In our last lesson we learned of the Lord's quieting the great storm on the sea. They crossed to the pasture country on the eastern side. It is called by Mark "the country of the Gadarenes" or "the Gerasenes" (Revised Version). They seem to have landed near a town at the mouth of one of the little valleys that lead up from the shore to the upland pastures. There are many caves in the hillsides, and some of them were used as tombs, and were considered unclean by the Jews. As soon as the Lord and His disciples had landed a man with an unclean spirit saw Him from afar and ran to Him and worshiped Him. Matthew speaks of two such men.
You know there are times when the evil spirits try very hard to make us do as they wish, but with the Lord's help we can send them away. Before the Lord came, however, it was different; the evil spirits had complete power over the poor people they possessed, and drove them as they would. There were no kind ways of caring for such people in those days, and the only way they knew was to shut them up or bind them so that they would not hurt others. But this man was so strong that he broke the chains they bound him with, and he lived among the tombs naked, and cutting himself with stones, and crying night and day, making it dangerous for any one to pass by that way. A sadder condition for a poor man to be in, it would be hard to imagine.
But when he saw the Lord from a long way off, he came running toward Him, and instead of attacking Him fell down at His feet and worshiped Him, and cried out with a loud voice. It was the evil spirit that spoke through the man, and also answered when the Lord asked his name, "My name is Legion: for we are many." And they all begged the Lord, if they must leave the man to let them go into a herd of many swine, which was feeding near by. The swine, or pigs, were unclean according to the Jewish law and the Jews were forbidden to keep them. The unclean, greedy beasts seemed attractive to the evil spirits, and the Lord permitted them to go. It showed of what kind the evil spirits were. And when they had "entered into the swine, the herd ran violently down a steep place into the sea (they were about two thousand) ; and were choked in the sea." You can imagine how excited the people were, those that kept the swine and those who came from the city to see; but they cared more for the loss of their pigs than for the blessings which had come to the poor man, and they begged the Lord to leave their country.
As we look across the sea of Galilee from the plain of Gennesaret we see its eastern shore rising like a purple wall. It is not far away - six miles straight across, and we can see twinkling lights at night. The shore is a steep slope, sometimes almost a precipice, rising to a great upland pasture country. This is the old land of Bashan, famous for its herds and great oaks, the land chosen by half the tribe of Manasseh, because it was so good a pasture for their flocks and herds. At the northern end near the Jordan the slopes are more gentle, and here and there along the eastern shore a valley breaks down to the sea with its brook in the rainy season, and makes a way to climb up to the pastures above. We read several times of the Lord's crossing to the eastern shore. It was an open country with few towns, a peaceful pasture land, with much good grass.
It probably was early morning, after the night when the Lord quieted the storm, as they drew near to the eastern shore, where one of the largest valleys comes down to the water nearly opposite Magdala. Here by the shore are the ruins of Kersa, probably the scene of our story. A path led by the town through the valley up to the pasture country. The valley bottom was green, its sides were rough cliffs in which were caves, many of them used as tombs.
Now you will understand the story as we read it. You have learned before of people who were possessed by devils.
We wonder that the people asked the Lord to leave them, caring more for their swine than for the Lord. But we sometimes love evil things so much that we will not let the Lord protect us from them. Then we care more for the swine than for the Lord.
1. What kind of country is it on the east side of the Sea of Galilee?
2. Who met the Lord as He landed there?
3. What had made the change, when they saw the man sitting at the Lord's feet?
4. Why did they ask the Lord to go away?
Beyond Jordan. The Holy Land itself represents a spiritual state of life. We speak of journeying to the heavenly Canaan. Lands beyond the border of Canaan represent states which are good and useful if they are helpful to the spiritual life. Bashan, a great pasture land, famous for herds and oaks, represents a natural state where strong affections for natural usefulness and for natural good things increase and multiply, and where is developed a vigorous natural understanding of right. (See the correspondence of cattle and of the oak tree.) This natural goodness is pleasing to, the Lord when it is the companion and helper of real spiritual goodness. Therefore half the tribe of Manasseh was allowed to occupy this land if they would first cross over Jordan and help their brethren. (E. 440)
The Lord crossed the Sea of Galilee to this pasture land as a sign of His presence with us in natural states, as of rest and recreation, the enjoyment of natural ease and beauty. We need the Lord's presence in this more natural state, that we may not abuse these enjoyments. Does the Lord find us in our states of natural enjoyment and rest moderate, with our appetites under strict control, always serviceable to our higher life? Or does He find us as men possessed, in the power of self-indulgent spirits? There are swine-like spirits which make us indolent and greedy, which drive to what is impure, and to indulgence in eating and drinking. When in their power we live in the tombs, in ways in which there is nothing of spiritual life. Of our own strength we cannot tame or bind them. Only the Lord can. He has overcome such evil spirits, and has power to cast them out from us. He will, if we ask Him, help us to see these enemies as they are - swine, and will cast them out. (A. 1742; E. 659) Then we shall sit at His feet, clothed and in our right mind. We shall be safe and free to do well if we will.
This miracle is a wonderful picture of the whole work of redemption; which means a buying back from bondage. The Lord overcame hell; He delivered men from its power, and restored them to spiritual freedom - their right mind, and keeps us free. (H.257)
Compare the Lord's charge to the man who was healed (Mark 5:18-20) with His charge to some whom He healed in Galilee. (Matthew 8:4; Mark 8:26; Luke 8:56) In such cases we learn the lesson that the Lord does not wish men to be attracted to Him merely for external benefits, but for heavenly blessings. The charge to the man on the eastern shore seems to teach that outward signs of power have a use for those in natural, external states of mind. It teaches also that natural good things and pleasures need not be abandoned to serve the Lord, but that we may continue to enjoy them, having learned His power to control them and make them good.