Commentary on the Bible, by Adam Clarke, , at sacred-texts.com
Herod, having heard the fame of Christ, supposes him to be John the Baptist, risen from the dead, Mat 14:1, Mat 14:2. A circumstantial account of the beheading of John the Baptist, Mat 14:3-12. Five thousand men, besides women and children, fed with five loaves and two fishes, Mat 14:13-21. The disciples take ship, and Jesus stays behind, and goes privately into a mountain to pray, Mat 14:22, Mat 14:23. A violent storm arises, by which the lives of the disciples are endangered, Mat 14:24. In their extremity, Jesus appears to them, walking upon the water, Mat 14:25-27. Peter, at the command of his Master, leaves the ship, and walks on the water to meet Christ, Mat 14:28-31. They both enter the ship, and the storm ceases, Mat 14:32, Mat 14:33. They come into the land of Gennesaret, and he heals many diseased people, Mat 14:34-36.
Herod the tetrarch - This was Herod Antipas, the son of Herod the Great. See the notes on Mat 2:1, where an account is given of the Herod family. The word tetrarch properly signifies a person who rules over the fourth part of a country; but it is taken in a more general sense by the Jewish writers, meaning sometimes a governor simply, or a king; see Mat 14:9. The estates of Herod the Great were not, at his death, divided into four tetrarchies, but only into three: one was given by the Emperor Augustus to Archelaus; the second to Herod Antipas, the person in the text; and the third to Philip: all three, sons of Herod the Great.
This is John the Baptist - Ον εγω απεκεφαλισα, Whom I beheaded. These words are added here by the Codex Bezae and several others, by the Saxon, and five copies of the Itala. - See the power of conscience! He is miserable because he is guilty; being continually under the dominion of self-accusation, reproach, and remorse. No need for the Baptist now: conscience performs the office of ten thousand accusers! But, to complete the misery, a guilty conscience offers no relief from God - points out no salvation from sin.
He is risen from the dead - From this we may observe:
1. That the resurrection of the dead was a common opinion among the Jews; and
2. That the materiality of the soul made no part of Herod's creed.
Bad and profligate as he was, it was not deemed by him a thing impossible with God to raise the dead; and the spirit of the murdered Baptist had a permanent resurrection in his guilty conscience.
For Herodias' sake - This infamous woman was the daughter of Aristobulus and Bernice, and grand-daughter of Herod the Great. Her first marriage was with Herod Philip, her uncle, by whom she had Salome: some time after, she left her husband, and lived publicly with Herod Antipas, her brother-in-law, who had been before married to the daughter of Aretas, king of Arabia Petraea. As soon as Aretas understood that Herod had determined to put away his daughter, he prepared to make war on him: the two armies met, and that of Herod was cut to pieces by the Arabians; and this, Josephus says, was supposed to be a judgment of God on him for the murder of John the Baptist. See the account in Josephus, Antiq. lib. xviii. c. 7.
For John said unto him, It is not lawful for thee to have her. - Here is an instance of zeal, fidelity, and courage, highly worthy of imitation. Plainness, mildness, and modesty, are qualifications necessary to be observed when we reprove the great. The best service a subject can render his prince is to lay before him, in the plainest but most respectful manner, what the law of God requires of him, and what it forbids. How unutterable must the punishment of those be who are chaplains to princes, or great men, and who either flatter them in their vices, or wink at their sins!
He feared the multitude - Miserable prince! who fears more to offend his people, than to sin against his God, by shedding innocent blood. When a man resists sin only by the help of human motives, he cannot long defend himself.
Herod's birth-day - Either the day in which he was born, or the day on which he began to reign; for both were termed birth-days. See Sa1 13:1, and Hos 7:5. The kings of Persia were accustomed to reject no petition that was preferred to them during the entertainment. See Herodotus in Calliope, and Est 5:3.
The daughter - danced - This was Salome, mentioned before. Danced: by a literal rendering of the saltavit of the Vulgate, in my old MS. of the English Bible, the whole of this business seems to be treated with sovereign contempt: for thus says the translator, Shee leped in the myddle.
Give me here John Baptist's head in a charger - The word charger formerly signified a large dish, bowl, or drinking cup: the Saxon has a dish, Tindal, a platter; any thing is better than charger, which never conveyed much meaning, and now conveys none. The evangelist says she was instructed before, by her mother, to ask the Baptist's head! What a most infernal mother, to give such instructions to her child! and what a promising daughter to receive them! What a present for a young lady! - the bloody head of the murdered forerunner of Jesus! and what a gratification for an adulterous wife, and incestuous mother! The disturber of her illicit pleasures, and the troubler of her brother-husband's conscience, is no more! Short, however, was their glorying! See on Mat 14:3 (note).
The king was sorry - He knew John to be a righteous man, and at first did many things gladly which John told him it was his duty to perform: Mar 6:20.
Nevertheless, for the oath's sake - The Oaths, ορκους - he had probably sworn again and again - one sin begets many.
And them which sat with him at meat - Who were probably such as himself, and would have considered it a breach of honor if he had not fulfilled his sworn promise: he therefore commanded it to be given!
His head was given to the damsel: and she brought it to her mother - There is no person so revengeful as a lascivious woman when reproved and blamed. A preacher of the Gospel has most to fear from this quarter: - the first of this profession lost his life for the sake of truth and chastity; and others, especially those who have any thing to do with men in power who are profligates, may learn what they are to expect in return for a faithful discharge of their duty.
His disciples came, and took up the Body - The Head was in the possession of Herodias, who, 'tis probable, took a diabolic pleasure in viewing that speechless mouth which had often been the cause of planting thorns in her criminal bed; and in offering indignities to that tongue from which she could no longer dread a reproof. Her character justifies every bad conjecture that can well be formed on this head: and St. Jerome positively says that, when she got it, she drew out the tongue, and thrust it through with her bodkin. On the whole we may observe: -
That the diversions of the world, feasting and dancing, are but too commonly the occasions of sin. After so fatal an example as this, can we doubt whether balls are not snares for souls; destructive of chastity, modesty, and sometimes even of humanity itself; and a pernicious invention to excite the most criminal passions! How many on such occasions have sacrificed their chastity, and then, to hide their shame, have stifled the feelings of the human being and the parent, and, by direct or indirect means, have put a period to the innocent offspring of their connections! Unhappy mother, who exposes her daughter to the same shipwreck herself has suffered, and makes her own child the instrument of her lust and revenge! Behold here, ye professedly religious parents, the fruits of what was doubtless called in those times, elegant breeding and accomplished dancing! Fix your eyes on that vicious mother, that prostituted daughter, and especially on that murdered ambassador of God, and then send your children to genteel boarding-schools, to learn the accomplishment of Dancing! where the fear of God makes no part of the education.
When Jesus heard of it, he departed thence - Had the blessed Jesus continued in that place, it is probable the hand of this impure female murderer would have been stretched out against him also: he withdrew, therefore, not through fear, but to teach his messengers rather to yield to the storm than expose themselves to destruction, where, from circumstances, the case is evidently hopeless.
The people - followed him on foot - πεζη, or, by land, which is a common acceptation of the word in the best Greek writers. See many examples in Kypke.
Jesus - was moved with compassion - Εσπλαγχνισθε, he was moved with tender compassion, so I think the word should in general be translated: see the note on Mat 9:36. As a verb, it does not appear to have been used by any but ecclesiastical writers. It always intimates that motion of the bowels, accompanied with extreme tenderness and concern, which is felt at the sight of the miseries of another.
Send the multitude away, that they may go - and buy - The disciples of Christ are solicitous for the people's temporal as well a spiritual welfare: and he is not worthy to be called a minister of Christ, who dues not endeavor to promote both to the uttermost of his power. The preaching of Christ must have been accompanied with uncommon power to these people's souls, to have induced them to leave their homes to follow him from village to village, for they could never hear enough; and to neglect to make use of any means for the support of their lives, so that they might still have the privilege of hearing him. When a soul is either well replenished with the bread of life, or hungry after it, the necessities of the body are, for the time, little regarded.
They need not depart - He that seeks first the kingdom of heaven is sure to have every temporal requisite. When a man ensures the first, God always takes care to throw the other into the bargain. He who has an interest in Jesus has in him an inexhaustible treasure of spiritual and temporal good. Though the means by which man may help his fellows have failed, we are not to suppose that the bounty of God is exhausted. When we are about to give up all hope of farther supply, the gracious word of Christ still holds good - They need not depart; give ye them to eat.
Give ye them to eat - Should we say, Lord, how shall thy poor, feeble ministering servants feed so many hungry souls as attend thy word! Begin at the command of Jesus - make the attempt - divide what you have - and the bread of God shall be multiplied in your hands, and all shall eat and be satisfied.
We have here but five loaves and two fishes - When we are deeply conscious of our own necessities, we shall be led to depend on Jesus with a firmer faith. God often permits his servants to be brought low, that they may have repeated opportunities of proving the kindness and mercy of their gracious Lord and Master.
Bring them hither to me - No creature of God should be considered as good or safe without the blessing of God in it. If thou have but even a handful of meal and a few herbs, bring them to Christ by prayer and faith, and he will make them a sufficiency for thy body, and a sacrament to thy soul. Let the minister of the Gospel attend also to this - let him bring all his gifts and graces to his Maker - let him ever know that his word can be of no use, unless the blessing of Christ be in it.
And took the five loaves, etc. - This was the act of the father of a family among the Jews - his business it was to take the bread into his hands, and render thanks to God, before any of the family was permitted to taste of it.
Looking up to heaven - To teach us to acknowledge God as the Supreme Good, and fountain of all excellence.
He blessed - The word God should, I think, be rather inserted here than the word them, because it does not appear that it was the loaves which Christ blessed, but that God who had provided them; and this indeed was the Jewish custom, not to bless the food, but the God who gave it.
However, there are others who believe the loaves are meant, and that he blessed them in order to multiply them. The Jewish form of blessing, or what we term grace, before and after meat, was as follows: -
ברוך אתה אלהינו מלך העולם המוצא לחם מן הארץ
Baruc attah Elohinoo melec haolam hamotse lechem min haarets
Blessed art thou, our God, King of the universe, who bringest bread out of the earth!
ברוך אלהינו מלך העולם בורא פרי הגפן
Barnuc Elohinoo melec haolam bore peri hagephen
Blessed art thou, our God, King of the universe, the Creator of the fruit of the vine!
And brake - We read often in the Scriptures of breaking bread, never of cutting it: because the Jews made their bread broad and thin like cakes, and to divide such, being very brittle, there was no need of a knife.
They did all eat, and were filled - Little or much is the same in the hands of Jesus Christ. Here was an incontestable miracle - five thousand men, besides women and children, fed with five cakes and two fishes! Here must have been a manifest creation of substance - the parts of the bread were not dilated to make them appear large, nor was there any delusion in the eating - for they all ate, and were all filled. Here then is one miracle of our Lord attested by at least five thousand persons! But did not this creation of bread prove the unlimited power of Jesus? Undoubtedly: and nothing less than eternal power and Godhead could have effected it.
They took up - twelve baskets - It was customary for many of the Jews to carry a basket with them at all times: and Mr. Wakefield's conjecture here is very reasonable: - "By the number here particularized, it should seem that each apostle filled his own bread basket." Some think that the Jews carried baskets in commemoration of their Egyptian bondage, when they were accustomed to carry the clay and stubble to make the bricks, in a basket that was hung about their necks. This seems to be what Sidonius Apollinaris refers to in the following words, Epist. vii. 6. Ordinis res est, ut, (dum in allegorica versamur Aegypto) Pharao incedat cum diademate, Israelita cum Cophino.
These words of Alcimus Avitus, lib. v. 30, are to the same effect: -
Servitii longo lassatam pondere plebem,
Oppressos cophinis humeros, attritaque collo
It appears that a basket about the neck, and a bunch of hay, were the general characteristic of this long enslaved and oppressed people in the different countries where they sojourned.
Juvenal also mentions the Basket and the hay: -
Cum dedit ille locum, cophino faenoque relicto,
Arcanam Judaea tremens mendicat in aurem
Sat vi. 542
A gypsy Jewess whispers in your ear -
Her goods a basket, and old hay her bed,
She strolls, and telling fortunes, gains her bread
And again, Sat iii. 13: -
Nunc sacri fontis nemus, et delubra locantur
Judaeis, quorum cophinus, faenumque supellex
Now the once hallowed fountain, grove, and fane,
Are let to Jews, a wretched, wandering train,
Whose wealth is but a basket stuff'd with hay
The simple reason why the Jews carried baskets with them appears to be this: - When they went into Gentile countries, they carried their own provision with them, as they were afraid of being polluted by partaking of the meat of heathens. This also obliged them probably to carry hay with them to sleep on: and it is to this, in all likelihood, that Juvenal alludes.
After five thousand were fed, twelve times as much, at least, remained, as the whole multitude at first sat down to! See the note on Luk 9:16.
Jesus constrained his disciples to get into a ship - Either they were afraid to return into the jurisdiction of Herod, or they were unwilling to embark without their Lord and Protector, and would not enter their boat till Christ had commanded them to embark.
From this verse it appears that Christ gave some advices to the multitudes after the departure of his disciples, which he did not wish them to hear.
Unto the other side - Towards Capernaum, Mat 14:34. Joh 6:16, Joh 6:17, or Bethsaida, see on Mar 6:45 (note).
He went up into a mountain apart, to pray - He whom God has employed in a work of mercy had need to return, by prayer, as speedily, to his Maker, as he can, lest he should be tempted to value himself on account of that in which he has no merit - for the good that is done upon earth, the Lord doth it alone. Some make this part of our Lord's conduct emblematic of the spirit and practice of prayer, and observe that the proper dispositions and circumstances for praying well are:
1. Retirement from the world.
2. Elevation of the heart to God.
4. The silence and quiet of the night.
It is certain that in this also Christ has left us an example that we should follow his steps. Retirement from the world is often a means of animating, supporting, and spiritualizing prayer. Other society should be shut out, when a soul comes to converse with God.
Tossed with waves - Grievously agitated. This is the proper meaning of the word βασανιζομενον: but one MS. reads βαπτιζομενον, plunged under the waves, frequently covered with them; the waves often breaking over the vessel.
The fourth watch - Anciently the Jews divided the night into three watches, consisting of four hours each. The first watch is mentioned, Lam 2:19 : the second, Jdg 7:19; and the third, Exo 14:24; but a fourth watch is not mentioned in any part of the Old Testament. This division the Romans had introduced in Judea, as also the custom of dividing the day into twelve hours: see Joh 11:9. The first watch began at six o'clock in the evening, and continued till nine; the second began at nine, and continued till twelve; the third began at twelve, and continued till three next morning; and the fourth began at three, and continued till six. It was therefore between the hours of three and six in the morning that Jesus made his appearance to his disciples.
Walking on the sea - Thus suspending the laws of gravitation was a proper manifestation of unlimited power. Jesus did this by his own power; therefore Jesus showed forth his Godhead. In this one miracle we may discover three: -
1. Though at a distance from his disciples, he knew their distress.
2. He found them out on the lake, and probably in the midst of darkness.
3. He walked upon the water.
Job, speaking of those things whereby the omnipotence of God was demonstrated, says particularly, Job 9:8, He walketh upon the waves of the sea: intimating that this was impossible to any thing but Omnipotence.
It is a spirit - That the spirits of the dead might and did appear, was a doctrine held by the greatest and holiest of men that ever existed; and a doctrine which the caviliers, free-thinkers and bound-thinkers, of different ages, have never been able to disprove.
It is I; be not afraid - Nothing but this voice of Christ could, in such circumstances, have given courage and comfort to his disciples: those who are grievously tossed with difficulties and temptations require a similar manifestation of his power and goodness. When he proclaims himself in the soul, all sorrow, and fear, and sin are at an end.
Bid me come unto thee on the water - A weak faith is always wishing for signs and miracles. To take Christ at his word, argues not only the perfection of faith, but also the highest exercise of sound reason. He is to be credited on his own word, because he is the Truth, and therefore can neither lie nor deceive.
Peter - walked on the water - However impossible the thing commanded by Christ may appear, it is certain he will give power to accomplish it to those who receive his word by faith; but we must take care never to put Christ's power to the proof for the gratification of a vain curiosity; or even for the strengthening of our faith, when the ordinary means for doing that are within our reach.
When he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid - It was by faith in the power of Christ he was upheld; when that faith failed, by which the laws of gravitation were suspended, no wonder that those laws returned to their wonted action, and that he began to sink. It was not the violence of the winds, nor the raging of the waves, which endangered his life, but his littleness of faith.
Jesus stretched forth his hand - Every moment we stand in need of Christ: while we stand - we are upheld by his power only; and when we are falling, or have fallen, we can be saved only by his mercy. Let us always take care that we do not consider so much the danger to which we are exposed, as the power of Christ by which we are to be upheld; and then our mountain is likely to stand strong.
The wind ceased - Jesus is the Prince of peace, and all is peace and calm where he condescends to enter and abide.
Thou art the Son of God - It is probable that these words were spoken either by the sailors or passengers, and not by the disciples. Critics have remarked that, when this phrase is used to denominate the Messiah, both the articles are used, ἑ υιος του Θεου, and that the words without the articles mean, in the common Jewish phrase, a Divine person. It would have been a strange thing indeed, if the disciples, after all the miracles they had seen Jesus work - after their having left all to follow him, etc., were only now persuaded that he was the promised Messiah. That they had not as yet clear conceptions concerning his kingdom, is evident enough; but that they had any doubts concerning his being the promised Messiah is far from being clear.
The land of Gennesaret - It was from this country that the sea or lake of Gennesaret had its name. In this district, on the western side of the lake, were the cities of Capernaum and Tiberias.
The men of that place had knowledge of him - i.e. They knew him again. They had already seen his miracles; and now they collect all the diseased people they can find, that he may have the same opportunity of showing forth his marvellous power, and they of being the instruments of relieving their friends and neighbors.
They brought unto him all that were diseased - And Jesus received and healed every man and woman of them. And is not the soul, in the sight of God, of more value than the body? and will he withhold his healing power from the former, and grant it so freely to the latter? This cannot be. Let a man come himself to Jesus, and he shall be saved and afterwards let him recommend this Christ to the whole circle of his acquaintance, and they, if they come, shall also find mercy.
That they might only touch the hem of his garment - What mighty influence must the grace and Spirit of Christ have in the soul, when even the border or hem of his garment produced such wonders in the bodies of those who touched it! Here is a man who has turned from sin to God through Christ, and the healing hand of Jesus is laid upon him. Then, no wonder that he knows and feels his sins forgiven, his soul purified, and his heart filled with the fullness of his Maker. Lord, increase our faith! and we shall see greater manifestations of thy power and glory! Amen.