John Kitto Evening Bible Devotions: November 7

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John Kitto Evening Bible Devotions: November 7

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During the season of tranquility which the church now enjoyed—not, as some say, through the diminished hatred of the Jewish rulers to the Christians, but through the abatement of the activity of their opposition, under the influence of still more exciting claims upon their attention—Peter found the opportunity suitable for re-visiting the churches which had been established beyond the limits of the home district.

In the course of this journey he came to the town of Lydda, at that time regarded as a village, though equal to many towns in extent and population. In the Old Testament it is called Lud, but is not mentioned in connection with any circumstances of historical interest. It was destroyed some years after this by the Romans, at the commencement of the Jewish war; but it was soon after rebuilt, and became known by the Greek name of Diospolis. The foreign names which the Romans were fond of imposing, very rarely, however, took root in the East, and Lydda subsists to this day under its most ancient name of Lud. It is now a considerable village of small houses, with nothing to distinguish it from other Moslem villages except the ruins of the celebrated old church of St. George, the western and more perfect part of which has been built into a large mosque. The St. George of this church is our St. George—that is, the dragon-slaying St. George, who is believed to have been born at this place, and whose remains were removed thither from the place of his martyrdom, and this church built over them, by the emperor Justinian.

On his arrival at Lydda, Peter had his attention called to the case of a person named Aeneas. From the name, which is Greek, it is usually supposed that this person was a Hellenist; and Grotius has deduced the probability that his Jewish name was Hillel. Both points may be doubtful; but the turn of the entire passage, in the original text, seems to make it clear that he was a Christian. He had been bedridden eight years with a paralytic affection. The Gospel had therefore been brought to his bedside, had found him on the bed of languishing, and had not met him abroad in the synagogues and the highways. And, doubtless, it had since then made sweet and tolerable to him, as it alone can, the weariness of his sickbed. On beholding this afflicted saint, Peter, feeling within himself that the Divine power would be exercised for his recovery, said, “Aeneas, Jesus, the Messiah, is pleased to heal thee. Note: This is the precise force of the expressions employed. Arise and make thy bed!” And forthwith he left that bed on which he had so long lain, and proceeded “to make” his bed.

Some points in this claim our attention, as compared with similar miracles of our Lord. The characteristic differences between original and delegated authority—the different characters of the servant and the Son, of the creature and the God, are as Doddridge remarks, everywhere apparent. The same writer (quoting the remarks of Chrysostom indirectly through Clavius), points out, that “no faith on the part of the person healed was required; and the like is observable in many cases, where persons, perhaps ignorant of Christ, were surprised with an unexpected cure. But where persons themselves petitioned for a cure, a declaration of their faith was often required, that none might be encouraged to try experiments out of curiosity in a manner which would have been very indecent, and tending to many bad consequences.”

The analogous miracles of our Lord were performed upon persons who were away from their houses in the open air. These he ordered to take up their beds, and carry them home, that the strength and vigor which they manifested in doing this might attest the completeness of their cure. But here Peter heals a man in his own house, and whom he cannot therefore order to take up his bed and walk home with it. He consequently tells him to make his bed; but how this could afford the same evidence of recovered strength, has somewhat perplexed the commentators. A better knowledge of Eastern customs would have solved the difficulty. The Orientals do not leave their beds laid out in the places where they sleep, except when actually in use. By day they are removed and stowed away in places reserved for or appropriated to them. When, therefore, Peter tells Aeneas to make his bed, he in effect tells him to clear away his bedding—to fold it up, and take it, together with the bed itself, from the room, to place it in the usual repository. This necessarily involved the lifting and carrying the bed, though for a shorter distance. To understand it of merely re-adjusting the bed and bedding in the place where it stood, which is what we mean by “making” a bed, deprives the passage of the confirmatory force which properly belongs to it.

Aeneas seems to have been a person well known; and this miracle of healing by the apostle excited a strong sensation through all the towns and villages of the fertile plain of Sharon, and was, in the Lord’s hand, made effectual for the conversion of many souls to Christ.

While Peter remained at Lydda, the church at Joppa, six miles off, was plunged into much affliction by the loss of one of its most useful members, in the person of a wealthy lady named Tabitha, “which by interpretation is called Dorcas.” That is, Dorcas being the same in Greek as Tabitha in Syriac—both meaning an antelope. Names derived from animals were not unusual among the Hebrews. Note: See Morning Series; Twenty-Third Week—Friday. Thus we have Rachel, a lamb; and the particular name of Tabitha was not uncommon in this age. Tabi is the masculine form of it; and the Mishna informs us that Rabban Gamaliel had a man-servant called Tabi, and a woman-servant called Tabitha; nay, that all his female servants bore the latter name, and all his men-servants the former—which, if true, must have been a serious inconvenience.

This lady, who seems to have been a widow, had made her life a blessing to the people; for “she was full of good works and alms deeds that she did.” This was particularly shown in providing clothing for the poor disciples; and she seems to have employed her own hands, and those probably of others, in making such articles at her own home—keeping up a store from which those that needed could be supplied. The loss of a woman whose faith in Christ thus beneficently operated in loving solicitude for the poor members of his flock, could not but be severely felt in Joppa; and as it was known that Peter was at Lydda, a message was sent imploring him to hasten over to Joppa. With what object this message was sent, it is not easy to say. Considering that no apostle had yet raised the dead, it has been thought that they could hardly have expected this; and that they merely wished for the comfort of his presence in their affliction. We think it likely, however, that those who sent, did entertain some vague hope that Peter might be enabled to restore their friend to life—especially considering the strong impression which his recent miracle of healing had made upon their minds. Their request that “he would not delay,” seems clearly to intimate a wish that he should arrive before the interment, which, as we know, takes place very soon after death in the East.

Meanwhile the body was prepared for burial. It was washed, and removed to an upper chamber. This is the only time that the washing of dead bodies for burial is mentioned in Scripture. This custom has been a very general one among all nations, ancient and modern; and instead of multiplying examples of that which needs no proof, we may mention how this matter is now managed among the Jews, in conformity with their ancient usages.

The time of interment is fixed by the officers of the synagogue, and must be, if possible, within twenty-four hours after death.

The first care is to provide the needful shrouds or envelopes for the corpse, and these being ready, the body is washed. It is laid upon a board, which is called the “purifying board,” with the feet towards the door. A clean sheet is laid over it, while the under linen garment of the deceased, after being rent through from the breast downward, is removed. The corpse is then washed with lukewarm water, the quantity of which must not be less than nine cabbin, equal to as many English quarts. The water is poured upon the sheet with which the corpse is cleansed, it being forbidden to touch a dead body with the bare hand. The washing must commence with the head, and so downward to the feet. When the whole body has thus been washed, it is laid on its back, and the nails of the hands and feet are properly cleansed with an instrument made for the purpose. During these operations, as well as in those that follow, no part of the corpse is left uncovered. The “washing” being thus finished, the corpse has now to pass under the ceremony called Taharah, or “purification.” The operators first wash their hands with clean water, and then wipe them dry with a towel. Four persons now hold a sheet over the corpse. The wet sheet is then withdrawn, and nine cabbin of clean cold water are poured upon the body, commencing as before from the head downward. Previously to pouring this water of purification, they are to repeat as follows—“And he poured of the anointing oil upon Aaron’s head, and anointed him to sanctify him…. Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness and from all your idols will I cleanse you. And ye shall be holy; for I, the Lord your God, am holy.—Taharah! Taharah! Taharah!

The corpse is nest well dried with a clean sheet. A cap is then put upon the head, with the words—“And he put the mitre upon his head;” and when the body is placed in the coffin, the words are uttered—“May he go to his appointed place in peace!”

The purification board is then carefully cleansed and dried; and the water spilt upon the ground must also be well died up. It is likewise provided that the water used for the purification shall not be cast where human beings might pass over it, but that it shall be carefully poured out in some secluded place. Note: See The British Jews, by the Rev. John Mills. London, 1853.

These facts are interesting, though it may be hard to say how many of the particular usages, beyond the general practice of washing the dead, may equally belong to scriptural times. Perhaps most of them, as there is usually, in such matters, less change from lapse of time than in any others. In the existing Jewish practices as described, nothing is more worthy of notice than the scrupulous delicacy with which a necessarily unpleasant operation is performed; and, indeed, whatever else may be said of the Jews, it is certain that no nation surpass, or even come near them (as a people), in personal modesty, both as it respects the living and the dead.

Peter at once responded to the application to him, and proceeded to Joppa with the messenger. On his arrival he was taken to the upper chamber in which lay the body of the departed, and here “all the widows stood by him weeping, and showing him the coats and garments which Dorcas made while she was with them.” These widows were doubtless such as had been particularly benefited by her kindness, and who now lamented their lost benefactress; and here we find another corroboration of the prominent attention paid to the wants of widows in the ancient church. It may be that these widows showed the clothes they wore at the time, and which they owed to the bounty of Dorcas, rather than the stores of clothing she had prepared for the poor. Peter, however, put them all forth gently from the room, as he had seen his Master do, when He raised the daughter of Jairus from the dead. Being thus left alone with the corpse, he kneeled down and prayed—as Elisha had done of old (2Ki_4:33), and perhaps because this was a great and strange matter in which he was not yet assured of the mind of God. But he arose from prayer satisfied, and turning to the corpse said, “Tabitha, arise!” At these words she opened her eyes; and when she saw Peter, whom she had probably known in his former visit to this quarter, she sat up. But her movements being hindered by the habiliments of death, he gave her his hand to help her to her feet; and then calling in “the saints and widows,” who were anxiously awaiting the result, he presented to them alive and well the friend whose loss they had so grievously deplored.

A miracle like this, one so well known and so highly esteemed as Dorcas, could not fail to make an impression, even stronger than that which the miracle performed upon Aeneas had made on the minds of the people. It became a theme of common discourse throughout all the region of Joppa; and the immediate result was, that “many believed in the Lord.”