Matthew 4:16
The people which sat in darkness saw great light; and to them which sat in the region and shadow of death light is sprung up.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
Matthew 4:16. The people who sat in darkness — They whose predecessors were afflicted by the Assyrians, and who, before Christ visited them, were captives of Satan, and had lived in gross ignorance of God and religion, being far from Jerusalem, the place of worship, and intermixed with the Tyrians, Sidonians, and other wicked heathen: saw a great light — This is spoken by Isaiah in the prophetic style, which represents things future as already accomplished, because certainly to be accomplished. This whole country had been overspread with spiritual darkness, but, by the example and preaching of Christ, the day-spring from on high visited it, diffusing among its inhabitants knowledge and holiness, and guiding their feet into the way of peace. “There were several reasons,” says Dr. Macknight, “which might determine Jesus to be so much about the sea of Galilee. 1st, The countries which surrounded this sea were large, fertile, and populous, especially the two Galilees. For, according to Josephus, Bell., Matthew 3:2, they alone had many towns, and a multitude of villages, the least of which contained above 15,000 souls. On the east side of the lake were Chorazin, Gadara, and Hippon; on the west, Capernaum, Tiberias, Bethsaida, and Tarrichea, with other places of inferior note. Wherefore, as it was agreeable to the end of Christ’s coming that his doctrine should be spread extensively, and his miracles wrought publicly, no country could be a fitter scene for his ministry than this. Besides its numerous inhabitants, there were at all times many strangers resorting to the trading towns on the lake, who, after hearing Jesus preach, could carry home with them the glad tidings of salvation which were the subjects of his sermons. Capernaum, chosen by Christ as the place of his residence, was a town of this kind, and much frequented. 2d, The countries round the lake were remote from Jerusalem, the seat of the scribes and Pharisees, who would not have borne with patience the presence of a teacher held in such estimation as Jesus deservedly was. We know this by what happened in the beginning of his ministry, when he made and baptized many disciples in Judea. They took such offence at it, that he was obliged to leave the country. Wherefore, as it was necessary that he should spend a considerable time in preaching and working miracles, both for the confirmation of his mission, and for the instruction of his disciples in the doctrines they were afterward to preach, these countries were, of all others, the most proper for him to reside in, or rather, they were the only places where he could be with safety for any time.”4:12-17 It is just with God to take the gospel and the means of grace, from those that slight them and thrust them away. Christ will not stay long where he is not welcome. Those who are without Christ, are in the dark. They were sitting in this condition, a contented posture; they chose it rather than light; they were willingly ignorant. When the gospel comes, light comes; when it comes to any place, when it comes to any soul, it makes day there. Light discovers and directs; so does the gospel. The doctrine of repentance is right gospel doctrine. Not only the austere John Baptist, but the gracious Jesus, preached repentance. There is still the same reason to do so. The kingdom of heaven was not reckoned to be fully come, till the pouring out of the Holy Spirit after Christ's ascension.The people which sat in darkness - This is an expression denoting great ignorance.

As in darkness or night we can see nothing, and know not where to go, so those who are ignorant of God and their duty are said to be in darkness. The instruction which removes this ignorance is called light. See John 3:19; 1 Peter 2:9; 1 John 1:5; 1 John 2:8. As ignorance is often connected with crime and vice, so darkness is sometimes used to denote sin, 1 Thessalonians 5:5; Ephesians 5:11; Luke 22:53.

Saw great light - That is, as the passage is employed by Matthew, the light under the Messiah would spring up among them. In that region he grew up, and in that region he preached a great part of his discourses and performed a great part of his miracles.

The region and shadow of death - This is a forcible and beautiful image, designed also to denote ignorance and sin. It is often used in the Bible, and is very expressive. A "shadow" is caused by an object coming between us and the sun. So the Hebrews imaged death as standing between us and the sun, and casting a long, dark, and baleful shadow abroad on the face of the nations, denoting their great ignorance, sin, and woe.. It denotes a dismal, gloomy, and dreadful shade, where death and sin reign, like the chills, damps, and horrors of the dwelling-place of the dead. See Job 10:21; Job 16:16; Job 34:22; Psalm 23:4; Jeremiah 2:6. See also the notes at Isaiah 9:2. These expressions denote that the country of Galilee was especially dark. We know that the people were proverbially ignorant and stupid. They were distinguished for a coarse, outlandish manner of speech Mark 14:70, and are represented as having been also distinguished by a general profligacy of morals and manners. It shows the great compassion of the Saviour, that he went to preach to such poor and despised sinners. Instead of seeking the rich and the learned, he chose to minister to the needy, the ignorant, and the contemned. His office is to enlighten the ignorant; his delight to guide the wandering, and to raise up those that are in the shadow of death. In doing this, Jesus set an example for all his followers. It is their duty to seek out those who are sitting in the shadow of death, and to send the gospel to them. No small part of the world is still lying in wickedness - as wicked and wretched as was the land of Zabulon and Naphthali in the time of Jesus. The Lord Jesus is able to enlighten them also, and every Christian should regard it a privilege, as well as a duty, to imitate his Saviour in this, and to be permitted to send to them the light of life. See Matthew 28:19.

16. The people which sat in darkness saw great light; and to them which sat in the region and shadow of death light is sprung up—The prophetic strain to which these words belong commences with the seventh chapter of Isaiah, to which the sixth chapter is introductory, and goes down to the end of the twelfth chapter, which hymns the spirit of that whole strain of prophecy. It belongs to the reign of Ahaz and turns upon the combined efforts of the two neighboring kingdoms of Syria and Israel to crush Judah. In these critical circumstances Judah and her king were, by their ungodliness, provoking the Lord to sell them into the hands of their enemies. What, then, is the burden of this prophetic strain, on to the passage here quoted? First, Judah shall not, cannot perish, because Immanuel, the Virgin's Son, is to come forth from his loins. Next, one of the invaders shall soon perish, and the kingdoms of neither be enlarged. Further, while the Lord will be the Sanctuary of such as confide in these promises and await their fulfilment, He will drive to confusion, darkness, and despair the vast multitude of the nation who despised His oracles, and, in their anxiety and distress, betook themselves to the lying oracles of the heathen. This carries us down to the end of the eighth chapter. At the opening of the ninth chapter a sudden light is seen breaking in upon one particular part of the country, the part which was to suffer most in these wars and devastations—"the land of Zebulun, and the land of Naphtali, the way of the sea, beyond Jordan, Galilee and the Gentiles." The rest of the prophecy stretches over both the Assyrian and the Chaldean captivities and terminates in the glorious Messianic prophecy of the eleventh chapter and the choral hymn of the twelfth chapter. Well, this is the point seized on by our Evangelist. By Messiah's taking up His abode in those very regions of Galilee, and shedding His glorious light upon them, this prediction, He says, of the Evangelical prophet was now fulfilled; and if it was not thus fulfilled, we may confidently affirm it was not fulfilled in any age of the Jewish ceremony, and has received no fulfilment at all. Even the most rationalistic critics have difficulty in explaining it in any other way.Ver. 14-16. The text in Isaiah 9:1,2, where the words are, Nevertheless the dimness shall not be such as was in her vexation, when at the first he lightly afflicted the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, and afterward did more grievously afflict her by the way of the sea, beyond Jordan, in Galilee of the nations. The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined. The Jews make a great many objections against the application of this text unto Christ, as indeed they do against the application of all texts cited out of the Old Testament by the evangelists. Christians, believing that the evangelists being holy men, who wrote not from a private spirit private interpretations, have not any reason to regard what their interest leadeth them to object: but even Christian interpreters are divided in their sentiments whether these words are said to be fulfilled, in this motion of Christ unto Galilee, in a literal, or typical, or a more improper and analogical sense; nor is it any great matter with which of them we agree. For my own part, I see no reason why Isaiah 9:2 should not be literally understood of and applied unto Christ. There is nothing more ordinary in the prophets, than, after a threatening of judgment and captivity unto the people, to comfort such as feared God amongst them with promises of the Messiah, and the spiritual salvation which was to be brought in. The land of Zebulun and Naphtali suffered much by Benhadad, 1 Kings 15:20, and more by Tiglath-pileser, 2 Kings 15:29, before the general captivity of the ten tribes, 2 Kings 17:6. The Lord by the prophet, Isaiah 8:1-22, had been threatening this general captivity; possibly the prophet might say the affliction of those parts should not be so great as the second mentioned, 2 Kings 15:29; because by the story it seems they were generally carried into captivity before the more general destruction of the other tribes there. Saith he, This darkness shall be abundantly hereafter compensated, by the coming of the Messiah, and preaching amongst this people; who living at a great distance from Jerusalem, never had such a light as some other parts of Judea, and first drank of the cup of God’s wrath in their captivity. It was called

Galilee of the Gentiles, because it was near to the men of Tyre, who were Gentiles, and had doubtless in it a greater mixture of Gentiles than any other part of Canaan, ever since Solomon gave Hiram twenty cities in this Galilee, 1 Kings 9:11. The people which sat in darkness,.... The inhabitants of Galilee, who sat or "walked", as in Isaiah; that is, continued in spiritual darkness, in ignorance, blindness, error, and infidelity, "saw great light"; Christ himself, who came a light into the world; he conversed with them, preached unto them, and opened the eyes of their understandings to behold his glory, and to know him, and salvation by him.

And to them which sat in the region and shadow of death: the same persons who sit in darkness, sit also in the region of death; for such are dead in trespasses and sins: where there is no spiritual light, there is no spiritual life, and such are in danger of the second death; but the happiness of these people was, that to them "light is sprung up", like the rising sun, and this without their asking or seeking for: Christ, the sun of righteousness, arose upon them, without any desert, desire, or expectation of theirs, with healing in his wings; and cured them of their darkness and deadness, turned them from darkness to light, and caused them to pass from death to life. "Light" is not only a character under which Christ frequently goes in the New Testament, see John 1:4 but is one of the names by which the Messiah was known under the Old Testament; see Daniel 2:22 and which the Jews give unto him: says R, Aba (a) Serungia, "and the light dwelleth with him"; this is the king Messiah. The note of R. Sol. Jarchi on these words, "send forth thy light", is, the king Messiah; who is compared to light, according to Psalm 132:17 the days of the Messiah are by them said to (b) be "days of light"; and so these Galilaeans found them to be; as all do, to whom the Gospel of Christ comes with power and demonstration of the Spirit. And these days of light first begun in the land of Zabulon which, according to Philo the Jew (c), was

"sumbolon fwtov, "a symbol of light"; since (adds he) its name signifies the nature of night; but, the night removing, and departing, light necessarily arises.''

As did, in a spiritual sense, here, when Christ the light arose.

(a) Bereshith Rabba, fol. 1. 3. & Echa Rabbati, fol. 50. 2.((b) Baal Hatturim in Gen. fol. 2. 2. (c) De Somniis, p. 1113.

The people which sat in darkness saw great light; and to them which sat in the region and shadow of death light is sprung up.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
Matthew 4:16. Ὁ λαὸς ὁ καθήμενος, κ.τ.λ.] In opposition to Γαλιλαία τῶν ἐθνῶν, whose inhabitants are characterized as darkened, that is, devoid of divine truth, and sunk in ignorance and sin. The great light, however, which these darkened ones saw is Jesus.

καὶ τοῖς καθημένοις, κ.τ.λ.] repeats the same thought, with the climactic designation of darkness: ἐν χώρᾳ κ. σκιᾷ θανάτου, in the land and darkness, which belong to death. Death, that is, spiritual death (Matthew 8:22, see on Luke 15:24), the negation of that living activity which recognises the truth and is morally determined, is personified; the land, whose inhabitants are spiritually dead, belongs to it as the realm of its government, and darkness surrounds it. The common interpretation of it as ἓν διὰ δυοῖν: “in regione et in spissis quidem tenebris = in regione spissis tenebris obducta” (Fritzsche), is, indeed, admissible (see Fritzsche, Exc. IV. p. 856; Nägelsbach on Hom. Il. iii. 100), but unnecessary, and takes away from the poetic description, which is certainly stronger and more vivid if θανάτου is connected not merely with σκιᾷ (צַלְמָוֶת, infernalis obscuritas, i.e. crassissima), but also with χώρᾳ. On the significant καθήμενος, comp. Lam. l.c. Pind. Ol. i. 133: ἐν σκότῳ καθήμενος. “Sedendi verbum aptum notandae solitudini inerti” (Bengel). Comp. especially, Jacobs, ad Anthol. VI. p. 397; Bremi, ad Dem. Phil. I. p. 119. Nägelsbach on Hom. Il. i. 134.

αὐτοῖς] see Winer, p. 139 f. [E. T. 265]; Buttmann, p. 125 [E. T. 381].Matthew 4:16. ἐν σκοτίᾳ: the darkness referred to, in the view of the evangelist, is possibly that caused by the imprisonment of the Baptist (Fritzsche). The consolation comes in the form of a greater light, φῶς μέγα, great, even the greatest. The thought is emphasised by repetition and by enhanced description of the benighted situation of those on whom the light arises: “in the very home and shadow of death”; highly graphic and poetic, not applicable, however, to the land of Galilee more than to other parts of the land; descriptive of misery rather than of sin.16. the people which sat in darkness] The invasion of Tiglathpileser, whom Ahaz called in to assist him against Rezin and Pekah, fell with great severity on the Northern tribes (2 Kings 15:29). Yet even they are promised a great deliverance [“there shall not hereafter be darkness in the land that was distressed,” Isaiah 9:1], in the first instance, by the destruction of Sennacherib, from temporal distress (cp. Is. chs. 10 and 11 with ch. Matthew 9:1-6); secondly, by the advent of the Messiah, from spiritual darkness.Matthew 4:16. Ὁ πορευόμενος, that walketh) There is here a threefold ascending climax.[153]

[153] i.e. The three experssions used in the latter clause of this sentence are respectively stronger than those used in the former clause.—(I. B)

First Clause.

Second Clause.

The people that Walketh

And on those sitting

In Darkness

In the Region and Shadow of Death,

Hath seen a Great Light.

A Light hath arisen.

It is worse to sit, detained, in darkness, than to walk in it.[154]—εἶδε, hath seenφῶς, a Light[155]) No one is saved except he be illuminated [by that Light]. See Acts 13:47.—καὶ τοῖς κυθημένοις, κ.τ.λ., and to those sitting, etc.) The LXX. in Psalms 107(106):10, have καθημένους ἐν σκότει καὶ σκιᾷ θανάτου, sitting in darkness and the shadow of death. The verb to sit aptly denotes a sluggish solitude.—χώρᾳ καὶ σκιᾷ, region and shadow) one thing expressed by two words.[156] The natural situation of the country was low, and such was also its spiritual condition.—ἈΝΈΤΕΙΛΕΝ ΑὐΤΟῖς, hath risen upon them) In the original Hebrew it is נגה, shines, upon them. This increased force of expression corresponds with the epithet μέγα, great, in the preceding clause.

[154] Unfortunately for this remark, there is no very ancient authority for πορευόμενος. All the oldest MSS. and versions, Vulg., etc., read καθήμενος. Lachm. and Tischend. do not even notice the former reading.—ED.

[155] “Which illumines the whole world.”—B. G. V.

[156] In the original, ἕν διὰ δυοῖν. See Explanation of Technical Terms.—(I. B.)Verse 16. - The people which sat; "who walk" (Hebrew). Saw great light; saw a great light (Revised Version); unnecessarily except as a matter of English, for it can hardly mean a definite light, Messiah. Φῶς both here and in the next clause means light as such. And to them which sat. So the Hebrew, but the LXX. generally οἱ κατοικοῦντες. In the region and shadow of death. The region where death abides, and where it casts its thickest shade. The Hebrew is simply "in the land of the shadow of death" (בארצ צלמות, according to the traditional interpretation), which the present LXX. (Vatican) probably represents (ἐν χώρᾳ σκιᾷ θανάτου) , the ς of σκιᾶς having been misread before θ. But copyists, not understanding this, inserted καὶ between χώρᾳ and σκιᾷ (as in A), and this reading became popularly known, and was used by the evangelist. That the reading of A was derived from the evangelist is unlikely, for the reading σκιᾷ must, at all events, have been before his time. Light is sprung up; to them, did light spring up (Revised Version); ἀνέτειλεν. The tense emphasizes not the abiding effect (e.g. in the fact that so many of the disciples were Galilaeans), but the moment of his appearance. The father of the Baptist also remembered this passage of Isaiah (Luke 1:78, 79, where cf. Godet). The people which sat (ὁ καθήμενος)

Wyc., dwelt. The article with the participle (lit., the people, the one sitting) signifying something characteristic or habitual' the people whose characteristic it was to sit in darkness. This thought is emphasized by repetition in a stronger form; sitting in the region and shadow of Death. Death is personified. This land, whose inhabitants are spiritually dead, belongs to Death as the realm of his government.

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