We learned some time ago (Matthew 10) how the Lord sent the twelve disciples out to teach, and heal the sick. They came back to Him again at Capernaum and told Him all that they had done. "And He said unto them, Come ye yourselves apart into a desert place, and rest a while; for there were many coming and going, and they had no leisure so much as to eat." (Mark 6:31) He went with them by boat, and they seem to have crossed the Sea of Galilee to the sunny pastures which rise gently from the shore at the northeast corner of the lake.
As they sailed they were not far from land. The people saw them starting and hastened on foot along the shore; others joined, the company from the little towns which they passed. So when the boat with the Lord and the disciples touched the beach, a great multitude were there before them. The Lord pitied them; they seemed to Him like sheep not having a shepherd. He went among them and healed those that were sick, and leading them up on the grassy slopes above the sea He sat down and taught them. It is called a "desert place" to which they went, but this does not mean that it was barren; it was a quiet place away from the towns. There was much grass there; it was springtime and the pastures were bright with flowers.
The day was nearly passed, and the people were hungry. The disciples begged the Lord to send the people away that they might go into the villages and towns and lodge and buy food. But the Lord said, "They need not depart; give ye them to eat." "How many loaves have ye? Go and see." They found five barley loaves and two small fishes. The loaves were thin round cakes of barley bread. Barley is a coarser grain than wheat, and is often used as food for animals. The fishes were little dried ones to be eaten with the bread.
The Lord told the disciples to make the people sit down upon the grass; there were five thousand men besides women and children. They sat down in companies by hundreds and by fifties, and in their bright dresses they looked like flower-beds on the green sunny hillside. Then the Lord blessed the bread and fishes and gave to the disciples, and they gave to the multitudes. They kept coming back for more, and still there was enough. They all were satisfied, and they filled with pieces that were left twelve baskets, wicker baskets such as they used on a journey to carry provisions in.
You can imagine the wonder of the people as the disciples kept going back for more, and the Lord kept giving bread and fishes. And if we stop to think, we must always wonder when we see how the Lord gives food for everybody. Usually He gives it by sending rain and sunshine and making the grain grow in the fields and fruit upon the trees. That day He gave it directly from His hand. I hardly know which is the more wonderful. We must remember that it is the Lord who gives us food and thank Him for it.
Let me read the story in Matthew 14:13-21. The same story is also told in each of the other Gospels.
In the first verse of our chapter we find the name of Herod. Who was he? Not the old King Herod who was king in Jerusalem when the Lord was born. He had died when the Lord was a child. This was a son of the old Herod. He was ruler of Galilee and of the region east of Jordan. (Luke 3:1) The Lord once spoke of this Herod in a way that shows his character. (Luke 13:32) Herod built Tiberias by the Sea of Galilee, but lived also in the fortress Machaerus, east of the Dead Sea. He heard John's preaching, and at first, it is said, heard him gladly; but when his own sins were rebuked he shut up John in prison. We have read of John's imprisonment in Matthew 11:2.
Herodias, the brother's wife whom Herod had married, hated John and tried to cause his death. At last she succeeded, and on Herod's birthday John was beheaded in the prison. It is a sad story.
Now follows a beautiful story in the same chapter, the feeding of the multitude. This is told in each of the four Gospels. Let someone of the class find it in each Gospel, and read along together. (Matthew 14:13-21; Mark 6:30-44; Luke 9:10-17; John 6:1-14) You will have your map of the Sea of Galilee before you. The Bethsaida mentioned in Luke seems to be the city called Bethsaida Julias on the east of the Jordan near its entrance into the Sea of Galilee. Read what I have said to the little children about the character of the place, the hillside sloping gently from the sea, and rich pasture country with green grass and bright flowers. As you read in the four Gospels you learn many particulars of the story.
There was another miracle of feeding the multitude much like this one. You will want to keep the two in mind and not confuse them. The other is described in Matthew 15. It also occurred east of the Sea of Galilee, but probably farther to the south. You will distinguish the two miracles especially by the different numbers of the multitude, of the loaves, and of the baskets of fragments. Notice in Matthew 16:9, 10, how the Lord compares the numbers in the two miracles.
You will know that the power by which the Lord made food for the multitude that day is the same power by which He makes food for us all. In the miracle the work was done so immediately from the Lord's hand that we all must recognize it to be His power. He wishes us to learn this lesson from the miracle, and to acknowledge it as His power which provides all things needful for our life.
You will see also that this miracle, like all the Lord's miracles, was a picture of spiritual work which He was doing and is always doing. The feeding of their bodies pictured the feeding of people’s minds with good affections and true thoughts which make them spiritually strong. He had been teaching the people through the day, feeding their souls. It was a picture and a continuation of what He had been doing when, toward evening, He fed their bodies also.
1. Who imprisoned John the Baptist, and caused his death? Had John done wrong? What kind of man was he? What kind of man was Herod?
2. Show me on the map the land of Gennesaret, and the pasture country to which the Lord went with the disciples. How was it that people were there to meet them when they came to land? How many people?
3. What food could the disciples bring to the Lord? What was done by His blessing? What was left?
4. Does the Lord do any wonderful work like this nowadays?
We have thought of John the Baptist as standing for the literal truth of the Lord's Word, especially for the commandments which forbid evil and require a good life. What seems to you to be represented by Herod, who caused John's imprisonment and death? A good king represents truth in the mind, keeping the life in order and guiding it wisely, but an evil king represents the opposite of truth - deceit and falsity. The Lord called this Herod a "fox" (Luke 13:32), and a fox stands for falsity seeking to justify an evil life. You can see that such falsity is directly opposed to the plain truth of the Lord's Word; it may make some show of friendliness for appearance's sake, but in reality it is utterly opposed.
It was the wicked wife, Herodias, who urged Herod on to do violence to John the Baptist. She stands for the evil life which the falsity seeks to justify. It was in particular the dancing of Salome, the daughter of Herodias, which charmed Herod and led to the beheading of John. She represents the abandonment to evil pleasure which leads one to discard even the appearance of regard for truth and to reject utterly the Lord's teaching of right and wrong. Notice that the death of John occurred on Herod's birthday. As the falsity which is allied with evil strengthens itself and takes new life, the Lord's truth perishes in the heart. See "Matthew's Gospel," J. Worcester, pages 81, 82.
Besides the physical benefit of the Lord's miracles they all represented corresponding spiritual works which the Lord was doing and is now doing. Can you show what spiritual work is represented in this miracle? Do we need spiritual food? Suppose we had plenty of natural food, would that make our spirits grow strong? They need their food, interesting subjects of thought and good things to love - knowledge of what is true and of what is good. Read of such food in Isaiah 55:1, 2; Amos, 8:11; Matthew 16:6, 12. These two elements of food are represented by the bread and the fishes. The bread which strengtheneth man's heart is the knowledge of what is good. The fishes, associated with the water and the sea, are the knowledge of what is true. (A. 680; E. 750)
Think a little further about these types of spiritual food. There are rich, luscious fruits which represent rich satisfaction to be found in certain forms of goodness and usefulness. The little grains growing together in great numbers producing hard, dry fruits, represent the satisfaction to be found in the faithful doing of little daily duties. There are nobler and less noble grains. Wheat is the noblest grain, and represents the goodness of duties done in the highest motive of obligation to the Lord. Barley is a coarser grain and represents the duties done in a motive of neighborly love. The Lord fed the people with barley loaves, suggesting that the knowledge of good life which they were able to receive was of a simple, external kind.
The deeper thought suggested by the barley loaves is confirmed by the number of the loaves, five. Ten suggests two handfuls, and means fullness and abundance. Five, the number of fingers on one hand, means something of completeness, but also what is few and little. Five barley loaves represent knowledge of goodness of a very simple kind, little and external. The same thought is involved in the number of the multitude who were fed, five thousand men. The twelve baskets of fragments you will see, represents the great abundance of the Lord's provision for our spiritual life. If you compare the numbers in this miracle with those in the other miracle of feeding the multitude, you see their significance more clearly. The numbers of the second miracle are not in the literal sense all of them larger than the numbers of the first miracle, but in the spiritual sense they are expressive of deeper, fuller spiritual states. The seven loaves, the four thousand and the seven, baskets full of fragments all represent what is spiritually deep and full. (E. 430, 548; A. 5291)