corner graphic

Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

Matthew 14

 

 

Verse 1

1. At that time — In narrating the death of John the Baptist, Matthew follows a peculiar order of facts. He gives us: 1. A conversation of Herod with his servants, in which the king expresses the opinion that Jesus was John the Baptist risen from the dead, (Matthew 14:1-2.) 2. To explain this expression of the king’s, he goes back in time, and narrates how John was slain by Herod, (Matthew 14:3-12.) 3. He last informs us how Jesus retired on receiving intelligence of the Baptist’s death, (Matthew 14:13.) The real order of the facts in time was, first, The Baptist’s death; second, The retirement of Jesus; and third, The conversation of Herod. The phrase, at that time, must therefore have an indefinite extension, and mean at that general period of our Lord’s ministry.

Herod — This was Herod Antipas. This prince succeeded Herod, surnamed the Great, as ruler of Galilee, in the infancy of our Saviour, and is the only Herod so called afterward in the Gospels. He was the son of Herod the Great, (of whom we have given some account in Matthew 2:1,) by Malthace. When Herod the Great died, he appointed by will Archelaus, his son by the same Malthace, king of Judea, and this Antipas tetrarch of Galilee; but this will must receive the sanction of the supreme authority, Augustus, emperor of Rome. Both brothers appeared before the emperor, who so changed the arrangement as to give to Archelaus the province of Judea, with the title, not of king, but of ethnarch, (or nation-ruler;) to Herod Philip, a son by Cleopatra of Jerusalem, Batana, Trachonitis, and Auranitis, provinces lying east of the Sea of Galilee; and to this Herod Antipas, Galilee and Perea. (See note on Matthew 2:22.) After the banishment of Archelaus by the emperor, Judea had no more a native king or prince. Shiloh had come, and the sceptre departed. It was placed under the general Roman prefecture of Syria, and was ruled by a series of special Roman governors, residing at Cesarea. Such was the government during the most of Jesus’s life and all of his ministry. The successive governors were Coponius, Ambivius, Annius Rufus, Valerius Gratus, and Pontius Pilate. Herod Antipas was first married to a daughter of Aretas, king of Arabia. Forming an unlawful attachment for Herodias, the wife of his brother Herod Philip, (see note on Matthew 14:3,) he became involved in a course of guilt which ended in his ruin. Aretas commenced a war upon Herod to avenge the insult to his daughter. See note on Matthew 14:6. Herod’s armies were defeated, and ruin seemed impending. This he evaded by appealing to Rome, and obtaining from the emperor an order requiring Aretas to desist from the war.

Herodias seemed to be his evil genius. When Herod’s nephew, Agrippa, brother of Herodias, had obtained from the emperor the title of king, she prompted her unlawful husband to ask the same dignity at Rome. Agrippa anticipated the design, and when they appeared at the court he met them with an accusation of treason against the emperor Herod was therefore deposed and banished, with Herodias, to Lyons in Gaul, where he died.

Tetrarch — A Greek word, signifying a ruler of a fourth part of a kingdom. Under the order of the emperor, the kingdom of Herod the Great was, upon his death, divided into three tetrarchies, and given to Herod’s sons, as already mentioned. The tetrarchs and ethnarchs were very ambitious of the title of king, and were often so styled by courtesy. Heard of the fame of Jesus — Herod Antipas was near at the birth of Jesus, through his life, and at his death. He had attained manhood when the arrival of the Magi, announcing a newborn rival for the throne, created a panic at the court of Herod his father. He may have shared in the excitement, and have imagined that the rival prince was slaughtered in the massacre at Bethlehem. As ruler of Galilee he was the temporal sovereign of Jesus; and from his jealousy, suspicions, and threats as ruler, Jesus was obliged to be cautious in his own movements, and to hold the enthusiasm of his followers in check. Indeed, from about this time it may be remarked that our Saviour’s influence is more spreading, yet more secret. The ruling powers of Judea have decided against him because he is no conquering Messiah. The ruler of Galilee is suspicious lest he prove a warlike opponent. Our Lord’s greatest miracles, the feeding of the multitudes, are in the dominions of Herod Philip.


Verses 1-14

§ 60. — DEATH OF JOHN THE BAPTIST, Matthew 14:1-14.

It was while me apostles were on their trial mission that John was beheaded. Thus Jesus spreads his operations, and the harbinger leaves the scene, simultaneously. As an old writer says, Jesus provided that for one preacher slain twelve should spring up in his place.


Verse 2

2. Said unto his servants — Why Herod should thus express himself to his servants, so likely to have been skeptical and dissolute men, seems at first view difficult to say. But one or two apparently accidental allusions elsewhere in the Gospels afford, perhaps, some explanation. We learn from Luke 8:3, that among those who administered to Jesus of their substance was Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod’s steward. And again in Acts 13:1, we are told that among other distinguished converts was Manaen, which had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch; that is, was his foster brother. We see then, that as at a later period there were saints in Cesar’s household, so there were also believers in the household of Herod. Through these the solemn reports of the deeds and teachings of Jesus doubtless reached the guilty king. Consequently “he was desirous of seeing him, because he had heard many things of him.” And to such servants he could doubtless express the believing sentiments attributed to him.

This is John the Baptist — Herod Antipas did not identify Jesus as the newborn King of the Jews announced to his father’s house by the Magi. That fear had long since been dismissed and forgotten. Nor did he seem distinctly to understand that Jesus claimed Messiahship. Antipas was king by descent from his Herodian paternity, and maternally from the more noble Asmonean line; but how feebly could both these compare with an heirship like that of Jesus from the ancient line of David and Solomon. Herod was Edomite; but purely national was the blood of the family of Nazareth.

Jesus did at last appear before Herod, (Luke 23:6-12;) sent in bonds by Pilate to Herod as the subject of his jurisdiction. Herod was at first interested to see Jesus, in hopes of beholding some display of that miraculous power by which he is at the present time so much perplexed and harrowed in conscience. But when Jesus maintained an impenetrable silence, the irritated Antipas arrayed him in tawdry robes in mockery of his royalty, and remanded him to Pilate. Risen from the dead — His conscience seemed to conjure up the murdered John from his grave. Luke adds that the tyrant was “perplexed;” and when it was rumoured that Jesus was the risen John, and one courtier suggested that he was Elias, and another that he was some one of the ancient prophets reappearing, Herod Antipas finishes with: “John have I beheaded, but who is this of whom I hear such things?” These conjectures imply, not a belief in a transmigration of souls, but simply in extraordinary resurrections. The whole account furnishes a vivid picture of a profligate set of men, interrupted in the midst of their riot and wickedness by supernatural rumours and horrors of conscience. A comparison of Mark 8:15, with Matthew 16:6. furnishes reason to suppose that Herod was a Sadducee. For in the one passage the leaven or doctrine of Herod appears to be the same as the leaven of the Sadducees, and Luke tells us (Luke 9:7) that he was “perplexed because it was said of some that John was risen from the dead; and of some that Elias had appeared; and of others that one of the old prophets was risen again.” So thickly did these rumours come that he seems to have given in the point that the murdered John had reappeared from the grave. Though a Sadducee, yet guilt made him a cowardly sort of a believer. So true it is that irreligious men are often tremblingly superstitious. Being unconsoled by the truths of religion, they are exposed to be frightened by any form of horror suggested to the imagination by a guilty conscience. Therefore mighty works — The implication is that John had acquired a miracle-working power after rising from the dead. This is a striking incidental confirmation of John 10:41, that John wrought no miracles while living.


Verse 3

3. For Herod had — The evangelist proceeds to explain the remark of Herod by recapitulating the history of John’s martyrdom. Herodias’ sake — She had in vain endeavoured to induce Herod to perpetrate the deed; and so finally availed herself of the opportunity here afforded. The oath fairly entrapped Herod into an obligation to do what she required; and eager for revenge, as well as to put an end to John’s dangerous influence over the king’s conscience against her, she perseveringly refused to let the monarch free from her snare.

Herodias was daughter of the young Aristobulus, one of the accomplished but unfortunate sons of Herod by the beautiful Mariamne; and she belonged therefore to the noble line of Asmonean princes. She seems to have possessed the beauty and accomplishments of that princess, without many of her virtues. Her brother Agrippa, a prince of singular talent and fascinating address, passed through a variety of fortunes, in which he was befriended by her, and he ultimately succeeded Herod Philip in the eastern tetrarchy, under the title, from the Emperor Caius Caligula, of king. Compare note on Matthew 2:1. Herodias became the wife (not of Herod Philip the tetrarch, but) of her uncle, Herod Philip, another son of Herod the Great, whose mother was Mariamne, the daughter of Simon the High Priest. See Herod’s family tree, p. 33.

The account of John’s death given by Josephus varies from that of Matthew by making Herod’s fear of John the motive for his execution.

This was doubtless true, though the evangelist’s minuter narrative furnishes the actual occasion. Josephus confirms the Gospel narrative in many points, He says:

“Now some of the Jews thought that the destruction of Herod’s army came from God, and that very justly, as a punishment of what he did against John that was called the Baptist; for Herod slew him, although he was a good man, and commanded the Jews to exercise virtue both as to righteousness one toward another, and piety toward God, and so to come to baptism. Now when others came in crowds about him — for they were greatly moved by hearing his words — Herod, who feared lest the great influence John had over the people might put it into his power and inclination to raise a rebellion, (for they seemed ready to do anything he should advise,) thought it best, by putting him to death, to prevent any mischief he might cause, and not bring himself into difficulties by sparing a man who might make him repent of it when it should be too late. Accordingly he was sent a prisoner, out of Herod’s suspicions, to Macherus, the castle I before mentioned, and was there put to death.”


Verse 4

4. It is not lawful — It is well when ministers dare rebuke the crimes of politicians and rulers. The doctrine that there is no higher law than wicked rulers are pleased to enact, is essential atheism.

And what adds to the force of John’s example in reproving the wickedness of rulers, is the fact that John, it seems, faced Herod Antipas himself with this rebuke. He “said unto him, It is not lawful for thee.” At what interview between the tyrant and the prophet this rebuke took place is not recorded. Very possibly Herod, knowing John’s great influence over the conscience of the people, had endeavoured by personal consultation to obtain the Baptist’s sanction of his adultery; or he may have heard of John’s inveighing against his profligacy, and have arrested him and brought the Baptist into his presence, where of course he would have found reproof not recanted, but reaffirmed.


Verse 6

6. Herod’s birthday was kept — According to Mark this was done with great magnificence; for “he made a great feast for his lords, high captains, and the chief persons of Galilee.” The nobility of Galilee must have come some distance for the occasion. For it is plain, from the rapidity with which John was executed, that this celebration took place at or near the fortress of Macherus, where John was imprisoned, in southern Perea, near the confines of Arabia. It is highly probable that Herod was at this time engaged in war with Aretas, king of Arabia, for reasons fully narrated in our note upon Matthew 14:1. This is confirmed from the fact that the executioner of John is by Mark called by the Latin term spiculator, which implies a military officer. The adulterous Herodias, the guilty cause of the war, like another Helen, is present to cheer her champion and amuse his festal hours. Danced — Female dancers in the East are a customary part of great entertainments. On this occasion the dancer was of high birth, being no other than the princess Salome, daughter of Herodias.


Verse 7

7. Promised with an oath — To reward the graceful dancer was customary; but Herod wills to reward royally. Calmet mentions a Shah Abbas, who promised to a dancer, during a drunken carouse, the revenues of a province. After his recovery, at the instance of his vizier, he broke his promise and gave her a present of two hundred pounds. Salome, doubtless, might have preferred half the kingdom, but her mother’s will preferred revenge to dominion. Perhaps she feared that Herod, in sober moments, would break his oath. She seems by her language to be in a hurry to have the present while the revel is on: “Give me here” the head. And the deed seems to have been perpetrated with an impatient haste, perhaps in the dead hour of night, with no uncommon mixture of revelry and slaughter.


Verse 8

8. A charger — The Greek word signifies a flat board, used for any purpose, as for a writing-table or tablet. In Luke 11:39, it is translated a platter; that is, a large dish, in which meat or other food is carved or served up. The old English word charger is connected with the whole family of words implying the idea of something carrying or carried. As the simplest root in the English language may be specified the syllable car, then we have cart, carriage, chariot, cargo, charge, carry, carrier, and charger. Hence the platter was called a charger, because it was charged with a burden to carry.


Verse 9

9. The king was sorry — Though he had before desired and plotted John’s death, yet is he now appalled at such a bloody request from this young girl. It was a fearful story to be told to the people whose reverence for John was so profound. Besides, the tyrant himself shared the religious awe for the Baptist’s character and mission.

Oath’s sake — Might he not as well be a perjurer as a murderer? Them which sat with him — A point of honour rises here. He must not flinch, but keep his pledge before his honourable fellows. A duellist or a gambler is the very model of such faith.


Verse 10

10. Beheaded John in the prison — From the banquet of dissolute royalty the executioner goes, probably by night, to the prophet’s dungeon. No doubt the victim met the messenger with serene fortitude, and passed with final triumph through his severe transition to his blessed reward. He was the greatest of prophets and the last of the pre-Christian martyrs. He was the moral terror of his guilty age. Nobly did he fulfil his office as reformer and preparer. If at one moment he was perplexed with the mysterious slowness of his principal, never, for even that moment, did his faith in the true one fail. Not many months did he precede his Lord in the path to glory.


Verse 11

11. Brought it to her mother — A dutiful present from a murderess daughter to a murderess mother! Herod Antipas and Herodias were, as we have already stated, subsequently banished by the Roman emperor to Lyons, in France, where they passed the remainder of their lives in disgrace. It does not appear that justice ever overtook Salome.


Verse 12

12. His disciples came… buried it — Faithful to the last, they obtain the corpse of their murdered master. The cruel king, glad perhaps to soothe the people by some apparent clemency, does not prevent. Went and told Jesus — Doubtless the Lord well knew the whole story before they came to tell it. And to whom should these orphans of the martyred prophet go but to him, the prophet’s greater Lord? Yet it is doubtful whether they ever fully transferred their allegiance to him. Disciples who only knew John’s baptism are found in the subsequent Scripture history. Acts 18:23; Acts 19:3. Indeed, even to the present day a sect exists in the East claiming to be “John’s disciples,” whose principles seem to be tinged with Gnosticism, and whose views of both John and Christ vary far from the doctrines of the New Testament.


Verse 13

13. Jesus heard of it, he departed — The death of John transpired while the twelve were absent on their mission, described in chapter tenth. Their return and the news of the Baptist’s death concurring in time, Jesus took his departure northward. Our Lord gives to his disciples, as a reason for this departure, (Mark 6:31,) their need of retirement and rest. And in relation to them, it was a true and a tender reason; but in regard to himself and his mission a far higher reason existed.

When Jesus, at his early home in Nazareth, heard that John was baptizing in Jordan, he doubtless realized that he was summoned to enter upon the preparation for his ministry. Yet after his baptism he still stood in the background while his messenger was preparing his way before him. After that time, the key of all the transactions between the Baptist and the Messiah is furnished in John’s words, (John 3:30,) “He must increase and I must decrease.” The subordinate must gradually retire before his superior. When John was imprisoned, (Matthew 4:12,) therefore, a period arrived in which our Lord commenced his opening ministration. The subordinate ceases his labours, but he and his disciples are still extant. But with the forerunner’s expiring breath the interregnum closes, and the Lord enters upon his full office. At that same period our Lord is commissioning his twelve, and sending them forth as apostles to the twelve tribes. His fame is filling the halls of Herod Antipas. It is both a crisis of great danger and the period of his broadest enlargement. To avoid the ruling powers, whose eyes are now in search of him, he departs for Northern Galilee, where he spends the whole of this period of his ministry. (See Historical Synopsis.) He crosses the Lake of Gennesaret, followed by thousands; he is at one time at the extreme northwest, even at Tyre and Sidon; and soon at the extreme northeast at Caesarea Philippi. Though an apparent refugee from the ruling power, his field is broadening, his fame spreading, and his disciples unite in the completest recognition of his Messiahship. That meridian point attained, this period closes and the ministry of sorrow commences. Matthew 16:21.

He departed… by ship into a desert place — Matthew mentions not whither he departs. But Luke states (Luke 9:10) that it was to the desert near Bethsaida; and John (John 6:1) that it was beyond (on the east side of) the Lake of Gennesaret. At this place (probably Butaiha, see note on Matthew 14:15-21) he fed the five thousand, and returning thence he recrossed, walking upon the sea.

Across the lake Jesus was out of the dominion of Herod Antipas, the murderer of the Baptist, and whose eye was already directed toward himself. Jesus is now within the tetrarchy of Herod Philip, a prince of remarkable mildness and justice, especially for a Herod. The Saviour, therefore, dares perform a miracle of public notoriety without enjoining secrecy upon its subjects. Yet even here he does not linger long after its performance.

When the people — It appears from John 6:4, that a passover was nigh at hand; and the people consisted of crowds or caravans on their way to Jerusalem. Followed him on foot — As his boat crossed the lake from Capernaum, coasting perhaps along the northern shore, passing the entrance of the Jordan, where Bethsaida stood, the people ran around the northern shore and arrived at Butaiha. The multitudes “ran” so rapidly that, according to Mark, they “outwent” the boat and “came unto him” as he landed; “and” says Luke, “he received them.”


Verse 14

14. Jesus went forth — From the boat. Saw a great multitude — He desired retirement and rest, when lo! a crowd and new labour. His fame is not only disturbing the court of the king, but stirring the masses of the people. Our Lord is soon after compelled to retire to more distant parts, and to enjoin secrecy and silence upon the subjects of his miracles, and even upon the apostles in their ministry.


Verse 15

15. Disciples came… saying — Previously to this, (as we are informed by John,) the Saviour had asked Philip, (for the purpose, as we say, of drawing him out,) “Whence shall we buy bread that these may eat?” To which Philip returns a dubious answer. Soon after the disciples put the question of supply to the Lord. This reconciles the evangelists, one of whom seems to make the apostles speak first, and the other, Jesus. There was a natural propriety in asking this question of Philip, who was a native of Bethsaida.


Verses 15-21

§ 63. — MIRACLE OF FEEDING THE FIVE THOUSAND, Matthew 14:15-21.

The fullest account is given in Mark 6:34-44; and some additional particulars are furnished in John 6:1-14.

The precise spot where this miracle was performed is not certainly known; but the most reliable opinion, we think, is that of Dr. Thomson, who, in view of all the facts detailed 15-33, is very sure that it was at Butaiha, an appendage to Bethsaida lying to its southwest, along the shore of the lake. He says, speaking of Butaiha:

“This bold headland marks the spot, according to my topography, where the five thousand were fed with five barley-loaves and two small fishes. From the four narratives of this stupendous miracle we gather: 1st. That the place belonged to Bethsaida; 2d. That it was a desert place; 3d. That it was near the shore of the lake, for they came to it by boats; 4th. That there was a mountain close at hand, 5th. That it was a smooth grassy spot, capable of seating many thousand people. Now all these requisites are found in this exact locality, and nowhere else so far as I can discover. This Butaiha belonged to Bethsaida. At this extreme southeast corner of it the mountain shuts down upon the lake bleak and barren. It was doubtless desert then as now, for it is not capable of cultivation. In this little cove the ships (boats) were anchored. On this beautiful sward at the base of the rocky hill the people were seated.” See our map, p. 62.


Verse 17

17. They say — Andrew in particular speaks for the rest, that the food is carried by a lad. So that a boy carries the rations of more than five thousand persons. These barley-loaves were an inferior kind of food. Tholuck quotes in proof the Talmud. “Jochanan says: The barley has become beautiful. The reply is: Say that to the horses and asses.” The loaves were a large thin cake or biscuit made probably of barley, about half an inch thick, to be broken and not cut. We never read of bread being cut in Scripture but always broken.


Verse 19

19. On the grass — It is called a desert as being uninhabited, not as being barren. It seems to have been a grassy plain. Sit down — In parties, or as we may say, in separate tables, as Mark informs us. Thus the whole was more orderly.


Verse 20

20. All eat, and were filled — Like the widow’s cruse of oil, when a part was taken, its place was instantly supplied by divine power. The loaf remained still as large when the piece was broken off, and each piece in hand imperceptibly became large as the loaf. Was this an original act of creation? Not necessarily. He who guided through the water the fishes to Peter’s net could guide the invisible atomic elements, in however gaseous a form through the air, to form upon the loaf, the material bread. This is but hastening the process that ever is taking place in the growth of the grain. There is but the additional modification produced by heat in the oven; but even this is only a different arrangement of the particles. Twelve baskets full — This shows that the miracle was performed upon the bread and not upon the stomach. There was an actual increase of the amount of the material, not a supernatural cessation of the appetite under an imaginary or conceptual food.

The lad’s basket could doubtless have carried the original loaves and fishes. But when a divine bounty gives (so the Saviour’s miracle teaches) it gives plentifully and worthily, the wealth of a God.

The multitudes, John informs us, felt the bounty and the miracle. Tradition had reported to them that the Messiah would rain manna from heaven; and they now exclaim: “This is of a truth that prophet which should come into the world.” They were ready to place upon him the Messianic crown, with the expectation that the time of miraculous plenty and easy life was at hand under his reign. So little, alas! did the most munificent miracle spiritualize their hearts.


Verse 21

21. Five thousand men besides — So that we know not the full number John informs us that the passover was near, and doubtless these were a caravan on their way to Jerusalem. They were led out of the way to follow the wonders of the true paschal lamb.

On this miracle we may remark:

1. It bears a striking analogy to the miracle of changing the water into wine. It is not indeed, like that, a sensible transformation; but both are a hastening of a natural process by Him who thereby claims to be the Lord of nature as well as of grace. They are the two elements, too, bread and wine, which in the eucharist are combined to represent the blood and the body of the Lord, given for the spiritual nourishment of his people.

2. The whole miracle is physically an act of mercy to the bodies of the suffering multitude. But it was intended to guide them to the full discovery of Him who could perform a higher act of mercy upon the soul. Of that higher mercy it was no doubt an emblem, so that this, with all the other wonders of our Lord, was both a miracle and a symbol.

3. It is left on record for us that we may recognize Christ as our bread of life. His blood may be but a drop, his death but a brief transaction; but their efficacy can be reproduced for all the multitudes of all generations, and feed even our souls with eternal life.


Verse 22

§ 64. — THE MIRACULOUS WALKING ON THE SEA, Matthew 14:22-33.

22. Constrained his disciples — Why were they unwilling to go? We should be wholly at a loss to know, did not John (John 6:15) state the fact that the multitude wished to make Jesus a king. It is therefore highly probable that the disciples were anxious to stay and see his promotion to the Jewish crown. But this design of the multitude was alike contrary to the divine order, and likely to expose Jesus to the hostility of Herod Philip.

Mark says that Jesus sent the disciples “to the other side to Bethsaida, while he sent away the people.” A glance at our map of Gennesaret, (p. 62) will show that Bethsaida is strictly not on the opposite or western side, but on the north. To meet this difficulty sacred geographers have placed a supposed Bethsaida on the western side, south of Capernaum, as is seen upon our map of PALESTINE. For this there seems to be no sufficient reason. Jesus sent the disciples to the other side; yet to Bethsaida, by the way, until he had dismissed the people. That done, he would have joined them at Bethsaida, en route to the other side. As we have noted on Matthew 14:14, it is probable that the boat coasted along the north shore, by Bethsaida. The original purpose of Jesus to join them at Bethsaida was changed by the sudden gust, which drove them southward.


Verse 23

23. Up into a mountain — The natural position of the locality seems to fix with a singular certainty what mountain this was. A mountain at the extreme southeast margin of Butaiha shuts down upon the lake. This was doubtless the scene of our Lord’s midnight prayer. By day it would have commanded a view of the lake, the storm, and the tossing boat of the disciples.

Evening was come — This is the second, or later evening, of which the evening in Matthew 14:15 was the earlier, or afternoon. The former was from three to six, the latter from six to nine. Jesus was praying while the ship was struggling with the billows. So the great Intercessor still lives, while his Church is tossing on the waves of time.


Verse 24

24. Tossed with waves… wind was contrary — ”Through one of the deep ravines, which have been described as breaking through the hills to the shore, there came down a storm of wind on the lake.” — Stanley.


Verse 25

25. Fourth watch of the night — A watch is the regular period which a soldier or sentinel keeps guard by night before he is relieved by a successor. The ancient Jewish watches were three a night, the middle being at midnight. But just before Matthew wrote, the Jews had adopted the Roman custom of four watches of three hours each. These watches began at six, nine, twelve, and three, so that it was about three in the morning that our Lord made himself visible to his disciples. The disciples, starting from Butaiha toward Bethsaida, had toiled in rowing from eve until near morning, and had made but a little more than three miles from their starting place, having been driven southward, below the route to Capernaum, in the direction of the plain of Gennesaret. At three of the morning the dim form of Jesus walking upon the surface of the heaving billows is descried by the disciples in the ship. Stier eloquently says:

“What is that? they ask among themselves in terror; and the fear which now first breaks out in earnest, precisely when the helper comes, answers, It is an apparition, a phantasm; and when the terrifying word is spoken they cry out for fear. Is it a welcome from the Sheol, to which they fancy they are now near? This it cannot be, for the thing upon the sea assuredly looks like the Lord. It is more likely, therefore, to occur to them, that their excited imagination now morbidly deludes them with the figure of Him who has been so much in their thoughts — if, indeed, they have any definite idea at all of this phantasm. Man, in his present state, in the fear and perplexity of spirit which may so easily overtake him, sees apparitions; and takes even his Saviour, as he draws nigh in divine power, at first to be such. This, however, is always better than, in the opposite folly of boldness, to take a phantasm of his own thoughts as the Lord and Saviour.”


Verse 27

27. It is I — So does the Christian in the time of trial recognize the presence and cheering voice of his Saviour.


Verse 28

28. Peter — Ever forward to venture at the risk of failure. Bid me — He knew that he could do so only by his Master’s power, and he only wished to show what confidence he had, that by that power he could do anything. This was a noble faith, but it was mixed with vain glory. Of course the Lord must select me to be the hero.


Verse 29

29. Come — Our Lord did not quite say, Come to me, but Come; and Peter did come, but not quite to Jesus. Jesus came to him. He walked on the water — So that Peter actually performed the miracle.


Verse 30

30. The wind boisterous — The windy waves were stronger than Peter’s faith.

“To understand the causes of these sudden and violent tempests we must remember that the lake lies low, six hundred feet lower than the ocean; that the vast and naked plateaus of the Jaulan rise to a great height, spreading backward to the wilds of the Hauran and upward to snowy Hermon; that the water-courses have cut out profound ravines and wild gorges, converging to the head of this lake, and that these act like gigantic funnels to draw down the cold winds from the mountains. The faith of Peter in desiring and daring to set foot on such a sea is most striking and impressive, more so indeed than its failure after the attempt. Those winds are not only violent, but they come down suddenly, and often when the sky is perfectly clear.” — Dr. Thomson.

There can be but little fair doubt that this was a symbol as well as a miracle. The ship full of disciples is no unapt symbol of the Church struggling through darkness and storms. The Saviour is ever her deliverer in the darkest hour.


Verse 32

32. Were come into the ship — John says they willingly received him into the ship; for previously, supposing him to be a spirit, they dreaded his approach. But lo! it was their Lord, and gladly did they welcome him. The wind ceased — The storm then was permitted — that is, it was not prevented — by Jesus. The elements were left by him to blow with all their natural power until he entered the boat. Such is an image of the trials which nature in this scene of probation forces upon us, and which God does not prevent until their work in our trial is done. The instant cessation of the wind was an additional miracle, and probably impressed the disciples scarce less than the walking upon the sea.


Verse 33

33. They that were in the ship — There does not appear that any others were in the ship than the apostles. Worshipped — Reverently bowing and making the following confession. The Son of God — These words can mean nothing less than the memorable confession made soon after in Matthew 16:16 : Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. This scene doubtless tended to produce the faith for that confession; and surely none could be the more proper person to make it than this same Peter.


Verse 34

34. Land of Gennesaret — The plain of Gennesaret. It is on the western side of the lake, immediately south of Capernaum. It is described by Josephus as having been a spot where nature was ambitious of lavishing her finest powers. Dr. Olin thus describes it: “This plain, which I think is about four miles in length by two and a half in breadth, is bounded eastward by the sea, and on the west by the mountains, which recede from the shore to Mejdal, and having made the compass of that side of the plain, again returns to the beach at its northern end. The two extremities of the plain are thus contracted to a point, while the western boundary along the mountain is curved, and the eastern on the sea is a nearly straight line. The soil is of a dark colour, very deep, and evidently of the greatest fertility.”

Over this beautiful plain our Lord and his disciples often walked, and there he uttered many of his discourses, drawing his illustrations from the varied scenes of earth, sea, and sky around him. As it lies south of Capernaum, the disciples, who started first toward Bethsaida for Capernaum, must have been driven far out of their course.


Verse 35

35. That place — Not precisely Capernaum, but the inhabited plain adjacent to it. It is nowhere intimated that Capernaum was in this plain. It could hardly be necessary to say that his fellow-townsmen in Capernaum knew him. Sent out into all that country — That their whole locality might have the benefit of his unexpected visit.


Verse 36

36. Hem of his garment — The fringe directed by Moses to be worn as the distinguishing badge of an Israelite. Nor is it wonderful that these people, learning the miracle of feeding the thousands, hearing, perhaps, from the apostles his walking the sea, and beholding his manifold miracles of mercy, should reverence him as a Divine Being incarnate.

When from the plain of Gennesaret Jesus went to Capernaum, many of the multitude, as John informs us, from the other side, arriving, found him there to their astonishment. A conversation at length ensuing, is detailed by that evangelist. In it Jesus exposes to their own view their material and selfish motives. See note on Matthew 14:20. He endeavours in vain to awaken a purer faith and a more elevated view. Their stubborn unsusceptibility so manifests itself that Jesus wraps his truths in figure and parable, and leaves their hearts in their chosen hardness.

 


Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Matthew 14:4". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/whe/matthew-14.html. 1874-1909.

Commentary Navigator
Search This Commentary
Enter query in the box below
To report dead links, typos, or html errors or suggestions about making these resources more useful use our convenient contact form
Powered by Lightspeed Technology