From the Annals of the Eisegetical Violence Shelter
An Exegetical Defense of Matthew 23:37
From the Reformed Perspective
With Objections Answered
There are many texts of Scripture that are abused by Arminian and similar apologists. It certainly seems, for example, to be the favorite passage of Dr. Geisler in his recent attack on Reformation Theology. In fairness to him, he does not attempt an exegesis of the text, so perhaps we should not blame him, and others of his company, for their failure to use the text properly. Still, understanding the Word of God is important, and since a degree of understanding with respect to this text is obviously lacking, this anonymous author hopes that the following will serve useful, if only as a platform against which to repel the assault, battery, and attempted kidnapping of this verse by those who oppose the Reformed explanation of Scripture.
Let us, therefore, begin with the verse itself, in context, which, in this case, is the twenty-third chapter of Matthew:
The Context Identified
The Context Identified
Matthew 23:1-39 (the entire chapter)
1Then spake Jesus to the multitude, and to his disciples, 2Saying, The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat: 3All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not. 4For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men's shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers. 5But all their works they do for to be seen of men: they make broad their phylacteries, and enlarge the borders of their garments, 6And love the uppermost rooms at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues, 7And greetings in the markets, and to be called of men, Rabbi, Rabbi. 8But be not ye called Rabbi: for one is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren. 9And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven. 10Neither be ye called masters: for one is your Master, even Christ. 11But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant. 12And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted. 13But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in. 14Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye devour widows' houses, and for a pretence make long prayer: therefore ye shall receive the greater damnation. 15Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves. 16Woe unto you, ye blind guides, which say, Whosoever shall swear by the temple, it is nothing; but whosoever shall swear by the gold of the temple, he is a debtor! 17Ye fools and blind: for whether is greater, the gold, or the temple that sanctifieth the gold? 18And, Whosoever shall swear by the altar, it is nothing; but whosoever sweareth by the gift that is upon it, he is guilty. 19Ye fools and blind: for whether is greater, the gift, or the altar that sanctifieth the gift? 20Whoso therefore shall swear by the altar, sweareth by it, and by all things thereon. 21And whoso shall swear by the temple, sweareth by it, and by him that dwelleth therein. 22And he that shall swear by heaven, sweareth by the throne of God, and by him that sitteth thereon. 23Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone. 24Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel. 25Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess. 26Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also. 27Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men's bones, and of all uncleanness. 28Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity. 29Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because ye build the tombs of the prophets, and garnish the sepulchres of the righteous, 30And say, If we had been in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets. 31Wherefore ye be witnesses unto yourselves, that ye are the children of them which killed the prophets. 32Fill ye up then the measure of your fathers. 33Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell? 34Wherefore, behold, I send unto you prophets, and wise men, and scribes: and some of them ye shall kill and crucify; and some of them shall ye scourge in your synagogues, and persecute them from city to city: 35That upon you may come all the righteous blood shed upon the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel unto the blood of Zacharias son of Barachias, whom ye slew between the temple and the altar. 36Verily I say unto you, All these things shall come upon this generation. 37O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not! 38Behold, your house is left unto you desolate. 39For I say unto you, Ye shall not see me henceforth, till ye shall say, Blessed is he
that cometh in the name of the Lord.
I know that's a lengthy block quotation, but the context is important. All too often, verse 37 is cited solo by its abusers. They cite it as though the context were Jesus standing on a mountain facing Jerusalem and saying the words:
Matthew 23:37 O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!
This, these abusers seem to presume, is followed by Jesus' tears that he was unable to get what he wanted. It would be amusing to note the fact that the same people who hold to the doctrines of human ability (opposition to the doctrine of human disability, I think they are calling it recently), also hold to the doctrines of divine inability. It would be amusing if it were not so denigrating to the glory of the Almighty.
Nevertheless, having recognized that there is a context, let us explain the reason for the selection of the block.
The context begins with verse 1. The reason to begin with verse 1, is that verse 1 follows:
Matthew 22:46 And no man was able to answer him a word, neither durst any man from that day forth ask him any more questions.
Matthew 23:1 Then spake Jesus to the multitude, and to his disciples,
Matthew 22:46 concludes the questions and answers period that Christ was holding with Sadducees and Pharisees. While it could be included in a broader context, the editorial remark of verse 46 suggests a discontinuity in the thought of the passage. It may be fair to take the context back as far as verse 15, which begins the Q&A session mentioned in verse 46:
15Then went the Pharisees, and took counsel how they might entangle him in his talk. 16And they sent out unto him their disciples with the Herodians, saying, Master, we know that thou art true, and teachest the way of God in truth, neither carest thou for any man: for thou regardest not the person of men.
Nevertheless, because such counseling and sending would take time, we would recognize that this word translated "then" (Greek: tote) seems to be used to separate verse 15 and following from the previous verses. It also seems to serve the same purpose in verse 1 of chapter 23.
The ending of the context here is even clearer. Jesus leaves the temple in verse 1 of chapter 24, immediately following verse 39 of chapter 23:
Matthew 24:1 And Jesus went out, and departed from the temple: and his disciples came to him for to shew him the buildings of the temple.
So then, having reasonably identified the extent of the context, let's identify the audience.
The audience seems to be a mixture of different groups of people. Certainly a multitude and, of course, the disciples were present (vs. 1). Apparently, the scribes and Pharisees were present, for they are specifically addressed (vss. 13-15, 23, 25-27, 29), and indirectly (but indisputably) addressed (vss. 16-17, 19, 24). Indeed, at least starting in verse 13, Jesus seems to shift from addressing the crowd to addressing Pharisees and scribes, about whom Jesus warned the crowd in verses 3-12, and whom Jesus started by describing in verses 1-2.
Whether the scribes and Pharisees were still around after the Q&A session or whether they are just being addressed rhetorically is not crucial. The point is that they seem principly to be the ones discussed in the passage beginning at verse 13. The idea that this audience is maintained through the end of the chapter is supported by Jesus' comment in the final verse:
Matthew 23:39 For I say unto you, Ye shall not see me henceforth, till ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.
This comment makes sense if those He is still addressing are the temple leaders (vss. 2-3), i.e. the scribes and Pharisees, for in verse 1 of chapter 24, he leaves the temple.
As an aside, it is interesting to note that Jesus seems to making a clever double entrendre. Consider that the words he mentions are from:
Psalm 118:27, for which a partial context is Psalm 118:25-29:
25Save now, I beseech thee, O LORD: O LORD, I beseech thee, send now prosperity. 26Blessed be he that cometh in the name of the LORD: we have blessed you out of the house of the LORD. 27God is the LORD, which hath shewed us light: bind the sacrifice with cords, even unto the horns of the altar. 28Thou art my God, and I will praise thee: thou art my God, I will exalt thee. 29O give thanks unto the LORD; for he is good: for his mercy endureth for ever.
As you may know, Psalms 113-118 are referred to as the "Hallel" or hymns of praise. They were (as far as we know) typically sung at the passover. Indeed, many commentators speculate (based on what we know of Jewish history) that Psalm 118 probably was the hymn referred to in Matthew 26:30 and Mark 14:26. In any event, the Pharisees who followed the Rabbinical traditions at least outwardly (which we know from Scripture), would (we believe) have followed this tradition.
Thus, we can view Jesus' comment at the end of the chapter as a prophesy as to when the Scribes and Pharisees would next see Jesus. Sure enough, in Matthew 26:57, Jesus is again before the Scribes and Pharisees.
Matthew 26:57 And they that had laid hold on Jesus led him away to Caiaphas the high priest, where the scribes and the elders were assembled.
This seems to be powerful confirmation that the audience was the same from verse 13 to verse 39, for the disciples and the multitudes appear to have been with Jesus during chapters 24 and 25.
The double entendre referred to above, is the spiritual sense behind the physical sense. The physical sense is that they would not see him till they had sung the Hallel, but the spiritual sense is seen in the context of the selected text, namely that they would not see him spiritually until they were saved.
Look at how Psalm 118 describes that salvation process in the mouth of a convert:
"God is the LORD, which hath shewed us light," verse 27.
What could be more Reformed than that?
We need God to show us the light: God showing us the light, and our being saved are synonymous. If we see the light, it is not attributable to our own ability, but due to God's ability in giving us sight and shining the light in our now-seeing eyes.
Having identified the audience, let us turn to the contextual message.
The Contextual Message of the Passage
The general message of the passage is to beware of the Scribes and Pharisees. The more specific message of the more immediate context of vss. 13-39 is a warning of judgment upon the Scribes and Pharisees.
Verse 13 begins "But Woe" and each of verses 14-16 begins "Woe." One is immediately reminded of a parallel situation in the gospel of Luke, the eleventh chapter:
37And as he spake, a certain Pharisee besought him to dine with him: and he went in, and sat down to meat. 38And when the Pharisee saw it, he marvelled that he had not first washed before dinner. 39And the Lord said unto him, Now do ye Pharisees make clean the outside of the cup and the platter; but your inward part is full of ravening and wickedness. 40Ye fools, did not he that made that which is without make that which is within also? 41But rather give alms of such things as ye have; and, behold, all things are clean unto you. 42But woe unto you, Pharisees! for ye tithe mint and rue and all manner of herbs, and pass over judgment and the love of God: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone. 43Woe unto you, Pharisees! for ye love the uppermost seats in the synagogues, and greetings in the markets. 44Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are as graves which appear not, and the men that walk over them are not aware of them. 45Then answered one of the lawyers, and said unto him, Master, thus saying thou reproachest us also. 46And he said, Woe unto you also, ye lawyers! for ye lade men with burdens grievous to be borne, and ye yourselves touch not the burdens with one of your fingers. 47Woe unto you! for ye build the sepulchres of the prophets, and your fathers killed them. 48Truly ye bear witness that ye allow the deeds of your fathers: for they indeed killed them, and ye build their sepulchres. 49Therefore also said the wisdom of God, I will send them prophets and apostles, and some of them they shall slay and persecute: 50That the blood of all the prophets, which was shed from the foundation of the world, may be required of this generation; 51From the blood of Abel unto the blood of Zacharias, which perished between the altar and the temple: verily I say unto you, It shall be required of this generation. 52Woe unto you, lawyers! for ye have taken away the key of knowledge: ye entered not in yourselves, and them that were entering in ye hindered. 53And as he said these things unto them, the scribes and the Pharisees began to urge him vehemently, and to provoke him to speak of many things: 54Laying wait for him, and seeking to catch something out of his mouth, that they might accuse him.
As in the present passage, Luke 11 also announces various woes upon the Pharisees. As in the present passage, Luke 11 calls the Pharisees various names, including hypocrites. As in the present passage, Luke 11 lays the blood of the prophets on the hands of the Pharisees, and says that their claim that they would have done differently than their spiritual and physical fathers is bogus.
He even goes so far, in the present passage, as to tell them that they will match their fathers in their bloodthirstiness. The word picture is of a cup overflowing with innocent blood. Their cup will be as full as their fathers' cup (vs. 32). We should be reminded of this when we partake of the Lord's Supper, for just as their cup was overflowing with Christ's blood - even so is ours. But for us, it is to our justification - wheras for them to their condemnation and guilt as murderers.
Jesus even prophesies how his apostles and teachers will be treated by the Pharisees (vs. 34).
Jesus accuses the Pharisees of slaying everyone from Abel to Zacharias (vs. 35). Whether this is to be considered as "from A to Z" or is to be considered with reference to the order of books in the Hebrew Bible (in which Zacharias' death would be found last in the last book of the collection (though not chronologically last)) is not really the important issue. The important point is that they killed them all (exhaustively), and that their blood would be required by God - that is to say that they would face judgment (vs. 36).
Then, in verse 37, we have the comments we are all familiar with by now:
"O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!"
A repeat of the guilt of murdering of prophets (already discussed), followed by the announcement of the sentence to be placed upon them of desolation of their house (vs. 38). Christ finally concludes by prophesying as noted above with the double-entendre (vs. 39) and leaving (24:1). This concludes the relevant context for verse 37, which can now be examined in greater detail.
The Particular Audience and Message of Verse 37
Let's dig into vs. 37 now in more detail. The audience is, as we have seen the Scribes and Pharisees. They are addressed:
- O, Jerusalem, Jerusalem
Of course "O" is simply inserted by the translators so that we may understand the sense that "Jerusalem" is being addressed. As a matter of mild interest, I note that although many nouns in Greek are declined, Jerusalem is not one of them. In view of the context, the most natural understanding is that Jerusalem continues to refer to the Pharisees and Scribes. However, addressing Jerusalem by name is done only here, and in the exact repetition of the same comments in Luke 13, upon which I will comment below.
Jerusalem is described as being the murderer of the prophets:
- thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee,
The "thou" there is added by the KJV translators in order to convey the sense. The word for "killest" is the present active participle of the verb apokteino, which means to kill. The word "prophets" is basically the same word in Greek (we take our word "prophet" from Greek). The word for "stonest" is the present active participle of the verb lithoboleo which means to throw stones and generally refers to the act of what we call stoning. The word for "them which are sent" is the verb apostello in perfect passive participle. As you might guess, this word is etymologically related to the word "apostle," though Jesus' words are not necessarily in reference to the persecution of his twelve apostles. The phrase unto thee, is pros (unto -> connoting motion) and autos which is a demonstrative pronoun that conveys a reference to an antecedent. That is to say, autos refers to Jerusalem.
The interesting thing about the participles here is that they convey relative time. The stoning and killing take place at the same grammatical time as the "sending." The grammatical time of both the present participle and the perfect participle is "present." However, the sense of the perfect participle is a past action with present effects. Accordingly, relying only on the Greek grammar we can see that the people were sent AND THEN stoned. (in case there was any doubt ... the two participles for killing are feminine, singular, and nominative, which confirms that they refer to Jerusalem ... the participle for sent is masculine, plural, and accusative)
However, the piece that ties this all together is the main verb, and that is about to be introduced.
- how often I would have gathered thy children together
Matthew 24:31 And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.
Mark 13:27 And then shall he send his angels, and shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from the uttermost part of the earth to the uttermost part of heaven.
Mark 1:33 And all the city was gathered together at the door. (Note the general - not exhautive - use of the word "all.")
Luke 12:1 In the mean time, when there were gathered together an innumerable multitude of people, insomuch that they trode one upon another, he began to say unto his disciples first of all, Beware ye of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.
Thus, we can see that the "gathering together" conveys the sense of pulling into a crowded bunch. If the people were gathering themselves, they would be crowding, but if they are being gathered, they are being packed in. You can probably imagine that a mother bird does not attempt to woo the chicks back to her by singing a sweet song. She issues a command and then sweeps the too-slow-to-respond chicks under cover of herself with her powerful wings, thus crowding them together under her and under her protection and nurture.
"Thy children" is tekna sou. The children are, as you can see, distinguished from the audience whom Jesus is addressing. They (the children) are the ones that God intended to gather.
- even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings
Even as is hon tropon which is actually an accusative declension noun meaning, essentially "the style" but with an adverbial quality. Hence "even as" or "like" conveys the sense of the Greek. "A hen gathers" is episunagei ornis. Ornis is just a word for bird, and is actually masculine by default, which (at first anyhow) suggests that "hen" is possibly not the best available translation. Nevertheless, considering that all the ancient translations that I am aware of translated it as the equivalent of "hen," that translation is almost certainly correct. The accuracy of the translation will be affirmed for an additional reason below. Episunagei has been discussed above under "how often I would have gathered thy children together" - for the same word is used in that phrase and here.
"Her chickens" is ta nossia. The "her" is supplied by the translators, "ta" is just an article. The word nossion is not used other places in Scripture, but appears to be a dimunitive form of neossos which means a young animal (especially a young bird). The point of nossia is that the chicks (as we would call them in today's English) are very young chicks. The word neossos comes from the word neos which means "new." The diminuation of the "new" produces the effect of the little birdies are, in essence, just hatched. Thus the picture is more of downy little chicks, not the more mature chicks seen in the story "Make Way for Ducklings." In the Greek literature that we know of, the term nossion is used to refer to a nestling, which is about what one would expect, and the yolk of an egg, which - I think we can agree - is clearly not applicable.
The helplessness of these nossia emphasizes that the "gathering" that is being intended is not one of their cooperation but of the power and action of the hen.
"Under her wings" is eautis hupo tas pterugas. The "her" is the reflexive eautis and is feminine, which suggests that it is a female bird that is being described after all. It also explains why the translators chose a particular bird for which the English has a feminine form, rather than just saying "bird." Perhaps similar motivations were behind the ancient translators selection of the same bird (a female chicken) as the bird to correspond to the ornis in the text, or perhaps the English translators chose the same bird for historical continuity.
The "under" is hupo which seems to have basically the same connotation as "under" in English. "Wings" is pterux (the ta is just an article). I don't think that we should read any special symbolism into these particular wings. It is interesting, though, to note that the only other bird that is described as having wings (using this word for wings) is the eagle in Revelation 12:14. As well, the four beasts (Revelation 4:8) and the locusts (Revelations 9:9) are described as having wings (using this word). These other uses incline me not to think of the measily wings that chickens have, but rather strong wings like those of an eagle. But it's not as though any other words for wings are used in the New Testament, so it might be reading too much from the other uses to infer that the strength of the wings is particularly signfied by the word chosen to describe them. After all, ornis was used rather than aeto in the verse we are discussing.
The sense of the phrase is one of comparison. Christ is saying that he (God) intended to do what a mother bird does to her nestlings - to gather them under his wings, as it were. One is reminded of:
1Hear my cry, O God; attend unto my prayer. 2From the end of the earth will I cry unto thee, when my heart is overwhelmed: lead me to the rock that is higher than I. 3For thou hast been a shelter for me, and a strong tower from the enemy. 4I will abide in thy tabernacle for ever: I will trust in the covert of thy wings. Selah.
1He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. 2I will say of the LORD, He is my refuge and my fortress: my God; in him will I trust. 3Surely he shall deliver thee from the snare of the fowler, and from the noisome pestilence. 4He shall cover thee with his feathers, and under his wings shalt thou trust: his truth shall be thy shield and buckler. 5Thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by night; nor for the arrow that flieth by day; 6Nor for the pestilence that walketh in darkness; nor for the destruction that wasteth at noonday. 7A thousand shall fall at thy side, and ten thousand at thy right hand; but it shall not come nigh thee.
As well as
Ruth 2:12 The LORD recompense thy work, and a full reward be given thee of the LORD God of Israel, under whose wings thou art come to trust.
7Shew thy marvellous lovingkindness, O thou that savest by thy right hand them which put their trust in thee from those that rise up against them. 8Keep me as the apple of the eye, hide me under the shadow of thy wings, 9From the wicked that oppress me, from my deadly enemies, who compass me about.
Psalm 36:7 How excellent is thy lovingkindness, O God! therefore the children of men put their trust under the shadow of thy wings.
Psalm 57:1 Be merciful unto me, O God, be merciful unto me: for my soul trusteth in thee: yea, in the shadow of thy wings will I make my refuge, until these calamities be overpast.
7Because thou hast been my help, therefore in the shadow of thy wings will I rejoice. 8My soul followeth hard after thee: thy right hand upholdeth me.
9For the LORD'S portion is his people; Jacob is the lot of his inheritance. 10He found him in a desert land, and in the waste howling wilderness; he led him about, he instructed him, he kept him as the apple of his eye. 11As an eagle stirreth up her nest, fluttereth over her young, spreadeth abroad her wings, taketh them, beareth them on her wings: 12So the LORD alone did lead him, and there was no strange god with him.
1For, behold, the day cometh, that shall burn as an oven; and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble: and the day that cometh shall burn them up, saith the LORD of hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch. 2But unto you that fear my name shall the Sun of righteousness arise with healing in his wings; and ye shall go forth, and grow up as calves of the stall. 3And ye shall tread down the wicked; for they shall be ashes under the soles of your feet in the day that I shall do this, saith the LORD of hosts.
In each of these we see the protection of God described under the metaphor of his wings. The shadow of his wings is a place of protection and joy and even healing. They are a picture of salvation of a weak chick by the protection of the strong bird who guards. The choice of whether to overshadow the chicks is up to theh bird, even if the chicks view it as seeking the shadow, or trusting in the shadow. In the present simile, that it is all of the bird is made clear, in that Christ says he intended to "gather" not simply wait for the chicks. It's like the eagle in Deuteronomy 32, which "taketh them" and provides for them.
Or, if we are to look for how the same word is used in the LXX:
Psalm 106:47 Save us, O LORD our God, and gather us from among the heathen, to give thanks unto thy holy name, and to triumph in thy praise.
1Praise ye the LORD: for it is good to sing praises unto our God; for it is pleasant; and praise is comely. 2The LORD doth build up Jerusalem: he gathereth together the outcasts of Israel. 3He healeth the broken in heart, and bindeth up their wounds. 4He telleth the number of the stars; he calleth them all by their names. 5Great is our Lord, and of great power: his understanding is infinite.
9Break forth into joy, sing together, ye waste places of Jerusalem: for the LORD hath comforted his people, he hath redeemed Jerusalem. 10The LORD hath made bare his holy arm in the eyes of all the nations; and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God. 11Depart ye, depart ye, go ye out from thence, touch no unclean thing; go ye out of the midst of her; be ye clean, that bear the vessels of the LORD. 12For ye shall not go out with haste, nor go by flight: for the LORD will go before you; and the God of Israel will be your rereward.
The LXX translates this as, roughly translated to English, "the LORD going before and the God of Israel is the one who is gathering you." And that certainly is the picture: God is in front and God is behind, and we are saved by His power and might. He is our leader and the one gathering us from behind. He is the one who uses His rod and staff to bring us comfort.
- And ye would not
"And" is kai which just means "and." "Ye" is implied by the verb. "Would not" is oni ethelesiteh in which oni means "not" and ethelesiteh is the aorist active indicative of thelo, in the second person plural (hence the "ye").
As noted above, Jesus is addressing the Pharisees (the Jewish leaders) - whom he was just previously calling "Jerusalem." Notice that it is "ye" not "they." As noted above, thelo refers to intent. The concept is that although God intended to save the children of Israel, the Jewish leaders had a different idea.
"Would not" is not conceptually intransitive. That is to say, it has an object. In this case, however, the object is not directly stated as it is in so many other uses of this phrase. Instead, it is presented by implication from the preceding phrase. What were they opposed to? God's gathering of Israel.
A similar parallel that Christ gave (found only two chapters earlier in Matthew's gospel) springs to mind:
The Parable of the Husbandmen (Matthew 21:33-41)
33Hear another parable: There was a certain householder, which planted a vineyard, and hedged it round about, and digged a winepress in it, and built a tower, and let it out to husbandmen, and went into a far country: 34And when the time of the fruit drew near, he sent his servants to the husbandmen, that they might receive the fruits of it. 35And the husbandmen took his servants, and beat one, and killed another, and stoned another. 36Again, he sent other servants more than the first: and they did unto them likewise. 37But last of all he sent unto them his son, saying, They will reverence my son. 38But when the husbandmen saw the son, they said among themselves, This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and let us seize on his inheritance. 39And they caught him, and cast him out of the vineyard, and slew him. 40When the lord therefore of the vineyard cometh, what will he do unto those husbandmen? 41They say unto him, He will miserably destroy those wicked men, and will let out his vineyard unto other husbandmen, which shall render him the fruits in their seasons.
The parallels are remarkable. The husbandmen are the Jewish leaders, and the servants are the prophets sent to gather Israel (the fruits). The son is Christ - the rightful King of Israel. But the Jewish leaders (as Christ prophesied) took and killed him, hoping to remain themselves the leaders of Israel. Nevertheless, as Jesus goes on to declare, he will destroy the husbandmen (fulfilled in 70 a.d. with the destruction of Jerusalem and in 33 or so a.d. with the destruction of the veil of the Temple upon the crucifixion of Christ) and entrust Israel to new husbandmen (the apostles) and they will render to him the fruits (the elect - spiritual Israel) in their seasons (at the times appointed by God).
Finally, let us take a look at the directly parallel passage in Luke 13:
31The same day there came certain of the Pharisees, saying unto him, Get thee out, and depart hence: for Herod will kill thee. 32And he said unto them, Go ye, and tell that fox, Behold, I cast out devils, and I do cures to day and to morrow, and the third day I shall be perfected. 33Nevertheless I must walk to day, and to morrow, and the day following: for it cannot be that a prophet perish out of Jerusalem. 34O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, which killest the prophets, and stonest them that are sent unto thee; how often would I have gathered thy children together, as a hen doth gather her brood under her wings, and ye would not! 35Behold, your house is left unto you desolate: and verily I say unto you, Ye shall not see me, until the time come when ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.
What can I say! Most of the differences and similarities are already explained above. Aside from those, there are some minor differences in the Greek between Matthew 23:37 and Luke 13:34. The word for "gather" is not repeated in Luke and the word for "nestlings" is a very slightly different word nossia ("brood" - a singular word) instead of nossion ("nestlings" a plural word) and the article going with the word for "nestlings/brood" is correspondingly different. The linguistic differences are not significant.
As for distinguishing between "Jerusalem" ("ye") and the brood ("it" or perhaps "she") the form of thelo is consistently second person, not third person (either singular or plural). Thus, Luke 13 maintains the same meaning and sense as Matthew 23.
Likewise Luke 13:35 is pretty close to Matthew 23:38-39, with some minor differences that (it would seem) are irrelevant to this discussion.
I hope that this clarifies what Matthew 23:37 and Luke 13:34 are talking about. It is about the judgment coming upon the Jewish leaders for their opposition to the bringing of salvation to the people of Israel, not about men rejecting the gospel - and certainly not about Christ begging or pleading (as some people have - amazingly - claimed).
One Internet poster responded:
I would add that chickens, as well as most fowl, call to their young when
danger is present. I like the similarity. God called to Israel but
they did not heed.
It is important, however, to note that the young in Matthew 23:37 are nestlings - little downy creatures, not the waddling youngsters of "Make Way for Ducklings."
And God says he intended to gather them not wait for them to assemble themselves or even to call them to himself. The verses certainly don't mention calling as part of the process, and it is not on a successful or failed calling that the verse directs us.
Furthermore, I think most reasonable readers will agree that a chicken does not allow her chicks (even those that have started to explore outside the nest) to face destruction simply because they don't come when she clucks.
The Biblical model is that of Shepherd who leaves the ninety-nine sheep to go rescue the one lost sheep. That's the love of God - not merely clucking, but gathering.
No, Jesus is not speaking of a failure to assemble His people; Jesus is condemning the Pharisees and their spiritual fathers - the leaders of Israel - for opposing His gathering of the people of Israel (your children) to himself. For that opposition, he sentences them with desolation, and confirms it with a prophecy that was fulfilled.
His tone is one of judgment "Woe ... woe ... woe ..." (Matthew 23:25, 27, and 29), and the Pharisees and leaders of the Jews are the recipient.
All praise be to the Eagle of our Salvation!