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Bible Commentaries
Matthew 14

Watson's Exposition on Matthew, Mark, Luke & RomansWatson's Expositions

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Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

1 Herod’s opinion of Christ.

3 Wherefore John Baptist was beheaded.

13 Jesus departeth into a desert place:

15 where he feedeth five thousand men with five loaves and two fishes:

22 he walketh on the sea to his disciples:

34 and landing at Gennesaret, healeth the sick by the touch of the hem of his garment.

Verse 1

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

Herod the tetrarch. — This was Herod Antipas, one of the sons of Herod the Great, who succeeded to a part of his father’s dominions, Galilee and Perea. See the note on chapter 2:1. A tetrarch was properly the ruler over a quarter part of any region; but the title was often given to those who ruled over any portion of a country. Tetrarchs are by courtesy sometimes called kings. This vicious prince now heard of the fame of Jesus; a fame which had long been spread throughout Galilee; and accounts of his character and miracles must have been previously heard at court, but probably passed for idle or superstitious tales; now they could no longer escape attention.

Verse 2

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

This is John the Baptist, &c. — In several parts of the country where Jesus and John had not been personally known, various opinions were circulated respecting our Lord, as that he was John the Baptist raised from the dead; or Elias, whom the Jews expected in person before the Messiah should be manifested, or Jeremiah, or some other of the ancient prophets. The heart of Herod, some think, often smote him, on account of the base murder of this holy man, for whom he had felt at one time great veneration, and that now it was a guilty conscience which caused him to credit the report that Jesus was the resuscitated Baptist; and he said to his servants, This is John the Baptist. But it rather appears, from comparing the narratives of the evangelists, that Herod was only “perplexed,” or anxiously doubted whether the Baptist had risen again in the person of our Lord. Bishop Pearce, therefore, renders the words interrogatively, “Is this John the Baptist? Has he been raised from the dead?” Whatever Herod’s feelings might be, they did not make him afraid of meeting the holy martyr; for St. Luke adds, “he desired to see him;” at least he was anxious to have the mystery solved.

Verses 3-5

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

For Herod had laid hold on John and bound him, &c. — St. Matthew goes back a little in his history to introduce, upon this mention of Herod, the account of the death of John, and to account for Christ withdrawing himself. Herodias was the daughter of Aristobulus, another of the sons of Herod the Great, and was married to her uncle, Herod Philip; from whom Herod Antipas took her, during the lifetime of her husband and married her, and was living in this foul and shameless adultery when reproved by John the Baptist. As Herod was a Jew, he professed subjection to the Jewish law, which forbade the marrying of a brother’s wife, even after his death, except in the special case where he had left no issue; so that John, by pronouncing this marriage unlawful, declared the parties guilty of incest and adultery. It was this that incensed Herod, and planted a revenge in the breast of Herodias, which could not rest until it had glutted itself with the blood of the faithful and holy reprover. Herod indeed would have put him to death immediately, but refrained from policy, because he feared a tumult of the people. John was, however, cast into prison; and an opportunity was given for schemes of feminine vengeance, more dark and deadly than any other when once awakened, to work his ruin.

Verse 6

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

But when Herod’s birthday was kept. — That this was done with great pomp, appears from St. Mark, who says that “he made a great feast for his lords, high captains, and the chief persons of Galilee.” The dancing of the daughter of Herodias before, or rather εν τω μεσω , in the midst of the company, was a public and shameless glorying of Herod and his unlawful wife in their infamy; this daughter of Herodias being the offspring of Philip, whom she had deserted, and whose child as well as wife had been wrested from him by the stronger power of his brother. Dancing was common among the Jews on festival as well as common occasions; and here there appears no ground for considering it as in itself an act of lightness or indignity, the princess being but a child, though sufficiently old to be instructed by her mother what to ask of Herod in consequence of his oath. Her name was Salome; and her dancing appears to have pleased Herod by the peculiar elegance of her movement. His lavish admiration of the daughter was also an act of flattery to the mother, who possessed so much influence over him. Nor is there any reason for the conjecture that this dance was one of that pantomimic character, satirized as licentious by some of the poets, and which, in truth, was of eastern original. Such dances were performed by hired women, who studied and practised them as a profession.

Verse 7

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

He promised with an oath. — Rash promises sealed with oaths were often made by the kings and great men of antiquity in their revels. Herodotus mentions a promise of this vague kind made to a female, by Xerxes, which was followed by many mischievous consequences. “He bade her ask whatever she desired, and he confirmed it by his oath.”

Verse 8

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

And she, being before instructed. — Not before she had danced, but before she made her request; for St. Mark states that she went out to her mother, and said, What shall I ask?

A charger. — Πιναξ is properly a pine board: hence a wooden platter or dish, and a vessel of this kind made of any other materials, but still preserving the original name. In Homer the word is used for a basket, and for a tablet.

Verse 9

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

And the king was sorry, &c. — Such are the contradictions in human nature, and especially in tyrants accustomed to indulge every passion to excess, and to surrender themselves to every impression unchecked by any thing but some contrary feeling in their own minds, swelling like waves dashing against each other. This prince “had feared John;” he had stood in awe of his sanctity, knowing that he was a just man, and a holy, and observed or protected him, συνετηρει , probably from the persecutions of some of the more powerful of the Pharisees and Sadducees; “and when he heard him, he did many things,” according to his exhortations, “and heard him gladly.” And yet in his unjust anger, excited because John refused either to sanction or to be silent respecting an incestuous marriage, he first cast him into prison, and then surrendered his life to the fury of the partner of his guilt. Of so little consequence is it for us to do “MANY things” at the command of God, unless we walk “in ALL his statutes and ordinances blameless;” for the example of Herod teaches this important lesson, that a partial surrender of ourselves to the influence of truth is no security at all against the most overwhelming outbreakings of those corruptions of the heart which remain unmortified.

Nevertheless for the oath’s sake. — This was miserable casuistry; for an indefinite oath must necessarily be interpreted by circumstances; and had Herodias instructed her daughter to demand Herod’s own head, no doubt this pretended respecter of oaths would have excused himself from the obligation; he was therefore probably more strongly influenced by the second consideration, because of them which sat at meat with him, in whose presence he would not seem to refuse to gratify his wife, for whom he had a blind passion, and whose suit they might enforce by way of making their court to her. It is not improbable that among the guests were some of those enemies of John from whose persecutions Herod had before protected him. Doubtless the greater number present were infidel Sadducees, and those Pharisees who were justly characterized by our Lord as “whited walls and painted sepulchres.” Had they been any thing better, they would have interposed in behalf of John, and discovered their true skill in interpreting the law, of which they made their boast, by showing Herod that no oath could bind him to commit murder, much less a vague and general one. This is sufficiently indicative of the true character of the guests.

Verse 10

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

And he sent, and beheaded John in prison. — In this manner the Emperor Commodus despatched the Prefect Perennius. Νυκτωρ πεμψας αποτεμνει την κεφαλμν , says Herodian, “sending by night he cut off his head.” John was beheaded, according to Josephus, in the castle of Machærus, two days’ journey from Tiberias, Herod’s usual residence.

Verse 11

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

She brought it to her mother. — To such a mother one might well apply the words of Ezekiel: “What is thy mother? A lioness: she lay down among lions, she nourished her whelps among young lions. And she brought up one of her whelps: and it became a young lion, and it learned to catch the prey; it devoured men.” This wretched pair of murderers were some time afterward stripped of their kingdom, and banished to Lyons, where they died. The future vicious life of Salome accorded with her education. See notes on Mark 6:20-21.

Verse 13

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

When Jesus heard of it, he departed, &c. — He went into the wilderness, near Bethsaida, on the other side of the lake, where he was out of Herod’s jurisdiction. Still he was followed by the people of the neighbouring cities, on foot, that is, by land, till a great multitude was collected, on whom our Lord had compassion, healed their sick, and wrought one of his most noted miracles to supply them with bread.

Verse 15

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

And when it was evening. — The first evening with the Jews began at three o’clock P.M., the second at six. The first is here meant; and the expression, the time, ωρα , is now past, may either signify that the usual hour of dining, which was about the sixth hour, or noon, was long past; or simply that the day is far spent. On the miracle which follows it may be remarked,

1. That the place was “a desert,” so that no suspicion of supplies being laid up in it could be entertained; beside that, the meeting between Christ and the multitude was so far from having been preconcerted, that he had retired from observation by sea, and they, noticing the direction of the vessel, followed by land, increasing their numbers as they advanced, announcing that they were in search of Jesus.

2. That, beside adding another miraculous proof of his mission, the object of the miracle was to supply food to a multitude who attended upon the ministry of Christ with great affection, so that they might not be constrained by hunger to depart from him to obtain it, and lose a portion of that opportunity of attending on his doctrine which they had travelled so far to enjoy: they need not depart; give ye them to eat.

3. The miracle would remind every reflecting person among them of their fathers being fed with manna in the wilderness: here, however, the supply was not rained down from heaven upon them; but the five loaves and two fishes were multiplied in the very act of distribution; a striking comment upon the words, “Man shall not live by bread alone,” by one element, or one means of sustenance, “but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God,” who makes the power of his word known by that variety of means which he has at command to accomplish the same end.

4. As the loaves and fishes which were distributed by the disciples, formed the common stock of provisions for our Lord and them, we see the usual fare of our Lord while with the fishermen of Galilee, — the fish they caught in the lake, and coarse bread, for they were loaves of barley.

5. The order of the proceeding added at once to its solemnity and the evidence of the miracle. The multitude were made to sit down on the grass, by companies; and the scanty store being brought out before them, and distributed by the disciples to EACH ONE, not only were the disciples themselves witnesses of the miraculous increase of the food, but every individual who received it at their hands. No miracle could be wrought with greater publicity, or under circumstances which more effectually excluded all deception. For the loaves and the fishes being taken by our Saviour himself, as the master of the feast, while all eyes were fixed upon him, he looked up to heaven, the seat of his Father’s glory, blessed, that is, he blessed or gave thanks to God, as the giver of food to his creatures; and brake the bread, and gave it to his disciples, and they to the multitude; so that it would appear that it increased in his hands, and was taken from him by the disciples and distributed, fresh supplies being dealt out to them by Christ until the whole multitude was fed.

6. All were fully satisfied; for on this the words of the evangelist are most express, — and they did all eat, and were filled: and the fragments, filling twelve baskets, gave additional evidence of the vastness of the miracle, since more remained after all were fed than the original quantity from which it had proceeded.

Verse 19

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

He blessed. — Not that he blessed the bread, but, as observed in the preceding note, he blessed God. This expression is taken from the devotional form constantly used by the Jews before meals, in which they acknowledge God as the giver of their blessings. Our Lord here sanctions this pious and becoming custom, and perhaps also employed the same words. In more modern times their benediction is, “Blessed be thou, our God, the king of the world, who bringest bread out of the earth;” and before the wine, “Blessed be thou, our God, the King of the world, who createst the fruit of the vine;” but whether this was their ancient form, is not certain. It was then, however, as now, a form of “blessing,” that is, of giving thanks to God; for what St. Matthew here calls blessing, in chapter 15:36, he terms giving thanks, so that ευλογειν and ευχαριστειν are, in this application of them, words of the same import.

And brake. — The loaves of the Jews, being in the form of flat cakes, were not divided by the knife, but by breaking. Hence the common phrase, “the breaking of bread.”

Verse 20

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

They did all eat, and were filled. — They had a full meal and to spare. The Chaldee paraphrast on 2 Chronicles 31:10, uses similar terms, “We have eaten and are filled, and have left much; for the word of the Lord hath blessed his people.” Abundance is, however, no plea for waste; for the fragments were carefully gathered up: a minor but useful lesson taught by the history.

Baskets. — Much research has been expended by different commentators to account for these baskets being at hand in the desert Juvenal has been referred to, who, in his third satire, speaks of the Jews at Rome as carrying a basket, cophinus, and hay; and Martial, by whom, Epig. 5:17, a Jew is called cistifer, one who carries a basket; and different conjectures have been adopted for explaining these allusions. The baskets may, however, be well enough accounted for without going beyond the circumstances of the story. The multitude went out of the cities in search of our Lord, who had withdrawn into a desert place; it does not appear that they had any other guide to his retreat save the direction of the vessel in which some of them had seen him depart; and it is evident from the position of the desert of Bethsaida, that many had taken a considerable journey; so that the baskets were, no doubt, those which were commonly used on journeys for carrying their provisions. These provisions, however, before the miracle was wrought, had been wholly exhausted, as well they might be, in three days.

It is to be remembered also, that many of these people were travelling to Jerusalem to the passover, so that their baskets for provisions were a necessary part of their equipment. See notes on Luke 9:11, and Mark 6:35.

Verse 22

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

Jesus constrained his disciples. — That is, he exhorted or directed them; for the word does not necessarily imply more; and, as they were directed to sail for Bethsaida, as we learn from St. Mark, which was but a short distance probably across a bay, and to which place our Lord could go on foot, there appears no reason for reluctance on their part. The word is equivalent to εκελευσεν απελθειν , Mark 8:18. Our Lord wished to be left behind to dismiss the multitudes, who, as we learn from St. John, were so transported by the stupendous miracle they had just witnessed, that they would by force have proclaimed him the king of the Jews; and, owing to this, he withdrew, and went up into a mountain apart to pray.

Verse 23

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

And when the evening was come. — The evening is mentioned as having arrived, verse 15. That was the first evening, and commenced at three o’clock P.M.; but this was the second evening, which began at six o’clock, and extended to the dawn of the next morning. See note on verse 15.

Verse 24

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

But the ship was now in the midst of the sea, &c. — Instead, therefore, of having been able to reach Bethsaida, the wind being contrary, they were now driven into the middle of the sea, many miles out of their course, and continued buffeted by the tempest until Jesus came to them, which was not till the next morning.

Verse 25

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

In the fourth watch of the night. — The Jewish division of the night was into three watches; but now the Roman distribution into four watches appears to have been adopted; from six to nine, from nine to twelve, from twelve to three, and from three to six. It was therefore between the hours of three and six in the morning, which was the fourth watch, when our Lord was seen by the disciples walking on the sea. This also shows that he had continued several hours of the night in prayer, “on the mountain apart.”

Verse 26

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

They were troubled, &c. — They were greatly affrighted on seeing a human form walking on the sea; for still the light was too obscure to show them that it was Christ himself and they cried out for fear. That the appearance was a spirit, φαντασμα , a ghost, they could only conclude; for they had left Christ on the land: and what should be able to walk upon the sea but a disembodied spirit, no longer subject to the laws of matter? Their fright was natural; for surely there is no need, with some, to suppose the imaginations of the disciples haunted with such horrible notions of ghosts as may be found in the works of modern rabbins, to account for it. A ship’s company of persons the most skeptical on the subject of apparitions would doubtless in similar circumstances have betrayed similar emotions, and “cried out for fear” as loudly. We have here also a proof that the belief in the existence of men after death, and a spiritual world, was the belief of the body of the Jews. The skepticism of the Sadducees on these subjects appears to have been chiefly confined to the rich and learned.

Verse 28

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

Bid me come to thee on the water. — From this it appears that our Lord continued walking or standing upon the water for some time after he approached near enough to converse with the disciples; but still at some distance. What might be the motive of Peter for this request, does not clearly appear. His ardent spirit, excited by this new proof of the high and Divine character of his Lord, probably at once concluded that his faith in his power and majesty was now sufficiently strong, that he could venture his life upon his bidding, undismayed by winds and waves. He was permitted to make the trial, in order to teach him more humble views of himself, by revealing the weakness of that faith which he thought so strong; for when he saw the wind boisterous, and consequently the waves greatly agitated, he LOOKED OFF from that omnipotence of his Saviour on which his faith at first simply and exclusively fixed, and, his fear rising with his unbelief, he began to sink, and cry out for help. That help was seasonably given; but with suitable though tender reproof: O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt? The doubt of Peter did not imply that he was not fully persuaded that the appearance was that of Christ himself; that he knew before he left the vessel; for the expression, If it be thou, is equivalent to, Since it is thou thyself, and expresses full conviction. And his appeal to Christ for help, when sinking, also shows that he had no doubt as to the person he was addressing. But he doubted in the sense of hesitating whether to regard the violence of the waves or the power of Christ: like a man standing where two ways meet, undetermined which to enter; or a balance vibrating with opposite impulses, as the word δισταζειν intimates. He thus lost that full, simple view of the omnipotence of Christ, under the influence of which he had cast himself upon the water. This teaches us, in all matters where we have a WARRANT from Christ to trust in him; a BIDDING of Christ to come to him, though through storms and tempest, to look alone at his word of eternal faithfulness, and “to walk by faith, not by sight.” This is the trust he delights to honour; though, as in the case of Peter, he has compassion even upon little faith.

Verse 32

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

The wind ceased. — Suddenly and preternaturally ceased, or was lulled; so that the two most uncontrollable elements of nature, the winds and the waves, again obey their Lord. He had walked upon the one by suspending the power of gravitation, realizing Job’s description of the Omnipotent: “He walketh upon the waves of the sea;” or, as the Septuagint renders it, “walking upon the sea, as upon a pavement;” and being once in the vessel, by the same power the contrary wind, which had carried the disciples out into the midst of the sea, far from their destination, was immediately hushed by his almighty word, that they might speedily gain “the coast of Gennesaret.” These again were breakings forth of the hidden majesty of his Divinity, which, if not fully revealed, was yet powerfully impressed upon the disciples, for they that were in the ship were not common mariners: the vessel was probably worked by the disciples themselves, they being for the most part fishermen. Came and worshipped him, saying, Of a truth thou art the Son of God. The Messiah; but the Messiah under his highest designation and character in the Old Testament — “THE SON OF GOD.” From the absence of the articles before υιος and Θεου , some have rendered this, “a son of God,” or, “a son of a god;” assuming that the want of the articles implies a sense inferior to that which the same terms must bear when the articles are used with them. But this is wholly refuted by Matthew 27:43; where the chief priests, mocking Christ upon the cross, say, “If he be the king of Israel, let him come down from the cross, and we will believe him. He trusted in God; let him deliver him now, if he will have him: for he said, I am THE SON OF GOD.” Here also the articles are wanting; but our Lord is taunted with having called himself the Son of God in the highest sense in which that term was used without the articles; even in that sense which, according to their notions, implied blasphemy. So also in Luke 1:35, “That holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called THE SON OF GOD,” the same omission is found; although, whatever the import of the phrase may be, it must obviously be used in a sense equal to that in which it occurs with the articles. A third example is in Romans 1:4, “declared to be THE SON OF GOD with power;” where, unquestionably, the highest possible conception of Christ as the Son of God must have been in the mind of the apostle. So utterly inconclusive are such criticisms grounded upon the Greek article. See also the note on Matthew 27:54.

Verse 34

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

The land of Gennesaret. — Which bordered the lake or sea on the west.

Verse 35

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

Had knowledge of him. — Επιγνωντες αυτον , when they knew him again, or remembered him, because he had before visited the same parts.

Verse 36

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

That they might only touch the hem of his garment. — See note on Matthew 9:20-21. The virtue was not in the garment; but the touching it was an act of faith, and it was rewarded. It was in Capernaum, which was situated in this district, that the woman with the issue of blood was healed by touching the hem of Christ’s garment; and probably this led these poor diseased people to follow her example, so that her faith was the means of exciting the believing effort of many others. See note on Mark 6:53.

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Matthew 14". "Watson's Exposition on Matthew, Mark, Luke & Romans". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/rwc/matthew-14.html.
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