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Matthew 14:2 . This is John the baptist: he is risen from the dead. Mark indicates that Herod was a sadducee by those words of Christ, Beware of the leaven of the sadducees beware of the leaven of Herod. But how is this reconciled with Luke 9:9, where Herod desired to see Christ? Perhaps, like our Harry, he often changed his faith. Perhaps he doubted sometimes whether the Pythagorean doctrine of metempsychosis, or the transmigration of souls into new bodies, might not be true. The cabalists among the jews favoured that notion, which our Saviour condemns in John 9:3. The king had heard John preach, as in Mark 6:20, and was delighted with his discourse: yet he beheaded him. Oh heart, oh heart of man!
Matthew 14:3 . Herod had laid hold on John and bound him. John must have admonished the king before his courtiers, as Elijah rebuked Ahab in the vineyard of Naboth. This raised a storm which menaced John with immediate execution. The popular opinion running in favour of the prophet, stemmed the torrent of royal indignation; and the calm voice of the nation should ever have weight in the cabinet of a king. The people, falsely informed, may be wrong for the moment, but they are never ultimately in error.
Matthew 14:4 . John said to him, it is not lawful for thee to have thy brother Philip’s wife. Leviticus 18:6; Leviticus 20:21. Philip was then living, and lived to the eighteenth year of Tiberius, as Josephus states; he also intimates that Herod never prospered after the death of John; for Aretas, the father of Herod’s repudiated wife, destroyed his army in a pitched battle, which many of the jews regarded as a visitation for the murder of John. Antiq. book 17. chap. 7.
Matthew 14:6 . Herod’s birth-day, that is, Herod Antipater. It is thought that the custom of observing birth-days originated with those who studied judaical astrology. It was deemed an ill omen to shed blood on days of joy. 1 Samuel 11:13. This narrative of John’s decapitation is more copiously related in the sixth chapter of Mark, where the reflections will be found.
Matthew 14:7 . He promised her with an oath. Saul made the like rash oath, and the army forced him to break Matthew 2:0: 1 Samuel 14:24.
Matthew 14:10 . He sent and beheaded John in prison, in the castle of Macherus, in Perea beyond the Jordan. As the head of this martyr could not be brought for some days, on account of the distance, Herod might have repented, had he not been drunk and infatuated.
Matthew 14:19 . He blessed, and brake: ευλογισε , he blessed the food and sanctified it. Why be afraid of popery, to insinuate that he blessed and praised God? Samuel blessed the sacrifice. 1 Samuel 9:13.
Matthew 14:22 . Jesus constrained his disciples to get into a ship. They were safer on the waves than among the multitude, who, dazzled with miracles, were clamorous to make him king: and the disciples themselves seemed in nowise averse to the elevation of their Master to regal dignity.
Matthew 14:25 . In the fourth watch of the night, reckoned from the time of the cock crowing.
Matthew 14:26 . It is a spirit. φαντασμα , phantasma, a phantom, spectre, apparition.
When Herod’s wrath was as the roaring of a lion, and when the court had assented, by their presence at least, to the death of John, Jesus retired a few days, or weeks, to feed his flock in the desert; for we must never fly in the face of the civil power, unless conscience compel us so to do: it is always better to die than to sin. No matter; Herod’s wrath could never stop the Saviour’s work. Whether in the desert, or in the city, his congregation was great; for he is always great in Zion, and should be great in every heart. Nor would he suffer the multitude to labour so far without conferring upon them special favours. When the lions roar against the flock, the good shepherd takes them in his arms. He healed all the sick; if they came weary and limping, they went away leaping and rejoicing. Their cure was without cost, without pain, and without delay. All physicians must yield the palm to this physician, whose cures were all figurative of the moral diseases which grace removes from the heart.
But what availed it to cure them of disease, and then kill them with hunger? The glory of his ministry had so far attracted and detained them, that they had eaten little for three days; and had they fainted on their return, surely the enemy would have said, for mischief did he bring them up to slay them in the wilderness. Therefore the king for once would feast his friends. The stock of provision was indeed small, but a little with the blessing of God is more than enough. He who multiplies a handful of corn to a harvest, blessed and multiplied the bread; and the people, being seated in fifties on the grass, were abundantly served; and each of the twelve apostles had a basket to spare. Oh what a day of glory to the flock. Their eyes had feasted on miracles, their minds had feasted on truth, and now their bodies feasted on corruptible bread.
Nor is the age of glory past. Jesus still heals and feeds the flock in little companies. Perhaps that lad yonder, that stripling in the ministry, though his stock be small, and his word somewhat coarse, has wholesome food, and plenty too for the whole multitude. In prayer he shall be enlarged, and lead all his audience into full and open intercourse with heaven. His ministry shall open with a thousand images of grace and justice. The kingdom of heaven shall burst and enlarge on his views, enabling him to speak with a godlike pathos and unction. His doctrine shall drop as the rain, his speech shall distil as the dew, and as the small rain upon the tender herb. It shall refresh and gladden the heritage of God. The people are all beguiled, like the flock allured into the desert: they forget their food, not recollecting the hour till the preacher’s strength is exhausted. But alas, as this multitude forgot themselves in attempting to make Jesus king, so our congregations go away, and forget what manner of persons they were.
Our Lord’s conduct in separating his disciples from the multitude may be designed to teach us a lesson of moderation and forbearance towards civil rulers and governors. If kings err, there is one in heaven able to call them to account. The chastisement of princes is not the work of saints; our duty is to rush into the waves, sooner than join in cabals, and to pray for kings and governors, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty.
We also learn from this history, that whenever we have trifled with religion, we may expect some cross to bring us back to recollection, and to a sense of duty. Darkness and tempest overtook the disciples, and they had no master near to save them. They were menaced with a watery grave; and the public unable to decypher providence, might think that they were infatuated to their destruction. Their faith was weak, and their fears were many: all their faults came to their recollection. Lord, make me holy; and let me never go forth without thy presence, that if death should overtake me, I may be calm and confident in thy favour and love.
The Lord we see will never forsake his servants in the dark and cloudy day. Jesus came in the morning watch, walking on the boisterous waves, as once he came on the wings of the wind, to save his people at the Red sea. He appeased the tumult of their fears at his presence by a cheering voice: It is I, be not afraid. No matter then about the tempest, if the Saviour be there. The floods cannot drown, the fire cannot burn, and enemies cannot harm when God arises to cheer his chosen friends.
From Peter’s essay to walk on the sea, like his Master, we learn that it is the disciple’s chief delight to follow and imitate his Lord. Peter walked well while he looked at the promise, but on looking at the waves he sunk through the weakness of his faith. So it is with my poor fainting mind. While I look at men, and high towering professors, I sink into discouragements. While I also look at troubles, the billows go over my head; but when I look at the promises, the charms of religion are all divine, and heaven presents a smiling, and not a distant shore.
The man who distrusts the care of providence deserves rebuke. Oh thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt? Did God ever fail one way or other to save or defend his people? Were they ever confounded who trusted in the Lord? Is there any ground to distrust his power and love? I blush for my unbelieving fears: do thou Lord encrease my faith. Thus it is that men are variously led. Weak faith will indeed save the soul, but not so comfortably as that which is strong.
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Sutcliffe, Joseph. "Commentary on Matthew 14". Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 7 / Ordinary 12