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Bible Commentaries

The Popular Commentary by Paul E. Kretzmann
Matthew 14

 

 

Verse 1-2

The Death of John the Baptist.

The fame of Jesus reaches Herod:

v. 1. At that time Herod the tetrarch heard of the fame of Jesus,

v. 2. and said unto his servants, This is John the Baptist; he is risen from the dead, and therefore mighty works do show forth themselves in him.

Herod Antipas, son of Herod the Great, was tetrarch of Galilee and Perea until 39 A. D. In ambition, political sagacity, and love of splendor he equaled his father. The new city of Tiberius on the Sea of Galilee was a monument of his luxurious tastes. At that time the tidings of Jesus reached the royal palace. Herod had been so busy with his political schemes at Rome, with his adulterous pleasures, and with his ambitious plans in general, that he had paid little attention to his country. Just now, however, he seems to have made Tiberius his residence for some time, and so he heard of Jesus, about whom the whole country was speaking. He immediately draws the conclusion that it must be John the Baptist resurrected who was performing such extraordinary miracles. Evidently the conscience of Herod was bothering him on account of the murder of John the Baptist, of which he was guilty.


Verses 3-5

The story of John's imprisonment:

v. 3. For Herod had laid hold on John, and bound him, and put him in prison, for Herodias' sake, his brother Philip's wife.

v. 4. For John said unto him, It is not lawful for thee to have her.

v. 5. And when he would have put him to death, he feared the multitude, because they counted him as a prophet.

A laconic account of sordid baseness! Herod had been legally married to the daughter of Aretas, king of Arabia. And Herodias, his niece, daughter of Aristobulus and Berenice, had been married to Philip, the brother of Herod Antipas. But Herod rejected his lawful wife and persuaded Herodias to leave her husband and live with him in an adulterous union, to which the ambitious libertine readily assented. She brought with her a daughter by legal marriage, Salome, who equaled her mother in shamelessness. John had not hesitated about taking Herod to task on account of his heinous sin. The adulterous ruler may have felt the justice of the rebuke, and might have been willing to overlook the frankness of the intrepid preacher. But Herodias resented the reflection upon her, all the more since she must admit the implication. For her sake Herod caused John to be seized, bound, and cast into prison. In the meantime, he was forced to meet the army of Aretas, who took bloody revenge upon Herod for the insult inflicted upon his daughter. If the Romans had not interfered, Herod might have paid dearly for his immoral indulgence. As it was, he was in a quandary, undecided whether he should put John to death, as Herodias urged, or set him free, because the people believed him to be a prophet, and Herod himself was rather deeply affected by John's preaching, Mar_6:20. Whenever he came to Machaerus, the case came up anew to trouble him.


Verses 6-8

The birthday feast:

v. 6. But when Herod's birthday was kept, the daughter of Herodias danced before them, and pleased Herod.

v. 7. Whereupon he promised with an oath to give her whatsoever she would ask.

v. 8. And she, being before instructed of her mother, said, Give me here John Baptist's head in a charger.

There was a great birthday celebration, with much luxury and costly show, the highest military and civil authorities and the most prominent citizens of the country having been invited. There was much eating and drinking, and various forms of entertainment, after the Oriental custom. The feast was nearing its close, most of the guests were probably in a state of half-intoxication, the excitement of revelry had risen to the greatest height, when a feature not on the program was introduced by the cunning Herodias with the aim of carrying out her design. Her daughter Salome suddenly appeared in the midst of the festive assembly. Leaping into the middle of the hall, she performed a dance, a lascivious performance calculated to incite the passions. Herod and his guests broke out into wild rounds of applause. And, carried away by the sensual appeal of the dance, Herod made ready to reward the princess handsomely, backing up his first offer with an oath to give her whatever she might ask. Then was the scheme revealed; for the girl had been instructed, or rather induced, instigated, impelled, brought up to that point by her mother's precepts, and so made her appalling request. Here, in the very place of her recent indecent exhibition, she demanded, on a large serving-platter, the head of John the Baptist. Thus the vindictive persecution of Herodias reached its climax. "Thus the hypocrites in our days also do; they murder the innocent, pretending, meanwhile, that it must be done because the people refuse to remain with the Christian Church. Very well: Persecute thou the Word of God, blaspheme His holy name and kill the innocent, and adorn thyself afterwards and say, I have done this for the sake of God's Word and name. Wilt thou know what thou art? Thou art a child of Herod; he is thy father."


Verses 9-12

The reaction and its result:

v. 9. And the king was sorry; nevertheless for the oath's sake, and them which sat with him at meat, he commanded it to be given her.

v. 10. And he sent, and beheaded John in the prison.

v. 11. And his head was brought in a charger, and given to the damsel; and she brought it to her mother.

v. 12. And his disciples came, and took up the body, and buried it, and went and told Jesus.

Although Herod, here called king by courtesy, was sorry, touched for a moment with regret, and because, for the once, he realized that he had been tricked, yet his foolish, rash, repeated oaths had been heard by the guests, and the cowardly tyrant feared their criticism. He yielded, with something like a sigh of relief. The adulterer became a murderer. And Herodias, no less guilty, could celebrate her triumph when her daughter brought her the head of John on the platter, as it had been cut off the body in prison. A gruesome sight, no less in the private room of the mother than in the banquet-hall. The young woman truly was a match for her mother in depravity: Her indecent, sensual dance is paralleled by her cool acceptance of the horrible gift. The closing chapter of John's career: His disciples took the dead body and buried it, after which they notified Jesus, probably with the intention of warning Him.

The lessons of the story are evident. "Now this is the most important point, that we learn two things from John. The first is for the preachers. Whoever is in the office of preacher should not esteem his life dearly, but do the work of his calling, and freely, without dread, rebuke whatever is offensive. That is well-pleasing to God, and therewith, as we read in the prophet Ezekiel, every one saves his own soul; for else he must give account for the sins of those whom he does not rebuke, as he should do by reason of his office. The other point is not only for preachers, but for all Christians, that we may learn especially from this example that God is not evilly inclined toward us, even though He permits us to be persecuted, to come under the cross, and to suffer all distress. He that wants to be in the kingdom of Christ dare not be afraid of cross and death. For such is the testament of the Lord Christ, and He, Christ Himself, has entered thus into the Kingdom."


Verse 13

The Feeding of the Five Thousand.

v. 13. When Jesus heard of it, He departed thence by ship into a desert place apart; and when the people had heard thereof, they followed Him on foot out of the cities.

News of death and disaster travels quickly. Herod returned from Machaerus to Tiberius. But the news of his atrocious deed had reached Galilee even before him. His conscience gave him no rest. For that reason he believed John the Baptist risen from the dead, appearing in the person of this Jesus. So he told his courtiers. Jesus, in the meantime, felt it necessary, for various reasons, to withdraw from the neighborhood of Capernaum. His own safety was hardly to be considered. He had never come into personal contact, had never entered into personal relations with Herod. But Christ was deeply moved by the news of John's death. He felt the need of being in a place by Himself for a while. The apostles also returned from their journey about this time, and they were in need of rest, Mar_6:30-31. And, finally, the excitement of the people over the death of John might easily have brought on a crisis, with disastrous results for His ministry. So He took ship with His disciples and escaped into a desert place in Gaulanitis, on the eastern shore of the lake, in the neighborhood of Bethsaida-Julias. But His rest was of short duration. His departure and the direction of His boat had been noticed. As the news spread, crowds gathered and followed along the seashore on foot, bearing the sick and infirm with them.


Verse 14

The kindness of Jesus:

v. 14. And Jesus went forth and saw a great multitude, and was moved with compassion toward them; and He healed their sick.

So eager were the crowds to come to Jesus that they actually out-went Him, Mar_6:33, arriving at the eastern shore before His boat came to that point. When He was ready to disembark, a great multitude was assembled. The sight moved Him deeply; He was filled with extreme tenderness and concern, not only for the physical infirmities of the sick people who were thrust forward by their friends and relatives, but by the spiritual misery and want of all the members of the great assembly, of which very few, if any, were aware. For the time being, He was busy with the many sick people, whom He healed. It might be the entering wedge for a few words of spiritual healing, of which the Galileans stood in great need.


Verse 15

The threatening necessity:

v. 15. And when it was evening, His disciples came to Him, saying, This is a desert place, and the time is now passed; send the multitude away that they may go into the villages and buy themselves victuals.

In the excitement attending the healing, time sped away; late afternoon was there before they realized it, the sun was sinking over the lake when the disciples felt constrained to interfere. They were in an uninhabited country, not exactly a desert waste, but no towns in the immediate neighborhood. The time of day was far advanced, night even now was near. The people should be dismissed, summarily sent away into the nearest villages to buy food for themselves. The disciples seem more concerned about their own relief and rest for the Lord than about the needs of the multitude.


Verses 16-21

The miracle:

v. 16. But Jesus said unto them, They need not depart; give ye them to eat.

v. 17. And they say unto Him, We have here but five loaves and two fishes.

v. 18. He said, Bring them hither to Me.

v. 19. And He commanded the multitude to sit down on the grass, and took the five loaves and the two fishes, and looking up to heaven, He blessed, and brake, and gave the loaves to His disciples, and the disciples to the multitude.

v. 20. And they did all eat and were filled; and they took up of the fragments that remained twelve basketfuls.

v. 21. And they that had eaten were about five thousand men, beside women and children.

Matthew has only a very brief account of the events leading up to the miracle. The other evangelists bring out the dramatic incidents with great vividness. The evident distress of the disciples stood out in such contrast to the calm dignity of the Lord. There were the people, standing and sitting about on the meadow-like expanse near the shore of the lake. There was the little band of disciples, with Christ in their center, arguing with great vehemence, telling Him what to do. And He coolly counters with the demand that they should provide the food for the multitude. He takes the opportunity of testing their faith in Himself and His power to help. They fail miserably. Philip, after some careful calculating, announces that they have not enough money to buy bread for all. Andrew supplies the information that there are but five loaves and two fishes available. Altogether, the helplessness of the disciples is almost ludicrous. But Christ now takes command of the situation. He gives the order that the multitude be seated on the grass of the meadow, in ranks, parties, or groups, by hundreds and fifties, to facilitate the distribution of the food.

Here the narrative becomes almost bare in its simplicity. Having taken the food and raised His eyes up to heaven. He pronounced the blessing upon the loaves and fishes. Then dividing them, He gave them to His disciples, who, in turn, distributed them to the multitude. Whether Jesus repeated the prayer of grace commonly used by the Jews: "Blessed art Thou, our God, King of the universe, who bringest bread out of the earth," is immaterial. It is sufficient to know that His blessing caused or accompanied the miracle, that the food multiplied under His hand, that they all ate, that they all had their fill, yea, more, that the fragments remaining overfilled twelve baskets of a very large size commonly used by the Jews. And all this, when the number of those that sat down to supper totaled five thousand, not including women and children.

Note: Food conservation has always been practiced where Christians were told of this miracle and heard how careful Christ was about saving the fragments. "When our Lord thus through His blessing appears to us, then we should, as He here commands the apostles, gather the fragments, and not permit them to perish. For just as our reason in time of want only wants to figure and not believe, thus, when the blessing of God is there in abundance, there the world cannot and will not accommodate itself to it. Some use the blessing for luxury. But such is not the meaning. God's blessing should be saved and not squandered, but kept for future want. When the Lord bids us gather the fragments that remain, He does not want it understood as though we should be niggardly, but that thou shalt serve thy neighbor therewith in time of trouble, and that thou mayest the more easily help the poor people that are in need."


Verse 22

Christ Walks on the Sea.

The beginning of the return voyage:

v. 22. And straightway Jesus constrained His disciples to get into a ship, and to go before Him unto the other side, while He sent the multitudes away.

The narrative implies unwillingness on the part of the disciples and a very strong urgency on the part of Christ. He had His reasons why He wished to remain behind alone, even though the disciples were afraid to venture back into Galilee without His protection. But His command prevailed. The disciples embarked with the purpose of crossing over to the western shore, while He remained to dismiss the people. This in itself may have been a difficult feat, since the excitement of the last days, followed by this manifest miracle had wrought them up to a high pitch.


Verse 23

Christ in prayer:

v. 23. And when He had sent the multitudes away, He went up into a mountain apart to pray; and when the evening was come, He was there alone.

A significant fact: Jesus, in the midst of the most distracting work, always found time for prayer, for presenting the great work He had taken upon Himself to His heavenly Father, and, in earnest supplication, asking for sustaining strength. He was a true man, who felt the need of seeking comfort and strength in intimate intercourse with God. Note also: He had sent the multitudes away; He was all alone on the mountain in the night and the solitude and the quiet, the best conditions for opening the heart to the heavenly Father.


Verse 24

The distress of the disciples:

v. 24. But the ship was now in the midst of the sea, tossed with waves; for the wind was contrary.

While Jesus remained behind on the shore to pray, the boat had gradually traversed a part of the way toward Capernaum, which they should have reached in a few hours at the most. But the wind was directly against them, and its strength was such as to agitate the water violently, making successful navigation extremely difficult. And all this Jesus knew and saw from the mountain. The eye of His omniscience penetrated the darkness of the night and watched over their frail craft, Mar_6:48.


Verses 25-27

The miracle:

v. 25. And in the fourth watch of the night, Jesus went unto them, walking on the sea.

v. 26. And when the disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, It is a spirit; and they cried out for fear.

v. 27. But straightway Jesus spake unto them, saying, Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid.

Almost the entire night Jesus had spent in prayer, almost the entire night had His disciples struggled to reach the opposite shore. It was in the fourth and last watch of the night, between three and six in the morning, when the extreme darkness was dissolving into a gray dawn, that Jesus went out to them, walking along over the sea, on the water, as the evangelist says twice. The disciples, who were given to superstition, as were most of the Jews, were filled with the most extravagant fear, the dread of phantoms, ghosts, or spirits being very strong. They screamed for fear. But the calm voice of Jesus assures them. Thus the believers, as Luther says, in the midst of their tribulation, do not believe that God is God, but think He is a ghost come to frighten them and to destroy them, surrounded, as they are, by their troubles. But He will always prove to be the gracious and merciful Lord.


Verses 28-31

Peter's impetuousness:

v. 28. And Peter answered Him and said, Lord, if it be Thou, bid me come unto Thee on the water.

v. 29. And He said, Come. And when Peter was come down out of the ship, he walked on the water to go to Jesus.

v. 30. But when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me.

v. 31. And immediately Jesus stretched forth His hand, and caught him, and said unto him, O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?

Peter was always impetuous, quicker to act than to think. The voice of the Lord filled him with a courage that made him almost reckless. It was the joy of faith that made him cry out to the Lord. He wanted to be the first to grasp the Lord by the hand. And following the assuring invitation of Christ, he actually stepped out of the boat and walked on the water towards Jesus. As long as the eyes of his faith as well as his physical eyes were directed toward his Lord and Master, everything went well. But an unusually strong gust of wind, an exceptionally high wave, caused him to falter; his faith wavered; he began to sink. He no longer trusted in the word of assurance that had been given him. But in this emergency he cries to the Master, whom he still knows to be the Lord of the universe. And the patient kindness of Jesus saves him. He quickly caught him and held him above the water, not, however, without chiding him for his weakness of faith, which caused him to doubt at the critical moment. The Lord has patience with the weakness of those that are His own; He hears their crying; He holds them up even in the hour of death with His strong arm.


Verse 32-33

The effect of the miracle:

v. 32. And when they were come into the ship, the wind ceased.

v. 33. Then they that were in the ship came and worshiped Him, saying, Of a truth Thou art the Son of God.

Christ is the supreme, the absolute Lord of the elements. In this case the wind ceased as soon as they had stepped into the boat, not by gradually abating, but by a sudden calm. No wonder that all that were in the boat, not only the disciples, but all the passengers, worshiped Him, freely giving Him the glory and honor as the Son of God. Thus was their faith gradually becoming stronger, thus were they growing in the knowledge of their Lord. And thus will all those grow that are in daily, intimate contact and conversation with Him in His Word, Psa_107:29-30.


Verses 34-36

Safe arrival:

v. 34. And when they were gone over, they came into the land of Gennesaret.

v. 35. And when the men of that place had knowledge of Him, they sent out into all that country round about, and brought unto Him all that were diseased,

v. 36. and besought Him that they might only touch the hem of His garment; and as many as touched were made perfectly whole.

The distance from the shore still remaining was covered in a moment of time, Joh_6:21. Both space and time are in the control of this Man, to whom has been given the fullness of divine power. They landed in the district of Gennesaret, a rich plain about four miles long and two broad. As soon as Jesus was recognized by some of the natives, they spread the news in all directions, and there was a repetition of former days. From all sides came such as brought to Him patients with every form and in every stage of disease. So fully were they convinced of His power to work miracles that they begged leave merely to touch the hem, or fringe, of His garment, which He wore according to Jewish custom; See chapter 9:20. A mere passing touch they felt to be sufficient as He hurried by. And they are not disappointed, since the touch of faith brings an immediate, complete cure. Even so all those that rely upon the power of God in the Word, though they thus touch merely His garment's hem, shall find their sins forgiven through the merits of their Redeemer.

Summary.Jesus, after hearing of the execution of John the Baptist, which the evangelist relates, crosses the Sea of Galilee, feeds five thousand, spends a large part of the night in prayer, walks on the sea, and performs miracles of healing in the district of Gennesaret.

 


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Bibliography Information
Kretzmann, Paul E. Ph. D., D. D. "Commentary on Matthew 14:4". "Kretzmann's Popular Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/kpc/matthew-14.html. 1921-23.

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Sunday, November 17th, 2019
the Week of Proper 28 / Ordinary 33
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