NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
by Dr. Robert R. Seyda
GOSPEL OF MATTHEW
We also find some interesting information in Jewish literature on the subject of the rooster crowing. In the Jewish Mishnah, we are told that on all other days they removed the ashes from the altar at the first crowing of the rooster, or near to it, but on the Day of Atonement, it started at midnight, and the high priest was responsible for making it happen.1 And in the Babylonian Talmud, it speaks of roosters crowing twice and sometimes thrice.2 So the rooster crowing played a role in the fact that Jesus was ending His mission as a Prophet. He was about to become the High Priest who would sprinkle His own blood on the altar in the Holy of Holies,3 before He ascended to be at the right hand of the Father to await the day when He would return as KING of Kings.
Verse 35: But Peter answered, “I will never say I don’t know you! I will even die with you!” And all the other followers said the same thing.”
Now Peter is on the defensive. It’s almost as though he took Jesus’ statement that he would not live up to his vow as a challenge. So it would be up to him to prove his Master wrong. Not only do we know that he failed, but failed miserably. But we also find out that it led him to repentance and gave him a renewed resolve to be more dedicated and committed to his Lord with unconditional love and loyalty. So if or when you also may find yourself unable to live up to your expectations and must admit failure, don’t take it as a defeat. Let that stumbling block become a stepping-stone to greater things in your life that will honor and bring glory to your Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ.
Verses 36-37a: Then Jesus went with His followers to a place called Gethsemane. He said to them, “Sit here while I go there and pray.” He told Peter and the two sons of Zebedee to come with Him.
Gethsemane is a garden that lies at the foot of the Mount of Olives alongside the Kidron brook. It is a level plot of ground of some fifty-seven square yards, where several old olive trees still stand today. It has been identified as the spot to which our Lord often retreated for prayer before His impending arrest. In Jewish and European documents we find many stories and things said about Gethsemane.
As a matter of fact, a German traveler and writer named Hiob Ludolph went to Ethiopia, learned the language and compiled a lexicon. In it, he shared that according to Ethiopian tradition, Mary the mother of Jesus was buried in Gethsemane.4 The term “Gethsemane” was translated in the Münster Hebrew version of the New Testament as “valley of olives.” St. Jerome, who spent 30 years in a cave under the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem translating the Scriptures from Hebrew into Latin, says that while he was there the people referred to Gethsemane as a “very fertile valley.”5 Others, however, point out that it is a compound word in Hebrew, made up of “gat” = press, and “shemen” = oil, which combines for “gatshemene,” meaning: “oil press.” It is easy to see how this was eventually rendered in English as “Gethsamane.”
In Jewish writings, where the Temple compound was being described, it says, “…as to the south-western [portion], Rabbi Eliezer ben Jacob said: I forget what its use was, while Abba Saul said: There they put wine and oil and it used to be called the Cell of the House of Oils.”6 This is where they stored their wine and oil for temple service. This would then suggest that at, or near this place, was a very public olive press, where they squeezed the olives to extract the oil in them, which they gathered in great quantity from off the Mount of Olives; at the foot of which this place was; and a very significant place it was for our Lord to go to at this time, when He was about to be squeezed in the winepress of God’s wrath against sin, so the resulting flow would become the substance for cleansing and the balm for healing. Apparently, it was not a place unfamiliar to the disciples. This is verified by the fact that Judas Iscariot knew exactly where to go to find Jesus.
Verse 37b-38: Then He became very heavyhearted and troubled, and Jesus said to Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, “My heart is so burdened with grief, I feel as if I am dying. Wait here and stay awake with me.”
This time our Lord wanted to be alone to pray, so after Peter, James, and John sat down He walked on a little further. I’m sure the three disciples could see that He was struggling with grief, almost to the point of thinking He may pass out. So just in case He became too distraught, He asked them to stay awake until He was finished praying. It doesn’t appear that our Lord went out of sight because the disciples were able to report later that they saw Him fall face down on the ground, and no doubt heard Him cry out to His heavenly Father.
Early church bishop Hilary had this to say about our Lord’s sudden grief: “When we read that the Lord was sad, we must examine everything that was said to find out why He was sad. He previously warned that they would all fall away. Brimming with confidence, Peter responded that even though all the others might be alarmed, he would not be moved—he who the Lord predicted would deny knowing Him three times.‘7 In fact, Peter and all the other disciples promised that even in the face of death they would not deny Him.8 He then proceeded on and ordered His disciples to sit down while He prayed.9 Having brought with Him Peter, James, and John, He began to grieve. Before He brought them along with Him, He did not feel sad. It was only after they had accompanied Him that He grew exceedingly sad. His sadness thus arose not from Himself but from those whom He had taken with Him. It must be realized that the Son of man brought with Him only those whom He showed that He would come into His kingdom at that time when, in the presence of Moses and Elijah on the mountain, He was surrounded by all the splendor of His eternal glory. But the reason for bringing them with Him both then and now was the same.”10
Verse 39: Then Jesus went on a little farther away from them. He fell face first to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, don’t make me drink from this cup. But do what you want, not what I want.”
In recorded Jewish verbal traditions we find the subject of posturing for prayer discussed. It says: “Kidah [bowing] is upon the face, as it says: Then Bath-Sheba bowed with her face to the ground. Keri’ah [kneeling] is upon the knees, as it says: From kneeling on his knees, prostration is spreading out of hands and feet, as it says: Should I and your mother and your brethren come to prostrate ourselves before you on the ground.11”12
Then another Rabbi explains: “Prostration, what is implied? After one lifts his head from the fifth bow, he sits on the ground, falls with his face towards the earth, and utters all the supplications that he desires. ‘Kneeling’ always refers to [falling to] one’s knees; ‘bowing,’ to bending over on one’s face; and ‘prostration,’ to stretching out on one’s hands and feet until he lies flat with his face on the ground.”13 And Rabbi Simeon concludes: “Happy is he who attains union with the Divine, for then his prayers rise on high and return with the blessings from the mansion symbolized by prostration of the face upon the ground at the time of prayer, an attitude by which we supplicate that judgment may be tempered with mercy as it is written, ‘He is a God of truth and without iniquity, just and right is He.‘14”15
1 Mishnah, Second Division: Mo’ed, Tractate Yoma, Ch. 1:8
2 Babylonian Talmud, Seder Mo’ed, Tractate Yoma, folio 21a
3 Hebrews 9:11-12
4 Hiob Ludolph, Lexicon Ethiopia, p. 554
5 Jerome: Commentary on Matthew, Bk. 4, 26:37
6 Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Yoma, folio 16a
7 See verse 34
8 See verse 35
9 See verse 36
10 Hilary of Poitiers: On Matthew 31.4
11 Genesis 37:10
12 Babylonian Talmud, Seder Zera’im, Masekhet Beracoth, folio 34b
13 Mishnah Torah, Sefer Ahavah, Tefilah and Birkat Kohanim, Ch. 5, Halacha 13
14 Deuteronomy 32:4
15 The Zohar (Book of Light): Bereshith to Lekh Lekha by Nurho de Manhar, Devachanic Spheres and Mansions, Kindle Edition, loc. 3452-3453