SUMMARY.--Herod's Opinion of Christ. The Death of John the Baptist. Jesus Crosses the Sea. The Vast Multitude That Follows. The Miracle of the Five Loaves and Two Fishes. The Multitude Wishing to Make Jesus a King Is Dismissed. The Disciples Sent Upon the Sea While Jesus Retires to Pray. The Storm on the Sea. Christ on the Waters. The Failure of Peter's Faith.
1. Herod the tetrarch. Compare Mark 6:14-29 and Luke 9:7-9. Herod Antipas, one of the sons of "Herod the King." See notes on Matt. 2:1, for information on the Herods. Called the tetrarch, or ruler of a fourth part, because he inherited one-fourth of the kingdom of his father. Heard of the fame of Jesus. Absent much of the time from Galilee in campaigns against Aretas, king of Arabia, he probably did not hear much until his return home.
2. This is John the Baptist. Herod claimed to be a Sadducee, and hence held that there was no life whatever after death, but under the terrors of a guilty conscience his creed undergoes a change. Hence his first thought when he hears of the deeds of Jesus is that the murdered John has risen from the dead. Therefore mighty works do shew forth themselves in him. During his life John wrought no miracles (John 10:41). Herod supposed that his resurrection had clothed him with new power. This opinion was shared by others (Matt. 16:14; Mark 8:28).
3. For Herod had laid hold on John. This arrest of John the Baptist had taken place a year previous, shortly before our Lord's second visit to Galilee (Matt. 4:12; Mark 1:14), the events of which are given by John, chapter 4. The prison was the castle of Machærus. See note on Matt. 11:2 . Herodias' sake. Antipas had been, while at Rome, the guest of his brother Herod Philip. Here he became entangled by the snares of Herodias, his brother Philip's wife; and he repaid the hospitality he had received by carrying her off. He had himself long been married to the daughter of Aretas, king of Arabia. This Herodias was the granddaughter of "Herod the King," and, hence, the niece of both her lawful husband and of Herod Antipas, who now had her.
4. It is not lawful for thee to have her. The marriage was unlawful for these three reasons: (1) The former husband of Herodias (Philip) was still living. (2) The former wife of Antipas was still living. (3) Besides, the Jewish law did not permit a man to marry his niece.
5. He feared the multitude. Mark says he feared John also. He no doubt feared John's influence with the multitude.
6. When Herod's birthday was kept. In imitation of the Roman emperors, the Herodian princes kept their birthdays with feasting and revelry and magnificent banquets. We learn from Mark that he made a supper, or banquet feast. The daughter of Herodias. Her name, according to Josephus, was Salome, a daughter by Philip, Herod's brother. She was afterwards married to her uncle Philip, the tetrarch of Iturea (Luke 3:1). Danced. It was not customary for the ladies of high rank to dance beyond the limit of the harem. The Oriental dance of a libertine character. But her wicked mother induced her own daughter thus to degrade herself in order to accomplish her revengeful purpose.
7. He promised with an oath to give her whatever she would ask. Herod confirms his promise by an oath. It was a common custom to reward a dancer or actor, on a great occasion like this, who pleased, and to ask what they wished. Herod knew that Salome danced because she had a request to make.
8. Give me John the Baptist's head in a charger. Mark tells us that she went to consult her mother before she made her request. That vile woman was prepared with an answer. Indeed, she had manipulated the whole affair so as to secure Herod's consent to the murder of John. In a charger. An old English word for a large dish, so called from the load it sustained.
9. The king was sorry. The Greek word thus translated is very strong, and denotes a very great grief, and sorrow. For the oath's sake, and them which sat with him. It was not so much his regard for the oath which he had taken, but his shrinking from the taunt of the guests, if they should see him draw back from his plighted word.
10. He sent and beheaded John in the prison. The executioner did his work in the dark dungeon; the wicked Herodias had triumphed.
11. She brought it to her mother. The first Elijah had his Jezebel, who sought his life; the second Elijah had his Jezebel, the not less inhuman Herodias, who obtained his life.
12. His disciples. John's.
13. When Jesus heard of it. When he heard of the fate of John the Baptist and of Herod's conjectures concerning himself. It was a busy time. The twelve had just returned from a highly successful ministry and his own popularity was at its greatest height. The crowds, anxious to see, converse with him, or to be healed, pressed on him so as to give no leisure for reflection, or even to eat (Mark 6:31). It was but natural that he should wish a quiet season on receiving the tidings of the death of one related to him like John. Into a desert place. Not a sandy, barren spot, but one uninhabited and lonely. They crossed the Sea of Galilee (John 6:1), and proceeded in the direction of Bethsaida-Julias, as its northeastern corner (Luke 9:10), just above the entrance of the Jordan into it. To the south of it was the green and narrow plain of El-Batihah, "with abundant grass, and abundant space for the multitude to have sat down." They followed him on foot out of the cities. The multitudes, seeing the course of the boat that bore the Savior and the twelve from Capernaum, rushed along the shore in order to reach its landing place in advance. The country west of the Sea of Galilee was, at that period, according to Josephus, wonderfully populous. Capernaum alone had 30,000 inhabitants, and there were twelve other cities upon or near its shores.
14. And Jesus went forth and saw a great multitude. When he disembarked from the boat, the multitude was waiting. That it was great is shown by the fact that the men numbered 5,000, apart from the women and children. Was moved with compassion. He seems, from John 6:3, to have retired to the mountain for a short time, but then, filled with compassion, returned to the multitude. This is the only miracle of which there is an account in each of the four gospels. The parallel accounts are in Mark 6:30-44, Luke 9:10-17, and John 6:1-14.
15. When it was evening. It was the "first evening" which began at the decline of day about three o'clock in the afternoon. The second evening, according to Jewish customs, began at sunset. The day had already been spent in teaching and healing. This is a desert place. And hence there would be no hamlets dotting it, in which the multitudes could get provisions for themselves. There are no farm houses in Palestine. The whole population lives in towns or villages, and often the farmers go many miles to their fields.
16. Give ye them to eat. We learn from the parallel accounts that the disciples did not understand how this could be done, though they cheerfully obeyed.
17. We have here but five loaves and two fishes. It was Andrew (John 6:8) who spoke. The loaves here were of barley meal made into small, thin cakes, baked hard on the side of the oven, so as to be broken.
19. He commanded the multitude to sit down. We learn from Mark that they sat down in companies. On the grass. John says, "there was much grass there." It was in the spring season, in Nisan, "the month of flowers," and the slopes were rich with the spring grass. Looking up to heaven. In prayer we should use such outward gestures as may most fitly serve to express the inward disposition and holy affections of our heart and soul. He blessed. He either gave thanks or asked the Father's blessing on the food.
20. Twelve baskets full. Baskets were taken by the Jews on journeying, to carry their provisions, etc., that they might not have to depend on Gentiles, and so incur the risk of ceremonial pollution.
21. Five thousand men. Thus there was one loaf to every thousand men. Christ is the bread if life, satisfying the hunger of the soul for love, forgiveness, immortality, usefulness, progress, knowledge. He gives that bread to his disciples and bids them to distribute it to the multitude. Such is its blessed and divine nature that the more they distribute to hungry, famishing souls, the more they have remaining for themselves.
22. Straightway. Immediately; after satisfying to the full the wants of the multitude. Compare Mark 6:45-56, and John 6:15-21. He constrained his disciples. They were loath to go without their Master. Yet he wished to be alone. He had come to the "desert place" for retirement; the multitude followed, and sought after the miracle to proclaim him King. His disciples probably sympathized. Hence he sent them, too, away, and stayed to pray and reflect alone. To go to the other side. John says, toward Capernaum.
23. When he had sent the multitudes away. They were in an excited condition; hence, great prudence, perhaps an exercise of some constraining power, was necessary. Into a mountain apart to pray. The refuge of Christ in every great crisis was lonely prayer.
24. In the midst of the sea. About twenty-five or thirty furlongs, or three and a half miles from the shore (John 6:19), about the middle of the lake. For the wind was contrary. The wind came rushing down from the mountains, and in attempting to make land at Bethsaida, where the Lord had directed, it was in their faces. Sudden gusts are common on the Sea of Galilee. Thompson says he encountered one of such fury that no rowers could row a boat across the lake. There had now arisen one of those sudden and violent squalls to which all inland waters, surrounded by lofty hills intersected with deep gorges, are liable.
25. In the fourth watch. The Jews, who used to divide the night into three watches, latterly adopted the Roman division into four watches, as here; so that, at the rate of three hours to each, the fourth watch, reckoning from six P.M., would be three o'clock in the morning. Jesus went to them. The Lord saw their trouble from his mountain-top, and through the darkness of the night, for his heart was all with them; yet would he not go to their relief till his own time came.
26. A spirit. An apparition, an unreal appearance of a real person. The word is not that unusually rendered "spirit." He would appear to them at first like a dark, moving speck upon the waters, then as a human figure; but in the dark, tempestuous sky, and not dreaming that it could be their Lord, they take it for a spirit (Luke 24:37). Cried out. In fright.
27. It is I; be not afraid. How often has he to speak this word of encouragement, even to his own! almost always when they are brought suddenly, or in an unusual way, face to face with him. See Gen. 15:1; 21:17; Judg. 6:23; Matt. 28:5; Luke 2:10. It is I. Literally, I am. The same language used by Jesus in Jerusalem (John 8:58), for which the Pharisees would have stoned him, and in the Old Testament to designate Jehovah (Exod. 3:14). Here I should prefer to give it this meaning: Christ says not merely, "It is I, your Friend and Master;" he says, at least implies, it is the "I AM," who is coming to you, the Almighty One who rules wind and waves, who made them, and whom they obey.
28. Bid me come unto thee. Peter is led by no praiseworthy motives, but rather by vain glory.
29. And he said, Come. I suppose the Lord bade Peter to come in order to teach him a lesson.
30. When he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid. He stepped into the water, but the roaring winds and rushing billows were too much for his faith.
31. Jesus . . . caught him . . . said, O thou of little faith! Peter's act did not exemplify his faith, but his doubts. True faith never attempts wonders merely for the sake of doing them. It is a fact that ought to be noted that the Gospels narrate the failures in miraculous power on the part of the apostles as well as their success. No book of myths would do this. At the same time it is always made plain why they failed.
32. The wind ceased. They were safe, for the Lord was with them. Under his arms there is always safety.
33. They that were in the ship came and worshipped him. Not only did they approach him with an outward unforbidden gesture of worship, "but they avowed him, for the first time collectively, to be the Son of God."
34. They came into the land of Gennesaret. A small district four miles long and two or three wide, on the west side of the Sea of Galilee, to which it gave one of its names. Josephus describes it as the garden of the whole land, and possessing a fertility and loveliness almost unparalleled.
35. They brought those that were diseased. His fame was so well known in that region that his coming at once caused a commotion. In a country where there are no skilled physicians and little known of sanitary laws, there is great need of a Healer. Geikie, who traveled through this same region with a medical friend, says that crowds would gather with their sick as soon as they knew there was a physician. Hence the importance of medical missions.
36. The hem of his garment. The numbers that pressed upon him seemed almost too large for him to be able to heal them singly by laying his hands upon them, therefore many begged that they might be allowed to touch if it were but the border of his garment. Soon after followed the ever-memorable discourse, so strikingly in accordance with the present passover season, in the synagogue of Capernaum, respecting the "Bread of Life" (John 6:22-65).