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the Week of Proper 11 / Ordinary 16
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Bible Commentaries
Matthew 14

Poole's English Annotations on the Holy BiblePoole's Annotations

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Matthew 14:1,Matthew 14:2 Herod’s opinion of Christ.

Matthew 14:3-12 The cause and manner of John the Baptist’s death.

Matthew 14:13-21 Jesus departeth into a desert place, and feedeth there five thousand men with five loaves and two fishes.

Matthew 14:22-33 He walketh on the sea to his disciples,

Matthew 14:34-36 and landing at Gennesaret, healeth the sick who touched but the hem of his garment.

Verses 1-2

This and the following history is related by Mark more largely, Mark 6:14-30; by Luke more shortly, Luke 9:7-9. We heard before, that the Romans, under whom the Jews now were, had altered the government of the Jews from a kingdom to a tetrarchy, or government of four. Luke telleth us who were the tetrarchs, Luke 3:1. Herod (as we read there) was the tetrarch of Galilee. He had before this time put John Baptist to death, upon what occasion, and in what manner, we shall hear by and by. He heareth of the fame of Jesus. Luke saith he heard of all that was done by him, and was perplexed; that some said John the Baptist was risen from the dead; others, that Elias had appeared; others, that one of the old prophets was risen again. But Herod said, John have I beheaded: but who is this, of whom I hear such things? And he desired to see him. Mark saith, Mark 6:14, that king Herod heard of him; (for his name was spread abroad): and he said, That John the Baptist was risen from the dead, and therefore mighty works do show forth themselves in him. Others said, That it is Elias. And others said, That it is a prophet, or as one of the prophets. But when Herod heard thereof, he said, It is John, whom I beheaded: he is risen from the dead. So as it seems though others had various opinions, yet Herod was fixed in this, that this man was John the Baptist risen again from the dead. Though Luke reports him as speaking more doubtfully, (as he might do to the people), yet Matthew and Mark speak him affirming of it more confidently (probably to his courtiers and confidants). There was an opinion amongst the heathens, that the souls of men and women, when they died, went into other bodies. Some think that Herod was infected with that, and that this is the meaning of his suspicion that John was risen from the dead; that his soul, which he had forced from his body, was gone into another body, so as it might be revenged on him. Or else he thought that John was indeed raised from the dead, (which yet by search might quickly have been known), and therefore mighty works showed themselves in him.

Verse 3

Mark saith, Mark 6:17, for he had married her. Whether this Philip was Herod’s brother both by father and mother, is argued by some, as also whether he married her during the life of his brother: the Scripture satisfieth us not in these things, but it is most probable that Philip was his own brother, and that he at least lived in adultery with her during the life of her husband, contrary to the express law of God, Leviticus 18:16.

Verse 4

Mark telleth us, Mark 6:20, that Herod feared, that is, reverenced and respected, John, knowing that he was a just man and an holy, and observed him; and when he heard him, he did many things, and heard him gladly. John was very popular, and all men counted him as a prophet; so that probably Herod sent for him to the court, and heard him there. John seeing Herod live in adultery and incest, was not able to suffer such a sin upon him, but tells him he did that which was not lawful for him to do, for God’s law had forbidden such marriages. Mark addeth, that Herodias also had a quarrel against him, and would have killed him; but she could not, because of the respect which Herod had for him. But this wore off, for Matthew tells us... (see Matthew 14:5)

Verse 5

At first he had some reverence for John because he was a good man, but either John, by the frequent checks he gave to his lust, or Herodias, by her continual importunities to Herod to revenge her of her great enemy, prevailed, and made Herod willing enough to put him to death; but now he was afraid of some popular tumult, or insurrection, because of the great esteem which the Jews generally had of John, thinking him a prophet, one sent of God to reveal his will unto men.

Verses 6-7

Mark relates this more fully, but the sense is the same, Matthew 6:21-23, And when a convenient day was come, that Herod on his birthday made a supper to his lords, high captains, and chief estates of Galilee; and when the daughter of the said Herodias came in, and danced, and pleased Herod and them that sat with him, the king said unto the damsel, Ask of me whatsoever thou wilt, and I will give it thee. And he sware unto her, Whatsoever thou shalt ask of me, I will give it thee, unto the half of my kingdom. Those who have got over the point of lawfulness in an action, have nothing to consult but convenience: therefore saith Mark, when a convenient day was come, when probably Herod should be over merry with wine, or should be busy with his company, and not so much at leisure to consider what he did. It so happened that the daughter of this Herodias danced before Herod upon his birthday. The keeping of birthdays was usual amongst the eastern kings; Pharaoh kept his birthday, Genesis 40:20. Some by it understand the day of the prince’s coronation, or entrance upon his government, which some think is meant in Hosea 7:5, by the day of our king, (when) the princes made him sick with bottles of wine. The Jews reckoned them both amongst the pagan festivals, but they had derived both this and many other usages from them. Dancing was much used amongst them at their festivals, It seemeth this daughter of Herodias pleased Herod more than ordinary; he sweareth that he would give her what she would ask, to the half of his kingdom. That phrase, by Esther 5:3, seemeth to have been ordinary with princes when they made liberal promises.

Verse 8

Mark, Mark 6:24,Mark 6:25, reports it more largely: And she went forth, and said unto her mother, What shall I ask? And she said, The head of John the Baptist. And she came in straightway with haste to the king, and asked, saying, I will that thou give me by and by in a charger the head of John the Baptist. The meaning is plain, so as the words need no interpreter: they let us see;

1. The power of the lust of malice and desire of revenge; surely Herodias might have prompted her to have asked something which might have done her more good than the blood of a holy and innocent man. The guilty soul is never at rest. John Baptist was a prisoner; she should not need have feared the influence of John’s word to have caused a divorce, but she cannot be at rest while John is alive.

2. The great evil of wicked parents, and the contrary blessing of parents fearing God: the former, by commanding or persuading their children to sin, are great instruments towards their children’s damnation; the other, by their admonitions, precepts and instructions, great instruments of their salvation and eternal happiness.

3. We may observe the genius of flattering courtiers, not one of them interposes to save the Baptist’s life.

Verses 9-11

Mark relates it more largely, in Mark 6:26-28, And the king was exceeding sorry; yet for his oath’s sake, and for their sake which sat with him, he would not reject her. And immediately the king sent an executioner, and commanded his head to be brought: and he went and beheaded him in the prison, and brought his head in a charger, and gave it to the damsel: and the damsel gave it to her mother. The king was exceeding sorry; he could have wished she had asked something else: he was troubled; for we heard before, that although he feared not God, yet he feared the people. Yet for his oath’s sake; not out of any religion of his oath: Juramentum non petest esse vinculum iniquitatis. They must be sottishly ignorant, that think their calling God to witness that they will do a thing which God hath forbidden them to do, should oblige them in any measure to the doing of the thing. But for his oath’s sake, in point of honour, because his word was gone out, that he might not appear guilty of any temerity or levity; and for the sake of those that were with him, that he might not seem before them to vary from his word, or it may be, as well to gratify them as to gratify the damsel and her mother; he sends an executioner, who took off John the Baptist’s head, and gave it to the damsel in a charger, who carried it to her mother. What could be more unjust, and inhuman, and bloody? John was not tried, nor condemned. It was a great festival, and should not have been profaned or defiled with blood. These things were nothing, when an unsatiable malice was to be gratified. Herodias will have her husband and his guests see that John Baptist’s head in a charger was to her as pleasing a dish as any was at Herod’s great feast. Thus died this great man, to satisfy the malice and lust of a lewd and imperious woman; and to teach us what we must expect, it we will be faithful to the trust which God reposes in us.

Verse 12

The disciples of John, in testimony of their respect to their master, and of their owning of his doctrine, and grateful remembrance of him, hearing what Herod had done, came and took up John’s body, and buried it in a tomb, and they soon after went and acquainted our Saviour with what had happened; which was the cause of our Saviour’s withdrawing to a place where he might be less taken notice of, as we shall hear.

Verses 13-14

Mark hath the same, Mark 6:32. Our Lord knew that the time for his suffering was not yet come, and possibly consulted also the safety of his disciples. The people follow him on foot; but our Saviour going by sea, how could the people follow him on foot? It is answered, that it was but a creek of the sea which our Saviour passed over, and the people by going three or four miles about might follow him on foot. He seeing a great multitude, had compassion on them, and healed the sick persons that were amongst them.

Verse 15

The following miracle being an evident confirmation of the Godhead of Christ, is recorded by all the evangelists: by Matthew here; by Mark, Mark 6:35, &c; by Luke, Luke 9:10-12, &c.; by John, John 6:1-3, &c. These words lead us to it, and show us the occasion of it. Our Saviour was withdrawn to a more private place, which, because little inhabited, is called

a desert place. Luke saith it was near Bethsaida, Luke 9:10. The people, as it seemeth, had been together some time. It was now afternoon, and the time of dining was past. It was evening in the Jewish sense (who called it all evening after the sun was turned, and therefore had two evenings, as those skilled in their writings tell us, betwixt which the passover was to be killed). The disciples therefore pitying the multitudes, who, they presumed, might be hungry, come to our Saviour, and move him to dismiss them, that they might get something to eat in the villages of the adjacent country.

Verse 16

John relates the story thus: When Jesus lifted up his eyes, and saw a great company come unto him, he saith unto Philip, Whence shall we buy bread, that these may eat? And this he said to prove him: for he himself knew what he would do. Philip answered him. Two hundred pennyworth of bread is not sufficient for them, that every one of them may take a little. One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, saith unto him, There is a lad here which hath five barley loaves and two small fishes: but what are they among so many? And Jesus said, Make the men sit down. Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, in number about five thousand.

Verses 17-21

In the relation of this story by the other evangelists there is no difference in what is material; the others relate some circumstances more, as that they sat down on the grass, and by fifties, one saith, by hundreds and by fifties, & c.; but they all agree in the quantity of the provision, five loaves and two fishes; the number of the persons fed, five thousand (only one addeth, besides women and children); and in the number of the baskets full of fragments; and in our Saviour’s lifting up his eyes to heaven, and blessing them. These are the main things observable in this history. In the history of the miracle, as there is no difference between the evangelists to be reconciled, so there is no difficulty to be explained. It is a plain relation of a matter of fact, by which our Lord evidently showed himself to be the Son of God, God blessed for ever, for he must in this necessarily exert a creating power: here must be a production of a substance or being out of a not being, or it had not been possible that five thousand men (besides women and children) should have been fed with five loaves and two fishes; and therefore some think that it is said that Christ blessed the loaves as he blessed the living creatures, Genesis 1:22; but we have not here the following words, Be fruitful and multiply, which inclines me rather to think, that the blessing mentioned here, upon his lifting up of his eyes to heaven, was a begging God’s blessing upon their food, himself thereby paying the homage of his human nature to his Father, and teaching us, according to that, 1 Timothy 4:4,1 Timothy 4:5, to receive the good creatures which God’s providence affords us for our nourishment with thanksgiving, sanctifying them by prayer. By this miracle, and others of the like nature, our Saviour took from the unbelieving Jews all manner of cavil and exception to his works. Though devils might by compact give place one to another, and some exorcists of their own might seem to cast them out, yet none ever pretended to multiply bread and fish, to such a proportion as this, that such a quantity of either should feed such a number, and leave such a remainder. This history like wise further instructs us, both concerning the low condition of Christ and his disciples, their faith in the word of Christ, and our duty, and safety in depending upon his providence while we are doing of our duty, and minding the things of the kingdom of God, and obeying the will of God. St. John observeth the fruit of this miracle, John 6:14, Those men, when they had seen the miracle which Jesus did, said, This is of a truth that prophet that should come into the world.

Verse 22

Mark saith, Mark 6:45, before unto, or over against, Bethsaida. Christ is said to have constrained them, to denote to us that they were not very willing to go. They were in a desert place, it was towards night, the day was far spent ere he wrought the miracle before mentioned; probably they were loath to leave Christ alone, in such a place, and at such a time. But his command was obeyed. Probably he commanded;

1. That he might better scatter the multitude, Mark 6:45.

2. That he might prevent a tumult, for St. John tells us, that the people had a design to take him by force and make him a king, John 6:15.

3. To make way for another miracle, to which their going by sea gave occasion, as we shall hear by and by.

4. To gain himself a private opportunity for prayer, for, Mark 6:46, When he had sent them away, he departed into a mountain to pray. So also saith our evangelist.

Verse 23

John saith no more than that he departed himself into a mountain alone. Matthew and Mark say it was to pray. From whence (as from others places of holy writ) the duty of secret prayer is commended to us by the great example of our Saviour: he chooseth the mountain for it, as a place of greatest privacy and solitude.

And when the evening was come: this confirmeth the former notion, that the Jews had two evenings. They called that part of the day after the sun had began to decline the evening, which was the evening before spoken of, interpreted by the other evangelists, when the day was well spent; and the twilight, which is here called the evening, and which is the time which we most usually call by that name.

Verses 24-27

While our Saviour was praying on the mount the ship which carried his disciples was upon the sea, that is, that creek of the sea which they were at that time passing over. A storm ariseth, not without the counsel of God, that Christ might show that both the winds and the waves were under his command.

And in the fourth watch of the night, that is, about three hours before the rising of the sun; for though the Jews anciently divided the night into three parts, each consisting of four hours, yet being at this time under the Romans, they kept to their division of it into four parts, which they called watches, from their military guards, which they relieved every three hours.

Jesus went unto them, walking on the sea, as if it had been firm ground.

And when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, It is a spirit, and they cried out for fear. By this it seemeth that the doctrine of spirits was not strange to that age, though they had a sect of Sadducees which denied it. That the devil, by God’s permission, hath a power to trouble and agitate the air, and also to assume a visible shape, and in it to affright persons by sea or by land, is unquestionable. When the disciples at distance saw Christ walking on the sea, they concluded it was some such apparition. This made them cry out through fear.

But straightway Jesus spake unto them, saying, Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid. Mark addeth, Mark 6:52, They considered not the miracle of the loaves; for their heart was hardened. Having had so late an experience, both of the power and goodness of their Master, in their late strait for want of bread, they ought not so soon to have showed a distrust in his providence, as if he would have suffered them to have perished in the sea: that miracle did not make a due impression upon them.

Verses 29-31

Peter, by saying if it be thou, showed that his faith was not so strong as it should have been, after he had heard his Master’s voice. By his saying to him,

bid me come unto thee on the water, he showeth a something stronger faith, and a resolution to obey his command; but his fear afterward, when the wind began to rise higher, and he began to sink, argued again the infirmity of his faith. Thus Peter is a pattern of the best believers, who though they may sometimes think that they could trust God in any state or condition, yet often mistake their own hearts, and begin to shrink in an hour of great extremity; which lets us see what need we have to pray, that God would not lead us by his providence into great temptations, much more to take heed that we do not throw ourselves into them. No man knows how he shall find his heart under a great temptation, until he hath tried it. It therefore gives us a caution, as against condemning others, so against boasting, and too much confidence as to ourselves, and lets us see how much need we have to keep our eye upon Christ and his strength in such an hour.

And immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand: God is never far off from his people when extreme troubles are hard at hand. Christ says Peter, but not without a cheek;

O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt? Doubting is directly contrary to faith, yet it will not conclude a soul to have no faith, only a little faith.

Verses 32-33

They, that is, Christ and Peter, whom we must suppose to have walked some way with Christ upon the sea. Christ by his company making his mighty power more conspicuous; so as the Manichees had no reason to conclude, from Christ’s walking on the sea, that he had no true human body, for sure Peter had; and they must ascribe little to our Saviour’s Divine nature, that will not allow him to have had a power to suspend the natural motion downward, which we see in all gravity, which is an affection of all human bodies. No sooner was Christ come into the ship, but the wind ceased, in testimony of its homage to him, who bringeth the wind out of his treasuries.

They that were in the ship came and worshipped him, paying a religious homage unto him, as he who had preserved their lives from so great a danger; and they further owned him to be

the Son of God. This was that great point which God was bringing the world to the acknowledgment of, and we see it was done by degrees. His miracles at first only procured a veneration of him, and a faith that he had his power from God. Then he comes to be acknowledged the Son of David by the blind man. The miracle of the five loaves brought many to acknowledge him that Prophet that should come into the world. This is the first time we meet with so plain and open an acknowledgment of his being the Son of God: this was done not only by his disciples, but by the mariners, and the passengers in the ship, but it was far from a steady faith as to that point, which the disciples yet wanted.

Verses 34-36

Mark relates the same, Mark 6:53-56, with no difference considerable. Christ had been in this country before, Matthew 8:1-34, and in it wrought several miracles, so as they had a former knowledge of him. As soon as thy had knowledge of his being again come, they express their faith in him, and their charity towards their neighbours, in telling it abroad, and bringing sick persons to him. I know not why any should fancy any superstition in their desire to

touch the hem of his garment, considering how Mark expresses it, καν, which we translate, if it were but the border of his garment. It rather soundeth in my ears as a high expression of their faith; they believed there was such a fulness of virtue in Christ, that it flowed from him to every part of his garment. It was their faith in Christ, not their touch of his garment, that healed them. I am sure our Lord so far encouraged their faith, that he healed all those who touched his garment with that faith and expectation. The evangelist saith, they

were made perfectly whole. Their faith here plainly implied not only an assent to his power, but a confidence in his goodness.

Bibliographical Information
Poole, Matthew, "Commentary on Matthew 14". Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/mpc/matthew-14.html. 1685.
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