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Bible boy_reading_bibleThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Matthew 15:32-39

Jesus Feeds the Four Thousand

32 Then Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I have compassion on the crowd because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat. And I am unwilling to send them away hungry, lest they faint on the way.” 33 And the disciples said to him, “Where are we to get enough bread in such a desolate place to feed so great a crowd?” 34 And Jesus said to them, “How many loaves do you have?” They said, “Seven, and a few small fish.” 35 And directing the crowd to sit down on the ground, 36 he took the seven loaves and the fish, and having given thanks he broke them and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. 37 And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up seven baskets full of the broken pieces left over. 38 Those who ate were four thousand men, besides women and children. 39 And after sending away the crowds, he got into the boat and went to the region of Magadan.


In last week’s reading, we read how Jesus healed many Gentiles who then worshipped the God of Israel, the God they had not known until then. These people — from the Greek-administered Decapolis — had been worshipping Greek gods. This period of divine, miraculous healing took three days.

The parallel passage for today’s reading is Mark 8:1-10, about which I wrote in 2012.

Neither of these readings is in the three-year Lectionary which many Catholic and Protestant churches use. If one’s only Bible study relies on this Lectionary (there is also a two-year one), one is missing out on quite a lot. One would not know that Jesus took care of the Gentiles in the same merciful, miraculous way He did the Jews.

By the end of those three marvellous days, the Gentiles needed to eat. Jesus, in His compassion and omniscience, was fully aware of that and, in order to prevent them fainting on the way home, would not send them away without a goodly amount of sustenance (verse 32).

Matthew Henry explains that hunger could have not only had physical consequences but also spiritual ones:

The weakness of the flesh is a great grievance to the willingness of the spirit.

The disciples recognised they were in the same predicament as they were in the feeding of the 5,000  (Matthew 14:13-21). Of verse 33, John MacArthur tells us that their reaction to feeding the 4,000 is has changed (emphases mine):

Before when they said, “What are we gonna do? We don’t even have enough to give everybody a little tiny morsel.” Now, from that experience, they know that when the Lord feeds, He fills everybody; so they say, “If you’re looking at us again, we’re in the same boat we were in last time You asked us that. We don’t have anything to fill this crowd.” The point being, in a wilderness area, and this is a desert area, away from these towns, there was no resource. This crowd could only have been serviced in proximity to a large city where the food could’ve gathered. There was no such proximity, and so I think the emphasis is not here on their unbelief, but on their recognition of their lack of resources. And they’re simply saying, “Here we go again, Lord. We have nothing to offer You.”

They have faith that Jesus will provide for the crowd. They are also fully aware that only He can do it.

Jesus asked what food was available and the disciples replied that they had seven loaves and a few small fish (verse 34). Henry’s commentary says:

The provision that was at hand seven loaves, and a few fishes: the fish not proportionable to the bread, for bread is the staff of life. It is probable that the fish was such as they had themselves taken for they were fishers, and were now near the sea.

Jesus instructed the crowd to sit while He took the loaves and fishes, gave thanks and asked the disciples to distribute the food (verses 35, 36). Of the thanks Jesus gave to God the Father, Henry explains that we, too, should follow His example:

He first gave thankseucharistesas. The word used in the former miracle was eulogesehe blessed. It comes all to one giving thanks to God is a proper way of craving a blessing from God. And when we come to ask and receive further mercy, we ought to give thanks for the mercies we have received.

MacArthur tells us how the miracle might well have transpired to feed 4,000 men as well as thousands of women and children (verse 38) to ensure that food was leftover for Jesus and the disciples (verse 37):

This is just thrilling. They come with these baskets, and He keeps filling the baskets, and they keep delivering. And they come back, and He keeps filling ’em again, and they deliver it; and He’s just creating it right out of His own hands. And again and again He continues to fill the baskets, and they continue to pass among the people who are no doubt seated in groups of 50 or 100 or whatever….and then verse 37 says, “They did all eat, and they were filled.” Again, the Lord never leaves them half full. “Took up the broken pieces, remnants left, seven baskets full. And they that did eat were 4,000 men, besides women and children.” Satisfied everybody, and they got seven baskets full.

Those who read the Bible regularly know that after feeding the 5,000 Jews (and thousands more women and children), that 12 baskets were left over. With the 4,000 Gentiles, seven baskets remained.

MacArthur describes the nature of the baskets. In short, Jewish baskets were smaller than Gentile ones:

This is kind of important. The first feeding had how many baskets? Twelve, one for each disciple, right? Here you have seven…Why the difference? Very, very interesting. The word in chapter 14 verse 20 is kofanass. That’s a little basket. And, by the way, that was a Jewish basket. That was a basket used by the Jews. It normally was a little round thing. It had a little sort of a spout on one end you could stick things in; and the Jew carried this around with him when he traveled for several reasons. It was easy, because there was sometimes no way to get access to a place to provide food, and so you carried it with yourself. And, also, the Jew is really fearful of getting any food that had been touched by Gentile hands; and so they tended to take their own, which had been, you know, treated and…and done their own way.

And so the Jews carried the little kofanass, this little basket with one meal in it. But the word used here is not kofanass. It’s spurdiss, and that is a Gentile basket. It’s a hamper. It’s a big basket; and the interesting thing is that every time the New Testament talks about the feeding of the 5,000, whatever Gospel account it’s in, it always uses kofanass, and every time it refers to the 4,000, it always uses spurdiss.

When He was feeding the Jews, the Jews had Jewish baskets. When He was feeding the Gentiles, the Gentiles had Gentile baskets; and the Gentile basket was big. You say, “How big was it?” I’ll you how big it was. Acts 9 tells us it was the same basket, spurdiss, with which the Apostle Paul was lowered over the wall in Damascus. It was big enough to put a whole person in. So it’s a big basket.

So the Lord then gave the food into these big baskets; and they took them and distributed them; and then in collecting they took all that they needed back in seven big baskets. And they may have needed more than they did the first time, because they hadn’t eaten this time for three days, not just one day. So the Lord provided for the crowd.

Verse 39 tells us that after the crowd had eaten and were full, Jesus dismissed them and went by boat to Magadan.

My discussion of Mark 8:1-10 describes Magadan — or Dalmanutha, as he called it — in much more detail. Despite the two different names, they are the same region. MacArthur says that Mary Magdalen came from there. It was in Galilee, near Gennesaret.

If Gennesaret rings a bell, Matthew 14:34-36 describes Jesus’s second ministry there. The first was when He healed the woman of her 12-year blood flow after she grabbed the hem of His garment (Matthew 9:18-26). Neither account of her miracle is in the three-year Lectionary. More’s the pity.

Henry concludes this compassionate, merciful period of creative miracles for the Gentiles as follows:

He sent away the people. Though he had fed them twice, they must not expect miracles to be their daily bread. Let them now go home to their callings, and to their own tables. And he himself departed by ship to another place for, being the Light of the world, he must be still in motion, and go about to do good.

Next time — Matthew 16:1-4

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