Matthew 14
Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
At that time Herod the tetrarch heard of the fame of Jesus,
1. At that time] During the missionary journey of the Twelve. See Mark loc. cit.

Herod] Herod Antipas, tetrarch of Galilee and Peræa. He was a son of Herod the Great, and Malthakè, a Samaritan, who was also the mother of Archelaus and Olympias. He was thus of Gentile origin, and his early associations were Gentile, for he was brought up at Rome with his brother Archelaus. He married first a daughter of Aretas, king of Arabia, and afterwards, while his first wife was still living, he married Herodias, wife of his half-brother Philip,—who was living in a private station, and must not be confused with Philip the tetrarch of Iturea. Cruel, scheming, irresolute, and wicked, he was a type of the worst of tyrants. He intrigued to have the title of tetrarch changed for the higher title of king; very much as Charles the Bold, of Burgundy, endeavoured to change his dukedom into a kingdom. In pursuance of this scheme Antipas went to Rome “to receive for himself a kingdom and return” (Luke 19:12). He was however foiled in this attempt by the arts of his nephew Agrippa, and was eventually banished to Lyons, being accused of confederacy with Sejanus, and of an intention to revolt. Herodias was his worst enemy: she advised the two most fatal errors of his reign: the execution of John Baptist, which brought him into enmity with the Jews, and the attempt to gain the royal title, the result of which was his fall and banishment. But there is a touch of nobility in the determination she took to share her husband’s exile as she had shared his days of prosperity. For Herod’s designs against our Lord, see Luke 13:31; and for the part which he took in the Passion, see Luke 23:6-12.

the tetrarch] Literally, the ruler of a fourth part or district into which a province was divided; afterwards the name was extended to denote generally a petty king, the ruler of a provincial district. Deiotarus, whose cause Cicero supported, was tetrarch of Galatia. He is called king by Appian, just as Herod Antipas is called king, Matthew 14:9, and Mark 6:14.

Ch. Matthew 14:1-12. Herod the Tetrarch puts to death John the Baptist

Mark 6:14-29, where the further conjectures as to the personality of Jesus are given, “Elias, a [or the] prophet, or as one of the prophets,” and the whole account is narrated in the vivid dramatic manner of St Mark. St Luke relates the cause of the imprisonment, Mark 3:19-20; the conjectures as to Jesus, Matthew 9:7-9.

And said unto his servants, This is John the Baptist; he is risen from the dead; and therefore mighty works do shew forth themselves in him.
2. he] The Greek is emphatic, “he himself,” “in his own person.”

risen from the dead] A proof that Herod did not hold the Sadducean doctrine, that there is no resurrection.

and therefore] In consequence of having risen from the dead he is thought to be possessed of larger powers. Alford remarks that this incidentally confirms St John’s statement (ch. Matthew 10:41), that John wrought no miracle while living.

mighty works do shew forth themselves] Literally, works of power are active in him.

For Herod had laid hold on John, and bound him, and put him in prison for Herodias' sake, his brother Philip's wife.
3. in prison] At Machærus, in Peræa, on the eastern side of the Dead Sea, near the southern frontier of the tetrarchy. Here Antipas had a palace and a prison under one roof, as was common in the East. Cp. Nehemiah 3:25, “The tower which lieth out from the king’s high house that was by the court of the prison.” It was the ordinary arrangement in feudal castles. At Machærus, now M’khaur, remains of buildings are still visible. These are probably the ruins of the Baptist’s prison. Herod was living in this border fortress in order to prosecute the war with his offended father-in-law, Aretas. He was completely vanquished—a disaster popularly ascribed to his treatment of John the Baptist.

For John said unto him, It is not lawful for thee to have her.
4. It is not lawful for thee to have her] St Luke adds, Mark 3:19, that Herod was also reproved “for all the evil which he had done.” “Boldly to rebuke vice” is fixed upon as the leading characteristic of the Baptist in the collect for St John the Baptist’s day.

to have her] i. e. “to marry her,” a force which the word in the original bears, cp. 1 Corinthians 5:1.

And when he would have put him to death, he feared the multitude, because they counted him as a prophet.
5. when he would] In modern language “although he was willing.” From St Mark we learn that Herodias was eager to kill John, while Herod, partly from fear of his prisoner, partly from interest in him, refused to take away his life. St Mark’s narrative gives a picture of the inner court intrigues, and bears evidence of keen questioning of some eye-witness as to facts. Possibly some of Herod’s own household were secret adherents of John.

feared the multitude, &c.] The same motive that held the tyrant’s hand, checked the arguments of the Pharisees, ch. Matthew 21:26.

But when Herod's birthday was kept, the daughter of Herodias danced before them, and pleased Herod.
6. the daughter of Herodias] Salome; she was afterwards married to her uncle Herod-Philip, the tetrarch, and on his death to Aristobulus, grandson of Herod the Great.

danced before them] Some sort of pantomimic dance is meant. Horace notes as one of the signs of national decay that even highborn maidens learnt the voluptuous dances of the East. Herod would recall similar scenes at Rome. See note Matthew 14:1.

Whereupon he promised with an oath to give her whatsoever she would ask.
And she, being before instructed of her mother, said, Give me here John Baptist's head in a charger.
8. instructed] Rather, impelled, instigated.

a charger] The original word = “a flat wooden trencher” on which meat was served. This appears to have been the meaning of the old English word “charger,” which is connected with cargo and with French charger, and signified originally that on which a load is placed, hence a dish.

And the king was sorry: nevertheless for the oath's sake, and them which sat with him at meat, he commanded it to be given her.
9. for the oaths’ sake] “Because of the oaths;” he had sworn repeatedly.

And he sent, and beheaded John in the prison.
And his head was brought in a charger, and given to the damsel: and she brought it to her mother.
11. brought it to her mother] The revenge of Herodias recalls the story of Fulvia, who treated with great indignity the head of her murdered enemy Cicero, piercing the tongue once so eloquent against her. Both are instances of “furens quid femina possit.”

And his disciples came, and took up the body, and buried it, and went and told Jesus.
12. his disciples came, and took up the body, and buried it] There is in this some proof of forbearance, if not of kindness, on Herod’s part. He did not persecute John’s disciples, or prevent them paying the last offices to their master.

When Jesus heard of it, he departed thence by ship into a desert place apart: and when the people had heard thereof, they followed him on foot out of the cities.
13–21. Jesus retires to a Desert Place, where He feeds Five Thousand

Mark 6:31-44; Luke 9:10-17; John 6:5-14This is the only miracle narrated by all the Evangelists. In St John it prepares the way for the memorable discourse on the “Bread of Life.” St John also mentions, as a result of this miracle, the desire of the people “to take Him by force and make Him a king.” There is a question as to the locality of the miracle. St Luke says (ch. Matthew 9:10) that Jesus “went aside privately into a desert place belonging to a city called Bethsaida.” St Mark (ch. Mark 6:45) describes the disciples as crossing to Bethsaida after the miracle. The general inference has been that there were two Bethsaidas; Bethsaida Julias, near the mouth of the Jordan (where the miracle is usually said to have taken place), and another Bethsaida, mentioned in the parallel passage in St Mark and possibly John 1:44. But the Sinaitic MS. omits the words in italics from Luke, and at John 6:23 reads, “When, therefore, the boats came from Tiberias, which was nigh unto the place where they did eat bread.” If these readings be accepted, the scene of the miracle must be placed near Tiberias; the Bethsaida of Mark, to which the disciples crossed, will be the well-known Bethsaida Julias, and the other supposed Bethsaida will disappear even from the researches of travellers.

And Jesus went forth, and saw a great multitude, and was moved with compassion toward them, and he healed their sick.
And when it was evening, his disciples came to him, saying, This is a desert place, and the time is now past; send the multitude away, that they may go into the villages, and buy themselves victuals.
15. And when it was evening] In the Jewish division of the day there were two evenings. According to the most probable view the space of time called “between the evenings” (Exodus 12:6) was from the ninth to the eleventh hour. Hence the first evening ended at 3 o’clock, the second began at 5 o’clock. In this verse the first evening is meant, in Matthew 14:23 the second.

But Jesus said unto them, They need not depart; give ye them to eat.
And they say unto him, We have here but five loaves, and two fishes.
He said, Bring them hither to me.
And he commanded the multitude to sit down on the grass, and took the five loaves, and the two fishes, and looking up to heaven, he blessed, and brake, and gave the loaves to his disciples, and the disciples to the multitude.
19. to sit down on the grass] Rather, grassy places. St Mark and St Luke mention that they sat in companies “by hundreds and by fifties” (Mark), “by fifties” (Luke). St John notes the time of year; “the passover, a feast of the Jews, was nigh.”

And they did all eat, and were filled: and they took up of the fragments that remained twelve baskets full.
20. they took up of the fragments] The Greek word for fragments is connected with the verb “to break” in the preceding verse. The true meaning of the word is therefore “the portions broken off for distribution.”

twelve baskets] The same word kophinoi is used for baskets in the four accounts of this miracle, and also by our Lord, when He refers to the miracle (ch. Matthew 16:9); whereas a different word is used in describing the feeding of four thousand and in the reference made to that event by our Lord (ch. Matthew 16:10). The Roman poet Juvenal describes a large provision-basket of this kind, together with a bundle of hay, as being part of the equipment of the Jewish mendicants who thronged the grove of Egeria at Rome. The motive for this custom was to avoid ceremonial impurity in eating or in resting at night.

And they that had eaten were about five thousand men, beside women and children.
And straightway Jesus constrained his disciples to get into a ship, and to go before him unto the other side, while he sent the multitudes away.
22. a ship] the ship or their ship.

22–33. The Disciples cross from the Scene of the Miracle to Bethsaida

Mark 6:45-52; John 6:15-21St Matthew alone narrates St Peter’s endeavour to walk on the sea.

And when he had sent the multitudes away, he went up into a mountain apart to pray: and when the evening was come, he was there alone.
23. when the evening was come] See Matthew 14:15.

he was there alone] This is a simple but sublime thought:—the solitary watch on the lonely mountain, the communion in prayer with the Father throughout the beautiful Eastern night.

But the ship was now in the midst of the sea, tossed with waves: for the wind was contrary.
24. tossed with waves] The expression in the original is forcible, “tortured by the waves,” writhing in throes of agony, as it were. These sudden storms are very characteristic of the Lake of Gennesaret.

And in the fourth watch of the night Jesus went unto them, walking on the sea.
25. in the fourth watch] i. e. early in the morning. Cp. “Et jam quarta canit venturam buccina lucem,” Propert. iv. 4. 63. At this time the Jews had adopted the Greek and Roman custom of four night watches. Formerly they divided the night into three watches, or rather according to Lightfoot (Hor. Heb.) the Romans and Jews alike recognised four watches, but with the Jews the fourth watch was regarded as morning, and was not included in the three watches of “deep night.” The four watches are named (Mark 13:35) 1 Even; 2 Midnight; 3 Cockcrowing; 4 Morning. St John states that they had rowed 25 or 30 furlongs.

Jesus went unto them] Mark adds “He would have passed by them.”

And when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, It is a spirit; and they cried out for fear.
But straightway Jesus spake unto them, saying, Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid.
And Peter answered him and said, Lord, if it be thou, bid me come unto thee on the water.
And he said, Come. And when Peter was come down out of the ship, he walked on the water, to go to Jesus.
29. And he said, Come] The boat was so near that the voice of Jesus could be heard even through the storm, though the wind was strong and the oarsmen labouring and perhaps calling out to one another. The hand of the Saviour was quite close to the sinking disciple.

But when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me.
And immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and caught him, and said unto him, O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?
And when they were come into the ship, the wind ceased.
Then they that were in the ship came and worshipped him, saying, Of a truth thou art the Son of God.
33. the Son of God] See note, ch. Matthew 4:6.

And when they were gone over, they came into the land of Gennesaret.
34. the land of Gennesaret] By this is meant the plain of Gennesaret, two miles and a half in length and about one mile in breadth. Modern travellers speak of “its charming bays and its fertile soil rich with the scourings of the basaltic hills.” Josephus describes the district in glowing terms (B. J. iii. 10. 8). See Recovery of Jerusalem, p. 351.

34–36. Jesus cures sick folk in the Land of Gennesaret

Mark 6:53-56, where the stir of the neighbourhood and eagerness of the people are vividly portrayed.

And when the men of that place had knowledge of him, they sent out into all that country round about, and brought unto him all that were diseased;
And besought him that they might only touch the hem of his garment: and as many as touched were made perfectly whole.
36. the hem of his garment] The hem of the garment had a certain sanctity attached to it. It was the distinguishing mark of the Jew: cp. Numbers 15:38-39, “that they add to the fringes of the borders (or corners) a thread of blue.” At each corner of the robe there was a tassel; each tassel had a conspicuous blue thread symbolical of the heavenly origin of the Commandments. The other threads were white.

as many as touched were made perfectly whole] Cp. the case of the woman with an issue of blood, ch. Matthew 9:20-22.

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