Adam Clarke Commentary
The miraculous draught of fishes at the lake of Gennesaret, Luke 5:1-11. Christ heals a leper, Luke 5:12-14. His fame being published abroad, he withdraws to the desert, Luke 5:15, Luke 5:16. He heals a paralytic person, at which the scribes and Pharisees murmur, but the people glorify God, Luke 5:17-26. He calls the publican Levi, who makes a feast for Christ, to which he invites a great number of publicans and others, at which the scribes and Pharisees murmur, and our Lord vindicates his conduct, Luke 5:27-32. The question about fasting answered, Luke 5:33-35. The parable of the new piece of cloth put on the old garment, and the new wine in old bottles, Luke 5:36-39.
The people pressed upon him - There was a glorious prospect of a plentiful harvest, but how few of these blades came to full corn in the ear! To hear with diligence and affection is well; but a preacher of the Gospel may expect that, out of crowds of hearers, only a few, comparatively, will fully receive the truth, and hold out to the end.
To hear the word of God - Του λογον του Θεου, The doctrine of God, or, the heavenly doctrine.
The lake of Gennesaret - Called also the sea of Galilee, Matthew 4:18, and Mark 1:16; and the sea of Tiberias, John 6:1. It was, according to Josephus, forty furlongs in breadth, and one hundred and forty in length. No synagogue could have contained the multitudes who attended our Lord's ministry; and therefore he was obliged to preach in the open air. But this also some of the most eminent rabbins were in the habit of doing; though among some of their brethren it was not deemed reputable.
Two ships - Δυο πλοια, Two vessels, It is highly improper to term these ships. They appear to have been only such small boats as are used to manage nets on flat smooth beaches: one end of the net is attached to the shore; the fishermen row out, and drop the net as they go, making a kind of semicircle from the shore; they return, and bring the rope attached to the other end with them, and then the net is hauled on shore; and, as it was sunk with weights to the bottom, and floated with corks at the top, all the fish in that compass were included, and drawn to shore.
And taught - out of the ship - They pressed so much upon him on the land, through their eagerness to hear the doctrine of life, that he could not conveniently speak to them, and so was obliged to get into one of the boats; and, having pushed a little out from the land, he taught them. The smooth still water of the lake must have served excellently to convey the sounds to those who stood on the shore;
Simon - said - Master - ΕπιϚατα . This is the first place where this word occurs; it is used by none of the inspired penmen but Luke, and he applies it only to our blessed Lord. It properly signifies a prefect, or one who is set over certain affairs or persons: it is used also for an instructer, or teacher. Peter considered Christ, from what he had heard, as teacher of a Divine doctrine, and as having authority to command, etc. He seems to comprise both ideas in this appellation; he listened attentively to his teaching, and readily obeyed his orders. To hear attentively, and obey cheerfully, are duties we owe, not only to the sovereign Master of the world, but also to ourselves. No man ever took Jesus profitably for his teacher, who did not at the same time receive him as his Lord.
We have toiled all the night - They had cast the net several times in the course of the night, and drew it to shore without success, and were now greatly disheartened. I have seen several laborious draughts of this kind made without fruit. All labor must be fruitless where the blessing of God is not; but especially that of the ministry. It is the presence and influence of Christ, in a congregation, that cause souls to be gathered unto himself: without these, whatever the preacher's eloquence or abilities may be, all will be night, and fruitless labor.
At thy word I will let down the net - He who assumes the character of a fisher of men, under any authority that does not proceed from Christ, is sure to catch nothing; but he who labors by the order and under the direction of the great Shepherd and Bishop of souls, cannot labor in vain.
Their net brake - Or, began to break, διερῥηγνυτο, or, was likely to be broken. Had it broke, as our version states, they could have caught no fish. Grammarians give the following rule concerning words of this kind. Verba completiva inchoative intelligenda. Verbs which signify the accomplishment of a thing, are often to be understood as only signifying the beginning of that accomplishment. Raphelius gives some very pertinent examples of this out of Herodotus.
They beckoned unto their partners - Had not these been called in to assist, the net must have been broken, and all the fish lost. What a pity there should be such envious separation among the different sects that profess to believe in Christ Jesus! Did they help each other in the spirit of Christian fellowship, more souls would be brought to the knowledge of the truth. Some will rather leave souls to perish than admit of partners in the sacred work. It is an intolerable pride to think nothing well done but what we do ourselves; and a diabolic envy to be afraid lest others should be more successful than we are.
They - filled both the ships - Both the boats had as many as they could carry, and were so heavily laden that they were ready to sink. As one justly observes, "There are fish plenty to be taken, were there skillful hands to take, and vessels to contain them. Many are disputing about the size, capacity, and goodness of their nets and their vessels, while the fish are permitted to make their escape." Did the faithful fishers in both the vessels in these lands (the established Church, and the various branches of the dissenting interest) join heartily together, the nations might be converted to God; but, while the ridiculous disputes for and against particular forms last, there can be no unity. Were men as zealous to catch souls, as they are to support their particular creeds, and forms of worship, the state of Christianity would be more flourishing than it is at present. But the wall of separation is continually strengthened, each party fortifying it on his own side.
Depart from me; for I am a sinful man - Εξελθε απ 'εμου, Go out from me, i.e. from my boat. Peter was fully convinced that this draught of fish was a miraculous one; and that God himself had particularly interfered in this matter, whose presence and power he reverenced in the person of Jesus. But as he felt himself a sinner, he was afraid the Divine purity of Christ could not possibly endure him; therefore he wished for a separation from that power, which he was afraid might break forth and consume him. It seems to have been a received maxim among the Jews, that whoever had seen a particular manifestation of God should speedily die. Hence Jacob seemed astonished that his life should have been preserved, when he had seen God face to face, Genesis 32:30. So the nobles of Israel saw God, and yet did eat and drink; for on them he had laid not his hand, i.e. to destroy them, though it appears to have been expected by them, in consequence of this discovery which he made of himself. See Exodus 24:10, Exodus 24:11; (note), and the notes there. This supposition of the Jews seems to have been founded on the authority of God himself, Exodus 33:20; : There shall no man see my Face and Live. So Moses, Deuteronomy 5:26; : Who is there of all flesh that hath heard the voice of the living God, speaking out of the midst of the fire as we have, and Lived? So Gideon expected to be immediately slain, because he had seen an angel of the Lord, and a miracle performed by him. See Judges 6:21-23. So likewise Manoah and his wife, Judges 13:22; : We shall surely Die, for we have Seen God. These different passages sufficiently show in what sense these words of Peter are to be understood.
Thou shalt catch men - Ανθρωπους εσῃ ζωγρων, Thou shalt catch men alive; this is the proper signification of the word. Fear not: these discoveries of God tend to life, not to death; and ye shall become the instruments of life and salvation to a lost world. These fish are taken to be killed and fed on; but those who are converted under your ministry shall be preserved unto eternal life. See on Matthew 4:18; (note), etc., where this subject is considered more at large.
They forsook all, and followed him - God expects this from every person, and especially from those in whose hearts, or in whose behalf, he has wrought a miracle of grace or of providence. Jesus intended to call Peter, James, and John, to become his disciples; and that they might see the propriety and importance of the call, he: -
3dly. He Calls them to go forth with this doctrine, and through this power, that they might teach the ignorant, and be successful in their work.
A certain city - This was some city of Galilee; probably Chorazin or Bethsaida.
A man full of leprosy - See this disease, and the cure, largely explained on Matthew 8:2-4; (note); and see it particularly applied to the use of public preaching, Mark 1:40; (note), etc. See also the notes on Leviticus 13 (note), and 14 (note).
And offer for thy cleansing - A Hindoo, after recovering from sickness, presents the offerings he had vowed when in distress, as a goat, sweetmeats, milk, or any thing directed by the Shaster. All nations agreed in these gratitude-offerings for benefits received from the object of their worship.
And he withdrew himself into the wilderness - Or rather, He frequently withdrew into the desert. This I believe to be the import of the original words, ην ὑποχωρων . He made it a frequent custom to withdraw from the multitudes for a time, and pray, teaching hereby the ministers of the Gospel that they are to receive fresh supplies of light and power from God by prayer, that they may be the more successful in their work; and that they ought to seek frequent opportunities of being in private with God and their books. A man can give nothing unless he first receive it; and no man can be successful in the ministry who does not constantly depend upon God, for the excellence of the power is all from him. Why is there so much preaching, and so little good done? Is it not because the preachers mix too much with the world, keep too long in the crowd, and are so seldom in private with God? Reader! Art thou a herald for the Lord of hosts? Make full proof of thy ministry! Let it never be said of thee, "He forsook all to follow Christ, and to preach his Gospel, but there was little or no fruit of his labor; for he ceased to be a man of prayer, and got into the spirit of the world." Alas! alas! is this luminous star, that was once held in the right hand of Jesus, fallen from the firmament of heaven, down to the Earth!
On a certain day - This was when he was at Capernaum. See Mark 2:1.
The power of the Lord - Δυναμις Κυριου The mighty or miraculous power of the Lord, i.e. of Jesus, was there to heal them - as many as were diseased either in body or soul. Where the teaching of Christ is, there also is the power of Christ to redeem and save.
A man - taken with a palsy - See this case described on Matthew 9:1; (note), etc., and Mark 2:1; (note), etc.
Who can forgive sins, but God alone? - If Jesus were not God, he could not forgive sins; and his arrogating this authority would have been blasphemy against God, in the most proper sense of the word. That these scribes and Pharisees might have the fullest proof of his Godhead, he works in their presence three miracles, which from their nature could only be effected by an omniscient and omnipotent Being. The miracles are:
Strange things - Παραδοξα, paradoxes. A paradox is something that appears false and absurd, but is not really so: or, something contrary to the commonly received opinion. We have seen wonders wrought which seem impossible; and we should conclude them to be tricks and illusions, were it not for the indisputable evidence we have of their reality.
And he left all - Καταλιπων - completely abandoning his office, and every thing connected with it. He who wishes to preach the Gospel, like the disciples of Christ, must have no earthly entanglement. If he have, his whole labor will be marred by it. The concerns of his own soul, and those of the multitudes to whom he preaches, are sufficient to engross all his attention, and to employ all his powers.
A great feast - Δοχην μεγαλην, A splendid entertainment. The word refers more properly to the number of the guests, and the manner in which they were received, than to the quality or quantity of the fare. A great number of his friends and acquaintance was collected on the occasion, that they might be convinced of the propriety of the change he had made, when they had the opportunity of seeing and hearing his heavenly teacher.
Why do ye eat and drink, etc. - See what passed at this entertainment considered at large on Matthew 9:10-17; (note); Mark 2:15-22; (note).
The new wine will burst the bottles - These old bottles would not be able to stand the fermentation of the new wine, as the old sewing would be apt to give way. It is scarcely necessary to remark, that the eastern bottles are made of skins; generally those of goats.
The old is better - ΧρηϚοτερος - Is more agreeable to the taste or palate. Herodotus, the scholiast on Aristophanes, and Homer, use the word in this sense. See Raphelius. The old wine, among the rabbins, was the wine of three leaves; that is, wine three years old; because, from the time that the vine had produced that wine, it had put forth its leaves three times. See Lightfoot.
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