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Herod the tetrarch (Hηρωιδης τετρααρχης). Herod Antipas ruler of Galilee and Perea, one-fourth of the dominion of Herod the Great.
The report concerning Jesus (την ακουην Ιησου). See on Matthew 4:24. Cognate accusative, heard the hearing (rumour), objective genitive. It is rather surprising that he had not heard of Jesus before.
His servants (τοις παισιν αυτου). Literally "boys," but here the courtiers, not the menials of the palace.
Work in him (ενεργουσιν). Cf. our "energize." "The powers of the invisible world, vast and vague in the king's imagination" (Bruce). John wrought no miracles, but one redivivus might be under the control of the unseen powers. So Herod argued. A guilty conscience quickened his fears. Possibly he could see again the head of John on a charger. "The King has the Baptist on the brain" (Bruce). Cf. Josephus (War, I. xxx. 7) for the story that the ghosts of Alexander and Aristobulus haunted the palace of Herod the Great. There were many conjectures about Jesus as a result of this tour of Galilee and Herod Antipas feared this one.
For the sake of Herodias (δια Hηρωιδιαδα). The death of John had taken place some time before. The Greek aorists here (εδησεν, απεθετο) are not used for past perfects. The Greek aorist simply narrates the event without drawing distinctions in past time. This Herodias was the unlawful wife of Herod Antipas. She was herself a descendant of Herod the Great and had married Herod Philip of Rome, not Philip the Tetrarch. She had divorced him in order to marry Herod Antipas after he had divorced his wife, the daughter of Aretas King of Arabia. It was a nasty mess equal to any of our modern divorces. Her first husband was still alive and marriage with a sister-in-law was forbidden to Jews (Leviticus 18:16). Because of her Herod Antipas had put John in the prison at Machaerus. The bare fact has been mentioned in Matthew 4:12 without the name of the place. See Matthew 11:2 also for the discouragement of John εν τω δεσμωτηριω (place of bondage), here εν τη φυλακη (the guard-house). Josephus (Ant. xviii. 5.2) tells us that Machaerus is the name of the prison. On a high hill an impregnable fortress had been built. Tristram (Land of Moab) says that there are now remains of "two dungeons, one of them deep and its sides scarcely broken in" with "small holes still visible in the masonry where staples of wood and iron had once been fixed. One of these must surely have been the prison-house of John the Baptist." "On this high ridge Herod the Great built an extensive and beautiful palace" (Broadus). "The windows commanded a wide and grand prospect, including the Dead Sea, the course of the Jordan, and Jerusalem" (Edersheim, Life and Times of Jesus).
For John said unto him (ελεγεν γαρ Ιωανης αυτω). Possibly the Pharisees may have put Herod up to inveigling John to Machaerus on one of his visits there to express an opinion concerning his marriage to Herodias (Broadus) and the imperfect tense (ελεγεν) probably means that John said it repeatedly. It was a blunt and brave thing that John said. It cost him his head, but it is better to have a head like John's and lose it than to have an ordinary head and keep it. Herod Antipas was a politician and curbed his resentment toward John by his fear of the people who still held (ειχον, imperfect tense) him as a prophet.
When Herod's birthday came (γενεσιοις γενομενοις του Hηρωιδου). Locative of time (cf. Mark 6:21) without the genitive absolute. The earlier Greeks used the word γενεσια for funeral commemorations (birthdays of the dead), γενεθλια being the word for birthday celebrations of living persons. But that distinction has disappeared in the papyri. The word γενεσια in the papyri (Fayum Towns, 114-20, 115-8, 119-30) is always a birthday feast as here in Matthew and Mark. Philo used both words of birthday feasts. Persius, a Roman satirist (Sat. V. 180-183), describes a banquet on Herod's Day.
Danced in the midst (ωρχησατο εν τω μεσω). This was Salome, daughter of Herodias by her first marriage. The root of the verb means some kind of rapid motion. "Leaped in the middle," Wycliff puts it. It was a shameful exhibition of lewd dancing prearranged by Herodias to compass her purpose for John's death. Salome had stooped to the level of an αλμε, or common dancer.
Promised with an oath (μετα ορκου ωμολογησεν). Literally, "confessed with an oath." For this verb in the sense of promise, see Acts 7:17. Note middle voice of αιτησητα (ask for herself). Cf. Esther 5:3; Esther 7:2.
Put forward (προβιβασθεισα). See Acts 19:33 for a similar verb (προβαλοντων), "pushing forward." Here (Acts) the Textus Receptus uses προβιβαζω. "It should require a good deal of 'educating' to bring a young girl to make such a grim request" (Bruce).
Here (ωδε). On the spot. Here and now.
In a charger (επ πινακ). Dish, plate, platter. Why the obsolete "charger"?
Grieved (λυπηθεις). Not to hurt, for in verse Matthew 14:5 we read that he wanted (θελων) to put him to death (αποκτεινα). Herod, however, shrank from so dastardly a deed as this public display of brutality and bloodthirstiness. Men who do wrong always have some flimsy excuses for their sins. A man here orders a judicial murder of the most revolting type "for the sake of his oath" (δια τους ορκους). "More like profane swearing than deliberate utterance once for all of a solemn oath" (Bruce). He was probably maudlin with wine and befuddled by the presence of the guests.
Beheaded John (απεκεφαλισεν Ιωανην). That is, he had John beheaded, a causative active tense of a late verb αποκεφαλιζω. Took his head off.
She brought it to her mother (ηνεγκεν τη μητρ αυτης). A gruesome picture as Herodias with fiendish delight witnesses the triumph of her implacable hatred of John for daring to reprove her for her marriage with Herod Antipas. A woman scorned is a veritable demon, a literal she-devil when she wills to be. Kipling's "female of the species" again. Legends actually picture Salome as in love with John, sensual lust, of which there is no proof.
And they went and told Jesus (κα ελθοντες απηγγειλαν τω Ιησου). As was meet after they had given his body decent burial. It was a shock to the Master who alone knew how great John really was. The fate of John was a prophecy of what was before Jesus. According to Matthew 14:13 the news of the fate of John led to the withdrawal of Jesus to the desert privately, an additional motive besides the need for rest after the strain of the recent tour.
In a boat (εν πλοιω) "on foot" (πεζη, some MSS. πεζω). Contrast between the lake and the land route.
Their sick (τους αρρωστους αυτων). "Without strength" (ρωννυμ and α privative). Εσπλαγχνισθη is a deponent passive. The verb gives the oriental idea of the bowels (σπλαγχνα) as the seat of compassion.
When even was come (οψιας γενομενης). Genitive absolute. Not sunset about 6 P.M. as in Matthew 8:16 and as in Matthew 14:23, but the first of the two "evenings" beginning at 3 P.M.
The place is desert (ερημος εστιν ο τοπος). Not a desolate region, simply lonely, comparatively uninhabited with no large towns near. There were "villages" (κωμας) where the people could buy food, but they would need time to go to them. Probably this is the idea of the disciples when they add:
The time is already past (η ωρα ηδη παρηλθεν). They must hurry.
Give ye them to eat (δοτε αυτοις υμεις φαγειν). The emphasis is on υμεις in contrast (note position) with their "send away" (απολυσον). It is the urgent aorist of instant action (δοτε). It was an astounding command. The disciples were to learn that "no situation appears to Him desperate, no crisis unmanageable" (Bruce).
And they say unto him (ο δε λεγουσιν αυτω). The disciples, like us today, are quick with reasons for their inability to perform the task imposed by Jesus.
And he said (ο δε ειπεν). Here is the contrast between the helpless doubt of the disciples and the confident courage of Jesus. He used "the five loaves and two fishes" which they had mentioned as a reason for doing nothing. "Bring them hither unto me." They had overlooked the power of Jesus in this emergency.
To sit down on the grass (ανακλιθηνα επ του χορτου). "Recline," of course, the word means, first aorist passive infinitive. A beautiful picture in the afternoon sun on the grass on the mountain side that sloped westward. The orderly arrangement (Mark) made it easy to count them and to feed them. Jesus stood where all could see him "break" (κλασας) the thin Jewish cakes of bread and give to the disciples and they to the multitudes. This is a nature miracle that some men find it hard to believe, but it is recorded by all four Gospels and the only one told by all four. It was impossible for the crowds to misunderstand and to be deceived. If Jesus is in reality Lord of the universe as John tells us (John 1:1-18) and Paul holds (Colossians 1:15-20), why should we balk at this miracle? He who created the universe surely has power to go on creating what he wills to do.
Were filled (εχορτασθησαν). Effective aorist passive indicative of χορταζω. See Matthew 5:6. From the substantive χορτος grass. Cattle were filled with grass and people usually with other food. They all were satisfied.
Broken pieces (των κλασματων). Not the scraps upon the ground, but the pieces broken by Jesus and still in the "twelve baskets" (δωδεκα κοφινους) and not eaten. Each of the twelve had a basketful left over (το περισσευον). One hopes that the boy (John 6:9) who had the five loaves and two fishes to start with got one of the basketsful, if not all of them. Each of the Gospels uses the same word here for baskets (κοφινος), a wicker-basket, called "coffins" by Wycliff. Juvenal (Sat. iii. 14) says that the grove of Numa near the Capenian gate of Rome was "let out to Jews whose furniture is a basket (cophinus) and some hay" (for a bed). In the feeding of the Four Thousand (Matthew and Mark) the word σφυρις is used which was a sort of hamper or large provisions basket.
Beside women and children (χωρις γυναικων κα παιδιων). Perhaps on this occasion there were not so many as usual because of the rush of the crowd around the head of the lake. Matthew adds this item and does not mean that the women and children were not fed, but simply that "the eaters" (ο εσθιοντες) included five thousand men (ανδρες) besides the women and children.
Constrained (ηναγκασεν). Literally, "compelled" or "forced." See this word also in Luke 14:23. The explanation for this strong word in Mark 6:45 and Matthew 14:22 is given in John 6:15. It is the excited purpose of the crowd to take Jesus by force and to make him national king. This would be political revolution and would defeat all the plans of Jesus about his kingdom. Things have reached a climax. The disciples were evidently swept off their feet by the mob psychology for they still shared the Pharisaic hope of a political kingdom. With the disciples out of the way Jesus could handle the crowd more easily,
till he should send the multitudes away (εως ου απολυση τους οχλους). The use of the aorist subjunctive with εως or εως ου is a neat and common Greek idiom where the purpose is not yet realized. So in Matthew 18:30; Matthew 26:36. "While" sometimes renders it well. The subjunctive is retained after a past tense instead of the change to the optative of the ancient Attic. The optative is very rare anyhow, but Luke uses it with πριν η in Acts 25:16.
Into the mountain (εις το ορος). After the dismissal of the crowd Jesus went up alone into the mountain on the eastern side of the lake to pray as he often did go to the mountains to pray. If ever he needed the Father's sympathy, it was now. The masses were wild with enthusiasm and the disciples wholly misunderstood him. The Father alone could offer help now.
Distressed (βασανιζομενον). Like a man with demons (Matthew 8:29). One can see, as Jesus did (Mark 6:48), the boat bobbing up and down in the choppy sea.
Walking upon the sea (περιπατων επ την θαλασσαν). Another nature miracle. Some scholars actually explain it all away by urging that Jesus was only walking along the beach and not on the water, an impossible theory unless Matthew's account is legendary. Matthew uses the accusative (extension) with επ in verse Matthew 14:25 and the genitive (specifying case) in Matthew 14:26.
They were troubled (εταραχθησαν). Much stronger than that. They were literally "terrified" as they saw Jesus walking on the sea.
An apparition (φαντασμα), or "ghost," or "spectre" from φανταζω and that from φαινω. They cried out "from fear" (απο του φοβου) as any one would have done. "A little touch of sailor superstition" (Bruce).
Upon the waters (επ τα υδατα). The impulsiveness of Peter appears as usual. Matthew alone gives this Peter episode.
Seeing the wind (βλεπων τον ανεμον). Cf. Exodus 20:18 and Revelation 1:12 "to see the voice" (την φωνην). "It is one thing to see a storm from the deck of a stout ship, another to see it in the midst of the waves" (Bruce). Peter was actually beginning to sink (καταποντιζεσθα) to plunge down into the sea, "although a fisherman and a good swimmer" (Bengel). It was a dramatic moment that wrung from Peter the cry: "Lord, save me" (Κυριε, σωσον με), and do it quickly the aorist means. He could walk on the water till he saw the wind whirl the water round him.
Didst thou doubt? (εδιστασασ?). Only here and Matthew 28:17 in the N.T. From δισταζω and that from δις (twice). Pulled two ways. Peter's trust in the power of Christ gave way to his dread of the wind and waves. Jesus had to take hold of Peter (επελαβετο, middle voice) and pull him up while still walking on the water.
Ceased (εκοπασεν). From κοπος, toil. The wind grew weary or tired, exhausted itself in the presence of its Master (cf. Mark 4:39). Not a mere coincidence that the wind ceased now.
Worshipped him (προσεκυνησαν αυτω). And Jesus accepted it. They were growing in appreciation of the person and power of Christ from the attitude in Matthew 8:27. They will soon be ready for the confession of Matthew 16:16. Already they can say: "Truly God's Son thou art." The absence of the article here allows it to mean a Son of God as in Matthew 27:54 (the centurion). But they probably mean "the Son of God" as Jesus was claiming to them to be.
Gennesaret (Γεννησαρετ). A rich plain four miles long and two broad. The first visit of Jesus apparently with the usual excitement at the cures. People were eager to touch the hem of Christ's mantle like the woman in Matthew 9:20. Jesus honoured their superstitious faith and "as many as touched were made whole" (οσο ηψαντο διεσωθεσαν), completely (δι-) healed.
The Robertson's Word Pictures of the New Testament. Copyright © Broadman Press 1932,33, Renewal 1960. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman Press (Southern Baptist Sunday School Board)
Robertson, A.T. "Commentary on Matthew 14". "Robertson's Word Pictures of the New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/
the Fifth Week after Easter