signifies literally |The house of dates
|The figs of Bethany| are mentioned specially by the Rabbins as being subject to tithing.
Stanley's |Sinai and Palestine.|
Bartlett's |Walks about Jerusalem.|
Neander's |Life of Christ.|
|What Mary fell short in words she made up in tears. She said less than Martha, but wept more; and tears of devout affection have a voice, a loud prevailing voice -- no rhetoric like that.| -- MATTHEW HENRY.
Note. -- See p.173.
|Within and Without.|
As the Jewish sabbath began at six o'clock on Friday evening, and lasted till six on Saturday evening, we may infer it was after the close of its sacred hours (at |eventide|) He reached Bethany.
It is supposed to have been equivalent to L10 of our money.
An excellent Christian poet has thus amplified this thought: --
|Thou hast thy record in the monarch's hall,
And on the waters of the far mid sea;
And where the mighty mountain shadows fall,
The Alpine hamlet keeps a thought of thee.
Where'er, beneath some Oriental tree,
The Christian traveller rests -- where'er the child
Looks upward from the English mother's knee,
With earnest eyes, in wond'ring reverence mild,
There art thou known. Where'er the Book of Light
Bears hope and healing, there, beyond all blight,
Is borne thy memory -- and all praise above.
Oh! say what deed so lifted thy sweet name,
Mary! to that pure, silent place of fame? --
One lowly offering of exceeding love.|
This was a common opinion among the Fathers of the Church.
Stanley's |Sinai and Palestine,| p.188-191. A work of rare interest, which condenses in one volume the literature of the Holy Land.
Bethphage, lit. |the house of figs.|
|If the miracles generally have a symbolical import, we have in this case one that is entirely symbolical.| -- NEANDER.
|Trench on the Miracles,| p.444. See a full exposition of the design and import of this miracle in this exhaustive and admirable dissertation.
|The fig-tree, rich in foliage, but destitute of fruit, represents the Jewish people, so abundant in outward shows of piety, but destitute of its reality. Their vital sap was squandered upon leaves. And as the fruitless tree, failing to realise the aim of its being, was destroyed, so the theocratic nation, for the same reason, was to be overtaken, after long forbearance, by the judgments of God, and shut out from His kingdom.| -- NEANDER.
|In that of the devils in the swine there was no punishment, but only a permitting of the thing.| -- See |Stier's Words of the Lord Jesus,| vol. iii. p.100.
|Sinai and Palestine,| p.165.
|On the wild uplands,| says Mr Stanley, |which immediately overhangs the village, He finally withdrew from the eyes of His disciples, in a seclusion which, perhaps, could nowhere else be found so near the stir of a mighty city, the long ridge of Olivet screening those hills, and those hills the village beneath them, from all sight or sound of the city behind; the view opening only on the wide waste of desert rocks, and ever-descending valleys, into the depths of the distant Jordan and its mysterious lake. At this point the last interview took place. He led them out as far as to Bethany. The appropriateness of the whole scene presents a singular contrast to the inappropriateness of that fixed by a later fancy, 'Seeking for a sign' on the broad top of the mountain, out of sight of Bethany, and in full sight of Jerusalem, and thus an equal contradiction to the letter and the spirit of the Gospel narrative.| -- P.192.
The same writer, in another place (p.450), says, |Even if the evangelist had been less explicit in stating that He led them out 'as far as to Bethany,' the secluded hills (that especially to which Tobler assigns the name of Djebel Sajach) which overhang that village on the eastern slope of Olivet, are evidently as appropriate to the whole tenor of the narrative, as the startling, the almost offensive publicity of the traditional spot, in the full view of the whole city of Jerusalem, is wholly inappropriate, and (in the absence, as it now appears, of even traditional support) wholly untenable.|
Acts i.6, 7.
|Within and Without.|
Is it lawful to think of Bethany in connexion with the Church of the Future? Are there no foreshadowed glories found in the pages of Holy Writ, which include this lowly village -- gilding it with the beams of a Millennial Sun? Is it destined to remain as it now is -- a wreck of vanished loveliness? and is the crested ridge above it, which was the scene of the great terminating event of the Incarnation, to be associated with no other august displays of the Redeemer's power and majesty? The following remarkable prediction occurs in the prophet Zechariah: -- |And his feet shall stand in that day upon the mount of Olives, which is before Jerusalem on the east, and the mount of Olives shall cleave in the midst thereof toward the east and toward the west, and there shall be a very great valley; and half of the mountain shall remove toward the north, and half of it toward the south.| Zech. xiv.4. Were we of the number of those -- (perhaps some who read these pages) -- who look with firm and joyful confidence to the Personal Reign of the Redeemer on earth, and who in their code of interpretation regarding unfulfilled prophecy, espouse the literal in preference to the spiritual meaning, we might here have an inviting picture presented to us of the BETHANY of the future. The Mount of Olives, by some great physical, or rather supernatural agency, is represented as heaving from its foundations, and parting in twain. The middle summit disappears. The remaining two form the steep sides of a new Valley, which, as it is spoken of as opening at Jerusalem (from Gethsemane), eastwards, the Vista must necessarily terminate with BETHANY; thus connecting the two most memorable spots associated with our Lord's humiliation. |His feet shall stand in that day on the Mount of Olives.| -- The once lowly Saviour again |stands| in power and great glory on the very spot over Bethany from which He formerly ascended. A new highway from the |Village of Palms| is made for His triumphal entrance to the Holy City, while the air resounds with the old welcome -- |Rejoice, O daughter of Zion, behold thy King cometh!| If further we turn with the literalists to the majestic Temple-Visions of Ezekiel, we find the front of the newly-erected structure facing up this valley; a new stream -- (indeed a mighty river) -- gushes down from the temple-colonnade, flowing through the same gorge, and discharging its purifying waters into the Dead Sea. (Verse 8, and Ezekiel xlvii.1-12; Joel iii.18. The reader is referred to these passages in full.) From the geographical position, this river must needs, in the course assigned to it, flow nigh to the restored palm-groves of Bethany -- thus murmuring by scenes consecrated for centuries by the footsteps and tears of a weeping Saviour.
But if we cannot participate in these gorgeous literal picturings, we are abundantly warranted to take the words of the Prophet as delineating the glorious results of the future restoration of the Jews to their own Jerusalem. We can think of the City of the Great King raised from her desolation, |her walls salvation, and her gates praise.| The Messiah, once rejected, now owned and welcomed -- |the children of Zion joyful in their King.| We can think of the valley which is to divide the Mount of Olives -- (the mountain bedewed with the memory of the Saviour's prayers) -- we can think of that valley, and the stream which flows through it, as emblematic of spiritual blessings. |Ask of Me,| says God, addressing His adorable Son, |and I will give Thee the heathen for thine inheritance.| Is not the symbolic answer here given? The Mountain where the Saviour so |oft resorted| to |ask of His Father,| is rent in sunder -- every barrier to the progress of the truth is now swept away -- the living stream of Gospel mercy issues from Zion (or rather, from Him who is the True Temple), that it may flow to the remotest nations of the earth! As it enters the bituminous waters of the Asphaltite Lake, it is represented as curing them of their bitterness (Ezek. xlvii.8, 9); descriptive of the power of the Gospel, whose living streams, like the symbolic |leaves of the tree of life,| are for |the healing of the nations.| Then shall the words of Isaiah be fulfilled, |Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain. And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.| (Isa. xl.4.) In the prophecy of Zechariah, to which we have just referred, we are told that in that same happy millennial period, the representatives of the world's nations will go up |year by year to worship the King, the Lord of Hosts, and to keep the feast of Tabernacles.| (Zech. xiv.16.) Who can tell but this may be a literal revival of the old Hebrew festival, only invested with a new Gospel and Christian meaning. |This feast,| says a gifted expositor, |is the only unfulfilled one of the great feasts of Israel. Passover was fulfilled at Christ's death, and Pentecost at the outpouring of the Spirit. But this feast represents the LORD tabernacling with men, and is only fulfilled when 'The Lord my God shall come, and all the saints with Thee.' On the Transfiguration-Hill, Peter, almost unwittingly, set forth this truth. He seemed to mean to say, 'Is not this the true joy of the Feast of Tabernacles? Is not the Lord here?'| If this be so, we can think of the palm-groves of Bethany again bared of their branches; -- these waved in triumph as a new and nobler |Hosannah| awakes the ancient echoes of Olivet -- |Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord!| As the regenerated children of Abraham build up the waste places in and around Zion, which for ages have been |without inhabitant,| and whose names are still dear to them -- think we, amid other scenes of hallowed interest, they will not love oftentimes to take the old |Sabbath-day's journey| to the site of |the Home of Mary and her sister Martha.| While seated nigh the reputed burial-place, with the Gospel in their hands, reading, through their tears, the story of their fathers' impenitency, and of their Saviour's compassion and sympathy at the grave of His friend, will not a new and impressive truthfulness invest one of the old Bethany utterances, |THEN said the Jews, Behold how He loved him!|
But these, after all, are merely speculative thoughts, on which we can build nothing. We have in these |Memories| to deal with the Bethany of the past, not with the imagined Bethany of the future. However pleasing, in connexion with the Honoured Village, these thoughts of a Millennial day may be, |nevertheless WE, according to His promise, rather look for new Heavens and a new Earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness.|
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