The Five Thousand Fed.
5 When Jesus then lifted up his eyes, and saw a great
company come unto him, he saith unto Philip, Whence shall we buy bread, that
these may eat? 6 And this he said to prove him: for he himself knew what
he would do. 7 Philip answered him, Two hundred pennyworth of bread is not
sufficient for them, that every one of them may take a little. 8 One of
his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter's brother, saith unto him, 9 There is a
lad here, which hath five barley loaves, and two small fishes: but what are
they among so many? 10 And Jesus said, Make the men sit down. Now there
was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, in number about five
thousand. 11 And Jesus took the loaves; and when he had given thanks, he
distributed to the disciples, and the disciples to them that were set down;
and likewise of the fishes as much as they would. 12 When they were
filled, he said unto his disciples, Gather up the fragments that remain,
that nothing be lost. 13 Therefore they gathered them together, and filled
twelve baskets with the fragments of the five barley loaves, which remained
over and above unto them that had eaten. 14 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.
We have here an account of Christ's feeding five thousand men with
five loaves and two fishes, which miracle is in this respect
remarkable, that it is the only passage of the actions of Christ's life
that is recorded by all the four evangelists. John, who does not usually
relate what had been recorded by those who wrote before him, yet relates
this, because of the reference the following discourse has to it.
II. The miracle itself. And here observe,
1. The notice Christ took of the crowd that attended him (v.
5): He lifted up his eyes, and saw a great company come to
him, poor, mean, ordinary people, no doubt, for such make up the
multitudes, especially in such remote corners of the country; yet Christ
showed himself pleased with their attendance, and concerned for their
welfare, to teach us to condescend to those of low estate, and not to
set those with the dogs of our flock whom Christ hath set with
the lambs of his. The souls of the poor are as precious to Christ, and
should be so to us, as those of the rich.
2. The enquiry he made concerning the way of providing for them. He
directed himself to Philip, who had been his disciple from the first, and
had seen all his miracles, and particularly that of his turning water into
wine, and therefore it might be expected that he should have said, "Lord, if
thou wilt, it is easy to thee to feed them all." Those that, like Israel,
have been witnesses of Christ's works, and have shared in the benefit of
them, are inexcusable if they say, Can he furnish a table in the
wilderness? Philip was of Bethsaida, in the neighbourhood of which town
Christ now was, and therefore he was most likely to help them to provision
at the best hand; and probably much of the company was known to him, and he
was concerned for them. Now Christ asked, Whence shall we buy bread, that
these may eat? (1.) He takes it for granted that they must all eat
with him. One would think that when he had taught and healed them he had
done his part; and that now they should rather have been contriving how to
treat him and his disciples, for some of the people were probably rich,
and we are sure that Christ and his disciples were poor; yet he is
solicitous to entertain them. Those that will accept Christ's spiritual
gifts, instead of paying for them, shall be paid for their
acceptance of them. Christ, having fed their souls with the bread of life,
feeds their bodies also with food convenient, to show that the Lord
is for the body, and to encourage us to pray for our daily bread, and to set
us an example of compassion to the poor,
James ii. 15, 16. (2.) His enquiry is, Whence shall we buy bread?
One would think, considering his poverty, that he should rather have asked,
Where shall we have money to buy for them? But he will rather lay out
all he has than they shall want. He will buy to give, and we must labour,
that we may give,
3. The design of this enquiry; it was only to try the faith of
Philip, for he himself knew what he would do,
6. Note, (1.) Our Lord Jesus is never at a loss in his counsels; but,
how difficult soever the case is, he knows what he has to do and what course
he will take,
xv. 18. He knows the thoughts he has towards his people (Jer.
xxix. 11) and is never at uncertainty; when we know not, he himself
knows what he will do. (2.) When Christ is pleased to puzzle his
people, it is only with a design to prove them. The question put
Philip to a nonplus, yet Christ proposed it, to try whether he would say,
"Lord, if thou wilt exert thy power for them, we need not buy bread."
4. Philip's answer to this question: "Two hundred pennyworth of
bread is not sufficient,
7. Master, it is to no purpose to talk of buying bread for them, for
neither will the country afford so much bread, nor can we afford to lay out
so much money; ask Judas, who carries the bag." Two hundred pence of
their money amount to about six pounds of ours, and, if they lay
out all that at once, it will exhaust their fund, and break them, and they
must starve themselves. Grotius computes that two hundred pennyworth of
bread would scarcely reach to two thousand, but Philip would go
as near hand as he could, would have every one to take a little; and
nature, we say, is content with a little. See the weakness of Philip's
faith, that in this strait, as if the Master of the family had been an
ordinary person, he looked for supply only in an ordinary way.
Christ might now have said to him, as he did afterwards, Have I been so
long time with you, and yet hast thou not known me, Philip? Or, as God
to Moses in a like case, Is the Lord's hand waxen short? We are apt
thus to distrust God's power when visible and ordinary means fail, that is,
to trust him no further than we can see him.
5. The information which Christ received from another of his
disciples concerning the provision they had. It was Andrew, here said to be
Simon Peter's brother; though he was senior to Peter in discipleship,
and instrumental to bring Peter to Christ, yet Peter afterwards so far
outshone him that he is described by his relation to Peter: he acquainted
Christ with what they had at hand; and in this we may see,
(1.) The strength of his love to those for whom he
saw his Master concerned, in that he was willing to bring out all they had,
though he knew not but they might want themselves, and any one would have
said, Charity begins at home. He did not go about to conceal it,
under pretence of being a better husband of their provision than the master
was, but honestly gives in an account of all they had. There is a lad here,
paidarion--a little lad, probably one that used to
follow this company, as settlers do the camp, with provisions to sell, and
the disciples had bespoken what he had for themselves; and it was five
barley-loaves, and two small fishes. Here, [1.] The provision was
coarse and ordinary; they were barley loaves. Canaan was a
land of wheat (Deut.
viii. 8); its inhabitants were commonly fed with the finest wheat (Ps.
lxxxi. 16), the kidneys of wheat (Deut.
xxxii. 14); yet Christ and his disciples were glad of barley-bread.
It does not follow hence that we should tie ourselves to such coarse fare,
and place religion in it (when God brings that which is finer to our hands,
let us receive it, and be thankful); but it does follow that therefore we
must not be desirous of dainties (Ps.
xxiii. 3); nor murmur if we be reduced to coarse fare, but be content
and thankful, and well reconciled to it; barley-bread is what Christ had,
and better than we deserve. Nor let us despise the mean provision of
the poor, nor look upon it with contempt, remembering how Christ was
provided for. [2.] It was but short and scanty; there were but
five loaves, and those so small that one little lad carried them all;
and we find (2
Kings iv. 42, 43) that twenty barley-loaves, with some other
provision to help out, would not dine a hundred men without a miracle. There
were but two fishes, and those small ones (dyo opsaria),
so small that one of them was but a morsel, pisciculi assati. I take
the fish to have been pickled, or soused, for they had not
fire to dress them with. The provision of bread was little,
but that of fish was less in proportion to it, so that many a
bit of dry bread they must eat before they could make a meal of this
provision; but they were content with it. Bread is meat for our
hunger; but of those that murmured for flesh it is said, They asked meat
for their lust,
lxxviii. 18. Well, Andrew was willing that the people should have this,
as far as it would go. Note, A distrustful fear of wanting ourselves should
not hinder us from needful charity to others.
(2.) See here the weakness of his faith in that word,
"But what are they among so many? To offer this to such a multitude
is but to mock them." Philip and he had not that actual consideration of the
power of Christ (of which they had had such large experience) which they
should have had. Who fed the camp of Israel in the wilderness? He that could
make one man chase a thousand could make one loaf feed a thousand.
6. The directions Christ gave the disciples to seat the guests (v.
10): "Make the men sit down, though you have nothing to set
before them, and trust me for that." This was like sending providence
to market, and going to buy without money: Christ would thus try
their obedience. Observe, (1.) The furniture of the dining-room: there
was much grass in that place, though a desert place; see how bountiful
nature is, it makes grass to grow upon the mountains,
cxlvii. 8. This grass was uneaten; God gives not only enough, but more
then enough. Here was this plenty of grass where Christ was preaching; the
gospel brings other blessings along with it: Then shall the earth yield
lxvii. 6. This plenty of grass made the place the more commodious for
those that must sit on the ground, and served them for cushions, or beds
(as they called what they sat on at meat,
i. 6), and, considering what Christ says of the grass of the field (Matt.
vi. 29, 30), these beds excelled those of Ahasuerus: nature's pomp is
the most glorious. (2.) The number of the guests: About five thousand:
a great entertainment, representing that of the gospel, which is a feast
for all nations (Isa.
xxv. 6), a feast for all comers.
7. The distribution of the provision,
v. 11. Observe,
(1.) It was done with thanksgiving: He gave thanks. Note,
[1.] We ought to give thanks to God for our food, for it is a mercy to have
it, and we have it from the hand of God, and must receive it with
Tim. iv. 4, 5. And this is the sweetness of our creature-comforts, that
they will furnish us with matter, and give us occasion, for that
excellent duty of thanksgiving. [2.] Though our provision be coarse and
scanty, though we have neither plenty nor dainty, yet we must give thanks to
God for what we have.
(2.) It was distributed from the hand of Christ by the hands of his
v. 11. Note, [1.] All our comforts come to us originally from
the hand of Christ; whoever brings them, it is he that sends
them, he distributes to those who distribute to us. [2.] In distributing the
bread of life to those that follow him, he is pleased to make use of the
ministration of his disciples; they are the servitors at Christ's table, or
rather rulers in his household, to give to every one his portion of meat
in due season.
(3.) It was done to universal satisfaction. They did not every one
take a little, but all had as much as they would; not a short
allowance, but a full meal; and considering how long they had fasted, with
what an appetite they sat down, how agreeable this miraculous food may be
supposed to have been, above common food, it was not a little that served
them when they ate as much as they would and on free cost. Those whom Christ
feeds with the bread of life he does not stint,
lxxxi. 10. There were but two small fishes, and yet they had
of them too as much as they would. He did not reserve them for
the better sort of the guests, and put off the poor with dry bread, but
treated them all alike, for they were all alike welcome. Those who call
feeding upon fish fasting reproach the entertainment Christ here
made, which was a full feast.
8. The care that was taken of the broken meat. (1.) The orders
Christ gave concerning it (v.
12): When they were filled, and every man had within him a
sensible witness to the truth of the miracle, Christ said to the
disciples, the servants he employed, Gather up the fragments.
Note, We must always take care that we make no waste of any of God's good
creatures; for the grant we have of them, though large and full, is with
this proviso, wilful waste only excepted. It is just with God to
bring us to the want of that which we make waste of. The Jews were very
careful not to lose any bread, nor let it fall to the ground, to be trodden
upon. Qui panem contemnit in gravem incidit paupertatem--He who despises
bread falls into the depths of poverty, was a saying among them. Though
Christ could command supplies whenever he pleased, yet he would have the
fragments gathered up. When we are filled we must remember that others want,
and we may want. Those that would have wherewith to be charitable
must be provident. Had this broken meat been left upon the grass, the
beasts and fowls would have gathered it up; but that which is fit to be meat
for men is wasted and lost if it be thrown to the brute-creatures. Christ
did not order the broken meat to be gathered up till all were filled; we
must not begin to hoard and lay up till all is laid out that ought to be,
for that is withholding more than is meet. Mr. Baxter notes here, "How much
less should we lose God's word, or helps, or our time, or such greater
mercies!" (2.) The observance of these orders (v.
13): They filled twelve baskets with the fragments, which was an
evidence not only of the truth of the miracle, that they were fed,
not with fancy, but with real food (witness those remains), but of the
greatness of it; they were not only filled, but there was all this over
and above. See how large the divine bounty is; it not only fills the
cup, but makes it run over; bread enough, and to spare, in our
Father's house. The fragments filled twelve baskets, one for each disciple;
they were thus repaid with interest for their willingness to part with what
they had for public service; see
Chron. xxxi. 10. The Jews lay it as a law upon themselves, when they
have eaten a meal, to be sure to leave a piece of bread upon the table, upon
which the blessing after meat may rest; for it is a curse upon the wicked
xx. 21) that there shall none of his meat be left.
III. Here is the influence which this miracle had upon the people
who tasted of the benefit of it (v.
14): They said, This is of a truth that prophet. Note, 1. Even
the vulgar Jews with great assurance expected the Messiah to come into the
world, and to be a great prophet, They speak here with assurance of
his coming. The Pharisees despised them as not knowing the law; but,
it should seem, they knew more of him that is the end of the law than
the Pharisees did. 2. The miracles which Christ wrought did clearly
demonstrate that he was the Messiah promised, a teacher come from God, the
great prophet, and could not but convince the amazed spectators that this
was he that should come. There were many who were convinced he was that
prophet that should come into the world who yet did not cordially receive
his doctrine, for they did not continue in it. Such a wretched incoherence
and inconsistency there is between the faculties of the corrupt unsanctified
soul, that it is possible for men to acknowledge that Christ is that
prophet, and yet to turn a deaf ear to him.