Gospel Words: Feeding the Four Thousand

Matthew 15:32‑39  •  5 min. read  •  grade level: 7
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The miracle here does not merely attest again the divine Messiah's presence and power on behalf of His needy people. Each has its own characteristics for our instruction. Both prove His ready and almighty resources. Had each miracle appeared in a different Gospel only, the skeptics would have insisted on discrepant accounts; but God has cut off such an objection, because Matthew and Mark record both, Luke and John only the first of them. The miracle wrought twice signifies, if one may apply Joseph's interpretation (Gen. 41:3232And for that the dream was doubled unto Pharaoh twice; it is because the thing is established by God, and God will shortly bring it to pass. (Genesis 41:32)), that the thing is established by God, whatever be man's unbelief. The distinctions are marked, but in no way favor those of old who imagined a reference in the former to the Jew, in the latter to the Gentile. Both express Messiah's grace to the chosen people.
What then is the true difference? It is defined in detail, as well as in broad features. There were five loaves and two fishes in the first, seven loaves and a few fishes in the last, five thousand fed in one, and four thousand in the other; the surplus then filled twelve baskets, now seven. The very baskets employed had in each instance a differing appellation, meaning respectively a hand-basket and a creel, as expressed without confusion in each account, and maintained in our Lord's recall of both in Matt. 16. The larger distinction will appear presently, though it may here be added that the first was in the spring when the grass was green, the second some months later; and that in the second the crowd had stayed three days, whereas in the first we do not hear of more than one day.
“And Jesus, having called his disciples unto him, said, I have compassion on the crowd, because they continue with me already three days and have nothing to eat; and I would not let them go fasting, lest they faint in the way. And his disciples say to him, Whence should we [have] in a wilderness so many loaves as to fill so great a crowd? And Jesus saith to them, How many loaves have ye? And they said, Seven, and a few small fishes. And he commanded the crowds to lie down on the ground; and taking the seven loaves and the fishes he gave thanks and broke, and gave to his disciples, and the disciples to the crowd. And all ate and were filled, and they took up what was over of the broken pieces, seven baskets full. And those that ate were four thousand men, besides women and children. And having let go the crowds he went on board the ship and came over into the borders of Magadan” (vers. 32-39).
On the first occasion the disciples took the initiative, and proposed the dismissal of the crowds to buy themselves food in the villages. Their faith was weak indeed. How sad to overlook His presence who was pledged to satisfy Zion's poor with bread! Even His call that they should give them to eat failed to awaken any sense of His fullness. So He took the provision they despised, and abundantly blessed it to the five thousand, and more; yet there remained over of the broken pieces twelve baskets full. Now this answers to the twelve apostles, being the number of full administration by or in man. But it was only a sign in His rejected testimony to Israel; and sending His disciples to go before Him to the other side, on dismissal of the crowds, He went up into the mountain apart to pray, the figure of His priestly place on high. After this comes the wondrous scene of Peter leaving the ship to join Jesus on the water, which is peculiar to Matthew, as alone expressive of the divine design by that Gospel, and having nothing like it on the second occasion.
Hera it is the Messiah yearning over His famished people. They were guilty; but He commiserated their distressful state, and gave His disciples a fresh opportunity of drawing on Him by faith. Alas! they were slow to learn. “Whence should we have in a wilderness so many loaves as to fill so great a crowd?” He was there, and full of compassion; but unbelief, even in believers, is ever blind. The seven loaves which He took and distributed through His disciples, and the surplus in the seven baskets here named, point to spiritual, not to administrative fullness. All was ordered of God, all is meant to teach man, if he has ears to hear. It is Jehovah-Messiah acting in His own perfection. Here there is no going on high to pray; nor is there a rejoining the disciples for the other side, when and where all who once rejected Him welcome Him and His beneficent power, as will be in the consummation of the age.
How is it with you, dear reader? Whatever engrosses you, whatever interests you, the first and deepest of all questions is, How are you treating Jesus? He is the Lord of glory, the Son of God Who became man to die for you. How do you regard Him? It concerns you now, and for all eternity. He died to save sinners; but the blessing is for those that believe. If you believe not who have heard His name, you are far more guilty than heathen who have not heard. God the Father resents all dishonor done to His beloved Son, and has given all judgment into His hands, because He is Son of man (John 5), to punish all men who despise Him. Is it not then of incalculable moment that you bow to Him Who will be your Judge by-and-by, if you refuse Him now as Savior? Remember that His judgment is eternal. Yet how righteous is it also! For the unbeliever in the gospel is not impenitent only but despises God's grace. How shall we escape if we neglect so great salvation?