March 31, 2010

D. A. Carson on Matthew 23:37

Almost exact verbal equivalence between these verses and Luke 13:34–35 makes it nearly certain that both Matthew and Luke are following the same written source (Q?) and therefore that at least one of the two evangelists displaced this prayer from its setting in the life of Jesus. Certainly the lament is more integral to the setting in Matthew than in Luke (cf. Suggs, pp. 64–66; Garland, pp. 187–97). Jesus undoubtedly lamented over the city on other occassions (Luke 19:41–44), and the broad compassion of his words is characteristic (Matt 9:35–38).

The effect of the lament is twofold. First, it tinges all the preceding woes with compassion (note the doubling of "Jerusalem" [cf. 2 Sam 18:33; 1 Kings 13:2; Jer 22:29; Luke 10:41; 22:31]). There is also a change of number from Jerusalem to people of Jerusalem: "you [sing.] who kill . . . sent to you [sing.] . . . your [sing.] children . . . your [pl.] house . . . you [pl.] will not see." The effect is to move from the abstraction of the city to the concrete reality of people. Jesus' woes in Matthew 23 therefore go far beyond personal frustrations: they are divine judgments that, though wrathful, never call in question the reality of divine love (see discussion on 5:44–45).

Second, the Christological implications are unavoidable, for Jesus, whether indentifying himself with God or with wisdom, claims to be the one who has longed to gather and protect this rebellious nation. Phrased in such terms, Jesus' longing can only belong to Israel's Savior, not to one of her prophets. The authenticity of the lament is frequently denied on the ground that the historical Jesus could not possibly have said it (e.g., Suggs, p. 66). But it is a strange criticism that a priori obliterates any possibility of listening to the text in such a way as to hear a historical Jesus who was not only conscious of his transcendent origins but who in many ways laid claims to his origins as part of his compassionate and redemptive self-disclosure.

37 Verses 37–39 preserve Jesus' last recorded public words to Israel. Jerusalem, the city of David, the city where God revealed himself in his temple, had become known as the city that killed the prophets and stoned those sent to her. Stoning to death, prescribed in the law of Moses for idolatry (Deut 175, 7), sorcery (Lev 20:27), and several other crimes, is also laid down in the Mishnah (M Sanhedrin 7:4) for false prophets. It could also be the outcome of mob violence (21:35; Acts 7:57–58) or conspiracy, which apparently is how Zechariah died (2 Chron 24:21). "How often" may look back over Israel's history—viz., Jesus' identifying himself with God's transcendent, historical perspective (John 8:58); but more probably "how often" refers to the duration of Jesus' ministry. During it he "often" longed to gather and shelter Jerusalem (by metonymy including all Jews) as a hen her chicks (cf. Deut 32:11; Pss 17:8; 36:7; 91:4; Jer 48:40); for despite the woes, Jesus, like the "Sovereign Lord" in Ezekiel 18:32, took "no pleasure in the death of anyone.
D. A. Carson, "Matthew" in The Expositor's Bible Commentary, ed. Frank E. Gæbelein (Regency Reference Library; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1984), 8:486–487. Bracketed material is original.

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