April, 782. A. D. 29.
After the return of the Twelve to Him at Capernaum, Jesus prepares to go with them across the sea to find seclusion and rest. They desire to go privately, but the multitudes seeing them departing by ship, follow them on foot along the shore, and come to the place where He had gone. He heals their sick, and the same evening feeds 5,000 men besides women and children. Immediately after, He compels the disciples to return in the ship to Capernaum, and remains to dismiss the people. He spends the night alone, and early in the morning walks upon the sea to rejoin the disciples who had been driven from their course by the wind, and were unable to make the land. Having rescued Peter, who attempts to walk upon the water to meet Him, they both enter the boat, and immediately come to the shore in the land of Gennesaret.
Mark vi. 30-44.
Luke ix. 10-17.
John vi. 1-4.
Matt. xiv. 13, 1
Matt. xiv. 15-27.
John vi. 5-14.
Mark vi. 45-53.
John vi. 15-21.
Matt. xiv. 28-34.
It is not said where Jesus was when the disciples of John came to Him to announce their master's death, (Matt, xiv. 12,) but it was natural that they should seek Him at Capernaum. About the same time the Twelve, who had been absent on their mission, rejoined Him. Perhaps their return at this juncture may have been determined by the tidings of the death of the Baptist, which must very soon have become widely and generally known. As usual, whenever Jesus after one of His circuits returned to Capernaum, the people of the surrounding cities and villages flocked to see Him, bringing with them their sick. "Many were coming and going, and they had no leisure so much as to eat," (Mark vi. 31.) Jesus therefore determines to cross the sea and find repose in the uninhabited hills upon the eastern shore. Some attribute this departure to fear of Herod's hostility, and this has some countenance in the language of Matt. xiv. 13. But a more careful examination
shows us that this could not have been His motive. Mark (vi. 31) gives the Lord's own words to the apostles, " Come ye yourselves apart into a desert place, and rest awhile;" adding the explanatory remark that " they had no leisure so much as to eat." He desired to separate the apostles from the multitude ; and to give them, after their labors, a little period of repose, such as was not possible for them to obtain at Capernaum. Perhaps, also, He Himself desired a few hours for solitary communion with God, for the refreshment of His own spirit, agitated by the death of John, whom He mourned as a faithful friend; and in whose untimely and violent end He saw the sign and foreshadowing of His own approaching death.
That the departure across the sea was not through fear of personal violence from Herod, appears also from the fact that Jesus the next day returned, landing publicly upon the shore of Gennesaret; and thence attended by crowds went to Capernaum, where He taught openly in the synagogue, (Mark vi. 53-55 ; John vi. 22-59.) And after this, as before, He continued to make Capernaum His abode, and was not molested by Herod. Norton suggests that the death of John had produced a sudden excitement among the people; and that public attention began to be turned to Jesus as one who might avenge his murder, and become Himself their king. It was to escape the people, rather than Herod, that He crossed the sea. But the desire to make Him king, (John vi. 15,) seems to have been rather the effect of the miracle He wrought than of any popular indignation because of John's death.
The place to which the Lord directed His course across the sea, was "a desert place belonging to the city called Bethsaida," (Luke ix. 10.) The position of this city has been already discussed. According to the conclusion then reached, it was situated just at the entrance of the Jordan into the sea, and upcn both banks of the stream. Upon the east side lies the rich level plain of Butaiha, (Batihah,) forming a triangle, of which the eastern mountains make one side, and the river bank and the lake shore the two other. This plain, with its bordering hills, probably belonged to Bethsaida. It was at the southeastern angle of this plain, where the hills come down close to the shore, that Thomson (ii. 29) places the site of the feeding of the five thousand. " From the four narratives of this stupendous miracle, we gather, 1st, that the place belonged to Bethsaida; 2d, that it was a desert place; 3d, that it was near the shore of the lake, for they came to it by boats; 4th, that there was a mountain close at hand; 5th, that it was a smooth, grassy spot, capable of seating many thousand people. Now all these requisites are found in this exact locality, and nowhere else, so far as I can discover. This Butaiha belonged to Bethsaida. At this extreme southeast corner of it, the mountain shuts down upon the lake, bleak and barren. It was, doubtless, desert then as now, for it is not capable of cultivation. In this little cove the ships (boats) were anchored. On this beautiful sward, at the base of the rocky hill, the people were seated." l
"We see no reason to doubt that Thomson has rightly fixed upon the site of the miracle. Tradition, indeed, placed it upon the west side of the lake, near the city of Tiberias. Arculf (a. D. 700) was shown " a grassy and level plain, which had never been ploughed since that event." But the tradition, though old, has no basis.9
There is a slight seeming discrepancy in the statements of Matthew and Mark respecting the meeting of Jesus with the multitude that followed Him. Matthew relates that " Jesus went forth and saw a great multitude, and was moved with compassion," &c.; implying that He had already reached the place He sought ere the crowds came.
1 See also Porter, Hand Book, ii. 426.
2 It has, however, been recently defended by Thrupp, Journal of Class, and Sac. Philology, Toi. ii. 290.
Mark relates that the crowds " outwent them, and came together unto Him. And Jesus, when He came out," i. e., from the ship, " saw much people, and was moved with compassion toward them," &c. Whether any discrepancy exists depends upon the meaning of " went forth," c£e\6u)v, in Matthew. Meyer refers it to His coming forth from His place of retirement.1 In his note on Mark, (vi. 34,) Alford remarks : " There is nothing in Matthew to imply that He had reached His place of solitude before the multitudes came up." There seems to be no good reason why the " went forth" in Matthew, should be differently understood from the " came out" of Mark; the word in both cases being the same, and in both may refer to His coming out of the ship. Lichtenstein reconciles the discrepancy by supposing that a few came before Jesus reached the shore, but unwilling to intrude upon Him, waited till the others came ; so that He had a little interval of retirement ere He went forth to heal the sick and teach.
Some have supposed that John (vi. 4) mentions the fact that " the Passover was nigh," to explain why so great a company should have gathered to Him of men, women, and children. They were composed, at least in part, of those that were journeying toward Jerusalem to keep the feast.2 Alexander, on the other hand, objects that, from the fact that they had nothing to eat, they could scarcely be a caravan of pilgrims, but were probably just come from their own homes. It would seem that the people were mostly from Capernaum and the towns adjacent. (See Mark vi. 33.)
It was, as has already been shown, the Lord's desire to go privately with the apostles, and thus escape the multitudes, but as His preparations to depart were necessarily made in public, and the departure itself was in sight of all, He could not prevent them from following Him.
i So Norton, Bengel, Trench.
a So Trench, Mir., 214; Bengel, Meyer. Alford doubts.
The presence of this multitude, that had followed Him so far, awakened the Lord's compassion; and receiving them He " spake unto them of the kingdom of God, and healed them that had need of healing," (Luke ix. 11.) From John's language, (vi. 5,) it would seem that the Lord first addressed Philip with the inquiry, " Whence shall we buy bread that these may eat ? " According to the Synoptists, it was the disciples who proposed to Him that He should send them away that they might buy themselves victuals. But none of the Evangelists narrate all the conversation that passed between Jesus and the disciples. Probably the disciples first proposed to send the people away to get food, and He replies, " Give ye them to eat," (Mark vi. 3537.)
i ii. 344, note.
The effect of this miracle upon the minds of those present was very great. So mighty and wonderful an exhibition of power, reminding them perhaps of the feeding of their fathers in the wilderness by Moses, led them to say, " This is of a truth that prophet that should come into the world." We can scarce doubt from the context that they meant the Messiah, for so great was their enthusiasm that they proposed among themselves to take Him by force and make Him king, (John vi. 14, 15.) Thus the effect of the miracle was to confirm them in their false Messianic hopes; for they interpreted it as a sign and pledge of the highest temporal prosperity under His rule, who could not only heal the sick of all their diseases, but feed five thousand men with five loaves of barley bread. Hence He must immediately dismiss them. It appears from Matthew and Mark that He sent away the disciples first, perhaps that the excitement of the multitude might not seize upon them. That they were unwilling to leave Him, and that He was obliged to " constrain " them to depart, is not strange if we remember that they knew no way by which He could rejoin them but by a long walk along the shore, and this in the solitude and darkness of the night, for it was evening when they left the place. (Compare Matt. xiv. 15 and 23^. where both evenings, the early and late, are distinguished.) Aside from their reluctance to leave Him alone at such an hour, there may also have been fear upon their own part of crossing the lake in the night, remembering their great peril, from which He had a little while before delivered them, (Matt. viii. 24.)
After His disciples had departed, the Lord proceeds to dismiss the multitude, perhaps now more willing to leave Him that they saw His special attendants had gone. So soon as all had left Him, He went up into the mountain alone to pray—the second instance mentioned of a night so spent; the first being the night prior to the choice of apostles, (Luke vi. 12, 13 ;) and both mark important points in His life.
The details of the voyage of the disciples in their topographical bearings, have been already considered, and need not be re-stated here. We assume that the place where the people were fed, was the southern angle of the plain of Butaiha, where the mountains meet the lake. From this point the apostles, to reach Capernaum, would pass near Bethsaida at the mouth of the Jordan; and as Jesus, proceeding along the shore, must necessarily pass through it, we find no difficulty in supposing that they directed their course toward it with the design of stopping there, and taking Him with them into the boat when He should arrive. This is plainly intimated by Mark vi. 45 ;l and is wholly consistent with John vi. 17. This latter passage is thus translated by Alford: " They were making for the other side of the sea in the direction of Capernaum." He adds: "It would appear as if the disciples were lingering along shore, with the expectation of taking in Jesus; but night had fallen and He had not yet come to them, and the sea began to be stormy."
1 See Wieseler, 274, note 1; Newcome, 263. " They were to make Bethsaida in their passage, at which place it was understood that Jesus was to meet them by land, then embark with them."
" The great wind that blew " and the tossing waves made all their efforts to reach Bethsaida useless. JSTor could they even make Capernaum. In spite of all their endeavors, they were driven out into the middle of the lake and southerly, down opposite the plain of Gennesaret.
Thomson, (ii. 32,) referring to this night voyage of the disciples, says : " My experience in this region enables me to sympathize with the disciples in their long night's contest with the wind., I spent a night in that Wady Shukaiyif, some three miles up it, to the left of us. The sun had scarcely set when the wind began to rush down toward the lake, and it continued all night long with constantly increasing violence, so that when we reached the shore next morning the face of the lake was like a huge boiling caldron. The wind howled down every wady, from the northeast and east, with such fury that no efforts of rowers could have brought a boat to shore at any point along that coast. In a wind like that the disciples must have been driven quite across to Gennesaret, as we know they were. We subsequently pitched our tents at the shore, and remained for three days and nights exposed to this tremendous wind. No wonder the disciples toiled and rowed hard all that night, and how natural their amazement and terror at the sight of Jesus walking on the waves. The whole lake, as we had it, was lashed into fury; the waves repeatedly rolled up to our tent door, tumbling on the ropes with such violence as to carry away the tent pins." The width of the sea opposite the plain of Gennesaret is about six miles ; and the disciples, who " had rowed about five and twenty or thirty furlongs " when Jesus met them, were thus something more than half the way over. As this was "about the fourth watch of the night," (Mark vi. 48,) or from 3-6 A. M., the disciples must have been struggling against the wind and waves some eight or ten hours.
The incident respecting Peter's attempt to walk on the water to meet Jesus, is mentioned only by Matthew. That after he had been rescued they entered the ship is expressly said: " And when they were come into the ship the wind ceased," (Matt. xiv. 32.) In like manner Mark, (vi. 51 :) " And He went up unto them into the ship ; and the wind ceased." But with this John's narrative has been thought by some to be in contradiction, (vi. 21:) "Then they willingly received Him into the ship, rjOcXov ow \afow Clvtov eis To 7t\olov ; and immediately the ship was at the land whither they went." It is said that the disciples willed or desired to take Him into the ship with them, but did not, because the ship immediately came to the shore.1 Tholuck, however, defends the translation of Beza, " they received Him with willingness," which is the same as our English version.3 Some deny that the ship came to the shore by miracle, but suppose that it came rapidly in comparison with the earlier part of the voyage, the wind having subsided and the sea become smooth.3 On the other hand, Luthardt, and we think rightly, regards it as supernatural.
1 So Meyer in loco; Bleek, Beitrage, 28.
2 Alford; see Winer, Gram., 363; Trench, Mir., 228, note,
s Alford, Tholuck.