Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 32: Matthew, Mark and Luke, Part II, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
Matthew 15:29-39; Mark 7:31-37, 8:1-10
29. And Jesus departing thence, came near the sea of Galilee, and he went up into the mountain, and sat down there. 30. And great multitudes came to him, bringing with them the lame, the blind, the dumb, the maimed, and many others, and laid them at the feet of Jesus; and he cured them: 31. So that the multitudes wondered, when they perceived the dumb to speak, the maimed to be whole, the lame to walk, the blind to see; and they glorified the God of Israel. 32. And Jesus, having called his disciples to him, said, I have compassion on the multitude, because they have now remained with me three days, and have nothing to eat; and I do not choose to send them away fasting, lest they faint by the way. 33. His disciples say to him, Whence shall we obtain so many loaves in a solitary place as to satisfy so great a multitude? 34. And Jesus saith to them, How many loaves have you? And they say, Seven, and a few small fishes. 35. And he commanded the multitudes to sit down on the ground. 36. And he took those seven loaves, and the fishes, and after that he had given thanks, he broke and gave to his disciples, and the disciples to the multitude. 37. And they all ate, and were satisfied; and they took up of the fragments that were left seven baskets full. 38. And they who had eaten were four thousand men, besides women and children. 39. And having sent away the multitudes, he embarked, and came to the borders of Magdala.
31. And again, departing from the territories of Tyre and Sidon, he came to the sea of Galilee, through the midst of the territories of Decapolis. 32. And they bring to him one who was deaf, and had an impediment in his speech, and implore him to lay his hand on him. 33. And when he had taken him aside from the multitude, he put his fingers into his ears, and spat, and touched his tongue; 34. And looking up to heaven, he sighed, and said to him, Ephphatha, that is, Be opened. 35. And immediately his ears were opened, and the string of his tongue was loosed, and he spoke distinctly. 36. Then he enjoined them not to tell it to any person; but the more he enjoined them, so much the more the published it: 37. And were amazed beyond measure, saying, He hath done all things well; he maketh both the deaf to hear and the dumb to speak.
1. In those days, when there wa a very great multitude, and they had nothing to eat, Jesus called his disciples to him, and said to them, 2. I am moved with compassion towards the multitude, because they have now remained with me three days, and have nothing to eat. 3. And if I shall send them home fasting, they will faint by the way; for some of them have come from a distance. 4. And his disciples answered him, Whence shall any man be able to satisfy those persons with bread in this solitary place? 5. And he asked them, How many loaves have you? And they said, Seven. 6. And he commanded the multitude to sit down on the ground; and took the seven loaves, and, when he had given thanks, brake, and gave to his disciples to set before them, and they set them before the multitude. 7. And they had a few small fishes; and when he had blessed, he ordered these likewise to be set before them. 8. And they ate, and were satisfied; and of the fragments that remained they carried away seven baskets full. 9. And they that had eaten were about four thousand; and he sent them away. 10. And immediately embarking, he came with his disciples to the coasts of Dalmanutha.
Matthew 15:29. And Jesus departing thence. Though it is unquestionably the same journey of Christ, on his return from the neighborhood of Sidon, that is related by Matthew and by Mark, yet in some points they do not quite agree. It is of little moment that the one says he came to the borders of Magdala, and the other, that he came to the coasts of Dalmanutha; for the cities were adjacent, being situated on the lake of Gennesareth, and we need not wonder that the district which lay between them received both names. 422
Decapolis was so called from its containing (δέκα πόλεις) ten cities; and as it was contiguous to Phenicia and to that part of Galilee which lay towards the sea, Christ must have passed through it, when he returned from Phenicia into Galilee of Judea. There is a greater appearance of contradiction in another part of the narrative, where Matthew says that our Lord cured many who labored under various diseases, while Mark takes no notice of any but of one deaf man. But this difficulty need not detain us; for Mark selected for description a miracle which was performed during the journey, and the report of which was no sooner circulated than it aroused the inhabitants of every part of that country to bring many persons to Christ to be cured. Now we know that the Evangelists are not anxious to relate all that Christ did, and are so far from dwelling largely on miracles, that they only glance at a few by way of example. Besides, Mark was satisfied with producing one instance, in which the power of Christ is as brightly displayed as in others of the same sort which followed shortly afterwards.
Mark 7:32. And they bring to him one who was deaf. The reason why they implored him to lay his hands upon him may be learned from passages which we have already considered; for the laying on of hands was a solemn symbol of consecration, 423 and by means of it, the gifts of the Holy Spirit were also bestowed. And there is no doubt that this ceremony was frequently used by Christ; so that those men requested nothing but what they knew that he had been formerly in the habit of doing. On the present occasion, Christ employs other symbols; for he puts his spittle on the tongue of the dumb man, and puts his fingers into his ears. The laying on of hands would of itself have been sufficiently efficacious, and even, without moving a finger, he might have accomplished it by a single act of his will; but it is evident that he made abundant use of outward signs, when they were found to be advantageous. Thus, by touching the tongue with spittle, he intended to point out that the faculty of speech was communicated by himself alone; and by putting his finger into the ears, he showed that it belonged to his office to pierce the ears of the deaf. There is no necessity for having recourse to allegories; and we find that those who have amused themselves with ingenious discussions on this subject, are so far from bringing forward any thing of real value, that they tend rather to hold up the Scriptures to ridicule. Readers of sobriety and judgment will be satisfied with this single instruction, that we obtain from Christ, in answer to our prayers, both speech and hearing; for he pours his energy into our tongues, and pierces our ears with his fingers.
33. And when he had taken him aside from the multitude. This was done, partly to afford to those who were ignorant, and not yet sufficiently qualified for becoming witnesses, an opportunity of perceiving at a distance the glory of his Divine nature, and partly that he might have a better opportunity of pouring out earnest prayer. When he looked up to heaven and sighed, it was an expression of strong feeling; and this enables us to perceive the vehemence of his love towards men, for whose miseries he feels so much compassion. Nor can it be doubted, that by conveying the spittle from his own mouth to the mouth of another, and by putting his fingers into his ears, he intended to manifest and express the same feeling of kindness. Yet that he has supreme power to remove all our defects, and restore us to health, is proclaimed by him when he simply orders the tongue and ears to be opened; for it was not without a good reason that Mark inserted that Chaldaic word, (ἐφφαθά) Ephphatha, be opened, but to testify the divine power of Christ. Among other fooleries with which baptism has been debased by foolish men, the ceremony used by our Lord is turned into a piece of buffoonery; and this instance shows us that there is no end to licentiousness, when men wantonly change at their own pleasure the mysteries of God.
36. Then he enjoined them not to tell it to any person. Many commentators torture these injunctions to an opposite meaning, as if Christ had purposely excited them to spread abroad the fame of the miracle; but I prefer a more natural interpretation which I have formerly stated, 424 that Christ only intended to delay the publication of it till a more proper and convenient time. I have no doubt, therefore, that their zeal was unseasonable, when, though enjoined to be silent, they were in haste to speak. We need not wonder that men unaccustomed to the doctrine of Christ are carried away by immoderate zeal, when it is not called for. Yet what they unwisely attempted to do, was made by Christ to promote his own glory; for not only was the miracle made known, but the whole of that district, in despising the Author of heavenly gifts, was rendered inexcusable.
37. He hath done all things well. Matthew, after collecting many miracles, concludes by saying that the multitudes wondered, and glorified the God of Israel; that is, because God, taking unusual methods of illustrating his power, had called up the remembrance of his covenant. But the words of Mark contain perhaps an implied contrast; for the reports concerning Christ were various, and the word multitude or crowd (ὄχλος) may be intended to mean that it was only wicked and malicious persons who slandered his actions, since all that he did was so far from exposing him to calumny that it deserved the highest praise. But we know, and it is what nature teaches us, that nothing is more unjust than to make the bestowal of favors an occasion of envy and ill-will.
Matthew 15:32. I have compassion on the multitude. Here a miracle is related not unlike another which we have lately explained. The only difference is, that on the former occasion Christ satisfied five thousand men with five loaves and two fishes, while, on the present occasion, four thousand men are fed with seven loaves and a few small fishes; and that twelve baskets were then filled with fragments, while out of a greater abundance a smaller portion is left. Let us learn from this, that the power of God is not restricted to means or outward assistance, and that it is all one with Him whether there be much or little, as Jonathan 425 said when speaking of his own moderate army and the vast multitude of enemies:
there is no restraint to the Lord to save by many or by few,
As the blessing of God can make one loaf suffice as well as twenty for satisfying a great multitude, so, if that be wanting, a hundred loaves will not be a sufficient meal for ten men; for when the staff of bread is broken, (Le 26:26,) though the flour should come in full weight from the mill, and the bread from the oven, it will serve no purpose to stuff the belly. The three days’ fasting, of which Christ speaks, must not be understood to mean that they had eaten nothing for three days; but that in desert places they had few conveniences, and must have wanted their ordinary food. Besides, in those warm countries, hunger is less keen than in our thick and cold atmosphere; and, therefore, we need not wonder that they should abstain longer from food.
33. Whence shall we obtain so many loaves in a solitary place? The disciples manifest excessive stupidity in not remembering, at least, that earlier proof of the power and grace of Christ, which they might have applied to the case in hand. As if they had never seen any thing of the same sort, they forget to apply to him for relief. There is not a day on which a similar indifference does not steal upon us; and we ought to be the more careful not to allow our minds to be drawn away from the contemplation of divine benefits, that the experience of the past may lead us to expect for the future the same assistance which God has already on one or more occasions bestowed upon us.
“Est nomme maintenant de l’une, maintenant de l’autre ville;” — “was named sometimes from the one, and sometimes from the other town.”
“Pour dedier et eonsacrer les personnes;” — “for dedicating and con-secrating persons.”
Harmony, vol. 1. p. 374.
Instead of Jonathan, the French copy mentions Asa, whose words are similar, and were uttered on a similar occasion: Lord, it is nothing with thee to help, whether with many, or with them that have no power, (2Ch 14:11.) — Ed.