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DEATH OF JOHN THE BAPTIST-JESUS FEEDS THE MULTITUDES-RETURNS TO CAPERNAUM-CONVERSES IN THE SYNAGOGUE.
ABOUT this time took place the death of John the Baptist. Herodias, wife of Herod, at whose instigation he had been imprisoned, would willingly have put him to death in the beginning; but Herod, who had a great respect for him, and moreover knew how the people honored him, would consent to do no more than imprison him.
Herodias was resolved to accomplish her purpose at the first convenient opportunity. Such an one presented itself on the birth-day of Herod, when he gave a great entertainment to his lords, and high captains, and the chief estates of Galilee. She then sent in her daughter, Salome, to dance before the king and his guests. This was a great condescension on the part of this young lady, because public dancing was not considered becoming in persons of rank. Hence it was the greater compliment to the occasion; and Herod, in the excitement of the moment, took an oath that he would grant her any favor that she should ask. She consulted her mother; and that cunning and
Mat. xiv. i. Mark vi. 14.
Luke ix. 7.
revengeful woman bade her ask the head of John the Baptist. Herod perceived the snare in which he had been taken, and would gladly have retracted. But he had bound himself by an oath, and was urged on by those who sat with him at table, and he therefore commanded it to be done. John was beheaded in prison, and his head given to Salome, who carried it to her infamous mother. The crime did not go unpunished. In the first place, Herod was defeated in battle by Aretas king of Arabia, whose daughter he had set aside in order to marry Herodias. Josephus declares, that all the people regarded this as a judgment from heaven for his treatment of John. Afterwards, Herodias, being ambitious that her husband should enjoy as high a title as her brother Agrippa, the king, persuaded him to go to Rome and seek it of the Emperor. But the Emperor, having reason to doubt his loyalty, instead of advancing him to dignity, banished him to Lyons, and then to Spain. Such was the punishment which Providence brought upon the complicated wickedness of this petty prince.
Herod appears to have been haunted and made miserable by the consciousness of his guilt. We read that when he heard the reports of the wonderful works of Jesus, he thought it must be John risen from the dead; and though his courtiers endeavored to persuade him that it was rather
Elias, or some other of the ancient prophets, his disturbed fancy still represented him as the man whom he had so unjustly destroyed.
It seems at first view strange, that Herod should now hear of Jesus for the first time, when he had been for so long a period active in the province. Tiberias, the seat of government, was not far from Capernaum; and although it does not appear that Jesus had visited that city, yet it is evident that the reports concerning him must have reached it. It is probable, therefore, that during our Lord's ministry thus far, Herod had been absent from Galilee. It has been supposed by some, that this was the season of his war with Aretas; that it was his soldiers, marching toward Arabia, who some months before had inquired their duty of John the Baptist; and that it was immediately on his return from that war, that he made his birthday feast, and put the Baptist to death. then he had been absent from Galilee during the whole of our Lord's ministry thus far; and this explains why he has never been mentioned in the course of the history, and why the fame of Jesus was new to him. Others suppose that this must have been the year when he made a journey to Rome. In either case the difficulty is removed. But if we should suppose that Jesus had been preaching in Galilee two or three years, instead of a few months, the difficulty would be insuperable
When Jesus heard of the death of John, he immediately retired across the lake with his apostles. Herod had expressed a desire to see him; but he did not choose to put himself in the power of that cunning man, and therefore from this time forward spent very little time in Galilee, or indeed in any one place. He now retreated to a desert spot in the neighborhood of Bethsaida, in the dominions of Philip. The people soon discovered whither he had gone, and went by land to the same place "from all the cities." It was impossible to avoid them, and he went upon a hill and taught them, and healed their sick.
When the day drew toward a close, the disciples suggested that the multitudes must be wearied and faint, and that it would be well to send them away to the villages for refreshment. But Jesus chose the opportunity for a new display of his power, such as had not yet been made, and such as was likely to appeal to the minds of many who had been little affected by his other works. It is well worthy of observation, how he varied the character of his miracles, that he might suit them to every variety of disposition, and give to all capacities the opportunity to be convinced. On the present occasion, he resolved to feed the multitude himself, instead of sending them away. He
Matt. xiv. 13. Mark vi. 35. Luke ix. 10. John vi. 1.
accordingly directed his disciples to arrange them in companies of fifty persons, and make them sit down on the grass. It was thus ascertained that the number of people was about five thousand; which gives us some idea of the magnitude of the crowds which usually attended our Lord. It is possible, that his being in a new place may have called together many who had no previous opportunity of seeing the celebrated prophet; but otherwise, there is no reason to suppose that this was a larger number than frequently assembled round him.
However this may be, their astonishment and admiration may well have been extreme, when they found that they were thus seated on the hillside for the purpose of being fed by two fishes and five loaves of bread; when they saw this scanty pittance multiply as it passed through their ranks; and, after their hunger was fully satisfied, saw the Apostles gather up twelve baskets full of the uneaten remnants. This new and signal wonder excited them to a high pitch of enthusiasm. They were now sure that this was the Messiah. They were sure there could be no risk in proclaiming him such, for he would be able to support any number of followers at his pleasure. Perhaps they even fancied, that he designed in this act to intimate his readiness to provide for those who would adhere to him. At any rate,