In those days the multitude being very great, and having nothing to eat, Jesus called his disciples to him, and said to them,…
1. The feeding of the four thousand.
2. The sign sought by the Pharisees.
3. The leaven of the Pharisees.
I. OMISSION. Having pretty fully considered the feeding of the five thousand recorded in the sixth chapter, and its relation to the feeding of the four thousand narrated in the above section of this eighth chapter, we waive further notice of this subject, as the two miracles are in fact twin miracles, having much in common, and many circumstances so similar that, as we saw, some erroneously identified them. We may add, however, that on the former occasion the northern villagers would have made Jesus a king; the dwellers on the eastern shores make no demonstration. Further, the five thousand were fed after the return of the twelve; the four thousand after our Lord's return from the borders of Tyre and Sidon. In the former case, the disciples went away by sea and Christ retired to the mountain, but met them again at the fourth watch, as he walked upon the waters. On the present occasion the multitude had been with Jesus three days, and afterwards he departed with the disciples in the ship.
II. THE PHARISEES. At this juncture they had made common cause with their bitter opponents, the Sadducees; both together made a combined and desperate attack on our Lord. He seems to have avoided Bethsaida and Capernaum, which were further north, and to have landed near Magdala, now El-Mejdel, in the neighborhood and about three miles to the north of which was Dalmanutha, on purpose, it would seem, to escape from those inveterate enemies who appear to have made Capernaum or Bethsaida their head-quarters. Consequently they were under the necessity of coming in quest of him; for they "came forth, and began to question with him." Their ostensible object on this occasion was to seek of him a sign from heaven, but their real design was, in all likelihood, to entrap him. They were insincere as well as sceptical; and, had the sought-for sign been granted, it would not have overcome their deeply rooted prejudices and hypocritical pretences. The conduct of these wretched men was suicidal. Their curiosity craved a sign; their unbelief unfitted them for its performance, as also for its proper perception had it been performed. Besides, had there not been many signs? Had not a multitude of the angelic host celebrated Christ's birth on the plains of Bethlehem? Had there not been the reception by Simeon, and the response of Anna at his presentation in the temple? Had not the star appeared in the East? Had not the Magi followed its guidance to worship the infant Saviour and to present their gifts? Had not an audible voice from heaven acknowledged him at his baptism, it did as on two subsequent occasions? Had not the Spirit, in visible, dove-like form, descended upon him? Thus in the temple two pious Jews expressed their grateful acknowledgments and recorded their joy, confessing their Lord. Soon after, Gentile Magi, men of scientific knowledge and literary pursuits, came from a far-off Eastern land to pay their homage. Here we have at once Hebrew piety and Gentile philosophy uniting to do honor to the infant Saviour, and bow in humility at his feet. Here, too, we have male and female - that Godly old man Simeon and that holy, aged woman Anna representing their respective sexes in owning his Messiahship. So afterwards, on his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, when the crowd that went before and the crowd that followed after had cried, "Hosanna to the Son of David: Blessed is he that cometh in the Name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest!" the children in the temple responded, saying in the selfsame strain, "Hosanna to the Son of David!" Old and young, male and female, Gentile and Jew, thus unite their tribute to that Saviour whose mercy they need, whose grace they share, by whose work they are benefited, and in whose salvation they participate. But not so these captious, sceptical, false-hearted, and malignant Pharisees. On three other occasions we read of a sign being demanded - after the cleansing of the temple, the journey through the corn-fields, the feeding of the five thousand; so also on the occasion mentioned here. What was the nature of the sign for which they clamoured? The signs they sought were marvels of a garish kind - appearances in the sky, such as manna coming down from heaven, as they themselves intimated in John 6.; or the standing still of the sun and moon, or the sudden descent of thunder and hail, or some change of the atmosphere, as Theophylact suggests; or the calling down of fire and rain, or the receding of the sun's shadow on the dial, or some great, overmastering, and stupendous miracle. "They thought," says Theophylact, "he could not perform a sign from heaven, as one who in league with Beelzebub could only perform signs on earth." But had they not seen even greater signs than these? And, had they been favored with the signs of their own choosing, would they have been satisfied? There is no reason to believe they would. Our Lord, however, never gratified an idle curiosity, nor wrought a miracle to create wonder, but usually to supply some want or relieve some necessity.
III. THE DISCIPLES' WANT OF SPIRITUAL DISCERNMENT. Our Lord, as we have seen, had to contend with the hostility of the Pharisees, their stubborn disbelief and ensnaring captiousness. In view of these, and of the subtilty of the temptation which claimed a miracle to prove his Messiahship, as also perhaps of the crisis that was hurrying on, there welled up from the depths of his heart that sigh of mingled patience and pity. But he had more to contend with than Pharisaic opposition and disbelief; he had the perverseness of his own disciples. If he had the stolid stubbornness of the Pharisees to encounter on the one hand, he had the stupidity of his own disciples to oppose on the other. On the one side there was sullen scepticism, on the other sad slowness of heart; on the one malignant frowardness, on the other wayward misconception. How often is the disciple of Christ similarly situated! He meets with open enmity on the part of Godless, Christless men, while unaccountably he finds obstacles thrown in his way by the professed friends of truth. If foes are bitter in their opposition, friends sometimes fail to render the expected and much-needed support - often, however, more from want of thought than want of will. But when distressed and depressed, what by fightings without and fears within, we have the example of our Lord to encourage us and keep us from desponding. If such things were done in a green tree, what may we not expect to be done in a dry?
IV. MEANING OF THE WARNING AGAINST THE LEAVEN. Our Lord broke off his interview with these hypocritical Pharisees abruptly, and re-embarked rather hurriedly. He abandoned them in their unbelief, renouncing and rejecting them as impracticable malignants. The disciples, whose duty it was to provide for their own and Master's wants, had somehow overlooked or neglected the duty that thus devolved on them. Either, owing to their hasty re-embarkation, they had forgotten (ἐπελάθοντο being used in a pluperfect sense) to provide bread before starting - a strange oversight after having collected seven large baskets (σπυρίδας) full of fragments; or, after landing, and when they had come to the other side, they forgot (ἐπελάθοντο having the ordinary past signification of the aorist) to take bread for their land-journey further, though they had had only one loaf with them in the ship. Our Lord, as usual, improving the occasion, and intending to guard his disciples from the subtle, insinuating errors and example of the Pharisees, warned them against their plausible but pernicious teaching, and in doing so he employed terms, as was his custom, suggested by recent occurrences. "Take heed, beware," he said, "of the leaven of the Pharisees, and of the leaven of Herod;" or, as Meyer understands the word (βλέπετε), "Take heed, turn your eyes away from the leaven of the Pharisees, and from the leaven of Herod;" or, as St. Matthew has it, from "the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees," so that Herod, from his Sadduceeism, may here, by way of eminence, represent that sect. Leaven, with the single exception of the parable of the leaven, is always used for evil of some sort, especially evil secretly working and silently diffusing itself; and hence, in preparation for the Passover, leaven was to be purged out of all the households of the Hebrews. Accordingly the leaven of the Pharisees, if used here in a specific and not in a generic sense, may he taken to denote hypocrisy, while the leaven of the Sadducees may signify misbelief, and that of Herod worldliness; and as the Sadducean creed allows full scope to worldly pleasures and pursuits, and because of their many points of contact, the two latter may coincide or change places; while the whole three are animated by one and the same spirit of opposition to God and true religion. Our Lord here warned his disciples against all doctrine, practice, or teaching of like character under the name of leaven. His disciples, in their low, grovelling notions, and through their slowness of spiritual apprehension, understood him to speak of bread in the literal sense, and of bread baked with leaven got from the Pharisees on landing. They supposed that the Saviour was warning them against anything of that kind that might corrupt them. How different the Master and the disciples! The latter allowed their thoughts to be too much engrossed with the bread that perisheth; the former had his mind occupied with the bread that endureth unto eternal life, and warned them against any teaching or any practice that might interfere with their possessing it. No wonder our Lord was somewhat sharp in his rebuke of their spiritual dulness, for, having eyes for the physical part of the miracles, they failed to see their spiritual import. They had eyesight only for the outward shell, but did not perceive the kernel. Hence it is that he inquires, Having ears, hear ye not?" and again, "How is it that ye do not understand?"
V. EXEGETICAL NOTE ON CERTAIN WORDS AND PHRASES IN THE PRECEDING SECTIONS.
1. The clause, "They have now been with me three days," is literally, There are now three days to them remaining with me. To the original expression thus exactly rendered has been cited the following parallel from the 'Philoctetes' of Sophocles Ην δ η΅μαρ ἤδη δεύτερον πλέοντί μοι: "It was now the second day to me sailing."
2. Instead of ἐν ἐρημία of St. Matthew, we have here in St. Mark ἐπ ἐρημίας, which is slightly different in sense, meaning, "In circumstances consequent on or connected with being in a desert."
3. In Ver. 12 the received text reads ἐπιζητεῖ, which yields a very suitable sense, namely, seeks a sign in addition to those already given. The critical editors, Lachmann, Tisehendorf, and Tregelles, however, read the simpler verb ζητεῖ.
4. In this same verse there is a Hebraistic form of strong abjuration. The clause in our English Version is, "There shall no sign be given;" so also the Syriac has simply "not;" but the strict rendering is, "If a sign shall be given," which, resolved according to the idiom of the original, is," May I not live if a sign shall be given," or "God do so to me and more if a sign shall be given."
5. So also in the same verse, "he brake," that is, at once, because the verb is the aorist tense; and "kept giving," as the verb is imperfect.
6. The two participles meaning respectively "having given thanks" and "blessed" amount to nearly the same thing, and set us an example suitable, seemly, and seasonable of thanking God and asking his blessing when we partake of our daily food; in other words, of conforming to the time-honored practice of saying "grace," as it is called, before meals, by which we thankfully acknowledge the Giver, and ask his blessing on and with the gift. - J.J.G.
Parallel VersesKJV: In those days the multitude being very great, and having nothing to eat, Jesus called his disciples unto him, and saith unto them,