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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

See also Mark 6:21-29. But when Herod’s birthday was come Kings were accustomed to observe the day of their birth with much pomp, and commonly, also, by giving a feast to their principal nobility. See Genesis 40:20. Mark adds that this birthday was kept by making a supper to his “lords, high captains, and chief estates in Galilee;” that is to the chief men in office. “High captains” means, in the original, commanders of thousands, or of a division of 1,000 people.

The daughter of Herodias - That is, “Salome,” her daughter by her former husband. This was a violation of all the rules of modesty and propriety. One great principle of all eastern nations is to keep their females from public view. For this purpose they are confined in a particular part of the house, called the harem. See the notes at Matthew 9:1-8. If they appear in public, it is always with a veil, so closely drawn that their faces cannot be seen. No modest woman would have appeared in this manner before the court, and it is probable, therefore, that she partook of the dissolute principles of her mother. It is also probable that the dance was one well known in Greece - the lascivious and wanton dance of the Ionics.

Matthew 14:7

He promised with an oath - This a foolish and wicked oath.

To please a wanton girl, the monarch called the eternal God to witness his willingness to give her half his kingdom, Mark 6:23. It seems, also, that he was willing to shed the holiest blood it contained. An oath like this it was not lawful to make, and it should have been broken. See Matthew 14:9.

Matthew 14:8

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.

There is a similar instance in Roman history of a woman requiring the head of an enemy to be brought to her. Agrippina, the mother of Nero, who was afterward emperor, sent an officer to put to death Lollia Paulina, who had been her rival for the imperial dignity. When Lollia’s head was brought to her, not knowing it at first, she examined it with her own hands until she perceived some particular feature by which the lady was distinguished.

Matthew 14:9

And the king was sorry - There might have been several reasons for this.

1. Herod had a high respect for John, and feared him. He knew that he was a holy man, and had “observed him,” Mark 6:20. In the margin (Mark) this is “kept him,” or “saved him.” In fact he had interposed and saved John from being put to death by Herodias, who had had a quarrel with John, and would have killed him but for Herod, Mark 6:19. Herod, though a bad man, had a respect and veneration for John as a holy and just man, as wicked people often will have.

2. John was in high repute among the people, and Herod might have been afraid that his murder might excite commotion.

3. Herod, though a wicked man, does not appear to have been insensible to some of the common principles of human nature. Here was a great and most manifest crime proposed - no less than the murder of an acknowledged prophet of the Lord. It was deliberate. It was to gratify the malice of a wicked woman. It was the price of a few moments’ entertainment. His conscience, though in feeble and dying accents, checked him. He would have preferred a request not so manifestly wicked, and that would not have involved him in so much difficulty.

For the oath’s sake - Herod felt that he was bound by this oath; but he was not. The oath should not have been taken: but, being taken, he could not be bound by it. No oath could justify a man in committing murder. The true principle is, that Herod was bound by a prior obligation - by the law of God - not to commit murder; and no act of his, be it an oath or anything else, could free him from that obligation.

And them which sat with him at meat - This was the strongest reason why Herod murdered John. He had not firmness enough to obey the law of God and to follow the dictates of conscience against the opinions of wicked people. He was afraid of the charge of cowardice and want of spirit; afraid of ridicule and the contempt of the wicked. This is the principle of the laws of honor; this the foundation of dwelling. It is not so much for his own sake that one man murders another in a duel, for the offence is often a mere trifle - it is a word, or look, that never would injure him. It is because the “men of honor,” as they call themselves, his companions, would consider him a coward and would laugh at him. Those companions may be unprincipled contemners of the laws of God and man; and yet the duellist, against his own conscience, against the laws of God, against the good opinion of the virtuous part of the world, and against the laws of his country, seeks by deadly aim to murder another merely to gratify his dissolute companions. And this is the law of honor! This is the secret of duelling! This the source of that remorse that settles in awful blackness, and that thunders damnation around the duellist in his dying hours! It should be added, this is the course of all youthful guilt. Young men are led along by others. They have not firmness enough to follow the teachings of a father and of the law of God. They are afraid of being called mean and cowardly by the wicked; and they often sink low in vice and crime, never to rise again.

At meat - That is, at supper. The word “meat,” at the time the Bible was translated, meant provisions of all kinds. It is now restricted to flesh, and does not convey a full idea of the original.

Matthew 14:11

And his head was brought in a charger ... - For the sake of these wicked people, the bloody offering - the head of the slaughtered prophet was brought and given as the reward to the daughter and mother.

What an offering to a woman! Josephus says of Herodias that “she was a woman full of ambition and envy, having a mighty influence on Herod, and able to persuade him to things he was not at all inclined to.” This is one of the many proofs that we have that the evangelists drew characters according to truth.

Matthew 14:12

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

A full narrative of the feeding the five thousand is given in each of the other evangelists: in Mark 6:32-44; in Luke 9:10-17; in John 6:1-14.

Matthew 14:13

And when Jesus heard of it, he departed - He went to a place of safety.

He never threw himself unnecessarily into danger. It was proper that he should secure his life until the appointed time had come for him to die.

By a ship into a desert place - That is, he crossed the Sea of Galilee. He went to the country east of the sea, into a place little inhabited. Luke says Luke 9:10 he went to a place called Bethsaida. See the notes at Matthew 11:21. “A desert place” means a place little cultivated, where there were few or no inhabitants. On the east of the Sea of Galilee there was a large tract of country of this description rough, uncultivated, and chiefly used to pasture flocks.

Matthew 14:14

Was moved with compassion - That is, pitied them.

Mark 6:34 says he was moved with compassion because they were as sheep having no shepherd. A shepherd is one who takes care of a flock. It was his duty to feed it; to defend it from wolves and other wild beasts; to take care of the young and feeble; to lead it by green pastures and still waters, Psalms 23:1-6. In Eastern countries this was a principal employment of the inhabitants. When Christ says the people were as sheep without a shepherd, he means that they had no teachers and guides who cared for them and took pains to instruct them. The scribes and Pharisees were haughty and proud, and cared little for the common people; and when they did attempt to teach them, they led them astray. They therefore came in great multitudes to him who preached the gospel to the poor Matthew 11:5, and who was thus the good shepherd, John 10:14.

Matthew 14:15

The time is now past - That is, the day is passing away; it is near night, and it is proper to make some provision for the temporal wants of so many.

Perhaps it may mean it was past the usual time for refreshment.

Matthew 14:16

Jesus said They need not depart; give ye them to eat - John adds John 6:5-6 that previous to this Jesus had addressed Philip, and asked, Whence shall we buy bread that these may eat? and that he “said this to prove him; for he himself knew what he would do;” that is, he said this to try his faith; to test the confidence of Philip in himself.

Philip, it seems, had not the kind of confidence which he ought to have had. He immediately began to think of their ability to purchase food for them. Two hundred pennyworth of bread, said he, would not be enough, John 6:7. In the original it is two hundred denarii. These were Roman coins amounting to about fourteen cents (7d.) each. The whole two hundred, therefore, would have been equal to about twenty-eight dollars. In the view of Philip this was a great sum, a sum which twelve poor fishermen were by no means able to provide. It was this fact, and not any unwillingness to provide for them, which led the disciples to request that they should be sent into the villages around in order to obtain food. Jesus knew how much they had, and he required of them, as he does of all, implicit faith, and told them to give them to eat. He requires us to do what he commands, and we need not doubt that he will give us strength to accomplish it.

Matthew 14:17

We have here but five loaves ... - These loaves were in the possession of a lad, or young man, who was with them, and were made of barley, John 6:9

It is possible that this lad was one in attendance on the apostles to carry their food, but it is most probable he was one who had provision to sell among the multitude. Barley was a cheap kind of food, scarcely one-third the value of wheat, and was much used by poor people. A considerable part of the food of the people in that region was probably fish, as they lived on the borders of a lake that abounded in fish.

Matthew 14:19

And he commanded the multitude to sit down - In the original it is “to recline” on the grass, or to lie as they did at their meals.

The Jews never sat, as we do, at meals, but reclined or lay at length. See the notes at Matthew 23:6. Mark and Luke add that they reclined in companies, by hundreds and by fifties.

And looking up to heaven, he blessed - Luke adds, he blessed “them;” that is, the loaves. The word “to bless” means, often, to give thanks; sometimes to pray for a blessing; that is, to pray for the divine favor and friendship; to pray that what we do may meet his approbation. In seeking a blessing on our food, it means that we pray that it may be made nourishing to our bodies; that we may have proper gratitude to God, the giver, for providing for our wants; and that we may remember the Creator while we partake the bounties of his providence. Our Saviour always sought a blessing on his food. In this he was an example for us. What he did we should do. It is right thus to seek the blessing of God. He provides for us; he daily opens his hand and satisfies our wants, and it is proper that we should render suitable acknowledgments for his goodness.

The custom among the Jews was universal. The form of prayer which they used in the time of Christ has been preserved by their writers, the Talmudists. It is this: “Blessed be thou, O Lord our God, the King of the world, who hast produced this food and this drink from the earth and the vine.”

And brake - The loaves of bread, among the Jews, were made thin and brittle, and were therefore broken and not cut.

Matthew 14:20

And they did all eat, and were filled - This was an undoubted miracle.

The quantity must have been greatly increased to have supplied so many. He that could increase that small quantity so much had the power of creation; and he that could do that could create the world out of nothing, and had no less than divine power.

Twelve baskets full - The size of these baskets is unknown. They were probably such as travelers carried their provisions in. They were used commonly by the Jews in their journeys. In traveling among the Gentiles or Samaritans, a Jew could expect little hospitality. There were not, as now, public houses for the entertainment of strangers. At great distances there were caravansaries, but they were intended chiefly as lodging-places for the night, and not to provide food for travelers. Hence, in journeying among strangers or in deserts, they carried baskets of provisions, and this is the reason why they were furnished with them here. It is probable that each of the apostles had one, and they were all filled. John John 6:12 says that Jesus directed them to gather up these fragments, that nothing might be lost - an example of economy. God creates all food; it has, therefore, a kind of sacredness; it is all needed by some person or other, and none should be lost.

Matthew 14:21

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

Land of Gennesaret - This region was in Galilee, on the west side of the Sea of Tiberias; and in this land was situated Capernaum, to which he had directed his disciples to go.

The hem of his garment - That is, the fringe or border on the outer garment. See the notes at Matthew 9:20.

Remarks On Matthew 14:0

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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