The New John Gill Exposition of the Entire BibleMatthew 23:29
Woe unto you Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites…
is the seventh and last time, in which these words are delivered in
this exact form by our Lord, in this chapter; and expresses the
certainty, both of their sin and punishment: and the instance
annexed to it, no less discovers the hypocrisy of these persons, and
supports the character given of them; as also furnishes out a
sufficient reason, why a woe is denounced upon them;
because ye build the tombs of the prophets, and garnish the
sepulchres of the righteous;
meaning by the "prophets" and
"righteous" men, the same persons, the prophets, who were righteous
men; or else the prophets, and also other righteous men besides
them. Rightly is the word "build", used of tombs and sepulchres; the
Jews have a canon, which runs thus F8;
``they do not dig graves nor sepulchres, on a feast day.''
The commentators F9 on it say, that the graves are the holes which
they dig in the earth, and the sepulchres are the buildings over the
graves. In the Gemara it is asked F11,
``what are the graves? and what are the sepulchres? says R.
Judah, the graves are made by digging and the sepulchres
or tombs (Nynbb) , "by building";''
and these edifices which they built over the graves of some of their
prophets, and righteous men, were very grand and beautiful. The
Cippi Hebmici furnish us with many instances of this kind: in
Hebron, in the land of Canaan, which is Kirjath Arba, is the cave of
Machpelah; in which were buried the fathers of the world, Adam and
Eve, Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, Jacob and Leah; and over
it is a wonderful, (hanw) , "and beautiful" building and it is the
building of David the king; and opposite the city, in the
mountain, is a beautiful building, and there was buried Jesse, the
father of David the king: in the way from Hebron to Jerusalem, is
Chalchul, where Gad, David's seer, was buried; and Tekoah, where
Isaiah the prophet was buried, and over him a "beautiful" structure:
at the Mount of Olives is a beautiful fabric, which they say is the
sepulchre of Huldah, the prophetess; at the bottom of the mount is a
very great cave, attributed to Haggai the prophet, and in the middle
of it are many caves; near it, is the sepulchre of Zechariah the
prophet, in a cave shut up, and over it is (han hpyk) , "a beautiful
arch", or vault of one stone: between Rama and Jerusalem are caves
ascribed to Simeon the just, and the seventy (elders of the) sanhedrim:
at Rama, Samuel was buried, also his father Elkanah, and Hannah his
mother, and in a cave shut up, and over the cave buildings: at Cheres,
which is Timnath Cheres, in Mount Ephraim, are buried Joshua the son of
Nun, and Nun his father, and Caleb the son of Jephunneh, and over them
are trees. At Avarta is the school of Phinehas, the son of Eleazar the
priest, and Eleazar is buried upon the mountain; and below the village,
between the olive trees, Ithamar, and over him a large monument: at the
barns is a temple of the Gentiles, with a vault and a cave, where they
say are buried seventy elders. At Belata, a village about a
sabbath day's journey from Shechem, Joseph the righteous was buried: at
Mount Carmel, is the cave of Elijah the prophet, and there was buried
Elisha, the son of Shaphat the prophet: at Jordan was buried Iddo the
prophet, and over it is a great elm tree, and it is in the form of a
lion; and there was buried Shebuel, the son of Gershom, the son of
Moses, over whom is a great oak tree: at Geba, in Mount Lebanon, is
buried Zephaniah the prophet, in the middle of a cave shut up. On a
mountain, a sabbath day's journey from Zidon, Zebulun was buried, in a
beautiful vault; at Cephar Noah, was buried Noah the just; and at
Kadesh Nephtalim, Barak the son of Abinoam, and Deborah his wife, and
Jael; and at Timnath, Shamgar the son of Auath, over whom are two
marble pillars. At Cephar Cana, is buried Jonah, the son of Amittai, on
the top of a mountain, in a temple of the Gentiles, in a "beautiful"
vault: at Jakuk, was buried in the way, Habakkuk the prophet; and at
the north of the village of Raam, was buried Obadiah the prophet: at
Susan the palace, was buried Mordecai the Jew, and over him a beautiful
stone statue; and on it written, this is the sepulchre of Mordecai, the
son of Jair, the son of Shimei, the son of Kish, a man of Jemini; and
near the river Hiddekel, Ezekiel the prophet was buried. In this
account, many things may be observed, which confirm and illustrate the
words of the text. And certain it is, that it was accounted very
honourable and laudable in persons, to beautify the sepulchres of the
patriarchs and prophets. Among the excellent characters given of
Benaah, R. Jochanan's master, it is said F12,
``that he was a very wise man, and a judge, and understood
mysteries and parables; (trem Nyyuw) , "and painted the cave"
of Adam the first, and the cave of Abraham.''
Though perhaps this is to be understood of him in a figurative
sense, but yet must allude to a literal one: the sepulchres of the
prophets, were especially very sacred:
``all sepulchres (they say F13) might be removed, but the
sepulchres of a king, and the "sepulchres of a prophet";
they say unto him, were not the sepulchres of the sons of
David removed? and the sepulchres of the sons of Huldah
were in Jerusalem, and a man might not touch them, to
remove them for ever. R. Akiba replied to them because of
decency it was forgiven (or allowed) there, and from
thence the uncleanness being channelled, went out to the
Now our Lord must not be understood as blaming them for barely
building the tombs of the prophets, and garnishing the sepulchres of
the righteous, which they might have done without blame. But because
they did all this, that they might be thought to be very innocent
and holy men, and far from being guilty of the crimes their
forefathers were; when they were of the very selfsame
blood thirsty, persecuting spirit; and did, and would do the same
things to the prophets and apostles of the New Testament, their
fathers had done to the prophets of the Old. They have a saying F14,
``they do not erect monuments "for the righteous"; for their
words are their memorial.''
But this can only mean, that there is no need of monuments for them;
since their sayings are sufficient to keep up the memory of them.
Hence Dr. Lightfoot thinks, that our Lord reproves them out of their
own mouths, for despising the words of the prophets; imagining they
performed piety enough, by bestowing cost in adorning their
sepulchres; when they themselves own, their sayings are the best
remembrances of them, and therefore ought to be regarded more than
F8 Misn. Moed Katon, c. 1. sect. 6.
F9 Maimon. & Bartenora in ib.
F11 T. Bab. Moed Katon, fol. 8. 2.
F12 Juchasin, fol. 86. 1.
F13 T. Hieros. Nazir, fol. 57. 4.
F14 T. Hieros. Shekalim, fol. 47. 1.
The New John Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible Modernised and adapted for the computer by Larry Pierce of Online Bible. All Rightes Reserved, Larry Pierce, Winterbourne, Ontario.
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Gill, John. "Commentary on Matthew 23:29". "The New John Gill Exposition of the Entire Bible". <http://classic.studylight.org/com/geb/view.cgi?book=mt&chapter=023&verse=029>. 1999.