« السابقةمتابعة »
honour upon his memory. [Mat. xiv. 10.] And he sent (Mark, an executioner, and commanded his head to be brought, and he went) and beheaded John in the prison. And his head was brought in a charger, and given to the damsel. The head of the prophet, whose rebukes had awed the king in is loosest moments, and whose exhortations had often excited him to virtuous actions, was immediately brought, pale and bloody, in a charger, and given to the daughter of Herodias, in presence of the guests. The young lady gladly received the bloody present, and carried it to her mother, who enjoyed the whole pleasure of revenge, and feasted her eyes with the sight of her enemy's head, now rendered silent and harmless. But the Baptist's voice became the louder for his being murdered, filling the earth, reaching up to heaven, and publishing the woman's adultery to all ages and to all people. [Mark vi. 29.] And when his disciples heard of it, they came and took up his corpse, and laid it in a tomb; for it was thrown over the prison walls without burial, probably, by order of Herodias.
The history of this birth-day, 'transmitted to posterity in the scripture, stands, as has been well observed, a perpetual beacon to warn the great, the gay, and the young, to beware of dissolute mirth. Admonished by so fatal an example, they ought to maintain ever, in the midst of their jollity, an habitual recollection of spirit; lest reason, at any time, enervated by the pleasures of sense, should slacken the rein of wisdom, or let it drop, though but for a moment; because their headstrong passions, ever impatient of the curb, may catch the opportunity, and rush with them into follies, whose consequences will be unspeakably, it may also be, perpetually bitter.
About the time that the apostles returned from their mission, and gave their master an account of the miracles which they had performed, and of the sermons which they had preached, the Baptist's disciples arrived with the news of their Master's death. Wherefore, as Matthew has introduced his history of our Lord's retiring into the desert of Bethsaida with an account of these things, he has assigned them as the reason for our Lord's retreat. It seems, the apostles were thrown into great consternation by the news which the Baptist's disciples brought of his death. Perhaps the account had reached them before, and hastened their return to their Master. Mark assigns a second cause for our Lord's retreat on this occasion, namely, the continual hurry the apostles were kept in by the multitude, which thronged about Jesus to such a degree, that they had not leisure to eat their meals. The truth is, our Lord's retiring with his apostles, on this occasion, into a desert place, was well calculated to allay that perturbation which the idea of Herod's cruelty and injustice must have raised in their breasts, whether they had heard of it before, or whether they received the news of it only upon their return.
Farther as the fame of our Lord's miracles had brought vast crowds to Capernaum, the voyage to the desert served, likewise, to refresh the apostles after the fatigue of their journey, and to free them from the importunity of the multitude, who solicited cures for themselves and for their relations. Perhaps, likewise, by this retreat, our Lord proposed to shun Herod, who desired to see him, and might be contriving some method of obtaining an interview with him; for Jesus had perfect knowledge, not only of the conversation which passed at the court of Galilee, but of Herod's thoughts also. Whatever might be the motives of our Lord, he thought proper, in his infinite wisdom, to retire to Bethsaida, a thriving town on the other side of the sea of Tiberias, and subject to the government of Philip. Landing in the desert near this town, he found a large multitude already collected, who, having learned or guessed his des tination, collected from all parts to see the wonderful miracles which they expected he would perform; nor were they disappointed; for, according to his usual practice
he instructed them in the truth which concerned the kingdom of God, and removed their diseases by the efficacy of his almighty power. The time thus passed pleasantly away, till the multitude found that their stock of provision was exhausted, but were still unwilling to disperse, though threatened with the miseries of famine. Jesus, who, while he pitied their wants, knew himself to be possessed of the power of relieving them, enquired of the apostle Philip whence they should buy bread, that the multitude might eat. Philip replied, that two hundred Roman pennies, amounting to the value of five English pounds, were insufficient, though there had been a market near, and well supplied, to procure an adequate quantity of provision. Upon his making an enquiry into the quantity of provision of which they were already possessed, Andrew observed that there was a lad present who had five barley loaves and two small fishes, probably insufficient to furnish more than a meal for five or six persons, and enquired, as he might reasonably have done had he known nothing of the power and character of his Master, what are they among so many? The evangelists do not tell us whether the fishes were salted and dried, a kind of food greatly in request among the Jews, and which needed no preparation; or whether they were fresh and already prepared. Either kind was a subject equally proper for the miracle.
When the loaves and the fishes were brought, he commanded his apostles to make the whole multitude sit down by companies, each, probably, consisting of two rows, with their faces opposite, and their backs turned to the backs of the next companies. No sooner did the disciples intimate Christ's intentions to the multitude, than they set down on the grass, as he had appointed. For, although what he proposed seemed, in the opinion of all, next to an impossibility, both the disciples and the multitude cheerfully obeyed: so great an opinion had they of Christ's wisdom and power. He ordered them to be ranged in the manner mentioned above, that they might sit compactly, that their numbers might appear, that the meat might be divided among them with ease, and that none might be neglected in the distribution. The circumstance of the grass, on which the multitude sat down, shews that the miracle of the loaves happened in the month of February or March, when the grass is at its perfection in Syria, and to this agrees, likewise, what John tells us, vi. 4, that the passover, a feast of the Jews, was nigh. The multitudes, therefore, being placed, Jesus took the meat in his hands, and, looking up to heaven, returned thanks to God, the liberal giver of all good, for his infinite beneficence in furnishing food to all flesh, and for the power he had conferred on him of relieving mankind by his miracles, particularly that which he was about to work; and which, perhaps, he prayed for, to raise the curiosity and attention of the multitude, as we find him doing before the resurrection of Lazarus. It is not to be supposed that twelve persons could put, first, a piece of bread, then, a piece of fish, into the hands of five thousand men, besides women and children, who were all fed with such expedition, that, notwithstanding the thing was not so much as proposed to the disciples till about three, as is conjectured from circumstances, all was over by five o'clock in the afternoon. Wherefore, it is natural to conclude, that, in distributing the meat, the disciples used the most expeditious method, putting, by their Master's direction, the bread first, and after that the fish, into the hands of those only who sat at the ends of the ranks, with orders to give it to their companions. On this supposition, the meat must have extended its dimensions, not in our Lord's. hands only, but in the hands of the multitude likewise, continuing to swell till there was a greater quantity than they who held it could make use of; so that, breaking off what was sufficient for themselves, they gave the remainder to the persons next them, who, in like manner, saw the bread and fish swell in their own hands, till they, also had enough and to spare. The meat being thus created in the hands of the
multitude, and before their eyes, as long as there was a single person to be fed they did all eat and were filled, to their unspeakable astonishment. Though Jesus, as Dr. Macknight observes, was entirely free from worldly cares, and from all anxiety about futurity, he did not think it unworthy of him, on this occasion, to order his disciples to take care of the broken pieces of meat left by the multitude. The reason mentioned by him for doing so, namely, that nothing might he lost, deserves our notice; for it shews us, that he to whom the earth and the fulness thereof belongs, willeth every man to take due care of all the goods which he possesses and that if he wastes any thing by carelessness or profusion, he is guilty of sin, namely, the sin of despising the creatures of God, which, by so admirable a contrivance as the frame of the world, God has produced for his use. Wherefore, as by feeding so many, Jesus has set us an example of liberality; so, by taking care of the fragments, he has taught us frugality; and, by joining the two together, he has shewed us that charity and frugality ought always to go hand in hand, and that there is a great difference between the truly liberal and the lavish man. In computing the number of persons fed at this meal, the evangelists mention none but the men, and of them such as were of age; and they all agree that they were about five thousand. In this they do not speak by guess; for the disposition of the multitude in ranks of a determinate number, enabled them to make the computation with certainty. If they were not five thousand precisely, one of the ranks incomplete will make them less, and an additional rank, or part of a rank, will make them more. But, besides the men, there were women also, and children, who, we may suppose, were not inferior in number to the men; and who, if they were not fed with the men, as is probable from John vi. 10, must have been set down by themselves to a separate meal, some of the disciples having been appointed to wait on them, and serve them. This vast multitude of people, feeling their hunger removed and spirits recreated, as well as their taste delighted, by the meal, were absolutely sure it was no illusion; as John expresses it very properly, vi. 14, they had seen the miracle, so could not entertain doubts, or form objections. In this manner did he, who is the bread of life, feed upwards of ten thousand people with five loaves and two small fishes, giving a magnificent proof, not only of his goodness, but of his creating power. For, after all had eaten to satiety, the disciples took up twelve baskets full of the broken pieces of meat, each disciple a basket; in which, as every one of the multitude may be supposed to have a little, there must have been much more than the quantity at first set before the Lord to divide. The stupendous miracle, therefore, without all doubt, was conspicuous, not to the disciples only, who, carrying each his basket in his hand, had an abiding sensible demonstration of its truth, but to every individual guest at this divine feast, who had all felt themselves delighted, filled, refreshed, and strengthened, by the meal. Antiently, Elisha fed an hundred men with twenty barley leaves. [2 Kings iv. 42.] But the quantity of food divided was greater, and the people fed therewith incomparably fewer than at our Lord's miracle. Besides, though something was left at Elisha's meal to shew that the men were filled, it was but a trifle in comparison of the quantity left by the great multitude whom our Lord fed.
This being one of the most astonishing, and, at the same time, the most extensively convincing of all the miracles Jesus performed during the course of his ministry, every one of the evangelists have recorded it; and, which is remarkable, it is the only one found in cach of their histories.
The people thus fed by miracle were unspeakably astonished; for, indeed, it was wonderful to see and feel the meat extending itself among their hands. In the height of their transport, they proposed to take Jesus by force, and make him a king, that
is, would constrain him to assume the title of Messiah without any further delay. Antiently, it was usual for great men, who courted the favour of the populace, to give public feasts, at which they would treat all the inhabitants of a town, or city. Le Clerc, therefore, fancies, that the multitude took the miracle of the loaves for a thing of this kind, and that they expressed their gratitude to Jesus by offering to aid him in what they supposed was his purpose. Yet the reader may think it as probable, that, in this, they fulfilled their own inclinations, which led then to wish for the coming of Messiah's kingdom, wherein they all expected to enjoy great secular advantages. For, to say the truth, they might very naturally imagine, that he who, with five loaves and two fishes, could feed so many thousands, was in a condition to support armies any length of time he pleased. But Jesus, knowing both the purposes of the multitude, and the inclinations of the disciples to encourage them in those purposes, ordered the latter to get into their boat and make for Bethsaida, while he should dismiss the former. The disciples, therefore, expressed great unwillingness to depart. They would not go till he constrained them. It seems, they would gladly have detained the people with whom they fully agreed in sentiment; for it was their opinion, also, that he who could feed such a number with so little, had no reason to conceal himself: but, without running the least risk, might take the title of Messiah whenever he pleased. Besides, they certainly supposed that the favourable moment was come, the people being in such a proper temper, that if Jesus spake but the word, they would all, to a man, have enlisted under him, and formed an army immediately. [John vi. 14, 15.] Then those men, when they had seen the miracle that Jesus did, said, this is of a truth that prophet that should come into the world; the prophet predicted by Moses, the Messiah. When Jesus, therefore, perceived that they would come and take him by force to make him a king, he departed again into a mountain himself alone. But before Jesus went into the mountain, several things happened, which the other evangelists have related: for, when the miraculous dinner was over, Jesus, perceiving the disposition of the multitude, went down from the hill where he had fed them, to the shore, and sent his disciples off in their boat to Bethsaida. The multitude, also, who had followed him down the hill, he persuaded to depart, then went up again into the mountain. To this agrees John's manner of telling the story for, as it is he who has informed us that the miraculous dinner was given on a mountain, vi. 3, that Jesus departed again into a mountain, he insinuates that, on some occasion or other, he had come down from it.
[Mat. xiv. 22.] And straightway Jesus constrained his disciples to get into a ship, and to go before him unto the other side, (Mark, unto Bethsaida,) while he sent the multitudes away. [John xv. 16.] And when even was now come, his disciples went down into the sea, and entered into a ship, and went over the sea towards Capernaum Their Master's order was that they should go to Bethsaida, as Mark informs us; but the wind becoming contrary, as we shall learn immediately, they were obliged to sail towards Capernaum. John, therefore, describes the voyage, not as it was intended; but as it actually happened. The evangelists have not told us how the twelve baskets of fragments were disposed of. Probably the disciples carried them with them into the boat; so that, having before their eyes this most convincing evidence of the miracle, they, no doubt, discoursed about it among themselves as they sailed, and deliberately reflected on every circumstance which had accompanied it. The people perceiving that Jesus intended to stay, made no scruple to let the disciples go. Perhaps they imagined he was sending them away to provide such things as he had need of in order to the expedition. Neither did they refuse to disperse when he commanded them, proposing all to return next morning, as they actually did; a cir