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Matthew 14

Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New TestamentSchaff's NT Commentary

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Verse 1

Matthew 14:1. At that season. Quite indefinite (see above).

Herod the tetrarch. Herod Antipas (a son of Herod the Great) now ruler in Galilee; a light-minded, prodigal, and luxurious prince, superstitious and cunning (Mark 8:15; Luke 13:32). He was at Jerusalem when our Lord suffered, and showed utter heartlessness on that occasion. He died in Spain, a defeated and banished man (see on Matthew 14:3). ‘Tetrarch;’ strictly speaking, the ruler of the fourth part of a country, but here used less exactly.

Heard the report concerning Jesus. Probably at Machærus (where John had been imprisoned), which was remote from the scene of our Lord’s ministry. He first heard of Him now, through the more extended labors of the Twelve.

Verses 1-13

CHRONOLOGY. The chapter opens with an indefinite mark of time (‘at that season,’ Matthew 14:1); but Luke 9:10 shows that it was upon the return of the Twelve. Hence chaps, Matthew 9:35-38; Matthew 9:10, find their place between chaps, 13 and 14 . The order of this chapter is chronological. The feeding of the five thousand, narrated by all four Evangelists, forms a definite point of comparison.

The section gives a fearful picture of the Herodian family, in their lust, ambition, and cruelty. No scene in history presents in a single group more of the vices characteristic of corrupt courts: arbitrary imprisonment, dread of the multitude, adultery and incest, illegal divorce, feasting and intoxication, voluptuous and immodest dancing, lavish promises and foolish oaths to the dancer, weak fear of court flatterers, and the murder of a faithful reprover; the picture completed by the superstition of the murderer, who sees in the power of the Messiah only a token that his victim has reappeared. The impression produced on the mind of Herod leads to the withdrawal mentioned in Matthew 14:13.

Verse 2

Matthew 14:2. This is John the Baptist. Comp. Luke 9:7-9. This does not imply a belief in the transmigration of souls, nor prove that Herod was a Sadducee (although some infer this from Mark 8:15); it is the perplexed and terrified utterance of a guilty conscience.

Therefore, etc. John had wrought no miracle (chap. Matthew 10:41), but Herod supposed that the rising from the dead had resulted in higher powers.

Powers, or ‘mighty works’ as in chap. Matthew 13:54; Matthew 13:58. Herod’s desire to see our Lord was at best a patronizing condescension to the gospel.

Verse 3

Matthew 14:3. For Herod had laid hold on John , etc. This imprisonment took place not long after our Lord began His ministry (comp. chap. Matthew 4:12; Mark 1:14; John 3:24).

For the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife. Herodias, the daughter of Aristobulus (the half-brother of Herod Antipas), the wife of Herod Philip (not to be confounded with Philip the Tetrarch, Luke 3:1), who was disinherited by his father, Herod the Great, and lived as a private citizen. Herod Antipas was first married to a daughter of Aretas, king of Arabia (mentioned 2 Corinthians 11:32). Becoming enamored of Herodias, his niece and sister-in-law, he married her secretly, while her husband was still living, repudiating his own legal wife. Aretas made war against him in consequence, and having defeated him was prevented by the Romans from dethroning him (A. D. 37 ). At the instigation of Herodias he went to Rome to compete for the kingly power bestowed on Agrippa, but was banished by the Emperor Caligula to Cyprus.

Verse 4

Matthew 14:4. For John said; not once but habitually, as the original hints. John was a bold preacher of righteousness and repentance, not ‘a reed shaken by the wind’ (chap. Matthew 11:7). His fidelity led to his imprisonment.

It is not lawful. The act of Herod was a crime against his brother, against his wife, and in itself incestuous, since Herodias was his niece (comp. Leviticus 18:16; Leviticus 20:21).

Verse 5

Matthew 14:5. And when he would have put him to death. At the instigation of Herodias (Mark 6:19-20).

He feared the multitude, etc. The character of John also restrained him; but the political motive was needed to overbear the influence of Herodias.

Verse 6

Matthew 14:6. Herod’s birthday. Probably the anniversary of his accession to power. The nobility of Galilee were at the feast (Mark 6:21). The dancing seems to have taken place late in the entertainment, when all were more or less intoxicated

The daughter of Herodias. ‘Salome,’ the daughter of Herod Philip. She married her uncle Philip the Tetrarch, and after his death her cousin Aristobulus. Comp. Mark 6:22.

Danced in the midst. She had been sent by her mother to gain an opportunity for killing John (Mark 6:21). The dance was a pantomime probably of a voluptuous character, and was performed ‘in the midst,’ with the intoxicated party forming a circle about her. Such conduct was deemed immodest by Jews, Greeks, and Romans; in this case there was added a criminal purpose, and a sin against her own forsaken father. Public dancing (and often private dancing) calls forth evil passions, even if not designed to do so.

Verse 7

Matthew 14:7. The promise and oath of Herod show his gratification, which Herodias had anticipated. Mark adds: ‘unto the half of my kingdom.’

Verse 8

Matthew 14:8. Being let on by her mother. Instigated rather than instructed. She went out and consulted her mother, but the mother’s purpose had already been formed, and her answer (Mark 6:24) shows great vindictiveness and determination, as does the demand, not for the death, but for the head of the Baptist.

Upon a platter. A large dish. This seems to have been added by Salome herself, ‘as a hideous jest, implying an intention to devour it’ (J. A. Alexander).

Verse 9

Matthew 14:9. And the king was grieved. ‘Grieved’ rather than ‘sorry.’ Disturbed rather than penitent. The emotion was in keeping with his character and feelings toward John but was of no avail; compliance with the murderous request was the more criminal because he was ‘grieved.’ Herod is called ‘the king’ by Mark also, although he did not really possess the title.

But because of his oaths. The oath was foolish, and was sinfully kept. Better break our word than God’s Word. Herod was scrupulous on this point, and yet an adulterer and murderer.

And them that sat with him. His courtiers were probably hostile to John. In any case the fear of men, so powerful for evil, influenced him.

Verse 10

Matthew 14:10. And he sent, etc. If the feast took place in Machaerus, the head was brought in before the feast closed. Some however infer from Mark’s account that the messengers went some distance, and hence that the feast was given in a royal palace at Livias (not far from Machaerus), while others think the nobility of Galilee would more probably be invited to Tiberias, the usual residence of Herod. But the words ‘give me here’ (Matthew 14:8), indicate that the prison was not far off .

Verse 11

Matthew 14:11. She brought it to her mother. ‘A Jezebel was not wanting in the history of the second Elijah.’ The vindictive adulteress was served by the immodest dancer; the sixth and seventh commandment stand next each other.

Verse 12

Matthew 14:12. Took up the corpse and buried him, is a literal rendering. And, they went, probably John’s disciples.

And told Jesus . They would naturally go to Him, if properly affected by the interview recorded in chap. 11 . Others kept aloof and formed a new sect

Verse 13

Matthew 14:13. Now when Jesus heard it. This was not the only cause of the retirement (see Mark 6:31). The Twelve had returned and the multitudes gave Him and them no rest. Besides this gathering of multitudes would make Herod more suspicious.

Into a desert place apart. Not a ‘desert ‘in the modem sense, but a thinly inhabited district; in Gaulonitis near Bethsaida Julias, on the eastern shore of the lake of Tiberias (see Luke 9:10; John 6:1), in the dominions of Philip the Tetrarch. Our Lord would avoid Herod as well as seek rest for His disciples.

They followed him. Comp. Mark 6:33. The popularity of our Lord continued.

By land. This is the usual meaning of the Greek phrase, which is literally rendered: ‘on foot.’

Verse 14

Matthew 14:14. Had compassion on them. All had followed Him so far and were in a state of spiritual destitution; many of them were sick. His compassion manifested itself in healing their sick, and in giving them instruction (Mark 6:34). The approach of the Passover season (John 6:4), accounts for the greatness of the multitude; many of them were probably on their way to Jerusalem.

Verses 14-21

The feeding of the Five Thousand is the only miracle mentioned by all four Evangelists, and the first occurrence fully narrated by them all. It also furnishes a definite chronological point for a harmony of the Gospels. It is in many respects the most incomprehensible of all the miracles. Various suggestions have been made as to the mode of increase, as involving a higher order of nature; an acceleration of the natural process; a removal of the ban of barrenness resting on our earthly bread, showing the positive fulness which it contains when Christ’s blessing descends upon it. It is safest to accept a supernatural increase without seeking to know the method, and then to seek and accept the spiritual lessons it teaches. The attempts to explain it as a natural event have been utter failures. The four Evangelists could not write as they have done, of a ‘myth,’ a ‘parable,’ or a ‘symbol.’ Either this was a miracle, or the Evangelists have wilfully falsified. The great lesson is: Christ the Bread of the world; its type is the manna in the wilderness. Christ’s people partake of Him to the nourishment of their souls. As in the miracle, the means may be visible, but the mode unknown; of the fact we may be assured, and may assure others.. Notice the contrast between the feast of the estates of Galilee’ at Herod’s court, and this feast of the poor and sick multitudes in the wilderness. Our Lord gave freely in the wilderness: healed, taught, and fed all. ‘The Bible, so little in bulk, like the five barley loaves and the two fishes, what thousands upon thousands has it fed, and will it feed, in every age, in every land of Christendom, to the world’s end!’

Verse 15

Matthew 14:15. Evening. The first evening, i.e., from three to six P.M. (ninth to twelfth hour of the day); Matthew 14:23 refers to the second evening, which began at six P.M . (the first watch of the night).

The time, lit., ‘hour,’ is already past. Either the time of day is late, or the time for the evening meal is past. The disciples probably interrupted His discourse with this suggestion. Our Lord had continued His work of teaching and healing, until He had an opportunity to show how He could supply other wants. Those who wait on Him shall be fed! John tells us He ‘knew what he would do,’ inserting a question our Lord put to Philip (who was probably the spokesman) to try him. (See John 6:5-7.)

Verse 16

Matthew 14:16. Give ye them to eat. Obedience seemed impossible, but they did obey through Christ’s power providing the means for them. Duty is measured by Christ’s command, not by our resources.

Verse 17

Matthew 14:17. We have here. Andrew said this; a lad who was present had this small store of food (John 6:8-9). The disciples, though full of perplexity and doubt, tried to obey, and sought food for the multitude. The loaves and fishes thus obtained, of which they said ‘What are they among so many,’ were given by them to the people.

Five loaves (‘barley loaves’) and two fishes (‘small fishes,’ probably salt ones). Plain common food.

Verse 18

Matthew 14:18. Bring me them hither. The store, so scanty, is first given to Christ; thus it becomes valuable and sufficient.

Verse 19

Matthew 14:19. To recline on the grass. ‘Now there was much grass on the place,’ John 6:10. At that season it would be luxuriant, forming an easy and convenient resting-place. They reclined in groups of hundreds and fifties (Mark 6:40; Luke 9:14); thus confusion was avoided and the distribution made easy. Such an arrangement precluded deception. There was no disorderly running after ‘the loaves and fishes’; Christ’s blessings were received through those He commanded to impart them.

Looking up to heaven, he blessed; and breaking the loaves, he gave them. The description recalls the Last Supper, of which this miracle is a premonition. The word ‘bless’ in the Bible means God’s favoring us, our asking favors of Him and our thanksgiving for such favors; the three senses are always more or less connected. The form of the Greek disconnects the ‘loaves’ from the word ‘bless.’ The blessing was therefore mainly a thanksgiving (comp. John: ‘when he had given thanks’), not simply a blessing of the loaves. Thus the eucharistic reference becomes prominent

The loaves to his disciples. The disciples possibly received the broken loaves and fishes as they were, the miraculous increase taking place as they distributed them. This points out the duty of the Twelve, and of the ministry in general; but the accounts of the three other Evangelists indicate a continuous giving on the part of our Lord.

Verse 20

Matthew 14:20. And were filled. Philip had said that 200 pennyworth of bread would only give each a little, but now all had received enough.

Of the broken pieces. The pieces they distributed, pieces, not the refuse.

Twelve baskets full. ‘Baskets’ such as travellers carried with them. They may have belonged to the disciples, who collected the broken pieces. What was gathered exceeded what was first given out Christ was no waster; He enjoined (John 6:12) carefulness and economy at the close of His most abundant bestowment. These fragments were probably for the use of the Twelve, since such miraculous increase was not the rule, but the exception. This circumstance mentioned by all four Evangelists was designed to impress the miracle upon the disciples (comp. chap. Matthew 16:9).

Verse 21

Matthew 14:21. Five thousand men. All the Evangelists mention the number of men. Matthew alone adds: besides women and children. The latter classes were probably not numerous, and would be fed apart from the men. On the effect of the miracle, see John 6:14-15.

Verse 22

Matthew 14:22. Constrained the disciples. See above. To go before him to the other side. Mark: ‘to Bethsaida;’ John: ‘toward Capernaum.’ Some understand by Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Philip, supposed to be on the western side of the lake; Capernaum being the ultimate point to be reached; it was in ‘the land of Gennesaret’ (Matthew 14:34). But in that case they would have inquired how He could join them, since there was then no other boat there (John 6:22), and the circuit by land was a long one. It is not certain that there was a western Bethsaida (see on chap. Matthew 11:21). We therefore infer that He sent them to eastern Bethsaida, which was not far off (Luke 9:10), directing them to await Him there, so that they would cross together to the opposite shore, which they actually did, after the miracle. This accords best with all the details as given by the three Evangelists. Till he sent the multitudes away. They were in an excited condition; hence great prudence, perhaps an exercise of some constraining power was necessary.

Verses 22-36

CONNECTION. Immediately after the miraculous feeding, the people wished to proclaim Jesus a king and were ready to take violent steps for that purpose (John 6:14-15). The disciples were probably ready to join the people in an enterprise, which would fulfil their remaining carnal expectations regarding the Messiahship of their Master. Hence our Lord dismissed them, sending them where they would feel their need of His presence. Mark and John narrate this occurrence, but the attempt of Peter (Matthew 14:29-31) is mentioned only by Matthew.

Verse 23

Matthew 14:23. He went up into the mountain apart to pray. The attempt to make Him a king was a temptation to be met by prayer.

Evening. Here the second evening. Comp. Matthew 14:15.

He was there alone. Alone with His Father. Prayer succeeded and preceded His labors for men.

Verse 24

Matthew 14:24. But the boat was already in the midst of the sea. When Jesus came to them, they were ‘about twenty-five or thirty furlongs’ from shore (John 6:19), i.e., about the middle of the lake. When Jesus came to them; they were ‘about twenty-five or thirty furlongs’ from shore (John 6:19), i.e. about the middle of the lake.

Distressed, or ‘vexed,’ by the waves. The storm had arisen after they started (John 6:18).

For the wind was contrary. It is most probable that they put out into the lake, and steering for (eastern) Bethsaida, were driven out into the middle of the lake by an easterly wind. Their ‘toiling in rowing’ (Mark 6:48) seems far more natural, if they were trying to meet the Lord at the appointed place. Had they been steering for the western shore (as some suppose), they might have turned back and gone to Him with a contrary (west) wind.

Verse 25

Matthew 14:25. In the fourth watch of the night. Between three and six o’clock in the morning. Their danger had lasted nearly all night. Deliverance is often long delayed, but while the Master prayed, the disciples could not be lost.

He came unto them. Mark adds: ‘and would have passed by them,’ i.e., to try them.

Walking upon the sea. The main point here is His coming over the sea to join the disciples. The narrative implies an exercise of supernatural power.

Verse 26

Matthew 14:26. It in an apparition . An unreal appearance of a real person. The word is not that usually rendered, ‘spirit’

They cried out for fear . Matthew is an honest witness to tell of this superstitious fear. As he here discriminates between ‘an apparition’ and a real bodily appearance of our Lord, he cannot mean the former when he writes of the resurrection of Christ.

Verse 27

Matthew 14:27. It is I. An assurance, through a living voice, of His bodily presence.

Be not afraid . The presence of Christ always brings with it this cheering injunction.

Verse 28

Matthew 14:28. And Peter answered. The silence of the other Evangelists is remarkable, but casts no doubt upon the truthfulness of Matthew’s account. The occurrence is strikingly in accordance with Peter’s impulsive character, ‘almost a rehearsal’ of the subsequent denial.

If it be thou. Not the language of doubt Peter’s fault lay in the words: bid me, etc., which betray a desire to outdare the other disciples; comp, the boast: ‘Though all should be offended,’ etc. (chap. Matthew 26:33).

Verse 29

Matthew 14:29. And he laid, come. More of a permission than a command, as the result proved.

He walked upon the waters. Not necessarily very far; and yet so long as he thus walked, it was through supernatural aid from Christ. The power was obtained and conditioned by faith in Christ’s power. So in our spiritual walk above the waves of this world.

Verse 30

Matthew 14:30. But when he saw the wind. ‘Boisterous,’ or ‘strong,’ is omitted by the best authorities. He was going against the wind. This favors the theory of their course, advanced in the notes on Matthew 14:24. The other view would imply that Jesus had walked past them and turned towards them. So long as Peter looked to Jesus only, he had by faith the power of Jesus to rise above the waters, but when he looked at the waves, beginning to doubt, he began to sink. Peter could swim (John 21:7); yet in his terror he seems to have lost even his natural attainments. To be near Christ in person avails nothing, unless we are near Him by faith. Peter sinks without Christ; clinging to his successors instead of Christ, must be in vain.

Lord, save me. Comp. Psalms 107:27-28. His faith, too weak to enable him to walk to Christ, was strong enough to call to Christ.

Verse 31

Matthew 14:31. O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt? Chrysostom: we need not fear the tempest, but only the weakness of our faith. Hence Christ does not calm the storm, but takes Peter by the hand. Trench: ‘Peter is here the image of all the faithful of all ages, in the seasons of their weakness and their fear.’

Verse 32

Matthew 14:32. And when they were gone up into the boat. John (John 6:21) speaks of the boat being immediately ‘at the land whither they went’ This was on the western side of the lake, and we may either suppose that the wind during the night had driven them near that shore, or accept another miracle.

Verse 33

Matthew 14:33. They that were in the boat . Probably manners and others exclusive of the disciples. The effect produced upon the latter is declared in strong terms, Mark 6:51-52.

The Son of God , lit., son of God. Probably only a recognition of His Messiahship, but the miracle would exalt their notions respecting the Messiah. For the first time men owned our Lord as the Son of God. John the Baptist had done so by Divine commission (John 1:34; John 3:35-36).

Verse 34

Matthew 14:34. And when they were passed over. This points to ordinary, not miraculous sailing.

To the land unto Gennesaret. ‘Gennesaret’ was a fertile district, with a mild climate, on the western shore of the lake (also called the Lake of Gennesaret). It is nearly four miles long and half as broad. Modern name: El-Ghuweir.

Verse 35

Matthew 14:35. The men of that place. Not Capernaum, but a more retired spot. The people who had been fed, came to that city ‘seeking Jesus’ (John 6:24): it is implied that they found Him somewhere else. Mark’s account suggests that our Lord passed through other places on His way to Capernaum.

Got knowledge of him. When morning came they would recognize Him, as our Lord was personally well known in Galilee.

Verse 36

Matthew 14:36. Only touch the border of his garment . A woman had been thus healed in the presence of a crowd (chap. Matthew 9:20-22), so that these people were not superstitious, but had strong faith. As our Lord was only passing through, a greater number could be healed in this way. Christ’s miracles were always performed so as to show a connection between Himself and the person cured, even though it were so slight a one as this touch. This is the fourth general description of our Lord’s ministry; in each case (Matthew 4:24; Matthew 9:35; Matthew 11:1, and here) after a series of events grouped together without reference to accurate chronological order.

Bibliographical Information
Schaff, Philip. "Commentary on Matthew 14". "Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/scn/matthew-14.html. 1879-90.
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