Matthew 9:15 MEANING

Matthew 9:15
(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 Would he have withdrawn from the outward expression of that joy?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 bridechamber--i.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 (2 Corinthians 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.

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.

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.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.

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