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Matthew 11:21

Adam Clarke
Bible Commentary

Wo unto thee, Chorazin - Bethsaida! - It would be better to translate the word ουαι σοι, alas for thee, than wo to thee. The former is an exclamation of pity; the latter a denunciation of wrath. It is evident that our Lord used it in the former sense. It is not known precisely where Chorazin was situated; but as Christ joins it in the same censure with Bethsaida, which was in Upper Galilee, beyond the sea, Mark 6:45, it is likely that Chorazin was in the same quarter. Though the people in these cities were (generally) impenitent, yet there is little doubt that several received the word of life. Indeed, Bethsaida itself furnished not less than three of the twelve apostles, Philip, Andrew, and Peter. See John 1:44.

Tyre and Sidon - Were two heathen cities, situated on the shore of the Mediterranean Sea, into which it does not appear that Christ ever went, though he was often very nigh to them; see Matthew 15:21.

They would have repented long ago - Παλαι, formerly, seems here to refer to the time of Ezekiel, who denounced destruction against Tyre and Sidon, Ezekiel 26, 27, and 28. Our Lord, then, intimates that, if Ezekiel had done as many miracles in those cities as himself had in Chorazin and Bethsaida, the inhabitants would have repented in sackcloth and ashes, with the deepest and most genuine sorrow.

A Hindoo who renounces the secular life, and becomes a religious mendicant, often covers himself with a coarse cloth sprinkled over with ashes. This is the sackcloth and ashes which our Lord refers to; and this covering was the outward sign of deep repentance, and forsaking of sin.

Albert Barnes
Notes on the Whole Bible

Chorazin and Bethsaida - These were towns not far from Capernaum, but the precise situation is unknown. See “The Land and the Book” (Thomson), vol. ii. pp. 8,9. Bethsaida means literally a “house of hunting” or “a house of game,” and it was probably situated on the banks of the Sea of Galilee, and supported itself by hunting or fishing. It was the residence of Philip, Andrew, and Peter, John 1:44. It was enlarged by Philip the Tetrarch, and called “Julia,” after the emperor‘s daughter.

Tyre and Sidon - These were cities of Phoenicia, formerly very opulent, and distinguished for merchandise. They were situated on the shore of the Mediterranean Sea, and were in the western part of Judea. They were therefore well known to the Jews. Tyre is frequently mentioned in the Old Testament as being the place through which Solomon derived many of the materials for building the temple, 2 Chronicles 2:11-16. It was also a place against which one of the most important and pointed prophecies of Isaiah was directed. See the notes at Ezekiel 26:4-14. Both these cities were very ancient. Sidon was situated within the bounds of the tribe of Asher Joshua 19:28, but this tribe could never get possession of it, Judges 1:31. It was famous for its great trade and navigation. Its inhabitants were the first remarkable merchants in the world, and were much celebrated for their luxury. In the time of our Saviour it was probably a city of much splendor and extensive commerce. It is now called Seide, or Saide, and is far less populous and splendid than it was in the time of Christ. It was subdued successively by the Babylonians, Egyptians, and Romans, the latter of whom deprived it of its freedom.

Messrs. Fisk and King, American missionaries, passed through Sidon in the summer of 1823, and estimated the population, as others have estimated it, at 8,000 or 10,000; but Mr. Goodell, another American missionary, took up his residence there in June, 1824, for the purpose of studying the Armenian language with a bishop of the Armenian Church who lives there, and of course had far better opportunities to know the statistics of the place. He tells us there are six Muslim mosques, a Jewish synagogue, a Maronite, Latin, and Greek church. Dr. Thomson (“The Land and the Book,” vol. i. p. 164) supposes that the population may now be about 10,000 - about 6,800 Moslems, 850 Greek Catholics, 750 Maronites, 150 Greeks, and 300 Jews. It exports tobacco, oil, fruit, and silk, but the amount of exports is small.

Tyre was situated about 20 miles south of Sidon. It was built partly on a small island about 70 paces from the shore, and partly on the mainland. It was a city of great extent and splendor, and extensive commerce. It abounded in luxury and wickedness. It was often besieged. It held out against Shalmaneser five years, and was taken by Nebuchadnezzar after a siege of “thirteen” years. It was afterward rebuilt, and was at length taken by Alexander the Great, after a most obstinate siege of five months. There are no signs now of the ancient city. It is the residence only of a few miserable fishermen, and contains, amid the ruins of its former magnificence, only a few huts. Thus was fulfilled the prophecy of Ezekiel: “Thou shalt be built no more; though thou be sought for, yet shalt thou never be found again” Ezekiel 26:21. For a description of Tyre as it was formerly and as it is now, see the notes at Job 1:21; Job 2:12; Jeremiah 6:26. The meaning is, that they would have repented with “expressions of deep sorrow.” Like Nineveh, they would have seen their guilt and danger, and would have turned from their iniquities. “Heathen” cities would have received him better than the cities of the Jews, his native land,

Matthew Henry
Concise Bible Commentary
Christ reflects on the scribes and Pharisees, who had a proud conceit of themselves. He likens their behaviour to children's play, who being out of temper without reason, quarrel with all the attempts of their fellows to please them, or to get them to join in the plays for which they used to assemble. The cavils of worldly men are often very trifling and show great malice. Something they have to urge against every one, however excellent and holy. Christ, who was undefiled, and separate from sinners, is here represented as in league with them, and polluted by them. The most unspotted innocence will not always be a defence against reproach. Christ knew that the hearts of the Jews were more bitter and hardened against his miracles and doctrines, than those of Tyre and Sidon would have been; therefore their condemnation would be the greater. The Lord exercises his almighty power, yet he punishes none more than they deserve, and never withholds the knowledge of the truth from those who long after it.
Ellen G. White
Testimonies for the Church, vol. 5, 529

Vice and crime, and iniquity of all kinds, are steadily on the increase. The penetrating power of Bible truth must show the contrast between truth and error. A higher grade of preparation is required in order to do good service for the Master. But if the minister leans upon the knowledge he acquires, and does not feel the great necessity of divine enlightenment daily, the education gained is only a stumbling block to sinners. We want the God of all wisdom to be brought into all our labor, into all our experiences; then every iota of knowledge obtained is a power for good and will aid in developing capacity and Christlike earnestness. This is religion. 5T 529.1

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Ellen G. White
Fundamentals of Christian Education, 258-9

The Lord has made manifest His appreciation of man, in that He gave His only-begotten Son to redeem him. Satan has also manifested his appreciation of well trained and sanctified ability, by the ingenious methods by which he seeks to divert the mind and heart of such an one from the service of God, that he may lead him to join in the ranks of apostasy. Like an angel of light, he comes with his insinuations to draw men into his service; for he knows that an educated man or woman, when not under the control of the Spirit of God, can be of great advantage to him. He will pursue the student with specious temptations, seeking to induce him to take pride in his attainments, and to imagine that he is some great one, that he may trust in himself, and walk in the sparks of his own kindling. Thus he is led to separate his soul from God, the source of all light and knowledge, and, in order that he may exalt himself, unite with Satan, the originator of all sin. FE 258.1

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of all wisdom; and when God is not depended upon, the result of education is only to elevate ungodliness. The reason that the church is weak and inefficient is that there is a want of the grace of Christ among those who profess the truth for these last days. If the Lord has ever spoken by me, there is sin of almost every character cherished by many who claim to be children of God; and unless they separate themselves from Satan and cling to Jesus our righteousness, the woe of God will be upon those who have had great light, and yet have chosen to walk in darkness. “Then began He to upbraid the cities wherein most of His mighty works were done, because they repented not: Woe unto thee, Chorazin; woe unto thee, Bethsaida; for if the mighty works, which were done in you, had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon at the day of judgment, than for you. And thou, Capernaum, which art exalted unto heaven, shalt be brought down to hell: for if the mighty works, which have been done in thee, had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I say unto you, That it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment, than for thee.” FE 258.2

It is a fearful thing to have great light and blessing, to have many opportunities and privileges, and yet make no saving use of them. Those who do not make a saving use of their opportunities, will be condemned by the privileges God has granted to them; but those who walk in the light will have increased light. Those who have had the light of truth, and yet have failed to walk in the light, are under the same sentence of condemnation as were Chorazin and Bethsaida. Shall not these warnings be heeded? Shall not these admonitions have weight with us? In the near future it will be seen just who have been walking humbly with God, and who have been obeying His orders. Those who have been walking in the sparks of their own kindling will lie down in sorrow. It will be seen that they have made a terrible mistake. O let us awake! Light is now shining; let the windows of the mind and heart be opened to welcome the heaven-sent rays. Shall Jesus say of those who profess to obey the truth, and yet who fail to walk in its light, “In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Esaias, which saith, By hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and shall not perceive: for this people's heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them”?—Christian Education, 140 1893. FE 259.1

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