Bread in the desert — Matthew 15:32–39

The concern of Jesus — part 7

40 blogs of Lent — day 19

The feeding of the 5000 and the feeding of the 4000, Jesus does it all again, only the numbers have changed. So why would two of the four Gospel writers put the same thing in twice? When you look at the numbers Jesus is feeding fewer people with less food, as this is the latter of the two miracles. It’s inclusion does not make any sense.

Jacopo Tintoretto, Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes, ca. 1545-50

32 Then Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I have compassion on the crowd because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat. And I am unwilling to send them away hungry, lest they faint on the way.” 33 And the disciples said to him, “Where are we to get enough bread in such a desolate place to feed so great a crowd?” 34 And Jesus said to them, “How many loaves do you have?” They said, “Seven, and a few small fish.” 35 And directing the crowd to sit down on the ground, 36 he took the seven loaves and the fish, and having given thanks he broke them and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. 37 And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up seven baskets full of the broken pieces left over. 38 Those who ate were four thousand men, besides women and children. 39 And after sending away the crowds, he got into the boat and went to the region of Magadan.

Matthew 15:32–39 ESV UK

The difference between the two feedings goes beyond the second being more food feeding fewer people with fewer baskets of food left over. But more food left over. Despite the ESV and other English Bibles the Greek as basket in both cases in the feeding off the 5000 the word kophinos, a hand basket and in the feeding of the 4000 the word is spyris, the size of basket that Paul was let down from the walls of Jerusalem. There was far more food left over at the feeding of the 4000. But what matters here is not the amount of food. it is all in the number of baskets. The numbers used in both events are significant. When two events aretold in the Bible by different writers the numbers often vary, here they match exactly. Here’s a check list of the similarities and differences:

  • Feeding of the 5000
    • Feeding of the 4000
  • Primarily Jews
    • Primarily Gentiles
  • Bethsaida, near Galilee
    • The Decapolis
  • 5 loaves, 2 fish
    • 7 loaves, a few fish
  • 12 baskets left over
    • 7 baskets left over
  • Crowd with him 1 day
    • Crowd with him 3 days

Feeding the 5000
Jesus is ministering to Jews who followed him to Bethsaida, they came without food and Jesus feeds them with 5 loaves and 12 hand-baskets of food are left over. The significance of the numbers is that 5 is the number of scrolls that made up the Jewish law and 12 the number of tribes of Israel

Feeding the 4000
Jesus is in a Gentile territory and ministering to mainly Gentiles who have brought food with them, but after three days that food has run out. Jesus feeds them with 7 loaves and 7 large baskets of food are left over. 7 is the number of days of creation and signifies completeness. Jesus is for everybody, no one is excluded.


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