Ha-Sefer shel Yochanan John 9: Here’s Mud in Your Eye (Recently Healed Beggar Schools a Group of Religious Leaders)
It’s important to note that Yeshua utilized miraculous signs, He did not venerate them. Every miracle He performed was done to point people to salvation through Him. Any miracle that does not point people to Yeshua and reconciliation to God is not of God.
This miracle (sign), found only in John’s gospel, is unique in many ways: the young man has been blind from birth, Yeshua uses inanimate matter (earth) in the healing process, and the healing generates a wide range of responses from observers and an argument over halakhah (application of Torah principles) that involves the parents of the recipient and the religious leaders--P’rushiym (Pharisees). John is concerned with revealing the Davar[H], logos[G] (Word, essence, substance) of Adonai made flesh, and also uses terms like light, dark, day and night, to show the stark contrast of the Messiah’s light against the dark night of this world (figurative of blindness and hidden deeds of evil). Thus, conveying the deeper meaning in the metaphor of light and its relationship to sight and revelation (lifting of a veil) throughout his gospel. John is clearly intending to make the Deity of Messiah plain for all to see. He wants us to understand what it truly means to behold Immanuel (God with us), literally “Imanu (He is with us) El (God)”. All this happens following Yeshua’s last words in John 8: “Before Avraham was born, I AM!”
There are also aspects of this miraculous sign that affirm the cultural and spiritual miss beliefs of some of the first century Jewish people and their leaders. However, before we become too critical we should remind ourselves that we continue to hold many of the same miss beliefs in the modern Christian Ecclesia (Church) to this day. In our text the disciples suggest by inference that personal or parental sin is the cause of the young man’s blindness, some of the Pharisees again accuse Yeshua of working on the Sabbath (the added action of mud making helps to fuel their zeal), excommunication (possibly cherem, indefinite cutting off from the community) is threatened against the young man’s parents and so the list goes on.
Yochanan (John, the writer of this gospel) tackles a wide range of issues in this concise but diverse account. If we are to understand it well, we will need to ask both the obvious questions regarding the healing itself and the deeper questions of religious culture and colloquial presumption. My hope is, that having studied this passage, we will be able to avoid the conclusion, “It’s clear as mud.” Though on second thought, perhaps in this case at least, the idiom denotes significant clarity.
1 As He (Yeshua) passed by, He saw (eido[G], va’yare[H]) a man blind, sightless (tuphlos[G], iveir[H]) from the day of (miyom[H]) his birth (genete[G], hivaldo[H]). 2 And His disciples (mathetes[G], talmidim[H]) asked Him, “Rabbi[H] (My Great One, Pastor, Teacher), who is the sinner (hamartano[G], ha’chote[H], missed the mark set by God), this man or his parents, in order (hina[G]) that he would be fathered (gennao[G]) blind, sightless (tuphlos[G], iveir[H])?”
“He (Yeshua) saw…” Note that this account begins by stating that Yeshua “sees, perceives”. This in contrast to the one born blind, sightless. The figurative meaning is that Yeshua, Whose origin is from above, sees and imparts sight, whereas the man (human being) is born of the earth, into a sin affected creation and is therefore blind, sightless from birth (Psalm 51:5). The opening verse essentially conveys the core premise for the Gospel’s purpose, to give sight to the spiritually blind and set them free from bondage to the deeds of darkness.
“For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;
24 Being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Messiah Yeshua:
25 Whom God has set forth to be a propitiation through faith in His blood, to declare His righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God;
26 To declare, I say, at this time His righteousness: that He might be just, and the justifier of him which believe in Yeshua.” -Romans 3:23-26
“Blind from birth.” This statement is significant, as testified to by the healed man himself in verse 32 of this same chapter. This is intended to set up the many Messianic overtones of the healing. For years prior Israel had been awaiting a Messiah for Whom one of the significant signs of His validity would be the giving of sight to the blind (Yeshayahu/Isaiah 29:18, 35:5, 42:7).
“On that day the deaf will hear d’variy My word, essence, substance, a sepher scroll, book, and out of their gloom and choshek darkness the eyes of the blind will see.” -Isaiah 29:18 (Author’s translation)
“Then the eyes of the blind will be opened
And the ears of the deaf will be unstopped.” -Isaiah 35:5 NASB
Notice that Isaiah uses the Hebrew word “Davar”, the same word Yochanan uses to describe Yeshua (John 1).
“To open blind eyes,
To bring out prisoners from the dungeon
And those who dwell in darkness from the prison.” -Isaiah 42:7 NASB
“Who sinned?” This question is not without foundation. There are clear examples both in Scripture and in life, of personal sin that results in illness. In the case of humanity’s fall, sin entered the world and death with it, therefore sin can be linked to all sickness to some degree. However, this does not always mean that personal sin has caused illness. Therefore, the disciples’ question can be seen as presumptuous, given that not all cases of illness are the direct result of personal sin.
There is substantial evidence indicating that the commonly held perception at that time, regarding illness, was that those who were severely ill had committed some great sin or had parents who had sinned and therefore were reaping the curse of the four generations as outlined in the Torah. To this the rabbis added arguments such as those regarding the ante-natal behaviour of Esau and Jacob (these rabbinical conversations are found in extra-Biblical texts which record the oral traditions and debates of the first century CE, e.g. Bereishit Rabbah 63:6 on Gen 25:22), some suggesting Esau’s sin in the womb as being the reason for his later loss of birth-rite. Needless to say, the question of the disciples was not unwarranted, given the social and religious connotations associated with severe sickness as understood by the Judaism of the first century CE.
“…fathered (gennao[G]) blind” This phrase infers something different from simply having been born (genete[G]) blind. To be “fathered blind” denotes blindness passed on by the father. In short, the disciples were inferring that the father (parents) were responsible.
Therefore, in this context “fathered blind” denotes that the “sins of the father” have been “visited on the son” (Exodus 20:4-6). The Torah text that explains this idea is associated to idolatry and therefore, infers that the one suffering under generational sin is reaping the fruit of an idolatrous forebear.
However, the prophet Ezekiel (Ezekiel 18), speaking the Word (Davar) of the Lord (YHVH) explains that each person is judged according to their own actions. This is consistent with the Torah because the Torah explains (Exodus 20:6) that the one who loves God and obeys His Instruction will see perpetual (everlasting) blessing (the number 1000 is a figurative Hebraism meaning “everlasting”). Therefore, at any point in the generations of the wicked a son might turn to God in repentance and reap blessing, thus cancelling out the curse of the four generations and redeeming the family line. Ezekiel’s words do not oppose the words of Exodus, rather they illuminate them. Yeshua has come to illuminate them further, and to add the need for discernment in all such situations so as to leave room for the redemptive works of God.
3 Yeshua[H] (YHVH Saves: Iesous[G], Joshua, Jesus) answered, “Neither this man sinned (hamartano[G], chata[H], missed the mark set by God), nor his parents; this has occurred (but) in order to manifest, display, make visible (phaneroo[G]) in him the business, occupation (ergon[G]) of the God (ho Theos[G], El[H]). 4 We must labour in (ergazomai[G]) the business, occupation (ergon[G]) of Him who sent Me (pempo[G]) as long as it is day (hemera[G], yom[H]); night (nux[G], halaylah[H]) is coming when no one can labour (ergazomai[G]). 5 While I am in the world (kosmos[G], ha-olam[H]), I am the uncreated Light (phos[G], Or[H]) of the world (kosmos[G], ha-olam[H]).”
Yeshua illuminates the small view of His disciples and shows them the big picture, the meta-narrative of redemption. He is explaining that individual sin is a symptom of the sin affected creation, and that God has made a way for all, parents and children to be delivered from their inherent blindness. “The works of God” which Yeshua is displaying are intended to point all to the King Messiah and redemption through His vicarious sacrifice.
Yeshua never performed a miracle (sign) simply for the sake of healing a person or as a display of His prowess. After all, what good is temporal healing if that same person fails to receive Yeshua and thus ends up in perpetual torment for all eternity? Yeshua is no magician, He’s not a doctor, nor any other kind of crass performer of temporal cures. He is God with us. He need not gain an audience.
“Neither… but this happened so that the works/signs of God might be displayed in him.” Yeshua is not saying that it’s impossible for personal sin to result in severe sickness. He is simply saying that it’s not the only option, that there are times when people get sick for other reasons. In this case the reason is that the purpose of God be made manifest. That is, a sign, work, action, that reveals the true identity of the Messiah as one who causes the blind to see—in fulfilment of the afore mentioned Messianic passages of Isaiah.
“As long as it is day…” It is here that John begins to juxtapose concepts of light and darkness, right action and sin, day and night. These themes become a metaphor for the stark contrast between blindness and sight. The conclusion will be that spiritual blindness is the greater danger. Only Messiah can act in this world to bring sight to that kind of blindness, and only those who are willing to accept that they are blind are able to receive sight. While Yeshua is with them, He is the Light of the world (John 8:12; 9:5).
“The occupation of God..” mirrors the language in Yeshua’s accusation against the religious leaders regarding the fact that they claimed to be children of Avraham and yet did not walk in the occupation, business of Avraham (John 8:39).
6 When He (Yeshua) had said this, He spat on the ground (chamai[G], ha-aretz[H]), and made clay (pelos[G], tiyt[H]) of the spittle, and applied, spread (epichrio[G]) the clay on his eyes (ophthalmos[G]), 7 and said to him, “Go, wash, ritually purify yourself, bathe (nipto[G], ashiyg[A], ur’chatz[H]) in the pool of Shiloach[H] (Siloam[G])” [which is translated, Sent]. So he went away and washed (nipto[G], ashiyg[A]), and came back seeing.
“He spit on the ground and made mud and put it on the blind man’s eyes.” If, as is clear from Scripture (Mark 10:51-52; Luke 18:41-43; John 4:50 etc), Messiah Yeshua did not need to use anything other than the word of His mouth or the intention of His will to heal, why did He make mud? Was He emulating an occult practice as some foolishly claim? Certainly not, He’s the Author of the Torah, which forbids such practice. Was He using a microbial herbal healing technique, perhaps knowing that the mud and saliva somehow combined to become a natural healing balm? Extremely unlikely. It is noteworthy that Yeshayahu/Isaiah—the prophet Yeshua quotes most—healed Hezekiah with a fig poultice, however there is no real correlation here, except to validate the authenticity of Yeshua as a prophet of God. Why then, did Yeshua act out this show of ritual in full view of those observing the miraculous sign? The most obvious answer is that it was intended as a living parable, like those performed by the prophet Ezekiel (Ezekiel 4:9-12).
So, what exactly is Yeshua saying through this action? Firstly, we should ask, “What is the gospel writer’s agenda in writing?” John is concerned essentially with the theme of God’s coming down and dwelling among us. John uses the terms, Word and Light to describe Immanuel (God with us), the King Messiah Yeshua. He begins his gospel with the words, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” He goes on to emphasise that, “The Word (God’s very essence/intention/breathe/saliva) became flesh (Adam) and dwelt among us.” Yeshua (God with us) is the person who embodies the very intention/essence/saliva of God, He is a physical symbol of the issued mouth essence of God (Ruach—breath), combining this essence with the soil (adamah—earth, ha’aretz—ground, land) is a recreation (a figure) reflecting the creation of the first Adam (human-being), and pointing to the last Adam (Yeshua). After sinning and allowing sin to enter into the world, the first Adam was unable to heal in this way but Yeshua is not the first Adam. We are told by Rabbi Shaul (Paul the Apostle) that Yeshua is the last Adam (1 Corinthians 15:45). This physical parable then is most likely meant as a sign/work of Divine creative power and a figure alluding to the Messiah, a representation of His physical being and His status as God with us. He is the Shiloach (Sent One) Who Yeshayahu/Isaiah prophesied would open the eyes of the blind. He has come down as the essence (Saliva) of God and has been joined to the adamah (earth/soil) and has become the last Adam (Fully God and fully man), God with us, Immanuel. Only He is capable of a miracle of such significance.
“‘Go, wash in the pool of Siloam (Shiloach),’ (this word means “Sent”). So, the man went and washed, and came home seeing.” In order to fully understand this statement of Yeshua we must first gain an understanding of the Hebrew word Shiloach, which John chooses to transliterate into Greek as Siloam, explaining that it means sent. This is the same pool from which the water was drawn for the ritual libation offering of Sukkot (see my previous article on John 7:25-53).
This pool gains its name from the Hebrew Shalach (go or send) and is closely related to the Hebrew Shiloh meaning sent one. Hebrew readers will recognize this word from the title to the Torah portion B’shalach (In going forth). We should begin with the term Shiloh because it was known in ancient Judaism to represent the Mashiyach (Messiah). We find the first reference to this term (which is a Proper Noun/name) in Bereishit/Genesis 49:10:
“The sceptre shall not depart from Y’hudah, nor the rulers staff from between his feet (that is from his issue, children’s children) until Shiloh (the sent one) comes: and the people will be obedient to Him. (Shiloh)”
Without knowledge of the proper noun/name Shiloh, this account (John 9) is difficult to understand.
The meaning then is grounded in the fact that Shiloh, the One Genesis 49:10 speaks of is the Sent One, the Mashiyach/Messiah, Yeshua. Once we understand this we move to the next key text, this text mentions the derivative term shiloach (Siloam), Yeshayahu/Isaiah 8:9
“This people have refused the softly flowing waters of Shiloach (the sent one) and rejoice in Rezin and Remaliah’s son. (Meaning the false ruler and his false deities)”
Israel are seen here as both presently and prophetically rejecting the cleansing (waters) of the Sent One (Shiloach) Who is the Messiah Yeshua (God with us).
With this understanding as our foundation we now look at the present text and the rich meaning displayed in Yeshua’s command for the blind man to wash in the waters of Siloam (Shiloach). Yeshua is effectively saying:
“Go, wash in the gently flowing waters of the Sent One.” Yeshua is Shiloh, He is Shiloach and He is sending the blind man to the waters of the Sent One so that he might gain his sight (A sure sign of the fact that Yeshua is the Messiah [see previous Isaiah passages]). Thus, the blind man, in obedience, does the opposite of the people of Yeshayahu/Isaiah 8:6 and so, he receives sight, both physical and, spiritual. The blind man himself is sent by the Sent One to be a tributary, a little sent one. Why? Because “while it is day we must do the works of Him who sent us. Night is coming when no one can work”, unless, the Light of the World lives in us, so that we might become light in the night.
The once blind man now returns home as a sent one who will shine his light in the darkness. This is God’s desire for each of us, we have all been blind and need the Sent One (Yeshua) and His cleansing, so that we might receive true spiritual sight, thus avoiding the deeds of darkness and disbelief. Some see tevilah (baptism) or mikveh in the washing of the blind man, but it is more likely that he simply washed his eyes clean of the mud. Needless to say, rabbinical teaching would have seen the very act of washing as a defilement of the Sabbath (this of course is not a Torah understanding, it is simply a law of men).
It’s important to note that Yeshua utilized miraculous signs, He did not venerate them. Every miracle He performed was done to point people to salvation through Him. Any miracle that does not point people to Yeshua and reconciliation to God is not of God. Many blind guides in the body of believers today place great emphasis on the miraculous. They decontextualize Scripture saying “We’re able to do greater things than Yeshua…” as a basis for their witchcraft, manipulations, invocations and celebrated manifestations. They lack the discernment required to distinguish between manifestation of the Spirit and the manifestation of the demonic and thus place the body of believers in grave danger. The Scripture they often refer to in defence of their idolatry (John 14:12), when read in context, teaches that by the Spirit of the Father and the Son (“because I am going to the Father”), those who believe in Yeshua will enact something greater than the miracles Yeshua performed during His earthly ministry, in that the greater purpose of those miracles was always to point people to salvation through Him. Therefore, our doing “greater than these” (What is greater than raising a person from the dead?) is us working to spread the gospel throughout the known world, something that Yeshua did not physically carry out during His earthly ministry because He had come “only for the lost sheep of Israel”(Matt. 10:6; 15:24). In conclusion, to pursue miracles is idolatry, whereas to focus on the Miracle Maker (Yeshua) is righteousness.
Interestingly, the extra-Biblical teaching of the Mishnah (Oral Law) lists making mud or clay as one of the thirty nine kinds of work that is unlawful (according to the rabbis) on the Shabbat (Mishnah Shabbat 7:2;).
8 Consequently the neighbours (of the man born blind), and those who previously observed (theoreo[G]) him as a beggar, were saying, “Isn’t this the one who used to sit and beg?” 9 Others were saying, “This is he,” still others were saying, “No, but he is like him.” He (the once blind man) kept saying, “I am the one (who was born blind).” 10 So they were saying to him (who was born blind), “How then were your eyes opened?”
In religious Jewish thought giving tzedakah “Charity” should produce and opportunity for self-worth. A sitting beggar of the first century would probably have been considered an unworthy recipient because of the appearance that he was not willing to further himself. In addition, if his blindness were considered the result of sin he would have earned very little from begging. This shows the depth of desperation of this man prior to his healing.
When the blind man came home seeing, he was met with a divided response from those who knew him. Some were so confused by this miraculous event that they doubted he was the same man who had been born blind. Others were certain it was the ex-blind beggar they had known for so long. The man himself was adamant, “I am the man!” The people respond, “How were you healed then?” If this was that blind guy, something pretty amazing was happening and they genuinely wanted to know what that was.
11 He answered, “The man who is called Yeshua made clay (pelos[G], tiyt[H]), and applied, spread (epichrio[G]) it on my eyes, and said to me, ‘Go to Shiloach[H] (Siloam[G]: sent) and wash, ritually purify yourself, bathe (nipto[G], ashiyg[A], ur’chatz[H])’; so I went away and washed, ritually purified myself, bathed (nipto[G], ashiyg[A], ur’chatz[H]), and I looked up (anablepo[G]), received sight.” 12 They said to him, “Where is He (Yeshua)?” He said, “I don’t know.” 13 They brought to the P’rushiym (Pharisees: chased ones) the man who was formerly blind.
“The man they call Yeshua made some mud and put it on my eyes and sent me to wash in the pool of Shiloach, as soon as I had done this I could see.” This is the first in a progression of chronological statements that show the man’s journey to salvation (John, the writer of this gospel, is rightly called the Evangelist by early Church fathers).
Here, the man has not yet seen Yeshua, he barely even knows Who He (Yeshua) is, so he says, “the man they call Yeshua.” This statement shows the relational distance between the man and Yeshua directly after his healing. He is referring to Yeshua, not as an acquaintance but rather as someone that others talk about. This is step one in the man’s journey to identifying and understanding who Yeshua is.
“Where is this man?” The now seeing beggar responds, “I don’t know.” Yeshua has obviously left the location of the healing (the place where the clay was applied). The man upon receiving his sight, is so excited that he goes straight home to show everybody what a wonderful miracle has happened to him. He has not yet seen Yeshua.
“They brought the man who had been blind to the Pharisees.” There is no need to see this as an act of malice. The people were socially and religiously accustomed to seeking the advice and opinions of the P’rushiym (Pharisees), who were entrusted as leaders of their synagogues and as spiritual shepherds of Israel.
14 Now it was a Shabbat[H] (Sabbath) on the day when Yeshua made the clay (pelos[G], tiyt[H]) and opened his eyes. 15 Then the P’rushiym (Pharisees: chased ones) also were asking him again how he received his sight. And he said to them, “He applied clay (pelos[G], tiyt[H]) to my eyes, and I washed, ritually purified myself, bathed (nipto[G], ashiyg[A], ur’chatz[H]) and I see.” 16 Therefore some of the P’rushiym[H] (Pharisees: chased ones) were saying, “This man is not from God (Theos[G], Elohiym[H]), because He does not keep the Shabbat[H] (Sabbath).” But others were saying, “How can a man who is devoted to sin (hamartolos[G]) perform such signs (otot[H])?” And there was a rent, tear, division (schisma[G]) among them.
“The day on which Yeshua made the mud and opened the man’s eyes was a Sabbath.” This Sabbath is either the eighth day celebration Shmini Atzeret which follows the Sukkot week, or it is the weekly Sabbath following Sukkot.
This is obviously important to the discussion that follows. Throughout His ministry Yeshua is criticized by the Pharisees for His actions on the Sabbath (Yeshua keeps the Torah but He does not bow to the wider added traditions of the rabbis’ concerning the Sabbath). The making of the mud in addition to the actual healing was of particular concern to them in light of rabbinic oral tradition (Mishnah Shabbat 7:2).
"it is forbidden to put fasting spittle even on the eyelid on a sabbath day.''
-T. Hieros. Sabbat, fol. 14. 4. & Avoda Zara, fol. 40. 4. & T. Bab. Sabbat, fol 108. 2. & Maimon. Hilchot Sabbat, c. 21. sect. 25.
The Pharisees asked how the man had been healed and upon finding out, they were divided in their opinions of Yeshua and the event itself. Some of them felt that He had broken the Sabbath laws (of course He had only broken their man-made laws), others were convinced that because Yeshua had worked such a great miracle that they should not be so hasty to condemn Him. Neither argument was valid, the Torah warns that false prophets may work great miracles, so the fact that this healing was miraculous was not proof of Yeshua’s standing as a prophet of God.
The working of miraculous signs does not qualify a prophet of God. Rather, miraculous signs that point to salvation (the spiritually blind being given sight) are the fruit of a godly prophet.
“21 “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord!’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. 22 Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in Your name, and drive out demons in Your name, and perform many miracles in Your name?’ 23 Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you. Get away from Me, you workers of lawlessness!’” -Mattitiyahu (Matthew) 7:21-23 TLV
It’s worth noting that what follows is a spontaneous and unlawful trial, conducted against both the once blind man and Yeshua.
Our rabbis explicitly forbid courts (trials) to be in session on the Sabbath (y. Sanh. 4:6).
17 So they said to the blind (tuphlos[G], iveir[H]) man again, “What is your opinion of Him (Yeshua), since He opened your eyes?” And he said, “He is a prophet (prophetes[G], navi[H]).”
As is the proper thing to do they turn to the man who had been healed and ask him, “What do you have to say about Him?” To which the man replies, “He is a prophet.” This is the second stage in the development of the man’s relationship to Yeshua. Here he has progressed from speaking of Yeshua as one Whom others speak of, to naming him a prophet. The full impact of what has happened to him is beginning to sink in and he is starting to see glimpses of who Yeshua really is.
18 The religious leaders, Judeans (Ioudaios[G], Yehudiym) then did not believe, trust, were not persuaded (pisteuo[G]) of him, that he had been blind (tuphlos[G], iveir[H]) and had received sight, until they called the parents of the very one who had received his sight, 19 and they questioned his parents, saying, “Is this your son, who you say was fathered (gennao[G]) blind (tuphlos[G], iveir[H])? Then how is it that he now sees?” 20 His parents answered them and said, “We know that this is our son, and that he was born, fathered (gennao[G]) blind (tuphlos[G], iveir[H]); 21 but how he now sees, we do not know; or who opened his eyes, we do not see, perceive (eido[G]). Ask him; he is of age, he will speak for himself.” 22 His parents said this because they were afraid of the religious leaders, Judeans (Ioudaio[G]s, Yehudiym[H]); for the religious leaders, Judeans (Ioudaios[G], Yehudiym[H]) had already agreed that if anyone confessed Him to be Messiah, he was to be cast (ekballo[G]) out of the synagogue (meeting place). 23 For this reason his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.”
Finding it too hard to accept that the man was ever blind, the Pharisees send for his parents to get confirmation.
“Is this your son, who you say was fathered (gennao[G]) blind (tuphlos[G], iveir[H])? This is a tacit accusation inferring that the father of this man is an idolater.
The parents acknowledge that their son has been blind from birth but they are as confused as everybody else as to how he can now see. They are not willing to enter the debate, sighting his being of age (that is older than thirteen and showing the signs of puberty [Maimon. Hilchot Eduth, c. 9. sect. 7.]) as reason for questioning him and allowing his testimony to stand for itself. His parents were scared of being kicked out of the synagogue. In the first century it was more common to refer to being cast out of the “Congregation of Israel” when referring to full excommunication from the people and religion of Judaism. The rabbinical equivalent exercised against the messianic Jewish community of the early body of believers was called “cherem” (lit. devote to destruction) The threat of the present text does not necessarily refer to cherem, a form of complete excommunication from the congregation of Israel, meaning they would shunned by the community but not refused entry to the Temple precinct (there was no Great Synagogue at the time because the Temple was the central place of Jewish Worship until 70 CE). However, regardless of the specific intent, it was a significant threat, given that the local synagogue acted as a type of community centre, as well as a subsidiary place of worship and Torah study, and that those who were “cherem” (if this was the implied threat) were only to enter through the mourners (and the excommunicated) gate of the Temple and move to the left contrary to the practice of others, proclaiming the state of their excommunication.
"all that go into the temple, go in, in the right hand way, and go round, and come out in the left, except such an one to whom anything has befallen him, and he goes about to the left; (and when asked) why dost thou go to the left? (he answers) because I am a mourner; (to whom it is replied) he that dwells in this house comfort thee: (or) שאני מנודה, "because I am excommunicated"; (to whom they say) he that dwells in this house put it into thy heart (that thou mayest hearken to the words of thy friends, as it is afterwards explained) and they may receive thee.'' -Mishnah. Middot, c. 2. sect. 2.
24 So a second time they called the man who had been blind (tuphlos[G], iveir[H]), and said to him, “Give (didomi[G], tein[H]) glory, judgement (doxa[G], kavod[H]) to the God (ho Theos[G], leiElohiym[H]) ; we know that this man is devoted to sin (hamartolos[G], chotei[H], has missed the mark set by God) .” 25 He then answered, “Whether He is devoted to sin (hamartolos[G], chotei[H], has missed the mark set by God), I do not see, perceive (eido[G]); one thing I do see, perceive (eido[G]), that though I was blind (tuphlos[G], iveir[H]), now I see with my own eyes (blepo[G]).” 26 So they said to him, “What did He do to you? How did He open (anoigo[G]) your eyes (ophthalmos[G], eiyneycha[H])?” 27 He answered them, “I told you already and you didn’t listen, hear, recieve (sh’matem[H]); why do you want to hear (lishmoa[H]) again? You do not want to become His disciples (talmiydayv[H]) too, do you?” 28 They heaped abuse (loidoreo[G]) on him and said, “You are His disciple (mathetes[G], talmid[H]), but we are disciples (talmidiym[H]) of Moshe[H] (Moses: drawn out).
“Give (didomi[G], tein[H]) glory, judgement (doxa[G], kavod[H]) to the God (ho Theos[G], leiElohiym[H]) ; we know that this man is devoted to sin…” There is an interesting juxtaposition here. The “cherem” excommunication possibly referred to in the previous verses literally means “devoted to destruction”. Here, the religious leaders accuse the improperly tried Yeshua of being “devoted to sin”.
The Pharisees, beside themselves with frustration, send for the man a second time (at this point they were conducting what was effectively an illegal trial of both Yeshua and the healed man).
The use of the idiom, “Give glory to HaShem!”—which means tell the truth or in modern terms “swear on the Bible”), literally translates as “Give a judgement of God”. Today we say something similar in Hebrew upon hearing of the death of a Jewish person, “Baruch dayan ha-emet” Blessed is the judge of the truth. It’s a reference to the fact that God is the ultimate judge. Some of the Pharisees are essentially saying, “Stop lying and admit you weren’t blind in the first place and that this Yeshua is a fraud,” or “Admit that this Yeshua is a false prophet!” They (that is the group among them that didn’t accept the miracle) had already decided that Yeshua was a Sabbath breaking sinner despite the lack of real evidence.
It’s here that the once blind man begins to truly find his vision and shine the light he has been given by Yeshua, and not without a good dose of Jewish chutzpah to boot.
“One thing I do know, I was blind and now I see.” In other words, “When you guys are able to exhibit the kind of power and authority that Yeshua does, I might pay more attention to you!” The Pharisees are looking for ammunition so (having just called him a liar to his face) they ask again how it all took place. The once blind man responds, “I told you already, weren’t you listening? Why do you want to know more? Do you want to become his Talmidiym (disciples)?” It’s safe to say that this enraged them. They react by saying, “You are this man’s disciple, we are Moses disciples.” I don’t think the man would have been at all offended by being called a disciple of Yeshua at this stage (though he was not, not quite). What is unusual is the claim by the Pharisees that they were Moses’ disciples. This designation was not common at the time and denotes a desperate scratching at straws on their part. It’s one of those, “No! you are!” type arguments usually used by people who have no idea what to say next.
“Whether He is devoted to sin, I do not see, perceive; one thing I do see, perceive, that though I was blind, now I see with my own eyes.” The use of Greek here is important. Those English translations that translate “eido” as “know” do so without considering the writer’s obvious allusion to perception based on sight. In fact, the more accurate translation of “eido” is “see, perceive”. The context better supports my translation.
“How did He open your eyes?” The Hebrew “Ayin” meaning “eye” is also used to refer to the opening in the earth where a spring of water comes forth. This is interesting given Yeshua’s offer of living water (during the water drawing ceremony of Sukkot) in chapter 7 and the use of water in the healing process of the once blind man. Siloam is feed by the Gihon (Great Bursting Forth) spring.
29 We see, perceive (eido[G]) that the God (ho Theos[G], Elohiym[H]) has spoken to Moses (Moshe[H]), but as for this man, we do not see, perceive (eido[G]) where He is from.”
“We know that God spoke to Moses, but as for this fellow, we don’t even know where He comes from.” What they mean by this is that the Messiah is prophesied to come from Bethlehem and as far as they knew Yeshua was from Nazareth. Of course the truth is that they knew where He came from (the Galilee) they had very little respect for the am ha-aretz (common people of the land, that is, uneducated farmers and fishermen). As I’ve stated previously they probably considered Yeshua to be somewhat of a hillbilly.
30 The man answered and said to them, “Well, here is an amazing, wonderful, marvellous (thaumastos[G]) thing, that you do not see, perceive (eido[G]) where He is from, and yet He opened (anoigo[G]) my eyes (ophthalmos[G], eiynayi[H]). 31 We perceive (eido[G]) that the God (ho Theos[G], Elohiym[H]) does not hear those devoted to sin (hamartolos[G]); but if anyone is a worshipper (theosebes[G]) of God and does His will (thelema[G]), He hears him. 32 Since the beginning of time it has never been heard that anyone opened (anoigo[G]) the eyes (ophthalmos[G], eiyneiy[H]) of a person fathered (gennao[G]) blind (tuphlos[G]) . 33 If this man were not from God (Theos[G], Elohiym[H]), He could do nothing.” 34 They answered him, “You were fathered (gennao[G]) entirely in sins (hamartia[G]), and do you presume to teach us?” So they cast (ekballo[G]) him out.
The sardonic rebuke of the man is a delight to read, perhaps being born blind and suffering all his life had birthed in him an immunity to the fears and obligations of Israel concerning her hypocritical religious leaders. On the other hand, maybe he was just a sarcastic guy? If so, he probably had some kiwi (New Zealand) blood in him from the diaspora.
The healed man draws their attention to the catalyst for understanding the Messianic significance of this miracle, he says, “Nobody has ever heard of opening the eyes of one born blind. If this man were not from HaShem He could do nothing.” This is a pointed observation that reveals the sign of God regarding the opening of the eyes of the blind, something that would alert Israel to the Messiah’s presence (as prophesied by Yeshayahu/Isaiah: see verse 1 and note). This is also the third step in the man’s journey into relationship with Yeshua. Here, he says Yeshua is, “from God.”
The disbelieving group among the Pharisees, who are not used to being disagreed with by commoners, are more than insulted by the man and resort to name calling, “You were born from sin and are soaked in it, how dare you lecture us!” Actually the man had been following proper halakhic protocol with his well-argued rebuttal, they were just sore because his argument was more convincing than theirs. Had this been recorded in the Talmud, the man’s argument would have been sighted by future rabbis as the dominant view. Seeing that they were not going to win this argument the Pharisees cast him out (probably out of the synagogue, the threat under which all religious Jews of the first century lived in order for the false shepherds to keep people in line). I’m not sure that this would have worried him too much, he had been spending a lot of time on the streets begging for food up till now and may not have found much solace in the synagogue at any rate.
35 Yeshua heard that they had cast (ekballo[G]) him (the once blind man) out, and finding him, He said, “Do you believe, trust, are you persuaded, confident (pisteuo[G], hata’amiyn[H]) in the Son of Man (B’ven-haAdam[H])?” 36 He answered, “Who is He, Adoniy[H] (Lord: kurios[G]), that I may believe, trust, be persuaded, confident (pisteuo[G], ve’a’amiyn[H]) in Him?”
After hearing that the man had been thrown out Yeshua found him (this means Yeshua had sought him out, an intimate and thoughtful gesture). The man’s father and mother had forsaken him and he had been kicked out of the local synagogue, this is a pivotal occasion in his journey into God’s light. Yeshua asks, “Do you believe in the Son of Man (a Messianic title).” The man responds, “Who is he Lord, tell me so that I may believe in him.” This is the fourth stage in the journey of relationship, the man calls Yeshua (Whom he is seeing for the first time) Adoniy, My Lord, Master, a term of respect and ownership. The Greek Kyrios is used and can be translated lord or L-RD, there is no Greek equivalent for YHVH—L-RD, so the same Greek word is sometimes used to denote the Holy Name. Here however, “Adoniy, Lord, Master” is the correct translation, given the context.
37 Yeshua said to him, “You have both seen (horao[G]) Him with your own eyes, and He is the One Who is speaking with you.” 38 And he (the once blind man) said, “Adoniy[H] (Lord: kurios[G]), I believe, trust, am persuaded, confident (pisteuo[G], ma’amiyn[H]).” And he worshiped, prostrated himself before (proskuneo[G]) Him (Yeshua).
“Yeshua said, ‘You have now seen Him, in fact, He is the one speaking with you.’ Then the man said, ‘L-RD I believe.’ And he worshipped Him.” Remember, the man is seeing Yeshua for the first time, both physically and spiritually. This is the final stage of the man’s journey into saving relationship. He has been blind, he has been washed in the life-giving water of the Sent One, he has known of Yeshua, he has identified Him as a prophet, he has realized that Yeshua was sent from God, he has respectfully called Him Lord and now he sees Him for who He really is, “L-RD”. The Greek word kyrios is used here by John (a Jew) to represent YHVH. We must not put more weight on the Greek language than we do upon the cultural religious psyche of the writers of the gospels. The fact that the Greek language is unable to convey the nuances of the Hebrew designations for God does not mean the deeper meaning was not intended by the writer (inspired by God). A beautiful picture of what has just occurred between Yeshua and the healed man appears in the words of the Psalmist:
“Though my father and mother forsake me, the L-RD will receive me.” Tehillim/Psalm 28:10
39 And Yeshua said, “For a decree, judgment (krima[G]) I came into this world (kosmos[G], ha-olam[H]), so that those who do not see with their eyes (blepo[G]) may see with their eyes (blepo[G]), and that those who see with their eyes (blepo[G]) may become blind (tuphlos[H]).”
Yeshua sums up this living parable of healing by clarifying for those present that He has come to fulfil the words of Yeshayahu/Isaiah (Isaiah 6:10, 42:19). This is an opportunity for those studied in the Tanakh (Old Testament) to recognize His claim to Messianic authority and repent, but He knows that they will remain blind, while those who realize their blindness will receive their sight through Messiah just as God had prophesied through the prophet.
40 Those of the P’rushiym (Pharisees: chased ones) who were with Him heard these things and said to Him, “We are not blind (tuphlos[H]) too, are we?” 41 Yeshua said to them, “If you were blind (tuphlos[H]), you would have no sin (hamartia[G]); but since you say, ‘We see with our eyes (blepo[G]),’ your sin (hamartia[G]) remains (meno[G]).
It continues to be made clear by the gospel of John that some Pharisees were following Yeshua (not necessarily the same ones that interrogated the healed man). They realized He was warning them of spiritual blindness and in pride wanted to show themselves spiritually insightful, so they asked, “Are we blind to?” Yeshua’s response is a harsh rebuke, “If you were blind you would not be guilty of sin; but because you claim you can see, your guilt remains.” Yeshua is saying that only those who admit their blindness/sin can be freed from it and given spiritual sight. Those, who in pride, claim that they can see are in fact still blind and are unable to receive sight from Yeshua. Without humility no one can come to God.
We live in a world that Messiah Himself has called night. While He was here physically He was the light, now He is here metaphysically by the power of Gods Holy Spirit, living in every believer. The Sent One has filled those of us who believe, in order that we might be sent ones who shine His light in this dark world. If we claim we have not been blind, then we, like the Pharisees are unable to see. However, when we admit our blindness the Sent One will restore our sight by coming to us and then sending us out to be the softly flowing waters of Shiloach to a parched and hopeless world. May He bare light in us, that we might be light to others, shining our light in order to reveal the path that leads to Him.
Copyright 2020 Yaakov Brown
Sefer Yochanan (Gospel According to John) Chapter 6 Pt.1The Work of God is to Believe in the One Whom He Has Sent (John 6:1-33)
“For near to you all is Ha-Davar (The Word), meod, very much so, in your mouth, and in your inner being, so that you might accomplish, do, act accordingly.” -D’variym (Words) Deuteronomy 30:14
All that follows is pursuant to the rebuke that Yeshua has leveled toward His Judean religious accusers following the making whole of the lame man at the pool of Beit Chasda in Jerusalem on the weekly Shabbat during Purim celebrations.
6:1 After these things Yeshua[H] [A] (Iesous[G] YHVH Saves) went away over (peran[G]) the body of water, lake (thalassa[G], yam[H]) of the Galilee (Galilaias[G], ha-Galiyl[H]) the Tiberias (ho Tiberiados[G]). 2 A large (polus[G], ha-mon[H], rav[H]) crowd of common people (ochlos[G], am[H]) followed Him, because they saw the signs (semeion[G], otot[H]) which He was making, constructing, causing (poieo[G], asah[H]) on those being sick, weak (astheneo[G], ha-choliym[H]).
“These things” are the miraculous healing of the lame man at the pool of Beit Chasda in Jerusalem, and the rebuke that Yeshua had levelled at His religious opponents regarding the legitimacy of His identity, His teaching and His authority regarding the Shabbat.
Therefore, Yeshua and His talmidim (disciples), followed by a large number of common people, had made the journey from Jerusalem to the Galilee region following Purim (see my commentary on John 5). They had arrived in the Galilee region at least three days after the cessation of Purim celebrations and it was now close to the time of Pesach (Passover), which occurs just over a month after Purim. The text says that Yeshua went over the lake, probably to an area several kilometres south-east of Bethsaida (Philip’s home town), across the lake and east of Capernaum, north east of and a greater distance away from Tiberias, which is situated at approximately the half way point on the western shore of the lake of Galilee.
The Gospel writer’s allusion to “The Tiberias” is, contrary to popular opinion, not a concession to non-Jewish readers but rather an allusion to the illegitimate authority of the Emperor Tiberias after whom the location was named, and the subsequent illegitimate authority of Rome in general. To usurp the native name of this area (Rakkat “shore” - Joshua 19:35) is an act of occupation on the part of Rome. The Hebrew Galiyl means “circuit, perpetuity”. HaShem has promised this land to Israel (Ethnic, religious, empirical, chosen) [Naphtali] in perpetuity.
“because they saw the signs” This means that those who followed Yeshua had either seen the signs He had previously performed in the Galilee region or had seen Him perform signs at the Regaliym (Going up festivals: Pesach, Shavuot, Sukkot) or both. The crowd was a crowd of Jews, Israelis (Ethnic, religious, empirical, chosen), seeking the physical redemption of the people of Israel from Roman oppression. We note that the people were following Him “because they saw the signs” and not necessarily because they believed in Him. This is made evident in their request for a further sign in order to prove His identity as the delivering “Prophet” promised by God through Moses (John 6:30; Deut.18:15-19).
“Signs” Not just miracles but “otot” signs plural, of God’s manifest power designed to point Israel to repentance and reconciliation to God. The same Hebrew word is used to describe the signs performed by God in Egypt and through His prophets.
3 Then Yeshua[H] [A] (Iesous[G] YHVH Saves) went up on the mountain (ha-har[H]) , and there He sat down with His disciples (mathetes[G] [pupils], talmidim[H] [religious students, followers]).
“The mountain” Whichever mountain this is it is a significant land mark of the Galilee. It is not called “a mountain” but “the mountain”. It is very likely one of the peeks on the upper eastern shore of the Galilee just below Bethsaida (Beiyt Tzaida: House of the hunt).
Mountains were places of solitude and introspection, and are connected to the expounding of God’s Word (Moses Exodus 19:3; Elijah 1 Kings 19:11). The sides of hills and mountains are also an ideal location to teach from. Situated on the side of a mountain or high hill, a first century Jewish teacher could speak at a moderate volume and be heard by a large crowd gathered at the foot of the mountain in a natural amphitheatre. This type of scenario can be seen as far back as the giving of the Torah at Sinai. The Galilee was an ideal location for this style of teaching given the mountain ranges on both sides of the lake and the natural amphitheatres that have formed in the terrain nearby.
It was Yeshua’s practice to draw aside with His core group of disciples for a period of solace and teaching prior to public speaking and sign working (Matt.5:1; Luke 9:10 etc). Yeshua shows concern for the whole health and well-being of His talmidim, knowing that public ministry takes its toll mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually. Yeshua leads by example, often going away by Himself to commune with the Father in order to refuel and refocus His energies (Matt.14:23; Luke.6:12 etc). In this also He was not unlike Moses (Exodus 19:3-25).
A great deal can be learned by modern believers from this practice of Yeshua. We are fools to work tirelessly without rest when HaShem has commanded (not suggested) regular rest. God does not need our help but He allows us to participate in His work according to His guidelines. Failure to obey God’s rhythms of rest results in burn out and disillusionment.
Sitting was the preferred position from which the religious teachers of first century and later rabbinical Judaism taught their adherents.
“"The master sits at the head, or in the chief place, and the disciples before him in a circuit, like a crown; so that they all see the master, and hear his words; and the master may not sit upon a seat, and the scholars upon the ground; but either all upon the earth, or upon seats: indeed from the beginning, or formerly, היה הרב יושב "the master used to sit", and the disciples stand; but before the destruction of the second temple, all used to teach their disciples as they were sitting.'' -Maimonides, Hilch. Talmud Torah, c. 4. sect. 2.
4 Now the Passover (Pascha[G], ha-Pesach[H]), the festival (Chag[H]) of the Judeans, religious Jews (Ioudaios[G], Ha-Yehudiym[H]), was coming near (lavo[H]).
Note that the observance of Pesach and its intrinsic connection to Yeshua is of utmost importance to the Gospel writer.
Why does the Gospel writer mention this? First, it is because of Yeshua’s intrinsic link to the Passover and His role as the “Lamb of God Who takes away the sins of the world”. Second, it places the chronology in firm order, Purim having just passed and Pesach (Passover) being the next closest festival. Third, the pursuant event, the sign of the feeding of the five thousand men of Israel is premised by a perceived inability to purchase and provide bread. In the weeks prior to Passover Jewish homes would have been slowly reducing their bread supplies, using up excess yeast and setting aside grain to be used for matzot (unleavened bread). Subsequently only a small amount of bread would have been available at the time of these events, this in addition to the cost of feeding so many. All of this is pretext to the sign which Yeshua was about to perform.
Five Loaves, Two Small Fishes
(Matthew 14:13-21; Mark 6:32-44; Luke 9:10-17; John 6:1-15)
To set the stage for this miraculous sign (the only miraculous sign that is recorded in all four Gospels) we must look at where it falls in relation to the surrounding text of each account.
Matthew’s version is preceded by the unbelief of Yeshua’s home town synagogue and the description of the beheading of Yochanan the Immerser (John the Baptist, the cousin of Yeshua), then following the sign of the loaves and fishes Peter attempts to walk on water.
Mark’s account is preceded by the unbelief of Yeshua’s home town synagogue and the sending out of the twelve, two by two, after which the beheading of Yochanan (John) is described, then the twelve return; the miracle of the loaves and fishes is followed by the walking on water sign.
Luke’s narrative has the sending out of the twelve, the description of Yochanan’s (John’s) beheading, and the return of the twelve: then the loaves and fishes followed by the “Who do you say I am,” statement of Yeshua and later the transfiguration.
John’s version is unique in that it is preceded by Yeshua attending a feast (Purim) in Jerusalem and being rejected by those who opposed him there, Yeshua explains the Father God’s testimony of Messiah and that Moses will judge the people for their rejection of Him. The writer of the Gospel According to John then alerts the reader to the fact that Passover is at hand. The loaves and fishes event is still followed by the crossing to Capernaum and the walking on water, but is then proceeded by an extensive discussion concerning Moses and the manna from heaven which is to be understood as a metaphor in reference to Messiah Yeshua, “the bread of life.”
While we don’t know the exact time frames associated to the ordering of these events we can still deduce the writers’ intended theological and contextual meanings in relation to their accounts of the sign of the loaves and fishes. All the surrounding events and meanings give insight as to the reason for this important (even pivotal) event in Yeshua’s ministry.
Prior to looking at the specific details of John’s Gospel account I will address the chronological and thematic elements using the main themes from each of the four accounts as a combined whole. This of course presumes that this was a singularly unique event recorded by each of the Gospel writers.
Both Matthew and Mark record a second event that took place in the region of the Decapolis, a predominantly Gentile location. The feeding of the five thousand, the sign of the loaves and fishes took place near the city of Bethsaida (House of the hunt or House of fishing), a predominantly Jewish area, and close to Yeshua’s home in the Galilee region. The fact that the four Jewish writers of the Gospels (I am not alone in seeing Luke as a Jew) all saw fit to include this sign, indicates it’s importance: symbolically, historically, religiously, prophetically, nationally, spiritually and metaphorically.
The united themes of this event read chronologically as follows:
· Yeshua in Jerusalem for a Jewish feast (Purim)
· The testimony of the Father God (on behalf of the Son) Yeshua (a firstborn)
· Yeshua warns that Moses will judge the disbelief of the religious leaders
· Rejection of Yeshua by the people of His home town
· Yeshua sends out the twelve disciples, two by two
· Yeshua grieves over the loss of John the Immerser (Baptist) His cousin (a firstborn)
· The disciples return from their travels throughout Israel’s Jewish towns
· The time of Passover was at hand
· The sign of the loaves and fishes
· The sign of walking on water
· The discussion concerning manna, “the bread of life,” back in Capernaum (Links Yeshua to Moses)
· The transfiguration recorded in Luke’s account (Links Yeshua to Moses)
Overview of the chronology of events:
Yeshua in Jerusalem for a feast (Purim):
A number of scholars suggest that this was the Passover feast of the previous year, meaning that what follows took place at the beginning of the Passover of the following year. However, this is extremely unlikely given the consistent chronology of John’s Gospel and the language used. As I have shown in my commentary on John 4 and 5, the feast in question is almost certainly Purim.
Yeshua was affirmed by the Father’s testimony:
God the Father has testified throughout Scripture concerning His Son Yeshua. He had also poured out the Holy Spirit in a public show of glory over His Son and had testified saying, “this is my beloved Son in Whom I am well pleased.” Yeshua need not explain Himself to the people on the basis of the required Torah instruction concerning two or three human witnesses. His witnesses were God the Father and the Ruach ha-Kodesh (Holy Spirit) and the signs He performed. God the Father had given comprehensive testimony to the validity of Yeshua’s ministry, authority and Kingship over Israel and all the earth. Following the sign of the loaves and fishes, Yeshua’s command over the raging waters was proof yet again to His disciples, of God’s testimony of Him.
Yeshua warns that Moses will be Israel’s judge regarding their disbelief in Him:
The centrality of the Jewish reliance on the Torah of Moses is key to understanding the sign of the loaves and fishes. The Jewish people of Yeshua’s time expected a prophet, a miracle worker and a Messiah who presented in accordance to their understanding of the words of Moses as taught to them by their religious leaders. The man they were looking for would perform miracles similar to those of Elijah and Elisha, he would show signs like those of Moses and He would reign in power as the son of David, over Israel and all the nations of the earth according to the prophecies of the Tanakh (OT). Many of these expectations were about to be manifested before their eyes. Therefore Moses would be their judge, for he had written clearly the prophetic words that would prove Yeshua’s rightful position as the one who would be like Moses (Deut.18:15-19).
Rejection of Yeshua in His home town:
His own friends and wider family/community rejected Him because they believed Him to be of common birth, they were jealous of Him. This is not an uncommon response to the prophets of Israel as testified to by the lives of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Amos and so on. Their treatment of Him later became a testimony to His identity.
Yeshua sends out His disciples, two by two:
This was a ministering of the twelve to Israel, hence twelve disciples. Later in Luke’s Gospel narrative (Luke 10:1-17; ) a new Sanhedrin of sorts is sent out to minister to the wider towns and spread the good news to other nationalities, thus seventy, the Hebrew number representing the nations. However the events surrounding the sign of the loaves and fishes pertain specifically to Israel (ethnic, religious, empirical, chosen) and not to the Decapolis and other surrounding areas.
Two by two may be a correlation with the Ark: used as a metaphor here for the repopulating of the earth with immersed (baptized, a type for the flood) spiritual children. The news of God’s kingdom as taught by Messiah Yeshua was to be made known to the tribes of Israel prior to the sign of the loaves and fishes. When Israel was in slavery in Egypt, word of Moses actions needed time to spread to them prior to their coming out of Egypt into the wilderness.
Yeshua grieves over the loss of John the Immerser (Baptist):
When Yeshua heard of the death of John the Immerser (Baptist) we are told that He retreated to a deserted place by Himself. He was clearly greatly grieved by the death of His cousin and perhaps reminded of His own destiny. He shows us an example of turning to the only one who can truly comfort us in times of great sorrow. The Father is often beheld in deserted places of solitude (Exodus 3; 1 Kings 17:1-5). The disciples must have returned to the vicinity with Him because Mark’s version of events has them retreat with Him after the death of John. It is interesting to note that John’s disciples came and took his body away for burial, while Yeshua’s disciples fled after His death.
Passover is at Hand:
Barley is the first grain harvested in Israel at this time of the year. Leaven/yeast is removed from homes, and food without leaven is eaten. Leaven/yeast symbolizes sin in Judaism. Jews from all over the known world would head up to Jerusalem for the feast of Passover, which is one of the three Regaliym (Aliyot Moadim—going up festivals/Sabbaths).
The sign of the Loaves and Fishes:
The Passover was near, Jews from the known world were on their way to Jerusalem and had heard of this mysterious prophet of God. Perhaps some detoured to find Him? What is certain is that all had cleaned their homes and traveling gear of yeast (the Biblical symbol of sin) and were preparing their hearts to celebrate deliverance from slavery. They were also hoping for deliverance from Roman rule.
Luke tells us that following the sign the day was drawing to a close, so that it was toward the late afternoon.
Upon seeing the crowd Yeshua says to Philip (the obvious person to ask because he came from the nearby town of Bethsaida—John 1:44), “Where can we buy bread for all these people?” He said this to prove Philip. Does that mean Yeshua wasn’t sure of Philip’s loyalty and so had to test him? No, of course not. When God with us/Yeshua seeks to prove someone it is for that person’s benefit. We could say, “Yeshua sought to make Philip aware of the extent of his own faith in Yeshua/God with us.” Philip’s response sets up the sign, by his reasoning that the request is humanly impossible. Andrew adds to the confusion by saying, “Hey, there’s a young boy here with five (probably unleavened, because Passover is at hand) loaves and a couple of small fish (probably the local sardines), but that’s not going to feed all these people.”
Yeshua doesn’t miss a beat, “Have the people recline (Passover terminology) together in groups.” There was a large grass area there, probably at the base of the hill/mountain where the disciples had been with Yeshua (thus creating a natural amphitheatre for what would come next).
Yeshua took the loaves and said the b’rakha for bread (ha-motzi) and began to distribute them to the crowd. He then did the same with the fish. All accounts indicate that either Yeshua alone or both Yeshua and the disciples were involved in distributing the food directly to the people, this would dispel the foolish conjecture that suggests the people simply brought out their lunches and shared them. Most Jews attending an Aliyah festival like Passover would travel light, expecting to buy food on the way, hence Yeshua’s question to Philip prior to the miracle. In addition, the fact that Yeshua suggested the crowd go and buy food infers that they did not already have food.
This miraculous feeding of such a large group of Jewish men (5,000), plus women and children, a total of approx. 19-28,000 (Matt.14:21); is reminiscent of Moses’ (God’s) feeding of Israel with manna and quail in the desert. Manna being the miraculous bread of heaven and quail being the common bird of that area. Here the manna will be later explained figuratively as referring to Messiah Yeshua Himself. The small fish (probably sardines) is a common catch from the Lake.
Three types of fish were primarily sought by fishermen in antiquity in these waters. Sardines are the most likely candidates for the, “two small fish" that the young man brought to the feeding of the five thousand. Sardines and bread were the staple food and traded product of the locals. The second type of fish, Barbels receive their name from the barbs at the corners of their mouths. The third type is called Musht but is more popularly known today as "St. Peter's Fish." This fish has a long dorsal fin which looks like a comb and can be up to 45cm long and 1.5 kgs. in weight.
The barley bread (eaten predominantly by the poorer classes) brought by the young boy was most likely unleavened, given that Passover was at hand (the leaven is always cleaned from Jewish homes and meals prior to Passover), and that the miracle is followed by a discussion that relates manna (unleavened heavenly bread) to the body of Messiah Yeshua (who is without sin, remembering that in first century Judaism yeast is seen as a symbol of sin).
After the meal Yeshua says, “Gather up the fragments that are left over so that none of them may be lost.” Why is the gathering of the left overs so important to Yeshua? Perhaps the number of baskets is a clue, there are twelve, the number of disciples, but more importantly, the number of the tribes of Israel. It is possible that this was meant as a symbol or metaphor for the reconciliation of Israel to God at the end of time. Shaul/Paul the shaliach (apostle) tells us that when the allotted number of the members of the nations have come to faith, that the entire remnant of Israel (ethnic, religious, empirical, chosen) will be saved. (Romans 11:25-26)
The Sign of Walking on Water:
This shows Messiah’s authority over creation (as the second Adam). This sign affirms Him again as the prophesied one. Elisha, in a somewhat lesser sense also exhibited the authority of God over the natural order of creation when he made the axe head float. (2 Kings 6:4-7) Similarities to the great prophets in the ministry of Yeshua were proofs of His authenticity.
The Discussion (back in Capernaum) Concerning Moses, Manna, and the Bread of Life:
The link between the sign of the manna in the desert and the feeding of the five thousand is unmistakable. The “Bread of life,” discourse was intended to be strengthened by the recently performed sign of the loaves and fishes. Yeshua was revealing Himself as the manna from heaven, the bread of life. The crowd asks for a sign, seemingly immune to the obvious sign that has just been performed. Yeshua points them away from Moses and toward the Father God saying, “It was not Moses that gave you the manna, but it is My Father who gives you the true bread from heaven.” They respond, “Give us this bread from heaven.” Yeshua answers, “I am the bread of life!”
Yeshua reminds His people that their fathers ate manna and died (the death unto judgment). Yeshua was now offering Himself, the bread of life. Those who eat the life of Messiah will never die. Why did the forefathers die? Through disobedience. Therefore Yeshua is warning that failure to accept His manna will result in eternal death. This He had already pretexted prior to the miracle when He was in Jerusalem warning the people that Moses would be their judge. It was Moses who stood as a mediator regarding the manna in the desert. Now Messiah Yeshua is claiming to be the manifest manna and mediator of God, all wrapped up in one.
It is interesting to note the words of Rabbi Isaac who wrote:
“as the former redeemer caused manna to descend (referring to Moses)… so will the later Redeemer cause manna to descend.” Ecclesiastes Rabbah on Ec. 1:9
The bread of life discourse does not refer to pagan magic practice regarding the consummation of power through blood drinking as some have supposed. Yeshua is talking to Jews who despise their Roman rulers and abhor the pagan Roman worship practices however this discourse is offensive to them, not because of pagan links, but because of its seeming direct contradiction to the Torah. Yeshua, did not act outside of rabbinical practice when he used the metaphor of his flesh and blood as a teaching tool. What is clear is that Yeshua was miss understood, not only by the crowd but also by His own disciples.
Transfiguration (Matthew 17:1–8, Mark 9:2–8, Luke 9:28–36):
This event links Yeshua again to both Elijah and Moses, affirming the theme of the narrative surrounding the miracle of the loaves and fishes. This event may well have taken place months later, perhaps even during the feast of Sukkot (booths), given the offer of Peter to build shelters/Sukkot.
5 Therefore Yeshua[H] [A] (Iesous[G] YHVH Saves), lifting up His eyes and seeing that a large (polus[G], rav[H]) crowd (ochlos[G], am[H]) of common people was coming to Him, said (lego[G], vayomeir[H]) to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread (artos[G], lechem[H]) so that these may eat?”
As stated previously, it is likely that Yeshua asked Philip this question in part because these events were taking place close to Philip’s home town of Bethsaida.
In the natural the question “Where are we to buy bread…” is reasonable given that Passover is approaching and bread supplies are diminished among those traveling to Jerusalem for the Aliyah Festival.
6 This He was saying to prove, raise a banner for, give a directive sign to (peirazo[G], nasot[H]) him (Philip), for He Himself knew (eido[G], yada[H]) what He was about to do (poieo[G], ya’asah[H]).
“Therefore” means, because it was close to Passover and the crowd was large in size. Why is the proximity of Passover important? Because it infers that many of those gathered were pilgrims heading toward Jerusalem for Passover and thus lacking yeast and keeping grain set aside for matzot (unleavened bread). As mentioned earlier Yeshua was not “testing” Philip, Yeshua already knew what the outcome would be, rather He was proving to Philip the nature of his faith and the reality of Yeshua’s identity. Philip would later ask Yeshua to reveal the Father God to him:
“7 If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; from now on you know Him, and have seen Him.” 8 Philip said to Him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” 9 Jesus said to him, “Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? -John 14:7-9 (NASB)
7 Philip answered Him, “Two hundred denarii (half a year’s wages) worth of bread (artos[G], lechem[H]) is not enough for them, not even for everyone to receive a small piece each.” 8 One (heis[G], echad[H]) of His disciples (mathetes[G] [pupils], talmidim[H] [religious students, followers]), Andrew, Shimon Kefa (Simon: Hears God Peter’s: Rock) brother (achiy[H]), said to Him, 9 “Behold (hinei[H]) there is a young boy (paidarion[G], na’ar[H]) here who has five barley (krithinos[G]), loaves (artos[G]) and two small fish (opsarion[G]), dagiym[H]) but what are these for so many?”
Barley loaves indicate two things: first, the wheat harvest had not yet come and second, those present were predominantly lower class. The higher class had wheat grain remaining from the previous year’s harvest whereas the lower class lived from yield to yield and ate what was seasonally available.
The five loaves amounted to a loaf for each group of a thousand men.
10 Yeshua[H] [A] (Iesous[G] YHVH Saves) said (lego[G], vayomeir[H]), “Have the people (ha-am[H]) recline (anapipto[G], lashevet[H]).” Now there was much grass (chortos[G]) in the place. So the men (aner[G]) reclined (anapipto[G]), numbering about five thousand. 11 Yeshua[H] [A] (Iesous[G] YHVH Saves) then took the loaves (artos[G]), and having said the b’rakha[H] blessing [given thanks] (eucharisteo[G]), He distributed to those who were reclining; He did the same with the small fish (opsarion[G], dagiym[H]) as much as they wanted.
Note that Yeshua says a blessing prior to the bread but that no mention is made of a blessing over the fish, this is in keeping with Jewish religious practice. The blessing for the bread is always said prior to eating it whereas the blessing for the meal (including the fish) is said following the meal in accordance with Deut. 8:10. Note further that in John’s account it is Yeshua Who personally distributes the bread and fish to the crowd, continuing to do so until they’d had “as much as they wanted”.
Five thousand Jewish men plus women and children, a total of approx. 19-28,000 (Matt.14:21).
Five loaves, one loaf for every thousand Jewish men. Two small fish,
12 When they were fully satisfied (empiplemi[G]), He said to His disciples (mathetes[G] [pupils], talmidim[H] [religious students, followers]), “Gather together the leftover broken pieces (klasma[G]) so that nothing will perish, be destroyed, be lost, (apollumi[G]).” 13 So they gathered them up, and filled twelve baskets with broken pieces (klasma[G]) from the five barley loaves which were left by those who had eaten.
Notice that all present were Jews (Israelites) and that 12 baskets of broken pieces representing the twelve tribes of Israel were collected after they had eaten by the twelve disciples of Yeshua. This is a figure for the redemption of all ethnic religious Israel at the end of the age, through Yeshua the King Messiah (Romans 11:25-26).
The collection of food remnants was a rabbinical practice, the destruction of food over a certain size being prohibited in Jewish Halakhic law (Talmud Bavliy Shabbat 50b, 147b). The principal being that nothing is to be wasted.
14 Therefore when the people (anthropos[G], ha-anashiym[H]) saw the sign (semeion[G], et-ha-ot[H]) which He had performed, they said, “This is truly the Prophet (prophetes[G], ha-navi[H]) who is to come into the world.”
“The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your countrymen, you shall listen to him. 16 This is according to all that you asked of the Lord your God in Horeb on the day of the assembly, saying, ‘Let me not hear again the voice of the Lord my God, let me not see this great fire anymore, or I will die.’ 17 The Lord said to me, ‘they have spoken well. 18 I will raise up a prophet from among their countrymen like you, and I will put My words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him.19 It shall come about that whoever will not listen to My words which he shall speak in My name, I Myself will require it of him.”
D’varim/Deuteronomy 18:15-19 (NASB)
15 So Yeshua[H] [A] (Iesous[G] YHVH Saves), perceiving that they were intending to come and take Him by force to make Him king (basileus[G], melekh[H]), withdrew again to the mountain (ha-har[H]) by Himself alone.
Yeshua could not allow His people to make Him King or force Him to lead a rebellion against Rome because He had come according to Isaiah 53 to be the suffering servant Who would take away their sin. Yeshua will one day come as the victorious King to rule over Israel and the nations on the throne of David according to the wealth of prophecy from the Tanakh. But this could not happen until He had made a way for the reconciliation of the souls of Israel. Why? Because God’s victorious King Messiah is to reign over Israel for all eternity, something that can only happen if Israel is made right with God and enabled to live forever.
“My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Judean religious leaders; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this world.” -John 18:36
The view of the people was desperate and temporal, whereas Yeshua’s view was redemptive and everlasting. He ached because of the temporal suffering of His people but understood that if He were to submit to their plan, their eternal suffering would far outweigh their temporal suffering.
Yeshua’s withdrawal to the higher elevation of the mountain was common practice for Him. When faced with the plans of men He sought the counsel of God. When faced with the temptations of man He sought the righteousness of God. When faced with the weakness and exhaustion of man He sought the strength and comfort of God. All this as an example to us that we might practice the rhythms of God’s rest in our walk with the Messiah.
16 Now when evening came, His disciples (mathetes[G] [pupils], talmidim[H] [religious students, followers]) went down to the sea, lake (yam[H]) 17 and after getting into a boat, they started to cross the sea, lake (yam[H]) to Capernaum (K’far Nachum[H], village of comfort). It had already become dark, and Yeshua[H] [A] (Iesous[G] YHVH Saves) had not yet come to them.
The disciples had respected Yeshua’s need for private space and had trusted that He would return home to Capernaum when He was ready. Thus they headed for Capernaum a number of hours after sunset, knowing that it was a short journey across the lake of not more than 7 kilometres.
18 The sea, lake (thalassa[G], ha-yam[H]) became stirred up because a strong (megas[G]) wind (anemos[G], ruach gedolah[H]) was blowing (pneo[G], hayatah[H]).
It is quite possible that the lake was perfectly calm when they set out. To this day lake Galilee experiences rapid shifts in countenance as a result of sudden changes in weather. On one of my many trips there I was seated by a perfectly calm Galilee at midday only to see the water turn into raging surf blown by a storm front a matter of hours later.
It is also worth noting that the Galilee is known for its unique seemly randomly forming whirlpools. These whirlpools have been the cause of many drowning deaths in the Lake over the years.
19 Then, when they had rowed about five or six kilometres, they saw Yeshua[H] [A] (Iesous[G] YHVH Saves) He was walking (peripateo[G], mehaleich[H]) on the sea, lake (thalassa[G], ha-yam[H]) and coming near to the boat; and they were afraid, alarmed, in awe (phobeo[G], vayiyrau[H]).
“When the disciples saw Him walking on the lake, they were terrified, and said, ‘It is a ghost’(Apparition or spirit is understood here from a Hebrew cultural perspective, it does not refer to the disembodied spirit of a human being—which is the common modern understanding of this English term) And they cried out in fear.” -Matthew 14:26
It is clear from the Matthew account that the disciples were afraid because they had presumed that this was a spirit or apparition, possibly (but not certainly) an omen of doom. They were not afraid because Yeshua was walking on water (at this point they weren’t even sure it was Yeshua). Of course it is natural for human beings to assume that when something defies the laws of the natural world or seems to be humanly impossible, it is an apparition or of supernatural origin. The lesson soon becomes, what is impossible for human beings is possible with God (perhaps even possible in God). The storm had caused them concern, but the appearance of the apparition had left them terrified.
At the five kilometre point they were still at least 2 kilometres away from their destination and it was approximately 4am (Matt.14:25). In the darkness and squall it would have been difficult to see clearly.
Yeshua was certainly aware of the storm much earlier in the night. So why did He wait? Perhaps He was proving the disciples? Not testing them to see if they were faithful, He was already aware of their character, rather He was taking this opportunity to show them that they were faithful. This is possibly one of the reasons for His gentle rebuke to Peter regarding his being small of faith (not saying that Peter’s faith lacked entirely, he had faith, he simply lacked it in greater volume).
God is pictured walking on the waters in Job 9:8 and Psalm 77:19, in the latter He is walking amidst a storm. Yeshua is Immanuel (God with us). Yeshua is revealing Himself here as God with us; firstly by doing what only God is recorded as having done and secondly by simply stating in Matthew’s account (14:27) “Take courage, I AM, don’t be afraid.” This results in the disciples worshipping Him at the conclusion of the episode.
The text states, “He was walking on the lake.” John clearly has no intention of dwelling on what to him was a natural progression: walking on water was just the next sign in the ordinal march toward the revealing of the King Messiah Yeshua.
Yeshua had now feed Israel (5,000 men 28,000 total) in the wilderness, delivered Israel (12 disciples) through the waters…
It was in the morning watch (3am to 6am) that God manifest His power to Israel at the Red Sea. Exodus 14:24
20 But He (Yeshua) said (lego[G], vayomeir[H]) to them, “I Am He (ego eimi[G], Aniy Hu[H]); do not be afraid (al-tiyrau[H]).”
“I Am” is an expression of divinity (Exodus 3:14; John 1:1-3; 6:35; 8:58). Therefore, “Because I Am God with you, you have no need to fear”. The fear of God is an end to all fear.
It is at this point in Matthew’s narrative that Peter asks Yeshua to call him out onto the water to meet Him.
“Peter said to Him, ‘Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.’” -Matthew 14:28
Peter has plenty chutzpa (courage and tenacity)! Peter initially takes Yeshua at His word and exhibits great courage. Why does Peter appear to use a subjective question to determine whether this is truly Yeshua who is speaking to him? The answer comes in the question itself, it’s rhetorical, Peter calls Yeshua “Lord,” it’s as if he were saying “Yeshua, if you’re who I know you are, ask me to come out to You.”
“And He said, “Come!” And Peter got out of the boat, and walked on the water and came toward Yeshua.” -Matthew 14:29
Yeshua called, “Bo (Come),” and Peter didn’t think twice, you could say he responded to Yeshua immediately.
“But seeing the wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’” - Matthew 14:30
Perhaps he said, “Adonai, Hoshanah!” Lord, save me now!
Like Peter we all take our eyes off Yeshua at times, focusing on our present circumstances instead of seeing the eternal nature of our Messiah, who is before us. There is no shame here, just an opportunity for a lesson. Faith the size of a mustard seed moves great obstacles. Small faith is the beginning of a journey, it is a stepping stone to great faith, born of Messiah.
“Immediately Yeshua stretched out His hand and took hold of him, and said to him, “You of small faith, why did you doubt?” - Matthew 14:31
Peter began to sink and immediately Yeshua stretched out His hand and took hold of him. Yeshua doesn’t wait until we’ve sunk, He sees us begin to sink and immediately He takes hold of us.
While it is true that Yeshua observed small faith in Peter, the emphasis is on the phrase, “why did you doubt?” Yeshua knows why Peter doubted. The question is one that Peter is meant to ask himself. We too need to question our doubt and find the motivation behind it. Faith is born in the heart (core being), doubt is manufactured in the mind. Many modern proponents of healthy mind teaching neglect to remember that the Hebrew Leiv (heart) refers to the core being, where heart, mind and spirit converge. It is to be understood in a similar way to nefesh (soul), which indicates the whole of our parts. So we understand that the soul encompasses the whole and the heart is where the parts of the whole converge. When the Scripture says that “the heart is wicked above all things,” it is also addressing the mind. It is not a case of the mind being superior to the heart, rather the heart and mind are both wicked above all things. Humanity is inclined toward evil, we will not overcome this inclination by controlling our own minds and thus our wicked hearts. We will overcome only when we submit all control to Yeshua. That is, when we realize that He is in control regardless.
21 So they were willing to take Him into the boat, and immediately, at once (eutheos[G]) the boat was at the land (ho ge[G], la-aretz[H]) at the part of the coastline they were going to.
“When they got into the boat, the wind stopped.”- Matthew 14:32
In the same instant the wind stops and the waters bring the boat instantaneously to its destination. All creation obeys the Master of the universe and is immediately quiet as a testimony to the deity of Yeshua (God with us).
This immediacy is not explainable in natural terms. This is a case of the unbound Kingdom of God seeding freedom in the midst of the sin affected creation. A sinless Adam walks the earth anew, and this Adam will set free that which the former Adam allowed to come under bondage.
“And those who were in the boat worshiped Him, saying, ‘You are certainly God’s Son—Ben Elohim!’” -Matthew 14:33
“Even the wind and waves obey Him.” (Matthew 8:27) The witness of this sign is the seed that births a greater faith in the Leiv (heart) of the disciples. If Peter, who had faith enough to begin to walk on water, is said to have “Small faith,” then the faith of those who wouldn’t even get out of the boat was smaller still. Now, having identified the Messiah as King of creation, their faith grew and they worshipped Him.
May the storms and failures of our own journey with God produce such great growth spurts as we witness the present acts of God in our lives and the lives of those around us.
22 The next day the crowd of common people (ochlos[G], am[H]) that stood on the other side of the sea, lake (thalassa[G], ha-yam[H]) saw that there was no other small boat there, except one, and that Yeshua[H] [A] (Iesous[G] YHVH Saves) had not boarded with His disciples (mathetes[G] [pupils], talmidim[H] [religious students, followers]) into the boat, but that His disciples had left alone.
This is the crowd that had witnessed the sign of the loaves and fishes and had camped the night in the region below Bethsaida. The record of their observation is testimony to the fact that Yeshua could not have crossed the Lake by natural means.
23 Other small boats (ploiarion[G]) came from Tiberias close to the place where they had eaten the bread (ho artos[G], ha lechem[H]) after the Lord, Master (ho Kurios[G], ha Adon[H]) had made the b’rakha[H] blessing (given thanks). 24 So when the crowd of common people (ho ochlos[G], ha am[H]) saw that Yeshua[H] [A] (Iesous[G] YHVH Saves) was not there, nor His disciples (mathetes[G] [pupils], talmidim[H] [religious students, followers]), they themselves got into the small boats (ploiarion[G]), and came to Capernaum (K’far Nachum[H], village of comfort) seeking Yeshua[H] [A] (Iesous[G] YHVH Saves).
Tiberias is approximately 10 km south-west of the location of the loaves and fishes sign. More people had come from Tiberias following the news of the sign and were seeking out Yeshua.
The Gospel writer explains that “the Lord” was not there. The use of the term Adon is more than a colloquial allusion to masterly status, the Gospel writer is saying that these signs are evidence of Yeshua’s divine nature.
Once the existing crowd and the newcomers determined that Yeshua had probably gone to His home town by some other way, they all took their boats to Capernaum seeking Him out.
It’s important to remember that many of these were pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem for Pesach (Likewise, as was His custom, Yeshua too would have attended Pesach in Jerusalem following these events). These pilgrims were sufficiently awed by Yeshua’s sign so as to delay their journey to Jerusalem in order to find out more about Him.
We note once more that they were seeking Salvation (Yeshua) in the village of comfort (K’far Nachum).
25 When they found Him on the other side of the sea, lake (thalassa[G], ha-yam[H]) they said to Him, “Rabbi (lit. My Great One; Religious Teacher), when did You get here?” 26 Yeshua[H] [A] (Iesous[G] YHVH Saves) answered them and said, “Amen[H] [G]Amen[H] [G] (B’emet[H], B’emet[H]), In truth, In truth, It’s certain, it’s certain, I say (Aniy omeir[H]) to you all (lachem[H] PL), you seek Me, not because you saw the signs (semeion[G], ha otot[H]), but because you ate of the loaves (ho artos[G], ha lechem[H]) and were satisfied, filled (chortazo[G]).
The crowd found Yeshua in Capernaum (John 6:59). Calling Him “Rabbi” showed some degree of respect on the part of the crowd. The crowd ask “when” not “how”, the knowledge of “how” is at this time kept by the disciples.
Yeshua does not even bother to answer their question. As is His custom He gets to the heart of the matter, that being their lack of faith and their misinterpretation of the events unfolding.
Note that Yeshua refers to “signs” plural. Those seeking Him have witnessed numerous signs in addition to the most recent one.
Yeshua now makes a statement that is firmly established by the double “Amen”. He is essentially saying, “You’re interested in me for carnal (physical) earth born reasons, the satiating of physical hunger etc. You have misunderstood the signs that God has given through Me to point to His redemptive purpose and present coming Kingdom, and instead of seeking God you are seeking to fill the desires of your flesh (fallen humanity).”
27 Do not work for the food (ho brosis[G], achal[H], makultha[A]) which perishes, is destroyed, dies (apollumi[G]), but for the food (ho brosis[G], achal[H], makultha[A]) which endures, remains, abides (meno[G]) to life unending (zoe aionios[G], le’chayeiy olam[H]), which the Son of the Man (ho huios ho anthropos[G], ben ha-adam[H]) will give to you, for on/in Him the Father (ho Pater[G], ha Av[H]), the God (ho Theos[G], ha-Elohiym[H]), has set His seal (sphragizo[G]).”
This is pretext for the discussion regarding Moses and the Manna from the heavens.
It is likely that the Aramaic text uses the word “makultha” meaning food or nourishment, as a wordplay linking the Aramaic word for kingdom “malkutha” to the message of the text. In other words, as a drash (comparative teaching) we could read, “Do not work for the kingdom which perishes (olam hazeh: this present world), but for the Kingdom that endures forever (Olam haba: World to come)…”
The Hebrew “chotam” meaning seal, sign, endorse is consistent with the Greek “sphragizo” used in the past tense to mean “has sealed, set a seal upon, made a private signet mark, preserved etc”. A seal is set to keep something hidden until those it has been sent to are ready to receive it and open it. Therefore, Yeshua is the message and God’s Kingly seal is upon Him so that He alone can open Himself and give the salvation He carries to His people.
It is as if the people are beholding the sealed scroll but are unable to open it because in order to open it one must first be seeking God and His Kingdom rather than the fallen kingdom of humanity. In fact, Yeshua is the only One worthy to open the seal that God has placed upon Him (Rev. 5:1-6:2).
28 Therefore they said to Him, “What shall we do, make (poieo[G], ba’aseh[H]), so that we may be working, trading in, performing (ergazomai[G], lif’ol[H]) the works, tasks, deeds (ergon[G], p’ulot[H]) of the God (ho Theos[G], ha Elohiym[H])?” 29 Yeshua[H] [A] (Iesous[G] YHVH Saves) answered and said to them, “This is the work, task, deed (ergon[G]), p’ulat[H]) of the God (ho Theos[G], Elohiym[H]), that you continue to believe, trust, have faith (pisteuo[G], ta’amiynu[H]) in Him whom He has sent (apostello[G], shelachu[H]).”
“Therefore” Because Yeshua had offered eternal life above and beyond the miraculous sign they had witnessed of Him. And, because they had some sense of Yeshua’s authority based on His signs and words.
“What shall we do, make, so that we may be working, trading in, performing the works, tasks, deeds of the God?” The question shows that they have not understood Yeshua at all. Yeshua is offering redemption, relationship, eternal life, the strength of God at work in them, a gift to be received, but the people are looking for something they can build, accomplish, achieve in their own strength in order to make them right with God. Their focus is on “doing” rather than “being”. They say, “What shall we do, so that we can accomplish the works of God” and Yeshua completely reverses their question and defeats their paradigm with a very simple and eternally profound instruction:
“The works of God are this, that you continue to believe in Him Whom He has sent”. In short, “Be in Me, don’t do for Me. Your doing must come from Me.” Objects are for use, persons are for relationship. Many fall from the faith because they do not understand this simple truth. Many more retain faith but become burned out and unfruitful because they don’t understand this simple truth.
Yeshua is pointing His hearers back to the Torah and the Word (ha-Davar: John 1:1) of God spoken to their forebears through Moses:
“For near to you all is Ha-Davar (The Word), meod, very much so, in your mouth, and in your inner being, so that you might accomplish, do, act accordingly.” -D’variym (Words) Deuteronomy 30:14
Notice that The Word is offered to the inner person and that it is from the strength of The Word in each one that each one works, accomplishes, acts. Yeshua is Ha-Davar, the Word, Essence, Substance of God, with us.
It is interesting to note that by summing up the 613 commandments of the Torah with this one phrase “the just shall live by his faith” (Hab.2:4), the Talmud agrees with Yeshua’s assertion that to have faith is the work of God (Talmud Bavliy Makkot, fol. 23. 2. & 24. 1.).
30 So they said to Him, “What then do You do (poieo[G], ta’aseh[H]) for the sign (semeion[G], ha ot[H]), so that we may see, and believe (pisteuo[G], na’amiyn[H]) You? What work (tif’al[H], ergazomai[G]) do You perform? 31 Our fathers (ho pater[G], avoteiynu[H]), ate (achlu[H]) the manna (What is it? ha-man[H]) in the wilderness (bamidbar[H]); as it is written (kakatuv[H]), ‘He gave them bread out of heaven to eat (lechem min-hashamayim natan-lamo le’echol).’”
Almost as if they had not listened at all they demand that Yeshua “do” something to prove His identity. In spite of the fact that they have already witnessed Him perform many signs. The signs being directive and for their benefit. Yeshua need not prove His identity, to the contrary, it is they who need to consider their own identity and return to God.
As proof of their corporate tribal pride the people site the sign of the manna given to their forbears by the hand of Moses. As if to say, “Moses provided bread for hundreds of thousands, You provided bread for only five thousand men (28,000 people).
‘He gave them bread out of heaven to eat.’ Exodus 16:4, 15; Num. 11:8; Psalm 78:24; 105:40 etc.
However, Yeshua disagrees with their exegesis. Ultimately, God is the “He” of the text.
32 Yeshua[H] [A] (Iesous[G] YHVH Saves) then said (lego[G], vayomeir[H]) to them, ““Amen[H] [G]Amen[H] [G] (B’emet[H], B’emet[H]), In truth, In truth, It’s certain, it’s certain, I say (Aniy omeir[H]) to you all (lachem[H] PL), it is not Moshe[H] (Moses, Drawn out) who has given (notein[H]) you the bread (ho artos[G], ha-lechem[H]), out of the heavens (ouranos[G], ha-shamayim[H]), but it is My Father (ho Pater ego[G], Aviy[H]), Who gives you the bread (ho artos[G], ha-lechem[H]) out of the heavens (ouranos[G], ha-shamayim[H]) that is true (alethinos[G], ha’amitiy[H]).
Once again the double “Amen” denotes established truth. Yeshua explains that Moses was the mediator but that the bread (manna) from the heavens was “From the heavens” from God and not from Moses. Nor did Moses merit it.
Yeshua’s teaching is in direct opposition to the teaching of our rabbis on this subject:
מן בזכות משה, "the manna, by the merits of Moses".'' -Talmud. Bavliy. Taanit, fol. 9. 1. Seder Olam Rabba, p. 28.
33 For the bread (lechem[H]) of God (Theos[G], Elohiym[H]) is Him (hu[H]) Who comes down (hayoreid[H]) out of the heavens (ouranos[G], ha-shamayim[H]), and gives (notein[H]) living (zoe[G], chayiym[H]) to the world (kosmos[G], laolam[H]).”
Yeshua identifies Himself as the “bread of God” Who has “come down from the heavens” and “gives living to the world”. Not the temporal bread for the physical body, bread that will perish fed to a body that will perish, but the living and everlasting bread of Yeshua’s transcendent resurrected body, His life essence, His nature, His character, the very substance of God. This He offers continually to a spiritually starving Israel and also subsequently to the nations.
The sign Yeshua gives them is the sign of the manna (bread of the heavens), that sign being Himself.
© 2020 Yaakov Brown
Spiritual leader of Beth Melekh Community, Auckland, Aotearoa, N.Z.