Matthew 5:14
You are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(14) The light of the world.—In its highest or truest sense the word belongs to Christ, and to Him only (John 1:9; John 8:12). The comparison to the “candle” or “lamp” in Matthew 5:15 shows, indeed, that even here the disciples are spoken of as shining in the world with a derived brightness flowing to them from the Fount of light.

A city that is set on an hill.—Assuming the Sermon on the Mount to have been preached from one of the hills of Galilee near the “horns of Hattin,” our Lord may have looked or pointed at Safed, 2,650 feet above the sea, commanding one of the grandest panoramic views in Palestine. It is now one of the four holy cities of the Jews, and probably existed as a fortress in our Lord’s time (Thomson’s The Land and the Book, p. 273). The imagery might, however, come from the prophetic visions of the Zion of the future, idealising the position of the actual Zion (Isaiah 2:2; Micah 4:1). No image could so vividly set forth the calling of the Church of Christ as a visible society. For good or for evil, it could not fail to be prominent in the world’s history, a city of refuge for the weary, or open to the attacks of the invader.

Matthew 5:14-15. Ye are the light of the world — The effect of light being to make things manifest, Ephesians 5:13, and to direct us in the way in which we are to walk; the import of this metaphor is, that Christ had appointed his disciples in general, and his apostles and the other ministers of his gospel in particular, to enlighten and reform the world, immersed in ignorance, sin, and misery, by their doctrine and example; and so to direct their feet into the way leading to life and salvation. Christ, it must be observed, is in the highest sense the light of the world; the original light, the great light, who, like the sun, hath light in and from himself; but the ministers of his gospel are, in an inferior sense, lights of the world also, for the angels of the churches are said to be stars, Revelation 1:20; and holy persons are children of the light, 1 Thessalonians 5:5. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid — As if he had said, If you do not hide this light from mankind, but cause it to shine forth in your doctrine and practice, it will be so clear and resplendent as not possibly to be hid, any more than a city set on a hill. The Church of Christ is often called the city of God, and it must be here observed, that his people are not here merely compared to a city, but to a city upon a hill; so that all our Saviour has in view in mentioning a city here, is the conspicuousness of one so built. It is as much as if our Saviour had said, You had need be wise and holy, for your conversation can no more be hid than a city that is built upon a hill, and is obvious to every eye. Neither do men light a candle — Or lamp rather, as λυχνον, signifies. Indeed, candles were not used at that time in Judea for lighting their houses; consequently, the word λυχνια, here and elsewhere in the New Testament, translated candlestick, means a lamp stand. The purport of this verse is, you, my apostles and disciples, ought to consider for what end I have communicated my light to you. It may be illustrated by that which men have in view when they light up a lamp in a room, which is, to give light to all those who are in it; for as they do not use to light it up that they may then hide it under a vessel, so I have not communicated my truth or my grace unto you merely for your own use, but for that of others. The word μοδιον, should be here rendered, not a bushel, but a corn-measure, for they had no such measure as a bushel. Indeed, the measure mentioned by the evangelist is so far from answering to our bushel, that it was as little as our peck. It is true, indeed, that as nothing here depends on the size of the measure, any measure of capacity might well enough suit the evangelist’s observation; yet a translator, as Dr. Campbell observes, ought not, even indirectly, to misrepresent the customs of the people he speaks of, or alludes to. Observe, reader, what our Lord says of John, He was a burning and shining light, is applicable both to every true minister of Christ, and to every true Christian: every such a one is not only a burning light, a person burning with love to God, and zeal for his glory, and love to mankind, and zeal for their salvation; but also a shining light, communicating his light to others, both by instruction and a holy conversation.5:13-16 Ye are the salt of the earth. Mankind, lying in ignorance and wickedness, were as a vast heap, ready to putrify; but Christ sent forth his disciples, by their lives and doctrines to season it with knowledge and grace. If they are not such as they should be, they are as salt that has lost its savour. If a man can take up the profession of Christ, and yet remain graceless, no other doctrine, no other means, can make him profitable. Our light must shine, by doing such good works as men may see. What is between God and our souls, must be kept to ourselves; but that which is of itself open to the sight of men, we must study to make suitable to our profession, and praiseworthy. We must aim at the glory of God.The light of the world - The light of the world often denotes the sun, John 11:9. The sun renders objects visible, shows their form, their nature, their beauties, their deformities. The term light is often applied to religious teachers. See Matthew 4:16; Luke 2:32; John 1:4; John 8:12; Isaiah 49:6. It is pre-eminently applied to Jesus in these places, because he is, in the moral world, what the sun is in the natural world. The apostles, Christian ministers, and all Christians, are lights of the world, because they, by their instructions and example, show what God requires, what is the condition of man, what is the way of duty, peace, and happiness the way that leads to heaven.

A city that is set on a hill ... - Many of the cities of Judea were placed on the summits or sides of mountains, and could be seen from afar. Perhaps Jesus pointed to such a city, and told his disciples that they were like it. Their actions could not be hid. The eyes of the world were upon them. They must be seen; and as this was the case, they ought to be holy, harmless, and undefiled.

Maundrell, Jowett, and others suppose that the Sermon on the Mount was delivered in the vicinity of the present city of Safed, or "the Horns of Huttin" (see the notes at Matthew 5:1), and that this city may have been in his eye, and may have been directly referred to by the Saviour when he uttered this sentiment. It would give additional force and beauty to the passage to suppose that he pointed to the city. Of this Dr. Thomson (The Land and the Book, vol. i. pp. 420, 421) says, "The shape of the hill is a well-described oval, and the wall corresponds to it. The bottom of the outer ditch is now a very flourishing vineyard, and the entire circuit is not far from half a mile. The wall is mostly modern, but built on one more ancient, portions of which can be seen on the east side. The interior summit rises about a hundred feet higher than this wall, and was a separate castle, strongly defended. Here are beveled stones, as heavy, and as aged in appearance, as those of the most celebrated ruins in the country; and they prove that this has been a place of importance from a remote age. These ancient parts of the castle render it all but certain that there was then a city or citadel on this most conspicuous 'hill' top; and our Lord might well point to it to illustrate and confirm his precept. The present Hebrew name is Zephath, and may either refer to its elevation like a watchtower, or to the beauty and grandeur of the surrounding prospects. Certainly they are quite sufficient to suggest the name. There lies Gennesaret, like a mirror set in framework of dark mountains and many-faced hills. Beyond is the vast plateau of the Hauran, faintly shading with its rocky ranges the utmost horizon eastward. Thence the eye sweeps over Gilead and Bashan, Samaria and Carmel, the plains of Galilee, the coasts of Phoenicia, the hills of Naphtali, the long line of Lebanon, and the lofty head of Hermen - a vast panorama, embracing a thousand points of historic and sacred interest."

14. Ye are the light of the world—This being the distinctive title which our Lord appropriates to Himself (Joh 8:12; 9:5; and see Joh 1:4, 9; 3:19; 12:35, 36)—a title expressly said to be unsuitable even to the highest of all the prophets (Joh 1:8)—it must be applied here by our Lord to His disciples only as they shine with His light upon the world, in virtue of His Spirit dwelling in them, and the same mind being in them which was also in Christ Jesus. Nor are Christians anywhere else so called. Nay, as if to avoid the august title which the Master has appropriated to Himself, Christians are said to "shine"—not as "lights," as our translators render it, but—"as luminaries in the world" (Php 2:15); and the Baptist is said to have been "the burning and shining"—not "light," as in our translation, but "lamp" of his day (Joh 5:35). Let it be observed, too, that while the two figures of salt and sunlight both express the same function of Christians—their blessed influence on their fellow men—they each set this forth under a different aspect. Salt operates internally, in the mass with which it comes in contact; the sunlight operates externally, irradiating all that it reaches. Hence Christians are warily styled "the salt of the earth"—with reference to the masses of mankind with whom they are expected to mix; but "the light of the world"—with reference to the vast and variegated surface which feels its fructifying and gladdening radiance. The same distinction is observable in the second pair of those seven parables which our Lord spoke from the Galilean Lake—that of the "mustard seed," which grew to be a great overshadowing tree, answering to the sunlight which invests the world, and that of the "leaven," which a woman took and, like the salt, hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened (Mt 13:31-33).

A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid—nor can it be supposed to have been so built except to be seen by many eyes.

You that are to be my apostles are so eminently, but all you that are my disciples are so also. Christ is the Light of the world John 1:4,9; but though the sun be the light of the world, yet it doth not follow that the moon and the stars also are not so: he is the original Light, the great Light who hath light from and in himself. The ministers of the gospel are the lights of the world also; the angels of churches are stars, Revelation 1:20, and holy persons are children of light, 1 Thessalonians 5:5.

A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. The church is often called the city of God. Christ compares his people here not to a city, but to a city upon a hill; so that all for which our Saviour mentions a city here, is the conspicuity of a city so built. It is as much as if our Saviour should have said, You had need be holy, for your conversation cannot be hid, any more than a city can that is built upon a hill, which is obvious to every eye. All men’s eyes will be upon you. Ye are the light of the world,.... What the luminaries, the sun and moon, are in the heavens, with respect to corporal light, that the apostles were in the world with regard to spiritual light; carrying and spreading the light of the Gospel not only in Judea, but all over the world, which was in great darkness of ignorance and error; and through a divine blessing attending their ministry, many were turned from the darkness of Judaism and Gentilism, of sin and infidelity, to the marvellous light of divine grace. The Jews were wont to say, that of the Israelites in general, and particularly of their sanhedrim, and of their learned doctors, what Christ more truly applies here to his apostles; they observe (l), that

"on the fourth day it was said, "let there be light": which was done with respect to the Israelites, because they are they , "which give light to the world", as it is written, Daniel 12:3'

And in another place (m), say they,

"how beautiful are the great ones of the congregation, and the wise men, who sit in the sanhedrim! for they are they , "that enlighten the world", the people of the house of Israel.''

So. R. Meir, R. Akiba his disciple, and R. Judah the prince, are each of them called (n) , "the light of the world"; as R. Jochanan ben Zaccai is by his disciples, , "the lamp of the world" (o): and it was usual for the head of a school, or of an university to be styled (p) , "the light of the world"; but this title much better agrees and suits with the persons Christ gives it to, who, no question, had a view to those exalted characters the Jews gave to their celebrated Rabbins. A city that

is set on an hill cannot be hid; alluding either to Nazareth, where he was educated, and had lately preached, which was built on an hill, from the brow of which the inhabitants sought to have cast him headlong, Luke 4:29 or to Capernaum, which, on account of its height, is said to be

exalted unto heaven, Matthew 11:23 or to the city of Jerusalem, which was situated on a very considerable eminence. The land of Israel, the Jews say (q), was higher than all other lands; and the temple at Jerusalem was higher than any other part of the land of Israel. And as a city cannot be hid which is built on a high place, so neither could, nor ought the doctrines which the apostles were commissioned to preach, be hid, or concealed from men: they were not to shun to declare the whole counsel of God, nor study to avoid the reproaches and persecutions of men; for they were to be "made a spectacle"; to be set as in a public theatre, to be seen by "the world, angels, and men".

(l) Tzeror Hammor, fol. 1. 3. (m) Targum in Cant. iv. 1.((n) Juchasin, fol. 63. 2.((o) Abot R. Nathan, c. 25. fol. 6. 3.((p) Juchasin. fol. 121. 1.((q) T. Bab. Kiddushin, fol. 69. 1. Sanhedrim, fol. 87. 1. Zebachim, fol. 54. 2.

Ye are the {f} light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid.

(f) You shine and give light by being made partakers of the true light.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
Matthew 5:14. Τὸ φῶς τοῦ κόσμου] As the natural light illumines the world, which in itself is dark, so are ye intended to spiritually enlighten humanity. Christ is principaliter the Light (John 1:4; John 9:8; John 9:12, al.); the disciples mediate (Ephesians 3:9), as the mediators of His divine truth to men; and all Christians in general are, as those who are enlightened, also, on their part, bringers of light, and light in the Lord (Php 2:15; Ephesians 5:8).

οὐ δύναται πόλις, κ.τ.λ.] If you would desire timidly to withdraw into concealment (comp. Matthew 5:11; Matthew 5:13), then that would be conduct as opposed to the purpose for which you are destined as if a town set on a hill should wish to be concealed, or if one were to place (Matthew 5:15) a light under a bushel.

No definite town is intended; Saphet has been conjectured; see, on the other hand, Robinson, Pal. III. p. 587. We are not to think of Jerusalem (whose destination the disciples are, in the opinion, of Weizsäcker, to realize, p. 336). It is just any city in general situated upon a hill.Matthew 5:14. μωρανθῇ. The Vulgate renders the verb evanuerit. Better Beza and Erasmus, infatuatus fuerit. If the salt become insipid, so as to lack its proper preserving virtue—can this happen? Weiss and others reply: It does not matter for the point of the comparison. Perhaps not, but it does matter for the felicity of the metaphor, which is much more strikingly apt if degeneracy can happen in the natural as well as in the spiritual sphere. Long ago Maundrell maintained that it could, and modern travellers confirm his statement. Furrer says: “As it was observed by Maundrell 200 years ago so it has often been observed in our time that salt loses somewhat of its sharpness in the storehouses of Syria and Palestine. Gathered in a state of impurity, it undergoes with other substances a chemical process, by which it becomes really another sort of stuff, while retaining its old appearance” (Ztscht. für M. und R., 1890). A similar statement is made by Thomson (Land and Book, p. 381). There is no room for doubt as to whether the case supposed can happen in the spiritual sphere. The “salt of the earth” can become not only partially but wholly, hopelessly insipid, losing the qualities which constitute its conservative power as set forth in the Beatitudes and in other parts of Christ’s teaching (e.g., Matthew 18). Erasmus gives a realistic description of the causes of degeneracy in these words: “Si vestri mores fuerint amore laudis, cupiditate pecuniarum, studio voluptatum, libidine vindicandi, metu infamiae damnorum aut mortis infatuati,” etc. (Paraph. in Evan. Matt.).—ἐν τίνι ἁλις: not, with what shall the so necessary salting process be done? but, with what shall the insipid salt be salted? The meaning is that the lost property is irrecoverable. A stern statement, reminding us of Hebrews 6:6, but true to the fact in the spiritual sphere. Nothing so hopeless as apostate discipleship with a bright past behind it to which it has become dead—begun in the spirit, ending in the flesh.—εἰς οὐδὲν, useless for salting, good for nothing else any more (ἔτι).—εἰ μὴ βληθὲν, etc. This is a kind of humorous afterthought: except indeed, cast out as refuse, to be trodden under foot of man, i.e., to make footpaths of. The reading βληθὲν is much to be preferred to βληθῆναι, as giving prominence to καταπατεῖσθαι as the main verb, pointing to a kind of use to which insipid salt can after all be put. But what a downcome: from being saviours of society to supplying materials for footpaths!14. the light of the world] See John 8:12, where Jesus says of Himself “I am the light of the world.” Cp. Php 2:15, “Ye shine as lights (rather ‘luminaries’) in the world.”

a city that is set on a hill …] Stanley remarks (S. and P. 337) that in Northern Palestine “the plain and mountain-sides are dotted with villages … situated for the most part (not like those of Judæa, on hilltops, or Samaria, in deep valleys, but) as in Philistia, on the slopes of the ranges which intersect or bound the plain.” The image in the text therefore recalls Judæa rather than Galilee, Bethlehem rather than Nazareth. Some however have conjectured that the lofty Safed was in sight, and was pointed to by our Lord. Land and Book, 273.Matthew 5:14. [180]Ὄρους, a mountain) Appositely, cf. ver 1. Concerning the thing itself, see Revelation 21:10.

[180] By the words οὐ δύναται, it is implied that there is no need of a constrained feigning to be what we are not; so also, a light or lamp, provided it is not stifled, cannot but shine.—Vers. Germ.Verse 14. - Matthew only. Ye are the light of the world. After speaking of the moral tone that the disciples were to give to the world, in contrast to sin in its corrupting power, Christ refers to them as enlightening, in contrast to sin as darkness and ignorance. Our Lord further naturally exchanges the term "the earth" (which from its strong materialism had suited the figure of the salt) for "the world" - a phrase which must, indeed, as regards the disciples, be limited to this earth, but as regards the light, need not be limited to less than the solar system. In other words, the simple reason why he exchanges "earth" for "world" is that they are respectively the best suited to the figure employed. Notice that Christ never applies the former figure, of salt, to himself; but the latter, of light, once or twice, especially John 8:12, where, since he is speaking of himself, and not of others, he adds the thought of life being connected with light, a city, etc.; literally, a city cannot be hid when set on a mountain. It seems at first slightly awkward to introduce the figure of a city between those of the sun and the lamp, both these having to do with light. The reason is that the city is not considered as such, but only as an object which can be teen, and which cannot (οὐ δύναται, emphatic) from its physical conditions avoid being seen. There is a true gradation in the thought of influence. The sun must be seen by all; the city, by the whole neighbourhood; the lamp, by the family. Our Lord comes from the general to the particular; from what is almost theory, at best a matter of hope and faith, to hard fact and practice. The influence you are to have - if it is to be for the whole world, as indeed it is, must be felt in the neighbourhood in which you live, and a fortiori in the immediate circle of your own home. Conjectures have been made whether any one city can reasonably be mentioned as being in sight, and so having suggested this image to our Lord. If the exact spot where he was then sitting were itself certain, such conjectures might be worth considering. But, in fact, so many "cities" in Palestine were set on hills that the inquiry seems vain. Safed, some twelve miles north-west of Capernaum, the view from which extends to Tiberias (Neubaur, 'Geogr.,' p. 228), has been accepted by many, but evidence is lacking for it having been a city at that time. Tabor, at the south-west of the lake, has also been thought of, and at all events seems to have been then a fortified town. The view from it is even more extensive than from Safed (vide especially Socin's Baedeker, p. 365).
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