Whose sad imprisonment and death did we learn about? By whose order had John been put to death? By whose wish was it done? Who took up the body of John and buried it in a tomb? When they had done this they came to the Lord to tell Him what had happened.
At just about this time the twelve apostles came back from the mission which the Lord had sent them upon, eager to tell Him of their success; and they entered into a ship together to go to the other side of the sea, to the sunny slopes near where the Jordan enters, to rest awhile. Here also they were outside of Herod's rule. But many people at Capernaum and along the shore saw Him go, and saw how the boat was headed; so they ran along the shore, and some of them came to Bethsaida before Him, and were waiting for Him when He landed, and others came only a little later. There may have been more people than usual in the neighborhood, for the time of the Passover at Jerusalem was near, and many people were on their way to the feast. These had heard of the wonderful things the Lord had done, and eagerly joined the multitude to listen.
The Lord had compassion upon them and taught them, and they were so interested that they still stayed and listened though they had no midday meal, and it was growing late in the afternoon. The disciples began to be anxious, and came to the Lord and begged Him to send the multitude away that they might go into the villages and buy themselves bread, for there was no chance to get anything to eat on the hillsides where they were. But the Lord said, "Give ye them to eat." The disciples did not know what He meant or what to think. The lad who had brought their provisions for them had only five barley loaves and two little fishes, a very small lunch even for them, and here was a company of five thousand men besides the women and children. The disciples said, Shall we go and buy two hundred pennyworth of bread that each one may have a little? (The penny was worth fifteen cents.)
But the Lord commanded them to make the people sit down in companies upon the green grass. So after they were seated in companies of a hundred and fifty, the Lord told the disciples to bring Him the five loaves and two fishes. We can think of the people spread out upon the hillside, sitting among the grass and flowers, for all the hillsides are bright with flowers in the spring time, and the companies of people themselves must have looked like great flower beds in their bright Eastern dresses. Before them stood the Lord and His anxious disciples, the whole company wondering; and beyond them all spread the beautiful blue sea reflecting the light of the late afternoon sun. The Lord took the bread and fishes and blessing them handed them to the disciples to give to the people. And always as they came back for a fresh supply the Lord had more to give them, and this until all had had all they wanted; and even then as the Lord told His disciples to gather up what remained they filled twelve baskets. There was very much more left than the five loaves and the two fishes which they had in the first place. You can imagine how astonished all the people must have been, the disciples most of all.
Tell me about the Lord's sending out the twelve apostles. Now they came together again to the Lord by the Gennesaret shore. (Mark 6:30; Luke 9:10) The multitudes were coming and going, and the Lord took the twelve apart to a quiet place for rest.
Here is the place, the green slopes at the northeast corner of the lake, pasture land belonging to Bethsaida Julias, a little town east of the Jordan where it comes near the lake. (John 6: 1; Luke 9:10) It is called a desert place, but that does not mean barren, for there was much grass in the place. It is a part of the fine pasture land of Bashan. A desert place means quiet, open country with few towns. See on the map, as they sailed across they were not far from the northern shore of the lake. The people saw them setting sail and ran along the shore, others joining them from each town they passed, so that when the boat came to land a great multitude were already there - five thousand men besides women and children. The Lord pitied them. They seemed as sheep not having a shepherd. He healed those that were sick, and spent the day teaching them heavenly things.
The Lord led the people up on the sunny slopes above the lake, and sat teaching them as they gathered about Him. So the day passed, and it drew toward evening. The people were far from home. The Lord asked Philip, "Whence shall we buy bread, that these may eat?" (You will like to turn to the story in all the Gospels. (Matthew 14:13-21; Luke 9:10-17; John 6:1-15) Let us note a few things before we read the story. The penny was a coin worth fifteen cents, but a day's wages in those days. (Matthew 20:2) The loaves were thin round cakes of bread made of barley, a cheap coarse grain. The fishes were little dried ones, eaten as relishes with bread. "In ranks"; the words mean rather, "flower beds, flower beds," for so they looked in their bright dresses on the green. The twelve baskets were wicker baskets, such as they used on a journey to carry, provisions in.
The Lord made the food for them. The same Lord makes all our food. Usually He does it by sending sunshine and rain, and making the grain grow in the fields. Then He did it right from His own hand.. What He gives us is just as much His gift. We must thank Him for our daily bread.
1. Where did the Lord feed the five thousand? With what did He feed them?
2. Note the numbers: the multitude, the loaves, the fishes, the baskets filled with fragments.
3. Does the Lord do any such miracle nowadays?
There were two miracles of feeding the multitude. We shall compare them when we learn of the second miracle in Mark 8:1-10.
We have learned that the Lord's miracles were all outward expressions of His spiritual works. What spiritual work does the feeding of the people picture? Do we need spiritual food? Suppose we had plenty of natural food, would that make our spirits grow strong? Our minds need food: interesting subjects of thought, and good things to love. Instruction in these heavenly things is spiritual food. Read of such food in Isaiah 55:1, 2; Amos 8:11; Matthew 16:6, 12. (A. 680; E. 750.) The Lord on this day by the Sea of Galilee had been giving spiritual bread as He taught the people; and now to show His desire to feed them and make them strong, He gave them also food for their bodies. Remember the spiritual help we need when we say, "Give us this day our daily bread."
The poor barley bread and little fishes have a special meaning. A fruit tree represents growing knowledge about some good use, and the nourishing fruit is the use with the satisfaction we feel in it. Grains represent little plans for daily use; small, in great numbers, comparatively dry and unattractive; but after all they give life its chief satisfaction. The noblest grain, wheat, represents knowledge of duties done in the highest motive of serving the Lord. Barley represents knowledge of duties done in the more natural motive of neighborly kindness. The Lord blesses duties done in this more common motive and makes them strengthening to the soul. And the little fishes. We have thought of the sea as representing an atmosphere of natural thought. The fishes are the affections for learning natural knowledge and thinking in a natural way. The barley loaves represented the natural satisfaction in good uses, and the fishes the natural understanding in regard to them, which the people were receiving from the Lord. Why did the Lord feed the people with barley loaves and not with "the finest of the wheat"? (Psalm 81:13, 16) He gave them as they were able to receive. Even today Christian people know little of the blessedness of the doing duties for the Lord, though many are sustained by the satisfaction of helping one another. (E. 430, 617.)
Learn also the lesson that we must not be afraid to share what we have of love and knowledge of heavenly things. It is little and poor, but with the Lord's blessing it will give strength to others, and we have the more ourselves for sharing the little we have. Is it not so when we try to encourage others, or to teach them?