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John 7-10 record the great controversy that raged around the name of Jesus during the last six months of his ministry. It was October, at the beginning of this chapter, a full six months having elapsed since the tremendous events of chapter 6; and, during that intervening period, the Lord had continued his work in Galilee, beyond the reach of his enemies in Jerusalem. The synoptics reveal that in this same interim, the Lord had repeatedly schooled his disciples concerning the approaching Passion and his resurrection. Peter had confessed him (Matthew 16:13f); he had fed another great multitude (Mark 9:1-9); and the transfiguration had been witnessed by the inner circle of the Twelve (Luke 9:28f). It was time to face eventualities in the capital city, the account of which events comprises the rest of John. A short break would again occur (John 10:4-42) at the end of this section of controversy, in which the Lord briefly withdrew to await the final Passover.
This chapter relates the events related to the feast of tabernacles in October, prior to the Passover in April at which Jesus was crucified. The rapids begin to roar in this chapter; the rising storm of hatred against the Lord would not diminish until a cross arose upon Golgotha. The marvelous value of this section (John 7-10) is in the surgical manner of John's exposing all the complex elements leading up to the crucifixion. Jesus never allowed others to signal the time of his actions; and just as he rejected the suggestion of his mother at Cana (John 2:4), he here rejected the suggestion of his brothers regarding attendance of the feast, attending not all of it, but the last half of it (John 7:1-13). He defended himself against a charge of sabbath-breaking (John 7:14-24); a feeble attempt to arrest him failed (John 7:25-36); he spoke of the living water (John 7:37-44); and Nicodemus spoke a word in his defense (John 7:45-52).
See under chapter heading above. The plot to kill Jesus had been in existence about eighteen months already (John 5:18).
This feast was the equivalent of a harvest festival, "tabernacles" referring to booths, or arbors made of tree branches, in which the people camped out in commemoration of the wilderness sojourn of Israel (Leviticus 23:34-36). It occurred in October, indicating that John here passed over a full six months of Jesus' Galilean ministry.
His brethren ...
contrasting with "disciples," compels the understanding of this in the ordinary sense of his human brothers: James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas (Matthew 13:55), who were, in all probability, additional sons of Mary and Joseph (See my Commentary on Matthew, Matthew 13:55-56). His brothers at this time did not believe in him (John 7:5), having a carnal view of his work. They said, in effect., "Get on down to Jerusalem and perform some more miracles to encourage the people down there who believe in you."
For no man doeth anything in secret ...
was their way of saying that Jesus was merely wasting his time in Galilee. If he wanted recognition, in their view, Jerusalem was the place to get it.
If thou doest, these things ...
shows that they did not believe in him and recalls Satan's words (Matthew 4:3).
In due time, Jesus would reveal himself in Jerusalem, by means of his death and resurrection; but that would have to await the time appointed by the Father. The true passover would be sacrificed on the Passover, not at the feast of tabernacles. Although out of tune with Jesus' will here, these brothers eventually became followers (Acts 1:14).
Jesus' brothers and their friends had not broken with the hierarchy in Jerusalem; and thus it was all very well for them to go up to the feast; but Jesus had broken with it, and they were plotting to kill him (John 5:18). For the Lord to have walked boldly into the trap laid for him in Jerusalem would have been folly. The Lord had dared to instruct them on the proper method of observing the sabbath, exposing the sin of their regulations imposed in place of the divine law; and therefore the priests were determined to kill him.
I go not up unto this feast ...
was true in the sense that Jesus attended only half of it. Jesus did not say, "I will not go," the present tense meaning that "at that time" he would not go. Tenney's comment that "Jesus told the brethren that he was not going, and then promptly went" F1 is not true. A delay of a full three and one-half days is not "promptly" going to the feast. Besides, in the Jewish sense, one attending only half of it was not said to have attended it. Strict attention to the grammar shows what Jesus meant. For further discussion of "go up" in this verse, see under John 7:33.
The brothers went on to Jerusalem without him, leaving the Lord free to enter at a time and circumstance of his own choice. The Pharisees were laying a trap for Jesus, but they would find themselves in his trap before the week was over.
JESUS GOES UP TO THE FEAST
People from all over Palestine were at the feast, including, no doubt, many from Galilee who had witnessed the marvels there; and, besides, it is certain that many still remembered the healing of the man at Bethesda, over a year earlier. This strong favorable attitude toward Jesus among the populace was balanced by the hatred of the leaders, whose plot to kill the Lord was known; and, through fear, many considered it unsafe to speak of the Lord openly.
As it were in secret ...
Friends of Jesus would have aided his quiet and unobtrusive entrance into the city; but it must not be thought that Jesus was, in any sense, hiding from the authorities. He was determined to go just as far as possible without precipitating a premature crisis; and, in such a design, the time factor was all-important. Three and one-half days was not enough for the Pharisees to accomplish their purpose of killing him.
The Lord's name was on every tongue during the first half of the feast when he did not appear. His enemies sought him but found him not.
Christ's name was upon all lips; his mighty deeds were the biggest news that ever happened in Jerusalem; the people loved him; the leaders hated him; and conversation buzzed all over the city; but if any of the Pharisees appeared, the conversation ceased. The threat of murdering the Son of God lay like a mantle of poison gas over Jerusalem during that feast. There was a dreadful air of impending disaster; Satan was in control of the government of the Holy City, reminding one of Paris in the terror:
A spell of horror seems temporarily to have fallen over the city of Paris, a nightmare in which all communication with reality was suspended. It is impossible to read of this period without the impression that one is here confronted with forces more powerful than those controlled by men. F2
In this great controversy, cosmic forces struggled for domination; and the war between Christ and Satan was never more dramatic than here.
JESUS APPEARS IN THE TEMPLE
Once more the messenger of the covenant came suddenly to his temple (Malachi 3:1); and such boldness frustrated and unnerved the Lord's enemies. They did not know how to deal with it. His learned dissertations in the temple were persuading many to believe on him; and the Pharisees were unable to reconcile such wisdom with the fact of Jesus' never having attended the rabbinic schools.
The Jews marveled ...
but what people have marveled about ever since is the bigotry that said, "How could he know anything if he did not learn it from us?" Their bigoted opinion was either repeated in Jesus' hearing, or he read it in their hearts, promptly replying to it.
This man ...
has the meaning of "this fellow" and was intended to place Jesus on a lower level than the rabbis and priests. Nicodemus, having a higher opinion of Christ, referred to him as "Rabbi" (John 3:2).
By this, Jesus claimed that his own words were the words of God, and, in the light of all that has occurred in the intervening centuries, it is clear enough that Jesus did indeed deliver the words of Almighty God to mankind. It was this quality of identifying his teachings as God's teachings that infuriated the leaders. See under John 12:49.
As in John 3:19-21, Jesus here again made the ability to believe on himself to turn on a question of will, and not of intelligence alone; and these remarks are the equivalent of his saying, "Look, if you really want to do the will of God, you will recognize that it is God's will, and not mine own, that I am proclaiming," There could also be further implications of this verse, as David Lipscomb noted:
Does not this involve the conclusion that if anyone in the world really desires to do the will of God, he will be brought to know that will? Is it possible that God would give his Son to die to open the way of salvation, and then leave one to die in ignorance of that way who would accept it if he knew it? F3
The difficulty of finding out what is right in religion is a common complaint among men. They point to many differences among Christians and profess to be unable to decide what is right. (Such a person) should use what little knowledge he has got, and God will soon give him more. F4
The source of knowing God's will is the Bible; but reason, intelligence, experience, obedience, and love are among the instruments by which true wisdom from its sacred pages may be won. And even more important than those instruments is that of the human will DESIRING to know the truth. Many accept blindly whatever teaching they received as a child without ever striving to know if it was really God's will that they learned. Ruskin warned against this:
Of all the insolent, and foolish persuasions that by any chance could enter and hold your empty little heart, this is the profoundest and foolishest, - that you have been so much the darling of heaven, and the favorite of the fates, as to be born in the nick of time, and in the punctual place, when and where pure divine truth had been sifted from the errors of the nations; and that your papa had been providentially disposed to buy a house in the convenient neighborhood of the steeple under which that immaculate and final verity would be proclaimed! Do not think it, child; it is not so. F5
The third person, instead of the first, indicates the statement of a general principle of truth. In all ages, those ministers who proclaimed God's word, relying on the inherent authority of that word to win people - those have been true ministers. Another class of teachers, cutting and plucking at the word of God with their scissors and editing pencils, claiming for themselves the right to declare what is or is not the word of God, glorifying themselves with their revisions and theories - such men are of Satan.
Thus Jesus publicly exposed the plot to kill him on a trumped-up charge of sabbath-breaking, pointing out at the same time the paradox of such notorious violators of Moses' law, as were the Pharisees, plotting to kill Jesus for, of all things, breaking the sabbath. None of the Pharisees kept the sabbath strictly, enjoying a hundred petty little exemptions from the rigorous rules they imposed on others, deserving the comment Jesus made of them: "Yea, they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men's shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with their finger" (Matthew 23:4).
Keep the sabbath day? Of course, they did not. They circumcised on the sabbath; and they had devised some kind of a bypass for practically all of the sabbath restrictions. For example, with reference to walking no more than seven-eighths of a mile, which was the allowable distance according to their rules for a sabbath's journey, they often walked long distances, pausing each seven-eighths of a mile to partake of a bite of food previously cached there in anticipation of the journey, and thus taking any length journey on the pretext that they had changed their residence at each pause! Here, Jesus openly charged them with not keeping Moses' law.
Why seek ye to kill me ...?
Why such men would seek to kill the holy Son of God is a part of the mystery of iniquity.
Many of the multitude were ignorant of the murderous plot of the priests who had sought to conceal their intentions.
Thou hast a demon ...
For a list of the slanders against Jesus, see my Commentary on Matthew, Matt. 11:18-19.
This reference to healing the man at Bethesda, eighteen months earlier, which, even by their judgment, was a single violation of the sabbath (though actually not so at all) was made by Jesus for the sake of contrasting that lone act of mercy performed on the sabbath with the continual and constant violation of the sabbath on the part of the Pharisees by circumcising on the sabbath.
This and John 7:23 establish the fact that circumcision is an older ordinance than the sabbath (Nehemiah 9:13,14), the sabbath having been given through Moses, and circumcision having come before Moses. These verses are the end of any notion that the sabbath goes back any further than Moses. Jesus was here pointing out that if a circumcision, commanded to be performed on the eighth day, fell on a sabbath, the Pharisees allowed it to be done (Leviticus 12:3), demonstrating the great truth that works of necessity and mercy were never intended to be forbidden by God's law regarding the sabbath.
If a man ...
is a reference to a child eight days old. As Barnes noted: "This is not an adult man, but a man child (see John 16:21): `She remembereth no more the anguish, for joy that a man is born into the world.'" F6
The Lord here contrasted an operation on one member of a person's body with an operation on the whole person, as well as a cutting off with a making whole.
Every whit whole ...
indicates that Jesus had cured the entire man, soul and body, thus making it all the more necessary and righteous that the Lord should not have delayed such a blessing another day in order to avoid doing it on the sabbath.
Jesus here charged his foes with having made a false judgment, based solely on the fact that Jesus had APPARENTLY broken the sabbath; but here he explained that the performance of an act of mercy and salvation took precedence over sabbath law, a principle which they recognized in connection with a far lesser thing, the rite of circumcision. Thus, their judgment that Jesus was worthy of death as a sabbath-breaker was an evil judgment, based solely on superficial and unsound premises. Jesus, by this discussion, also replied to the ignorant denial of some of the people that there was any plot to kill him. By openly discussing the charge on which they sought to put him to death, Jesus did two things: (1) showing that the multitude was ignorant of the truth, and (2) exposing the falsity of the charge on which they wanted to kill him.
And they say nothing to him ...
means that they were not attempting to interrupt or forbid his teaching. They were indeed saying something to him, as the conversation here recorded proves. Jesus' strategy was accomplishing its purpose. The Pharisees could not stand before Jesus in open debate and hold their ground; he won every argument, as in the case of the sabbath discussions; and the multitude came slowly to realize that the rulers did know that Jesus was actually the Christ. Any insinuation that those evil rulers did not know whom they crucified should be rejected. Jesus said publicly of them in a parable: "The husbandmen, when they saw the son, said among themselves, This is the heir; come let us kill him, and take his inheritance!" (Matthew 21:23). They knew he was the Christ; but, because he was not the kind of Christ they wanted, they murdered him. True, they did not know that Jesus was God in the flesh; and it was of that ignorance which Paul spoke when he declared, "Had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory" (1 Corinthians 2:8).
The evil rulers made many arguments against the Messianic claims of Jesus: (1) Here they argued that the Messiah would have some mysterious origin; and, of course, they pretended to know all about the origin of Christ, although they did not. (2) They insisted that no prophet could come out of Galilee, because none ever had come from Galilee; but, in their arrogance, they were wrong on both counts, Jonah having come from Gath-Hepher, only three and one-half miles from Nazareth (2 Kings 14:25), and the Christ himself hailing from there! (3) They insisted that Elijah must first come; but they ignored John the Baptist's being the fulfillment of that prophecy.
No one knoweth whence he is ...
This notion was a spin-off from the causistry of the Pharisees and deserves a little more attention. As Adam Clarke said:
The generality of the people knew that Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem ... But from Isa. 53:8, "Who shall declare his generation?" they thought that there should be something so peculiarly mysterious in his birth, or in the manner of his appearing, that no person could fully understand. Had they considered his miraculous conception, they would have felt their minds relieved on that point. F7
The Pharisees had evidently talked with Joseph and Mary; but, if so, it is certain that those devout souls would have told those nosey representatives of the ruling class nothing whatever of the visit of the angel Gabriel, nor of the miraculous birth of our Lord. Whatever investigation the Pharisees had conducted, it failed to reveal either (1) the fact of Jesus' birth at Bethlehem, or (2) the miraculous conception. Their arrogance in pretending to know all about Jesus, and then daring to make their presumed "knowledge" the basis of rejecting him as the Messiah is an example of human self-deception and conceit unsurpassed in the history of the world.
Ye both know me ...
This is sarcastic irony. If they had known Christ, they would have known God who sent him; not knowing God was proof enough they did not know Christ in any sense whatever.
Whom ye know not ...
The leaders did not know God; and that was the basis of their failure to know Jesus.
Jesus' oneness with God was the burden of the teaching of his entire ministry. As God's Son, he brought God's message, spoke God's words, did God's works, and was in fact God come in the flesh.
Confounded and openly contradicted by Christ, the Pharisees were furious and eagerly wanted to take him; but the press of the people around him was so great, and there were so many who believed in him, that considerations of prudence restrained their evil purpose.
His hour was not yet come ...
also implies a supernatural restraint imposed upon Jesus' enemies. An overruling providence prevented his arrest, despite the fact that they actually sent a company of men to take him.
The tragedy in view here is that the vast throng would gladly have hailed Jesus as the Messiah, but out of deference to the leaders they hesitated. How great was the blame of those evil rulers: who not only rejected the Lord for themselves but were the principal cause of a nation's failure to receive him!
Having decided months earlier to kill Christ, they were here spurred to action by the growing sentiment of the people that would have hailed him as the Christ. Their strategy of meeting such an event was to attempt his arrest; but the power of God restrained them until his "hour" had come (John 7:30).
Yet a little while ...
It was October, and Christ was appointed to die at the Passover in April. During that intervening six months, all the powers of hell were not sufficient to have harmed the little finger of Jesus. Finally, when the blow fell, it was with our Lord's full knowledge and consent.
I go unto him ...
The words" I go" in this place are like those in John 7:8; and the perceptive words of Hunter shed more light upon what might have been the meaning there. He wrote:
Possibly the Greek word meaning "to go up" carries here (in 7:8) not its usual geographical sense but the SPIRITUAL one it has in John 3:13; John 6:62 and John 20:17. It would then refer to Christ's ascent to the Father by way of the cross: "I am not going up (to my Father) at this feast." F8
I go unto him that sent me ...
These words are Jesus' way of speaking of his approaching death and resurrection.
According to Hovey, this language means:
That their (Israel's) longing and looking for the Messiah will continue after the rejection and crucifixion. Vainly will they expect the great Prince foretold in their Scriptures; and bitter will be their disappointment, from age to age, because he does not appear. But clinging to their false hope of what the Messiah should be, and hardening themselves against the evidence that he has already appeared in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, they will never find the deliverer whom they seek. F9
Where I am ye cannot come ...
means that men who reject God's Son can never come into God's presence while rejecting the Saviour. Jesus is the only way to the Father; and men shall come unto God through Christ, or they shall not come to God at all.
I am ...
here is prophetic tense, used in the sense of "shall be."
This man ...
means, "This strange pretender ... The pronoun here in the Greek carries an accent of surprise and contempt." F10
The Dispersion ...
refers to the Jews who were scattered abroad among the Gentiles; and the suggestion that perhaps Jesus was planning to go to them has the effect of saying: "Why, a crazy Messiah like he is, might even go to the Dispersion and try to build a following among them." It was an evil thing which they meant by this.
What is this word which he said ...
There is an element of puzzlement on the part of his foes in this. They rejected what he said, as a matter of course, but their minds kept returning to it in wonderment of just what could have been meant by Jesus in the clauses they murmured over and over. Again, from Westcott: "In spite of all, Christ's words cannot be shaken off. They are not to be explained away. A vague sense remains that there is in them some unfathomable meaning." F11
THE EVENTS OF THE LAST DAY OF THE FEAST
The feast of tabernacles was concluded on the final day, thus:
A high point in the ritual of Tabernacles was the pouring out in the Temple court of a golden pitcher of water from the Siloam Pool. This libation was held to symbolize the future outpouring of the Holy Spirit in the Messianic age. F12
In such a context, Jesus' cry for men to come unto him and drink was the equivalent of his promising the Holy Spirit to all who would follow him. Thus, in this Gospel, there is another recurrence of emphasis upon water. See comment under John 4:2.
It is of interest that in the preceding verse Jesus said, "Come unto me and drink"; while in this he said, "He that believeth on me ... from within him shall flow, etc." We reject the comment of Tenney that "`Let him come unto me and drink,' and `he that believeth on me' are practically synonymous terms." F13 On the other hand, the expressions are poles apart in meaning, faith being an action of the mind and heart, and coming being an action of both soul and body. Faith is subjective; coming is objective. Faith is allied to thought; coming is allied to deeds. That this is certain appears from writings throughout the New Testament. These two verses (John 7:37-38) refer to Christians receiving the Holy Spirit (John 7:39); and when this promise was fulfilled, they received the Spirit "after they believed" (Ephesians 1:13), and after they repented and were baptized (Acts 2:38ff; 2:38ff and Galatians 4:6). Therefore these two verses are a reference to the future giving of the Holy Spirit to Christians in consequence of and subsequently to their believing in Christ and obeying the gospel, obedience being the meaning of "come unto me" in John 7:37, and believing being the thing mentioned in John 7:38. Both are required.
This verse is the proof that the first portion of John 3 is spoken of Christian baptism, not at that time commanded, but anticipated by the Lord's remarks there, just as the outpouring of the Spirit on Pentecost is anticipated here. The commentators who make such a big thing out of the great commission's not having been given when Jesus spoke to Nicodemus should take note of this. True, John did not spell it out in that interview, as he has here, for the reason that it was such an obvious reference to baptism that no explanation was thought to be necessary. This verse also sheds light on John 6:55.
refers to the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ, Jesus' fulfillment of all the prophecies in those and related events being truly a glorification of God whose words were thus fulfilled.
The prophet ...
refers to the prophet of Deuteronomy 18:15,19, where the term "prophet" was applied prophetically to Christ.
was indeed the residence of Jesus, but the people seemed ignorant of the fact that he was born in Bethlehem as the prophet had foretold (Micah 5:2). It seems that they merely assumed that since he lived in Galilee he had also been born there. Also, added to the difficulty of the people was the slander of the Pharisees that no prophet had ever come out of Galilee; but they were wrong about that also, Jonah, the first of the prophets, having come from Galilee (2 Kings 14:25). See under John 7:52.
See under preceding verse. The priestly conclave, if they knew of Jesus' birth in Bethlehem, denied it by their distorted emphasis on the place of his residence in Galilee. They were not above falsifying a matter of that kind, even trying to deceive Pilate through their reference to Galilee.
See under John 7:13. Although the multitude continued to be divided, the division within the Sanhedrin was rapidly diminishing, as the hatred of practically all of them hardened toward Jesus.
See under John 7:30-33. Although the purpose of the Pharisees was set upon taking Jesus and destroying him, God restrained them until the appointed time.
THE IMPOTENCE OF THE PHARISEES
The arresting detail met Jesus face to face and were so taken aback by his marvelous powers that they aborted their assignment and returned without him. Since God had predetermined that the Lord would suffer at the following Passover, it must be concluded that even if they had tried they could never have physically apprehended Jesus. His hour had not yet come. Needless to say, the Pharisees were furious, nor did they like the answer they received regarding the failure to arrest him.
Never man so spake ...
There is a necessary inference here in these words that Jesus was more than a man. Otherwise, their words would have been, "No OTHER man ever so spake." This implication was not lost on the Pharisees. Having detected such a tender little bud of faith in the officers, they moved against it with all the savage ferocity of a wild boar.
This defense of their position with the arresting party suggests that the detail sent to take Jesus contained a number of priests. Certainly, the persons addressed in these two verses would seem to have been among them that were considered knowledgeable concerning the law. The arrogant sophistry of the Pharisees had entrenched itself in this position: "Nobody should dare to believe in Jesus as long as we Pharisees have not done so; we are the people; we decide what is true or false."
Notice their pronouncement against the multitude as "accursed," such a statement exposing the loveless, selfish, and hateful character of that evil company. This was the same multitude upon whom it is written that Jesus "had compassion." But there was no compassion, no sympathy, not even any honesty in the devices which they employed against Jesus and anyone who might dare to believe in him.
Not all of the Sanhedrinists were evil men, Nicodemus being one of the notable exceptions. He had already been to Jesus (John 3:1ff) and was obviously out of harmony with the satanic spirit prevailing in the Sanhedrin. Such men as Nicodemus, and there may have been a considerable number of them, were helpless regarding the policies of the organization. The members were divided in their views and would continue to be divided, perhaps until the very end; because there is no evidence whatever that the final meeting of the Sanhedrin that condemned the Saviour had a full representation of its members or even a legal quorum. The men who controlled that body had already decided eighteen months earlier to kill Jesus (John 5:18); and, at the point of Nicodemus' objection, Satan was already in charge of the hierarchy. It was far too late to reverse the purpose of murder in their hearts.
Nicodemus apparently knew that his question would be shouted down, and that probably accounts for the mild manner in which he stated it. Anything stronger would have brought their wrath upon him.
Religious error must defend itself; and, even if no honest defense exists, a shouted lie will serve well enough for the hardened heart. Those bigots demanded that Nicodemus search the Scriptures; and such a demand sounded like they knew what they were talking about; but this whole ploy was a bold unqualified lie, an unscrupulous bluff, the same being one of Satan's favorite disguises, that of a "roaring lion." If Nicodemus knew the answer to their lie, he did not have the courage to reply.
Out of Galilee ariseth no prophet ...
The first of the prophets was Jonah; and he had come out of Galilee, having come from Gath-Hepher which was only three and one-half miles from Nazareth! But that is not all. The one prophet whom God made a type of the Messiah was this same Jonah. Christ himself had spoken to the multitudes regarding the "sign of the prophet Jonah" (Matthew 12:38-41), making it absolutely certain that Jesus appealed to Jonah as a type of himself. It continues to be an amazement that religious literature gives so little space to the typical importance of Jonah. Note the following:
Both Jesus and Jonah were asleep in a ship at sea in a storm.
Both were awakened, Jesus by the disciples, Jonah by the captain.
Both were involved in the ship's security, Jesus for safety, and Jonah for peril.
Both freely gave themselves to save others, Jesus to save all men, Jonah to save the sailors.
Both produced a great calm, Jesus by fiat, Jonah by being cast into the sea.
Both passed through that "three days and three nights" experience mentioned by Christ (Matthew 12:38-41).
Both converted Gentiles, Jesus through the apostles, Jonah by his preaching at Nineveh.
Both were from Galilee (2 Kings 14:25).
Despite all this, they shouted Nicodemus down with the lie that no prophet ariseth out of Galilee. No prophet? Well, only the Messiah(!), that great prophet like unto Moses, whose coming out of Galilee was typified by Jonah, the first of all the prophets and a type of Christ!
James Burton Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.