John 7:49

But this people who knoweth not the law are cursed.

But this people who knoweth not the law are cursed. With great contempt they style the followers of Jesus "this people"; the common people, the dregs of them, the refuse of the earth; and whom they call, Urah Me, "the people of the earth", in distinction from the wise men, and their disciples: and when they speak the best of them, their account is this {p};

"one of the people of the earth is one that has moral excellencies, but not intellectual ones; that is, there is in him common civility, but the law is not in him;''

as here, "who knoweth not the law": they always reckon them very ignorant. Says one {q} of their writers,

"they that are without knowledge are the multitude.''

And elsewhere it is said {r},

"the old men of the people of the earth, when they grow old their knowledge is disturbed (or is lost), as it is said,

Job 12:20, but so it is not with the old men of the law, when they grow old, their knowledge rests upon them, as it is said, Job 12:12, "with the ancient is wisdom".''

Upon which one of the commentators {s} has this gloss;

"these are the disciples of the wise men; for the people of the earth, what wisdom is there in them?''

By the "law" here, is meant either the written law of Moses, which the Pharisees boasted of, and of their knowledge of it, as having the key of knowledge to open it; as understanding the true sense, and capable of giving a right interpretation of it, to the people; though they themselves were wretchedly ignorant of it, as appears by their false glosses on it, refuted by our Lord in Matthew 5:17; or else the oral law is here intended, which they pretended was given by word of mouth to Moses, and handed down to posterity from one to another; and this lay among the doctors: they tell us {t}, that Moses received it at Sinai, and delivered it to Joshua, and Joshua to the elders, and the elders to the prophets, and the prophets to the men of the great synagogue (Ezra's), the last of which was Simeon the just: Antigonus, a man of Socho, received it from him; and Jose ben Joezer, and Jose ben Jochanan, received it from him; and Joshua ben Perachia, (whom they sometimes say was the master of Jesus of Nazareth,) and Nittai the Arbelite, received it from them; by whom it was delivered to Judah ben Tabia, and Simeon ben Shetach; and from them it was received by Shemaiah, and Abtalion, who delivered it to Hillell, and Shammai; who, or whose scholars, were, at this time, when these words were spoken, the present possessors of it, and taught it their disciples in their schools: and thus it was handed down from one to another, until the times of R. Judah, who collected the whole of the traditions of the elders together, and published it under the title of the Misna; and then, as Maimonides says {u}, it was revealed to all Israel; whereas before it was but in a few hands, who instructed others in it; but as for the common people, they knew little of it, especially of the nice distinctions and decisions of it; and these people were always had in great contempt by the wise men: they would not receive a testimony from them, nor give one for them, nor deliver a secret to them, nor proclaim anything of theirs that was lost, nor walk with them in the way, nor make a guardian of any of them {w}. The people of the earth were not reckoned holy or religious {x}, but generally profane and wicked; that they were abandoned to sin, rejected of God, and to be cast off by men; yea, they will not allow that they shall rise again at the last day, unless it be for the sake of some wise men they are allied unto, or have done some service for. They say {y}

"whoever ministers in the light of the law, the light of the law will quicken him; but whoever does not minister in the light of the law, the light of the law will not quicken him--though it is possible for such an one to cleave to the Shekinah--for everyone that marries his daughter to a scholar of a wise man, or makes merchandise for the disciples of the wise men, and they receive any advantage from his goods, this brings on him what is written, as if he cleaved to the Shekinah.''

Thus we see in what contempt the common people were with the learned doctors, and what an opinion these men had of the followers of Christ; though, in truth, they were not so ignorant of the law as themselves: they knew the spirituality of it, that it reached to the thoughts of the heart, as well as to external actions; they knew what it required, and their own impotence to answer its demands; they knew the wrath, terror, and curses of it, and that Christ only was the fulfilling end of it, for righteousness to those that believed in him: and they were far from being cursed persons: they were blessed with all spiritual blessings: with the pardon of their sins, and the justification of their persons; with grace and peace in their souls, and would be introduced as the blessed of the Father into his kingdom and glory.

{p} Maimon. in Pirke Abot, c. 2. sect. 5. & c. 5. sect. 7.
{q} Abarbinel in proph. post. fol. 473.
{r} Misn. Kenim, c. 3. sect. 6. Vid. T. Bab. Sabbat, fol. 152. 1.
{s} Bartenora in Misn. ib.
{t} Pirke Abot, c. 1. sect. 1-12.
{u} Praefat. ad Yad Hazaka.
{w} Buxtorf. Lex. Talmud. col. 1626.
{x} Ib. Florileg. Heb. p. 276.
{y} T. Bab. Cetubot, fol. 111. 2.