Mark 4 Bible Commentary

McGarvey and Pendleton

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(Read all of Mark 4)
4:1  And again he began to teach by the sea side. And there is gathered unto him a very great multitude, so that he entered into a boat, and sat in the sea2; and all the multitude were by the sea on the land. THE FIRST GREAT GROUP OF PARABLES. (Beside the Sea of Galilee.) A. INTRODUCTION. Matthew 13:1-3; Mark 4:1,2; Luke 8:4
And again he began again to teach by the sea side. By the Sea of Galilee.
So that he entered into a boat, and sat in the sea. That the multitudes might be better able to see and hear him.

4:2  And he taught them many things in parables1, and said unto them in his teaching,
And he taught them many things in parables. While Jesus had used parables before, this appears to be first occasion when he strung them together in a discourse. "Parable" comes from the Greek "paraballo", which means, "I place beside" in order to compare. It is the placing of a narrative describing an ordinary event in natural life beside an implied spiritual narrative for the purpose of illustrating the spiritual.

4:3  Hearken: Behold, the sower went forth to sow1: Mark 4.3 THE FIRST GREAT GROUP OF PARABLES. (Beside the Sea of Galilee.) B. PARABLE OF THE SOWER. Matthew 13:3-23; Mark 4:3-25; Luke 8:5-18
Behold, the sower went forth to sow. Orientals live in cities and towns. Isolated farmhouses are practically unknown. A farmer may therefore live several miles from his field, in which case he literally "goes forth" to it.

4:4  and it came to pass, as he sowed, some [seed] fell by the way side, and the birds came and devoured it1.
Some [seed] fell by the way side, and the birds came and devoured it. Palestine is an unfenced land, and the roads or paths lead through the fields. They are usually trodden hard by centuries of use. Grain falling on them could not take root. Its fate was either to be crushed by some foot, or to be carried off by some bird.

4:5  And other fell on the rocky [ground], where it had not much earth1; and straightway it sprang up, because it had no deepness of earth: Mark 4:5,6
And other fell on the rocky [ground], where it had not much earth. These seed fell upon a ledge of rock covered with a very thin coating of soil. Its roots were prevented by the rock from striking down to the moisture, and so under the blazing Syrian sun it died ere it had well begun to live.

4:7  And other fell among the thorns1, and the thorns grew up, and choked it, and it yielded no fruit.
And other fell among the thorns. Palestine abounds in thorns. Celsius describes sixteen varieties of thorny plants. Porter tells us that in the Plain of Gennesaret thistles grow so tall and rank that a horse cannot push through them.

4:8  And others fell into the good ground, and yielded fruit, growing up and increasing; and brought forth, thirtyfold, and sixtyfold, and a hundredfold.
And others fell into the good ground, . . . and brought forth,
thirtyfold, and sixtyfold, and a hundredfold. Thirty-fold is a good crop in Palestine, but it has been asserted that a hundred-fold has been reaped in the Plain of Esdraelon even in recent years. These four several conditions of soil may be readily found lying close to each other in the Plain of Gennesaret. A sowing like this described may have been enacted before the eyes of the people even while Jesus was speaking.

4:9  And he said, Who hath ears to hear, let him hear1.
And he said, Who hath ears to hear, let him hear. A saying often used by Jesus (Matthew 11:15; Matthew 13:9,43; Mark 4:9,23; Mark 7:16; Luke 8:8; Luke 14:35). He intended it to prevent the people from regarding the parable as merely a beautiful description. It warned them of a meaning beneath the surface, and incited them to seek for it.

4:10  And when he was alone1, they that were about him with the twelve asked of him the parables2.
And when he was alone. That is, after he had finished speaking all the parables. The explanation of the parable is put next to the parable to aid us in understanding it.
They that were about him with the twelve asked of him the parables. Their questions (Matthew 13:10; Luke 8:9) show that as yet parables were unusual.

4:11  And he said unto them, Unto you is given the mystery of the kingdom of God: but unto them that are without, all things are done in parables1:
Unto you is given the mystery of the kingdom of God: but unto them that are without, all things are done in parables. Jesus adapted his lessons to the condition of his pupils; hence his disciples might know what the multitude must not yet know (1 Corinthians 2:6-11). Jesus already drew a line of demarcation between disciples and unbelievers; which line became more marked and visible after the church was organized at Pentecost. The word "mystery" in current language means that which is not understood; but as used in the Scriptures it means that which is not understood because it has not been revealed, but which is plain as soon as revealed. Bible mysteries are not unraveled by science, but are unfolded by revelation (Colossians 1:26; 1 Timothy 3:16; Matthew 11:25,26; Revelation 17:5 Daniel 2:47).

4:12  that seeing they may see, and not perceive; and hearing they may hear, and not understand1; lest haply they should turn again, and it should be forgiven them.
That seeing they may see, and not perceive; and hearing they may hear, and not understand. The people saw Christ's miracles, but not in their true light; they heard his words, but not in their true meaning. Jesus could thus teach without hindrance, but, unfortunately for the believing, they were hearing without obtaining any blessing.

4:13  And he saith unto them, Know ye not this parable? and how shall ye know all the parables?
Know ye not this parable? and how shall ye know all the parables? This is a concession rather than a reproof. Parables could not be understood without a key; but a few examples of parables explained would furnish such a key.

4:15  And these are they by the way side, where the word is sown1; and when they have heard, straightway cometh Satan, and taketh away the word which hath been sown in them2.
And these are they by the way side, where the word is sown. The four soils are four hearts into which truth is sown. The first heart, represented by the wayside, is one which is too hardened for the Word to make any impression. It represents several classes of people, as: (1) Those whose hearts have been made insensible by the routine of meaningless rites and lifeless formalities. (2) Those who had deadened their sensibilities by perversity and indifference. (3) Those whose hearts were hardened by the constant march and countermarch of evil thoughts.
And when they have heard, straightway cometh Satan, and taketh away the word which hath been sown in them. God's word lies on the surface of such hearts, and Satan can use any insignificant or innocent passing thoughts as a bird to carry out of their minds anything which they may have heard. The preacher's voice has scarcely died away until some idle criticism of him or some careless bit of gossip about a neighbor causes them to forget the sermon.

4:16  And these in like manner are they that are sown upon the rocky [places]1, who, when they have heard the word, straightway receive it with joy; Mark 4:16,17
And these in like manner are they that are sown upon the rocky [places], etc. This shallow rock-covered soil represents those who are deficient in tenacity of purpose. Those who receive the word, but whose impulsive, shallow nature does not retain it, and whose enthusiasm was as short-lived as it was vigorous.

4:17  and they have no root in themselves, but endure for a while; then, when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word2, straightway they stumble.
Mr 4:17
Then, when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word,
straightway they stumble. Any opposition, slight or severe, makes them partial or total apostates. As sunlight strengthens the healthy plant, but withers the sickly, ill-rooted one, so tribulation establishes real faith, but destroys its counterfeit.

4:18  And others are they that are sown among the thorns1; these are they that have heard the word, Mark 4:18,19
And others are they that are sown among the thorns, etc. This third class represents those who begin well, but afterwards permit worldly cares to gain the mastery. These today outnumber all other classes, and perhaps they have always been so.

4:20  And those are they that were sown upon the good ground1; such as hear the word, and accept it, and bear fruit, thirtyfold, and sixtyfold, and a hundredfold.
And those are they that were sown upon the good ground, etc. Christianity requires three things: a sower, good seed or a pure gospel, and an honest hearer. All hearers are not equal in faithfulness. But we are not to take it that the diversity is limited to the three rates or proportions specified. Of the four hearts indicated, the first one hears, but heeds nothing (Mark 4:4); the second one heeds, but is checked by external influence (Mark 4:5,6); the third heeds, but is choked by internal influences (Mark 4:7); the fourth heeds and holds fast until the harvest (Mark 4:8). Gallio exemplifies the first (Acts 18:17). Peter and Mark for a time exemplified the second (Mark 14:66-72; Acts 12:25; Acts 13:13; Acts 15:37-39). The rich ruler and Demas represent the third (Matthew 19:22; 2 Timothy 4:10), as does also Judas Iscariot. Cornelius and the Bereans (Acts 10:33; Acts 17:11) show us examples of the fourth.

4:21  And he said unto them, Is the lamp brought to be put under the bushel, or under the bed1, [and] not to be put on the stand?
Is the lamp brought to be put under the bushel, or under the bed,
[and] not to be put on the stand? For notes on a similar passage, see Matthew 5:15.

4:22  For there is nothing hid, save that it should be manifested1; neither was [anything] made secret, but that it should come to light2.
For there is nothing hid, save that it should be manifested. This passage is often taken to indicate the exposure of all things on the day of judgment. While all things shall be revealed at the judgment, this passage does not refer to that fact. Jesus did not come to put his light under a bushel, Mark 4:21; that is, to hide his teaching. All inner instruction and private information was but temporary. Our Lord's design was to reveal, not conceal.
Neither was [anything] made secret, but that it should come to light. What was now concealed was only to keep back that in the end it might be more fully known. Jesus covered his light as one might shelter a candle with his hand until the flame has fully caught hold of the wick.

4:23  If any man hath ears to hear, let him hear1.
If any man hath ears to hear, let him hear. See Mark 4:9.

4:24  And he said unto them, Take heed what ye hear1: with what measure ye mete it shall be measured unto you; and more shall be given unto you2.
Take heed what ye hear, etc. Most of this passage has been explained previously; see Mark 4:12.
With what measure ye mete it shall be measured unto you; and more shall be given unto you. It warns us as to what we hear--things carnal or spiritual--and how we hear them, whether carefully or carelessly. As we measure attention unto the Lord, he measures back knowledge to us.

4:25  For he that hath, to him shall be given: and he that hath not, from him shall be taken away even that which he hath1.
For he that hath, to him shall be given: and he that hath not, from him shall be taken away even that which he hath. To understand this saying, we must remember that it was the teaching of Jesus which was under discussion. In the beginning of his ministry Jesus taught plainly, and all his hearers had equal opportunity to know his doctrine and believe in him. But from now on his teaching would be largely veiled in parables. These parables would enrich their knowledge and understanding of the believers, and their efforts to understand the parables would withdraw their minds from the truths which they had already learned, so that they would either forget them or profit by them. If we improve our opportunities, they bring us to other and higher ones; but if we neglect them, even the initial opportunities are taken away.

4:26  And he said, So is the kingdom of God, as if a man should cast seed upon the earth1; THE FIRST GREAT GROUP OF PARABLES. (Beside the Sea of Galilee.) C. PARABLE OF THE SEED GROWING ITSELF. Mark 4:26-29
So is the kingdom of God, as if a man should cast seed upon the earth. In the kingdom of grace, as well as in the kingdom of nature, we are laborers together with God. As preachers, teachers, or friends we sow the seed of the kingdom and God brings it to perfection (1 Corinthians 3:6-9).

4:27  and should sleep and rise night and day, and the seed should spring up and grow, he knoweth not how1.
And the seed should spring up and grow, he knoweth not how. The seed here spoken of, being wheat or barley, needed no cultivation, and hence the planter let it alone, and did not know how it grew at all.

4:28  The earth beareth fruit of herself; first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear1.
First the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. Truth, spoken, lies hidden in the human breast, and we do not see its earliest stages of its development, but as it proceeds toward perfection, it becomes step by step more visible.

4:29  But when the fruit is ripe, straightway he putteth forth the sickle1, because the harvest is come.
But when the fruit is ripe, straightway he putteth forth the sickle,
because the harvest is come. In both fields the sower has little to do with the field between the time of sowing and reaping. In the spiritual field, however, it is well to keep sowing until the grain shows signs of sprouting.

4:30  And he said, How shall we liken the kingdom of God? or in what parable shall we set it forth? THE FIRST GREAT GROUP OF PARABLES. (Beside the Sea of Galilee.) PARABLES OF THE MUSTARD SEED AND LEAVEN. Matthew 13:31-35; Mark 4:30-34
How shall we liken the kingdom of God? or in what parable shall we set it forth? These questions are intended to emphasize the superior excellence of the kingdom. The "we" is a rhetorical plural (see

4:31  It is like a grain of mustard seed, which, when it is sown upon the earth, though it be less than all the seeds that are upon the earth,
It is like a grain of mustard seed, . . . less than all the seeds that are upon the earth. That is, the smallest of all the seeds that are sown in a garden.

4:32  yet when it is sown, groweth up, and becometh greater than all the herbs1, and putteth out great branches; so that the birds of the heaven can lodge under the shadow thereof.
Yet when it is sown, groweth up, and becometh greater than all the herbs. In Palestine it attains the height of ten feet. This parable sets forth the smallness of the beginning of the kingdom, and the magnitude of its growth.

4:33  And with many such parables spake he the word unto them, as they were able to hear it1;
As they were able to hear it. That is, as they had leisure or opportunity to listen.

4:34  and without a parable spake he not unto them1: but privately to his own disciples he expounded all things.
And without a parable spake he not unto them. That is, he used nothing but parables on that occasion, for both before and after this he taught without parables.

4:35  And on that day, when even was come, he saith unto them, Let us go over unto the other side. JESUS STILLS THE STORM. (Sea of Galilee; same day as the last section.) Matthew 8:18-27; Mark 4:35-41; Luke 8:22-25
Let us go over to the other side. Wearied with a day of strenuous toil, Jesus sought rest from the multitude by passing to the thinly settled on the east side of Galilee.

4:36  And leaving the multitude, they take him with them, even as he was1, in the boat. And other boats were with him2.
And leaving the multitude, they take him with them, even as he was,
in the boat. The disciples took Jesus without any preparation for the journey. The crowd, doubtless, made it inconvenient to go ashore to get provisions.
And other boats were with him. The owners of these boats had probably been using them to get near to Jesus as he preached. They are probably mentioned to show that a large number witnessed the miracle when Jesus stilled the tempest.

4:37  And there ariseth a great storm of wind1, and the waves beat into the boat, insomuch that the boat was now filling.
And there ariseth a great storm of wind. These storms come with great suddenness. See McGarvey's "Lands of the Bible", p. 519.

4:38  And he himself was in the stern, asleep on the cushion1: and they awake him, and say unto him, Teacher, carest thou not that we perish2?
And he himself was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. The cushion was the seat-cover, which, as Smith remarks, was probably

"a sheepskin with the fleece, which, when rolled up, served as a pillow."

The stern was the most commodious place for passengers. The tossing ship has been accepted in all ages as a type of the church in seasons of peril.
Teacher, carest thou not that we perish? See also Matthew 8:25 agitation of the disciples.

4:39  And he awoke, and rebuked the wind, and said unto the sea, Peace, be still1. And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm2.
And he awoke, and rebuked the wind, and said unto the sea, Peace, be still. In addressing the winds and waves Jesus personified them to give emphasis to his authority over them.
And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. The calm showed the perfection of the miracle, for the waves of such a lake continue to roll long after the winds have ceased.

4:40  And he said unto them, Why are ye fearful? have ye not yet faith?
And he said unto them, Why are ye fearful? have ye not yet faith? They had little faith or they would not have been so frightened; but they had some faith, else they would not have appealed to Jesus.

4:41  And they feared exceedingly, and said one to another, Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him1?
Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him? Jesus' complete lordship over the realm of nature made his disciples very certain of his divinity.

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