In this chapter, we have our Lord Jesus, as the great Prophet teaching, as the great Physician healing, and as the great Shepherd of the sheep feeding; as the Father of spirits instructing them; as the Conqueror of Satan dispossessing him; and as concerned for the bodies of his people, providing for them. Here is, I. Christ's discourse with the scribes and Pharisees about human traditions and injunctions, ver. 1-9. II. His discourse with the multitude, and with his disciples, concerning the things that defile a man, ver. 10-20. III. His casting of the devil out of the woman of Canaan's daughter, ver. 21-28. IV. His healing of all that were brought to him, ver. 29-31. V. His feeding of four thousand men, with seven loaves and a few little fishes, ver. 32-39.
II. Here is a particular account of his feeding four thousand men with seven loaves, and a few little fishes, as he had lately fed five thousand with five loaves. The guests indeed were now not quite so many as then, and the provision a little more; which does not intimate that Christ's arm was shortened, but that he wrought his miracles as the occasion required, and not for ostentation, and therefore he suited them to the occasion: both then and now he took as many as were to be fed, and made use of all that was at hand to feed them with. When once the utmost powers of nature are exceeded, we must say, This is the finger of God; and it is neither here nor there how far they are outdone; so that this is no less a miracle than the former.
1. Christ's pity (v. 32); I have compassion on the multitude.
He tells his disciples this, both to try and to excite their compassion. When he was about to work this miracle, he called them to him, and made them acquainted with his purpose, and discoursed with them about it; not because he needed their advice, but because he would give an instance of his condescending love to them. He called them not servants, for the servant knows not what his Lord doeth, but treated them as his friends and counsellors. Shall I hide from Abraham the thing that I do? Gen. xviii. 17. In what he said to them, Observe,
(1.) The case of the multitude; They continue with me now three days, and have nothing to eat. This is an instance of their zeal, and the strength of their affection to Christ and his word, that they not only left their callings, to attend upon him on week-days, but underwent a deal of hardship, to continue with him; they wanted their natural rest, and, for aught that appeared, lay like soldiers in the field; they wanted necessary food, and had scarcely enough to keep life and soul together. In those hotter countries they could better bear long fasting than we can in these colder climates: but though it could not but be grievous to the body, and might endanger their health, yet the zeal of God's house thus ate them up, and they esteemed the words of Christ more than their necessary food. We think three hours too much to attend upon public ordinances; but these people staid together three days, and yet snuffed not at it, nor said, Behold, what a weariness is it! Observe, With what tenderness Christ spoke of it; I have compassion on them. It had become them to have compassion on him, who took so much pains with them for three days together, and was so indefatigable in teaching and healing; so much virtue had gone out of him, and yet for aught that appears he was fasting too: but he prevented them with his compassion. Note, Our Lord Jesus keeps an account how long his followers continue their attendance on him, and takes notice of the difficulty they sustain in it (Rev. ii. 2); I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience: and it shall in no wise lose its reward.
Now the exigence the people were reduced to serves to magnify. [1.] The mercy of their supply: he fed them when they were hungry; and then food was doubly welcome. He treated them as he did Israel of old; he suffered them to hunger, and then fed them (Deut. viii. 3); for that is sweet to the hungry soul, which the full soul loathes. [2.] The miracle of their supply: having been so long fasting, their appetites were the more craving. If two hungry meals make the third a glutton, what would three hungry days do? And yet they did all eat and were filled. Note, There are mercy and grace enough with Christ, to give the most earnest and enlarged desire an abundant satisfaction; Open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it. He replenisheth even the hungry soul.
(2.) The care of our master concerning them; I will not send them away fasting, lest they should faint by the way; which would be a discredit to Christ and his family, and a discouragement both to them and to others. Note, It is the unhappiness of our present state, that when our souls are in some measure elevated and enlarged, our bodies cannot keep pace with them in good duties. The weakness of the flesh is a great grievance to the willingness of the spirit. It will not be so in heaven, where the body shall be made spiritual, where they rest not, day and night, from praising God, and yet faint not; where they hunger no more, nor thirst any more, Rev. vii. 16.
2. Christ's power.
His pity of their wants sets his power on work for their supply. Now observe,
(1.) How his power was distrusted by his disciples (v. 23); whence should we have so much bread in the wilderness? A proper question, one would think, like that of Moses (Num. xi. 22). Shall the flocks and the herds be slain to suffice them? But it was here an improper question, considering not only the general assurance the disciples had of the power of Christ, but the particular experience they lately had of a seasonable and sufficient provision by miracle in a like case; they had been not only the witnesses, but the ministers, of the former miracle; the multiplied bread went through their hands; so that it was an instance of great weakness for them to ask, Whence shall we have bread? Could they be at a loss, while they had their Master with them? Note, Forgetting former experiences leaves us under present doubts.
Christ knew how slender the provision was, but he would know it from them (v. 34); How many loaves have ye? Before he would work, he would have it seen how little he had to work on, that his power might shine the brighter. What they had, they had for themselves, and it was little enough for their own family; but Christ would have them bestow it all upon the multitude, and trust Providence for more. Note, it becomes Christ's disciples to be generous, their Master was so: what we have, we should be free of, as there is occasion; given to hospitality; not like Nabal (1 Sam. xxv. 11), but like Elisha, 2 Kings iv. 42. Niggardliness to-day, out of thoughtfulness for to-morrow, is a complication of corrupt affection that ought to be mortified. If we be prudently kind and charitable with what we have, we may piously hope that God will send more. Jehovah-jireh, The Lord will provide. The disciples asked, Whence should we have bread? Christ asked, How many loaves have ye? Note, When we cannot have what we would, we must make the best of what we have, and do good with it as far as it will go; we must not think so much of our wants as of our havings. Christ herein went according to the rule he gave to Martha, not to be troubled about many things, nor cumbered about much serving. Nature is content with little, grace with less, but lust with nothing.
(2.) How his power was discovered to the multitude, in the plentiful provision he made for them; the manner of which is much the same as before, ch. xiv. 18, &c. Observe here,
[1.] The provision that was at hand; seven loaves, and a few fishes: the fish not proportionable to the bread, for bread is the staff of life. It is probable that the fish was such as they had themselves taken; for they were fishers, and were now near the sea. Note, It is comfortable to eat the labour of our hands (Ps. cxxviii. 2), and to enjoy that which is any way the product of our own industry, Prov. xii. 27. And what we have got by God's blessing on our labour we should be free of; for therefore we must labour, that we may have to give, Eph. iv. 28.
[2.] The putting of the people in a posture to receive it (v. 35); He commanded the multitude to sit down on the ground. They saw but very little provision, yet they must sit down, in faith that they should have a meal's meat out of it. They who would have spiritual food from Christ, must sit down at his feet, to hear his word, and expect it to come in an unseen way.
[3.] The distributing of the provision among them. He first gave thanks—eucharistesas. The word used in the former miracle was eulogese—he blessed. It comes all to one; giving thanks to God is a proper way of craving a blessing from God. And when we come to ask and receive further mercy, we ought to give thanks for the mercies we have received. He then broke the loaves (for it was in the breaking that the bread multiplied) and gave to his disciples, and they to the multitude. Though the disciples had distrusted Christ's power, yet he made use of them now as before; he is not provoked, as he might be, by the weakness and infirmities of his ministers, to lay them aside; but still he gives to them, and they to his people, of the word of life.
[4.] The plenty there was among them (v. 37). They did all eat, and were filled. Note, Those whom Christ feeds, he fills. While we labour for the world, we labour for that which satisfieth not (Isa. lv. 2); but those that duly wait on Christ shall be abundantly satisfied with the goodness of his house, Ps. lxv. 4. Christ thus fed people once and again, to intimate that though he was called Jesus of Nazareth, yet he was of Bethlehem, the house of bread; or rather, that he was himself the Bread of Life.
To show that they had all enough, there was a great deal left—seven baskets full of broken meat; not so much as there was before, because they did not gather after so many eaters, but enough to show that with Christ there is bread enough, and to spare; supplies of grace for more than seek it, and for those that seek more.
[5.] The account taken of the guests; not that they might pay their share (here was no reckoning to be discharged, they were fed gratis), but that they might be witnesses to the power and goodness of Christ, and that this might be some resemblance of that universal providence that gives food to all flesh, Ps. cxxxvi. 25. Here were four thousand men fed; but what were they to that great family which is provided for by the divine care every day? God is a great Housekeeper, on whom the eyes of all the creatures wait, and he giveth them their food in due season, Ps. civ. 27; cxlv. 15.
[6.] The dismission of the multitude, and Christ's departure to another place (v. 39). He sent away the people. Though he had fed them twice, they must not expect miracles to be their daily bread. Let them now go home to their callings, and to their own tables. And he himself departed by ship to another place; for, being the Light of the world, he must be still in motion, and go about to do good.
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