William Barclay: Curious Little Hint

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“The people were amazed when they saw the mute speaking, the crippled made well, the lame walking and the blind seeing. And they praised the God of Israel…They all ate and were satisfied. Afterward the disciples picked up seven basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over.” Matthew 15:31, 37

“Many scholars think that the feeding of the five thousand and the feeding of the four thousand are different versions of the same incident; but that is not so. As we have seen, the date is different; the first took place in the spring, the second in the summer. The feeding of the four thousand took place in Decapolis. Decapolis literally means ten cities, and the Decapolis was a loose federation of ten free Greek cities.

On this occasion there would be many Gentiles present, perhaps more Gentiles than Jews. It is that fact that explains the curious phrase in verse 31, “They glorified the God of Israel.” To the Gentile crowds this was a demonstration of the power of the God of Israel.

There is another curious little hint of difference. In the feeding of the five thousand the baskets which were used to take up the fragments are called kophinoi; in the feeding of the four thousand they are called sphurides. The kophinos was a narrow-necked, flask-shaped basket which Jews often carried with them, for a Jew often carried his own food, lest he should be compelled to eat food that had been touched by Gentile hands and was therefore unclean. The sphuris was much more like a hamper; it could be big enough to carry a man, and it was a kind of basket a Gentile would use.

The wonder of this story is that in these healings and in this feeding of the hungry, we see the mercy and the compassion of Jesus going out to the Gentiles. Here is the kind of symbol and foretaste that the bread of God was not to be confined to the Jews; that the Gentiles were also to have their share of Him who is the living bread.”

William Barclay in The Gospel of Matthew, volume 2 (DSBS; Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1975) 126.

This week as I approach 4,000 daily posts over the past 11 years, we are exploring the deep nuances of the feeding of the 4,000. This miracle appears in two Gospels, Matthew and Mark, and it seems fitting to explore at this time because contains themes of compassion and generosity.

As we dig deeper into Matthew’s account we see further details that explain the difference between the feeding of the 5,000 which happened among the Jews and the feeding of the 4,000 which took place in Gentile territory.

Striking to me was the “curious little hint” that Barclay brings out and how it relates to our generosity, especially in seasons of racial division and strife.

The fact that the bread of life was for everyone, Jews and Gentiles (all non-Jews), means that our generosity and compassion, our kindness and love, should likewise touch everyone.

Imagine that even the Gentile hampers are made clean by the one who fills them in abundance. And how beautiful that they acknowledge and exalt the God of Israel.

How might our generosity demonstrate that God’s love is for everyone? What could we include in our giving to show compassion to those who are lost or labeled as unclean?

The significance of the curious little hint cannot be understated. It’s God winking at those who think they are outside the love of God. There is plenty of bread the hamper. Take, eat, and be satisfied.