As his custom was.--This, then, had been His wont before He entered on His work. Children were admitted to the synagogue at the age of five. At thirteen attendance was obligatory. It was open to any man of reputed knowledge and piety, with the sanction of the ruler of the synagogue, to read the lessons (one from the Law and one from the Prophets), and our Lord's previous life had doubtless gained the respect of that officer. Up to this time, it would seem, He had confined Himself to reading. Now He came to preach, after an absence possibly of some months, with the new power that had already made Him famous. The work of preaching also was open to any person of adequate culture, who had a "word of exhortation" to address to the worshippers. (Comp. Acts 13:15.) The constitution of the synagogue in thus admitting the teaching functions of qualified laymen, was distinctly opposed to the root-idea of sacerdotalism.
where he had been brought up: where he was conceived, though not born; and where he had his education, and wrought at a trade, and was well known to the inhabitants; and therefore it was proper that he should first exercise his ministry, and obtain a character in other places, which would prepare him a reception among his townsmen, who otherwise, in all likelihood, would have treated him at once with neglect and contempt:
and as his custom was, he went into the synagogue on the sabbath day. This was either his custom from his youth, when he dwelt at Nazareth, while a private person, and before he was engaged in public service, whither he had used to repair as an inhabitant of the city, and a member of the congregation, to attend synagogue worship, as he now did; or it refers to his custom, since he became a public preacher, who at Capernaum, or any other city of Galilee, where there was a synagogue, used to frequent it, whether on sabbath days, or any other, and so he did here:
and stood up for to read: by rising and standing up, and perhaps by some other gesture he signified his inclination to read a portion of Scripture, if liberty was given, and a book delivered him, for, as yet, he had no book to read in; nor might any read in public, unless he had an order from the congregation, or the chief of it; for so runs the Jewish canon (k):
"a reader may not read until the chief of the congregation bids him read; yea, even a minister of the congregation, or a ruler of the synagogue, may not read of himself, until the congregation, or the chief among them, bids him read.''
This custom of reading the Scriptures publicly, was an appointment of Moses, according to the account of the Jews; who say (l).
"Moses our master, ordered the Israelites to read in the law publicly, on the sabbath, and on the second and fifth days of the week, in the morning; so that they might not be three days without hearing the law and Ezra ordered, that they should read so at the evening sacrifice, every sabbath, on account of those that sit in the corners of streets; and also he ordered, that three men should read on the second and fifth days of the week, and that they should not read less than twenty verses.''
It was also the custom to stand at reading the law and the prophets: with regard to the book of Esther, the rule is (m) this;
"he that reads the "Megilia", or book of "Esther", stands or sits.''
That is, as their commentators (n) explain it, if he will he may stand, and if he will he may sit, he may do as he pleases; but so he might not in reading the law: hence it is asked (o),
"why is it not so in the law? R. Abhu replies, because the Scripture says, Deuteronomy 5:3 "Stand thou here by me."''
Wherefore they say (p), the law must be read standing, and it is even forbidden to lean on any thing. Christ conformed to these rules; he went into the synagogue to read on the sabbath day, and stood up when he read, and waited for order, and a book to be given him to read: it may be asked, how he came to be admitted to read publicly in the synagogue, when he was not of the tribe of Levi, nor was he brought up in the schools and academies of the Jews, and was known to be a mechanic? It may be observed, that common Israelites, as well as priests and Levites, were allowed to read the Scriptures publicly; every sabbath day, seven persons read, a priest, a Levite, and five Israelites: the order was this; the priest read first, and after him the Levite, and after him an Israelite: and it is said to be a known custom to this day, that even an unlearned priest read before the greatest wise man in Israel; and he that was greater than his companion in wisdom, read first (q). Now Christ, on account of the great fame he was in for his wisdom and mighty works, was admitted to this public service, though he was no Levite, and known by the inhabitants of this place, to have been brought up to a trade.
(k) Maimon. Hilchot Tephilla, c. 12. sect. 7. (l) Maimon. Hilchot Tephilla, c. 12. sect. 1.((m) Misn. Megilia, c. 4. 1.((n) Jarchi & Bartenora in ib. (o) T. Bab. Megilia, fol. 21. 1.((p) Robbenu Asher in T. Megill. c. 3. sect. 1. & Piske Harosh in ib. (q) Maimon. Hilch. Tephillah, c. 12. sect. 16, 18.