The people which sat in darkness - This is quoted from Isaiah 9:2, where, instead of sitting, the prophet used the word walked. The evangelist might on purpose change the term, to point out the increased misery of the state of these persons. Sitting in darkness expresses a greater degree of intellectual blindness, than walking in darkness does. In the time of Christ's appearing, the people were in a much worse state than in the time of the prophet, which was nearly 700 years before; as, during all this period, they were growing more ignorant and sinful.
The region and shadow of death - These words are amazingly descriptive. A region of death - Death's country, where, in a peculiar manner, Death lived, reigned, and triumphed, subjecting all the people to his sway.
Shadow of death - Σκια θανατου, used only here and in Luke 1:79, but often in the Old Covenant, where the Hebrew is מות צל tsal maveth, It is not easy to enter fully into the ideal meaning of this term. As in the former clause, death is personified, so here. A shadow is that darkness cast upon a place by a body raised between it and the light or sun. Death is here represented as standing between the land above mentioned, and the light of life, or Sun of righteousness; in consequence of which, all the inhabitants were, involved in a continual cloud of intellectual darkness, misery, and sin. The heavenly sun was continually eclipsed to them, till this glorious time, when Jesus Christ, the true light, shone forth in the beauty of holiness and truth. Christ began his ministry in Galilee, and frequented this uncultivated place more than he did Jerusalem and other parts of Judea: here his preaching was peculiarly needful; and by this was the prophecy fulfilled.
That it might be fulfilled - This place is recorded in Isaiah 9:1-2. Matthew has given the sense, but not the very words of the prophet. For the meaning of the passage as employed by Isaiah, see the notes at Isaiah 9:1-2.
By the way of the sea - Which is near to the sea, or in the vicinity of the sea.
Beyond Jordan - This does not mean to the east of Jordan, as the phrase sometimes denotes, but rather in the vicinity of the Jordan, or perhaps in the vicinity of the sources of the Jordan. See Deuteronomy 1:1; Deuteronomy 4:49.
Galilee of the Gentiles - Galilee was divided into upper and lower Galilee. Upper Galilee was called Galilee of the Gentiles, because it was occupied chiefly by Gentiles. It was in the neighborhood of Tyre, Sidon, etc. The word “Gentiles” includes in the Scriptures all who are not Jews. It means the same as nations, or, as we should say, the pagan nations.
The people which sat in darkness - This is an expression denoting great ignorance.
As in darkness or night we can see nothing, and know not where to go, so those who are ignorant of God and their duty are said to be in darkness. The instruction which removes this ignorance is called light. See John 3:19; 1 Peter 2:9; 1 John 1:5; 1 John 2:8. As ignorance is often connected with crime and vice, so darkness is sometimes used to denote sin, 1 Thessalonians 5:5; Ephesians 5:11; Luke 22:53.
Saw great light - That is, as the passage is employed by Matthew, the light under the Messiah would spring up among them. In that region he grew up, and in that region he preached a great part of his discourses and performed a great part of his miracles.
The region and shadow of death - This is a forcible and beautiful image, designed also to denote ignorance and sin. It is often used in the Bible, and is very expressive. A “shadow” is caused by an object coming between us and the sun. So the Hebrews imaged death as standing between us and the sun, and casting a long, dark, and baleful shadow abroad on the face of the nations, denoting their great ignorance, sin, and woe.. It denotes a dismal, gloomy, and dreadful shade, where death and sin reign, like the chills, damps, and horrors of the dwelling-place of the dead. See Job 10:21; Job 16:16; Job 34:22; Psalm 23:4; Jeremiah 2:6. See also the notes at Isaiah 9:2. These expressions denote that the country of Galilee was especially dark. We know that the people were proverbially ignorant and stupid. They were distinguished for a coarse, outlandish manner of speech Mark 14:70, and are represented as having been also distinguished by a general profligacy of morals and manners. It shows the great compassion of the Saviour, that he went to preach to such poor and despised sinners. Instead of seeking the rich and the learned, he chose to minister to the needy, the ignorant, and the contemned. His office is to enlighten the ignorant; his delight to guide the wandering, and to raise up those that are in the shadow of death. In doing this, Jesus set an example for all his followers. It is their duty to seek out those who are sitting in the shadow of death, and to send the gospel to them. No small part of the world is still lying in wickedness - as wicked and wretched as was the land of Zabulon and Naphthali in the time of Jesus. The Lord Jesus is able to enlighten them also, and every Christian should regard it a privilege, as well as a duty, to imitate his Saviour in this, and to be permitted to send to them the light of life. See Matthew 28:19.
One of the most solemn and yet most glorious truths revealed in the Bible is that of Christ's second coming to complete the great work of redemption. To God's pilgrim people, so long left to sojourn in “the region and shadow of death,” a precious, joy-inspiring hope is given in the promise of His appearing, who is “the resurrection and the life,” to “bring home again His banished.” The doctrine of the second advent is the very keynote of the Sacred Scriptures. From the day when the first pair turned their sorrowing steps from Eden, the children of faith have waited the coming of the Promised One to break the destroyer's power and bring them again to the lost Paradise. Holy men of old looked forward to the advent of the Messiah in glory, as the consummation of their hope. Enoch, only the seventh in descent from them that dwelt in Eden, he who for three centuries on earth walked with his God, was permitted to behold from afar the coming of the Deliverer. “Behold,” he declared, “the Lord cometh with ten thousands of His saints, to execute judgment upon all.” Jude 14, 15. The patriarch Job in the night of his affliction exclaimed with unshaken trust: “I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that He shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: ... in my flesh shall I see God: whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold, and not another.” Job 19:25-27. GC 299.1Read in context »
There are light and glory in the truth that Christ was one with the Father before the foundation of the world was laid. This is the light shining in a dark place, making it resplendent with divine, original glory. This truth, infinitely mysterious in itself, explains other mysterious and otherwise unexplainable truths, while it is enshrined in light, unapproachable and incomprehensible. 1SM 248.1
“Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever thou hadst formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, thou art God” (Psalm 90:2). “The people which sat in darkness saw great light; and to them which sat in the region and shadow of death light is sprung up” (Matthew 4:16). Here the pre-existence of Christ and the purpose of His manifestation to our world are presented as living beams of light from the eternal throne. “Now gather thyself in troops, O daughter of troops: he hath laid siege against us: they shall smite the judge of Israel with a rod upon the cheek. But thou, Beth-lehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting” (Micah 5:1, 2). 1SM 248.2
“We preach Christ crucified,” declared Paul, “unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness; but unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God” (1 Corinthians 1:23, 24). 1SM 248.3Read in context »
The people which sat in darkness saw great light; and to them which sat in the region and shadow of death light is sprung up. Matthew 4:16. RC 254.1
There are many now in the shadow of death who need to be instructed in the truths of the gospel. Nearly the whole world is lying in wickedness. To every believer in Christ words of hope have been given for those who sit in darkness.... RC 254.2Read in context »
In the next morning's meeting for the ministers I had some plain things to say to my brethren, which I dared not withhold. The salt had lost its savor, the fine gold become dim. Spiritual darkness was upon the people and many evidenced that they were moved with a power from beneath, for the result was just such as would be the case when they were not under the illumination of the Spirit of God. 3SM 175.3Read in context »