The Pathway of the Perfect Man (6): Bethsaida

As has been suggested, John’s account of the feeding of the 5000 has certain details which the other three accounts do not have. Such details are, of course, supplementary and not at all contradictory. John seems to paint a background of utter weakness as far as men are concerned. The sun is setting; daylight is fading; the district is uninhabited and waste; the disciples have no bread and the multitude is great. Andrew, however, has found a boy with just a few victuals. “There is a lad here, which hath five barley loaves, and two small fishes: but what are they among so many?” Five barley loaves and two small fishes! Notice the weakness which is recorded only by John. Just a lad, a boy! The loaves are of barley, a cheaper cereal! The fishes are few and small! But little is much in the hand of the Savior and having seated the people in an orderly manner on the ground the disciples distributed the bread and fish for which the Savior had given thanks and which He had blessed. Miraculously, the thousands were fed, and 12 baskets full of fragments were taken up. Nothing must be lost.

The disciples were then instructed by the Lord to take a coasting voyage in the ship toward Bethsaida, or Capernaum, which were on the same side of the lake and just a few miles away. It was now dark and the disciples were to be the privileged witnesses of yet another miracle while the people would have made Jesus their King. That, of course, was premature and He left them for the loneliness of the hillside.

The ship carrying the disciples ran into a storm. Those who are familiar with the Sea of Galilee will confirm how quickly, with little or no warning, a storm can arise in these waters. Sadly, it is recorded, “It was now dark, and Jesus was not come to them” (John 6:17). The wind blew and the boisterous waves rose. How often has such been the experience of the saints! Things may be dark and the passage rough and perhaps He does not seem to answer. But He sees, and knows, and on high He has been praying for them. He puts that which was troubling them beneath His feet and walks on the water toward them. “They see Jesus walking on the sea, drawing nigh unto the ship: and they were afraid. But He saith unto them, ‘It is I; be not afraid.’ Then they willingly received Him into the ship: and immediately the ship was at the land whither they went” (John 6:19-21). The Savior had chosen these men “that they should be with Him” (Mark 3:14). Was He teaching them that it would not always be, as we say, “plain sailing”? There would be storms and troubled waters. But still today for His saints it is true, “He maketh the storm a calm, so that the waves thereof are still” (Psa 107:29).

Although many mighty works had been wrought in or near Bethsaida, not many of these are individually recorded. There is indeed another interesting account of the miraculous in Mark 8:22-26. They had come to Bethsaida, probably Bethsaida Julias on the east side of Jordan since the Lord was moving toward the borders of Caesarea Philippi (Mark 8:27). A blind man was brought to Him. A man who could not find the way himself was guided by some friends. Do we not all have those who need us to help them toward the Savior?

It is an instance of great humility, sympathy, and tenderness, that Jesus Himself took the man by the hand and led him out of the town. Why? Of course we know that spiritually our greatest blessings come when we are alone with God, but it may well be true as John Wesley and others suggest that “It was in just displeasure against the inhabitants of Bethsaida for their obstinate infidelity, that our Lord would work no more miracles among them, nor even suffer the person he had cured, either to go into the town, or to tell it to any therein” (Mark 8:26).

For some reason, not explained, the Savior put saliva on the eyes of the blind man. Perhaps there was nothing miraculous in this but it is indeed possible, as many think, that secretions had caused the poor man’s eyelids to adhere together and rubbing them with saliva would loosen them. It was then that Jesus put His hand upon the blind eyes asking the man if he saw anything. He could see men walking, he said, but it was only by their movement that he could distinguish them from trees. It seems evident that this man had not been born blind so was he now in that condition in which he had been before? When sight had been failing, did he remember? Again the Lord put His hand upon his eyes, and made him look up. Now his sight was restored and he saw clearly.

This is the only instance of a progressive healing and questions are often asked as to the reason for the gradual restoration. This is not explained and who are we to question sovereignty? If the Savior has chosen to do it this way then He has rights. It does not suggest that there was any difficulty with an immediate restoration, but there may indeed have been mercy in it, bringing the poor man gradually into the light so that he was not dazzled by the unaccustomed brightness. Adam Clarke writes, “Our Lord could have restored this man to sight in a moment; but He chose to do it in the way mentioned in the text, to show that He is sovereign of His own graces; and to point out that, however insignificant means may appear in themselves, they are divinely efficacious when He chooses to work by them; and that, however small the first manifestations of mercy may be, they are nevertheless the beginnings of the fulness of the blessings of the gospel of peace.”