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and about the thickness of a man's finger. The common brown locust is about three inches long. The general form and appearance of the locust is not unlike the grasshopper. They were one of the plagues of Egypt, Exod. x. In eastern countries they are very numerous. They appear in such quantities as to darken the sky, and devour in a short time every green thing. The whole earth is sometimes covered with them for many leagues, Joel i. 4. Isa. xxxiii. 4. They are sometimes dried and salted, or ground into a kind of cake, &c. Wild honey.' This was probably the honey that he found in the rocks of the wilderness. Palestine was often called the land flowing with milk and honey, Exod. iii. 8, 17; xiii. 5. Bees were kept with great care; and great numbers of them were found in the fissures of trees and the clefts of rocks.
5 Then went out to him Jerusalem, and all Judea, and all the region round about Jordan,
The people of Jerusalem.
5. Jerusalem.' 6 Many people from Judea. Not literally all the people, but great multitudes went. Jerusalem was in the part of the country called Judea. Judea was situated on the west side of the Jordan. Region about Jordan.' Near to Jordan.
6 And were baptized of him in Jordan, confessing their sins.
6. 'Were baptized.' The word baptize here means to cleanse or wash any thing by the application of water. It was a solemn rite of washing, significant of cleansing from their former sins, and purifying them for the peculiar service of Jehovah. As it was used by John it was a significant rite, or ceremony, denoting the putting away of impurity, and a purpose to be pure in heart and life. The Hebrew word (Tabal) which is rendered by the word baptize, occurs in the Old Testament in the following places, viz.: Lev. iv. 6; xiv. 6, 51. Num. xix. 18. Ruth ii. 14. Exod. xii. 22. Deut. xxxiii. 24. Ezek. xxiii. 15. Job ix. 31. Lev. ix. 9. 1 Sam. xiv. 27. 2 Kings v. 14; viii. 15. Gen. xxxvii. 31. Joshua iii. 15. It occurs in no other places; and from examination of these passages, its meaning among the Jews is to be derived.
The river Jordan is the eastern boundary of Palestine, or Judea. It rises in mount Lebanon, at the north of Palestine, and runs in a southerly direction, under ground, for thirteen miles, and then bursts forth at Cesarea Philippi. It then unites with two small streams, and runs some miles farther, and is emptied into lake Merom. From this small lake it flows thirteen miles, and then falls into the lake Gennesareth, otherwise called the sea of Tiberias, or the sea of Galilee. Through the middle of this lake, which is sixteen miles long and five broad, it flows undisturbed,
and preserves a southerly direction for about seventy miles, and then falls into the Dead Sea, at its entrance into which it is about ninety feet wide. It flows in many places with great rapidity, and when swollen by rains pours like an impetuous torrent. It formerly regularly overflowed its banks in time of harvest, that is, in March, in some places six hundred paces, Josh. iii. 15. 1 Chron. xii. 15. These banks are covered with small trees and shrubs, and afford a convenient dwelling for wild beasts. Allusion is often made to these thickets in the sacred scriptures, Jer. xlix, 19; 1. 44.
7 But when he saw many of the pharisees and sadducees come to his baptism, he said unto them, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?
7. Pharisees and sadducees.' The Jews were divided into three great sects, the pharisees; the sadducees; and the essenes. In addition to these, some smaller sects are mentioned in the New Testament, and by Josephus: the herodians, probably political friends of Herod; the galileans, a branch of the pharisees; and the therapeuta, a branch of the essenes, but converts from the Greeks. The principal of these sects are supposed to have originated about 150 years before Christ, as they are mentioned by Josephus about that time. Of course nothing is said of them in the Old Testament, as that was finished about 400 years before the christian era.
I. The pharisees were the most numerous and wealthy sect of the Jews. They derived their name from the Hebrew word Pharash, which signifies, to set apart, or to separate, because they separated themselves from the rest of their countrymen, to peculiar strictness in religion. Their leading tenets were the following: that the world was governed by fate, or by a fixed decree of God; that the souls of men were immortal, and were either eternally happy or miserable beyond the grave; that the dead would be raised; that there were angels, good and bad; that God was under obligation to bestow peculiar favour on the Jews; and that they were justified by the merits of Abraham. They were proud, haughty, self-righteous, and held the common people in great disrespect, John vii. 49. They sought the offices of the state, and affected great dignity. They were ostentatious in their religious worship, praying at the corners of the streets, and seeking publicity in the bestowment of alms. They sought principally external cleanness; and dealt much in ceremonial ablutions and washing.
In addition to the written laws, they held to a multitude which they maintained had come down from Moses by tradition. They were in general a corrupt, hypocritical, office-seeking, haughty class of men. There were, however, some among them of a better character. See Acts v. 34.
II. The sadducees are supposed to have taken their name from Sadok, who flourished about 260 years before the christian era. He was a pupil of Antigonus Sochæus, president of the sanhedrim, or great council of the nation. He had taught the duty of serving God disinterestedly, without the hope of reward, or the fear of punishment. Hence Sadok, not properly understanding the doctrine of his master, drew the inference that there was no future state of rewards or punishments; and on this belief he founded the sect. The other notions which they held, all to be traced to this leading doctrine, were: 1. That there is no resurrection, neither angel nor spirit, Matt. xxii. 23. Acts xxiii. 8; and that the soul of man perishes with the body. 2. They rejected the doctrine of fate. 3. They rejected all traditions, and professed to receive only the books of the Old Testament.
They were far less numerous than the pharisees, but their want of numbers was compensated, in some degree, by their wealth and standing in society. Though they did not generally seek office, yet several of them were advanced to the high-priesthood.
III. The essenes, a third sect of the Jews, are not mentioned in the New Testament. They differed from both the pharisees and sadducees. They were Jewish hermits, passing their time little in society, but mostly in places of obscurity and retirement. It is not probable, therefore, that our Saviour often, if ever, encountered them.
The other sects of the Jews were too insignificant to demand particular notice here. It may be said of the Jews generally that they possessed little of the spirit of religion; that they had corrupted some of the most important doctrines of the bible; and that they were an ignorant, proud, ambitious, and sensual people. 'Generation of vipers.' Vipers are a species of serpents. There is no serpent that is more poisonous than a viper. The word serpent, or viper, is used to denote both cunning and malignancy, or wickedness. In the phrase, 'Be ye wise as serpents,' it means be prudent, or wise, referring to the account in Genesis iii. 1-6. Among the Jews the serpent was regarded as the symbol of cunning, circumspection, and prudence. It was so regarded in the Egyptian hieroglyphics. In the phrase, 'generation of vipers,' Matt. xii. 34, the viper is the symbol of wickedness, of envenomed malice-a symbol drawn from the venom of the serpent. The phrase is used in this place to denote their malignancy and wickedness. See Matt. xii. 34; xxiii. 33.
Wrath to come.' John expresses his astonishment that sinners so hardened and so hypocritical as they were, should have been induced to flee from coming wrath. The wrath to come' means the Divine indignation, or the punishment that will come on the guilty. See 1 Thess. i. 10; ii. 16.
8 Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance
8. Bring forth therefore fruits,' &c. That is, the proper fruits of reformation, the proper evidence that you are sincere. Do not bring your cunning and dissimulation to this work; carry not your hypocrisy into your professed repentance, but evince your sincerity by forsaking sins, 'Fruits.' Conduct. See Matt. vii. 16-19. 'Meet for repentance.' The proper expression of repentance.
9 And think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham.
9. They regarded it as sufficient righteousness that they were descended from so holy a man as Abraham, John viii. 33-37, 53. John assured them that this was a matter of small consequence in the sight of God. Of the very stones of the Jordan he could raise up children to Abraham. The meaning seems to be this: God, from these stones, could more easily raise up those who should be worthy children of Abraham, or be like him, than simply, because you are descendants of Abraham, make you, who are proud and hypocritical, subjects of the Messiah's kingdom. Mere nativity, or the privileges of birth, avail nothing where there is not righteousness of life. Some have supposed, however, that by
these stones' he meant the Roman soldiers, or the heathen, who attended on his ministry; and that God could of them raise up children to Abraham.
10 And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.
10. Laying the axe at the root of a tree is intended to denote that the tree is to be cut down. A searching, trying kind of preaching has been commenced. Principles and conduct are to be investigated. No art, no dissimulations, are to be successful. Men are to be tried by their lives, not by birth, or profession. The very root shall feel the blow, and the fruitless tree shall fall. This is a beautiful and very striking figure, and a very direct threatening of future wrath. John regarded his hearers as making a fair and promising profession, as trees do in blossom. But he told them, also, that they should bear fruit as well as flowers. Their professions of repentance were not enough. They should show, by a holy life, that their profession was genuine.
11 I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire:
11. To keep the feet from the sharp stones, or the burning sand, small pieces of wood were fastened to the soles, called sandals' Leather, or skins of beasts dressed, were afterwards used. The foot was not covered at all; but the sandal, or piece of leather or wood, was bound by thongs. The people put off these when they entered a house, and put them on when they left it. To loose and bind on sandals, on such occasions, was the business of the lowest servants. It was an expression of great humility; and John says that he was not worthy to be the servant of Him who should come after him. 'Shall baptize you.' Shall send upon you the Holy Spirit. The Spirit of God is frequently represented as boing poured out upon his people, Prov. i. 23; Isa. xliv. 3; Joel ii. 28, 29; Acts ii. 17, 18. The baptism of the Holy Spirit is the same, therefore, as the sending of his influences to convert, purify, and guide the soul. 'The Holy Ghost.' The third Person of the adorable Trinity, whose office it is to renew, enlighten, change, and comfort the soul. He was promised by the Saviour to convince of sin, John xvi. 8. To enlighten or teach the disciples, John xiv. 26; xvi. 13. To comfort them in the absence of the Saviour, John xiv. 18; xvi. 7. He changes the heart, Titus iii. 5. To be baptized with the Holy Ghost means that the Messiah would send upon the world a far more powerful and mighty influence than had attended the preaching of John. His ministry would not affect the external life only, but the heart, the motives, the soul; and produce rapid and permanent changes in the lives of men. See Acts ii. 17, 18. With fire.' This expression has been very variously understood. Some have supposed that it refers to the afflictions and persecutions with which men would be tried under the gospel; others, that the word 'fire' meant judgment or wrath. A part of his hearers he should baptize with the Holy Ghost, but the wicked with fire and vengeance. Fire is a symbol of vengeance. See Isa. v. 24; lxi. 2; lxvi. 24. The ministry of the Messiah would be very powerful, trying, purifying, searching. Multitudes would be converted; and those who were not true penitents should not be able to abide the trial, and should be driven away.
12 Whose fan is in his hand, and he will throughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into the garner; but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.
12. His fan.' 'His floor.' The threshing-floor was an open space in the field. It had no covering or walls. It was thirty or forty yards in diameter, and made smooth by rolling it, or treading it hard. A high place was selected for the purpose of keeping it dry, and for the convenience of winnowing the grain by the wind. The grain was usually trodden out by oxen. Sometimes it was beaten with flails, as with us; and sometimes with a sharp