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21. And they that had eaten were about five thousand men; beside women and children.
As so great a multitude of persons ate of the bread and were satisfied, and the fragments that were left, being twelve baskets full, were more than the original quantity, which was but five loaves; it appears that there must have been a creation of bread upon this occasion, which, although a wonderful miracle, is mentioned by the evangelist with that simplicity which always accompanies truth, without any mark of admiration. There were, however, other miracles of a similar nature performed by the ancient prophets; as in the case of the widow's barrel of meal, which continued to be used by her and the prophet Elijah without wasting; and likewise that of the twenty barley-loaves, which, by the order of Elisha, were placed before a hundred men; and, by being miraculously increased, were sufficient to satisfy them and to leave something: but that which Christ now performed, in feeding five thousand men, beside women and children, with five loaves and a few fishes, was of much greater magnitude than either of the former. We are not to be surprised at the effect in either case, when we consider that it was performed by the power of God, for which nothing is too hard. Although they were now in a desert place, they were furnished with so many baskets for receiving the fragments, because each of the twelve disciples used to follow Christ with a basket, in order to carry bread with them. The evangelist Mark tells us that the multitude were made to sit down in companies, by hundreds and fifties, which would make it an easy thing to know the whole number of those that were fed.
22. And strait-way Jesus constrained his disciples, not by force but by persuasion, to get into a ship, and to go
before him unto the other side; not directly across, but further northward, towards the country of Genesaret, while he sent the multitude away.
23. And when he had sent the multitude away, he went up into a mountain, apart, to pray; and when the evening was come he was there alone; rather, “and was there in the evening alone."
As it was said to be evening before the men sat down to eat bread, it appears that the Jews had two periods which they called by that name; one of which commenced at three o'clock in the afternoon; the other, when the sun set: it is this latter which is here spoken of.
24. But the ship was now in the midst of the sea, tossed with waves: for the wind was contrary.
25. And in the fourth watch of the night, Jesus went unto them, walking on the sea.
The Romans, by being in possession of Judæa, had introduced among the Jews the practice of dividing the night into four watches, consisting of three hours each, and of beginning to reckon from six o'clock in the evening. The fourth watch, therefore, lasted from three to six in the morning: during this time it was that Jesus came towards his disciples, walking upon the sea: all the preceding part of the night had been spent upon the mountain in prayer.
26. And when the disciples saw him walking upon the sea, they were troubled, saying, It is a spirit, rather," an apparition," or, “phantom;" and they cried out for fear.
This opinion that their master walking upon the sea was a spectre or ghost, was probably derived from the Pharisees, who believed that the souls of men could exist separately from their bodies, and, surrounded with a light vehicle like a human shape, appear unto men. What created the terror of the disciples upon this occasion, was the apprehension that the spirits of wicked men chose rather to appear in the night than by day. That the body of a man could, contrary to the laws of gravitation, be supported by divine power upon the surface of the water, never entered into their thoughts
27. But strait-way Jesus spake unto them, saying, Be of good chear,“ take courage;" it is I; be not afraid.
Christ corrects the mistake of his disciples, so far as regarded himself; but says nothing to set them right in regard to the vulgar notion about ghosts and appar itions, which his disciples appear to have entertained: for the commission which he received was limited to teaching men religion, and did not extend to natural philosophy. On such subjects, his disciples were left to the exercise of their own faculties, and the influence of previous impressions. The popular opinion, therefore, derives no countenance from this passage, which only serves to shew, what pain and terror may be occasioned by errors on subjects of philosophy or religion.
28. And Peter answered him and said, Lord, if it be thou, bid me come unto thee upon the water.
Peter, struck with astonishment at the wonderful nature of the miracle, wished to make trial of it himself; being confident that he had faith enough for the purpose; and our Lord, desirous to check his confidence,
and convince him of his own weakness, encourages him to make the experiment.
29. And when Peter was come down out of the ship, he walked upon
the water, to go to Jesus,
30. But when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me,
31. And immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and caught him, and said unto him, Othou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?
Peter had not proceeded far before the agitation of the water made him doubt of the power of God to support his body upon its surface; and the doubt caused the Divine Being to withdraw the miraculous agency by which he was before upholden: for it appears, by a variety of examples, that God refused to work miracles for or by those who questioned his ability to perform them. Christ here justly reproaches Peter with want of faith, when he had before his eyes so striking a proof of the divine power in the person of his master.
32. And when they were come into the ship, the wind ceased.
This was effected by the same miraculous power which supported Jesus upon the waves.
33. Then they that were in the ship came and worshipped him, saying, Of a truth thou art the Son of God.
The appellation of Son of God was commonly given by the Jews to the Messiah; hence Nathaniel says to [ him, “ Rabbi, thou art the Son of God; thou art the
king of Israel.” This title seems to have been taken from the second Psalm, where, by the person called the Son of God, the Jews understood the Messiah. On this account also, where Matthew represents Peter as saying to Jesus, "thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God,” Mark and Luke content themselves with saying, “thou art the Christ;" the Son of God and Christ being synonymous terms, or signifying the same thing The extraordinary miracles which they had just observed, in the sudden ceasing of the wind, and the walking of Jesus upon the water, convinced even the sailors that he was the expected Messiah; regarding him in this character, they felt a high reverence for him, and expressed it by prostrating themselves before him, thus putting themselves into the same humble posture in which it was usual for persons in the east to present themselves before kings and other great personages.
34. And when they were gone over, they came into the land of Genesaret.
35. And when the men of the place had knowledge of him, or, rather, and the men of the place knowing him again," they sent into all that country round about, and brought unto him all that, were diseased,
36. And besought him that they might only touch the hem of his garment; and as many as touched were made perfectly whole.
It was their faith in the divine power dwelling in Christ which wrought these cures; which God permit.