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Monday, June 24th, 2024
the Week of Proper 7 / Ordinary 12
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Bible Commentaries
Matthew 14

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Verses 1-12

Death of John the Baptist

This section deals with Herod Antipas, the son of Herod the Great who reigned during the birth of the Lord Jesus. Herod Antipas succeeded his father as king of Galilee. The name Herod as king over a part of Israel shows the sad state in which Israel finds itself. It emphasizes that Israel is not a free people. Herod is a figurehead of the Romans who have power over Israel. Israel is ruled by Gentiles and not by a king after God’s heart.

This man Herod takes care of the death of the Lord’s predecessor. The people over whom he reigns as a tetrarch will in its entirety ensure that the Lord Jesus is killed. Therefore, we can see in the moral characteristics of Herod a reflection of those of the people as a whole.

The reports of Christ have reached Herod. As a result of these, superstitious thoughts arise immediately in the distorted mind of this man. He expresses this to His servants. What is remarkable is that this unbeliever speaks about the resurrection of the dead because he thinks that John the baptist is risen. He has a burdened conscience because he killed John the baptist. He is reminded of that by what he hears about the Lord. Not that John ever did miracles (John 10:41). He also clearly said that he was not the Christ (John 1:20).

It is wonderful in itself that even after the death of John such a testimony is given of him. It would be a beautiful testimony if people, when they hear something about the Lord Jesus, had to think of us involuntarily.

Herod lives an ungodly and immoral life. John has spoken a lot with Herod and Herod loved to listen to him (Mark 6:20). That does not mean that John only said nice things to Herod. The only word that Scripture quotes from the conversations between John and Herod is: “It is not lawful for you to have her.” Time and again John has called Herod to account about his illicit relationship with Herodias.

John makes no compromises, even though it assured him of Herodias’ hatred. This corrupt woman made sure that John was put in prison. She wanted to silence him. Herod also preferred to kill him, for although he loved to hear John, he did not want to break with his life in sin. But fear of the crowd prevented him from doing it.

Then there arises an excellent opportunity for Herodias to get rid of John for good. Her equally godless daughter dances on Herod’s birthday in the middle of the guests. Herod and the guests watched her performance with “eyes full of adultery” (2 Peter 2:14). In his admiration for her art of dancing Herod guarantees her under oath to give her the reward she wishes. Just as he is led by the crowd to hold back from a crime, so he is also led by his lusts and then says things without realizing the scope of what he says.

Both the mother and the girl are filled with so much hatred for the witness of God, that the head of John the baptist is worth more than all the riches and honor they could have wished for. The wicked woman Herodias is a spiritual descendant of Jezebel who wanted to rob Elijah – with whom John is compared – of life (1 Kings 19:2). The girl is no better than her mother.

The king’s sadness shows he has a soft spot for John, but Herod would rather maintain his earthly power and glory than submit to the witness of God. His sense of honor and fear of loss of face make him the murderer of the witness of God. It is presented as if Herod has beheaded John with his own hands, even though this decree was carried out by the sword in the hand of his servant.

This is how the one who faithfully rebukes the sin in which Herodias, together with Herod, lives is removed from her eye. As a final reminder, John’s head appears once more to the woman. Her hardened heart rejoices that she has been freed from him. In the resurrection, John will repeat his testimony to her, and if she has not repented, she will be thrown into hell.

When John is killed, his disciples take his body away, bury it, and then go to the Lord to tell Him. It is remarkable that John still has his disciples, despite the fact that the Lord is there. It is proof of how difficult it is for a person to break away from traditions.

Verses 13-14

The Lord Seeks Solitude

When the Lord hears what has happened to John, He needs solitude and rest. Here we see Him as a true Man. As the eternal God He of course knows exactly what happened and could have prevented it. As the true Man, however, He surrenders everything to His God.

What He hears about John makes Him go to a secluded place to seek His God on this matter in solitude. Although He is exalted far above John, He, together with Him, gave the testimony of God in the midst of Israel. He feels united in His heart with John. The Lord withdraws, not to Jerusalem, but to a secluded place.

He cannot be alone for long with His grief because there too people follow Him. When He sees them, He is again moved by compassion for them. The indifference of Nazareth and the badness of Herod have not changed Him. His heart remains full of unwavering compassion to do good to people in need. He can nothing other than act according to His perfect, good nature. That is why He provides His people with bread in the next story.

Verses 15-21

Feeding of the Five Thousand

The evening falls as the people seek relief from the Lord in numbers for the ailments they suffer from. The practical disciples come to Him with the remark that He should send the crowds away, because then they can still go to the shop in time to buy food. But a practical attitude is not always a good one. In this case, their practical proposal means that the Lord must stop doing good. By doing so they show that they do not share in His mercy.

They still don’t know Him well. Because they do not share in His mercy, they are also blind to the power of His grace to provide for daily needs. Then the Lord has a lesson for His disciples, for those who follow Him and must learn from the Master, in order to be like the Master.

He takes up the case for the crowds. People do not have to leave Him Who is the source of all goodness. He turns the request to send the crowds away around and orders His disciples to feed them. He wants to make them instruments through whom He can bless the crowds. He wants to fill their hands with bread that they can distribute to the crowds. Through them He wants His power in grace to benefit the crowds.

This is also true now because the principle of faith is the same at all times. The Lord wants us to learn that faith in His power makes us instruments for the blessing of others. The disciples want to send the crowds away because they don’t know how to use the power of Christ. We often don’t know that either, but the Lord wants to teach us.

Then He tells them to feed them. He wants to teach them to feed others. When the order comes to feed others, first the disciples’ total impotence becomes public. That is because they only count on their own resources and not on those of the Lord. The problem is not that there is nothing, but that the little there is, is totally inadequate according to man’s arithmetic.

According to human standards this is also the case, but we must learn to count on the power of the Lord. One of the problems that makes us bad disciples is that we underestimate what we have in our hands. The reason for this is that we judge it according to our ability to do something with it and not according to the Lord’s ability to do something with it. Our argument is often: ‘We have here only ...’ But believers always have something the Lord can use, even if it is so little in their eyes. The Lord commands them to bring the loaves and fishes to Him. We must learn to put everything in His hands. He even invites us to do this. What we place in His hands, He multiplies.

The Lord proceeds to work in an ordered and calming manner. That’s why He commands all to sit down. By doing so, He also draws everyone’s eyes to Himself. All see how He takes the five loaves and the two fish and all hear how He prays to His God as the dependent Man and blesses or praises Him. Then He acts in omnipotence, in dependence and in grace through His disciples. He breaks the loaves and gives them to the disciples who in turn give the bread to the crowds.

The food the crowd receives has become food in two ways. Before something becomes bread, a whole process precedes it. This indicates that before we can give anything into the Lord’s hands so that He can use it, we must have been busy with it. There are also two fish. We have done nothing for its preparation. Those are as it were prepared by the Lord Himself. This indicates that what we have received directly from the Lord, we may also give Him to make more of it and then distribute it. What we can’t do, multiplying the food, He does. Then He gives it to us to do with it what we can and that is to pass it on.

By this act Christ testifies in His own Person that He is Yahweh Who will satisfy the poor with bread (Psalms 132:15). In Him is Yahweh, Who has established the throne of David, in their midst. By His goodness, everyone can eat until they are satisfied.

He could have performed His miracle in such a way that all food was gone, that nothing was left over. He knew exactly how much was needed. Precisely because there is so much left over, it demonstrates that the Lord Jesus is a God of abundance. He not only gives what is necessary, but more than is necessary. There is a surplus, not of crumbs, but of the pieces He broke and the disciples distributed.

Abundance is not treated as superfluous. He also has an intention with abundance. He allows it to be collected so that it can be distributed to others who are not present. What we give in the Lord’s hands becomes an abundance through which a crowd is satisfied and much remains for others. This is how it works with God: what we give away is not lost, but is multiplied (Proverbs 11:24).

The number twelve also indicates that the Lord made the surplus with an intention. He deliberately wanted to multiply more than was necessary for those present. He satisfies those who have come to Him from their homes, but in the future He will satisfy all twelve tribes with His blessing. There remains a blessing for the people of God that He must first send away.

The remaining bread is put into twelve “baskets”. When the Lord later provides bread to a crowd of four thousand men, including women and children, also bread will remain. This is put into “large baskets” (Matthew 15:37).

Verses 22-27

In the Storm

The Lord must force His disciples to go on board and go ahead of Him to the other side without Him. He Himself says goodbye to the crowds. After having given proof of His blessed presence in the miraculous feeding, now inevitably comes the moment that He must send the people away. It is a prophetic picture of what God had to do with His people because they rejected His Son.

When the Lord has sent the mass of people away, He climbs the mountain to pray. His disciples are at sea. They do not see the Lord, but He sees them. He prays for them. He seeks fellowship with His Father in solitude and in the heights. While He prays, the disciples are in distress. There is a headwind. This is a picture of everyday life. He allows storms to test our faith. The disciples are worried. In them we can see a picture of the believing remnant of Israel among the hostile nations, of which the sea is a picture, in the time of the great tribulation.

The disciples think that the Lord has forgotten them. The remnant during the great tribulation will think so too. In several psalms they state this (Psalms 10:11; Psalms 13:1Psalms 77:9). But He does not forget them. He does not come to them until the night is darkest, in the fourth watch. That is also against the dawn of the day. It is also the time for the morning star to rise. Prophetically, we live in the end of the dispensation of the night, which is almost gone (Romans 13:12). We also have arrived in the darkest period of the night. Especially at that point we can experience His closeness the most and we can see Him coming to us.

However, we are often like the disciples who regard the Lord as a ghost. This happens when, in all adversity, we see only the devil, as if he makes life difficult for us, while we ignore the fact that our circumstances are in the hand of our loving Lord. Job saw it differently. He took everything from the Lord’s hand. He did not say, ‘The LORD gave and satan has taken away’, but, “The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away” (Job 1:21). In our circumstances we must learn to discover the Lord, that He is close to us and has power over all circumstances.

The Lord walks on the water as if on solid ground. He Who, as God, created the elements as they are, can, as the Son of Man, according to His pleasure, dispose of their properties and walk over them. He does not do His walking on the water for the crowds, for their appetite for sensation, but He does it for fearful disciples to convince them of His power. He is not yet calming the water. That comes at the end.

When the disciples cry out in fear, He speaks to them reassuringly. First He says to them to take courage. He has already spoken this wonderful word of encouragement in this Gospel to people who need it so much (Matthew 9:2; Matthew 9:22). Then, He refers to Himself “it is I”, for only through Him can there be taken courage. Finally, He says they should not be afraid. He wants to dispel their fear because it prevents them from taking courage.

Verses 28-33

Peter Walks on the Water

Peter is the first to answer to the words of the Lord. He wants assurance that it is the Lord. The event of Peter leaving the ship is only written in this Gospel. The disciples are afraid, but they are still in the boat. As long as it holds, it is well. This makes Peter’s act of faith so great. He also distances himself from this last safety and entrusts himself entirely to the Lord.

Also with us it is often the case that we trust the Lord, but we are also happy with the security of the boat. An application is that it is difficult for us to leave the security of Judaism or the security of a traditional Christian system. This applies to any form of being a church where the custom has become norm and the Spirit cannot work freely. Human forms and traditions give a sense of security, although we confess that the Holy Spirit must guide us. The Lord is outside both the Jewish and man-managed Christian systems and it is necessary to go out to be with Him (Hebrews 13:13).

The initiative comes from Peter. He sees the Lord and asks for His command. Peter doesn’t want to be the hero. He is the obedient believer who in faith gives up the safety of the boat to come to the Lord. Then he is not afraid of the waters. He really wants to be as the Master is. The Lord must have rejoiced greatly at this spontaneous wish.

The Lord speaks one word and Peter obeys. He comes to the act of faith by climbing out of the ship and to a walk of faith by walking over the water. Walking on the water is a risky venture. But if it is based on the Lord’s word “Come!”, it is also a certain venture. Its foundation lies in the words “Lord, if it is you”, that is to say the Lord Jesus Himself.

As long as Peter sees the Lord, things go well. Then comes the moment when his eyes wander away from Him and he sees the wind. At that moment fear strikes. It does not say that he sees the water he is walking on, but the wind that whips up the water. It doesn’t matter much either, because it’s just as impossible to walk on calm water as it is on rough waves. Faith is only strong when it sees only the Lord Jesus. When we look at the circumstances, faith becomes weak.

There is no support, no opportunity to walk if we lose sight of Christ. Everything depends on Him. The ship is a tried and tested aid to go over the sea, but only the faith that looks to the Lord Jesus can walk on water. Whoever walks on water once, as Peter does together with the Lord, is much better off than those who sit in a shaky boat that is about to collapse. For those who walk with the Lord on the water, it does not matter whether it is stormy or still.

When Peter begins to sink, he calls upon the Lord for help. The Lord responds directly to his cry of distress and saves him. He Who walks on water by His own power is there to support the faith and the wavering footsteps of the poor disciple. Faith has brought Peter so close to the Lord that His outstretched hand can lift him up. His cry for help sets the hand of the Lord in motion for his salvation, while his faith has previously set the hand of the Lord in motion for his support. Peter may have started to sink, but he has gained an experience that none of the others know.

The Lord’s question regarding Peter’s doubt is justified, for Peter’s sense of purpose began when he no longer looked upon Him. Peter did not reach the ship in the same power of faith that led him to leave the ship. He climbs aboard the ship together with the Lord. His falling short makes it clear that he reaches the goal only through the power of the Lord.

The outworking is, what it must always be, that the disciples honor the Lord. He is honored for His work of power over the elements and for His work of grace toward His beloved disciples.

Verses 34-36

Healings in Gennesaret

The Lord has told His disciples in Matthew 14:22 to go ahead of Him to the other side. If He says this, then they will reach the other side. That happens here. When they arrive in Gennesaret, He exercises again the power that in the future will drive out all the evil from the earth that satan has brought in. When He returns, the world will acknowledge Him.

At His arrival in Gennesaret, the Lord is recognized. The great Physician visits their area. Therefore, those who have already met Him before and seen Him at work let the whole area know that He is there. All those who are sick are brought to Him. Everyone who touches Him, even if only the fringe of His cloak, is completely healed.

Touching the fringe of His cloak has been the means of healing for a woman with an issue of blood before (Matthew 9:20). The fringe of His cloak is the part of His cloak that is closest to the ground. It speaks of His humility. Whoever recognizes in this humble Man the goodness of God Who, in grace, receives the man who is aware of his need, finds complete salvation.

Bibliographical Information
de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Matthew 14". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/kng/matthew-14.html. 'Stichting Titus' / 'Stichting Uitgeverij Daniël', Zwolle, Nederland. 2021.
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