Matthew 9:15
And Jesus said unto them, Can the children of the bridechamber mourn, as long as the bridegroom is with them? but the days will come, when the bridegroom shall be taken from them, and then shall they fast.
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(15) Can the children of the bridechamber mourn?—The words were full of meaning in themselves, but they only gain their full significance when we connect them with the teaching of the Baptist recorded in John 3:29. He had pointed to Jesus as “the Bridegroom.” He had taught them that the coming of that Bridegroom was the fulfilling of his joy. Would he have withdrawn from the outward expression of that joy?

The children of the bridechamberi.e., the guests invited to the wedding. The words implied, startling as that thought would be to them, that the feast in Matthew’s house was, in fact, a wedding-feast. His disciples were at once the guests of that feast individually; and collectively they were the new Israel, the new congregation or Ecclesia, which was, as our Lord taught in parable (Matthew 22:2), and St. Paul directly (Ephesians 5:25-27), and St. John in apocalyptic vision (Revelation 19:7; Revelation 21:2), the bride whom He had come to make His own, to cleanse, and to purify.

The days will come, when the bridegroom shall be taken from them.—Noteworthy as the first recorded intimation in our Lord’s public teaching (that in John 3:14 was less clear until interpreted by the event, and was addressed to Nicodemus, and perhaps to him only, or, at the furthest, to St. John) of His coming death. The joy of the wedding-feast would cease, and then would come the long night of expectation, till once again there should be the cry, “Behold, the Bridegroom cometh” (Matthew 25:6).

Then shall they fast.—The words can hardly be looked on as a command imposing fasting as a formal obligation, but, beyond all doubt, they sanction the principle on which fasting rests. The time that was to follow the departure of the Bridegroom would be one of sorrow, conflict, discipline, and at such a time the self-conquest implied in abstinence was the natural and true expression of the feelings that belonged to it. So the Christian Church has always felt; so it was, as the New Testament records, in the lives of at least two great apostles, St. Peter (Acts 10:10) and St. Paul (2Corinthians 11:27). So far as it goes, however, the principle here asserted is in favour of fasts at special seasons of sorrow rather than of frequent and fixed fasts as a discipline, or meritorious act. In fixing her days of fasting, the Church of England, partly guided perhaps by earlier usage, has at least connected them with the seasons and days that call specially to meditation on the sterner, sadder side of truth.

9:14-17 John was at this time in prison; his circumstances, his character, and the nature of the message he was sent to deliver, led those who were peculiarly attached to him, to keep frequent fasts. Christ referred them to John's testimony of him, Joh 3:29. Though there is no doubt that Jesus and his disciples lived in a spare and frugal manner, it would be improper for his disciples to fast while they had the comfort of his presence. When he is with them, all is well. The presence of the sun makes day, and its absence produces night. Our Lord further reminded them of common rules of prudence. It was not usual to take a piece of rough woolen cloth, which had never been prepared, to join to an old garment, for it would not join well with the soft, old garment, but would tear it further, and the rent would be made worse. Nor would men put new wine into old leathern bottles, which were going to decay, and would be liable to burst from the fermenting of the wine; but putting the new wine into strong, new, skin bottles, both would be preserved. Great caution and prudence are necessary, that young converts may not receive gloomy and forbidding ideas of the service of our Lord; but duties are to be urged as they are able to bear them.Then came the disciples of John ... - This narrative is found also in Mark 2:18-22; Luke 5:33-39. The reference here is to John the Baptist. It is probable that they had understood that John was the forerunner of the Messiah; and if such was the case, they could not account for the fact that there was such a difference between them and the disciples of Jesus. The Pharisees fasted often - regularly twice a week besides the great national days of fasting, Luke 18:12. See the notes at Matthew 6:16-18. This was the established custom of the land, and John did not feel himself authorized to make so great a change as to dispense with it. They were desirous of knowing, therefore, why Jesus had done it.

Besides, it is probable that this question was put to Jesus when John was in prison, and his disciples, involved in deep grief on account of it, observed days of fasting. Fasting was the natural expression of sorrow, and they wondered that the followers of Jesus did not join with them in lamenting the captivity of him who was the forerunner and baptizer of their Lord.

Christ, in reply to them, used three illustrations, all of them going to establish the same thing - that "we should observe a fitness and propriety in things." The first is taken from a marriage. The children of the bride-chamber - that is, the bridemen, or "men who had the special care of the bridal chamber, and who were therefore his special friends" - do not think of fasting while he is with them. With them it is a time of festivity and rejoicing, and mourning would not be appropriate. When he is removed or taken away, then their festivity will be ended, and "then" will be the proper time for sorrow. So, says he, John, your friend and teacher, is in captivity. With you it is a time of deep grief, and it is appropriate that you should fast. I am with my disciples. It is with them a time of joy. It is not fit that they should use the tokens of grief, and fast now. When I am taken away, it will then be proper that they should fast. For an account of the ceremonies of an Eastern marriage, see the notes at Matthew 25:1-13.

Mt 9:14-17. Discourse on Fasting.

See on [1243]Lu 5:33-39.

See Poole on "Matthew 9:17".

And Jesus said unto them,.... To the disciples of John, the Pharisees being present, who both have here a full answer; though it seems to be especially directed to the former:

can the children of the bride chamber mourn, as long as the bridegroom, is with them? By the "bridegroom" Christ means himself, who stands in such a relation to his church, and to all, believers; whom he secretly betrothed to himself from all eternity, in the covenant of grace; and openly espouses in the effectual calling; and will still do it in a more public manner at the last day John, the master of those men, who put the question to Christ, had acknowledged him under this character, John 3:29 and therefore they ought to own it as belonging to him; so that the argument upon it came with the greater force to them. By "the children of the bride chamber" are meant the disciples, who were the friends of the bridegroom, as John also says he was; and therefore rejoiced at hearing his voice, as these did, and ought to do; their present situation, having the presence of Christ the bridegroom with them, required mirth and not mourning, John, their master, being witness. The allusion is to a nuptial solemnity, which is a time of joy and feasting, and not of sorrow and fasting; when both bride and bridegroom have their friends attending them, who used to be called , "the children of the bride chamber". The bride had her maidens waiting on her; and it is said (i),

"she did not go into the bridechamber but with them; and these are called, , "the children of the bride chamber".''

So the young men that were the friends of the bridegroom, which attended him, were called by the same name; and, according to the Jewish canons, were free from many things they were otherwise obliged to: thus it is said (k):

"the bridegroom, his friends, and all , "the children of the bride chamber", are free from the booth all the seven days;''

that is, from dwelling in booths at the feast of tabernacles, which was too strait a place for such festival solemnities. And again,

"the bridegroom, his friends, and all , "the children of the bride chamber", are free from prayer and the phylacteries;''

that is, from observing the stated times of attending to these things, and much more then were they excused from fasting and mourning; so that the Pharisees had an answer sufficient to silence them, agreeably to their own traditions. Give me leave to transcribe one passage more, for the illustration of this text (l).

"When R. Lazar ben Arach opened, in the business of Mercava, (the visions in the beginning of Ezekiel,) Rabban Jochanan ben Zaccai alighted from his ass; for he said it is not fit I should hear the glory of my Creator, and ride upon an ass: they went, and sat under a certain tree, and fire came down from heaven and surrounded them; and the ministering angels leaped before them, , "as the children of the bride chamber" rejoice before the bridegroom.''

The time of Christ's being with his disciples, between his entrance on his public ministry, and his death, is the time here referred to, during which the disciples had very little care and trouble: this was their rejoicing time, and there was a great deal of reason for it; they had no occasion to fast and mourn; and indeed the Jews themselves say (m), that

"all fasts shall cease in the days of the Messiah; and there shall be no more but good days, and days of joy and rejoicing, as it is said, Zechariah 8:19.''

But the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them; in a forcible manner, and put to death, as he was;

and then shall they fast and mourn, and be in great distress, as John's disciples now were, on account of their master being in prison.

(i) Zohar in Gen. fol. 6. 4. (k) T. Bab. Succa, fol. 25. 2. & Hieros. Succa, fol. 53. 1. Maimon. Succa, c. 6. sect. 3.((l) T. Hieros. Chagiga, fol. 77. 1.((m) Maimon. Hilchot Taaniot, c. 5. sect. 19.

And Jesus said unto them, Can the {f} children of the bridechamber mourn, as long as the bridegroom is with them? but the days will come, when the bridegroom shall be taken from them, and then shall they fast.

(f) A Hebrew idiom, for they that are admitted into the marriage chamber are as the bridegroom's closest friends.

Matthew 9:15. Οἱ υἱοὶ (Matthew 8:12) τοῦ νυμφῶνος] (of the bride chamber, Joel 2:16; Tob 6:16; Heliod. vii. 8) are the παρανύμφιοι, the friends of the bridegroom, who amid singing and playing of instruments conducted the bride, accompanied by her companions, to the house of her parents-in-law and to the bride-chamber, and remained to take part in the wedding feast, which usually lasted seven days. Pollux, Onom. Matthew 3:3; Hirt, de paranymph. ap. Hebr. 1748; on the Greek παρανυμφίοι, consult Hermann, Privatalterth. § 31, 18. Meaning of the figure: So long as my disciples have me with them, they are incapable of mourning (fasting being the expression of mourning): when once I am taken from them—and that time will inevitably come—then they will fast to express their sorrow. Christ, the bridegroom of His people until His coming, and then the marriage; see on John 3:29. It is to be observed that this is the first occasion in Matthew on which Jesus alludes to His death, which from the very first He knew to be the divinely-appointed and prophetically-announced climax of His work on earth (John 1:29; John 2:19; John 3:14), and did not come to know it only by degrees, through the opposition which he experienced; while Hase, Wittichen, Weizsäcker, Keim, postpone the certainty of His having to suffer death—the latter, till that day at Caesarea (chap. 16); Holsten even puts it off till immediately before the passion; see, on the other hand, Gess, op. cit., p. 253 ff.

The τότε, which has the tragic emphasis of a sorrowful future (Bremi, ad Lys. p. 248, Goth.), expresses only the particular time specified, and not all time following as well, and while probably not condemning fasting in the church, yet indicating it to be a matter in which one is to be regulated, not by legal prescriptions (Matthew 9:16 f.), but by personal inclination and the spontaneous impulses of the mind. Comp. Matthew 6:16 ff.

Matthew 9:15. καὶ εἶπεν: The question drew from Jesus three pregnant parabolic sayings: bright, genial, felicitous impromptus; the first a happy apology for His disciples, the other two the statement of a general principle.—οἱ υἱοὶ τοῦ νυμφῶνος. The mere suggestion of this name for the disciples explains all. Paranymphs, friends of the bridechamber, companions of the bridegroom, who act for him and in his interest, and bring the bride to him. How can they be sad (μὴ δύνανται πενθεῖν)? The point to note is that the figure was apposite. The life of Jesus and His disciples was like a wedding feast—they the principal actors. The disciples took their tone from the Master, so that the ultimate fact was the quality of the personal piety of Jesus. Therein lay the reason of the difference commented on. It was not irreligion, as in the case of the careless; it was a different type of religion, with a Father-God, a kingdom of grace open to all, hope for the worst, and spiritual spontaneity.—ἐλεύσονται ἡμέραι. While the Bridegroom is with them life will be a wedding feast; when He is taken from them it will make a great difference; then (τότε) they will grieve, and therefore fast: a hidden allusion to the tragic end foreseen by Jesus of this happy free life, the penalty of breaking with custom.

15. the children of the bridechamber] See note, Matthew 9:6. “The children of the bridechamber” were the bridegroom’s friends or groomsmen who went to conduct the bride from her father’s house (see note, ch. Matthew 25:1). The procession passed through the streets, gay with festive dress, and enlivened with music and joyous shouts, and with the brilliant light of lamps and flambeaux. With the same pomp and gladness the bride was conducted to her future home, where the marriage-supper was prepared.

the bridegroom] The Jews symbolized the “congregation” or “church” by the image of a bride. Jesus sets himself forth as the Bridegroom of the Christian Church. See Herschell, Sketch of the Jews, pp. 92–97.

shall be taken from them] For the first time Jesus alludes to His death.

then shall they fast] Herschell (quoted in Scripture Manners and Customs) observes that many Jews who keep voluntary fasts, if invited to a marriage are specially exempted from the observance of them. Jesus first gives a special answer to the question about fasting. There is a time of sorrow in store for my disciples when fasting will have a real meaning, now in my presence they can but rejoice. Note that fasting and mourning are regarded as quite synonymous. This they are to the perfectly sincere only. The words of Jesus are true also of Christian experience. There are joyous times when the presence of Christ is felt to be near. Then fasting would be out of harmony. But there are also seasons of despondency and depression, when Christ seems to be taken away, when fasting is natural and appropriate.

Matthew 9:15. Καὶ, and) Our Lord replies calmly and cheerfully: He draws joyful parables from the garments and the wine (which were being employed in the Feast) to condemn the sadness of those who questioned Him.—οἱ υἱοὶ τοῦ νυμφῶνος, the children of the bridechamber) The companions of the bridegroom.[415] Parables and riddles are suited to feasts and nuptials, and are employed to illustrate this nuptial period.[416]—πενθεῖν, to mourn) Mourning and fasting are joined together.—ἐλεύσονται, shall come) He means His departure, which should take place at a future period.—καὶ τότε, and then) Neither before nor after.[417]—νηστεύσουσιν, they shall fast) necessarily and willingly.[418]

[415] The Bridegroom Himself, if you except the forty days in the wilderness. is nowhere recorded as having fasted.—V. g.

[416] Bengel means to say, the period when our Lord was with His disciples.—(I. B.)

[417] Bengel means, neither whilst the Bridegroom was with the Church on earth, nor when the Church should be with the Bridegroom in heaven.—(I. B.)

[418] This is the very characteristic aspect of Christianity: At one time is the nuptial and festive season; at another time, the season for fasting and sorrow.—V. g.

Verse 15. - And Jesus said unto them, Can. It is a moral impossibility (ch. 6:24). The children (sons, Revised Version) of the bride-chamber (οἱ υἱοὶ τοῦ νυμφῶνος). Edersheim ('Life,' etc., 1:663) points out that these are not the shoshbenim, the friends of the bridegroom, who conducted the bride with music, etc., to the house of her parents-in-law, and to the bride-chamber, and who naturally remained to take part in the wedding feast; for

(1) the custom of having shoshbenim prevailed in Judaea, but not in Galilee;

(2) Talm. Jeremiah, 'Succah,' § 2:5, expressly distinguishes between the two terms: "Those who are shoshbenim, and all the sons of the bride-chamber, are free from the obligation of booths (חופה פטורין סן סוכה שושבינן וכל בני)." They appear to be those, invited by either party, who come to take part in the wedding festivities. They are, therefore, in full sympathy with bridegroom and bride, and, like them, cannot but rejoice. Mourn; parallel passages, "fast," but Matthew's word, as less closely connected with the cause of the objection raised, seems the more original. As long as the bridegroom is with them? Nosgen sees in this a claim to be the expected Bridegroom of Israel (Hosea 2:19, 20; Jeremiah 3:1-14; Ezekiel 16:8). But the days will come. Christ speaks with prophetic assurance of the coming of such a time (ἐλεύσονται δὲ ἡμέραι). Observe his consciousness alike of his position and of what is coming upon him. When the bridegroom shall be taken (away, Revised Version) from them. His removal shall be effected, not by his own action, but by external agents (ἀπαρθῇ). In these unsettled times, with their frequent though mostly unimportant popular risings, it cannot have been a very unusual thing for the bridegroom to be carried off, not indeed before the consummation of the marriage, but before the end of the week of festivities. And then shall (will, Revised Version; there is no trace of a command, Christ is but stating a fact) they fast. Christ here endorses the principle of Christian fasts (cf. Matthew 6:16), but regards them as springing; not from any legal obligation, but flora personal grief, in this case at his absence (cf. John 16:20). The only later passages in the New Testament where Christian fasting is mentioned, are Acts 13:2, 3; Acts 14:23; 2 Corinthians 6:5; 2 Corinthians 11:27. In the 'Didache,' § 8, we have the earliest formal recognition or' it as a practice. It is there forbidden to fast on the same days as the Pharisees. Observe that this verse was understood in Tertullian's time as expressly commanding a fast during the forty hours in which our Lord was in the grave ('De Jejun.,' § 2), and that, from Irenseus's expression in Eusebius ('Ch. Hist.,' 5:24), this fast had been kept almost from apostolic times. Matthew 9:15
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