on Matthew 5 :14
Ye are the light of the world - That is, the instruments which God chooses to make use of to illuminate the minds of men; as he uses the sun (to which probably he pointed) to enlighten the world. Light of the world, נר עולם ner olam, was a title applied to the most eminent rabbins. Christ transfers the title from these, and gives it to his own disciples, who, by the doctrines that he taught them, were to be the means of diffusing the light of life throughout the universe.
A city that is set on a hill - This place may receive light from the following passage in Maundrell's Travels. "A few points toward the north (of Tabor) appears that which they call the Mount of Beatitudes, a small rising, from which our blessed Savior delivered his sermon in the fifth, sixth, and seventh chapters of Matthew. (See the note on Matthew 5:5). Not far from this little hill is the city Saphet, supposed to be the ancient Bethulia. It stands upon a very eminent and conspicuous mountain, and is Seen Far and Near. May we not suppose that Christ alludes to this city, in these words of his, A city set on a hill cannot be hid?" p. 115. Quesnell remarks here: "The Christian life is something very high and sublime, to which we cannot arrive without pains: while it withdraws us from the earth, and carries us nearer heaven, it places us in view, and as a mark, to the malice of carnal men."
on Matthew 5 :14
The light of the world - The light of the world often denotes the sun, John 11:9. The sun renders objects visible, shows their form, their nature, their beauties, their deformities. The term light is often applied to religious teachers. See Matthew 4:16; Luke 2:32; John 1:4; John 8:12; Isaiah 49:6. It is pre-eminently applied to Jesus in these places, because he is, in the moral world, what the sun is in the natural world. The apostles, Christian ministers, and all Christians, are lights of the world, because they, by their instructions and example, show what God requires, what is the condition of man, what is the way of duty, peace, and happiness the way that leads to heaven.
A city that is set on a hill ... - Many of the cities of Judea were placed on the summits or sides of mountains, and could be seen from afar. Perhaps Jesus pointed to such a city, and told his disciples that they were like it. Their actions could not be hid. The eyes of the world were upon them. They must be seen; and as this was the case, they ought to be holy, harmless, and undefiled.
Maundrell, Jowett, and others suppose that the Sermon on the Mount was delivered in the vicinity of the present city of Safed, or "the Horns of Huttin" (see the notes at Matthew 5:1), and that this city may have been in his eye, and may have been directly referred to by the Saviour when he uttered this sentiment. It would give additional force and beauty to the passage to suppose that he pointed to the city. Of this Dr. Thomson (The Land and the Book, vol. i. pp. 420, 421) says, "The shape of the hill is a well-described oval, and the wall corresponds to it. The bottom of the outer ditch is now a very flourishing vineyard, and the entire circuit is not far from half a mile. The wall is mostly modern, but built on one more ancient, portions of which can be seen on the east side. The interior summit rises about a hundred feet higher than this wall, and was a separate castle, strongly defended. Here are beveled stones, as heavy, and as aged in appearance, as those of the most celebrated ruins in the country; and they prove that this has been a place of importance from a remote age. These ancient parts of the castle render it all but certain that there was then a city or citadel on this most conspicuous 'hill' top; and our Lord might well point to it to illustrate and confirm his precept. The present Hebrew name is Zephath, and may either refer to its elevation like a watchtower, or to the beauty and grandeur of the surrounding prospects. Certainly they are quite sufficient to suggest the name. There lies Gennesaret, like a mirror set in framework of dark mountains and many-faced hills. Beyond is the vast plateau of the Hauran, faintly shading with its rocky ranges the utmost horizon eastward. Thence the eye sweeps over Gilead and Bashan, Samaria and Carmel, the plains of Galilee, the coasts of Phoenicia, the hills of Naphtali, the long line of Lebanon, and the lofty head of Hermen - a vast panorama, embracing a thousand points of historic and sacred interest."
on Matthew 5 :14
5:14 Ye are the light of the world - If ye are thus holy, you can no more be hid than the sun in the firmament: no more than a city on a mountain - Probably pointing to that on the brow of the opposite hill.