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by Richard Chenevix Trench
Chapter 25 from Notes on the Miracles of our Lord
(First Published 1846.)
MATT. xv. 32-39;  MARK viii. 1-9
ALMOST everything which might have been said upon this miracle the preceding one of the same nature has anticipated already; to which, therefore, the reader is referred. [see The Miraculous Feeding of Five Thousand. at Lent 4]  Whether this was wrought nearly in the same locality, namely, in the desert country belonging to Bethsaida [1], and not rather on the western, as the former on the eastern, side of the lake, has been sometimes debated. On the whole it is most probable that it was wrought nearly on the same spot; for thither the narrative of St. Mark appears to have brought the Lord. Leaving the coasts of Tyre and Sidon after the healing of the daughter of the Syrophcenician woman, He is said to have reached again the sea of Galilee, and this through the midst of the coasts of Decapolis (vii. 31). But all the cities of the Decapolis save one lay beyond Jordan, and on the eastern side of the lake; this notice therefore places Him on the same side also. Not less does the fact that immediately after the miracle He took ship and came to the region of Magdala (Matt. iv. 39), since Magdala was certainly on the western side, and His taking ship was more probably to cross the lake than to coast along its shores. [2]

With many points of likeness, there are also some points of unlike-ness in the two miracles. Here the people had continued with the Lord three days, but on the former occasion nothing of the kind is noted; the provision, too, is somewhat larger, seven loaves and a few fishes, instead of five loaves and two fishes; as the number fed is somewhat smaller, four thousand now instead of the five thousand then; and the remaining fragments in this case fill but seven baskets, while in the former they had filled twelve. [3]  Of course, the work, considered as a miraculous putting forth of the power of the Lord, in each case remains exactly the same.

At first it excites some surprise that the disciples, with that other miracle fresh in their memories, should now have been as much at a loss how the multitude should be fed as they were before. Yet their surprise rises out of our ignorance of man’s heart, of our own heart, and of the deep root of unbelief which is there. It is evermore thus in times of difficulty and distress. All former deliverances are in danger of being forgotten [4]; the mighty interpositions of God’s hand in former passages of men’s lives fall out of their memories: each new difficulty appears as one from which there is no extrication; at each recurring necessity it seems as though the wonders of God’s grace are exhausted and have come to an end. God may have divided the Red Sea for Israel, yet no sooner are they on the other side than, because there is no water to drink, they murmur against Moses, and count that they must perish for thirst, crying, ‘Is the Lord among us, or not?’ (Exod. xvii. 1-7); or, to adduce a still nearer parallel, God had once already covered the camp with quails (Exod. xvi. 13), yet for all this even Moses himself cannot believe that He will provide flesh for all that multitude (Num. xi. 21, 22) It is only the man of a full-formed faith, a faith such as the Apostles themselves at this time did not possess, who argues from the past to the future, and truly derives confidence from God’s former dealings of faithfulness and love (cf. I Sam. xvii. 2 Chron. xvi 7, 8).

Nothing but a strange unacquaintance with the heart of man could have made any find evidence here of inaccuracy and genera’ untrustworthiness in the records of our Lord’s life; arguing, as some have done, that the disciples, with the experience of one miracle of this kind, could not on a second occasion have been perplexed how the wants of the multitude should be supplied; that we have here, therefore, evidence of a loose tradition, which has told the same event twice over. Or, looking at the matter from another point of view, could it not easily have happened that the disciples perfectly remembering how their Master had once spread a table in the wilder-ness, and fully persuaded that He could do it again, might still have doubted whether He would choose a second time to put forth His creative might ;—whether there was in these present multitudes that spiritual hunger which was worthy of being met and rewarded by this interposition of divine power; whether they, too, were seeking the kingdom of heaven, and were thus worthy to have all other things, those also which pertain to this lower life, to the supply of their present needs, added unto them. [5] But such earnest seekers, for the time at least, they were; as others had faith to be healed, so these had faith to be fed; and the same bounteous hand which fed the five thousand before, fed the four thousand now.


1.  ‘Not Bethsaida, ‘the city of Andrew and Peter,’ but the Bethsaida already men-tioned, p. 267.

2.  St. Mark, who for Magdala substitutes Dalmanutha, does not help us here, as there are no further traces of this place. That it was on the western side of the lake we conclude irom the fact that Christ’s leaving it and crossing the lake is de-scribed as a departing eis to an expression in the New Testament applied almost exclusively to the country east of the lake and of Jordan. In some maps, in Lightfoot’s for instance, Magdala is placed at the SE, of the lake; but this is a mistake, passages which he himself quotes from Jewish writers (Chorograph. 76), showing plainly that it was close to Tiberias. It is most probably the modern El-Madshchdel lying on the S.W. of the lake, and in the neighborhood of the city just named. So Gresswell, Lissert. vol. ii. p. 324; Winer, Realworterbuch, s. v. Magdala; Robinson, Biblical Researches, vol. iii. p. 278.

3.  All four Evangelists, in narrating the first miracle, describe the baskets which were filled with the remaining fragments as kofinous, while the two who relate the second no less agree in using there the term spuridas. That this variation was not accidental is clear from our Lords after worth; when referring to the two miracles.  He preserves the distinction, asking his disciples how many kofinous on the first occasion they gathered up; how many spuridas on the second (Matt. xvi. 9, 10; Mark viii. 19, 20). What the distinction was is more difficult to say. The derivation of kofinos from koftw (=aggeion plekton, Suidas), and spuris from speira, does not help us, as each points to the baskets being of wicker-work; see, however, another derivation of spuris in Greswell (Dissert. vol. ii. p. 358). and the distinction which he seeks to draw from it. Why the Apostles should have been provided with the one or the other has been variously explained. Some say to carry their own provisions with them,while they were travelling through a polluted land, such as Samaria. Greswell rather supposes, that they might sleep in them, so long as they were compelled to lodge sub dio; and quotes Juvenal (Sat. iii. 13): Judaeis quorum cophinus foenumque supellex; Cf. Martial (Efngr. v.7), who mockingly calls the Jews cisteferos. It appears from Acts ix. 25 that the spuris might be of size sufficient to contain a man: compare Blunt, Undesigned Coincidences, 1847, p. 271.

4.  Calvin: Quia autem similis quotidie nobis obrepit torpor, eo magis cavendum eat ne unquam distrahantur mentes nostrae a reputandis Dei beneficils, Ut praeteriti temporis experientia in futurum idem nos sperare doceat, quod jam semel vel saepius targitas est Dens.

5. It is at least an ingenious allegory which Augustine proposes, namely that these two miracles respectively set forth Christ’s communicating of Himself to the Jew and to the Gentile; that as the first is a parable of the Jewish people finding in Him the satisfaction of their spiritual need, so this second, in which the people came from far, even from the far country of idols, it a parable of the Gentile world. The details of his application may not be of any great value; but the perplexity of the Apostles here concerning the supply of the new needs, notwithstanding all that they had already witnessed, will then exactly answer to the slowness with which they themselves, as the ministers of the new Kingdom, did recognize that Christ was as freely given to, and was as truly the portion of, the Gentile as the Jew. This Sermon the Benedictine Edd. relegate to the Appendix (Serm. lxxxi.), but the passage about Eutyches may easily be, indeed evidently is, an interpolation; and the rest is so entirely in Augustine’s manner, that I have not hesitated to refer to it as his. Hilary had before him suggested the same: Sicut autem illa turba quam prius pavit, Judaicae credentium convenit turbae, its haec populo gentium comparatur.