We have here an account of the public notice that was taken of this extraordinary gift with which the disciples were all on a sudden endued. Observe,
I. The great concourse of people that there was now at Jerusalem, it should seem more than was usual at the feast of pentecost. There were dwelling or abiding at Jerusalem Jews that were devout men, disposed to religion, and that had the fear of God before their eyes (so the word properly signifies), some of them proselytes of righteousness, that were circumcised, and admitted members of the Jewish church, others only proselytes of the gate, that forsook idolatry, and gave up themselves to the worship of the true God, but not to the ceremonial law; some of those that were at Jerusalem now, out of every nation under heaven, whither the Jews were dispersed, or whence proselytes were come. The expression is hyperbolical, denoting that there were some from most of the then known parts of the world; as much as ever Tyre was, or London is, the rendezvous of trading people from all parts, Jerusalem at that time was of religious people from all parts. Now, 1. We may here see what were some of those countries whence those strangers came (Acts 2:9-11), some from the eastern countries, as the Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and dwellers in Mesopotamia, the posterity of Shem; thence we come in order to Judea, which ought to be mentioned, because, though the language of those in Judea was the same with that which the disciples spoke, yet, before, they spoke it with the north-country tone and dialect (Thou art a Galilean, and thy speech betrays thee), but now they spoke it as correctly as the inhabitants of Judea themselves did. Next come the inhabitants of Cappadocia, Pontus, and that country about Propontis which was particularly called Asia, and these were the countries in which those strangers were scattered to whom St. Peter writes. 1 Pet. 1:1. Next come the dwellers in Phrygia and Pamphylia, which lay westward, the posterity of Japhet, as were also the strangers of Rome; there were some also that dwelt in the southern parts of Egypt, in the parts of Libya about Cyrene; there were also some from the island of Crete, and some from the deserts of Arabia; but they were all either Jews originally, dispersed into those countries; or proselytes to the Jewish religion, but natives of those countries. Dr. Whitby observes that the Jewish writers about this time, as Philo and Josephus, speak of the Jews as dwelling every where through the whole earth; and that there is not a people upon earth among whom some Jews do not inhabit. 2. We may enquire what brought all those Jews and proselytes together to Jerusalem at this time: not to make a transient visit thither to the feast of pentecost, for they are said to dwell there. They took lodgings there, because there was at this time a general expectation of the appearing of the Messiah; for Daniel’s weeks had just now expired, the sceptre had departed from Judah, and it was then generally thought that the kingdom of God would immediately appear, Luke 19:11. This brought those who were most zealous and devout to Jerusalem, to sojourn there, that they might have an early share in the kingdom of the Messiah and the blessings of that kingdom.
II. The amazement with which these strangers were seized when they heard the disciples speak in their own tongues. It should seem, the disciples spoke in various languages before the people of those languages came to them; for it is intimated (Acts 2:6) that the spreading of the report of this abroad was that which brought the multitude together, especially those of different countries, who seem to have been more affected with this work of wonder than the inhabitants of Jerusalem themselves.
1. They observe that the speakers are all Galileans, that know no other than their mother tongue (Acts 2:7); they are despicable men, from whom nothing learned nor polite is to be expected. God chose the weak and foolish things of the world to confound the wise and mighty. Christ was thought to be a Galilean, and his disciples really were so, unlearned and ignorant men.
2. They acknowledge that they spoke intelligibly and readily their own language (which they were the most competent judges of), so correctly and fluently that none of their own countrymen could speak it better: We hear every man in our own tongue wherein we were born (Acts 2:8), that is, we hear one or other of them speak our native language. The Parthians hear one of them speak their language, the Medes hear another of them speak theirs; and so of the rest; Acts 2:11; We do hear them speak in our tongues the wonderful works of God. Their respective languages were not only unknown at Jerusalem, but probably despised and undervalued, and therefore it was not only a surprise, but a pleasing surprise, to them to hear the language of their own country spoken, as it naturally is to those that are strangers in a strange land. (1.) The things they heard the apostles discourse of were the wonderful works of God, megaleia tou Theou—Magnalia Dei, the great things of God. It is probable that the apostles spoke of Christ, and redemption by him, and the grace of the gospel; and these are indeed the great things of God, which will be for ever marvellous in our eyes. (2.) They heard them both praise God for these great things and instruct the people concerning these things, in their own tongue, according as they perceived the language of their hearers, or those that enquired of them, to be. Now though, perhaps, by dwelling some time at Jerusalem, they were got to be so much masters of the Jewish language that they could have understood the meaning of the disciples if they had spoken that language, yet, [1.] This was more strange, and helped to convince their judgment, that this doctrine was of God; for tongues were for a sign to those that believed not, 1 Cor. 14:22. [2.] It was more kind, and helped to engage their affections, as it was a plain indication of the favour intended to the Gentiles, and that the knowledge and worship of God should no longer be confined to the Jews, but the partition-wall should be broken down; and this is to us a plain intimation of the mind and will of God, that the sacred records of God’s wonderful works should be preserved by all nations in their own tongue; that the scriptures should be read, and public worship performed, in the vulgar languages of the nations.
3. They wonder at it, and look upon it as an astonishing thing (Acts 2:12): They were all amazed, they were in an ecstacy, so the word is; and they were in doubt what the meaning of it was, and whether it was to introduce the kingdom of the Messiah, which they were big with the expectation of; they asked themselves and one another ti an theloi touto einai;--Quid hoc sibi vult?--What is the tendency of this? Surely it is to dignify, and so to distinguish, these men as messengers from heaven; and therefore, like Moses at the bush, they will turn aside, and see this great sight.
III. The scorn which some made of it who were natives of Judea and Jerusalem, probably the scribes and Pharisees, and chief priests, who always resisted the Holy Ghost; they said, These men are full of new wine, or sweet wine; they have drunk too much this festival-time, Acts 2:13. Not that they were so absurd as to think that wine in the head would enable men to speak languages which they never learned; but these, being native Jews, knew not, as the others did, that what was spoken was really the languages of other nations, and therefore took it to be gibberish and nonsense, such as drunkards, those fools in Israel, sometimes talk. As when they resolved not to believe the finger of the Spirit in Christ’s miracles, they turned it off with this, “He casteth out devils by compact with the prince of the devils;” so, when they resolved not to believe the voice of the Spirit in the apostles’ preaching, they turned it off with this, These men are full of new wine. And, if they called the Master of the house a wine-bibber, no marvel if they so call those of his household.
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