Herod's opinion of Christ. Wherefore John Baptist was beheaded. Jesus departeth into a desert place: where he feedeth five thousand men with five loaves and two fishes: he walketh on the sea to his disciples: and, landing at Gennesaret, healeth the sick by the touch of the hem of his garment.
Anno Domini 31.
Matthew 14:1. Herod the Tetrarch— Herod is called Tetrarch, because he inherited but a fourth part of his father's dominions. However, he exercised a regal authority in Galilee, and is styled a king, Matthew 14:9 and Mark 6:14. This was Herod Antipas. See ch. Matthew 2:1.
Matthew 14:2. This is John the Baptist— From Luke 9:7 we learn that Herod and his courtiers were strangely perplexed respecting the fame of Jesus, which occasioned manyspeculations among them. Some supposed that it wasJohn risen from the dead, others, that it was Elias, and others, one of the old prophets; but Herod declared it to be his opinion that it was John; and therefore, says he, mighty works do shew forth themselves in him, that is to say, extraordinary and miraculous powers were exerted by him. Erasmus indeed thinks, that as Herod was of the sect of the Sadducees, who denied the immortality of the soul, (compare ch. Matthew 16:6. Mark 8:15.) he might say this by way of irony to his servants, ridiculing the notions of the lower people, and those who joined in that opinion; and this solution might have passed, had not Herod been perplexed on this occasion, Luke 9:7. The image of the Baptist whom he wrongfully put to death, presented itself often to his thought, and tormented him; therefore, when it was reported that he was risen from the dead, and was working miracles, Herod, fearing some punishment would be inflicted on him for his crime, in the confusion of his thoughts said, that John was risen from the dead, notwithstanding he was a Sadducee. Nay, he might say this, although he had heard of Jesus and his miracles before, there being nothing more common than for persons in vehement perturbations to talk inconsistently. Besides, it is no easy matter to arrive at a steady belief of so great an absurdity as the annihilation of the human mind. The being of God, the immortality of the soul, the rewards and punishments of a future state,with the other great principles of natural religion; often obtrude themselves upon unbelievers, in spite of all their efforts to banish them; and leave a sting behind them in the conscience, whose pain, however it may be concealed, cannot easily be allayed. Of this, Herod is a remarkable example; for, notwithstanding he was a king, his conscience made itself heard and felt, amidst all the noise, the hurry, the flatteries, and the debaucheries of a court.
Matthew 14:3. For Herod had laid hold on John— Here is a digression in the history, from this to the 13th verse, in which the Evangelist gives us an account of the Baptist's death, though he does not tell us precisely when it happened. St. Mark indeed seems to assign it as the cause of the Apostles' return from their circuit; and St. Matthew and St. Luke mention it as the reason why Jesus retired with them to the desert of Bethsaida. It is therefore probable that John was put to death while the Apostles were first abroad, perhaps not long before Jesus became the subject of conversation at court: hence, because he was but lately dead, the people in general, the courtiers, and even Herod himself, believed that he was risen, when they heard the fame of Christ's miracles. In some of his private conferences with the king, the Baptist had been so bold as to reprove him for his adultery with Herodias. This princess was grand-daughter to Herod the Great, by his son Aristobulus, and had formerly been married to her uncle, Herod-Philip, the son of her grandfather by Mariamne. Some time after that marriage, this Herod Antipas, tetrarch of Galilee, and son of Herod the Great by Malthace, happening, in his way to Rome, to lodge at his brother's house, fell passionately in love with Herodias, and on his return made offers to her: she accepted his addresses, deserting her husband, who was only a private person, (Philip tetrarch of Iturea, mentioned Luke 3:1 being a different person from this Philip,) that she might share with the tetrarch in the honours of a crown. On the other hand, to make way for her, he divorced his wife, the daughter of Aretas, king of Arabia. As Antipas was Herod the Great's son, he was brother to Herod-Philip, the husband of Herodias, and uncle to Herodias herself; wherefore both parties being guilty of incest as well as adultery, they deserved the rebuke, which the Baptist gave them with a courage highly becoming the messenger of God: for though he had experienced the advantage of the tetrarch's friendship, he was not afraid to displease him when his duty required it. Herod had with great pleasure heard John's discourses, and by his persuasion had done many good actions; Mark 6:20 but now that he was touched to the quick, he resented it to such a degree, that he laid his monitor in irons. Thus it happens sometimes, that they who do not fear God sincerely, will go certain lengths in the obedience of his commandments, provided something is remitted to them by way of indulgence; but when they are more straitly pressed, throwing off the yoke, they not only become obstinate but furious; which shews that no man has any reason of self-complacency because he obeys many of the divine laws, unless he has learned through the power of Divine grace to subject himself to God in every respect, and without exception. Josephus asserts another reason for the apprehending of John; namely, his excessive popularity. See his Antiq. lib. xviii. c. 5. Macknight, and Jortin
Matthew 14:4. For John said unto him, &c.— Possessed of great credit with Herod, and with the people, it is not possible to suppose that the Baptist would have incurred Herod's jealousy and displeasure, had he been an impostor, and an associate of a pretended Messiah,—for fear of blasting at once all his preconcerted designs. Certainly, he would now, more than ever, have employed all his art to keep the influence that he had acquired with the king and the people. But how opposite to all this was his conduct: at this critical point of time, in this peculiar situation, when both his own and his confederate's interest absolutely required him to act in the manner just mentioned, he even proceeded to reprove Herod himself for the wickedness of his life.An impostor, in John's particular situation, could not but have reflected, at the first thought of so dangerous a step as that which occasioned his death, that it was not his own immediate assistance only of which his associate would be deprived by his destruction,—though this alone would have been sufficient to prevent him from adopting it; but he would besides have considered, that his own imprisonment and death would probably strike such a panic into the people, however zealous they had before been in his favour, aswould refrain them from listening afterwards to Jesus, or payingthe same regard which they might otherwise have done to his pretensions: nay, nothing was more probable, than that John's public ministry, being put to so ignominious an end, would evendestroy that good opinion of John himself, which they had hitherto entertained, and induce them to believe, that, notwithstanding his fair outside, he could be no better than an impostor. For by what arguments could John think it possible, that the Jews would persuade themselves hewas really sent to be the divine forerunner of this triumphant Messiah, when they should have seen him seized by Herod's order, imprisoned, and put to death? Besides, therefore, John's regard to his own success, his liberty, andeven his life itself, which no impostor can be thought desirous of exposing to certain destruction for no reason; his connection with Jesus, if they were deceivers, and the necessary dependence of both upon the mutual success and assistance of each other, must unquestionably have restrained John from provoking at this time the inveterate hatred of Herodias, and drawing on himself Herod's violent suspicion and displeasure. So that the remarkable behaviour of John, in this important particular, and at so critical a conjuncture, affords us one of the strongest presumptive proofs imaginable, that neither he nor Jesus could possibly be deceivers. See on Mark 1:14 and Bell's Inquiry, p. 384.
Matthew 14:6. But when Herod's birth-day was kept— If Herod's resentment of the freedom which John the Baptist took with him was great, that of Herodias was much greater. The crime that she was guilty of was odious; she could not bear to have it named, and far less reproved. She was therefore enraged to the higher pitch, and nothing less than the Baptist's head would satisfy her. Therefore Herodias had a quarrel against him, and would have killed him, but she could not; Mark 6:19. Ever since he offended her, she had been plotting against his life, but could not yet accomplish her purpose; for (Matthew 14:20.) Herod feared, or reverenced John, &c. Great and powerful as the king was, he stood in awe of John, though in low life, and durst not attempt any thing against him; such force have piety and virtue sometimes upon the minds of the highest offenders. Herodias, therefore, finding that she could not prevail against the Baptist in the way of direct solicitation, watched an opportunity to destroy him by craft. At length one offered itself. Herod, on his birth-day, made a sumptuous entertainment for the great lords, generals, and other great persons of his kingdom; wherefore, as it was the custom in those countries, for princes to bestow favours at their feasts, sometimes of their own accord, sometimes in consequence of petitions which were then presented, Herodias thought the birth-day a fit opportunity to get the Baptist destroyed. With this view she proposed to Salome, her daughter by Philip, who was now of age, and had followed her mother's fortunes, to dance before the company at the birth-day; pretending, no doubt, that it would turn out greatly to her advantage, because the king, in the excess of his good-humour, would probably bid her name what she would please to have, as the reward of her complaisance; or if he should not, she might, consistently enough with good manners, beg him to grant her the boon she was most desirous to obtain: only, before she named any particular favour, it would be proper to come out and consult with her mother. The Evangelists, indeed, do not absolutely speak of this previous agreement: but St. Mark gives the strongest hint of it, Mark 6:21, &c.; And when a convenient day ευκαιρον, a favourable opportunity] was come, that Herod, &c.: for, as he had mentioned the attempts which Herodias had made, without success, to destroy the Baptist,—by calling this a convenient day, on account of the feast, he insinuates, that she thought the entertainment afforded favourable opportunity to take away the Baptist's life; consequently he directs us to consider all the favourable transactions of the birth-day, which have any reference to the Baptist's death, as the effect of Herodias's contrivance. Besides, a previous agreement between the mother and the daughter must be admitted, in order to account for the latter's dancing before the company on the birth-day: the reason is, in ancient times it was so far from being the custom for ladies of distinction to dance in public, that it was reckoned indecent if they were so much as present at public entertainments: we need refer only to the instance of queen Vashti, who thought it so dishonourable, that rather than submit to it even when commanded by Ahasuerus, she forfeited her crown. We may likewise remark, that notwithstanding Herodias was a lady of no distinguished character for virtue, she had such a regard to decency and reputation, that she did not appear at this birth-day feast. We may therefore believe, that it was an extraordinary thing for young ladies of qualityto dance before large companies of men at public entertainments; and if so, the reader must be sensible, that this dance of Herodias's daughter could not happen by accident, but must have been brought about by some contrivance or another. See Calmet, Macknight, and Lardner's Credibility, part 1: vol. 1: p. 23.
Matthew 14:7. He promised with an oath— It is very probable that this oath of Herod's was repeatedly given; because, according to the manners of the East, it was disgraceful for women of rank to appear in public; and they never did appear, unless they were sent for, or had an important request to make. (See Esther 5:2-3 and the former note.) It was immediately concluded, that Salome's extraordinary condescension proceeded from her having some favour to ask of the king: besides, the honour she was doing to the day andthe company might be interpreted as a public acknowledgment of Herod's civility to her, and at the same time judged a becoming expression of her gratitude. As for the king, he considered the respect shewn to his guests as terminating upon himself; and having greatly injured the young lady by debauching her mother, he was caught with flattery, and grew vain. His fancy also being heated with wine and music, and the applause of his guests, the sight of the damsel dancing, and the idea of her mother, whom he passionately loved, he made her the promise which he imagined she was silently soliciting; apromise which, though it had the air of royal munificence, suited but ill with the gravity of wisdom or with any spark of goodness. See Mark 6:22-23 and Macknight.
Matthew 14:8. And she, being before instructed— Being before urged. Doddridge. When the plot had thus succeeded, and Salome had obtained the king's promise, she went out to consult with her mother, who immediately disclosed her purpose, bidding her ask the Baptist's head. A counsel of this kind, no doubt, surprised Salome, for she could not see of what use the head could be to her; besides, she might think the demand improper, as their quarrel with the Baptist, and the cause of it, were universally known; not to mention, that when she consented to dance, it was natural to imagine her fancy had been running on very different subjects: Probably, therefore, at the first she scrupled to comply, as may be gathered also from the force of the word προβιβασθεισα, (rendered in our version before instructed), by which St. Matthew expresses the effect that her mother's solicitation had upon her. According to Hesychius, the Greek word προσβαζειν, signifies to urge, excite, or impel; and consequently supposes reluctance in the person urged. Herodias, however, full of the fiercest resentment against the holy man, would take no denial. She peremptorily insisted that her counsel should be followed, without question representing to her daughter that John had attempted to expel and ruin them both; and that, considering the opinion which the king still entertained of him, he might sometime or other, though in irons, regain Herod's favour, and accomplish his design; for which reason, the present opportunity of taking away his life was not to be neglected, if she regarded her own safety. These and the like arguments wrought up Salome to such a pitch, that she not only consented to do as she was bidden, but became hearty in the cause; for we read in Mark 6:25. (where the narration is by far the most circumstantial, and very animated) that she came in ευθεως μετα σπουδης, immediately, with eagerness; and while all the guests sat mute, expecting what mighty thing would be asked, she demanded the holy Baptist's head, as of greater value to her than half the kingdom. Give me here (fearing that, if he had time to consider, he would not do it,) John the Baptist's head in a charger, πιναξ, a large dish, which the antiquated word charger well expresses. We must just observe, that it was and is customary with princes in the Eastern parts of the world, to require the heads of those whom they had ordered to be executed to be brought to them, that they might be assured of their death: The grand signior does it to this day. See Lardner's Credibility, as above; Beza; and Blackwall's Sacred Classics, vol. 1: p. 383.
Matthew 14:9. And the king was sorry— Sudden horror, no doubt, seized every heart on hearing Salome's request; the king's gaietyvanished; he was confounded and vexed; but being unwilling to appear either rash, or fickle, or false, before a company of the first persons in his kingdom for rank and character, he commanded her request to be granted; not one of the guests being so friendly as to speak the least word to divert him from his mad purpose, though he gave them an opportunity to do it,by signifying to them that he performed his oath out of regard to the company:—perhaps they dreaded the resentment of Herodias. Thus, out of a misplaced regard to his oath and his guests, king Herod committed the most unjust and cruel of actions, which will ever reflect the deepest dishonour and disgrace upon his memory. See Macknight, and the note on Numbers 30:2.
Matthew 14:10. And he sent, and beheaded John— This was contrary to the law of Moses, whereby it was enjoined that malefactors should be publicly executed. Thus the Baptist, having performed his office, died soon after Christ had begun his ministry. God took him then to himself, as St. Chrysostom has observed, that the people might no longer be divided between him and Christ, but might the more readily follow the Messiah. His reputation, however, ended not with his life: the people continued to honour his memory; insomuch, that when Herod had lost an army by a great overthrow, the Jews, as Josephus informs us, said that it was a divine judgment, and a just punishment inflicted upon him for putting John to death. See his Antiq. lib. 18. 100. 7. Chrysostom's 28th homily upon John, and Jortin's Discourses, p. 187.
Matthew 14:11. And his head was brought in a charger— The head of the prophet, whose rebukes had awed the king in his loosest moments, and whose exhortations had often excited him to virtuous actions, was immediately brought pale and bloody in a charger, and given to the daughter of Herodias, in presence of the guests; which proves that the prison in which they confined the Baptist was at hand, in Tiberias, where Herod kept his court, and not in Machoerus Castle, as the interpolater of Josephus affirms. Salome, forgetting the tenderness of her sex, and the dignity of her rank, with a steady cruelty, agreeable to her relation to so bad a woman, received the bloody present, and carried it to her mother; who enjoyed the whole pleasure of revenge, and feasted her eyes with the sight of her enemy's head, now rendered silent and harmless. St. Jerome tells us, that Herodias treated the head in a very disdainful manner, pulling out the tongue, which she imagined had injured her, and piercing it with a needle: thus they gratified themselves in the indulgence of their lusts, and triumphed in the murder of this holy prophet, till the righteous judgment of God overtook them all: for Providence interested itself very remarkably in the revenge of this murder on all concerned; as Herod's army was defeated in a war, occasioned by marrying Herodias (see the last note); and both he and Herodias, whose ambition occasioned his ruin, were afterwards driven from their kingdom, and died in banishment at Lyons in Gaul; and if any credit may be given to Nicephorus, Salome,—whowasafterwardsinfamousforalife suitable to this beginning,—fell into the ice, as she was walking over it, which, closing suddenly, cut off her head. See Whitby, Doddridge, and Univ. History, vol. 10: p. 632. 8vo.
Matthew 14:13. When Jesus heard of it, he departed, &c.— Into the desert of Bethsaida, Luke 9; Luke 10 on the other side of the sea, John 6:1 and consequently in the tetrarchy of Philip, who was a meek and peaceable prince. Perhaps by this retreat Jesus proposed to shun Herod, who desired to see him, and might be contriving some method of obtaining an interview with him; for he had perfect knowledge not only of the conversation which passed at the court of Galilee, but of Herod's thoughts also. It is true he remained but a little while, perhaps two or three days only, under Philip's jurisdiction; for Herod's perplexity quickly wore off, and therefore, though about the time that our Lord retired, he might be contriving means to get a sight of him, yet, as he soon returned to his former estate of mind, he troubled himself no farther with the matter. See Luke 23:8.
Matthew 14:15. When it was evening— When Jesus was come ashore, he taught the multitude with his usual goodness, and healed their sick (Matthew 14:14.), spending several days in these charitable offices. The words of the text lead us to this supposition; for the disciples came and told him, that it was time to dismiss the people:—And when it was evening,—that is to say, at three o'clock in the afternoon, for the Jews had two evenings, one of which commenced when the sun had declined and the greater part of the day was spent, and the other when the sun was set. The first evening, which began at three, is here meant, as appears from Matthew 14:23 where another evening is said to have come after the people were fed and dismissed; namely, the second evening, which began at sun-setting. See ch. Matthew 28:1.—At this time his disciples came to him, saying, &c. which implies, that the people had now no meat remaining; and therefore, as it was the custom in those countries to have two or three days' provisions with them when they travelled (see on Luke 10:34.), we may reasonably presume, that the multitude had been with Jesus several days before the disciples had any thought of dismissing them. The time is now passed, is interpreted by some, the time of dining. The Greek word Ωρα, denotes the season of doing any thing, and here it seems to signify the season of the people's attending on Christ, which was now passed, because theyhad continued with him till their provisions were consumed. See Macknight, and Beausobre and Lenfant.
Matthew 14:19. And he commanded the multitude, &c.— See the note on John 6:11 where this miracle is related more circumstantially, and where we shall speak more fully concerning it.
Matthew 14:22. Jesus constrained his disciples— We learn from John 6:15 that in consequence of this great miracle the people were desirous to take him by force, and make him a king; but Jesus knowing both the purpose of the multitude, and the inclination of the disciples, which most probably led them to encourage those purposes, he ordered the latter to get into their boat, and to go before him to the other side of the creek, to the city of Bethsaida, while he should dismiss the former. The disciples therefore express great unwillingness to depart: they would not go till he constrained or obliged them to depart. It seems they would gladly have detained the people, with whom they fully agreed in sentiment; for it was their opinion also, that he who could feed such a number with so little, had no reason to conceal himself; but, without running the least risk, might take the title of Messiah whenever he pleased. Besides, they certainly supposed that the favourable moment was come, the people being in so proper a temper, that if Jesus but spake the word, they would all to a man have listed under him, and formed an army immediately. See Macknight and Doddridge.
Matthew 14:24-25. The ship was now in the midst of the sea— The disciples, having met with a contrary wind, could not keep their course to Bethsaida, which was situated north-wards, about a league or two from the desert mountain on which the miraculous dinner was given. If Bethsaida had been at a greater distance, Jesus would hardly have sent the disciples away; nor would the disciples probably have consented to go; but as it was only a few miles off, he could easily walk thither on foot. See the note on John 6:17. The disciples rowed therefore against the wind, to keep as near their course as possible, and were tossed violently up and down [ Βασανιζομενοι ] all night, and so had gotten only about one league from the shore, John 6:19 when towards the conclusion of the fourth watch, or about five o'clock in the morning, Jesus on the mountain looked at them; but they did not see their Master, though he beheld their distress, and was about to appear for their relief. See the Inferences. The Jewish night was divided into four watches, each containing about three or four hours, especiallyso near the equinox; the first began at six in theevening, the second at nine, the third at midnight, and the fourth at three in the morning. Calmet thinks that they learned this division from the Romans. Walking on the sea was thought so impracticable, that the picture of two feet walking on the sea was an Egyptian hieroglyphic for an impossibility; and in the Scripture it is mentioned as the prerogative of God, that he alone treadeth upon the waves of the sea, Job 9:8. Thus Jesus asserted and proved his Divinity. See Calmet's Dictionary under the word HOURS, and Grotius, and Beausobre and Lenfant.
Matthew 14:26. When the disciples saw him—they were troubled— It is well known, that it is never intirely dark on the water; not to urge that the moon might perhaps now be in the last quarter, as it must have been, if this was about three weeks before the passover. By that little light, therefore, which they had, the disciples seeing Jesus, but not perfectly discerning who it was, were much terrified, and said, It is certainly an apparition, or evil spirit, [ Φαντασμα ]: for no human body, they conceived, could thus be supported by the water.
Matthew 14:28-30. And Peter answered him, &c.— St. Peter, a man of a warm and forward temper, looking at Jesus walking upon the sea, was exceedingly struck with it, and conceived a mighty desire of being enabled to do the like; wherefore, without weighing the matter, he immediately begged that Jesus would bid him come to him on the water. He did not doubt but his Master would gratify him. Perhaps he thought he shewed him respect thereby, his request insinuating, that he would undertake any thing, however difficult, at Christ's command. There was no height of obedience to which Peter would not soar. That this was the true language of his actions, may be gathered from the circumstances before us; it would have been perfectly ridiculous in the Apostle to have asked such a proof of the person's being Jesus who spake to him, as, had it failed, would have become fatal to himself. No man in his senses can be supposed to have desired a proof of that kind; Peter's request therefore should have been translated, Lord, seeing it is thou, command me, &c. the particle ει being put for επι. (See Acts 4:9 in the Greek.) To shew Peter the weakness of his faith, and to bear down that high opinion which he seems to have entertained of himself, as well as to demonstrate the greatness of his power, Jesus granted his request: for, in supporting him on the water together with himself, Jesus appeared greater than in walking thereon singly. Besides, it might be designed to obviate the conceit of those ancient heretics, who from this passage of the Sacred History pretended to prove, that our Lord did not assume a real human body, but only the appearance of one. Peter being thus permitted to walk upon the sea, it flattered his vanity not a little, when, descending from the vessel, he found the water firm under his feet. Hence at the first he walked towards his Master with abundance of confidence: the wind becoming more boisterous than before, made a dreadful noise; and the sea raging at the same time, shook him in such a manner, that he was on the point of being overturned. His courage staggered; in the hurry of his thoughts he forgot that Jesus was at hand, and fell into a panic; and now the secret power of God, which, while Peter entertained no doubt, had made the sea firm under him, began to withdraw itself: in proportion as his faith decreased, the water yielded, and he sunk. In this extremity he looked round for Christ, and, upon the very brink of being swallowed up, cried out, in a great consternation of spirit, Lord, save me! Peter probably could swim, as most fishermen can (compare John 21:7.); and possibly he might venture on the attempt which he now made, with some secret dependence on his art, which God, for wise reasons, suffered to fail him. The verb καταποντιζεσθαι, rendered to sink, is very expressive, and may intimate, that he felt himself sinking with such a weight, that he had no hope of recovering himself, and expected nothing but that he should go directly to the bottom of the sea. See Macknight, Doddridge, Mintert, and the note on ch. Matthew 18:6.
Matthew 14:31. Jesus stretched forth his hand, &c.— Peter did not doubt that it was Jesus who walked upon the water; he might have been convinced of that, as we observed in the former note, before he left the vessel; nay, must have been convinced of it while he was sinking, otherwise he would not have called to him for assistance; but he was afraid that Jesus could not or would not support him against the wind, which blew more fiercely than before: a doubt most unreasonable and culpable, since it was as easy to support him against the storm, as to keep him above the water, which Jesus had virtually promised todo by his permission, and which he had actually performed, when Peter first left the vessel. See the Inferences.
Matthew 14:34. They came into the land of Gennesaret— The land of Gennesaret was a large tract of ground on the western shore of the lake, in part of which Capernaum appears to have been situated; for though St. Matthew and St. Mark only speak of their coming to the land of Gennesaret, and putting to shore there, (See Mark 6:53.) it is plain from St. John's account, that Jesus, at his landing, came to Capernaum; for it was there the people found him, who followed in the morning to the other side of the sea. See Doddridge; and compare John 6:22; John 6:24; John 6:59.
Matthew 14:35-36. And when, &c.— And the men—knowing him, sent out; Jesus ordinarily resided in the neighbourhood of Capernaum; but he had been long absent, namely, ever since his mother had taken him with her to Nazareth; see ch. Matthew 13:54 and Mark 6:1-6 wherefore the inhabitants, glad of this new opportunity, came with their sick in such crowds, that it was impossible for Jesus to bestow particular attention on each of them, which when the sick observed, they besought him, that they might only touch the hem, the border, or fringe of his garment; when as many as touched it were made perfectly whole, and that whether they were good or bad people; not because there was any virtue in his garments, otherwise the soldiers who obtained them at his crucifixion might have wrought miracles; but because Jesus willed it to be so; for it was now with them the acceptable time, the day of salvation, foretold by Isaiah 49:8 and Christ's volition was sufficient to remove any distemper whatever. This pitch of faith seems to have been wrought in the sick multitude by the instance of her who had lately been cured of the flux of blood at Capernaum, upon touching the hem of our Lord's garment. See Luke 8:43., &c. Macknight, and Chemnitz.
Inferences.—Men of flagitious lives are, and ever must be, subject to great uneasiness: whatever calm and repose of mind they may seem for a season to enjoy, yet anon, a quick and pungent sense of guilt, awakened by some accident, arises like a whirlwind, ruffles and disquiets them throughout, and turns up to open view, from the very bottom of their consciences, all the filth and impurity which had settled itself there: of this truth there is not perhaps in the whole book of God, a more apt and lively instance than that of Herod in the chapter before us, ver. Matthew 1:2.
The crying guilt of John the Baptist's blood sat but ill, no doubt, on the conscience of Herod, from the moment of his spilling it. However, his anguish and remorse were stifled and kept under for a time by the splendour and luxury in which he lived, till he heard of the fame of Jesus; and then his heart smote him, at the remembrance of the inhuman treatment which he had given to such another just and good man; and wrung from him a confession of what he felt, by what he uttered on that occasion. He said,—this is John, &c. There could not be a wilder imagination than this, or which more betrayed the agony and confusion of thought under which he laboured. He had often heard John the Baptist preach, and must have known that the drift of all his sermons was to prepare the Jews for the reception of a prophet mightier than him, and whose shoes he was not worthy to bear. And yet no sooner does that prophet arrive, but Herod's frighted conscience gives him no leisure to recollect what his messenger had said; and immediately suggests to him, that this was the murdered Baptist himself!
Herod, though circumcised, appears to have been little better than a heathen in his principles and practices; or, if sincerely a Jew, at most only of the sect of the Sadducees, who said there was no resurrection; and yet under the present pangs and terrors of his guilt, he imagines that John was risen from the dead, on purpose to reprove him.
It was the Baptist's distinguishing character, that he did no miracles, (John 10:41.) nor pretended to the power of doing them; and yet, even hence the disturbed mind of Herod concludes that it must be he, because mighty works did shew forth themselves in him. And so great was his consternation and surprise, that it broke out before those who should least have been witnesses of it: for he whispers not his fears to a bosom-friend, to the partner of his crime and of his bed; but forgets his state and character, and declares them to his very servants. Surely nothing can be more just and apposite than the allusion of the prophet, in respect to this wicked tetrarch: he is like the troubled sea, when it cannot rest, whose waters cast up mire and dirt, Isaiah 57:20. And such is every one who sins with a high hand against the clear light of his conscience: although he may resist the checks of it at first, yet he will be sure to feel the lashes and reproaches of it afterwards. The avenging principle within us will certainly do its duty, upon any eminent breach of ours; and make every flagrant act of wickedness, even in this life, a punishment to itself. See the Inferences on Mark 6.
Who can help observing, on occasion of this remarkable event, how mysterious are the ways of that Providence, which left the life of so holy a man as the Baptist in such infamous hands? which permitted it to be sacrificed to the malice of an abandoned harlot, to the petulance of a vain girl, and to the rashness of a foolish and perhaps an intoxicated prince, who made the prophet's head the reward of a dance! Matthew 14:8-9. The ways of God are unsearchable; but we are sure that He can never be at a loss to repay his servants in another world for the greatest sufferings they endure in this, and even for life itself, when given up in his cause.
What strange kind of religion was this in Herod, to remember God in the midst of sin, to no other end but to make his name subservient thereto by a scandalous oath; instead of thinking of him with reverential awe, in order to renounce his passion! An oath is criminal, and by consequence void, when it cannot be performed without sin and injustice.
We may reasonably conclude, that death could never be an unseasonable surprise to so holy a man as the Baptist, Matthew 14:10. When the executioner came into the prison by night, (perhaps breaking in upon his slumbers,) and fulfilled his bloody commission, almost as soon as he declared it,—a soul like his might welcome the stroke, as a means of liberty and glory,—assured, that the transient agony of a moment would transmit it to a kingdom, where the least of its inhabitants would be in holiness, honour, and felicity, superior to John in his most prosperous and successful state on earth.
We see here the fruit of a bad education; a wicked daughter of a wicked mother, Matthew 14:11. They are serviceable to one another in order only to sin and damnation! This is a dreadful example for their sex, which is naturally soft, timorous, and bashful. A woman could not arrive at once at such an excess of fury, as to prefer the present of a head, swimming in blood, before every other favour which she might have asked; but revenge, a passion ever to be dreaded in its least approach, causes a person to take pleasure in that, which, if passion were absent, would raise the utmost horror.
The history of Herod's birth-day transmitted to posterity in the Scriptures stands a perpetual beacon, to warn the great, the gay, and the young, to beware of dissolute mirth. Admonished by so fatal an example, they ought to maintain, even in the midst of their festivals, an habitual recollection of spirit, lest reason at any time, enervated by the pleasures of sense, should slacken the rein of wisdom, or let it drop, though but for a moment, because their headstrong passions, ever impatient of the curb, may catch the opportunity, and rush with them into follies, whose consequences will be unspeakably, and, it may be, perpetually bitter!
How magnificent a proof did He who is the bread of life give of his power and goodness, by feeding a great multitude with a few loaves and fishes! Matthew 14:17-21. This was one of the most astonishing, and at the same time most extensively convincing, of all the miracles which Jesus performed during the course of his ministry, and therefore every one of the Evangelists has recorded it; and what is remarkable, it is the only one found in each of their histories. We shall have occasion to consider it more fully hereafter: observing only at present, that though the people sat on the ground, under no canopy but the sky, and had only barley bread, and, as it seems, cold, or dried fishes to eat, and probably nothing but water to drink, yet was there more real grandeur displayed by the Master of this feast, than by Ahasuerus in that royal festival, which was intended to shew the riches of his glorious kingdom, and the honour of his excellent majesty, (Esther 1:4-7.) when the vessels and the beds were of gold and of silver, upon a pavement of porphyry, marble, and alabaster.
When the day had been thus employed in healing and feeding the people, Christ retired to a mountain to pray; Matthew 14:23. Thus must secret devotion attend our public labours for the instruction and salvation of men, if we would secure that divine blessing, without which, neither the most eloquent preaching, nor the most engaging and benevolent conduct, can command or promise success. The proper dispositions and circumstances for praying well, are retirement from the world, elevation of heart, and solitude; and the silence and quiet of the night serve to increase the solemnity of the occasion.
The disciples, wanting their Master, were tossed on the billows of distress, Matthew 14:24. When the stormy waves of affliction beat upon, and are ready to overwhelm God's people, they are apt to think that he has forgotten them, though his eye is all the while upon them; though he takes particular notice of every thing which befalls them, and is about to work their deliverance in a manner altogether unexpected. In such cases, he oftentimes on a sudden calms the storm, makes every thing serene around them, and at length brings them safe into the haven where they would be. So Jesus, who had left his disciples alone in the present danger, that he might teach them to rely in the greatest extremities on the providence of God, went to save them, walking upon the sea.
Happy is he who always discerns his Lord, and always conceives of him aright! but alas! how often does He appear to the disordered mind as the object of terror, (Matthew 14:26.) rather than of confidence! And in a day of affliction, while he may seem to treat his suffering people with neglect, instead of seeking him with the more earnest importunity, how are we ready to be overwhelmed with fears, and to conclude that he has forgotten us! Speak, Lord, to the hearts of all such, to the hearts of all who doubt or disbelieve; who fear, or are troubled; speak the powerful, the efficacious word, It is I and their incredulity will be changed into faith, their doubts into hope, their fears into fortitude.
At the command of Jesus, Peter ventured to go to him on the sea; and through what storms and dangers may we not safely venture, if we are sure that our Lord calls us? Matthew 14:28-29. Yet the rebuke which he suffered may warn us, not rashly to throw ourselves on unnecessary trials. Warned by this example, we should beware of presumption and self-sufficiency, and in all our actions take care not to be precipitate. Wherever God calls, we are boldly to go; not terrified at the danger and difficulty of the duty, his providence being always able to support and protect us. But he who goes without a call, or proceeds farther than he is called; who rushes into difficulties and temptations without any reason; may, by the unhappy issue of his conduct, be made to feel how dangerous a thing it is for any one to go out of his sphere. Lord, say to my soul, Come; and it will then go to thee, and do whatsoever thou wouldst have it, without the least apprehension from the world!
In how many circumstances of life do too many weak believers appear, to their own imagination, like Peter beginning to sink in the waves: but in the time of our distress, let us cry to Jesus for help; and while we are lifting up our hands of faith and prayer, we may humbly hope that Christ will stretch forth his omnipotent arm for our rescue. It is good always to be dependent upon the Divine arm, weak and frail as we are; since not one moment passes, but we have occasion to say, Lord, save me!
REFLECTIONS.—1st, John, the harbinger of Jesus, had lately finished his glorious race, and won the crown of martyrdom. We have in this chapter an account of that bloody scene; and the occasion of its being here introduced is intimated. The fame of Jesus and his miracles began to be noised; and no sooner did they reach Herod's ears, than his guilty conscience betrayed his fears, and instantly suggested, that this was John whom he had beheaded, who was raised from the dead, and endued with more extraordinary powers to vindicate his injured character, and perhaps avenge himself on his persecutors. Note; (1.) On this side hell, the greatest torment is a guilty conscience. (2.) Persecutors will find that they in vain seek to be rid of their troubles: though one be slain or removed, God will raise up fresh witnesses to the truth. (3.) Many under the mere horrors of conscience, like the devils, tremble, yet continue impenitent.
In the history of John's sufferings, we are told,
1. The occasion of them: and this was, his fidelity and zeal in reproving Herod for his flagitious enormities, and especially for his adultery and incest with Herodias, his brother Philip's wife, whom he had inveigled away from her own husband; and though he was alive, and had children by her, yet had Herod publicly married her, and continued to cohabit with her. This atrocious crime John plainly and faithfully charged upon his conscience, as utterly unlawful, and sure to bring down the wrath of God upon him. Though Herod was a king, John feared not to discharge his commission. As the greatest monarchs have no prerogative to break God's laws, his ministers must boldly vindicate his honour, and, without respect of persons, declare his wrath against the mightiest transgressors.
2. For this, John was imprisoned. Instigated by Herodias, who meditated revenge, as well as to gratify his own resentment, Herod had seized, bound, and cast him into prison.—They who will be zealous against sin, must prepare to suffer. Faithful rebukes, however kindly meant, will be often resented as affronts, and expose us to the vengeance of an enraged persecutor; but when we have a good cause, and a good conscience, we need not fear bonds or imprisonment.
3. Herod would have dispatched him out of hand, and rid himself of this troubler; but his fears prevailed over his resentment, and for a while restrained him from the bloody deed. John's character as a prophet had procured him such general veneration, that to murder him outright might provoke some popular insurrection, and endanger his own person and government. Note; (1.) None are greater slaves to fear, than they who affect to tyrannize with despotic sway. (2.) The fear of man often restrains those who have cast off all fear of God.
4. At last the barbarous deed is contrived and executed; and, after a tedious confinement, the faithful martyr is by death released, and goes where the wicked cease from troubling. It appears probable, that the whole plot was concerted by Herodias, whose unrelenting malice could not rest while John was yet alive. Some suppose that Herod was privy to the design; the circumstances being contrived merely to blind the populace. However, whether he knew it, or rashly involved himself by his oath; Herod is without excuse. The time chosen for the execution of the design was Herod's birth-day, and the instrument was Salome, the daughter of Herodias. To grace the festival, she condescended to appear before the august assembly, and danced so exquisitely, that Herod in a transport of delight swore that he would gratify her in whatever request she should make: and she demands the head of John the Baptist at the instigation of her mother, who thought thereby at once to get rid of his reproofs, and glut her revenge. Struck with this bloody request, at least appearing to be so, Herod expressed great sorrow and reluctance to comply with it. The injustice, cruelty, and infamy of such an action cried aloud. Nevertheless, pretending conscience, as if a rash oath could oblige him to commit so wicked a deed, and out of respect to those around him, who being witnesses to the oath silently at least approved the performance of it, and probably were glad to get rid of so troublesome a reprover, he gives orders for John's execution in the prison, and instantly, without form or process, sends one of his savage instruments to bring the head of the holy Baptist in a charger. The bloody dish is delivered to Salome, and she presents it to her mother, a feast for her cruel revenge; while with malicious delight she beholds that tongue for ever silent, which had so deeply wounded her repose. Note; (1.) Seasons of carnal mirth and jollity are usually attended with much mischief. Feasting and dancing are pleasing to the flesh; but they are pernicious to the spirit, and often productive of fatal consequences. (2.) Rash oaths involve the conscience in dreadful dilemmas, where guilt is sure to fasten on either side: yet, when we have sworn to do evil, that oath is more safely broken than kept. Our obligation to keep God's laws cannot be superseded by any other which we choose to lay ourselves under. (3.) The bosom, which should be the seat of tenderness, when fired with lust and revenge, becomes the most barbarous and savage. (4.) The bad examples of parents are fatally pernicious. We quickly learn the evil to which the bias of corrupt nature leans so strongly. (5.) Many are made sorry by their sins, who never have lasting and godly sorrow for them. Though scourged by their consciences, their love of evil bears down their convictions. (6.) The triumphing of the wicked is short; God will soon require at their hands the innocent blood they have shed.
5. The disciples of John hearing the sad catastrophe, came to pay their last kind offices to their master's corpse, and terrify their affection and respect by attending it to the grave; and then went and informed Jesus of the event, on whose ministry probably they had attended since John's imprisonment: and if they were drawn nearer to him by their former master's removal, they were, in the issue, gainers by their loss. Note; (1.) As the dust of his saints is precious to the Lord, so should their very corpses be to us, for the sake of the spirit which dwelt in them. (2.) We must carry all our griefs to Jesus, and be confident that he will alleviate the sorrows which we pour into his compassionate bosom. (3.) Whatever human helps, friends, or ministers, we may be deprived of, we must not despond; our Master in heaven ever lives; and if we be driven nearer to him, he can more than compensate our losses.
2nd, To shelter himself from the jealousy of a cruel tyrant, as well as to give some rest to his disciples, returned from their travels and preaching, our Lord withdrew into a desert place. His hour was not yet come; nor was he called to expose himself to Herod's enmity; and therefore he took this prudential step, teaching us by his example, though always to be prepared for suffering in the way of duty, not rashly or needlessly to court persecution. Hereupon we are told,
1. That the multitude, who had heard of his departure, immediately followed him on foot; so eager were they to attend his ministry. Though there might be danger in cleaving to a man so obnoxious, and they must go many a weary step to attend him, nothing discouraged them. Those who have a relish for the Gospel, will follow it in all its removes, and stop at no pains to enjoy the sincere milk of the word: nor will persecution abate their ardour, but increase it.
2. The sight of so many poor souls awakened the compassions of Jesus; and though he came thither for retirement, he gladly chore to forego his own ease, to do them good. He would not suffer them to come so far in vain, and therefore went forth, pitying their sad case, destitute of food for their bodies, many sick and weak, and, worst of all, their souls perishing for want of knowledge: and therefore he undertakes the relief of all their necessities; healing their sick; instructing them in the doctrines of his kingdom; and designing, ere they parted, to spread a table for them in the wilderness. With like compassions should we regard the souls and bodies of men, and then shall we readily lay out ourselves, and cheerfully spend and be spent in their service.
3. The disciples, ignorant of the intentions of their Master, and foreseeing the inconveniences which must arise from detaining so vast a multitude there, where no refreshment could be procured, desired the Lord to dismiss the congregation, the day beginning to decline. But he, who knew his own intentions, to try their faith, bids them communicate their little stock of provisions to the people. The disciples reasonably object the insufficiency of their slender store, amounting to no more than five loaves and two fishes, which, though they were ready to part with them, would not be tasted among such a multitude. Yet Jesus bade them bring them to him, and trust his power. Note; (1.) In following Christ, we may be reduced to the greatest straits; but in the way of duty we must trust, and not be afraid. (2.) They who have Christ, have all, and abound; his presence and love can abundantly compensate every loss, and enable us to be content even to be hungry, and in need of daily food. (3.) Christ and his disciples lived on coarse and scanty fare, to teach us abstinence and the mortification of our sensual appetites. (4.) Though we have but little, we should be ready, when duty calls, to give of that little.
4. Our Lord distributes the provision. Having commanded the multitude to sit down, where the grass was their carpet, he asked a blessing on the meal, and, breaking the bread, gave it to his disciples, who waited on the multitude, as they sat in ranks opposite each other, and with astonishment beheld the meat grow under their hands, and increase as it descended. Note; (1.) Christ himself is the living bread, which faith daily feeds upon; in him there is enough for all. (2.) We should never sit down to our meals without asking God's blessing. It is among the surest marks of an irreligious family, or an irreligious heart, wherever this is neglected. We who are fed by his bounty, are surely bound at least to acknowledge the favour. (3.) When we charitably break our bread to the hungry, we shall find no diminution of our store.
5. There was enough, and more than enough for all. They did all eat, and were filled; five thousand men, besides women and children: and, instead of suffering any loss, the disciples, on collecting the fragments, find that they far exceed the original food, amounting to twelve baskets full. Note; (1.) The blessing of God can multiply a little into abundance; and none are paid with so good interest, as those who in charity lend unto the Lord. (2.) Though we have plenty, it must not therefore tempt us to waste. Since we cannot make one bit of bread, and multitudes of God's poor may want it, every crumb should be carefully collected. The truly liberal will be the best oeconomists.
3rdly, Miracle succeeds to miracle: he had just preserved the multitude from being famished, and now he saves his disciples from foundering in the storm. The Lord is ever a very present help in trouble. We are told,
1. The constraint that he put upon his disciples, ordering them to embark while he dismissed the multitude. There appeared in the people present a deep conviction of his being the Messiah; and, according to their prejudices, they now thought of proclaiming him king, which opportunity his disciples were eagerly ready to embrace: but they mistook the nature of his kingdom, and for a while entertained the false notions of their countrymen. Note; The disciples of Christ are too apt to look for a temporal instead of a spiritual kingdom.
2. When he had sent away his disciples, though reluctant, and dismissed the people, he retired for prayer and communion with God; and in that pleasing work continued till night drew on. Note; They who are much in public ministrations, need also be much in prayer and converse with God. They will be most fervent in their discourses, who come from their knees into their pulpits.
3. His disciples, who had embarked at his command, were now in imminent danger. All was smooth when they set sail; but now when they were far from land, the storm arose, and the wind blew directly against them. Thus in the way of duty we may meet with sore temptations, and be sometimes apparently in imminent danger: all things may seem to be against us, and the dispensations of Providence dark and gloomy as this tempestuous night; whilst even then all things are working together for our good. If we steadily hold on our course, and walk by faith, not by sight, we shall arrive safely at the shore of eternal rest.
4. In the time of need, Jesus approaches them at the morning watch, walking on the stormy waves, and thereby shewing them his power to save them, and his attention to them in the hour of danger. But they not knowing him, and observing something moving on the waters, concluded it an apparition, or some evil spirit; and, supposing that it foreboded some mischief to them, cried out for fear: but Jesus immediately undeceived them, and with his well-known voice endeavours to quiet their apprehensions of danger. Be of good cheer; be undismayed; it is I, your Master and Lord; be not afraid, whilst I am so nigh, and able to save you. Note; (1.) Christ is nearer us when we are in trouble, than we are aware of; and when we seem in greatest danger, his right hand is under us, to keep us from sinking. (2.) When the soul is in distress, we are ready to interpret even the appearances in our favour as ominous, and to start from our approaching mercies. (3.) If Christ speaks comfort to our hearts, we need not then be afraid of any danger or distress; for he through all can make us more than conquerors.
5. Their fears being in some degree quieted, Peter, impatient to be at his Master's feet, and ever the foremost to express his fidelity and zeal, begs leave, if it was the Lord indeed, or seeing it was the Lord, that he would command him to come down, and enable him to go to him on the waters. Though eager to go, he dares not without a warrant; but if Jesus bids him, neither winds nor waves dismay him. The Lord grants his request, and, at once to convince him of his weakness, and confirm his faith, permits him to come. Note; (1.) They who love the Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity will, at his bidding, go through fire or water. (2.)
Though no dangers must deter us in the way of duty, we must not wilfully run into them without a divine call. (3.) Christ knows our hearts; and though he sees much infirmity mingled with our warmest profession, he knows how to pity and pardon the one, while he kindly accepts the other.
6. Peter no sooner receives permission, than immediately he boldly casts himself into the deep, and, by faith upheld, walks on the foaming billows. But when he felt the stormy wind, and observed the boisterous waves, his faith staggered, his fears prevailed, and he began to sink. Ready to perish, he instantly and eagerly cries, Lord, save me; and in the last extremity stretches the arms of faith and prayer towards the almighty Saviour. Note; (1.) While we walk by faith, not by sight, we shall stand firm amid the storms of this tumultuous world. (2.) We must never expect perfect deliverance from our fears, till we are perfected in love. (3.) We cannot but stagger, the moment we take our eye off from Christ and his promises, to look at the difficulties and dangers before us, and our own inability to surmount them. (4.) Though Christ permits true believers sometimes to be in deep waters of adversity, he will not suffer them to be drowned, if they persevere in trusting him; but means only to magnify his power and grace towards them, and to excite their gratitude and love in the more abundant experience of his salvation. (5.) Times of danger should be times of prayer; and Jesus never yet failed the poor sinner, who, sensible of his inevitable ruin without him, thus ardently cried, Lord, save me.
7. The prayer is scarcely sooner uttered than answered; the almighty hand of Jesus stretched out, snatched him from the jaws of death; and, raising him up, he rebukes his weak and wavering faith, when, after experiencing so much of his Lord's power, he could yet distrust him. Note; (1.) Every true believer may remember the time when he was more or less ready to give up all for lost, and seemed sinking into eternal death; and then did Jesus snatch him as a brand from the burning. (2.) All our disquieting fears arise from our unbelief, and should drive us more to our knees, that the cause of them may be removed by the increase of our faith. (3.) When we dishonour our Lord by distrusting his power and love, we deserve to be upbraided for it.
8. On the coming of Jesus into the ship with Peter, the storm instantly ceased, the waves subsided; and, struck with astonishment, all who were in the ship fell at his feet, acknowledging his divine power and Godhead in the wonders they had seen, and adoring him for the mercies they had received. Note; (1.) When Christ comes to visit the troubled soul, then the winds of distress and temptation are hushed, and the tempest of doubts and fears is calmed. (2.) Experience of the Redeemer's grace and power should confirm our faith, and excite our adoration; and this is the blessed end for which he permits his faithful people to be exercised, that he may more abundantly display his own glory in their salvation.
4thly, The storm being over, and their ship arrived safely in port, they disembarked in the fruitful land of Gennesaret; and thus shall the faithful saints of God at last, when all the tempests of life are blown over, reach that land, where there is undisturbed repose, and pleasures for evermore.
No sooner is it known that Jesus is there, than we are told the eagerness with which the people of that country crowded around him, spreading the glad tidings through the neighbourhood, and bringing all their diseased to Jesus, the great and general physician. And such was their faith in his sufficiency to heal all their maladies, that they besought him, if but to touch the hem of his garment, persuaded such virtue resided in him, that nothing more was needful to their cure: nor were they disappointed in their confidence or application. He granted their request; and as many as touched him were immediately made perfectly whole. Note; (1.) Christ's visits are precious; we should improve them with diligence. (2.) If we have found him a Saviour unto us, it becomes us to spread the glad tidings, and invite others to come and share our blessings. (3.) There is no disease of our souls, but Jesus hath healing for it. If we perish, it is because we will not come to him that we may have life. (4.) They who in faith and humility approach the Saviour, are sure never to go disappointed away.
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Matthew 14". Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Easter