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.
Every moment added to the multitude upon the shore. Aged men leaning upon their staffs, hardy peasants from the hills, fishermen from their toil on the lake, merchants and rabbis, the rich and learned, old and young, bringing their sick and suffering ones, pressed to hear the words of the divine Teacher. To such scenes as this the prophets had looked forward, and they wrote: DA 245.1
“The land of Zebulon and the land of Naphtali,
Toward the sea, beyond Jordan,
Galilee of the Gentiles,
The people which sat in darkness
Saw a great light,
And to them which sat in the region and shadow of death,
To them did light spring up.” R. V. DA 245.2
Beside the throng on the shores of Gennesaret, Jesus in His sermon by the sea had other audiences before His mind. Looking down the ages, He saw His faithful ones in prison and judgment hall, in temptation and loneliness and affliction. Every scene of joy and conflict and perplexity was open before Him. In the words spoken to those gathered about Him, He was speaking also to these other souls the very words that would come to them as a message of hope in trial, of comfort in sorrow, and heavenly light in darkness. Through the Holy Spirit, that voice which was speaking from the fisherman's boat on the Sea of Galilee, would be heard speaking peace to human hearts to the close of time. DA 245.3Read in context »
“The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali,
Toward the sea, beyond the Jordan,
Galilee of the nations,
The people that sat in darkness
Saw a great light,
And to them that sat in the region and shadow of death,
To them did light spring up.” MH 20.1
Matthew 4:15, 16, A.R.V., margin. MH 20
The Saviour made each work of healing an occasion for implanting divine principles in the mind and soul. This was the purpose of His work. He imparted earthly blessings, that He might incline the hearts of men to receive the gospel of His grace. MH 20.2Read in context »