The Lord was to do one more great miracle before crossing back to the west side of the Sea of Galilee. He had been healing and helping the Gentile or partly Gentile people east of the sea and the Jordan, and we read that a great multitude of four thousand people followed Him and stayed with Him in a desert place three days, and that they had nothing to eat; and the Lord had compassion upon them, for many of them were far from their homes. But His disciples said, "From whence can a man satisfy these men with bread here in the wilderness?" The Lord asked them how many loaves they had, and they said seven. And He commanded the people to sit down upon the ground, and He gave thanks and brake the bread and gave it to His disciples to set before the people. They also had a few small fishes; these the Lord blessed also and they were set before the people, and when all were filled they took up seven large baskets full of the fragments that remained. Read verses 1-9.
Have we heard a story much like this before? It seems strange that the disciples should again be anxious about the possibility of feeding a multitude when they had seen the wonderful feeding of the five thousand. But when we are in trouble and fear do we always remember how the Lord has taken care of us before? It is also possible that they did remember, but that it was such a great and wonderful miracle that they did not quite dare to think that the Lord would repeat it. Again they may have thought that as this was a Gentile multitude the Lord would not care to feed them with the heavenly bread.
After the feeding of the multitude the Lord crossed with the disciples in a ship home to the western shore. There the Pharisees met Him and asked Him to give them a sign from heaven. Were not the miracles of feeding the multitude and of healing enough to show His Divine power to all who were willing to see it?
It was beginning to appear that there was more willingness to receive the Lord among the Gentile people outside the land of Israel. Again He crossed the sea to Bethsaida on the eastern side. There they brought a blind man to the Lord. He took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the town, and putting water from His mouth upon his eyes, and putting His hand upon him, He asked if he could see. The man looked up and said he saw men like trees walking. He could see a little, but not plainly. Then the Lord put His hands again upon his eyes and he saw distinctly. In a sense we are all blind, but the Lord will help us to see, though as with this poor man it will not come all at once.
The Lord had returned from Tyre and Sidon "through the midst of the coasts of Decapolis," and was in the country east of Jordan. He drew near to the Sea of Galilee and went up into a mountain and sat down there, and the people came about Him. You read again of a feeding of a multitude. Compare this miracle with the one so like it, described in Mark 6:31-44. Carefully note the differences. In the first miracle the people had been with the Lord one day, now three days. The multitude in the first miracle were Israelites, in the second Gentiles. In the first five thousand were fed, in the second four thousand. In the first there were five loaves and two fishes. In the second seven loaves and a few fishes. In the first twelve baskets full of fragments, in the second seven baskets. After the first miracle the Lord sent the disciples away in the boat, after the second miracle He crossed with them to Dalmanutha, apparently near Magdala. (Matthew 15:39)
The miracle which the Lord does for us in sending the sunshine and the rain, and making the grain and fruit trees grow to give us food, is no less wonderful than the gift of food right from His own hand. Especially we see His power in the spring when life from Him makes all things begin to grow. "These wait all upon Thee; that Thou mayest give them their meat in due season. Thou openest Thine hand, they are filled with good. Thou sendest forth Thy spirit, they are created: and Thou renewest the face of the earth." (Psalm 104:27-30)
The disciples seemed slow to learn the lesson of the Lord's care from the first miracle. (Mark 6:52) They were slow to learn even when they had seen the sign of power repeated. (Mark 8:14-21)
Read also of the healing of a blind man at Bethsaida, - apparently the Bethsaida that we learned of in the first feeding of the multitude. (Luke 9:10)
1. How many miracles of feeding the multitude have we learned of? Where was the second miracle?
2. What differences between the two miracles can you point out?
3. Did the Pharisees see the Divine power in the Lord's works? Were the disciples quick to learn the lesson?
4. What did the blind man see before he could see clearly?
Remind me what spiritual work of the Lord is represented in the miracle of feeding the multitude. The giving of spiritual food, which is instruction about good things to satisfy our affections and thoughts. All plants represent growing intelligence of many kinds. Grains represent little plans for daily duties, and in their fruit, the duties well done, the heart finds the chief satisfaction of life - daily bread. The sea represents an atmosphere of natural thought, and fishes affections for thinking in it and gathering natural knowledge. Bread and fishes therefore represent satisfaction in duty well done, and interest in learning the ways of right and use -gifts from the Lord on which our souls grow strong. (E. 340, 430, 617)
Carefully compare the two miracles:
5000 men; 5 loaves; 2 fishes; 12 baskets full
The Lord's own words about the miracles, in Mark 8:19, 20, show that there is especial meaning in the numbers. (E. 430.) Can we weigh or measure spiritual things? We weigh arguments, and take the measure of one's ability. "So teach us to number our days" (Psalm 90:12), is a prayer to be taught the quality and purpose of each passing state. "The very hairs of your head are all numbered," means that the Lord knows the quality of each little thing we do or say. (E. 453; A. 10217) We go but a step further to learn that each number carries the idea of some particular quality. (A. 648; R. 348)
The second miracle represents a deeper, more spiritual feeding of the soul than the first. The five loaves and the five thousand of the first miracle represent what is few and little, for this meaning is always connected with five. The four thousand of the second miracle represents what is more full and perfect; and this is especially suggested by the two sevens in the second miracle, for seven represents what is very full and heavenly. (R. 905-908; A. 9717; E. 257)
The healing of the blind man you will see represents the opening of the understanding to the truths of heavenly life; for to understand is to see. Study the particulars of the miracle. Leading the blind man out of the town suggests freeing one from old associations and habits of thought. The spittle upon his eyes suggests true instruction from the currents of the Lord's own thought. Seeing men as trees represents an intellectual comprehension, for trees are types of intelligence of many kinds. To see every man clearly is to perceive truths of life not only intellectually, but in all their human quality. (A. 6990; E. 239)