Matthew 24:20
But pray you that your flight be not in the winter, neither on the sabbath day:
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(20) Pray ye that your flight . . .—Rules were given for flight where the conditions lay within their own power. Other incidents which lay outside their will might lawfully be the subjects of their prayers. It is characteristic of St. Matthew, as writing for Jews, that he alone records the words “nor on the Sabbath day.” Living as the Christians of Judæa did in the strict observance of the Law, they would either be hindered by their own scruples from going beyond a Sabbath day’s journey (about one English mile), which would be insufficient to place them out of the reach of danger, or would find impediments—gates shut, and the like—from the Sabbath observance of others.

Matthew 24:20-21. But pray ye that your flight be not in the winter — For the inclemency of the season, the badness of the roads, the shortness of the days, will all be great impediments to your flight: neither on the sabbath day — That you may not raise the indignation of the Jews by travelling on that day, and so meet with that death out of the city which you had endeavoured to escape by removing from it. Besides, many of them would have scrupled to travel far on that day; the Jews thinking it unlawful to walk above two thousand paces, (two miles,) on the sabbath day. In the parallel place in Mark, this latter clause, about the sabbath day, is not mentioned. For then shall be great tribulation — Never had words a more sad or full accomplishment than these: for the miseries which befell this people about the time of the destruction of Jerusalem, were such as no history can parallel. Within the city the fury of the opposite factions was so great that they filled all places, and even the temple itself, with continual slaughters. Nay, to such a pitch did their madness arise, that they destroyed the very granaries of corn which should have sustained them, and burned the magazines of arms which should have defended them. By these means, when the siege had lasted but two months, the famine began to rage, and at length reduced them to such straits, that the barbarities which they practised are not to be imagined; see Josephus, Bell., Matthew 6:11. Even the mothers ate their own children, ibid., Matthew 7:8. In short, from the beginning of the siege to the taking of the city, there were slain by faction, by famine, by pestilence, and by the enemy, no less than one million one hundred thousand in Jerusalem. So that, as Josephus himself observes, in his preface to his history of this war: “If all the calamities which the world, from the beginning, hath seen, were compared with those of the Jews, they would appear inferior.” And again, in another place he says, “To speak in brief, no other city ever suffered such things, as no generation from the beginning of the world was ever more fruitful of wickedness.” And that the peculiar hand of Providence was visible in this destruction of the nation, the same author affirms. For, having described the vast multitudes of people that were in Jerusalem when it was besieged, he says, Bell., Matthew 7:17, “This multitude was assembled together from other places, and was there, by the providence of God, shut up. as it were, in a prison.” Besides, he tells us that Titus himself took notice that the Jews were urged on by God himself to their destruction.24:4-28 The disciples had asked concerning the times, When these things should be? Christ gave them no answer to that; but they had also asked, What shall be the sign? This question he answers fully. The prophecy first respects events near at hand, the destruction of Jerusalem, the end of the Jewish church and state, the calling of the Gentiles, and the setting up of Christ's kingdom in the world; but it also looks to the general judgment; and toward the close, points more particularly to the latter. What Christ here said to his disciples, tended more to promote caution than to satisfy their curiosity; more to prepare them for the events that should happen, than to give a distinct idea of the events. This is that good understanding of the times which all should covet, thence to infer what Israel ought to do. Our Saviour cautions his disciples to stand on their guard against false teachers. And he foretells wars and great commotions among nations. From the time that the Jews rejected Christ, and he left their house desolate, the sword never departed from them. See what comes of refusing the gospel. Those who will not hear the messengers of peace, shall be made to hear the messengers of war. But where the heart is fixed, trusting in God, it is kept in peace, and is not afraid. It is against the mind of Christ, that his people should have troubled hearts, even in troublous times. When we looked forward to the eternity of misery that is before the obstinate refusers of Christ and his gospel, we may truly say, The greatest earthly judgments are but the beginning of sorrows. It is comforting that some shall endure even to the end. Our Lord foretells the preaching of the gospel in all the world. The end of the world shall not be till the gospel has done its work. Christ foretells the ruin coming upon the people of the Jews; and what he said here, would be of use to his disciples, for their conduct and for their comfort. If God opens a door of escape, we ought to make our escape, otherwise we do not trust God, but tempt him. It becomes Christ's disciples, in times of public trouble, to be much in prayer: that is never out of season, but in a special manner seasonable when we are distressed on every side. Though we must take what God sends, yet we may pray against sufferings; and it is very trying to a good man, to be taken by any work of necessity from the solemn service and worship of God on the sabbath day. But here is one word of comfort, that for the elect's sake these days shall be made shorter than their enemies designed, who would have cut all off, if God, who used these foes to serve his own purpose, had not set bounds to their wrath. Christ foretells the rapid spreading of the gospel in the world. It is plainly seen as the lightning. Christ preached his gospel openly. The Romans were like an eagle, and the ensign of their armies was an eagle. When a people, by their sin, make themselves as loathsome carcasses, nothing can be expected but that God should send enemies to destroy them. It is very applicable to the day of judgment, the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in that day, 2Th 2:1. Let us give diligence to make our calling and election sure; then may we know that no enemy or deceiver shall ever prevail against us.But pray ye ... - The destruction was certainly coming. It could not be prevented; yet it was right to pray for a mitigation of the circumstances, that it might be as mild as possible. So we know that calamity is before us; sickness, pain, bereavement, and death are in our path; yet, though we know that these things must come upon us, it is right to pray that they may come in as mild a manner as may be consistent with the will of God. We must die, but it is right to pray that the pains of our dying may be neither long nor severe.

In the winter - On account of the cold, storms, etc. To be turned then from home, and compelled to take up an abode in caverns, would be a double calamity.

Neither on the sabbath-day - Long journeys were prohibited by the law on the Sabbath, Exodus 16:29. The law of Moses did not mention the distance to which persons might go on the Sabbath, but most of the Jews maintained that it should not be more than 2000 cubits. Some supposed that it was 7 furlongs, or nearly a mile. This distance was allowed in order that they might go to their places of worship. Most of them held that it was not lawful to go further, under any circumstances of war or affliction. Jesus teaches his disciples to pray that their flight might not be on the Sabbath, because, if they should not go farther than a Sabbath-day's journey, they would not be beyond the reach of danger, and if they did, they would be exposed to the charge of violating the law. It should be added that it was almost impracticable to travel in Judea on that day, as the gates of the cities were usually closed, Nehemiah 13:19-22.

CHAPTER 24

Mt 24:1-51. Christ's Prophecy of the Destruction of Jerusalem, and Warnings Suggested by It to Prepare for His Second Coming. ( = Mr 13:1-37; Lu 21:5-36).

For the exposition, see on [1355]Mr 13:1-37.

Ver. 19,20. Mark saith nothing of the sabbath day, Mark 13:1-37. Luke hath not what Matthew hath, Matthew 24:20.

Woe to them in this text is only a phrase testifying our Saviour’s compassion on such, and indicative of the addition it would make to their misery, as it would retard their flight. Upon this account also, he bids them pray their flight might not be

in the winter, neither on the sabbath day. The winter would naturally retard their motion, through the cold and moisture of it. The sabbath would be a moral hinderance, in regard of the superstitious opinion they had of the sabbath, that they might not upon that day defend themselves, nor flee from their enemies beyond the length of a sabbath day’s journey, which was but two miles: our Saviour hints to them that their flight must be farther. When our Saviour spake this the Jewish sabbath was the day of holy rest, and he knew that although by his resurrection he should sanctify a new sabbath, yet the Jews would not for a time understand that the old sabbath was abolished. Here is therefore no establishment of the old sabbath to be observed after his resurrection; the praying that their flight might not be upon the sabbath day respected only either their remora to their flight which the sabbath would give them, (in case they should keep it as a holy rest), or the addition of trouble it would make in their spirits, when they considered that was the day in which they were wont to go to the house of prayer, keeping it a day of holy rest unto God. But pray ye that your flight be not in the winter,.... When days are short, and unfit for long journeys, and roads are bad, and sometimes not passable, through large snows, or floods of water; and when to dwell in desert places, and lodge in mountains, must be very uncomfortable: wherefore Christ directs to pray to God, who has the disposal of all events, and of the timing of them, that he would so order things in the course of his providence, that their flight might not be in such a season of the year, when travelling would be very difficult and troublesome. Dr. Lightfoot observes, from a Jewish writer (h), that it is remarked as a favour of God in the destruction of the first temple, that it happened in the summer, and not in winter; whose words are these:

"God vouchsafed a great favour to Israel, for they ought to have gone out of the land on the tenth day of the month Tebeth; as he saith Ezekiel 24:2 "son of man, write thee the name of the day, even of this same day": what then did the Lord, holy and blessed? If they shall now go out in the winter, (saith he,) they will all die; therefore he prolonged the time to them, and carried them away in summer.''

And since therefore they received such a favour from him at the destruction of the first temple, there was encouragement to pray to him, that they might be indulged with the like favour when Jerusalem should be besieged again:

neither on the sabbath day: the word "day" is not in the Greek text; and some (i) have been of opinion, that the "sabbatical year", or the seventh year, is meant, when no fruits would be found in the fields, and a great scarcity of provisions among people; who would not have a sufficiency, and much less any to spare to strangers fleeing from their native places; but rather the sabbath day, or "day of the sabbath", as the Persic version reads it, is designed; and Beza says, four of his copies read it in the genitive case: and so four of Stephens's. And the reason why our Lord put them on praying, that their flight might not be on the sabbath day, was, because he knew not only that the Jews, who believed not in him, would not suffer them to travel on a sabbath day more than two thousand cubits; which, according to their traditions (k), was a sabbath day's journey; and which would not be sufficient for their flight to put them out of danger; but also, that those that did believe in him, particularly the Jerusalem Jews, would be all of them fond of the law of Moses, and scrupulous of violating any part of it, and especially that of the sabbath; see Acts 21:20. And though the Jews did allow, that the sabbath might be violated where life was in danger, and that it was lawful to defend themselves against an enemy on the sabbath day; yet this did not universally obtain; and it was made a question of, after the time of Christ, whether it was lawful to flee from danger on the sabbath day; of which take the following account (l).

"Our Rabbins teach, that he that is pursued by Gentiles, or by thieves, may profane the sabbath for the sake of saving his life: and so we find of David, when Saul sought to slay him, he fled from him, and escaped. Our Rabbins say, that it happened that evil writings (or edicts) came from the government to the great men of Tzippore; and they went, and said to R. Eleazar ben Prata, evil edicts are come to us from the government, what dost thou say? "shall we flee?" and he was afraid to say to them "flee"; but he said to them with a nod, why do you ask me? go and ask Jacob, and Moses, and David; as it is written, of Jacob, Hosea 12:12 "and Jacob fled"; and so of Moses, Exodus 2:15 "and Moses fled"; and so of David, 1 Samuel 19:18 "and David fled, and escaped": and he (God) says, Isaiah 26:20 "come my people, enter into thy chambers".''

From whence, it is plain, it was a question with the doctors in Tzippore, which was a town in Galilee, where there was an university, whether it was lawful to flee on the sabbath day or not; and though the Rabbi they applied to was of opinion it was lawful, yet he was fearful of speaking out his sense plainly, and therefore delivered it by signs and hints. Now our Lord's meaning, in putting them on this petition, was, not to prevent the violation of the seventh day sabbath, or on account of the sacredness of it, which he knew would be abolished, and was abolished before this time; but he says this with respect to the opinion of the Jews, and "Judaizing" Christians, who, taking that day to be sacred, and fleeing on it unlawful, would find a difficulty with themselves, and others, to make their escape; otherwise it was as lawful to flee and travel on that day, as in the winter season; though both, for different reasons, incommodious.

(h) Taachuma, fol. 57. 2.((i) Vid. Reland. Antiq. Heb. par. 4. c. 10. sect. 1. & Hammond in loc. (k) Maimon. Hilch. Sabbat, c. 27. sect. 1.((l) Bemidbar Rabba, sect. 23. fol. 231. 4.

But pray ye that your flight be not in the winter, neither on the {h} sabbath day:

(h) It was not lawful to take a journey on the sabbath day; Josephus, book 13.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
Matthew 24:20. Ἵνα] Object of the command, and therefore its purport; Mark 14:35; Colossians 1:9.

μηδὲ σαββάτῳ] without ἐν, as in Matthew 12:1; Winer, p. 205 [E. T. 274]. On the Sabbath the rest and the solemnities enjoined by the law, as well as the short distance allowed for a Sabbath-day’s journey (2000 yards, according to Exodus 16:29; see Lightfoot on Luke 24:50; Acts 1:12; Schoettgen, p. 406), could not but interfere with the necessary haste, unless one were prepared in the circumstances to ignore all such enactments. Taken by themselves, the words μηδὲ σαββάτῳ seem, no doubt, to be inconsistent with Jesus’ own liberal views regarding the Sabbath (Matthew 12:1 ff.; John 5:17; John 7:22); but he is speaking from the standpoint of His disciples, such a standpoint as they occupied at the time He addressed them, and which was destined to be outgrown only in the course of a later development of ideas (Romans 14:5; Colossians 2:6). As in the case of χειμῶνος, what is here said is simply with a view to everything being avoided calculated to interfere with their hasty flight. Comp. Matthew 10:23.Matthew 24:20. προσεύχεσθε, etc. (ἵνα μὴ with subjunctive instead of infinitive as often in N. T. after verbs of exhorting, etc.), pray that your flight be not in winter (χειμῶνος, gen. time in wh.) or on the Sabbath (σαββάτῷ, dat., pt. of time). The Sabbatarianism of this sentence is a sure sign that it was not uttered by Jesus, but emanated from a Jewish source, say many, e.g., Weizsäcker (Untersuchungen, p. 124), Weiffenbach (Wiederkunftsgedanke, i., p. 103) approving. But Jesus could feel even for Sabbatarians, if they were honest, as for those who, like John’s disciples, fasted.20. not in the winter] when swollen streams, bitter cold and long nights would increase the misery and danger of the fugitives.

on the sabbath day] when religious scruples might delay the flight. The extent of a Sabbath day’s journey was 2000 cubits. Here, however, the question meets us, how far Jewish observances would affect the Christians. Probably the early Christians observed both the Sabbath and the Lord’s day. But in any case many impediments would arise against flight on the Sabbath day. St Matthew alone records these words of warning.Matthew 24:20. Προσεύχεσθε, pray ye) Many things are rendered less grievous in answer to the prayers of the righteous. They did pray, and their flight did not take place in the winter.—χειμῶνος, winter, or cold and tempestuous weather) Not merely the time of the year, but the state of the weather, seems to be intended by this word; see ch. Matthew 16:3.[1046] The event certainly occurred in spring; cf. Matthew 24:18 concerning the field.—Σαββάτῳ, on the Sabbath day) Not because it would have been unlawful to flee or carry burdens on the Sabbath day, especially for Christians, but because it is peculiarly miserable on that day, which is given to joy, to break off the rites of religious worship and flee, and because, being less prepared for flight, each hinders the other in attempting it by crowding the doors of synagogues or the gates of cities much more than when they are in the country or in private houses. Ptolemy Lagus, according to Josephus, took Jerusalem by surprise on the Sabbath day: Ant. xii. 1. In fine, punishments which happened to the Jews on the Sabbath day were more grievous than others: see Hainlin Chronol. Explan. fol. 19, 20. Their enemies also were more truculent on that day than on any other, from hatred of the Sabbath. At the time when sin is at its height, punishment arrives; cf. Hosea 4:7. The observance of the Sabbath did not wholly expire before the destruction of the temple.

[1046] Where the word χειμὼν is rendered in E. V. foul weather. This signification is frequent in classical authors.

The Portuguese word inverno has the same double force.—(I. B.)Verse 20. - Pray ye that, etc. (προσεύχεσθε ἵνα). He bids them pray to and worship God, in order that he may give them a favourable time for flight. The clause introduced with the final particle does not directly denote the subject of the petition, as our version gives the impression, but rather the aim of the petitioners (Morison). Not in the winter. He spake of personal hindrances in the last verse; here he speaks of external circumstances over which man has no control, except by prayer. The weather in winter, which means the rainy season, might render the roads impassable, and would, of course, prevent any hope of obtaining food by the wayside from cornfield or fruit tree. The sabbath day, which precluded any work or the use of beast of burden, and restricted a journey to something less than a mile. We must remember that until the final catastrophe the Christians observed such Mosaic restrictions (see Exodus 16:29; Acts 1:12). A flight for such a short distance would have been of no avail under the imperious circumstances which rendered escape advisable.
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