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Bible Commentaries
Mark 4

Barnes' Notes on the Whole BibleBarnes' Notes

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Verses 1-9

See the parable of the sower explained in the notes at Matthew 13:1-9.

See the parable of the sower explained in the notes at Matthew 13:1-9.

Verses 10-13

See the notes at Matthew 13:10-17. On Mark 4:12, see the notes at John 12:39-40.

When he was alone - That is, separate from the multitude. When he withdrew from the multitude a few followed him for the purpose of more instruction.

Mark 4:13

Know ye not this parable? - This which is so plain and obvious.

How then will ye know all parables? - Those which are more difficult and obscure. As they were themselves to be “teachers,” it was important that they should be acquainted with the whole system of religion - of much more importance for them at that time than for the mass of the people.

Verses 14-20

See the notes at Matthew 13:18-23.

Verse 21

Is a candle brought ... - A candle is not lit up to be put immediately under a measure or a bed, where it can give no light. Its design is to give light. So my preaching by parables is not designed to obscure the truth, but to throw light on it. You should understand those parables, and, understanding them, should impart the truth to others also, as a candle throws its beams upon a dark world.

Bushel - The word here used in the original means a measure for grain containing about 12 quarts.

Bed - A couch, either to sleep on at night or to recline on at their meals. Probably the latter is here meant, and is equivalent to our saying a candle is not brought to be put “under” the table, but “on” it. See the notes at Matthew 23:6.

Verse 22

There is nothing hid ... - See the notes at Matthew 10:26.

Verse 24

Take heed what ye hear - Or, consider well what you hear. Make a good improvement of it.

With what measure ye mete ... - You shall be treated according to the use you make of your opportunities of learning. If you consider it well, and make a good improvement of what you hear, you shall be well rewarded. If not, your reward shall be small. This is a proverbial expression. See it explained in the notes at Matthew 7:1-2.

Mete - Measure. With what measure ye measure.

Unto you that hear - To you who are “attentive,” and who improve what you hear.

Verse 25

For he that hath ... - See the notes at Matthew 13:12. The meaning here seems to be, he that diligently attends to my words shall increase more and more in the knowledge of the truth; but he that neglects them and is inattentive shall become more ignorant; the few things which he had learned he will forget, and his trifling knowledge will be diminished.

Hath not - Does not improve what he possessed, or does not make proper use of his means of learning.

That which he hath - That which he had already learned. By this we are taught the indispensable necessity of giving attention to the means of instruction. The attention must be “continued.” It is not sufficient that we have learned some things, or appear to have learned much. All will be in vain unless we go forward, and improve every opportunity of learning the will of God and the way of salvation. So what children are taught will be of little use unless they follow it up and endeavor to improve themselves.

Verse 26

So is the kingdom of God - The gospel, or religion in the soul, may be compared to this. See the notes at Matthew 3:2. This parable is recorded only by Mark.

Verse 27

And should sleep, and rise night and day - Should sleep in the night and rise by day, for so the expression is to be understood. That is, should live in his usual way, without exerting any influence over the growing grain. By this we are not to infer that men are to use no diligence in the obtaining and in the growth of piety; but the illustration shows only that as we cannot tell how grain grows, so we cannot tell the mode in which piety increases in the heart.

He knoweth not how - This is still true. After all the researches of philosophers, no one has been able to tell the way in which grain grows. They can observe one fact after another; they can see the changes; they can see the necessity of rains and suns, of care and shelter, but beyond this they cannot go. So in religion. We can mark the change; we can see the need of prayer, and self-examination, and searching the Scriptures, and the ordinances of religion, but we cannot tell in what way the religious principle is developed and strengthened. As God unseen, yet by the use of proper means, makes the grass to flourish, so God unseen, but by proper means, nourishes the soul, and the plants of piety spring up, and bloom, and bear fruit. Compare the notes at John 3:8.

Verse 28

For the earth bringeth forth fruit of herself - That is, it is done without the power of man. It is done while man is engaged in other things. The scope of this passage does not require us to suppose that our Saviour meant to say that the earth had any productive power of itself, but only that it produced its fruits not by the “power of man.” God gives it its power. It has no power of its own. So religion in the heart is not by the power of man. It grows he cannot tell how, and of course he cannot without divine aid, control it. It is by the power of God. At the same time, as without industry man would have no harvest, so without active effort he would have no religion. Both are connected with his effort; both are to be measured commonly by his effort Philippians 2:12; both grow he cannot tell how; both increase when the proper means are used, and both depend on God for increase.

First the blade - The green, tender shoot, that first starts out of the earth before the stalk is formed.

Then the ear - The original means the stalk or spire of wheat or barley, as well as the ear.

The full corn - The ripe wheat. The grain swollen to its proper size. By this is denoted, undoubtedly, that grace or religion in the heart is of gradual growth. It is at first tender, feeble, perhaps almost imperceptible, like the first shootings of the grain in the earth. Perhaps also, like grain, it often lies long in the earth before there are signs of life. Like the tender grain, also, it needs care, kindness, and culture. A frost, a cold storm, or a burning sun alike injure it. So tender piety in the heart needs care, kindness, culture. It needs shelter from the frosts and storms of a cold, unfeeling world. It needs the genial dews and mild suns of heaven; in other words, it needs instruction, prayer, and friendly counsel from parents, teachers, ministers, and experienced Christians, that it may grow, and bring forth the full fruits of holiness. Like the grain, also, in due time it will grow strong; it will produce its appropriate fruit - a full and rich harvest - to the praise of God.

Verse 29

Immediately he putteth in the sickle - This is the way with the farmer. As soon as the grain is ripe it is cut down. So it is often with the Christian. As soon as he is prepared for heaven he is taken there. But we are not to press this part of the parable, as if it meant that all are removed as soon as they are fit for heaven. Every parable contains circumstances thrown in to fill up the story, which cannot be literally interpreted. In this, the circumstance of sleeping and rising cannot be applied to Christ; and in like manner, the harvest, I suppose, is not to be literally interpreted. Perhaps the whole parable may be differently interpreted. The seed sown may mean the gospel which he was preaching. In Judea its beginnings were small; yet he would leave it, commit it to his disciples, and return to his Father. The gospel, in the meantime, left by him, would take root, spring up, and produce an abundant harvest. In due time he would return, send forth the angels, and gather in the harvest, and save his people forever. Compare the notes at Matthew 13:31-33.

Verse 30

Whereunto shall we liken ... - This shows the great solicitude which Jesus had to adapt his instructions to the capacity of his disciples. He sought out the most plain and striking illustrations - an example which should be followed by all the ministers of the gospel. At the same time that the instructions of the pulpit should be dignified as our Saviour’s always were they should be adapted to the capacity of the audience and easily understood. To do this the following things are necessary in a minister:

1.“Humility.” A freedom from a desire to shine, and to astonish the world by the splendor of his talents, and by his learning and eloquence.

  1. “Good sense.” A satisfaction in being understood.
  2. Acquaintance with the habits of thought and manner of speaking among the people. To do this, frequent contact with them is necessary.
  3. “A good sound education.” It is the people of ignorance, with some smattering of learning, and with a desire to confound and astonish people by the use of unintelligible words. and by the introduction of matter that is wholly unconnected with the subject, that most often shoot over the heads of the people. Preachers of humility, good sense, and education are content with being understood, and free from the affectation of saying things to amaze and confound their auditors.

The kingdom of God - See the notes at Matthew 3:2.

Verses 31-32

See the notes at Matthew 13:31-32.

Verse 33

Spake he the word - The word of God. The doctrines of his gospel.

As they were able to hear it - As they could comprehend it. They were like children; and he was obliged to lead them along cautiously and by degrees to a full understanding of the plan of salvation.

Verse 34

Without a parable spake he not unto them - That is, the things pertaining to his kingdom. On other subjects he spake without parables. On these, such was their prejudice, so many notions had they contrary to the nature of his kingdom, and so liable would plain instructions have been to give offence, that he employed this method to “insinuate” truth gradually into their minds, and to prepare them fully to understand the nature of his kingdom.

They were alone - His disciples.

He expounded - Explained. Showed them more at length the spiritual meaning of the parables.

Verses 35-41

See the notes at Matthew 8:18-27.

Mark 4:36

Even as he was in the ship - They took him without making any preparation for the voyage; without providing any food or raiment. He was sitting in a ship, or boat, instructing the people. In the same boat, probably ill fitted to encounter a storm on the lake, they sailed. This would render their danger more imminent and the miracle more striking.

There were with him other little ships - Belonging probably to the people, who, seeing him sail, resolved to follow him.

Mark 4:39

Peace, be still - There is something exceedingly authoritative and majestic in this command of our Lord. Standing amid the howling tempest, on the heaving sea, and in the darkness of night, by his own power he stills the waves and bids the storm subside. None but the God of the storms and the billows could awe by a word the troubled elements, and send a universal peace and stillness among the winds and waves. He must, therefore, be divine. The following remarks by Dr. Thomson, long a resident in Syria, and familiar with the scenes which occur there, will farther illustrate this passage, and the parallel account in Matthew 8:18-27, and also the passage in Matthew 14:23-32. The extract which follows is taken from “The land and the Book,” vol. ii. p. 32, 33: “To understand the causes of these sudden and violent tempests, we must remember that the lake lies low - 600 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.

On the occasion referred to we subsequently pitched our tents at the shore, and remained for three days and nights exposed to this tremendous wind. We had to double-pin all the tent-ropes, and frequently were obliged to hang with our whole weight upon them to keep the quivering tabernacle from being carried up bodily into the air. No wonder the disciples toiled and rowed hard all that night; and how natural their amazement and terror at the sight of Jesus walking on the waves! 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 he made the attempt. The whole lake, as we had it, was lashed into fury; the waves repeatedly rolled up to our tent door, tumbling over the ropes with such violence as to carry away the tent-pins. And moreover, those winds are not only violent, but they come done suddenly, and often when the sky is perfectly clear. I once went in to swim near the hot baths, and, before I was aware, a wind came rushing over the cliffs with such force that it was with great difficulty I could regain the shore. Some such sudden wind it was, I suppose, that filled the ship with waves so that it was now full, while Jesus was asleep on a pillow in the hinder part of the ship; nor is it strange that the disciples aroused him with the cry of Master! Master! carest thou not that we perish.”

Bibliographical Information
Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Mark 4". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bnb/mark-4.html. 1870.
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