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§ 132. The Gadarene Demoniac.320320 Matt., viii., 28; Mark, v., 1-20; Luke, viii., 26-39. Two demoniacs are mentioned by Matthew, perhaps because the demoniac speaks in the plural number.—Christ’s Treatment of him after the Cure.—Inferences from it.
Christ landed on the eastern shore, near the town of Gadara. Many pagans probably resided in that vicinity, as herds of swine abounded. A demoniac,321321 Cf. p. 145. who could not possibly be kept chained in his raging paroxysms, but constantly broke his fetters and eluded his guardians, was wandering about near the landing-place. He believed himself inhabited and hurried hither and thither by a host of evil spirits. Driven naked from the haunts of men by the direful powers, he sought a dreary refuge amid the grave-stones and old tombs322322 These are still to be found among the ruins of Om-Keis, probably the ancient Gadara. (Cf. Burckhardt, i., 426; Gesenius, Anmerkungen, 538; Robinson, iii., 535.) Origen must have been mistaken (t. vi. in Joann., § 24) in saying that Gadara could not be the spot because there is neither lake nor precipice near; he probably looked for the theatre of the event in the immediate vicinity of the town, which by no means follows, necessarily from the narrative. of the wilderness.
Probably attracted by the noise of the landing, the demoniac ran to meet the passengers as they disembarked; having probably, also, heard of the fame of Jesus, which had spread from the western to the eastern shore of the lake. From what we can learn, we should judge that the man was a heathen, who had, however, dwelt much among the Jews, and therefore confounded Jewish and pagan notions together in his disturbed consciousness. So he probably addressed Jesus as “the son of the highest God,” rather in a pagan than Jewish sense.323323 Cf. the words of the heathen woman, Acts, xvi. 17. The appearance of Christ (probably combined with what he had previously heard) affected him profoundly; the warring powers within him—as was generally the case when Christ’s Divinity came in contact with demoniacs—partly urged him toward the Saviour, and partly held him back; attracted as he was, he could not bear the presence of Jesus. There is something in him which resists and dreads the Divine power. Losing his proper identity in that of the evil spirits that possess him, he personates them, and recognizing, with terror, the Son of God as the future Judge, he exclaims, in anguish, “What hast thou to do with us, thou Son of the Highest? (What would the Heavenly, so near us?) Why hast thou come hither before the time (before the final doom), to make us feel thy power, and torment us?”324324 The original form of these words is probably that given by Matthew. Every thing leads us to conclude that the demoniac, impressed by the person of Christ, addressed him first.
Christ’s first procedure is not such as to imply that he has to do with evil spirits. He directs his words to the man, seeks to get his attention and draw him into conversation, so as to prepare the way for further influences. As a beginning, he asks the man his name. But the demoniac, still blending his own identity with that of the evil spirits, answers, “Legion;” it is a whole legion of evil spirits that dwell in him. He then reiterates, in their person, the prayer that Christ would not cast them into Hades before their time; and perceiving a herd of swine feeding at a distance, the unclean spirits are associated with the unclean beasts in his perturbed thoughts. He then beseeches Christ that, if the spirits are compelled to leave the man, they may be permitted to enter the swine, under the notion that they cannot exist except as united to material bodies.
There is a gap here in our connexion of the facts. Did Christ really participate in the opinions of the demoniac, or was it only subsequently inferred,325325 Strikingly as this graphic narrative bears the marks of truth, this is still its obscure point. Some have attempted to clear it up by the supposition that the demoniac threw himself upon the herd after Christ spoke to him. But this is inconsistent with the facts. It is not probable that a paroxysm like this could have seized him after the impression which Christ had made upon him. Moreover, this explanation affords no ground for the notion of the demoniac that the spirits had abandoned him for the swine, but would rather convince him of the continuance of their power over him. In order to believe the former, he must have stood as a quiet spectator while the herd was violently driven into the sea by an invisible power. The analogy of the notions of the time favours this. In the reference to Josephus, before made (p. 150), the exorcist bids the demon leave the sufferer and enter a vessel of water that stood by; and his obedience is proved by the fall of the vessel of its own accord. So the swine must have rushed down of their own accord, to afford any proof that the devils had left the man and entered them. Finally, an attack of the swine, on the part of the demoniac, could have been no matter of surprise to the swineherds (Matt., viii., 37.) from the fact that the swine rushed down, that Christ had allowed the evil spirits to take possession of them? It is certain, at any rate, that they did cast themselves over the precipice into the sea, as if driven by an invisible power, and that many of them perished.
One thing is very clear, a man in such a state could not have been cured by Christ’s merely humouring his whims, and by a single coincidence like that of the herd’s throwing themselves over the precipice. Nay, he could not have made the request that he did, nor have believed that the evil spirits had abandoned him at Christ’s command, had not Christ, by the power of his spirit, made a mighty impression upon him before. What followed shows, however, more clearly that Christ used higher influences to restore his shattered soul to its pristine soundness.
Although no detailed account is left of what immediately followed, we may yet conclude, from the result, that many things occurred between Christ and the demoniac after the preparatory work above related. His heart had been made susceptible of farther spiritual influences. The presence and words of Christ produced additional effects, as we find the man sitting clothed, and in his right mind, at the feet of Jesus, listening to him with eager devotion. So moved is he, that he wishes to attach himself to Christ and follow him every where.
But Christ (who had reserved for a subsequent period the conversion of the heathen) tells the restored man to “go home to his friends.”326326 Mark, v. 1. We see in this, as in many other examples, how Christ’s conduct varied with circumstances, and how carefully we should guard against deducing general principles from his procedure in isolated cases. While he calls upon some to leave home and family to follow him, he bids this man to follow first the purely human feelings which had been reinstated in their natural rights within him; to return, sane and calm, to the family which he had abandoned as a maniac; and to glorify God among them, by telling them how Christ had wrought the mighty change, and giving them a living proof of it in his own person. He tells some on whom he had wrought miracles not to say too much about what he had done; but this one he commands to publish every where among his friends what great things God had wrought for him. In this case it was heathens (not Jews) that were concerned.
The way in which Christ gave peace and harmony to this distracted and lacerated soul affords an image of the whole work of redemption. The first emotion of the uncultivated and (chiefly) heathen people around was fear; not the feeling then best adapted to render them susceptible of his teaching. But the simple story of the restored man’s experience was adapted to lead them to contemplate Christ, no longer on the side of his power, but of his love and holiness.327327 The narrative does not say whether this foundation of Divine knowledge was ever built upon among them.
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