|This is the lesson to be learned from a comparison of the Unjust Judge with the Just and Holy God in His dealings with His own. If the widow persevered, knowing that, although no other consideration, human or Divine, would influence the Unjust Judge, yet her insistence would secure its object, how much more should we 'not faint,' but continue in prayer, who are appealing to God, Who has His people and His cause at heart, even though He delay, remembering also that even this is for their sakes who pray. And this is fully expressed in the introductory words. 'He spake also a Parable to them with reference to the need be of their always praying and not fainting.' |
The remarks just made will remove what otherwise might seem another serious difficulty. If it be asked, how the conduct of the Unjust Judge could serve as illustration of what might be expected from God, we answer, that the lesson in the Parable is not from the similarity but from the contrast between the Unrighteous human and the Righteous Divine Judge.
In truth, this mode of argument is perhaps the most common in Jewish Parables, and occurs on almost every page of ancient Rabbinic commentaries. It is called the Qal vaChomer, 'light and heavy,' and answers to our reasoning labeled "from the less to the greater." According to the Rabbis, ten instances of such reasoning occur in the Old Testament itself. In the present Parable the reasoning would be: 'If the Judge of Unrighteousness' said that he would vindicate, shall not the Judge of all Righteousness do judgment on behalf of His Elect? In fact, we have an exact Rabbinic parallel to the thought underlying, and the lesson derived from, this Parable. When describing, how at the preaching of Jonah Nineveh repented and cried to God, His answer to the loud persistent cry of the people is thus explained: 'The bold (he who is unabashed) conquers even a wicked person [to grant him his request], how much more the All-Good of the world!'
The Parable opens by laying down as a general principle the necessity and duty of the Disciples always to pray - the precise meaning being defined by the opposite, or limited clause: 'not to faint,' that is, not 'to become weary.' The word 'always' must not be understood in respect of time, as if it meant continuously, but at all times, in the sense of under all circumstances, however apparently adverse, when it might seem as if an answer could not come, and we would therefore be in danger of 'fainting' or becoming weary. This rule applies here primarily to that 'weariness' which might lead to the cessation of prayer for the Coming of the Lord, or of expectancy of it, during the long period when it seems as if He delayed His return, nay, as if increasingly there were no likelihood of it. But it may also be applied to all similar circumstances, when prayer seems so long unanswered that weariness in praying threatens to overtake us. Thus, it is argued, even in Jewish writings, that a man should never be deterred from, nor cease praying, the illustration by Qal vaChomer being from the case of Moses, who knew that it was decreed he should not enter the land, and yet continued praying about it.
The Parable introduces to us a Judge in a city and a widow. Except where a case was voluntarily submitted for arbitration rather than judgment, or judicial advice was sought of a sage, one man could not have formed a Jewish tribunal. Besides, his mode of speaking and acting is inconsistent with such a hypothesis. He must therefore have been one of the Judges, or municipal authorities, appointed by Herod or the Romans, perhaps a Jew, but not a Jewish Judge. Possibly, he may have been a police-magistrate, or one who had some function of that kind delegated to him. We know that, at least in Jerusalem, there were two stipendiary magistrates whose duty it was to see to the observance of all police-regulations and the prevention of crime. Unlike the regular Judges, who attended only on certain days and hours, and were unpaid, these magistrates were, so to speak, always on duty, and hence unable to engage in any other occupation. It was probably for this reason that they were paid out of the Temple-Treasury.
There were in every locality police-officials who watched over order and law. The Talmud speaks in very depreciatory terms of these 'village-Judges', in opposition to the town tribunals, and accuses them of ignorance, arbitrariness, and covetousness, so that for a dish of meat they would pervert justice. Frequent instances are also mentioned of gross injustice and bribery in regard to the non-Jewish Judges in Palestine.
It is to such a Judge that the Parable refers - one who was consciously, openly, and avowedly inaccessible to the highest motive, the fear of God, and not even restrained by the lower consideration of regard for public opinion. It is an extreme case, intended to illustrate the exceeding unlikelihood of justice being done. For the same purpose, the party seeking justice at his hands is described as a poor, unprotected widow. But we must also bear in mind, in the interpretation of this Parable, that the Church, whom she represents, is also widowed in the absence of her Lord. To return - this widow 'came' to the Unjust Judge (the imperfect tense in the original indicating repeated, even continuous coming), with the urgent demand to be vindicated of her adversary, that is, that the Judge should make legal inquiry, and by a decision set her right as against him at whose hands she was suffering wrong. For reasons of his own he would not; and this continued for a while.
At last, not from any higher principle, nor even from regard for public opinion - both of which, indeed, as he avowed to himself, had no weight with him - he complied with her request. Then follows the grand inference from it: If the 'Judge of Unrighteousness' speak thus, shall not the Judge of all Righteousness - God - vindicate [by His Coming to judgment and so setting right the wrong done to His Church] those 'who cry out to Him day and night' - and do so speedily, and that, not as the Unjust Judge, but for their own sakes, in order that the number of the Elect may all be gathered in, and they fully prepared?
"Nevertheless, when the Son of man comes, shall He find the true faith on the earth?"
It is a terribly sad question, as put by Him Who is the Christ: After all this long-suffering delay, shall He find the faith upon the earth - intellectual belief on the part of one class, and on the part of the Church the faith of the heart which trusts in, longs, and prays, because it expects and looks for His Coming, all undisturbed by the prevailing unbelief around, only quickened by it to more intensity of prayer! Shall He find it?
Parable of Sinful Publican and Self-Righteous Pharisee
"And to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others, He also spoke this parable: "Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one was a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed with himself in this manner: 'God, I thank You that I am not like other men - extortioners, unrighteous, adulterers - or even as this tax collector. I fast twice in the week, and I give a tithe of everything that I gain.'
""And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat himself on the chest, saying, 'God, be merciful to me, a sinner.' I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself shall be humbled; and the one who humbles himself shall be exalted."" (Luke 18:9-14, HBFV)
This parable brings before us two men going up to the Temple - whether 'at the hour of prayer,' or otherwise, is not stated. Remembering that, with the exception of the Psalms for the day and the interval for a certain prescribed prayer, the service in the Temple was entirely sacrificial, we are thankful for such glimpses, which show that, both in the time of public service, and still more at other times, the Temple was made the place of private prayer. On the present occasion the two men, who went together to the entrance of the Temple, represented the two religious extremes in Jewish society. To the entrance of the Temple, but no farther, did the Pharisee and the Publican go together.
Within the sacred enclosure - before God, where man should least have made it, began their separation. Never, perhaps, were words of thanksgiving spoken in less thankfulness than these. For, thankfulness implies the acknowledgement of a gift; hence, a sense of not having had ourselves what we have received; in other words, then, a sense of our personal need, or humility. But the very first act of this Pharisee had been to separate himself from all the other worshippers, and notably from the Publican, whom, as his words show, he had noticed, and looked down upon. His thanksgiving referred not to what he had received, but to the sins of others by which they were separated from him, and to his own meritorious deeds by which he was separated from them. Thus, his words expressed what his attitude indicated; and both were the expression, not of thankfulness, but of boastfulness. It was the same as their bearing at the feast and in public places; the same as their contempt and condemnation of 'the rest of men,' and especially 'the publicans;' the same that even their designation - 'Pharisees,' 'Separated ones,' implied. The 'rest of men' might be either the Gentiles, or, more probably, the common unlearned people, the Am haArets, whom they accused or suspected of every possible sin, according to their fundamental principle: 'The unlearned cannot be pious.' And, in their sense of that term, they were right - and in this lies the condemnation of their righteousness. And, most painful though it be, remembering the downright earnestness and zeal of these men, it must be added that, as we read the Liturgy of the Synagogue, we come ever and again upon such and similar thanksgiving - that they are 'not as the rest of men.'
But this was not all. From looking down upon others the Pharisee proceeded to look up to himself. Here Talmudic writings offer painful parallelisms. They are full of references to the merits of the just, to 'the merits and righteousness of the fathers,' or else of Israel in taking upon itself the Law. And for the sake of these merits and of that righteousness, Israel, as a nation, expects general acceptance, pardon, and temporal benefits - for, all spiritual benefits Israel as a nation, and the pious in Israel individually, possess already, nor do they need to get them from heaven, since they can and do work them out for themselves. And here the Pharisee in the Parable significantly dropped even the form of thanksgiving. The religious performances which he enumerated are those which mark the Pharisee among the Pharisees:
"'I fast twice in the week, and I give a tithe of everything that I gain.'"
The first of these was in pursuance of the custom of some 'more righteous than the rest,' who, as previously explained, fasted on the second and fifth days of the week (Mondays and Thursdays). But, perhaps, we should not forget that these were also the regular market days, when the country-people came to the towns, and there were special Services in the Synagogues, and the local Sanhedrin met - so that these saints in Israel would, at the same time, attract and receive special notice for their fasts. As for the boast about giving tithes of all that he acquired - and not merely of his land, fruits, etc. - it has already been explained, that this was one of the distinctive characteristics of 'the sect of the Pharisees.' Their practice in this respect may be summed up in these words of the Mishnah: 'He tithes all that he eats, all that he sells, and all that he buys, and he is not a guest with an unlearned person.'
Although it may not be necessary, yet one or two quotations will help to show how truly this picture of the Pharisee was taken from life. Thus, the following prayer of a Rabbi is recorded:
'I thank Thee, O Lord my God, that Thou hast put my part with those who sit in the Academy, and not with those who sit at the corners [money-changers and traders]. For, I rise early and they rise early: I rise early to the words of the Law, and they to vain things. I labor and they labor: I labor and receive a reward, they labor and receive no reward. I run and they run: I run to the life of the world to come, and they to the pit of destruction.'
Even more closely parallel is this thanksgiving, which a Rabbi puts into the mouth of Israel:
'Lord of the world, judge me not as those who dwell in the big towns [such as Rome]: among whom there is robbery, and uncleanness, and vain and false swearing.'
Lastly, as regards the boastful spirit of Rabbinism, we recall such painful sayings as those of Rabbi Simeon ben Jochai, to which reference has already been made - notably this, that if there were only two righteous men in the world, he and his son were these; and if only one, it was he!
The second picture, or scene, in the Parable sets before us the reverse state of feeling from that of the Pharisee. Only, we must bear in mind, that, as the Pharisee is not blamed for his giving of thanks, nor yet for his good-doing, real or imaginary, so the prayer of the Publican is not answered, because he was a sinner. In both cases what decides the rejection or acceptance of the prayer is, whether or not it was prayer. The Pharisee retains the righteousness which he had claimed for himself, whatever its value; and the Publican receives the righteousness which he asks: both have what they desire before God. If the Pharisee 'stood by himself,' apart from others, so did the Publican: 'standing afar off,' viz. from the Pharisee - quite far back, as became one who felt himself unworthy to mingle with God's people. In accordance with this: 'He would not so much as lift his eyes to heaven,' as men generally do in prayer, 'but smote his breast' - as the Jews still do in the most solemn part of their confession on the Day of Atonement - 'saying, God be merciful to me the sinner.'
More complete contrast, therefore, could not be imagined. And once more, as between the Pharisee and the Publican, the seeming and the real, that before men and before God, there is sharp contrast, and the lesson which Christ had so often pointed is again set forth, not only in regard to the feelings which the Pharisees entertained, but also to the gladsome tidings of pardon to the lost: 'I say unto you, This man went down to his house justified above the other' [so according to the better reading, par ekeinon]. In other words, the sentence of righteousness as from God with which the Publican went home was above, far better than, the sentence of righteousness as pronounced by himself, with which the Pharisee returned. This saying casts also light on such comparisons as between 'the righteous' elder brother and the pardoned prodigal, or the ninety-nine that 'need no repentance' and the lost that was found, or, on such an utterance as this:
"For I say to you, unless your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, there is no way that you shall enter into the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 5:20, HBFV)
And so the Parable ends with the general principle, so often enunciated:
"For everyone who exalts himself shall be humbled; and the one who humbles himself shall be exalted."
The Death of Lazarus
From listening to the teaching of Christ, we turn once more to follow His working. The visit to Bethany preludes Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem and his last week on earth. Soon, the members of the Sanhedrin would formally resolve he should be put to Death. It now only remained to settle and carry out the plans for giving effect to their purpose.
The raising of Lazarus marks the highest point in the ministry of our Lord; it is the climax in a history where all is miraculous - the Person, the Life, the Words, the Work. As regards Himself, we have here the fullest evidence alike of His Divinity and Humanity; as regards those who witnessed it, the highest manifestation of faith and of unbelief. Here, on this height, the two ways finally meet and part. And from this high point - not only from the resolution of the Sanhedrists, but from the raising of Lazarus - we have our first clear outlook on the Death and Resurrection of Christ, of which the raising of Lazarus was the typical prelude. From this height, also, have we an outlook upon the gathering of the Church at His empty Tomb, where the precious words spoken at the grave of Lazarus received their full meaning - till Death shall be no more. But chiefly do we now think of it as the Miracle of Miracles in the history of the Christ.
He had, indeed, before this raised the dead; but it had been in far-off Galilee, and in circumstances essentially different. But now it would be one so well known as Lazarus, at the very gates of Jerusalem, in the sight of all men, and amidst surroundings which admitted not of mistake or doubt.
"Now there was a certain man who was sick, Lazarus of Bethany, which was the town of Mary and her sister Martha. And it was Mary who later anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped His feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick. Therefore, the sisters sent to Him, saying, "Lord, take notice: the one whom You love is sick." But after hearing this, Jesus said, "This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified by it." Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus." (John 11:1-5, HBFV)
It was while in Perea, that this message suddenly reached the Master from the well-remembered home at Bethany, 'the village of Mary' - who, although the younger, is for obvious reasons first mentioned in this history - 'and her sister Martha,' concerning their (younger) brother Lazarus: 'Lord, behold he whom Thou lovest is sick!' They are apparently the very words which 'the sisters' bade their messenger tell. We note as an important fact to be stored in our memory, that the Lazarus, who had not even been mentioned in the only account preserved to us of a previous visit of Christ to Bethany, is described as 'he whom Christ loved.' What a gap of untold events between the two visits of Christ to Bethany - and what modesty should it teach us as regards inferences from the circumstance that certain events are not recorded in the Gospels! The messenger was apparently dismissed by Christ with this reply:
"This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified by it."
We must here bear in mind, that this answer was heard by such of the Apostles as were present at the time. They would naturally infer from it that Lazarus would not die, and that his restoration would glorify Christ, either as having foretold it, or prayed for it, or effected it by His Will. Yet its true meaning - even, as we now see, its literal interpretation, was, that its final upshot was not to be the death of Lazarus, but that it was to be for the glory of God, in order that Christ as the Son of God might be made manifest. And we learn, how much more full are the Words of Christ than they often appear to us; and how truly, and even literally, they may bear quite another meaning than appears to our honest misapprehension of them - a meaning which only the event, the future, will disclose.
And yet, probably at the very time when the messenger received his answer, and ere he could have brought it to the sisters, Lazarus was already dead! Nor - and this should be especially marked - did this awaken doubt in the minds of the sisters. We seem to hear the very words which at the time they said to each other when each of them afterwards repeated it to the Lord: 'Lord, if Thou hadst been here, my brother would not have died.' They probably thought the message had reached Him too late, that Lazarus would have lived if Christ had been appealed to in time, or had been able to come - at any rate, if He had been there. Even in their keenest anguish, there was no failure of trust, no doubt, no close weighing of words on their part - only the confidence of love.
"But when He heard that he was sick, He deliberately remained in the same place two days. And after this, He said to the disciples, "Let us go into Judea again." The disciples said to Him, "Master, the Jews were just seeking to stone You, and You are going there again?" Jesus answered, "Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble because he sees the light of the world. But if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles because the light is not in him."
"These things He said; and after that He said to them, "Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going so that I may awaken him." Then His disciples said, "Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will get well." Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that He was speaking of the rest of sleep. For this reason, Jesus then said to them plainly, 'Lazarus has died. And I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, in order that you may believe. But let us go to him.'" (verses 6-14)
Yet all this while Christ knew that Lazarus had died, and still He continued two whole days where He was, finishing His work. And yet - and this is significantly noted before anything else, alike in regard to His delay and to His after-conduct - He 'loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus.' Had there been no after-history, or had it not been known to us, or before it became known, it might have seemed otherwise - and in similar circumstances it often does seem otherwise to us. And again, what majestic calm, what Self-restraint of Human affections and sublime consciousness of Divine Power in this delay: it is once more Christ asleep, while the disciples are despairing, in the bark almost swamped in the storm! Christ is never in haste: least of all, on His errands of love. And He is never in haste, because He is always sure.
It was only after these two days that Christ broke silence as to His purposes and as to Lazarus. Though thoughts of him must have been present with the disciples, none dared ask aught, although not from misgiving, nor yet from fear. This also of faith and of confidence. At last, when His work in that part had been completed, He spoke of leaving, but even so not of going to Bethany, but into Judea. For, in truth, His work in Bethany was not only geographically, but really, part of His work in Judea; and He told the disciples of His purpose, just because He knew their fears and would teach them, not only for this but for every future occasion, what principle applied to them. For when, in their care and affection, they reminded the 'Rabbi' - and the expression here almost jars on us - that the Jews 'were even now seeking to stone' Him, He replied by telling them, in figurative language, that we have each our working day from God, and that while it lasts no foe can shorten it or break up or work. The day had twelve hours, and while these lasted no mishap would befall him that walked in the way [he stumbleth not, because he seeth the light of this world]. It was otherwise when the day was past and the night had come.
When our God-given day has set, and with it the light been withdrawn which hitherto prevented our stumbling - then, if a man went in his own way and at his own time, might such mishap befall him, 'because,' figuratively as to light in the night-time, and really as to guidance and direction in the way, 'the light is not in him.'
But this was only part of what Jesus said to His disciples in preparation for a journey that would issue in such tremendous consequences. He next spoke of Lazarus, their 'friend,' as 'fallen asleep' - in the frequent Jewish (as well as Christian) figurative sense of it, and of His going there to wake him out of sleep. The disciples would naturally connect this mention of His going to Lazarus with His proposed visit to Judea, and, in their eagerness to keep Him from the latter, interposed that there could be no need for going to Lazarus, since sleep was, according to Jewish notions, one of the six, or, according to others, five symptoms or crises in recovery from dangerous illness. And when the Lord then plainly stated it, 'Lazarus died,' adding, what should have aroused their attention, that for their sakes He was glad He had not been in Bethany before the event, because now that would come which would work faith in them, and proposed to go to the dead Lazarus - even then, their whole attention was so absorbed by the certainty of danger to their loved Teacher, that Thomas had only one thought: since it was to be so, let them go and die with Jesus.
So little had they understood the figurative language about the twelve hours on which God's sun shone to light us on our way; so much did they need the lesson of faith to be taught them in the raising of Lazarus!
"And so, when Jesus came, He found that he had already been lying in the tomb for four days." (verse 17)
We already know the quiet happy home of Bethany. When Jesus reached it, 'He found' - probably from those who met Him by the way - that Lazarus had been already four days in the grave. According to custom, he would be buried the same day that he had died. Supposing his death to have taken place when the message for help was first delivered, while Jesus continued after that two whole days in the place where He was, this would leave about a day for His journey from Perea to Bethany. We do not, indeed, know the exact place of His stay; but it must have been some well-known center of activity in Perea, since the sisters of Bethany had no difficulty in sending their messenger. At the same time we also infer that, at least at this period, some kind of communication must have existed between Christ and His more intimate disciples and friends, such as the family of Bethany - by which they were kept informed of the general plan of His Mission-journeys, and of any central station of His temporary sojourn.
If Christ at that time occupied such a central station, we can the more readily understand how some of His Galilean disciples may, for a brief space, have been absent at their Galilean homes when the tidings about Lazarus arrived. Their absence may explain the prominent position taken by Thomas; perhaps, also, in part, the omission of this narrative from the Synoptic Gospels.
Jewish Burial Rites
This may be a convenient place for adding to the account already given, in connection with the burying of the widow's son at Nain, such further particulars of the Jewish observances and rites, as may illustrate the present history. Referring to the previous description, we resume, in imagination, our attendance at the point where Christ met the bier at Nain and again gave life to the dead. But we remember that, as we are now in Judea, the hired mourners - both mourning-men (for there were such) and mourning-women - would follow, and not, as in Galilee, precede, the body. From the narrative we infer that the burial of Lazarus did not take place in a common burying-ground, which was never nearer a town than 50 cubits, dry and rocky places being chosen in preference. Here the graves must be at least a foot and a half apart. It was deemed a dishonor to the dead to stand on, or walk over, the turf of a grave. Roses and other flowers seem to have been planted on graves. But cemeteries, or common burying-places, appear in earliest times to have been used only for the poor, or for strangers.
In Jerusalem there were also two places where executed criminals were buried. All these, it is needless to say, were outside the City. But there is abundant evidence, that every place had not its own burying-ground; and that, not unfrequently, provision had to be made for the transport of bodies. Indeed, a burying-place is not mentioned among the ten requisites for every fully-organised Jewish community. The names given, both to the graves and to the burying-place itself, are of interest. As regards the former, we mention such as 'the house of silence;' 'the house of stone;' 'the hostelry,' or, literally, 'place where you spend the night;' 'the couch;' 'the resting-place;' 'the valley of the multitude,' or 'of the dead.' The cemetery was called 'the house of graves;' or 'the court of burying;' and 'the house of eternity.' By a euphemism, 'to die' was designated as 'going to rest,' 'been completed;' 'being gathered to the world' or 'to the home of light;' 'being withdrawn,' or 'hidden.' Burial without coffin seems to have continued the practice for a considerable time, and rules are given how a pit, the size of the body, was to be dug, and surrounded by a wall of loose stones to prevent the falling in of earth.
When afterwards earth-burials had to be vindicated against the Parsee idea of cremation, Jewish divines more fully discussed the question of burial, and described the committal of the body to the ground as a sort of expiation. It was a curious later practice, that children who had died a few days after birth were circumcised on their graves. Children not a month old were buried without coffin or mourning, and, as some have thought, in a special place. In connection with a recent controversy it is interesting to learn that, for the sake of peace, just as the poor and sick of the Gentiles might be fed and nursed as well as those of the Jews, so their dead might be buried with those of the Jews, though not in their graves. On the other hand, a wicked person should not be buried close to a sage. Suicides were not accorded all the honors of those who had died a natural death, and the bodies of executed criminals were laid in a special place, whence the relatives might after a time remove their bones. The burial terminated by casting earth on the grave.
But, as already stated, Lazarus was, as became his station, not laid in a cemetery, but in his own private tomb in a cave - probably in a garden, the favorite place of interment. Though on terms of close friendship with Jesus, he was evidently not regarded as an apostate from the Synagogue. For, every indignity was shown at the burial of an apostate; people were even to array themselves in white festive garments to make demonstration of joy. Here, on the contrary, as we gather from the sequel, every mark of sympathy, respect, and sorrow had been shown by the people in the district and by friends in the neighboring Jerusalem. In such case it would be regarded as a privilege to obey the Rabbinic direction of accompanying the dead, so as to show honor to the departed and kindness to the survivors. As the sisters of Bethany were 'disciples,' we may well believe that some of the more extravagant demonstrations of grief were, if not dispensed with, yet modified.
We can scarcely believe, that the hired 'mourners' would alternate between extravagant praises of the dead and calls upon the attendants to lament; or that, as was their wont, they would strike on their breast, beat their hands, and dash about their feet, or break into wails and mournings songs, alone or in chorus. In all probability, however, the funeral oration would be delivered - as in the case of all distinguished persons - either in the house, or at one of the stations where the bearers changed, or at the burying-place; perhaps, if they passed it, in the Synagogue. It has previously been noted, what extravagant value was, in later times, attached to these orations, as indicating both a man's life on earth and his place in heaven. The dead was supposed to be present, listening to the words of the speaker and watching the expression on the face of the hearers. It would serve no good purpose to reproduce fragments from these orations. Their character is sufficiently indicated by the above remarks.
When thinking of these tombs in gardens, we so naturally revert to that which for three days held the Lord of Life, that all details become deeply interesting. And it is, perhaps, better to give them here rather than afterwards to interrupt, by such inquiries, our solemn thoughts in presence of the Crucified Christ. Not only the rich, but even those moderately well-to-do, had tombs of their own, which probably were acquired and prepared long before they were needed, and treated and inherited as private and personal property. In such caves, or rock-hewn tombs, the bodies were laid, having been anointed with many spices, with myrtle, aloes, and, at a later period, also with hyssop, rose-oil, and rose-water. The body was dressed and, at a later period, wrapped, if possible, in the worn cloths in which originally a Roll of the Law had been held.
The 'tombs' were either 'rock-hewn' or natural 'caves' or else large walled vaults, with niches along the sides. Such a 'cave' or 'vault' of 4 cubits' (6 feet) width, 6 cubits' (9 feet) length, and 4 cubits' (6 feet) height, contained 'niches' for eight bodies - three on each of the longitudinal sides, and two at the end opposite the entrance. Each 'niche' was 4 cubits (6 feet) long, and had a height of seven and a width of six handbreadths. As these burying 'niches' were hollowed out in the walls they were called Kukhin. The larger caves or vaults were 6 cubits (9 feet) wide, and 8 cubits (12 feet) long, and held thirteen bodies - four along each side-wall, three opposite to, and one on either side of the entrance.
These figures apply, of course, only to what the Law required, when a vault had been contracted for. When a person constructed one for himself, the dimensions of the walls and the number of Kukhin might, of course, vary. At the entrance to the vault was 'a court' 6 cubits (9 feet) square, to hold the bier and its bearers. Sometimes two 'caves' opened on this 'court.'
But it is difficult to decide whether the second 'cave,' spoken of, was intended as an ossary (ossarium). Certain it is, that after a time the bones were collected and put into a box or coffin, having first been anointed with wine and oil, and being held together by wrappings of cloths. This circumstance explains the existence of the mortuary chests, or osteophagi, so frequently found in the tombs of Palestine by late explorers, who have been unable to explain their meaning. This unclearness is much to be regretted, when we read, for example, of such a 'chest' as found in a cave near Bethany. One of the explorers has discovered on them fragments of Hebrew inscriptions. Up to the present, only few Hebrew memorial inscriptions have been discovered in Palestine.
The most interesting are those in or near Jerusalem, dating from the first century B.C. to the first A.D. There are, also, many inscriptions found on Jewish tombs out of Palestine (in Rome, and other places), written in bad Greek or Latin, containing, perhaps, a Hebrew word, and generally ending with shalom, 'peace,' and adorned with Jewish symbols, such as the Seven-branched Candlestick, the Ark, the festive emblems of the Feast of Tabernacles, and others. In general, the advice not to read such inscriptions, as it would affect the sight, seems to imply the common practice of having memorial inscriptions in Hebrew. They appear to have been graven either on the lid of the mortuary chest, or on the Golel, or great stone 'rolled' at the entrance to the vault, or to the 'court' leading into it, or else on the inside walls of yet another erection, made over the vaults of the wealthy, and which was supposed to complete the burying-place, or Qebher.
These small buildings surmounting the graves may have served as shelter to those who visited the tombs. They also served as 'monuments,' of which we read in the Bible, in the Apocrypha, and in Josephus. In Rabbinic writings they are frequently mentioned, chiefly by the name Nephesh, 'soul,' 'person' - transferred in the sense of 'monument,' or, by the more Scriptural name of bamah, or, by the Greco-Aramaic, or the Hebrew designation for a building generally. But of gravestones with inscriptions we cannot find any record in Talmudic works. At the same time, the place where there was a vault or a grave was marked by a stone, which was kept whitened, to warn the passer-by against defilement.
Lazarus raised from the dead
We are now able fully to realize all the circumstances and surroundings in the burial and raising of Lazarus.
"And when Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met Him. But Mary was sitting in the house. And Martha said to Jesus, "Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You." Jesus said to her, "Your brother shall rise again." Martha said to Him, "I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day." Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he die, shall live again; And everyone who lives and believes in Me shall not die forever. Do you believe this? " She said to Him, "Yes, Lord; I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, Who was to come into the world."
"And after saying these things, she went away and secretly called her sister Mary, saying, "The Teacher has come and is calling for you." When she heard this, she rose up quickly and came to Him. Now Jesus had not yet come into the town, but was in the place where Martha had met Him. Therefore, when the Jews who were with Mary in the house, consoling her, saw that she had quickly risen up and gone out, they followed her, saying, "She is going to the tomb to weep there." Then Mary, when she came where Jesus was and saw Him, fell at His feet, saying to Him, "Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died."" (verses 20-32)
Jesus had come to Bethany. But in the house of mourning they knew it not. As Bethany was only about fifteen furlongs - or about two miles - from Jerusalem, many from the City, who were on terms of friendship with what was evidently a distinguished family, had come in obedience to one of the most binding Rabbinic directions - that of comforting the mourners. In the funeral procession the sexes had been separated, and the practice probably prevailed even at that time for the women to return alone from the grave. This may explain why afterwards the women went and returned alone to the Tomb of our Lord. The mourning, which began before the burial, had been shared by the friends who sat silent on the ground, or were busy preparing the mourning meal. As the company left the dead, each had taken leave of the deceased with a 'Depart in peace!' Then they had formed into lines, through which the mourners passed amidst expressions of sympathy, repeated (at least seven times) as the procession halted on the return to the house of mourning. Then began the mourning in the house, which really lasted thirty days, of which the first three were those of greatest, the others, during the seven days, or the special week of sorrow, of less intense mourning. But on the Sabbath, as God's holy day, all mourning was intermitted.
In that household of disciples this mourning would not have assumed such violent forms, as when we read that the women were in the habit of tearing out their hair, or of a Rabbi who publicly scourged himself. But we know how the dead would be spoken of. In death the two worlds were said to meet and kiss. And now they who had passed away beheld God. They were at rest. Such beautiful passages as Psalm 112:6, Proverbs 10:7, Isaiah 11:10, last clause, and Isaiah 57:2, were applied to them. Nay, the holy dead should be called 'living.' In truth, they knew about us, and unseen still surrounded us. Nor should they ever be mentioned without adding a blessing on their memory.
In this spirit, we cannot doubt, the Jews were now 'comforting' the sisters. They may have repeated words like those quoted as the conclusion of such a consolatory speech: 'May the Lord of consolations comfort you! Blessed be He Who comforteth the mourners!' But they could scarcely have imagined how literally a wish like this was about to be fulfilled. For, already, the message had reached Martha, who was probably in one of the outer apartments of the house: Jesus is coming! She hastened to meet the Master.
Not a word of complaint, not a murmur, nor doubt, escaped her lips - only what during those four bitter days these two sisters must have been so often saying to each other, when the luxury of solitude was allowed them, that if He had been there their brother would not have died. And even now - when it was all too late - when they had not received what they had asked of Him by their messenger, it must have been, because He had not asked it, though he had said that this sickness was not unto death; or else because he had delayed to work it till He would come. And still she held fast by it, that even now God would give Him whatsoever He asked. Or, did they mean more: were they such words of unconscious prophecy, or sight and sound of heavenly things, as sometimes come to us in our passion of grief, or else winged thoughts of faith too soon beyond our vision? They could not have been the expression of any real hope of the miracle about to take place, or Martha would not have afterwards sought to arrest Him, when He bade them roll away the stone. And yet is not even so, that, when that comes to us which our faith had once dared to suggest, if not to hope, we feel as if it were all too great and impossible, that a very physical 'cannot be' separates us from it?
It was in very truth and literality that the Lord meant it, when He told Martha her brother would rise again, although she understood His Words of the Resurrection at the Last Day. In answer, Christ pointed out to her the connection between Himself and the Resurrection; and, what He spoke, that He did when He raised Lazarus from the dead. The Resurrection and the Life are not special gifts either to the Church or to humanity, but are connected with the Christ - the outcome of Himself. The Resurrection of the Just and the General Resurrection are the consequence of the relation in which the Church and humanity in general stand to the Christ. Without the Christ there would have been no Resurrection. Most literally He is the Resurrection and the Life - and this, the new teaching about the Resurrection, was the object and the meaning of the raising of Lazarus. And thus is this raising of Lazarus the outlook, also, upon His own Resurrection, Who is the firstfruits from the dead.
It is only when we think of the meaning of Christ's words, as implying that the Resurrection and the Life are the outcome of Himself, and come to us only through Him and in Him, that we can understand the answer of Martha to His question about her belief.
What else passed between them we can only gather from the context. It seems that the Master 'called' for Mary. This message Martha now hasted to deliver, although 'secretly.' Mary was probably sitting in the chamber of mourning, with its upset chairs and couches, and other melancholy tokens of mourning, as was the custom; surrounded by many who had come to comfort them; herself, we can scarcely doubt, silent, her thoughts far away in that world to, and of which the Master was to her ' the Way, the Truth, and the Life. ' As she heard of His coming and call, she rose 'quickly,' and the Jews followed her, under the impression that she was again going to visit, and to sweep at the tomb of her brother. For, it was the practice to visit the grave, especially during the first three days.
When she came to Jesus, where He still stood, outside Bethany, she was forgetful of all around. It was, as if sight of Him melted what had frozen the tide of her feelings. She could only fall at His Feet, and repeat the poor words with which she and her sister had these four weary days tried to cover the nakedness of their sorrow: poor words of consolation, and poor words of faith, which she did not, like her sister, make still poorer of by adding the poverty of her hope to that of her faith - the poverty of the future to that of the past and present. To Martha that had been the maximum, to Mary it was the minimum of her faith; for the rest, it was far, far better to add nothing more, but simply to worship at His Feet.
"As a result, when Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her weeping, He groaned in spirit and was Himself inwardly moved. And He said, "Where have you laid him?" They said to Him, "Lord, come and see." Jesus wept. Then the Jews said, "See how much He loved him!" But some of them said, "Could not this man, Who had the power to open the eyes of the blind, also have caused this one not to die?" Because of this, Jesus again groaned within Himself as He came to the tomb. Now it was a cave, and a stone was laid over the opening." (verses 33-38)
It must have been a deeply touching scene: the outpouring of her sorrow, the absoluteness of her faith, the mute appeal of her tears. And the Jews who witnessed it were moved as she, and wept with her. The expression, ' groaned in spirit, ' cannot mean that Christ ' was moved with indignation in the spirit, ' since this could not have been the consequence of witnessing the tears of Mary and what, we feel sure, was the genuine emotion of the Jews. Since Jesus purposely waited until Lazarus was dead before leaving for Bethany, he did not weep because his friend was now beyond his power to change his circumstances. Rather, Jesus wept over the incredible lack of faith the people had in him - especially after more than three years of healing the sick, raising the dead, and many other wonders.
And now it is asked where Lazarus is laid. So truly human - as if He, Who was about to raise the dead, needed the information where he had been laid; so truly human, also, in the underlying tenderness of the personal address, and in the absorption of the whole Theanthropic energy on the mighty burden about to be lifted and lifted away. So, also, as they bade Him come and see, were the tears that fell from Him, not like the violent lamentation that burst from Him at sight and prophetic view of doomed Jerusalem. Yet we can scarcely think that the Jews rightly interpreted it, when they ascribed it only to His love for Lazarus. But surely there was not a touch either of malevolence or of irony, only what we feel to be quite natural in the circumstances, when some of them asked it aloud:
"Could not this man, Who had the power to open the eyes of the blind, also have caused this one not to die?"
Scarcely was it even unbelief. They had so lately witnessed in Jerusalem that Miracle, such as had not been heard of since the world began. It seems difficult to understand how, seeing there was the will (in His affection for Lazarus), there was not the power - not to raise him from the dead, for that did not occur to them, but to prevent his dying. Was there, then, a barrier in death?
"Jesus said, "Take away the stone." Martha, the sister of him who had died, said to Him, "Lord, he already stinks, for it has been four days." Jesus said to her, "Did I not say to you that if you will believe, you shall see the glory of God?" Then they removed the stone from the tomb where the dead man had been laid. And Jesus lifted His eyes upward and said, "Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. And I know that You hear Me always; but because of the people who stand around I say this, so that they may believe that You did send Me." And after He had spoken these things, He cried with a loud voice, "Lazarus, come forth." And he who had been dead came forth, his feet and hands bound with grave clothes, and his face bound up with a napkin. Jesus said to them, "Loose him and let him go." (verses 39-44)
And now they were at the cave which was Lazarus' tomb. He bade them roll aside the great stone which covered its entrance. Amidst the awful pause which preceded obedience, one voice only was raised. It was that of Martha. Jesus had not spoken of raising Lazarus. But what was about to be done? She could scarcely have thought that He merely wished to gaze once more upon the face of the dead. Something nameless had seized her. She dared not believe; she dared not disbelieve. Did she, perhaps, not dread a failure, but feel misgivings, when thinking of Christ as in presence of commencing corruption before these Jews - and yet, as we so often, still love Him even in unbelief?
It was the common Jewish idea that corruption commenced on the fourth day, that the drop of gall, which had fallen from the sword of the Angel and caused death, was then working its effect, and that, as the face changed, the soul took its final leave from the resting-place of the body. Only one sentence Jesus spake of gentle reproof, of reminder of what He had said to her just before, and of the message He had sent when first He heard of Lazarus' illness, but, oh so full of calm majesty and consciousness of Divine strength. And now the stone was rolled away. We all feel that the fitting thing here was prayer - yet not petition, but thanksgiving that the Father 'heard' Him, not as regarded the raising of Lazarus, which was His Own Work, but in the ordering and arranging of all the circumstances - alike the petition and the thanksgiving having for their object them that stood by, for He knew that the Father always heard Him: that so they might believe, that the Father had sent Him. Sent of the Father - not come of Himself, not sent of Satan - and sent to do His Will!
And in doing this Will, He was the Resurrection and the Life. One loud command spoken into that silence; one loud call to that sleeper; one flash of God's Own Light into that darkness, and the wheels of life again moved at the outgoing of The Life. And, still bound hand and foot with graveclothes, and his face with the napkin, Lazarus stood forth, shuddering and silent, in the cold light of earth's day. In that multitude, now more pale and shuddering than the man bound in the graveclothes, the Only One majestically calm was He, Who before had been so deeply moved and troubled Himself, as He now bade them to let him loose.
We know no more. Holy Writ in this also proves its Divine authorship and the reality of what is here recorded. The momentarily lifted veil has again fallen over the darkness of the Most Holy Place, in which is only the Ark of His Presence and the cloudy incense of our worship. What happened afterwards, how they loosed him, what they said, what thanks, or praise, or worship, the sisters spoke, and what were Lazarus' first words, we know not. And better so. Did Lazarus remember aught of the late past, or was not rather the rending of the grave a real rending from the past: the awakening so sudden, the transition so great, that nothing of the bright vision remained, but its impress - just as a marvellously beautiful Jewish legend has it, that before entering this world, the soul of a child has seen all of heaven and hell, of past, present, and future; but that, as the Angel strikes it on the mouth to waken it into this world, all of the other has passed from the mind? Again we say: We know not - and it is better so.
And here abruptly breaks off this narrative. Some of those who had seen it believed on Him; others hurried back to Jerusalem to tell it to the Pharisees. Then was hastily gathered a meeting of the Sanhedrists, not to judge Him, but to deliberate what was to be done. That He was really doing these miracles, there could be no question among them. Similarly, all but one or two had no doubt as to the source of these miracles. If real, they were of Satanic agency - and all the more tremendous they were, the more certainly so. But whether really of Satanic power, or merely a Satanic delusion, one thing, at least, was evident, that, if He were let alone, all men would believe on Him? And then, if He headed the Messianic movement of the Jews as a nation, alike the Jewish City and Temple, and Israel as a nation, would perish in the fight with Rome. But what was to be done?
They had not the courage of, though the wish for, judicial murder, till he who was the High-Priest, Caiaphas, reminded them of the well-known Jewish adage, that it 'is better one man should die, than the community perish.' Yet, even so, he who spoke was the High-Priest; and for the last time, ere in speaking the sentence he spoke it for ever as against himself and the office he held, spake through him God's Voice, not as regards the counsel of murder, but this, that His Death should be 'for that nation' - nay, as John adds, not only for Israel, but to gather into one fold all the now scattered children of God. This was the last prophecy in Israel; with the sentence of death on Israel's true High-Priest died prophecy in Israel, died Israel's High-Priesthood.