoah, where Isaiah the prophet was buried, and over him a "beautiful" structure: at the Mount of Olives is a beautiful fabric, which they say is the sepulchre of Huldah, the prophetess; at the bottom of the mount is a very great cave, attributed to Haggai the prophet, and in the middle of it are many caves; near it, is the sepulchre of Zechariah the prophet, in a cave shut up, and over it is , "a beautiful arch", or vault of one stone: between Rama and Jerusalem are caves ascribed to Simeon the just, and the seventy (elders of the) sanhedrim: at Rama, Samuel was buried, also his father Elkanah, and Hannah his mother, and in a cave shut up, and over the cave buildings: at Cheres, which is Timnath Cheres, in Mount Ephraim, are buried Joshua the son of Nun, and Nun his father, and Caleb the son of Jephunneh, and over them are trees. At Avarta is the school of Phinehas, the son of Eleazar the priest, and Eleazar is buried upon the mountain; and below the village, between the olive trees, Ithamar, and over him a large monument: at the barns is a temple of the Gentiles, with a vault and a cave, where they say are buried seventy elders. At Belata, a village about a sabbath day's journey from Shechem, Joseph the righteous was buried: at Mount Carmel, is the cave of Elijah the prophet, and there was buried Elisha, the son of Shaphat the prophet: at Jordan was buried Iddo the prophet, and over it is a great elm tree, and it is in the form of a lion; and there was buried Shebuel, the son of Gershom, the son of Moses, over whom is a great oak tree: at Geba, in Mount Lebanon, is buried Zephaniah the prophet, in the middle of a cave shut up. On a mountain, a sabbath day's journey from Zidon, Zebulun was buried, in a beautiful vault; at Cephar Noah, was buried Noah the just; and at Kadesh Nephtalim, Barak the son of Abinoam, and Deborah his wife, and Jael; and at Timnath, Shamgar the son of Auath, over whom are two marble pillars. At Cephar Cana, is buried Jonah, the son of Amittai, on the top of a mountain, in a temple of the Gentiles, in a "beautiful" vault: at Jakuk, was buried in the way, Habakkuk the prophet; and at the north of the village of Raam, was buried Obadiah the prophet: at Susan the palace, was buried Mordecai the Jew, and over him a beautiful stone statue; and on it written, this is the sepulchre of Mordecai, the son of Jair, the son of Shimei, the son of Kish, a man of Jemini; and near the river Hiddekel, Ezekiel the prophet was buried. In this account, many things may be observed, which confirm and illustrate the words of the text. And certain it is, that it was accounted very honourable and laudable in persons, to beautify the sepulchres of the patriarchs and prophets. Among the excellent characters given of Benaah, R. Jochanan's master, it is said (l),

"that he was a very wise man, and a judge, and understood mysteries and parables; , "and painted the cave" of Adam the first, and the cave of Abraham.

Though perhaps this is to be understood of him in a figurative sense, but yet must allude to a literal one: the sepulchres of the prophets, were especially very sacred:

"all sepulchres (they say (m)) might be removed, but the sepulchres of a king, and the "sepulchres of a prophet"; they say unto him, were not the sepulchres of the sons of David removed? and the sepulchres of the sons of Huldah were in Jerusalem, and a man might not touch them, to remove them for ever. R. Akiba replied to them because of decency it was forgiven (or allowed) there, and from thence the uncleanness being channelled, went out to the brook Kidron.

Now our Lord must not be understood as blaming them for barely building the tombs of the prophets, and garnishing the sepulchres of the righteous, which they might have done without blame. But because they did all this, that they might be thought to be very innocent and holy men, and far from being guilty of the crimes their forefathers were; when they were of the very selfsame blood thirsty, persecuting spirit; and did, and would do the same things to the prophets and apostles of the New Testament, their fathers had done to the prophets of the Old. They have a saying (n), that "they do not erect monuments "for the righteous"; for their words are their memorial.

But this can only mean, that there is no need of monuments for them; since their sayings are sufficient to keep up the memory of them. Hence Dr. Lightfoot thinks, that our Lord reproves them out of their own mouths, for despising the words of the prophets; imagining they performed piety enough, by bestowing cost in adorning their sepulchres; when they themselves own, their sayings are the best remembrances of them, and therefore ought to be regarded more than their tombs,

(h) Misn. Moed Katon, c. 1. sect. 6. (i) Maimon. & Bartenora in ib. (k) T. Bab. Moed Katon, fol. 8. 2.((l) Juchasin, fol. 86. 1.((m) T. Hieros. Nazir, fol. 57. 4. (n) T. Hieros. Shekalim, fol. 47. 1.

{9} Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because ye build the tombs of the prophets, and garnish the sepulchres of the righteous,

(9) Hypocrites, when they try the most to cover up their wickedness, it is then by the just judgment of God that they shame themselves.

Matthew 23:29 ff. Comp. Luke 11:47 ff.

The οἰκοδομεῖν of the tombs of the prophets and the κοσμεῖν of the sepulchres of the righteous (the Old Testament saints, comp. Matthew 23:35; Matthew 13:17; Hebrews 11:23); this preserving and ornamenting of the sacred tombs by those who pretended to be holy was accompanied with the self-righteous declaration of Matthew 23:30. On the ancient tombs of a more notable character, see, in general, Robinson, Pal. II. p. 175 ff., and on the so-called “tombs of the prophets” still existing, p. 194. Tobler, Topogr. v. Jerus. II. p. 227 ff.

εἰ ἤμεθα, κ.τ.λ.] not: if we had been, but: if we were (comp. on John 11:21), if we were living in the time of our fathers, certainly we would not be, etc.

ὥστε μαρτυρεῖτε ἑαυτοῖς, κ.τ.λ.] Thus (inasmuch as you say τῶν πατέρων ἡμῶν) you witness against yourselves (dative of reference, Jam 5:3), that you are the sons, etc. υἱοί contains a twofold meaning. From τῶν πατέρ. ἡμ., in which the Pharisees point to their bodily descent, Jesus likewise infers their kinship with their fathers in respect of character and disposition. There is a touch of sharpness in this pregnant force of υἱοί, the discourse becoming more and more impassioned. “When you thus speak of your fathers, you yourselves thereby testify to your own kinship with the murderers of the prophets.” De Wette’s objection, that this interpretation of υἱοί would be incompatible with what is said by way of vindicating themselves at Matthew 23:30, does not apply, because Jesus feels convinced that their character entirely belies this self-righteous utterance, and because He wishes to make them sensible of this conviction through the sting of a penetration that fearlessly searches their hearts and reads their thoughts.

ἐν τῷ αἵ αἵματι] i.e. the crime of shedding their blood. On αἷμα in the sense of caedes, see Dorvill. ad Charit. p. 427. For ἐν, see on Galatians 6:6.

Matthew 23:29-33. Final woe (Luke 11:47-48), dealing with yet another phase of hypocrisy and a new form of the contrast between without and within; apparent zeal for the honour of deceased prophets, real affinity with their murderers.

29. build the tombs of the prophets, &c.] Luke 11:47-48. A portion of the Temple-offerings was devoted to this purpose. See Lightfoot, Hor. Hebr. ad loc.

Matthew 23:29.[1009] Ὅτι οἰκοδομεῖτετῶν προφητῶνκοσμεῖτετῶν δικαίων, because ye build—of the prophets—and garnish—of the righteous) (see ver 35). This was all that they did in memorial of the ancient prophets and righteous men, without observing their words or imitating their deeds; with a resemblance to their fathers in their dispositions; with a contempt of the Messiah, to whom those prophets had borne witness. Understand, therefore, only, as in ch. Matthew 24:38. Scripture is wont to call those who have died in the Lord righteous, rather than saints;[1010] see Luke 14:14, and Hebrews 12:23.

[1009] ὅτι οἰκοδομεῖτε) A hypocrite brings guilt on himself, even in respect to those things which are not unrighteous or wrong in themselves.—V. g.

[1010] In Latin, “saint” and “holy” are both expressed by the same word, “sanctus.”—(I. B.)

Verses 29-32. - Eighth woe - against hypocritical honour paid to departed worthies (Luke 11:47). Verse 29. - Ye build the tombs of the prophets, and garnish the sepulchres of the righteous; or, adorn the monuments of the just. In the last woe Christ had spoken of sepulchres; he speaks of them here again, giving an unexpected view of the seeming honours paid to departed saints. The sumptuous mausoleums and tombs found e.g. round Jerusalem, and bearing the names of celebrated men (such as Zechariah, Absalom, Jehoshaphat), sufficiently attest the practice of the Jews in this matter. But the Pharisees' motives in acting thus were not pure; they were not influenced by respect for the prophets or repentance for national sins, but by pride, hypocrisy, and self-sufficiency. The present was a great age for building; witness Herod's magnificent undertakings; and probably many gorgeous tombs in honour of ancient worthies were now erected or renovated. Matthew 23:29Tombs of the prophets

By this name are called four monuments at the base of the Mount of Olives, in the valley of Jehoshaphat; called at present the tombs of Zechariah, Absalom, Jehoshaphat, and St. James. Two of them are monoliths cut out of the solid rock; the others are merely excavations, with ornamental portals. "They appear," says Dr. Thomson, "to be quite extensive, consisting of winding or semicircular galleries, passing under the mountain more than a hundred feet from east to west, and terminating in a rotunda about eighty feet from the entrance. There is no authority for the name which they commonly bear." Possibly they were in sight of our Lord when he spoke, and were pointed to by him. The reference would be all the more telling, if, as has been conjectured, the Pharisees were engaged in constructing the tombs of Zechariah and Absalom at the time that the Lord addressed them, and that the chambered sepulchres of James and Jehoshaphat, lying between those two, were the sepulchres which they were garnishing at their entrances.

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