COMPASSION AND PROVISION SHOWN TO THE GENTILES BY THE MESSIAH CONTRASTED WITH THE DISMISSIVE ATTITUDE OF THE DISCIPLES
Leon Morris: Matthew clearly regards the two incidents as distinct: the numbers of people are different in the two incidents, as are the quantities of food and the amounts left over; the words for “basket” are different; the people in this incident had been with Jesus for three days (v. 32) whereas in the earlier incident they had just gone around the lake to head him off (14:13-14); and the times appear to be different, the earlier feeding being when the grass was green (Mark 6:39), that is, in spring, while here there is no mention of grass and the ground appears to be hard (v. 35); in other words, it is late summer. The feeding of the five thousand is found in all four Gospels, but this miracle is related only in Matthew and Mark.
Donald Hagner: At first glance this miracle involving the feeding of the four thousand seems to be merely a less impressive repetition of the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand. Both stories are clearly stories of messianic provision foreshadowing the blessings of the eschaton, and this one, especially in retrospect, intimates the extension of messianic blessing even to the Gentiles. The fulfillment brought by Jesus is finally to involve the feeding of the hungry of the nations. The universalism implicit here is important to the evangelist’s understanding of the meaning and significance of Jesus’ messianic mission. Theologically, this feeding, like that of the five thousand, is closely related to the feeding symbolized in the eucharist, which also points in its own way to the experience of eschatological blessing. The feeding of the four thousand points to the blessing of the Gentiles, who, together with Israel, will also be the recipients of eschatological blessing through the provision of Jesus.
J. Ligon Duncan: And there is a different reason, a different purpose in these miracles in Jesus instruction of His disciples. Listen to R.V.G. Tasker: “In the first story, Jesus seems to be concerned that the disciples should understand how utterly dependent upon Him they must always be. If they are to do what they would have them to do, they must be in dependence upon Him.” You will remember that the disciples come to Jesus in the feeding of the 5,000. They say the people are hungry, and what do we do? And Jesus shows by His mighty miracles that the disciples must depend upon Him, because He turns around and He says, “You go feed them.” And the disciples say, “We can’t.” And the point is: “Right, you can’t, I can.” If you’re going to feed the people, if you’re going to shepherd the people, you’re going to have to be dependent on Me.
But listen to what Tasker says is the reason for this miracle: “In the second story He seems to be indirectly reproving them for their lack of sympathy for the needs of the Gentile world.” Have you ever noticed the difference between these miracles? Jesus is right off the shore of Galilee, ministering in a Jewish region, and the disciples come to him and say, “Lord, these wonderful people are hungry.” Now Jesus is ministering in a Gentile region. Do the disciples come to him? No. Jesus comes to the disciples. These people have been with Jesus for three days. For three days these people have been with Jesus and they’ve run out of their food supplies and do the disciples come to Jesus and say, ‘Lord these good people are hungry’? No! The disciples don’t even notice. Jesus comes to His disciples and He says, ‘I have compassion on these people.’ What’s implied? You don’t. ‘I want to feed them. So you feed them.’ The scenario is entirely different. Jesus is again showing the disciples His compassion for the Gentiles and this was key to their later missionary work. Jesus is laying a very important foundation for the missionary task. And Jesus’ compassion being highlighted is not a unique experience in the gospels. No less than 9 times in the gospels Jesus is accounted as being a person of compassion. . .
All of us are tempted to overlook those who are isolated and hurting and needy and who are different from us. And Jesus is calling on us here to show His kind of compassion to those who are marginal, to those who are different, to those who we might even be inclined to shun. Jesus is calling us to them.
William Barclay: The wonder of this story is that in these healings and in this feeding of the hungry, we see the mercy and the compassion of Jesus going out to the Gentiles. Here is a kind of symbol and foretaste that the bread of God was not to be confined to the Jews; that the Gentiles were also to have their share of him who is the living bread.
I. (:32-34) WHO WILL TAKE THE INITIATIVE TO MEET THE NEEDS OF HUNGRY GENTILES?
“And Jesus called His disciples to Him, and said,”
A. (:32) Contrast between Jesus and His Disciples
- Compassion of Jesus for the Gentiles
“I feel compassion for the multitude,
because they have remained with Me now three days and have nothing to eat;”
Stu Weber: The crowd was the same Gentile people who had been with Jesus on the mountainside near the Decapolis throughout three days of teaching and healing ministry (15:29-31).
Bruce Hurt: Our English word compassion is from Latin and means to suffer with and as one source has said is “a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the pain and remove its cause.”
Broadus: Jesus was quite the preacher to keep them listening for 3 days! They had no doubt brought some food with them, which was now exhausted. They showed great zeal to see and hear and be healed, remaining so long in the thinly inhabited region, sleeping on the ground two nights in the open air, living on the food brought with them, and slow to leave when it was gone.
Grant Osborne: The crowd is so filled with amazement that they do not want to leave and so stay with Jesus until it is getting dangerously late, and Jesus is aware of their predicament.
- Dismissive Attitude of the Disciples
“and I do not wish to send them away hungry, lest they faint on the way.”
Leon Morris: The people had evidently not come prepared for as long a stay as it had turned out to be. The meaning is not that the crowds had been fasting for three days, but that during that time they had exhausted their food supply. Now Jesus says that he does not want to send them off without something to eat. It would be a long way home for some of the people, and without food it would be a distressful journey. Jesus cares for them. They had come to him for help, and he is not willing to send them off in such a way that they would end up fainting (Hendriksen, “lest they collapse”) on the way.
Daniel Doriani: This time Jesus preempts them. He says, to paraphrase: “I know you will soon suggest that I dismiss this needy crowd, but I am not willing to do so while they are hungry. They may collapse on the way” (15:32). The disciples always seem to want to dismiss people who have needs and make demands, but Jesus does not. The pattern is consistent enough that it amounts to a policy statement for the disciples and the church: We do not “dismiss” people around here. If they are needy, if they are annoying, we take their needs seriously. If we can help them, we do.
B. (:33) Disciples Focus on Lack of Resources and Inability to Meet Needs
“And the disciples said to Him, ‘Where would we get so many loaves in a desolate place to satisfy such a great multitude?’”
R. T. France: The disciples, who in 14:15–17 merely stated the problem of the inadequate resources available, here make a more emphatic protest (v. 33) about the impossibility of the idea of feeding such a large crowd. This is the more remarkable because the narrative sequence of the gospel suggests that whereas in 14:13–21 they were taken by surprise, in the light of that experience they ought by now to be ready for such a miracle again. . .
In 16:7–10 Jesus will comment on the disciples’ inability to learn the significance of both feeding miracles, as they again worry about not having enough food, and this second expression of incredulity suitably prepares the way for that rebuke. But the reader is left wondering how the disciples could have been so slow to learn.
Craig Blomberg: At first the disciples’ question seems to reflect the height of obtuseness. The solution to their problem is obviously for Jesus to do what he did before and work a miracle. But the emphatic “we” (a uniquely Matthean touch), corresponding to the emphatic “you” of 14:16, may explain matters. Previously, Jesus had told his disciples to solve the problem themselves. They couldn’t, so he did. But he has consistently passed on his miracle-working authority to the Twelve, including as recently as 14:28-31 (despite the abrupt ending of Peter’s walking on the water). Most likely the disciples think that Jesus’ remarks in v. 32 imply that they should miraculously provide food for the crowd, and they are not convinced they can do it. This makes their question much more understandable, though, in any event, Matthew does not present the disciples in a particularly positive light.
Daniel Doriani: We should note the capacity all disciples have to forget God’s goodness. We have experienced God’s kindness in times past, but we fail to draw the right conclusions from that kindness today. As if they had never before seen Jesus provide, the disciples forget to ask Jesus for relief. We do the same, forgetting to contemplate his power and blessings. So we deprive ourselves of the full benefits of living by the Lord’s love and power.
C. (:34) Jesus Focuses on Availability of Resources and Ability to Meet Needs
- Investigative Question
“And Jesus said to them, ‘How many loaves do you have?’”
- Impotent Response
“And they said, ‘Seven, and a few small fish.’”
II. (:35-38) THE MESSIAH PROVIDES MORE THAN ENOUGH TO MEET ALL NEEDS
A. (:35-36) Simplicity of the Miraculous Meal
- (:35) Preparation
“And He directed the multitude to sit down on the ground;”
- (:36) Provision
“and He took the seven loaves and the fish; and giving thanks, He broke them and started giving them to the disciples, and the disciples in turn, to the multitudes.”
B. (:37a) Satisfaction with the Provision
“And they all ate, and were satisfied,”
C. (:37b-38) Superabundance of the Provision
- (:37b) Leftovers
“and they picked up what was left over of the broken pieces,
seven large baskets full.”
Donald Hagner: The type of basket referred to here was a more flexible basket than the baskets (probably wicker) referred to in the narrative of the feeding of the five thousand (cf. 14:20). That there were seven loaves and seven baskets full of remaining fragments in this feeding of the multitude cannot be accidental. The number seven points to fullness and perfection, or, somewhat less plausibly, to the “seventy” gentile nations. Much less likely is Lohmeyer’s suggestion that the number refers to the seven deacons of Acts 6:1–6, who after all were Hellenistic Jews and not Gentiles. If it is taken in conjunction with the twelve baskets full of remainders in the feeding of the five thousand, which almost certainly points to the twelve tribes of Israel (or the twelve disciples), i.e., the Jews, then the sevens—even though those who actually had been fed were Jews—may well symbolize the meeting of the needs of the Gentiles, i.e., the fullness of messianic provision for the entire world.
Michael Wilkins: If the number of twelve baskets left over in the feeding of the five thousand is symbolic of Israel, as most suppose, then the number seven here—normally symbolic of perfection or completion—may symbolize the completion or fullness of God meeting the needs of all peoples, now including Gentiles.
William Barclay: In the feeding of the 5,000, the baskets which were used to take up the fragments are called kophinoi; in the feeding of the 4,000, they are called sphurides. The kophinos was a narrow-necked, flask-shaped basket which Jews often carried with them, for Jews often carried their own food, in case they should be compelled to eat food which had been touched by Gentile hands and was therefore unclean. The sphuris was much more like a hamper; it could be big enough to carry a person, and it was a kind of basket that a Gentile would use.
- (:38) Large Numbers Fed
“And those who ate were four thousand men, besides women and children.”
Stu Weber: The four thousand men is representative of at least twice that number of people, when including women and children.
Richard Gardner: 4000 is a multiple of four, which is linked with the idea of universality (cf. the four comers of the earth in Isa. 11:12 and Rev. 20:8, and the four winds from the four quarters of heaven in Jer. 49:36).
Warren Wiersbe: Jesus did not preach a sermon to this crowd on “the Bread of Life” as He did to the Jews in Capernaum, following the feeding of the five thousand (John 6:22ff.). The facts about the Old Testament manna and the “bread of God” would have been foreign to these Gentiles. Jesus always adapted His teaching to the needs and the understanding of the people to whom He ministered.
(:39) EPILOGUE – GEOGRAPHICAL TRANSITION
“And sending away the multitudes,
He got into the boat, and came to the region of Magadan.”
Michael Wilkins: Magdala is generally identified with Migdal Nunya (“Tower of Fish”) of Talmudic times (b. Pesaḥ. 46b), located about three miles north of Tiberias on the Gennesaret plain, which is usually connected with the town about which Josephus writes, the Greek name of which was Taricheae, roughly translated “the place where fish were salted.” During Jesus’ day and up to Talmudic times, Magdala-Taricheae was the center of Galilee’s fish-processing industry, making it one of the most important fishing centers on the Sea of Galilee and the administrative seat of the surrounding region. Archaeologists uncovered in Magdala a decorative mosaic depicting a boat with a mast for sailing and oars for rowing in the ruins of a first century A.D. home, and discovered about a mile north of the town the remains of the famous first-century A.D. “Kinneret boat”. These discoveries have been invaluable for recreating life in first-century A.D. Galilee.
David Turner: After the miracle, Jesus crosses over the sea in a boat and arrives at Magadan. This is an obscure town, like Mark’s Dalmanutha (Mark 8:10). Both are mentioned only in the Gospels. Perhaps Magadan should be identified with Magdala on the west side of the Sea of Galilee. At any rate, Jesus is clearly now in Jewish territory and back in touch with the Pharisees’ opposition (Matt. 16:1).
Charles Swindoll: However, as Jesus’ “fans” increased and His friends regrouped in Magdala, His foes were also on the move – plotting, scheming, and setting traps to catch Him in some kind of punishable crime. As the sun set over the Sea of Galilee, casting long shadows over the small village of Magdala, the hostility and resistance to Jesus’ ministry was about to rise to a greater pitch of fury. Nevertheless, in the face of this growing resistance, Jesus would continue to teach and preach, to model compassion, and to prove to those with eyes to see and ears to hear that He really is the King, Israel’s long-awaited Messiah.