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Feeding the Multitudes

A Video Supplement for
Come, Follow Me Lesson 13:
“Be Not Afraid”




In this video I will discuss Jesus’s miracles of feeding the multitudes including the Feeding of the 5000 and the Feeding of the 4000. These stories can be found in Matthew 14 and 15, respectively, as well as other locations (including Mark 6, Luke 9 and John 6 for the feeding of the 5000 and Mark 8 for the feeding of the 4000). Jesus miraculously provides food for a large number of people but as I have thought about these passages I think these miracles were actually powerful and calculated teaching devices as much as anything else. I will read these two episodes as well as another key episode involving a woman of Canaan that helps link them together and bring out their combined meaning.

Matthew 14:

15 ¶ 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.
16 But Jesus said unto them, They need not depart; give ye them to eat.
17 And they say unto him, We have here but five loaves, and two fishes.
18 He said, Bring them hither to me.
19 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.
20 And they did all eat, and were filled: and they took up of the fragments that remained twelve baskets full.
21 And they that had eaten were about five thousand men, beside women and children.

So they feed a great multitude with a trivial amount of food and gather up 12 baskets full of fragments afterward. The number of things that remain afterward are an important feature of the feeding the multitude narratives and contain important lessons. The number 12 is explicitly linked in the scriptures to the House of Israel. Why you might ask? Well, from Israel we have the 12 tribes. You may recall that they are represented in the Temple by the twelve oxen which carry the laver or large basin. To me the message of this story and the numerical detail is that as the disciples took up twelve baskets full of the loaves and the fishes, so there is in the Savior and His gospel sufficient nourishment for all the House of Israel.

Here next in Matthew 15 we have an episode which helps to link the two feedings of the multitude into a broader message. Starting at verse 21,

Matthew 15:

21 ¶ Then Jesus went thence, and departed into the coasts of Tyre and Sidon.
22 And, behold, a woman of Canaan came out of the same coasts, and cried unto him, saying, Have mercy on me, O Lord, thou Son of David; my daughter is grievously vexed with a devil. So she is a gentile but believes Jesus can help her daughter who is afflicted.
23 But he answered her not a word. And his disciples came and besought him, saying, Send her away; for she crieth after us.
24 But he answered and said, I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel.

So Jesus indicates that this is outside of the scope of his mission. How do you suppose she will respond?

25 Then came she and worshipped him, saying, Lord, help me.
26 But he answered and said, It is not meet to take the children’s bread, and to cast it to dogs. This is the part that helps link the feeding narratives: the bread (and, we might infer, the other blessings) is for the House of Israel, not the Gentiles.
27 And she said, Truth, Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.
28 Then Jesus answered and said unto her, O woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt. And her daughter was made whole from that very hour.

This is how you get blessings: you grab hold of the Lord like Jacob (also known a Israel) did and you refuse to let go until he blesses you. And when you do that, whether you are initially of Israel or not, and when in doing so you show tenacious faith like Israel, the Lord will bless you. So that we have this in front of us, it’s Genesis 32 starting at verse 24:

24 ¶ And Jacob was left alone; and there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day.
25 And when he saw that he prevailed not against him, he touched the hollow of his thigh; and the hollow of Jacob’s thigh was out of joint, as he wrestled with him.
26 And he said, Let me go, for the day breaketh. And he said, I will not let thee go, except thou bless me.
27 And he said unto him, What is thy name? And he said, Jacob.
28 And he said, Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel: for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed.

So Jacob here in this possible amusing episode has had his hip struck so that it is dislocated and still refuses to let go until God blesses him. This woman has faith like Jacob. Even when the Lord has described her with a vary unflattering metaphor—dogs, for example are an unclean animal under the law of Moses—she uses this beautiful bit of verbal jujitsu to say you can bait me all you want but you are still going to bless me. And indeed, this woman’s faithful resolve foreshadows the bringing of the gospel to the gentiles. They too will receive the bread of life that falls off the table, As we see later in the chapter, resuming at verse 32:

32 ¶ Then Jesus called his disciples unto him, and said, I have compassion on the multitude, because they continue with me now three days, and have nothing to eat: and I will not send them away fasting, lest they faint in the way.

I note that another commentator ( saw that it was after three days as significant because it was after Jesus’s resurrection that the gospel went to the Gentiles.

33 And his disciples say unto him, Whence should we have so much bread in the wilderness, as to fill so great a multitude?
34 And Jesus saith unto them, How many loaves have ye? And they said, Seven, and a few little fishes.
35 And he commanded the multitude to sit down on the ground.
36 And he took the seven loaves and the fishes, and gave thanks, and brake them, and gave to his disciples, and the disciples to the multitude.
37 And they did all eat, and were filled: and they took up of the broken meat that was left seven baskets full.

Seven is another of several highly symbolic numbers in the scriptures. The creation of the world is described as being completed in seven periods and the creation casts a rather lengthy shadow. So seven connotes God, perfection, completion, totality, creation and by extension all the created world and all its inhabitants. And as there were seven baskets of bread to spare, so in Jesus is there a source of spiritual nourishment sufficient to bless and bring the opportunity for salvation not only to the House of Israel but also to all the families of the earth. As Isaiah (49:6) put it, “And he said, It is a light thing that thou shouldest be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved of Israel: I will also give thee for a light to the Gentiles, that thou mayest be my salvation unto the end of the earth.”

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