Matthew 21

1. And when they drew nigh unto Jerusalem, and were come to Bethphage, unto the mount of Olives, then sent Jesus two disciples,

[To the mount of Olives.] Mons Olivarum, Zechariah 14:4.

2. Saying unto them, Go into the village over against you, and straightway ye shall find an ass tied, and a colt with her: loose them, and bring them unto me.

[An ass and her foal.] In the Talmudists we have the like phrase, an ass and a little colt. In that treatise Mezia, they speak concerning a hired ass, and the terms that the hired is obliged to. Among other things there, the Babylon Gemara hath these words, Whosoever transgresses against the will of the owner is called a robber. For instance, if any one hires an ass for a journey on the plains, and turns up to the mountains, &c. Hence this of our Saviour appears to be a miracle, not a robbery; that without any agreement or terms this ass should be led away; and that the owner and those that stood by should be satisfied with these bare words, “The Lord hath need of him.”

5. Tell ye the daughter of Sion, Behold, thy King cometh unto thee, meek, and sitting upon an ass, and a colt the foal of an ass.

[Meek, and sitting upon an ass.] This triumph of Christ completes a double prophecy: 1. This prophecy of Zechariah here mentioned. 2. The taking to themselves the Paschal lamb, for this was the very day on which it was to be taken, according to the command of the law, Exodus 12:3; “In the tenth day of this month, they shall take to them every man a lamb.”

It scarce appears to the Talmudists, how those words of Daniel concerning the Messias, that “he comes with the clouds of heaven,” are consistent with these words of Zechariah, that “he comes sitting upon an ass.” “If (say they) the Israelites be good, then he shall come with the clouds of heaven; but if not good, then riding upon an ass.” Thou art much mistaken, O Jew: for he comes “in the clouds of heaven,” as judge and revenger; but sitting upon an ass, not because you are, but because he is, good. “King Sapores said to Samuel, ‘You say your Messias will come upon an ass, I will send him a brave horse.’ He answers him, ‘You have not a horse with a hundred spots as is his ass.” In the greatest humility of the Messias they dream of grandeur, even in his very ass.

8. And a very great multitude spread their garments in the way; others cut down branches from the trees, and strowed them in the way.

[Strewed branches in the way.] Not that they strewed garments and boughs just in the way under the feet of the ass to be trod on; this perhaps might have thrown down the rider; but by the wayside they made little tents and tabernacles of clothes and boughs, according to the custom of the feast of Tabernacles. John also adds, that taking branches of palm trees in their hands, they went forth to meet him. That book of Maimonides entitled Tabernacles and palm branches, will be an excellent comment on this place, and so will the Talmudic treatise, Succah. We will pick out these few things, not unsuitable to the present story: “Doth any one spread his garment on his tabernacle against the heat of the sun, &c.? it is absurd; but if he spread his garment for comeliness and ornament, it is approved.” Again, “The boughs of palm trees, of which the law, Leviticus 23:40, speaks, are the young growing sprouts of palms, before their leaves shoot out on all sides; but when they are like small staves, and these are called young branches of palms.” And a little after, “It is a notable precept, to gather young branches of palms, the boughs of myrtle and willow, and to make them up into a small bundle, and to carry them in their hands,” &c.

9. And the multitudes that went before, and that followed, cried, saying, Hosanna to the son of David: Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest.

[Hosanna to the Son of David.] Some are at a loss why it is said to the Son, and not O Son: wherefore they fly to Caninius as to an oracle, who tells us, that those very bundles of boughs are called Hosanna; and that these words, Hosanna to the Son of David, signify no more than boughs to the Son of David. We will not deny that bundles are sometimes so called, as seems in these clauses…where it is plain, that a branch of palm is called Lulab, and boughs of myrtle and willow bound together are called Hosanna: but, indeed, if Hosanna to the Son of David signifies boughs to the Son of David, what do those words mean, Hosanna in the highest? The words therefore here sung import as much as if it were said, We now sing Hosanna to the Messias.

In the feast of Tabernacles, the great Hallel, as they call it, used to be sung, that is, Psalm 113-118. And while the words of the Psalms were sung or said by one, the whole company used sometimes to answer at certain clauses, Halleluia. Sometimes the same clauses that had been sung or said were again repeated by the company: sometimes the bundles of boughs were brandished or shaken. “But when were the bundles shaken?” The rubric of the Talmud saith, “At that clause Give thanks unto the Lord, in the beginning of Psalm 118, and at the end. And at that clause, Save now, I beseech thee, O Lord, (Psa 118:25) as saith the school of Hillel: but the school of Shammai saith also, at that clause, O Lord, I beseech thee, send now prosperity. R. Akibah said, I saw R. Gamaliel and R. Joshuah, when all the company shook their bundles they did not shake theirs, but only at that clause, Save now, I beseech thee, O Lord.”

On every day of the feast, they used once to go round the altar with bundles in their hands, singing this, Save now, I beseech thee, O Lord; I beseech thee, O Lord, send now prosperity. But on the seventh day of the feast they went seven times round the altar, &c. “The tossing or shaking of the bundles was on the right hand, on the left hand, upwards and downwards.”

“The reason of the bundles was this, because it is written, ‘Then let all the trees of the wood sing,’ (Psa 96:12). And afterward it is written, ‘Give thanks unto the Lord, because he is good,’ (Psa 106:1). And afterward, ‘Save us, O Lord, O our God,’ &c. (Psa 106:47). And the reason is mystical. In the beginning of the year, Israel and the nations of the world go forth to judgment; and being ignorant who are to be cleared and who guilty, the holy and blessed God commanded Israel that they should rejoice with these bundles, as a man rejoiceth who goeth out of the presence of his judge acquitted. Behold, therefore, what is written, ‘Let the trees of the wood sing’; as if it were said, Let them sing with the trees of the wood, when they go out justified from the presence of the Lord,” &c.

[For more information on feast days, please see “The Temple: Its Ministry and Services” by Alfred Edersheim.]

These things being premised concerning the rites and customs of that feast, we now return to our story:–

I. It is very much worth our observation, that the company receives Christ coming now to the Passover with the solemnity of the feast of Tabernacles. For what hath this to do with the time of the Passover? If one search into the reason of the thing more accurately, these things occur; First, The mirth of that feast above all others; concerning which there needs not much to be said, since the very name of the feast (for by way of emphasis it was called Festivity or Mirth) sufficiently proves it. Secondly, That prophecy of Zechariah, which, however it be not to be understood according to the letter, yet from thence may sufficiently be gathered the singular solemnity and joy of that feast above all others; and, perhaps, from that same prophecy, the occasion of this present action was taken. For being willing to receive the Messias with all joyfulness, triumph, and affection of mind (for by calling him the Son of David, it is plain they took him for the Messias), they had no way to express a more ardent zeal and joy at his coming, than by the solemn procession of that feast. They have the Messias before their eyes; they expect great things from him; and are therefore transported with excess of joy at his coming.

II. But whereas the Great Hallel, according to the custom, was not now sung, by reason of the suddenness of the present action, the whole solemnity of that song was, as it were, swallowed up in the frequent crying out and echoing back of Hosanna; as they used to do in the Temple, while they went round the altar. And one while they sing Hosanna to the Son of David; another while, Hosanna in the highest; as if they had said, “Now we sing Hosanna to the Son of David; save us, we beseech thee, O thou [who dwellest] in the highest, save us by the Messias.”

12. And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves,

[He cast out all them that sold and bought in the Temple.] I. There was always a constant market in the Temple in that place which was called the shops; where every day was sold wine, salt, oil, and other requisites to sacrifices; as also oxen and sheep, in the spacious Court of the Gentiles.

II. The nearness of the Passover had made the market greater; for innumerable beasts being requisite to this solemnity, they were brought hither to be sold. This brings to mind a story of Bava Ben Buta: “He coming one day into the court found it quite empty of beasts. ‘Let their houses,’ said he, ‘be laid waste, who have laid waste the house of our God.’ He sent for three thousand of the sheep of Kedar; and having examined whether they were without spot, brought them into the Mountain of the House”; that is, into the Court of the Gentiles.

[Overthrew the tables of the moneychangers.] Who those money changers were, may be learned very well from the Talmud, and Maimonides in the treatise Shekalim:–

“It is an affirmative precept of the law, that every Israelite should give half a shekel yearly: even the poor, who live by alms, are obliged to this; and must either beg the money of others, or sell their clothes to pay half a shekel; as it is said, ‘The rich shall give no more, and the poor shall give no less.'”

“In the first day of the month Adar, they made a public proclamation concerning these shekels, that every one should provide his half shekel, and be ready to pay it. Therefore, on the fifteenth day of the same month, the exchangers sat in every city, civilly requiring this money: they received it of those that gave it, and compelled those that did not. On the five-and-twentieth day of the same month they sat in the Temple; and then compelled them to give; and from him that did not give they forced a pledge, even his very coat.”

“They sat in the cities, with two chests before them; in one of which they laid up the money of the present year, and in the other the money of the year past. They sat in the Temple with thirteen chests before them; the first was for the money of the present year; the second, for the year past; the third, for the money that was offered to buy pigeons,” &c. They called these chests trumpets, because, like trumpets, they had a narrow mouth, and a wide belly.

“It is necessary that every one should have half a shekel to pay for himself. Therefore, when he comes to the exchanger to change a shekel for two half shekels, he is obliged to allow him some gain, which is called kolbon. And when two pay one shekel [between them], each of them is obliged to allow the same gain or fee.”

And not much after, “How much is that gain? At that time when they paid pence for the half shekel, a kolbon [or the fee that was paid to the moneychanger] was half a mea, that is, the twelfth part of a penny, and never less. But the kolbons were not like the half shekel; but the exchangers laid them by themselves till the holy treasury were paid out of them.” You see what these money changers were, and whence they had their name. You see that Christ did not overturn the chests in which the holy money was laid up, but the tables on which they trafficked for this unholy gain.

[Of those that sold doves] Sellers of doves. See the Talmudic treatise of that title. “Doves were at one time sold at Jerusalem for pence of gold. Whereupon Rabban Simeon Ben Gamaliel said, By this temple I will not lie down this night, unless they be sold for pence of silver, &c. Going into the council-house, he thus decreed, A woman of five undoubted labours, or of five undoubted fluxes, shall be bound only to make one offering; whereby doves were sold that very day for two farthings.” The offering for women after childbirth, and fluxes, for their purification, were pigeons, &c. But now, when they went up to Jerusalem with their offerings at the feasts only, there was at that time a greater number of beasts, pigeons, and turtles, &c. requisite. See what we have said at the fifth chapter, and the three-and-twentieth verse.

15. And when the chief priests and scribes saw the wonderful things that he did, and the children crying in the temple, and saying, Hosanna to the son of David; they were sore displeased.

[The children crying in the temple, and saying, Hosanna.] Children, from their first infancy, were taught to manage the bundles, to shake them, and in shaking, to sing Hosanna. A child, so soon as he knows how to wave the bundle, is bound to carry a bundle Where the Gemara saith thus; “The Rabbins teach, that so soon as a little child can be taught to manage a bundle, he is bound to carry one: so soon as he knows how to veil himself, he must put on the borders: as soon as he knows how to keep his father’s phylacteries, he must put on his own: as soon as he can speak, let his father teach him the law, and to say the phylacteries,” &c.