Faith is born in the heart, doubt is manufactured in the mind.
Why did Yeshua send the disciples off without Him? What was G-d’s purpose in this miraculous sign? Why did the disciples choose not to go back when they faced the storm? It is only in Matthew’s account that we read of Peter walking on water, why is that?
It seems that Peter was the only disciple with enough chutzpa to walk out to Yeshua. John had the love down, Matthew was about the numbers and Peter is obviously the go getter.
This event might cause consternation in both the conservative and charismatic schools of faith. Those who struggle to accept the miraculous try to find scientific explanations for what has occurred, while those who wish to access heaven and release the power of G-d might be frustrated by Peter’s lack of control of the situation. Of course, seeking to gain control of spiritual forces through the practice of certain spiritual disciplines in order to access heaven, amounts to witch craft and explaining things away is G-dless. Both these approaches are idolatry. So what is really going on here? Let’s observe carefully and pray for The Teacher’s help.
“Immediately Yeshua compelled the disciples to get into the boat and go ahead of Him to the other side, while He sent the crowds away.”
“Immediately”--eutheos; becomes a repeated and central concept in this story. John 6:15 tells us that following the feeding of the five thousand the people intended to make--compel--Yeshua to become king. The reason for Yeshua’s forcefulness in sending His disciples away is most likely related to the disciples own desirers regarding His reign. If they had stayed they may have joined in with the crowd urging Him to take His place as King. Therefore the first “immediately” refers to an example of Yeshua’s pre-emptive protection. Immediacy has a fierce urgency about it, Yeshua is never slow to protect the ones He loves from choices that might harm them, even when the ones He loves are blissfully unaware. It is interesting to note that while the crowd compelled Him to become king, He compelled His disciples to leave. His kingdom is not off this world but as we are soon to witness, it is in this world.
“After He had sent the crowds away, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray; later that night He was there alone.”
Some English versions mistakenly render “later that night,” as “that evening.” In fact the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand happened as evening approached, therefore it is impossible after so much time passing, for it to still be evening at the time of Yeshua’s praying. It is therefore better to render the Greek as meaning “later that night,” approximately 12am-1am.
Matthew writes of Yeshua praying, only here and in the garden of Gethsemane. He places emphasis on the solitude of these moments which show the extremes that Yeshua faced. Here Yeshua has been surrounded by those who would have made Him king—which was not G-d’s will at that time—and has sent them away so that He could be alone with the Father. In Gethsemane He is abandoned by those who had promised to be faithful to Him and is left alone with the Father. In both cases it seems that in intimate relationship with the Father He gains the strength for what comes next. There is an important message in this for each of us. Where do we go for solace? To who do we turn for strength?
“But the boat was already a long distance—many stadia—from the land, battered by the waves; for the wind opposed it.”
By the time Yeshua had sent everybody away and had found a sacred space to pray, the boat was already a long way off, not yet half way across the lake but already battered by the waves and amidst the storm. If it were me I would have swung the boat around and headed back to Yeshua but then I’m prone to anxiety so perhaps I’m not the best example of alternative thinking in this situation. It seems that the disciples were either not sure how bad the storm would get—unlikely given that they were seasoned sailors—or they were determined to be obedient to Yeshua. I favor the second option. This is an act of courageous obedience on the disciple’s part. We are often quick to disown the disciples of Yeshua in their weaknesses, surely we should also hasten to venerate them in their triumphs. It is interesting to note that they were heading back to the west side of the lake—closer to Yeshua’s home town and toward Jerusalem.
“And in the fourth watch—between 3am and 6am—of the night Yeshua came to them, walking on the lake.”
Yeshua was 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 small of faith—not the nonexistence of Peter’s faith, he had faith, he simply lacked it in greater volume.
G-d is pictured walking on the waters in Job 9:8 and Psalm 77:19, in the later He is walking amidst a storm. Yeshua is Emmanuel—G-d with us. Yeshua is revealing Himself here as G-d; firstly by doing what only G-d is recorded as having done and secondly by simple stating—verse 27—“Take courage, I AM, don’t be afraid.” This results in the disciples worshipping Him at the conclusion of thise episode.
The text almost matter of factly states, “He came to them, walking on the lake.” Matthew 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.
It was in the morning watch—3am to 6am—that G-d manifest His power to Israel at the Red Sea. Exodus 14:24
“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.”
It is clear from the text 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 science 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 G-d—perhaps even possible in G-d.” The storm had caused them concern, but the appearance of the apparition had left them terrified.
“But immediately Yeshua spoke to them, saying, “Take courage, it is I—literally “I am”; do not be afraid.”
Notice the second “immediately,” here Yeshua responds with immediacy in order to counter the disciple’s reactionary fear. He doesn’t let them stew in their misunderstanding of the situation. He speaks to the inception of their fear, “Take courage, I AM; do not be afraid.”
Why should we take courage? Because Yeshua is I AM, G-d with us. Why should we not be afraid? Because our fear was based on our failure to understand that G-d is in control, and that we are not.
“Peter said to Him, ‘Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.’”
As I stated earlier, “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 “L-rd,” 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.”
Yeshua called, “Bo—Come,” and Peter didn’t think twice, you could say he responded to Yeshua immediately. I am reminded of a Shabbas melody whose words say, “Bo achim l’shalom Mal-a-chay…” Come in peace Kingly messengers…”
“But seeing the wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’”
Perhaps he said, “Adonai, Hoshanah!” L-rd, 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?”
Here is the final “immediately” of this concise account. 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, doubt is manufactured in the mind. Many modern proponents of healthy mind teaching neglect to remember that the Hebrew Levav—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.
“When they got into the boat, the wind stopped.”
The lesson’s over, now, the vehicle, which is creation herself, obeys the Master of the universe and is immediately quiet, having been utilized once again to bring Him glory.
“And those who were in the boat worshiped Him, saying, ‘You are certainly God’s Son—Ben Elohim!’”
“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 Levav—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 G-d produce such great growth spurts as we witness the present acts of G-d in our lives and the lives of those around us.
© 2013 Yaakov Brown
Spiritual leader of Beth Melekh Community, Auckland, Aotearoa, N.Z.