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Tuesday, November 28th, 2023
the Week of Christ the King / Proper 29 / Ordinary 34
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Bible Commentaries
Matthew 14

Barnes' Notes on the Whole BibleBarnes' Notes

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Verse 1

Herod the tetrarch - See also Mark 6:14-16; Luke 9:7-9. This was a son of Herod the Great. Herod the Great died probably in the first year after the birth of Christ, and left his kingdom to his three sons, of whom this “Herod Antipas” was one. He ruled over Galilee and Perea. See the notes at Matthew 2:15. The title “tetrarch” literally denotes one who rules over a “fourth” part of any country. It came, however, to signify the governor or ruler of any province subject to the Roman emperor - Robinson, Lexicon.

Heard of the fame of Jesus - Jesus had been a considerable time engaged in the work of the ministry, and it may seem remarkable that he had not before heard of him. Herod might, however, have been absent on some expedition to a remote part of the country. It is to be remembered, also, that he was a man of much dissoluteness of morals, and that he paid little attention to the affairs of the people. He might have heard of Jesus before, but it had not arrested his attention. He did not think it a matter worthy of much regard.

Verse 2

This is John the Baptist - Herod feared John. His conscience smote him for his crimes. He remembered that he had wickedly put him to death. He knew him to be a distinguished prophet; and he concluded that no other one was capable of working such miracles but he who had been so eminent a servant of God in his life, and who, he supposed, had again risen from the dead and entered the dominions of his murderer. The alarm in his court, it seems, was general. Herod’s conscience told him that this was John. Others thought that it might be the expected Elijah or one of the old prophets, Mark 6:15.

Verses 3-5

For Herod had laid hold on John ... - See Mark 6:17-20; Luke 3:19-20. This Herodias was a granddaughter of Herod the Great. She was first married to Herod Philip, by whom she had a daughter, Salome, probably the one that danced and pleased Herod. Josephus says that this marriage of Herod Antipas with Herodias took place while he was on a journey to Rome. He stopped at his brother’s; fell in love with his wife; agreed to put away his own wife, the daughter of Aretas, King of Petraea; and Herodias agreed to leave her own husband and live with him. They were living, therefore, in adultery; and John, in faithfulness, though at the risk of his life, had reproved them for their crimes. Herod was guilty of two crimes in this act:

  1. Of “adultery,” since she was the wife of another man.
  2. Of “incest,” since she was a near relation, and such marriages were expressly forbidden, Leviticus 18:16.

Verses 6-12

Being before instructed of her mother - Not before she danced, but afterward, and before she made the request of Herod.

See Mark 6:24. The only appearance of what was right in the whole transaction was her honoring her mother by consulting her, but in this she only intended to accomplish the purposes of wickedness more effectively.

In a charger - The original word means a large platter on which food is placed. We should have supposed that she would have been struck with abhorrence at such a direction from her mother; but she seems to have been gratified. John, by his faithfulness, had offended the whole family, and here was ample opportunity for an adulterous mother and her dissolute child to gratify their resentment. It was customary for princes to require the heads of persons ordered for execution to be brought to them. For this there were two reasons:

  1. To gratify their resentment - to feast their eyes on the proof that their enemy was dead; and,
  2. To ascertain the fact that the sentence had been executed.

And his disciples ... - The head was with Herodias.

The body, with pious care, they buried.

And went and told Jesus - This was done, probably, for the following reasons:

  1. It was an important event, and one particularly connected with the work of Jesus. John was his forerunner, and it was important that he should be made acquainted with his death.
  2. It is not unreasonable to suppose that in their affliction they came to him for consolation; nor is it improper in our affliction to follow their example, and go and tell Jesus.
  3. Their master had been slain by a cruel king. Jesus was engaged in the same cause, and they probably supposed that he was in danger. They therefore came to warn him of it, and he Matthew 14:13 sought a place of safety.

Verses 13-21

Five thousand men, besides ... - Probably the whole number might have been ten thousand, To feed so many was an act of great benevolence and a stupendous miracle.

Verses 22-23

And straightway Jesus constrained ... - See Mark 6:45-56; John 6:15-21. The word “straightway” means immediately; that is, as soon as the fragments were gathered up. To “constrain” usually means to compel. It here means to command. There was no need of compulsion. They were at this time on the east side of the Lake of Gennesareth. He directed them to get into a ship and cross over to the other side; that is, to Capernaum. Mark adds that he sent them to Bethsaida Mark 6:45. Bethsaida was situated at the place where the Jordan empties into the lake on the east side of the river. Compare the notes at Matthew 11:21. It is probable that he directed them to go in a ship or boat to Bethsaida, and remain there till he should dismiss the people, and that he would meet them there, and with them cross the lake. The effect of the miracle on the multitude was so great John 6:14 that they believed him to be that prophet which should come into the world; that is, the Messiah, the king that they had expected, and they were about to take him by force and make him a king, John 6:15. To avoid this, Jesus got away from them as privately as possible. He went into a solitary mountain alone. In view of the temptation - when human honors were offered to him and almost forced upon him - he retired for private prayer; an example for all who are tempted with human honors and applause. Nothing is better to keep the mind humble and unambitious than to seek some lonely place; to shut out the world with all its honors; to realize that the great God, before whom all creatures and all honors sink to nothing, is round about us; and to ask him to keep us from pride and vainglory.

Verse 24

But the ship was now in the midst of the sea - John says they had sailed about 25 or 30 furlongs. About 7 1/2 Jewish furlongs made a mile; so that the distance they had salted was not more than about 4 miles. At no place is the Sea of Tiberias much more than 10 miles in breadth, so that they were literally in the midst of the sea.

Verse 25

And in the fourth watch of the night - The Jews anciently divided the night into three parts of four hours each, usually called watches. The first of these watches is mentioned in Lamentations 2:19, the middle watch in Judges 7:19, and the morning watch in Exodus 14:24. In the time of our Saviour they divided the night into four watches, the fourth having been introduced by the Romans. These watches consisted of three hours each. The first commenced at six and continued until nine; the second from nine to twelve; the third from twelve to three; and the fourth from three to six. The first was called evening; the second midnight; the third cock-crowing; the fourth morning, Mark 13:35. It is probable that the term watch was given to each of these divisions from the practice of placing sentinels around the camp in time of war, or in cities, to watch or guard the camp or city; and that they were at first relieved three times in the night, but under the Romans four times. It was in the last of these watches, or between three and six in the morning, that Jesus appeared to the disciples, so that he had spent most of the night alone on the mountain in prayer.

Walking on the sea - A manifest and wonderful miracle. It was a boisterous sea. It was in a dark night. The little boat was 4 or 5 miles from the shore, tossed by the billows.

Verse 26

They were troubled - They were afraid. The sight was remarkable. It was sufficient to awe them. In the dark night, amid the tumultuous billows appeared the form of a man. They thought it was a spirit an apparition. It was a common belief among the ancients that the spirits of people after death frequently appeared to the living.

Verses 28-31

And Peter answered ... - Here is an instance of the characteristic ardor and rashness of Peter. He had less real faith than he supposed, and more ardor than his faith would justify. He was rash, headlong, incautious, really attached to Jesus, but still easily daunted and prone to fall. He was afraid, therefore, when in danger, and, sinking, cried again for help. Thus he was suffered to learn his own character, and his dependence on Jesus: a lesson which all Christians are permitted sooner or later to learn by dear-bought experience.

Verse 32

And when they were come into the ship the wind ceased - Here was a new proof of the power of Jesus. He that has power over winds and waves has all power. John adds John 6:21 that the ship was immediately at the land whither they went; another proof, amid this collection of wonders, that the Son of God was with them. They came, therefore, and worshipped him, acknowledging him to be the Son of God. That is, they gave him homage, or honored him as the Son of God.

Verses 34-36

1. We learn from this chapter the power of conscience, Matthew 14:1-4. Herod’s guilt was the only reason why he thought John the Baptist had risen. At another time he would altogether have disbelieved it. Consciousness of guilt will at some period infallibly torment a man.

2. The duty of faithfulness, Matthew 14:4. John reproved Herod at the hazard of his life, and he died for it; but he had the approbation of conscience and of God. So will all who do their duty. Here was an example of fidelity to all ministers of religion. They are not to fear the face of man, however rich, or mighty, or wicked.

3. The righteous will command the respect of the wicked. Herod was a wicked man, but he respected John and feared him, Mark 6:20. The wicked profess to despise religion, and many really do; but their consciences tell them that religion is a good thing. In times of trial they will sooner trust Christians than others. In sickness and death they are often glad to see them and hear them pray, and desire the comfort which they have; and, like Balsam, say, “Let me die the death of the righteous,” Numbers 23:10. No person, young or old, is ever the less really esteemed for being a Christian.

4. People are often restrained from great sins by mere selfish motives, as Herod was by the love of popularity, Matthew 14:5. Herod would have put John to death long before had it not been that he feared the people. His constantly desiring to do it was a kind of prolonged murder. God will hold men guilty for desiring to do evil; and will not justify them if they are restrained, not by the fear of him, but by the fear of people.

5. We see the effect of what is called the principle of honor, Matthew 14:9. It was in obedience to this that Herod committed murder. This is the principle of duelling and war. No principle is so foolish and wicked. The great mass of people disapprove of it. The wise and good have always disapproved of it. This principle of honor is usually the mere love of revenge. It is often the fear of being laughed at. It produces evil. God cannot and will not love it. The way to prevent duels and murders is to restrain the passions and cultivate a spirit of meekness and forgiveness when young; that is, to come early under the full influence of the gospel.

6. People should be cautious about promises, and especially about oaths. Herod made a foolish promise, and confirmed it by a wicked oath, Matthew 14:9. Promises should not be made without knowing what is promised, and without knowing that it will be right to perform them. Oaths are always wicked except when made before a magistrate, and on occasions of real magnitude. The practice of profane and common swearing, like that of Herod, is always foolish and wicked, and sooner or later will bring people into difficulty.

7. Amusements are often attended with evil consequences, Matthew 14:6-11. The dancing of a frivolous and profligate girl was the means of the death of one of the holiest of men. Dancing, balls, splendid parties, and theaters are thought by many to be innocent; but they are a profitless waste of time. They lead to forgetfulness of God. They nourish passion and sensual desires. They often lead to the seduction and ruin of the innocent. They are unfit for dying creatures. From the very midst of such scenes the “happy” may go to the judgment bar of God. How poor a preparation to die! How dreadful the judgment seat to such!

8. Jesus will take care of the poor, Matthew 14:14-21. He regarded the temporal as well as the spiritual needs of the people. Rather than see them suffer, he worked a miracle to feed them. So, rather than see us suffer, God is daily doing what man cannot do. He causes the grain to grow; he fills the land, and seas, and air with living creatures; nay, he provides in desert places for the support of man. How soon would all people and beasts die if he did not put forth continued power and goodness for the supply of our wants!

9. It is the duty of Christians to be solicitous about the temporal wants of the poor, Matthew 14:15. They are with us. By regarding them, and providing for them, we have an opportunity of showing our attachment to Christ, and our resemblance to God, who continually does good.

10. A blessing should be sought on our enjoyments, Matthew 14:19. It is always right to imitate Christ. It is right to acknowledge our dependence on God, and in the midst of mercies to pray that we may not forget the Giver.

11. We see the duty of economy. The Saviour, who had power to create worlds by a word, yet commanded to take up the fragments, that nothing might be lost, John 6:12. Nothing that God has created and given to us should be wasted.

12. It is proper to make preparation for private prayer. Jesus sent the people away that he might be alone, Matthew 14:22-23. So Christians should take pains that they may have times and places for retirement. A grove or a mountain was the place where our Saviour sought to pray, and there, too, may we find and worship God.

13. In time of temptation, of prosperity, and honor, it is right to devote much time to secret prayer. Jesus, when the people were about to make him a king, retired to the mountain, and continued there until the early morning in prayer, John 6:15.

14. When Christ commands us to do a thing we should do it, Matthew 14:22. Even if it should expose us to danger, it should be done.

15. In times of danger and distress, Jesus will see us and will come to our relief, Matthew 14:25-26. Even in the tempest that howls, or on the waves of affliction that beat around us, he will come, and we shall be safe.

16. We should never be afraid of him. We should always have good cheer when we see him, Matthew 14:27. When he says, “It is I,” he also says, “be not afraid.” He can still the waves, and conduct us safely to the port which we seek.

17. Nothing is too difficult for us when we act under the command of Christ. Peter at his command leaves the ship and walks on the billows, Matthew 14:29.

18. Christ sometimes leaves his people to see their weakness and their need of strength. Without his continued aid they would sink. Peter had no strength of his own to walk on the deep, and Christ suffered him to see his dependence, Matthew 14:30.Matthew 14:19. The eye, in difficulty, should be fixed on Christ. As soon as Peter began to look at the waves and winds, rather than Christ, he began to sink, Matthew 14:30. True courage in difficulties consists not in confidence in ourselves, but in confidence in Jesus, the Almighty Saviour and Friend.

20. Prayer may be instantly answered. When we are in immediate danger, and offer a prayer of faith, we may expect immediate aid, Matthew 14:31.

21. Pride comes before a fall. Peter was self-confident and proud, and he fell. His confidence and rashness were the very means of showing the weakness of his faith, Matthew 14:31.

22. It is proper to render homage to Jesus, and to worship him as the Son of God, Matthew 14:33.

23. We should be desirous that all about us should partake of the benefits that Christ confers. When we know him and have tested his goodness, we should take pains that all around us may also be brought to him and be saved, Matthew 14:35.

24. Jesus only can make us perfectly whole. No other being can save us. He that could heal the body can save the soul. A word can save us. With what earnestness ought we to plead with him that we may obtain his saving grace! Matthew 14:36.

Bibliographical Information
Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Matthew 14". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bnb/matthew-14.html. 1870.
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